Chapter the Fifty Third: Shadows of the Past, Part Two"Hi lady!" One of them called out to me cheerily as I passed. Now here's a group that might be dumb enough to go on a rampage here, and I can even escape scot free... the only difficulty is convincing them, but they're half ogres... how hard can it be?
I suspected they were probably too dumb to realize they were slaves. "Hello. Who are you? What are you doing here?"
He frowned, "Me is Maug. Slave here." Well, I guess he does realize it... maybe it's just difficult for half ogres to express any emotion besides 'happy'. I wasn't really being fair. The half ogres were only stupid because nobody bothered to educate them, Ogdin was proof that they could be intelligent when taught. I idly wondered if the same could be said for orcs.
The keeper that stood next to the ogres shouted out at them, "Worthless slags! I don't know why we allow you to live..." I have to wonder if his only job is brutalizing and insulting this poor bunch here. Can't have a proper group of slaves without putting them in their place, now, can we? Ugh.
It didn't make sense, though. Ogres were dumb, but that would only make them even more prone to violence. They generally didn't respect threats, and I hardly suspected they were afraid of the dark elves... ignorance breeds confidence. I lowered my voice to a whisper. "So is that why you allow this insulting creature to treat you badly?" The half ogre whispered back to me.
I suppose that makes sense, then... looks like convincing these fellows is going to be easier than I thought, I just have to break the spell. Yes... I can feel the magick in the air now that I'm paying attention... it is a rather potent spell... An idea started forming in my head as I chatted with the fellow. It looked like we stood to help each other out quite a bit indeed. "Big spell? Someone is holding you through magick? Who?"
It actually surprised me that the half ogre could even pronounce the mage's name, but that was only further proof that they were just uneducated and not actually stupid. "T'val N'or. Dark mage. Very strong. Me hate much! Want him dead! Want crush bones in hands... make Maug happy! But Maug no be happy... can do nothing!"
I want Maug crush bones, too. "There is no way to break this spell?" Maug actually knew quite a bit for an ogre, and it almost surprised me that I was asking him such pointed questions... but as long as I kept getting answers I supposed it was the shortest way. It sure beat wandering around T'sen-Ang and taking an axe to anything that resonated as magickal. By the time I escaped I would hardly have an axe left.
The keeper started shouting again, continuing to insult the poor things. Maug snorted in disgust. "Yes. Can Stop magick... Must kill T'val N'or. Must do thing Maug want to, but no can do. Make Maug more angry." Yes, anger is good... anger is healthy. You be as angry as you want, Maug.
I raised an eyebrow curiously, "You have to kill him? ...or can anyone kill him?" I was hoping the spell wasn't one of those tricky ones that was nigh impossible to break. I might've stood a chance if I'd come more prepared, but I couldn't just tinker up a magick breaking device without the spare parts.
Maug scratched his head a bit, thinking it over. "No need be me... He just need die, then spell broke, Maug fight again." It suddenly occurred to him what I'd been thinking. "You kill T'val N'or for Maug?" Yeeesss... it's starting to make sense now, isn't it? I kill T'val N'or, you kill the rest of the elves...
"Perhaps..." I didn't feel right leading the poor thing on, but one could never be too careful when dealing with half ogres. I felt awful, but T'sen-Ang was no place to start acting soft-hearted. "What would you do if I did?" Just do what comes natural... don't run away, please...
I nodded, "I will see what I can do...." I said it suggestively, indicating that I liked his response. He seemed to get the hint and he smiled dumbly. I didn't particularly want to see the aftermath of what Maug's keeper had just demanded of him, so I wandered off in search of the mage I was supposed to kill.
