Chapter the Thirty Fourth: A Grim Process of ManufactureI was so entranced by the stunning grandeur of the cavern that I couldn't help but wander off. It seemed like an awful silly thing to do, given more pressing matters, but the Black Mountain clan had already been gone for dozens of years. Getting a little sidetracked wouldn't make any difference.
I first explored down a nearby stairway straight North of the entrance, and what I found was fantastic. Instead of abandoned mines, malevolent piles of rock, and rabid wildlife I discovered an entire town of dwarves. It did make sense, considering this was their home, but my memories of the Black Mountain Clan were not so easily forgotten. There were grand hallways and rooms carved out of sheer rock. The walls were so smooth that if they hadn't also been uneven I would've attributed their creation to a machine. These tunnels were not made by men, however, but dwarves... and the dwarves had a patience and penchant for hard work that no man ever could.
I seemed to have stumbled into a room in my slack-jawed awe of the place and I was interrupted by a rather amused looking dwarf. "Can I help you, human?" I could hear the mirth with which he spoke and I had to be somewhat amused as well. By the Gods, I'm acting like Jayna.
"So sorry to intrude," I giggled and the dwarf in front of me smiled in return. "Who might you be, sir dwarf?"
"Hello, Vegard. I am Samantha Colburn." Sammy, Sammy, son of... Merle hated me something fierce. She thought she was going to have the damndest time marrying me off to some sod. I didn't care, I never had any intention of getting married off. What kind of a life is that for a woman to lead in such a modern age? "So, what is it you do here, Vegard?"
He seemed surprised at my interest. I supposed most humans didn't care one way or another about dwarven culture. "Me? I'm just an old dwarf, trying to stay out of everyone's way. Used to be a miner, way back when the Dredge was operational..."
Why do I get the feeling you're going to tell me about some awful pit of hell in such a way as to pique my curiosity so that I go tromping about in it just to see if it's really as bad as you say it is? "I'm almost afraid to ask. What's the Dredge?"
"The Dredge? It's a system of caverns that used to be an iron mine. The entrance isn't far from here... just next to the royal palace. I can see those gears a-turnin' in that head of yours, but there's no more iron in those caves, girl. I took a fair amount out, myself. The only thing left in the Dredge is dark and monsters. Not a place you want to be takin' a stroll in. It's a shame, too... I lost something down there a long time ago, but no one goes in there anymore. Orders of the King, and all that."
I swallowed hard. I'd best not ask him any more. I'm too curious for my own good and asking about it will just make me want to investigate all the more. I don't have to be involved. He said I don't want to go down there and he means it. There's even an order from the King. This cave is bad. It's really, really bad. "What did you lose down there?" Son of a bitch.
If he can't do it, I certainly can't. I'd be have to be daft to even consider it. It would be foolish to risk my life in such a dangerous place just for some dwarf's heirloom. "Perhaps I might retrieve that heirloom?" Why will my mouth not stay shut? All right... this is none of my business. Just because the caves probably haven't been explored for over a dozen years and my eyes might be the first to... no! There are beasts! Beasts the likes of which I've never seen and may never get the chance to... damn it, no!
Vegard looked at me strangely, as though he could hear the intense battle raging on in the depths of my skull. "Hmmm. I don't know... there are always guards at the entrance to the Dredge, and I wouldn't want you to cause any trouble. BUT! If you happen to get permission to go into those old caves and came out with my heirloom, I might be willing to give you a stout dwarven miner's helmet... it's good for seeing in the dark."
Well, I can't even get in there anyway. No sense thinking about it, it's not like me to sneak past a few well-meaning guards trying to keep me out of a dangerous place for my own good. "Done. I'll return with it shortly." I am a damned idiot. If ever there is a time that my curiosity actually results in my death, this is that time. I would've liked to spend more time chasing after the Black Mountain Clan, but ending up in the belly of a horrible beast infesting an abandoned dwarven mine isn't such a bad way to go. At least I'll get a good look at the beast firsthand.
