The Let's Play Archive


by Seorin

Part 43

Chapter the Forty Second: Not All Good News Is Welcome

Upon entering Stillwater I passed by a lonely shack on the outskirts of the town. Normally it would've escaped my notice, as it likely had on my way out, when I left for Qintarra, but my attention was drawn to it by rampant shouting and cursing. I curiously cracked open the loose door and poked my head inside.

The noise was coming from an older man who sat alone, staring at the floor or the wall or nothing inparticular. He couldn't actually be staring as his eyes had very obviously been cut out, likely by a heavy blade from the looks of it. He turned in my direction as the door swung open further, "Halt! Don't you know I can smell your presence, foolish one?! You actually thought you were capable of catching me unaware, didn't you? Who are you?!"

"I am known as Samantha Colburn." Sammy, Sammy, son of... Merle whored me out for four long years, though looking back on it now it seemed so much longer at the time. At long last I found salvation where I least expected it... a 'client' of mine noticed his things missing and reported me to the guards, at once damning me and exposing Merle. I was locked up and I was glad for it.

"Why have you come to bother an old, blind man, Samantha Colburn? Did he send you to finish me off? Did he?!" He was ranting just as loudly as he was when he thought nobody was around to hear.

"N-no..." I tried to calm him, "I don't know anything about-" I was cut off.

"He has never found me, you know... he never will! Not me! The Master of dodge is too crafty for the likes of Stout! ...never, never, never..." His ranting continued, seemingly without skipping a beat.

I swallowed uncomfortably. "Adkin Chambers... the Dodge Master." It was more of a statement than a question.

You're really starting to get on my nerves, old man, and that's saying a lot considering just how sorry for you I feel. "I am seeking you, but for training, no other purpose."

"Liar!" He shouted angrily, "He sent you to finish me off! Didn't he?! It wasn't enough that he stole Druella, was it?! Or that he blinded me and left me for dead?"

I sighed, putting a hand to my head impatiently. "No, sir. I only came seeking your wisdom as a trainer."

"You expect me to believe that you have sought out an old, blind man to complete your Master dodge training? What a fool you must think me to be!" He laughed hoarsely. The strain in his voice showed that his rants likely occurred somewhat frequently.

I didn't know how many times I would have to tell the old fool, but his screaming at me certainly didn't change the very real fact in front of him. I really had no desire to kill him no matter how much he annoyed me, and training would be a pleasant benefit. "It is true, sir. There is no reason, aside from training."

"What the-?" he caught me off guard striking out directly towards my face. I was too fast for him, though. I dashed aside and within moments my axe was in my hand almost by reflex. Terry started growling.

The old man seemed somehow satisfied at this, "I see you have reached Expert status in our skill..."

I grumbled, "I told you I was only seeking training!"

"Ha! Fine!" He sounded just as angry as he had been when I first started talking to him. "I shall 'believe' you. If Master training is what you truly seek, I have a task you must complete before I will disclose my secrets to you."

As long as it doesn't involve making imprints of my naked backside in the snow, you've got a deal. "What must I do to prove my skill?"

You know, when I told Mr. Ogg that Stout would get what was coming to him, I didn't mean that I would be the one to give it to him. "What purpose would his death serve you?" Everybody's so damned obsessed with killing.

Chambers was furious, "Why should he die? WHY SHOULD HE DIE?! For destroying my life and blinding me, you fool! Druella was mine! Mine, I say! He knew it, knew she loved me... That's why he wanted her for himself!"

Yes, I realize he blinded you... that still doesn't answer how revenge will actually improve your life. "He blinded you over a woman, then?"

He grumbled angrily, "He and I had always been at odds with one another. But then he challenged me to a duel for her hand. I was infuriated! The pompous pig! Proud I was, so I accepted, even against her protests... Little did I know how truly obsessed with Druella he had become."

I think you're not really allowed to talk about obsession, old man. "How is it that you were blinded, but not killed?"

"What happened then?" I did tire of Chambers' rambling, but I was morbidly curious about his story.

He suddenly grew excited, grabbing at my hands to hold them, "As I healed in an infirmary, disfigured and blind, my hatred for Stout grew into an unquenchable thirst. It consumes my every waking moment. You are the tool that has been sent to me. You shall be my eyes!"