I took slow, casual steps and focused on the magick around me... feeling it rub up against my skin, feeling the itch and burn as it caressed me, then as quickly as it had come it was pushed away again; I was certainly no friend to magick. I wandered around various wooden platforms, growing more and more disgusted as I crossed over each one. T'sen-Ang was certainly no place for the faint of heart. At last, on the far side of one of the platforms, I set my eyes upon a dark elven mage that made my skin itch quite unpleasantly. You... you are the one that must die... and in killing you, your race will pay... oh yes, Dark Elves, your reign is over.
I wandered over towards him, sizing him up as I neared. He was scrawny and his attention was obviously split between watching me and some other activity that took a great degree of concentration. I caressed the handle of my axe, gazing around the platform quickly to make sure nobody else was near. T'val N'or seemed to be all alone in his room and the rest of the platform was empty... it was just us... me, my companions, and the soon-to-be-dead mage. He spat at me when I stood in front of him. "I do not know you human, nor do I care to."
"I know you, T'val N'or." His eyes seemed very suddenly nervous. "...but I don't care to." My axe was off of my belt in seconds. T'val N'or's eyes widened in shock and he stood paralyzed, unable to react to the horror that was about to befall him. I jabbed him in the abdomen with the handle of my axe, causing him to grunt and double over in pain. I slipped behind him during that momentary distraction, bringing down the blade of my axe with frightening precision. His shoulder separated from his body, nearly exploding in bloody chunks that splattered against the walls of his tiny room. His body fell to the ground with a thud, and the itching in my skin rapidly began to fade.
It was as close to satisfying as killing anybody ever had been. It still felt distasteful, even though he was a cruel old bastard and I knew I was doing the world a favor by removing him from it. I could never be an assassin... I could never be like Vollinger... At the very least it was done, and I only had to make sure Maug was living up to his end of the bargain before I could finally leave the hellish place.
I heard a loud scream, shrill and girlish, coming from the direction the ogres were in. I suspected that Maug hadn't taken long at all to realize what I'd done. The horrible sounds continued and I heard a wet crunch as I stepped onto the ogre's platform. The sight that I saw upon rounding to the other side it only confirmed my suspicion: the elf that had been taunting Maug was lying in a broken heap on the rotten wood. I couldn't honestly say I felt the least bit sorry for him, though I was glad I didn't have to be the one to deliver retribution.
Maug grinned happily at me as I approached. "Me see you again, lady! Hi again!" He was really quite cheery compared to the grim scenery around him, his attitude a stark contrast from the blood dripping off his fists. I wondered momentarily if he connected the breaking of the spell with our earlier conversation, and just as quickly felt badly for simply expecting sheer stupidity in dealing with him.
I didn't care to stick around any longer than I had to, nor did I want to hold Maug back from the beatings he so desperately wanted to give, so I spoke quite directly. "I have killed T'val N'or for you, Maug." I said it in such a way that even he had to know I expected him to fulfill his end of the bargain in return. The happy look on his face suggested he knew just what I meant. He took off immediately, shouting to me as he crossed the wooden bridge to the next platform.
Good luck, fellow... good luck. It was about the best I could have done to make good on my earlier promise. Between the rampaging destruction caused by the ogres and the inevitable backlash from Gideon's betrayal, the Dark Elves certainly wouldn't be bothering anybody for quite a long time to come. It's done... I'm finally done... T'sen-Ang is ruined, just like I promised... I knew it didn't make up for the deaths they caused, but I felt, of all things, pride at having done the world a service.
I very nearly ran down the staircase leading out of T'sen-Ang, panic welling up in my throat at last as I let my legs carry me as quickly as they could manage. I pulled my axe off of my belt, prepared to kill the guard outside if I had to. It was probably for the best that he seemed blissfully unaware of the horrors going on just upstairs. The sheer height and size of the platforms and the twisted cover of the trees shrouded the snaps and screams in a comfortable silence. Just as the five of us made our escape, passing by the campfire in front of the entrance, Virgil stopped me suddenly. His voice was unsteady and nervous, but held a certain urgency. Something was truly distressing him, I only hoped it wasn't me. "Excuse me. I... uh, I have something I need to talk with you about..."