I sighed, resigned to my fate. I was getting pretty good with my axe, and I'd not forgotten Mr. Ogg's lessons on dodging either. My armor would probably take a few cuts and scratches, but certainly I'd be able to fix it up in no time. Even if I couldn't, I was surrounded by bloody dwarves. If a dwarf couldn't repair it then nobody could.
However, if I were to truly brave a mine where even dwarves would not venture I would need to be prepared. The same sense of curiosity that had gotten me interested in the Dredge in the first place also helped me to decide that the best way to gather supplies was to just wander around aimlessly until I'd found everything I needed. It may not have been efficient, but damn was it ever satisfying. I left Vegard's humble room and wandered right into the nearest other room, not letting silly things like closed doors stand in my way. Unsurprisingly, I encountering another dwarf. "Greetings, sir. And who might you be?"
He looked up at me, slightly bothered. It seemed as though I was interrupting him. "My name is Erick Obsidian... it's a pleasure to meet you." I was impressed at how polite he was, considering I'd just barged in without so much as a knock.
"Well met, Erick. Might I ask what it is that you do here?" It was oddly liberating to just follow my curiosity along, utterly disregarding all sense of decency or tact. If I wanted to barge into a door unannounced, I did just that. If I felt like pestering the dwarf behind that door with inane questions until he threw me out, then I'd know firsthand the limits of dwarven patience.
We're going to get along well, you and I. "What are you studying right now, Erick?" It looked like I'd managed to find the perfect dwarf out from among a whole cavern of them. If anybody wouldn't mind lecturing me on dwarves it would be good old Erick. I supposed I could always go ask Magnus, but Magnus didn't count. Not by a longshot.
Erick seemed like he was going to start explaining something, but got sidetracked, "Well... I've many suppliers. We trade often in Stillwater when the need arises. But, just lately, I've run out of mithril. If you know anything about the metal, you know that it's rare. I'm having trouble finding a new source, and many of my objects are incomplete without it."
I wasn't exactly asking you about your trade difficulties. "What, Erick? What is it you found...?"
He shook his head as if clearing it of some unseen haze. "Sorry about that... the possibilities are so exciting... perhaps I should be more forthcoming. Dwarven mythology tells of an ancient race of dwarves, whose civilization was filled with such wonders as the world has never known before or since. They were known as the Iron Clan... No one really knows if they were real, or what happened to them if they were, because we've found no proof of their existence. BUT! One of our miners dug up an old dwarven mace a few weeks ago... the handle of that axe was hollow, and within it was this..."
I looked over the schematic carefully, drawing out certain portions of the final product in my mind. "Oh my goodness! I think I might know what this could be used for! Erick, please, can I have this?" I couldn't be certain until I actually constructed the object and felt it with my own hands, but the shape certainly matched something that had been nagging at the back of my mind for some time.
He nodded, "Yes... I suppose it does no harm. I've a copy of the schematic, so if you cannot find the 'Place of Iron', I could always go looking myself. And if you do find it, and the Durin Stone is there, bring it to me... it would be worthless to anyone but a dwarf, and most precious to me. I'd have nothing to offer but my thanks... I'm afraid a historian has little in worldly goods..."
You clearly underestimate my curiosity. Ancient mysteries are exactly my cup of tea. "I'd be honored to go on this journey, pay or no pay." While really would be nice to get paid, I wasn't honestly going to turn him down just out of greed. My curiosity was far greater than my greed ever had been, and that was saying a lot.
Erick smiled at me, obviously pleased to have somebody else that shared his interest. "Splendid... Here, take the schematic. I wish you the best of luck."
Thank you, Erick. If I survive that awful place you call the Dredge I'll be sure to hunt down the materials for this schematic. When that happens, I'm fairly certain I know what to do. Never one to come right out and say what's on my mind, I merely muttered a "Thank you. I must be going now." I wandered out into the hallway and of all the people to see wandering past I caught a glimpse of Thorvald disappearing around the corner. Behind him I saw a door hanging open just a little bit.
I wandered over to it and peeked my head in. The dwarf I saw inside stood up from the table he was sitting at, laughing a bit and calling out, "Back again so soon? Did you forget-?" He had finally looked over towards whom he was actually speaking. "Can I help you, human?"