I do suppose that if anybody deserves a good killing it's Stout. I can only feel so bad about killing a man like that, and I really could use the training. "Very well, Adkin Chambers. I will seek vengeance in your name if that pleases you." I was still disgusted, but I was willing to make this one exception.

Chambers started laughing darkly, a deep and hoarse laugh that spiraled upward with glee. "Bring me his eyes! That will be the proof of his death that I require!"

Fitting, I suppose. "I will do this deed. If I may, however, would you tell me what happened to Druella?"

Yes, yes, I know already. Ugh. "I go!" I said, rolling my eyes. Virgil actually looked somewhat scared.

He approached me as we walked towards the inn to grab our room for the evening. "Samantha... are you quite sure about this? I really didn't expect you to accept."

I nodded slowly, "I think so, yes. I'm not comfortable with it, and certainly this Stout should be a more than formidable opponent... but at the same time, it seems to be a shame that a man like that continues living, don't you agree? I think that Arcanum would be better off without him."

Virgil smirked at me slightly, "Yes, I would agree with that assessment. I'm actually proud of you. You've come a long way since we first met."

We were already at the inn and I was about to pay for our rooms, "Oh, stop it, Virgil. This really isn't something to be proud of, even if I can loosely justify it."

He sighed sadly and I handed the appropriate amount of coin over to the innkeeper. I slept fitfully, somewhat upset with myself over having accepted Chambers' terms. In the morning we all left for Tarant. Swyft was, of course, excited as a schoolgirl. I actually envied her innocence.

The journey to Tarant passed quickly enough, although most of us were uncomfortably silent due to the new addition to the group. Thankfully (or perhaps not) Swyft was more than happy to fill the silence with meaningless banter on any and every subject she could possibly think of. Hearing about things first-hand was one thing, but hearing childish stories from a spoiled elf didn't satisfy my thirst for knowledge at all. I was quite incredibly pleased when we finally reached Tarant so I could at last be rid of her.

"Thank you. I'll be seeing you." I smiled and waved and walked off as quickly as possible, my smile fading the moment she was out of sight. I looked over at the others, "...I am so sorry."

Vollinger chuckled out loud and Virgil let out a huge sigh, "At least she's gone... and I suppose more coin is always a good thing."

"I've got a great way to make it up to the both of you, though." I looked down and tossed a piece of jerky to Terry. "...and, of course, Terry, but he's easy to please." Virgil arched an eyebrow at me and I continued my explanation. "Now I know you're not as interested in archaeology as I am, but... would you be interested in seeing the insides of an ancient iron chest that's never been opened?"

Virgil's mouth dropped open. "What? You mean in the zoological society? I thought you already tried picking that lock."

"I did," I nodded satisfactorily, holding up the key I made out of mithril and heartstone, "and that's why I know this key is the one that'll work."

Vollinger grinned, "That's quite impressive, Samantha. You truly are a learned individual."

I gave a light curtsy and dashed excitedly into the zoological society. I carefully stared back towards the rear wall of the building, making sure the woman behind the desk wasn't looking my way, then I stepped over the divider in the way of the iron chest and slipped the key inside. I turned it with a satisfactory 'click' and, as quietly as I could, pulled the chest open. Much to my surprise it actually didn't make a single creak despite its age.

Inside I discovered a small map alongside three round drums with peculiar shapes inscribed on them. I quickly emptied the chest and stuffed the contents into my purse, shutting the chest as quietly as I could. I stepped back over the divider and glanced towards the back of the building again, making sure the woman behind the desk was none the wiser. I thought about taking my key with me, but I knew it would be useless from then on. I left it, wondering how long it would take them to discover the chest had been robbed. I felt as though I was depriving them of one mystery while instantly providing them with another.

Outside, I took a closer look at the small map. It was unmistakably showing the stretch of land from around the area of Stillwater going South along the river nearly to Tarant. It noted a particular location along the Stonewall Mountains, just North of the Stonecutter Clan caverns. Virgil looked on at the map as I stared at it, clapping me on the shoulder, "Well done, Samantha! This is... this is amazing!"

I grinned at him, "Truly it is, isn't it? I can't wait to see what we find. I'd like it if we headed there as soon as we finished our business here in Tarant."