"Yes, Virgil? What is it?" Are you ready so share your past with me...? Even in a place like this? What's gotten into you, Virgil? No... it doesn't matter, I'm willing to hear whatever you have to say, whenever... I don't want to be distant from you, Virgil. Please, tell me... talk to me....
What...? No! I'm not just going to let you walk away! I won't lose you, too! "What are you talking about Virgil?" I urged him, the pleading obvious in my voice. I stepped closer to him, trying to grab his hand within mine, but he pulled it away and refused to look at me. Don't do this to me, Virgil, not now... not ever... but especially not now! No, I'm so stupid and selfish... this isn't just about me... something is bothering you, and I want to help you.
He shook his head, unwavering. "Listen, I... I'm sorry things have to be this way. I stayed with you as long as I could, I tried to forget... but it burns within me, won't leave me alone. I... I have to go to Caladon. If I can, I'll return to you. If not, well... well I wish you the best of luck..."
I lost all of my composure and shouted at him desperately, "Virgil, please... just tell me! Let me help!" You can't do this, you can't just leave me alone... I've already lost Frederick, don't you leave me, too! I felt so selfish for being more concerned about what he meant to me than about his problems. I felt guilty, like perhaps I truly didn't deserve his trust... perhaps it was my fault that he was running away without me.
I could hear a sigh from inside his helmet and I thought he sounded close to tears. It seemed almost like it wasn't any easier for him to leave me than it was for me to let him leave. I wanted so badly for him to change his mind, to share his burden with me and to help him like he'd been helping me. I made to get closer to him once again, but he stepped backwards. "I'm... I'm sorry. I have no choice... I can no longer live with it. I must go and do what must be done. Farewell, Living One..." Tears sprung from my eyes. What...? How dare you! Don't you dare call me that! I'm Samantha, and we're friends! We're... we're bloody friends... I don't want to be worshipped... why won't you just be my friend, Virgil...?
He ran off into the distance without even stopping to look back. "No, Virgil! Stop! Don't leave me!" I screamed. I ran after him, but in my haste I tripped over the hem of my dress. "Virgil, wait!" I had no idea whether or not he heard my cry, but it broke my heart to see him running off into the distance. I tried scrambling to my feet, but my hand slipped in the dark mud and I fell face-first into the dirt. I looked up, watching Virgil fade off into the distance. Just as quickly as he'd arrived when I first met him amidst the wreckage of the I.F.S. Zephyr so long ago, he was gone. Sebastian held his hand out to me and helped me up off of the ground. I muttered a shaky, "thanks" and I took off again, running after Virgil.
I won't let you go, I won't let this happen... I ran and I ran until my lungs burned, but no matter how far I went or how fast, I could see no sign of Virgil. It was so dark that I couldn't even hope to make out any footprints he might've been leaving, and I had no idea which direction he ran off in. I collapsed onto the ground and began to cry. How could you do this to me, Virgil...?
I sat there crying until the others caught up with me and made an impromptu camp for the night. Terry curled up next to me and I pet him, somehow soothing the wounds that remained in my heart, if only a little bit. In the morning we made for Qintarra. Ultimately, I wanted to reach Caladon, and the sooner the better, but before I could allow myself to go chasing after Virgil I had a message to deliver. I won't just let you go, Virgil... I will find you. If anybody in all of Arcanum can find you, it's me.
The elves welcomed me into Qintarra openly, and I was pleased that they no longer felt the need to threaten me. I knew not if it was my assistance with the Bedokaan or the loggers at Falcon's Ache, perhaps even word handed down from Raven herself, but it was a comforting gesture. I needed all the comforts I could get at that moment.
Despite the feeling of slight discomfort on my skin I was a whole lot happier to be in Qintarra instead of T'sen-Ang. The trees were bright and vibrant, splaying outwards into the sky and soaking up the light. I could see the forest clearly in every direction, and in the far distance I could swear I even saw the western coast. I basked in the warmth and light that Qintarra offered me, enjoying the sheer serenity after such a harrowing experience.