I opened the door the rest of the way and sheepishly walked inside. "What is your name, sir?"
He sighed, as if he cared little for dealing with me. "I go by the name of Thrayne Iron Heart. And you are?" Hmm. Now that I think of it, none of these dwarves are anywhere near as uptight as old Magnus was. They've all been very patient and forthcoming with me. Virgil was spot on with his 'city dwarf' comment.
"I'm Samantha Colburn." ...doesn't know that she's a girl. Merle eventually figured me out, much to my regret. She'd been keeping a close eye on my belongings and badgering me about where I was getting all of them. I showed her the receipts and she just asked me where I got the money. One day she read a story in the paper about a rash of burglaries in the area and she put two and two together. She finally approached me and demanded a cut for her silence. She was such a hag.
It must be nice to be a member of such a tightly-knit clan. I'm beginning to see what had so enraptured Bates in his youth. Thorvald had mentioned he'd been gone for 200 years, yet the Wheel Clan still remembered him and were grateful for his return. I was actually jealous. "That being the case, may I ask you some questions?" Thrayne merely nodded. "Many thanks. What could you tell me of the Wheel Clan?"
He sighed, taking a seat. It was obvious that he didn't care to put up with a long line of questioning, but he wasn't going to tell me off either. "The Wheel Clan is the first and the greatest of all, hence our position as the Head of Clans. We have ruled unchallenged since the great Clan Wars."
The term sounded familiar to me, as though I'd heard mention of it before but never had it quite explained to me. "Pardon. The Clan Wars?"
Thrayne shook his head, "Yes, perhaps I've said too much. The great wars are not something we discuss with outsiders."
I bit my lip lightly, wanting to press on but not wanting to offend the man, restraint finally beginning to take hold. He was at least being rather polite. "Very well. If the Wheel Clan is the leader of all clans, why is it so secluded?"
I almost felt offended. Although I was certainly no Gilbert Bates, I did enjoy tinkering with things. I wasn't sure that he quite understood the complexities of being a human technologist. There was the urge, the drive, and the curiosity... the desire to create new and useful things to help not only yourself but also others around you. It was foolish to think dwarves felt any differently, of course. Perhaps Bates and I had a bit of dwarven blood flowing in our veins after all.
It was hard to blame Thrayne for his attitude, really. I certainly couldn't deny the consequences of what Bates had done, although the consequences were not his to bear alone. The gunner is far more to blame for a murder than the gunsmith. It wasn't an easy situation to be sure. "I admit my kind have made mistakes, but you're being a bit harsh." Blame not the inventor, but the greedy businessman that uses the inventor's creations for profit no matter what the consequences.
Thrayne looked me in the eye, saw the uncertainty that I grappled with in trying to justify my own curiosity, my own desire to continue tinkering. "You are entitled to your opinions, human, even though they may be wrong. I do not blame you personally - as a matter of fact, I have met many fine humans. But as a race, you lack maturity."
I sighed sadly, "I suppose I can't argue with that." I really meant it, too. I absolutely agreed with him that the race of humanity was immature, and even perhaps would've been better off without the steam engine. Reflecting solely upon my own journey, I thought of the things I experienced and learned merely by having to travel under my own power, often going to places that were not visited by a railroad. If I thought about it I was sure I could come up with more good things that would come from avoiding the use of technology. "On another subject, Thrayne, I've been curious about something for quite some time now. If you don't mind my asking, where are all the dwarven women?"
Now you're starting to sound like Magnus. Ugh. While the blatant abuse of technology seemed to be a uniquely human trait, getting offended at polite questions seemed to be a uniquely dwarven trait. "I apologize for asking, Thrayne. I suppose I'll be going now."
"Wait," he called, "I have one thing to ask you. I know that you're a traveler - if you ever happen to find yourself at the Stonecutter Clan, could you deliver a message to my brother? He's been gone some fifteen years and I need his help back here. He's a bit of a layabout, if you get my meaning."