"Well?" he asked excitedly, "What's keeping us? We just need to find out information about Renford A. Terwilliger, don't we?"

I nodded, "That's correct... and the hall of records isn't far from here, either. Why don't we go take a look?"

Without even answering Virgil took off towards the hall of records and I ran after him, laughing. It had been so long since anybody shared my interest in history that it was truly a pleasure to have Virgil all excited over it. I ran into the hall of records after him, slowing only once I got to the stairs down. I approached the woman downstairs and asked, "Excuse me... could you find me the obituary for Renford A. Terwilliger?"

"Certainly..." she said, thumbing through a massive stack of papers.

A book? That sounds promising. "Thank you for the information, madam." I returned to the outer hallway, thinking about the book when an idea rather suddenly struck me. Although I hadn't seen it previously it occurred to me the library might have a copy, and I did purchase that membership many months prior. I climbed back up the stairs with purpose, thankful that everything of an intellectual sort was neatly organized all in one place. I entered the library, showing my membership to the gentleman that greeted me as I entered. "Good day, sir. I'm looking for T'sen-Ang: Horror among the Dark Elves. Do you have it?"

"Sounds spooky," he exclaimed, smiling. "I'll just go and check. I'll be right back, madam." He wandered around the shelves for a couple short minutes, searching for my book. Finally he plucked a single volume from a shelf and returned to me.

Of course it's never that easy. Well, perhaps this other book will do. "What book would that be?"

He put on a pair of spectacles and glanced at the front page of the book carefully, "The book is titled Curse of T'sen-Ang. It appears to be a book about the one you are searching for."

A book about a book? Well, I suppose there are weirder things. "Sounds interesting. I would like to check it out if I may."

"Yes, of course madam." He handed the book to me and I immediately cracked it open, entirely too curious about the contents.

in 1750. His fabled trip to the Glimmering Forest was made in 1768, his eighteenth year. He was indeed, as per his book, accompanied by an elven tracker named Jar'en Ben'al; records housed within the Tarantian Zooligical Society validate this fact. Mr. Ben'al was never heard from nor seen again after the expedition.

As for Mr. Terwilliger's account of his adventures in the elven city of Qintarra, or his supposed discovery of the mythical T'sen-Ang, no one can be sure. Most scholars and collectors of literature assume that Mr. Terwilliger's book is a work of fiction. And as such fantastical literature was all the rage at that time, I might be inclined to agree. Yet one must only look upon the events following the publication of "Horror Among the Dark Elves" to see that he very well may have found something deep within the Glimmering that was never, ever meant to be found.

There were very few copies of the book ever published. Records concerning the initial print run are scarce, but it is believed that no more than 100 were ever released to the public. 4 days after the book was shipped to Tarantian bookstores, the factory that printed it was burned to the ground. The owner, a Mr. Jeremiah Gomes, was found in his home, brutally murdered by an unknown assailant.

The four bookstores that had purchased the volume for sale in Tarant suffered the same fate. Only fifteen copies of the book were sold before the final store was destroyed.

Those fifteen copies became an immediate collector's item. Enormous sums of money were paid for the remaining volumes. After a few months, the books had fallen into various, respected collections across Arcanum.

Each and every one of the owners of the books began to complain of strange happenings once the book was in their possession. All of them told of frightening noises and visions, shadowy figures following them wherever they went, unexplained illnesses and untimely deaths. Many attributed this to paranoia, a trite brand of sensationalism to create an even greater demand for the book. Unfortunately, their fears were all too justified. All of them were dead within 5 years of the initial publication, their volumes either stolen, burned or disfigured beyond recognition.

Indeed, they had suffered what came to be known as the Curse of T'sen-Ang.

Mr. Terwilliger, strangely enough, lived a relatively long life, cursed, in his own way, to witness the evil fruits of his labors. He saw himself as the cause of these horrors, and wrote extensively of it within his memoirs. The following is an excerpt from them, only days before he died in his sleep.

"I will never forgive myself for what I have unleashed upon the world. Had I the courage, I would travel again to the Glimmering and unleash holy vengeance upon those evil creatures that have plagued our fair land and its peoples. Alas, I no longer have the strength nor the power, and now there is only my own end that I pray for every day."