As I wandered from one platform to the next I passed by Swyft, smirking at her presence. So, Tarant wasn't all you thought it would be after all, was it? Come home back to the safety of Qintarra? I held her no ill will, if anything I was amused. Such were the vagaries of youth.
Raven was in the middle of a conversation with an elf I didn't recognize, so I let her be for the moment. I certainly wasn't just going to dash up to them and start babbling about Dark Elves and Arronax. I passed the time by making a brief visit over to Whysper, handing her the bag of random wisp essences that I'd been carrying around for far too long. "I gathered all kinds of wisp essences for you. Did I manage to find a Vol'ar's essence?"
She opened the bag and shifted around the contents slightly, picking through them carefully. After only a few short moments she looked up at me with a smile.
I was going to give this scroll to Virgil... no, there's no 'was', I will give it to him just as soon as I track him down. He'd better have a damned good excuse when I find him because I'm really going to give him a piece of my mind. Oh, who am I kidding? I just want him back.... "Thank you, Whysper, goodbye." I stuffed the scroll in my purse hastily and walked off. My thoughts remained on Virgil for reasons I couldn't really fathom. I thought it was only normal to fixate on his absence when we'd spent so much time together over the past years. It sure did make me feel lonely, though.
I wandered back towards Raven, noting that her previous conversation was finished. She gazed at me steadily as I approached, making it impossible to tell what she was thinking or feeling. As cold as ever, I see... you've really got to work on those horrible manners of yours. It looked as though she hated me, but I suspected she simply looked at everybody like that. Her voice was firm, yet at the same time gentle. She still held that softness that suggested she was at least a little bit fond of me. "Ah yes. You again. How can I help you?"
Well, no sense beating around the bush. The sooner I get to the point the sooner I can track Virgil down. "I bring information about the village of the Dark Elves..." Now where could Virgil be...? The newspaper article on his brother mentioned the Caladon Crime Ring operated out of the Sobbing Onion. I seem to remember that's where Mr. Razzia can be found as well, perhaps I ought to ask him a few questions...
Raven spoke again, snapping me out of it. Although she held her composure quite well, there was just a slight twinge of excitement in the back of her voice and I could tell she was rather excited to hear what I had to say. "I'm so very glad you've returned to us. Did you find the village of the Dark Elves? What has happened since you left us?"
Yes, yes... calm down... I fully intend on sharing what I found. I kept things as brief as possible since I was in a hurry. "After I left here last I traveled to Tarant. I learned that Mr. Terwilliger had printed a book," I gave Raven an odd look as I thought back to the book's introduction, "but tracking it down wasn't easy. So as not to bore you with the details I will say that many people died at the hands of the Dark Elves, but in the end I was able to track the book down and learn the location of T'sen-Ang. I traveled there and met with M'in Gorad, posing as an assassin in her employ. She told me something... something horrifying...."
The look in Raven's eyes was a furious and hateful one. Her expression was startlingly malevolent, communicating more in that single glance than an entire speech ever would have. "I hope you get the chance..." I grinned wickedly, thinking of the kind of pain that M'in Gorad would suffer if Raven ever got ahold of her. Of all the words I might ever use to describe Raven, gentle was not one of them.
She nodded at me, a sinister grin slowly forming on her face, "So do I, so do I..." She tossed the idea about in her head for several moments, perhaps living out the idea in her mind. Eventually her eyes came back to me and she continued our conversation, "...and what did you find out from this M'in Gorad?"