I sighed, debating whether or not I should really accept his offer. "I suppose I could do that for you." Exploring another clan's home should be interesting, anyway. I doubt most humans even see one, let alone three! "Could you mark the location on my map?" I pulled my map out of my purse and showed it to him. He glanced it over for just a moment, then made a single mark on it. "Thanks. I'll return when I've found him." I politely excused myself and walked back out into the hallway.
"Excuse me, Samantha." Virgil interrupted me as I continued to explore. "Could I speak with you for a moment?"
I smiled at him, "Of course, Virgil. What is it you'd like to talk about?"
"Well..." he seemed nervous, "We've been on the road for quite some time. Ashbury was a long ways away and that was the last real town we were in. I know that things are fine for you and for Vollinger, but I'm starting to run low on supplies. Before we go exploring any of the dark caves you've agreed to search, do you think we could make a trip back to Tarant so I could restock?"
I guess I hadn't thought of that. My salves don't work any better on him than his magic does on me... and dwarves don't exactly keep a wide stock of potions. "That's a reasonable request, Virgil."
"Take a look at this map. If we were to go to the Stonecutter Clan like Thrayne just asked us to, we'd already be travelling halfway to Tarant. What say we quick make this stop of yours and then we'll head over to find Thrayne's brother?"
He smiled, becoming less nervous by the second. "I'd appreciate that. I'm sorry to be a bother."
"It's not a bother, Virgil," I insisted, "We've got plenty of time to figure things out. It wouldn't be an adventure if we didn't go way the hell out of our way now and then, would it?"
Vollinger started chuckling. "You sure do keep a positive attitude for a woman with assassins on her trail."
I shrugged, "Would you like me better if I curled up in a corner, wailing 'poor me, poor me!'"
Vollinger's chuckle rose to outright laughter then, "No, I like you just fine as you are. It's a pleasure to travel with somebody of your refreshing temperament."
"We'd better get going," I sighed. "Best not to stay in one place for too long anyhow." Everybody nodded, and even Terry gave a hearty woof that echoed off of the cavern walls.
As promised, we journeyed to Tarant to stock up on supplies. Virgil ducked into a magic shop, though I chose not to follow. He came out carrying several potions as well as a scroll. I visited my favorite junk man and chatted while picking up a few spare parts. We all spent the night at the Bridesdale, and I stayed up for half the night tinkering around with all of my new toys. Unfortunately, I didn't even know what heartstone was let alone where to find it, but it sure wasn't in Tarant. Erick's schematic would have to wait. I did, however, put together the strange rifle that I'd gotten the schematic for on the Isle of Despair... but Vollinger shied away from it, and I certainly wasn't going to use it. Absolutely not.
Afterwards a good night's sleep, better for some than for others, we took off again. I didn't let the lack of sleep bother me, I was growing quite accustomed to lengthy travel and a bit of grass was almost as good as a bed. We made for the Stonewall Mountains once again, this being my third time to visit them. Traveling to the west of the Gulf of Morbihan was quite a lot more pleasant than traveling on its eastern side. The area was a lot more wooded and the grass greener. It was a vast improvement over yellowed plains and oversized rocks. Besides that, the mountains in the distance were quite beautiful when they were clear enough to see, in stark contrast to having Tarant on the horizon.
At last we arrived at the Stonecutter Clan's caverns, but something didn't feel right about it. It seemed to have quite a lot more in common with the Black Mountain Clan than it did with the Wheel Clan. There were no lanterns on the inside and I could hear something scraping and scratching around in the darkness. Don't tell me that other clans have started disappearing now... how many bloody dwarves are going to just disappear?
As I rounded a nearby corner I came face to face with a horror I'd not expected to encounter. Ugh. Bloody zombies! That's disgusting! The look and smell of the shambling dead was utterly nauseating. I wasted no time in chopping apart all that I came across. Some of them could occasionally be quick, but for the most part I had little difficulties in outmaneuvering them. My combat skills were most certainly improving.
After chopping my way through well over two dozen of the bastards I came to a suspiciously locked door that seemed to lead further into the caverns. Please, let there be somebody alive in here. I don't want to be the one to give Thrayne the bad news. I easily pushed the lock open with my pick and pressed inside. The cavern widened out around me and wound around in several directions before abruptly terminating in sharp wreckage. I picked my way through the wreckage into the room beyond and my jaw dropped open when I saw what was inside.