Until just a few short months ago, it was thought that there were no remaining copies of "Horror Among the Dark Elves". After an exhaustive investigation, I have found that this is not at all the case. The last known copy of the book, owned by the famed book collector Mr. Phillip Misk, was thought to have perished with its owner in a fire almost 50 years ago. Now, with new evidence presented by a reliable source, I have discovered that Mr. Misk's son, Victor Misk of Caladon, still has the copy in his possession and is hiding it for fear that the curse will again visit his family.

I pray that the evil let loose in the Glimmering has finally been put to rest. And I pray Mr. Misk and his family avoid the fate that has befallen every other soul who has challenged the Curse of T'sen-Ang.

I was completely stunned by what I had read. At first I was frightened, naturally. I knew that the book I was trying to locate was no work of fiction and, indeed, the events surrounding it only served to confirm that fact. I'd managed to avoid an untimely death so far, however, and that was not for their lack of effort.

What bothered me perhaps most of all was the collector said to have the only remaining copy: one Mr. Victor Misk. He'd been a friendly rival of Frederick's, both of them collectors of various things. It shouldn't have surprised me at all that he, of all people, was the one to have the book. What instead bothered me was that my journey would now take me to Caladon. I'd been longing to go home once again after so much time had passed, and now that chance was upon me. I didn't know whether to be ecstatic or frightened, and in truth it was a little bit of both. Frederick... I'm coming home. My only obstacle was finding out exactly how to get there.

Some rather boisterous men burst out of a nearby door as I passed by, shouting something or other. I mostly ignored it, but I did catch the name 'Willoughsby'. Where have I heard that name before... of course...! That's the gnome trying to get Caladon into the Unified Kingdoms!
If anybody would be able to secure me passage to Caladon in these troubled times it would be him. "Mr. Willoughsby!" I called out, "Excuse me, sir, might I have a moment...?"

He smiled at me and shook my hand. "I'd be more than happy to speak with you, young lady." Isn't he a charmer? "I'm always eager to hear the thoughts and opinions of my constituents. Unfortunately, I have a pressing engagement just now. Will you stop by my offices in City Hall in an hour or so and we can speak further...?"

I nodded, shaking his hand back. "I may just do that. Good day to you." He wandered off down the street, presumably towards the engagement he'd been speaking of.

"Now why would you want to talk with a man like that?" Virgil didn't seem to quite understand my motives.

"Well..." I tried to explain, "It's going to be rather difficult to secure passage to Caladon without that man's blessing. Some people around these parts are talking about war. War! I think we'd be better off trying to deal with somebody like Willoughsby than we would bribing some questionable sea captain who'd wind up burying us at Razor's Point, don't you?"

I could hear his chuckle echoing throughout his plate armor. "You have a point, Samantha. You're one step ahead of things, as always. I suppose chatting with him might be a good idea after all."

Vollinger was chuckling as well, "So now it's Caladon, is it? Where to after that? Thanatos? Tulla? We certainly are making a rather thorough tour of the world."

"Come now, Vollinger," I chided, "You know you enjoy it just as much as I do."

"Yes, you've got me there. That I do," he admitted with a smile.

The three of us chatted as we strolled around the streets of Tarant absent-mindedly and, eventually, I headed in the direction of City Hall. As luck would have it, Mr. Willoughsby seemed to be in by the time I arrived. "Hello again, Mr. Willoughsby. Do you have time to chat now?"

I decided it would be for the best if I played entirely ignorant. There was something about the personality of the gnome that struck me oddly and if he was going to assume I was just another ignorant Tarantian woman I wasn't going to do anything to change that assumption. "No. Might we speak of them?"

He chatted away at me as if he truly enjoyed it, something I expected he would've been significantly less inclined to do had he known I was a citizen of Caladon. However, I most certainly wasn't one of Caladon's favored citizens. Tolerated might have been a better word. "Tarant is ruled by the Tarantian Industrial Council, of which I am the Chairman. We are a group of businessmen and politicians who make laws based upon what we feel is best for both the commercial and," he suddenly cleared his throat uncomfortably before continuing, "uh... cultural future of our fair city..."

"Has Tarant always been ruled as such, or was there once a king?" Well, that was awful direct... I'd best be more careful before I tip him off...