I'd discovered a foul laboratory of the damned. There were not only another dozen zombies in the room alone, but they were accompanied by a spectral knight that charged me mercilessly. I dodged out of the way of his ghastly sword, quite fearful for the kind of cuts such a blade could make. The knight was slow and I was easily able to dash around him. I swung my axe in an upward arc with both hands, praying that it would be able to damage the ghostly being.
The knight wailed in pain and I gave silent thanks that it was solid enough to be wounded. It was too early to start getting comfortable, however. The blow I'd just landed would've shattered the spine of a normal man yet the knight still fought on. Terry grabbed ahold of the knight's leg and began chewing through it, distracting him so that I could position myself for another strike. Virgil guarded the area I was fighting in, chopping down zombies that dared try to interfere with our duel. Vollinger easily picked off any zombies that broke through Virgil's perimiter.
Thank you... for giving me the room to fight, and for trying your best to protect me regardless. I dodged around the knight's blade, feeling it swipe past my leg swiftly. I thought that he'd missed, but the dull pain that slowly came into focus afterward suggested otherwise. I glanced down to see my own blood beginning to stain my armor and I cursed at my ineptitude. Dashing between the oversized knight's leg, I positioned myself behind him once again.
I used my unwounded leg to kick the bastard firmly in the back of the knee, forcing it to bend. The stone cracked where his knee landed, such was the weight of the horrible being. Still standing on the back of his leg, I swung my axe with all of the might I could muster, landing a solid blow against the back of the his neck. The axe failed to split apart the thick helmet he was wearing, but the force of the blow sent him tumbling to the ground face first. I dared not let my advantage expire. I leapt atop his back and lifted my axe high above my head, bringing it down brutally on the back of his skull. The axe at last pierced that horrible armor and, with one final wail, he finally stopped moving. I stood up and stared at his ghostly body, curious that it did not disappear.
It seemed like my battle had taken so much time that the rest of the zombies were already no more. Virgil and Vollinger had taken care of them nicely, while Terry helped me out with the real threat. I actually felt somewhat embarrassed at how much I'd really needed their help.
I found a rather unusual schematic sitting out on a desk next to an open journal. Taking a closer look I realized it was probably something I could construct if I referred to a few technical manuals. This might explain a lot. How utterly bizzarre. I slipped the schematic in my purse and flipped through the journal idly.
another side to Necromancy that none of us was ever aware of. Yes, long ago I discovered the power to resurrect the dead, but I never dreamed that I could actually SPEAK with their incorporeal souls! It's incredible! Yes, these poor souls are in pain, but the things they can tell us! I believe I'm on the verge of discovering an entire new College of Magick. Soon I will share my discoveries with the rest of the Council...
Today I animated the lifeless body of a mountain lion. I'd found the poor creature not far from my laboratory here, expired - it seems from natural causes. To animate the dead is not the same as resurrecting them, as the creature is merely an earthly shell - still dead - being powered by a soul I have trapped within it. It was a pathetic sight and I released the creature's soul not long after, but the possibilities for such an application are endless! Truly, I have found something incredible here...
I've found that it is possible to pull the very soul from a living being. All of my experiments to date have been upon beasts, but there is no doubt that the spell would work perfectly upon a living, sentient being. Not that I would ever do so, of course, but the curiosity within me burns as this knew knowledge opens up to me! I have been given these visions of the lands of the dead, and I must try to understand them. It is both a blessing and a curse, but I must strive forward to the end...
Nasrudin and an entourage of the Council Members stopped by today, wondering why I've been neglecting my duties. I wanted to tell them what has been happening, but kept quiet as I still have much to learn. Begging some privacy and pretending not to be in the best of health, I promised to resume my duties as fast as I possibly could. I could see in the face of our leader that I was not believed. I haven't much time.
I spoke with the gravekeeper from a town not far from here. He was quite accommodating after I fattened his purse and he should be making a delivery to me by the end of the week.