Willoughsby didn't seem too suspicious just yet. "No. The monarchy... well, how should one phrase it? ...became, uh, 'outdated' about 50 years ago. We don't speak of it much here in Tarant." Why so nervous, Willoughsby? Do you know something that you aren't letting on? I resolved to think on the gnome's strange behavior later, at a time when it wouldn't cause me to blurt out inappropriate questions. "Suffice it to say that the city has prospered under our new system of government. Do you know of the Unified Kingdom, friend?"

What kind of bloody idiot doesn't know about the Unified Kingdom? Caladon's not even a member and I know of it. Are Tarantians really that stupid? "No... what is the Unified Kingdom?"

Looks like I'm playing the part of the local citizen quite well so far. "Say, Mr. Willoughsby... what, in your opinion, are the major problems in Tarant?"

He thought about my question earnestly before answering, "Oh... we've many problems here in Tarant. The rise of criminal activity in the Boil is one of them. I'm taking... uh, personal measures... to alleviate that problem. We've also a rising orcish and half-orcish populartion here in Tarant... they've created... UNIONS" He said the word with such incredible distaste that I thought he was going to be sick. "...and have caused a general unrest among the laborers here in the city."

I'd passed through the Boil more than a few times on my way in and out of the city and I couldn't say I blamed him for wanting to turn some attention towards it. "I'd be interested in hearing about those 'personal measures' you're taking in the Boil."

Willoughsby's face started to grow a bit red and he turned away from me slightly, clearing his throat, "Oh, nothing... let's forget I ever said it."

I winked at him slyly and said, "Come now, Willoughsby old boy. You can trust me..."

Hmm... I suppose if I want to hear more about that I'll have to pay this Sebastian a visit. "Very well, then. What does your job entail, exactly?"

He seemed taken aback at my question. "My job? Oh... I've many responsibilities being chairman of the Industrial Council as well as the owner of my own considerable enterprises." Leave it to a gnome to brag about his financial success. "As of late I've been monitoring the negotiations with Caladon. Caladon, you see, is considering becoming a member of the Unified Kingdom."

Yes, now that's the subject I was digging for. "Really? Have they agreed to do so already?"

Willoughsby shook his head sadly, "No... we've hit a barrier in the negotiations, and we're not quite sure what to do... we're in desperate need of a skilled diplomat to approach the King's advisors with our newest proposals, and to make sure that their decision is to recommend Caladon join us. We're having trouble finding a person with the skills to successfully do so..."

I grinned widely at him. Oh now this is almost too good to be true. "You know, that I think I might be able to help with..."

All that plus a healthy bias towards my homeland of Caladon. "I'm confident that I'll be up to the task. What needs to be done?"

Willoughsby nodded thoughtfully, and I could tell he was starting to change his mindset from that of a polite conversation to a more calculating, business conversation. "I see. Well, perhaps I will send you, if you're acceptable of my terms. You will be paid a sum equal to your performance, if in fact you are successful in convincing the King's advisors to agree to membership in the Unified Kingdom. If I find your performance acceptable, I will also train you to be a Master in the persuasive arts..."

Blast! I could leave his money, but training is hard to pass up... practice is only getting me so far... "And how will my 'performance' be rated, sir?"

He sighed, shuffling through a desk drawer as he continued speaking, "Well, in any negotiation there is compromise. You will be given a dossier which outlines the articles of membership in the Unified Kingdom. The less you have to compromise on those articles, the more money you will be paid. Are we clear?"

Money, training, transportation to Caladon, and the chance to influence this historic moment? "Done."

He smiled broadly, "I'm glad you've agreed to do so. I'll arrange for a boat to take you to Caladon from Black Root. When you arrive you're to meet a man outside of the Royal Castle by the name of Renard. He will counsel you just before the negotiations."

It's been a particularly fruitful conversation, Mr. Willoughsby. "Was there anything else?"

"Of course, Mr. Willoughsby. I've some business to finish up on this side of the world and then I'll be on my way to Black Root." I smiled at him warmly.

"Yes, of course. Take your time, madam. After all, you're the star of this show." He and I shook hands briefly and then I left his office. I stood just outside the door and opened up the dossier he gave me, wanting to read what I was supposed to do so I would have time to think about which points I actually cared to consider and which I would ignore utterly.

magick. A moderate stance on this issue is recommended.