My theories were correct. I know that some may look at the things that I've done in the name of magick and call them monstrous, but these shells that I raised and then quenched were already dead to begin with... that I used them to further our knowledge should be of no concern! And now that we can control these spirits, who is to say what is right and wrong concerning them. I'm no tyrant, but power is control. I now have this power, I and I alone...
The Council has found out what I've done, and they are furious. Arronax is screaming banishment, and Nasrudin is speechless, and the rest of the Council eyes me with disgust or outright revulsion. Can they not see the power in these things? The importance? I pity them, these poor, unenlightened souls. Caught forever in their shallow thoughts, they whimper like small children, afraid of what they cannot understand. And fear me they should...
The sentence has been passed, and tomorrow I stand before the council to be banished. I go not into the Void with fear or malice, but merely with anticipation. If this be my death, then it will be a homecoming... perhaps I was never meant to truly be among the living. And if not, then I go with open eyes into the unknown and welcome what I will see there...
I closed the journal and sat down in a nearby chair for several minutes, silent, pondering what I'd just read. Of the five legendary beings that had ever been banished, it made the most sense that the journal would belong to the Great Necromancer, Kerghan. Somehow I had stumbled into his ancient laboratory, and I wasn't the only one. There was no possible way that he was the one to develop the schematic I'd just found. It had to be somebody else, working off of the same principles.
Nevermind the moral questions raised by even beginning work on such a device, I was simply amazed that the Age of Legends seemed to be so much more than a legend itself. Arronax himself was trying to kill me and I now possessed the journals of both Kerghan and Kraka-Tur. I could damn near open a museum that rivaled the one in Tarant. I couldn't wait to show my findings to Frederick. I wanted to see the look on his face when the same chill that had just passed over me passed over him as he realized what I'd given him.
All right, it's time to move on. I didn't really want to linger on in that laboratory for any longer, and I still had dwarves to find. "Pardon, madam," Vollinger asked, "are you all right?"
I smiled at him. "I'm fine, Vollinger, I just wasn't expecting to find something so amazing here. I've always thought that the Panarii religion and tales of banishment were false, but here I've found the very journal of Kerghan himself."
Virgil gasped and Vollinger seemed fairly surprised as well. "Indeed?! That is the book you were reading?"
I nodded, "Yes. Quite the discovery, don't you think?"
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow with it, "Yes, that is quite the discovery indeed. No wonder you seemed to be so lost in thought."
I chuckled a bit and said, "Yes, did-" my speech cut off when I saw what was in the next room.
Damn it all. I bloody hate zombies. "We'll talk later, let's take care of these things." The other two nodded and Terry took off into the room, gnawing zombies to the ground like it was a macabre game of dominos. Now that's a rather dark image. I charged into the room as well and began swinging away, cleaving another zombie in two with each strike.
The fight wore on for the better part of an hour, zombies pouring into the room from every direction. My arms burned from overuse and my axe hung heavily in my hands. Terry was in desperate need of a bath and Vollinger was very nearly out of ammo. Virgil, surprisingly, was fine. I suppose I'm glad we stopped at Tarant for you... now if only we'd expected to encounter zombies here instead of dwarves maybe we would've stocked up, too. I pulled a towel out of my purse and wiped the sweat and gore off of my face and hands before discarding it. I didn't really want to keep it after what I'd just wiped off with it anyway.
On the far end of the room I saw a thick, metal door. It looked only slightly rusty, not nearly as old as the laboratory I'd found just a short while earlier. I tried to open it, but it was locked shut. I could hear heavy breathing and uneasy voices on the other side. "Hold just a moment, I'll get you out of there!" I shouted. I slipped my lockpick into the lock and I had it open in quite the hurry.
Thank goodness. The dwarves are safe after all. Well, relatively speaking. "What happened here?" I was utterly confused. As far as I knew, zombies couldn't lock doors.
The dwarf kicked the ground sheepishly and chuckled a bit. "I would, ah, be responsible for all this. I found an ancient necromancer's laboratory off an old, abandoned access cavern. In researching his journals, I deduced a way to reproduce what he had done through magick by using scientific principles."