One of the more delicate issues in the negotiations will be the status of the Bates Steam Engine Company. The advisors understand the importance of technology, and are very excited about the possibility of the Bates Company opening a factory there, BUT, they are also concerned about the domination by Bates of their own companies, and so are leery about giving Bates trade priveleges. You should recommend that Bates be given LIMITED trade concessions within Caladon, but not unlimited freedoms. On the other hand, they don't want anything in the agreement that would deter the Bates Company from developing in Caladon, so be very careful about what the terms of this agreement are.

The status of the Caladonian Military is a VERY important issue, both to us, and to them. We, of course, would like a full dismantling of their military, but it would take a skilled negotiator convince them of that. According to intelligence, the advisors would prefer that half of their military is sent to the Unified Batallions, which is in line with standard Unified Kingdom membership practices. The advisors will be happy about this because they spend less on defense, but don't fully leave themselves vulnerable. They DO NOT want to keep a full, standing army and navy. Be careful when speaking of these issues...the success of the negotiations might hinge on it.

The Unified Kingdom membership tax is usually a closed issue. But, considering the strength and size of Caladon, we may want to bend the rules for them. Tarant, of course, would enjoy seeing Caladon pay an even heftier tax than anyone, but I think that moderation here will win the day. We've been told that Caladon would enjoy a reprieve from the tax for five years, and then a reduced rate afterwards, but this may be giving too much. Use your best judgment--if you need this issue to tip the scales in your favor, then do so.

The issue of the discontinued use of Caladonian currency is pretty well worked out. Everyone will be happy if you propose that Caladon use her currency for another 5 years, and then switch to the Unified Gold standard. If you feel things are going well, then maybe push for a lesser time table--perhaps 2 or 3 years, or even an immediate switch if you feel they are responding to you. Do not allow them continued use after 5 years. Anything beyond this would be a serious blow to the economic stability of the Unified Kingdom--its imperative that we standardize new members as soon as possible.

The shipping routes that Caladon currently controls are of great importance to the Unified Kingdom. They are a great source of Caladon's trading power, and they generate a lot of wealth through the use of tolls on foreign ships. The advisors are going to want to hold on to those tolls as long as possible, and we, of course, are going to want them removed as soon as possible. Offer them 5-10 years to continue collecting them, even from Unified Kingdom members. Do not allow them to stay in place beyond that--it compromises the morale between other U.K. members, as well as costing them unnecessary fees.

Labor unions are a sensitive issue. You probably know of the problems we have in Tarant, and we're very interested in avoiding those same issues in a place like Caladon. BUT! There are those among the advisors who believe that the unions represent a positive step for worker's rights, so tread carefully. I think they would be happy if labor unions were legal, but had limited operating rights in the city walls. Only a truly skilled mediator would be able to convince them otherwise.

The issue of the number of votes Caladon will have in the Unified Parliament should be academic. You should not, unless ABSOLUTLEY necessary, offer them anything but the standard initial 2 votes, followed by an increase to 3 votes after five years of membership. If there was a way to limit them to 2 votes indefinitely, we would be very happy, but you'd have to speak VERY convincingly to do so.

The final issue concerns the Caladonian farmers. As you might know, Tarant is very dependent on them for grain, and they have prospered greatly because of heavy export taxes. Caladon will want to keep this so as long as possible. You'll have to decide what is best when dealing with this issue. The sooner the tax is lifted, the better for Tarant. Use this final issue as a bargaining chip if necessary.

Good luck. I'll see you in Caladon.

Edward Willoughsby, esq.

No sooner had I closed the book than a man who had been staring at me intently for the last several minutes finally made his move.

"Who are you to be asking?" Well this can't be good news.

He scoffed, "Me? Oh, just a concerned citizen. I know that Mr. Willoughsby is involved in much of what goes on in our fair city, so I make it my business to know what he's up to. And who he's talking to."

Who exactly do you think you're trying to fool? Do you think I don't know that you're up to no good? "You didn't answer my question. Who are you?"

He cleared his throat, staring at me darkly, "As I said, I'm one of a group of concerned individuals who are working towards a common goal. Mr. Willoughsby is a powerful man, and his influences are far-reaching. Men such as he, you just never know what they're getting into..."

The man was very severely aggravating me. I wanted to shout at him, but instead a plan began to formulate in my mind. "What exactly are you insinuating, sir?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." It was clearly a lie, but it was also one that I fully expected the man I was talking with to see through. I wanted him to know that I was no slouch.

His eyes narrowed at me, "Hmmm. Awfully protective of Mr. Willoughsby, aren't you? Perhaps you two are sharing some sort of secret? Something you don't want the rest of the masses to know about? Sounds that way to me..."

Good. Now that you know I can hide things, too, how about you quit playing your stupid little games with me? "I'm sorry... who did you say you were?"

He sighed, understanding my point at last. "My name is Heinrich. Heinrich Jenks. I represent a concerned group of citizens, both here in Tarant and abroad. We've made it our business to... keep a close look on the political power structure in the Unified Kingdom, and to make sure that it's working toward a mutually beneficial end..."

I didn't like the man one bit, and I knew I would like what he had to say even less. Despite that, I engaged in polite conversation. If I could trick him into confiding in me I would have a good bit of information to use against him. "Can I assume that you believe Mr. Willoughsby is not doing so?"

Ah, you must be one of those fellows that would prefer war. Go on, tell me aaalll about it. "Are you saying that Caladon's membership is a bad idea?"

He seemed to grow agitated at my apparent disagreement, "Let's look at the facts, madam. Tarant, with the Unified Kingdom, is the most powerful kingdom in all of Arcanum. We have natural resources, shipping and railroads, as well as the most stable manufacturing framework of any city in the world. Much of our great wealth comes at the expense of cities like Caladon, in the form of taxes and tariffs."

You also have severe crime, poverty, and your city is filthy. "So? What are you saying?"

He very nearly growled, his voice raising along with his anger, "So? So Mr. Willoughsby, and his cohorts on the Council, are in effect taking away a great source of Tarant's wealth and power by allowing a kingdom like Caladon to join the Unified Kingdom. Caladon is dependent on us for resources like lumber and technology... if they are allowed to join the Unified Kingdom, then we lose that advantage!"

How can you possibly believe that Caladon doesn't charge its own tariffs on other commodities that Tarant needs to trade for, like grain? Do you honestly believe Tarant is wholly self-sufficient? "But wait! 'We' also gain a military ally... we spend less on defense!" I'd very nearly said 'you' but then I realized it would've betrayed me as Caladonian.

I couldn't believe how short-sighted the man was, but then again I supposed he was a Tarantian citizen. Things were so different on this side of the Stonewall Mountains. "But if they're our allies, we will have nothing to worry about..."

He stared at me haughtily. "Are you really such a believer in human nature, friend? Do you think that a powerful, ambitious kingdom like Caladon would accept the authority of the Unified Kingdom for very long? In only a few years, their power will rival Tarant's, and then there will be war..."

So because you don't know a damn thing about Caladon, you aim to have Tarant start the war first? Caladonians don't think like you do! "Hold on there. Why wouldn't Willoughsby see this?"

He placed a hand on my shoulder, trying to draw me into his confidance. "Don't get me wrong, friend. It's men like Willoughsby who made Tarant what it is today. Men with vision, and the backbone to do whatever it takes to see that vision to its end. Tarant was not always so powerful, and to make it so had a great price..."

I was terribly interested in that subject, especially considering that Willoughsby hadn't been willing to talk about it. "What price? What do you mean?"

I supposed I should've expected him to be closed-mouthed on that subject. Nobody was willing to talk about it, yet so many people seemed to know exactly what happened. "If you respect Willoughsby, why question his actions now?"

The tone in his voice was so very condescending it made me want to spit. "Power can do strange things to men, my friend. What created Tarant was patriotism, but I'm afraid that greed is now the fuel behind her fire. Willoughsby stands to make quite a bit of money if Caladon joins the Unified Kingdom. Remember, he's a businessman first, a politician afterwards..."

If you call me 'friend' one more time I'm going to drop my axe on your foot. "What does he stand to gain?"