I gritted my teeth. "So that was you? You designed that strange device and created all these zombies? That was a bit irresponsible."
He held up his hands in a gesture of alarm, "I assure you it was an accident! The first one I created began an awful, horrific screeching and flailing about. It knocked over my chemicals and before I knew what was happening they were coming out of the floor. They were everywhere! Luckily, I was able to get back here to warn everyone."
I sighed, "Whatever. I'm looking for Erland Iron Heart. Do you know him?"
He grinned and stared at me, "Of course I know him. I'm him."
Ugh. Of course you are. "Your brother sent me to ask you to go home."
I'd be overprotective of anybody that carelessly spawned an army of zombies, nearly destroying an entire clan of dwarves single handedly. The next thing he knows you might design a machine with the sole purpose of lopping off your own head. "What happened to your father?"
Erland started to push me out of the way and head for the exit. "I'd rather not speak of it anymore. I'd best be on my way home so that my dear brother doesn't worry himself to death."
Then why the bloody hell did you even mention it? "Fair enough. I will be going, too. These passages are safe now, so the others can come out and, er... start cleaning things up, I suppose." I didn't feel particularly right about sending away the man who was responsible for the mess before he could clean it up, so I beat a hasty retreat. After another 'quick' stop at Tarant, for some more supplies and a desperately needed bath, the four of us returned to the Wheel Clan.
As much as I wanted to explore around the majestic dwarven caverns further, I first had to visit Thrayne's room to tell him that his brother should be around soon. "Hello again, Thrayne. I found your brother for you."
He looked up at me curiously, his face a mixture of annoyance and hope, "What did my errant brother have to say?"
"That he'll be returning shortly. He had a bit of a mishap there." I do believe that to be the greatest understatement that has ever been made in all of Arcanum. One might just as well call the Gulf of Morbihan a creek.
I'd only piqued Thrayne's curiosity further. "A mishap? Of what nature?" I could tell by his voice that he was genuinely concerned for his brother's safety.
I can't very well hide it, and I've no reason to anyway. "He discovered how to make zombies through technology."
"I had to rescue them, they were besieged by zombies." I shrugged as though it were no big deal, although I still remembered the great delight I took in bathing once I got to Tarant. The only reason I got out of the bath as quickly as I did was so there would be warm water left for Terry.
Thrayne nearly exploded in anger, though it was hardly directed towards me. "That damned tinkering fool! He could have killed the whole clan! It seems I owe you my thanks."
You owe me thanks? After you insulted me by saying humans don't have the right to technology I think you owe me a little more than thanks. "Your thanks? How about some coin?"
He grunted and counted out several coins, handing them to me. "If you are so coarse an individual, so be it. Here's 200 coins for your trouble."
I smiled at him, "Thanks, it was a pleasure doing business." I did feel a pang of guilt as I left his room. I wasn't exactly aiding his perception of humanity as a whole, and it wasn't as though I really needed the coins. At best I was being awfully petty.
With the other tasks out of the way I set about finding the Dredge. I crept around near the entrance until I found another stairway down. There was a suspicious lack of guards and I didn't know how long they planned on remaining away so I darted inside. There were chests full of various ores and minerals, most of them locked or trapped. I bypassed the locks easily enough, but Virgil wasted more than a bit of effort healing me from the damned traps.
The passageway wound around in many different directions, seemingly twisting upon itself. After a good several minutes I began to wonder what all of the nasty rumors had been about. I hadn't seen even one damned beast and I was almost disappointed. At last I spotted something as I rounded a corner and I was every bit as surprised as I was hoping to be, though not in the same way I expected. I'd found, of all things, dwarves.
"Hello, sir. Might I ask who you are?" While you're at it, could you please tell me why you're not a hideous beast that's trying to kill me? I've been horribly mislead.
The dwarf was covered in a unique combination of soot and tattoos, and he looked up at me with intensity. "My name is Arvid Millstone and I'm the foreman here in the Wheel Clan Mines."