Mr. Jenks grinned at me, certain he'd finally started to convince me. I was pleased that my deception seemed to be working. "Manufacturing concessions, tax advantages... Caladon would do just about anything for a businessman who holds the power to push this agreement through, don't you think?"

The man was a complete idiot. It was Tarant that wanted Caladon to join the Unified Kingdoms, not the other way around. A war would be costly for both cities. "Perhaps. What are you suggesting be done, Mr. Jenks?"

Quit beating around the damned bush. "I've agreed to nothing, Jenks."

He shrugged as if offended, "Have I said that you have? I was just making an observation, madam. It's strange how great things sprout from such insignificant encounters, don't you think?"

He was acting like he'd just bumped into me by accident and it only aggravated me further. "I'm ready to hear what you have in mind, Jenks..."

"Good, good." He lowered his head closer to mind and began speaking in hushed tones. "Most importantly... did, or did not you accept the position as mediator between Caladon and the Unified Kingdom?"

It was a loaded question, as answering it required admitting I'd been asked. I decided to only give him half of the trut. "No... I haven't accepted it."

I really tired of his word games. "And that is?"

He whispered again, "Assassinating King Farad of Caladon."

Oh you did not just tell me that. Do you really expect to get away with this? King Farad is a good king! "I'm still listening, Jenks..."

He nodded thoughtfully, "Yes... I'd pegged you for a patriot." Perhaps... but certainly not of Tarant. "We're in desperate need of men like you... the fate of Tarant rests in your hands. First, you should try for the appointment from Willoughsby."

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a man, and I really wish you'd stop referring to me as one. "And if I receive the position?"

Spill it all, Jenks... tell me all the details of your dirty little plan. "Am I to meet someone there?"

He nodded again, more affirmatively, "Yes. The man's name is Vernon. He will instruct you further."

I tilted my head upwards questioningly, "What if I don't get the position?" I wanted every detail I could get, and I could get a lot when I tried.

He sighed, explaining it further, "Then you are to meet a man named Bullors down at the Caladon docks. He'll be around, and he'll be expecting you. He'll help you get into the castle, where you will have access to the kitchens, and then Mr. Vernon. Are we understood?"

I grinned wickedly, "Clearly."

My response was rather intentionally noncommittal, "I'll think about it and get back to you."

He shook his head, displeased, "Don't think too long, friend. An opportunity like this only comes once in a lifetime. When you've decided, come back here and tell me."

"Well," I said thoughtfully, "First I suppose I'll have to see about getting that appointment, won't I?" I smiled and turned around, disappearing into Willoughsby's office.

Willoughsby looked up at me, obviously confused that I'd returned so soon. I walked over to his desk quietly and spoke in a rather dim tone, "Mr. Willoughsby... I think you should know there's a conspiracy to kill King Farad."

His eyes grew wide and he looked visibly shaken, "What? What are you talking about?"

That certainly got your attention. "I've been approached by a man named Jenks... after a rather lengthy conversation he revealed to me that he wanted me, as the appointed negotiator, to meet up with a man named Vernon in the kitchen in Caladon's castle where I would be given further information on the assassination. After the deed is done I'm to meet up with Jenks at Grant's Tavern for a reward of 20,000 gold. I'm telling you this so you can put a stop to this madman before he finds somebody else who will do this deed for him."

I grinned, "He's just outside, on the corner, waiting for my response to his offer."

Willoughsby hissed at his half ogre guard, "Lorham! Go out and take care of this traitor! We can't let this happen!" He turned back to me, "Tarant thanks you, friend! You've done us a great service. Lorham will make sure that nothing will come of this."

I nodded, "It's no trouble at all, Mr. Willoughsby. Anybody else in my situation would've done the same." I turned and headed out the door. I was halfway through the lobby when Willoughsby's half ogre guard finally got moving and burst through the doorway. He closed the distance to Jenks in seconds and in a single blow cleaved the man's torso clear from his body.

Bloody hell, those things can really be ferocious when they get riled up. No wonder everybody keeps one around. I nervously made my way out of the building, not liking the gruesome sight one bit. My mind turned to the myriad of things I wanted to accomplish before leaving for Caladon. While a part of me was ecstatic that I'd finally be able to return home, another part was very apprehensive indeed.

Can you ever forgive me, Frederick?