Mines...? Not the abandoned mines you call the Dredge? Blast it, I didn't figure on them having multiple mines. I suppose I thought they'd just... I don't know... stopped mining. "A pleasure, Arvid. Why are all these miners standing here?"
He looked at the other dwarves who all either shrugged or nodded before looking back at me, having gotten their permission to tell the outsider. "Well, madam, there's been some trouble here in the mines as of late. We blasted a new tunnel a few days ago, and I've been losing miners ever since." He paused, shivering noticeably, before continuing his story. "Sometimes, when you dig this deep, you find things that weren't ever supposed to be found. I think there's something bad back there, something evil..."
Hogwash. Evil is just a convenient excuse for why some folk are worse than others. "Seems like you might need some assistance here, Arvid..." I'll show you it's nothing to be worried about.
"I've no doubt I'll be up to the task, Arvid..." For whatever reason, I just wasn't scared of whatever thing they seemed to think was so horrible. I came down expecting the Dredge, where nobody had been for years. This was just some old mine.
The foreman glanced at my axe, noticing the wear on the blade, and then at my companions, noting we could probably be considered adventurers. I hated that term. "Perhaps you might be. I can't offer you anything for the job, but I know that the dwarves of the Wheel Clan would be most grateful if you were to destroy what's been killing all of our miners."
You could've offered payment you know. "Hmmm. That's not payment enough for the risk. Good day, sir..." Like an idiot, I refused to help him and then strode off right into the mine. Well, I'm at least going to find out what it is. I just don't guarantee I'll kill it if you're not going to pay me for it.
No sooner had I rounded the next corner than I came face to face with a mass of tiny, crawly little spiders. I hated spiders with a passion, but hacking them to bits came both easily and naturally. It was hard to feel remorse for mangling a spider, and that made the fighting all that much easier for me.
The passageways were numerous, as I would expect for a mine, and the spiders infested nearly all of them. Spiders? You've got a problem with spiders? Good heavens, are you dwarves or housewives? A lump caught in my throat as I rounded the final corner of the mines. I'd explored every other passage without finding anything truly horrible so whatever was around the next corner had to be it.
I first noticed the massive, white spider that stood at least as tall as I did. It was unnerving, mostly because it disgusted me, but that wasn't what bothered me. I wasn't even bothered by the other half a dozen spiders in the room that were all the size of Terry. What truly made me want to run screaming were the piles of eggs littered across the side of the room, piled upon each other haphazardly. I shuddered oncontrollably and charged into the room.
The creature's skin was hard and resilient, but my axe punctured through it and cleaved a leg from its body. It hissed at me violently, but I pressed my attack, chopping into its body with a brutal force only made possible through abject disgust. I wanted desperately to rid the world of the existence of the foul creature and everything it had thus far spawned. Beneath my assault it finally relented, settling into a jagged heap upon the ground at my feet.
Terry had already ripped apart a few of the smaller spiders and the other two were helping out in that regard as well. I joined in the extermination efforts, ridding the mines and hopefully the world of the last of those awful things. At last I pulled a box of brewer's yeast out of my purse and thoroughly mixed it up with a bottle of wine I'd been carrying. I poured the makeshift fuel all over the eggs in that foul corner of the mine and lit them on fire. There wasn't a single complaint, just the gentle crackling of the flames. We all watched as the last of the eggs burned out and then we turned back towards the entrance of the mine.
Might as well let the cheapskates know it's dead. I walked back up to Arvid and greeted him. "I've killed those creatures, by the way. They seemed to be a family of crystalline spiders... dreadful beasts..."
"Good day to you." I've just saved your hides and you don't even spare a single coin. Bloody cheapskates. As annoyed as I was, I felt good about what I'd done. Even if it was just for my own reasons I'd still done quite a good thing. I was proud of myself. My pettier side would get over the lack of payment in due time.
Bonus ContentSome of you may have noticed I put an extra item on my hotbar towards the end of this update. Yes, it's what you think it is.
It's rather completely out of character for Samantha to have made that, but I'm amused at just carrying it around. I don't really plan on using it.
Requested by Spike McMayhem
Requested by Metoron