You're really not going to like this any better than I do, but you need to know... "She'd been waiting for years for an excuse to banish a group of dwarves to the Void when Bates stumbled along, fulfilling her every dream by getting ahold of the dwarven steam engine. She pretended to be an emissary from the Silver Lady and threatened the Wheel Clan with war if they did not comply and hand over the dwarves. Regrettably, Loghaire, King of Dwarves, complied... and so it was done. The Black Mountain Clan was banished to the Void, and even now they are forced to work on a machine that will weaken the wards of the Void and enable Arronax to return."
Raven stared off into the distance for a long time, pensive. She was more than a little surprised at what I'd said and I certainly couldn't blame her. If I'd had the luxury of losing myself in my own thoughts when I learned of the information in the first place, I surely would have. "So... the Black Mountain Clan was banished in order to help Arronax weaken the wards. He's really coming back. We elves are a magickal race, and wise in the ways of rune and prophecy, but I never really thought... Regardless, we must act. You must speak to my mother... she may be able to see what is to be done."
Oh, just bloody great. Why can't you speak to her? She really creeps me out, and makes my skin hurt. I'm not going to understand one damn bit of what she says anyway. For all my internal whining, I knew what had to be done. "I'll do just that, Raven. I will return shortly." Raven nodded and I hesitantly stepped inside of the Silver Lady's chamber. My skin didn't seem to be nearly so irritated in her presence this time, and I was quite extremely pleased about that fact. I itched quite badly, and my skin did even burn a bit, but it wasn't as horribly unbearable as it had been previously. "Greetings, Silver Lady."
"Why?" The question flew off of my lips almost before I could think to say it in the first place. It was an awful strange thing to ask, but then again the Silver Lady wasn't exactly normal herself. I supposed I didn't really see why such a powerful and revered individual should care one whit about somebody as insignificant as me. What did it matter to her if I lived or died? Wasn't I just playing the role given to me?
She didn't even look in my direction. That haunting voice of hers just spilled forth as always, drowning the entire chamber in its otherworldly echo. "It means that you've chosen the right path, traveler. At least, right in the way that YOU see things. I am happy for you..." The things she said surely didn't get any less strange as time went on.
Happy for me? I'm glad one of us is happy, I suppose, but you've chosen an awful odd reason to be happy. I've lost Frederick, and now Virgil as well... no, I have not chosen the path that I feel is the right one. I have little to be happy about. I tried brushing it off, just ignoring the unusual comments she made. Her feelings weren't any of my business anyway, and I ought to have at least been glad she wished me well... even if she didn't seem to understand what was truly in my heart. "I've come to ask you what I am to do next. Please, try to be clear..."
In response there was only silence. She wasn't moving at all, simply floating on the other side of the room. I waited patiently for several minutes, the silence in the room slowly growing to bother me. Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I spoke, "Silver Lady?" Still, there was no response... no movement... simply... nothing. She isn't... dead, is she? "Ahem..." I cleared my throat. She suddenly gasped, breathing in very deeply, and then she spoke to me.
"What? How is that possible?" You've got to be kidding me. I think I preferred it when you were talking about fire and shadow, because I CAN'T TALK WITH A BLOODY CORPSE! Wait... this has to be another damned riddle. So am I the Living One and you're telling me that only I can decide what to do next? ...or perhaps... my answer 'lies' with Nasrudin, in his grave? Is there something important buried with his remains?
I could hear the musical laughter in her voice once again, teasing me, a gentle flute carrying a tune off into the wind. "You have your answer, traveler." Her voice faded to a whisper then, I had to strain to be able to make it out at all, "We won't be speaking again..." If it were coming from anybody else I would've felt threatened or insulted, but she meant it and it chilled me to the bone.
I shuddered and darted out of the chamber in my momentary discomfort. By the Gods that woman really knows how to frighten somebody. I supposed that it would be best to seek Raven's counsel on the Silver Lady's cryptic riddles, even if she was on some level more straightforward this time. For all I knew Nasrudin was a symbol that meant the leader of the elves, and since Raven ran the daily affairs I had to talk with her. Bloody mad- how the hell does anybody get any useful information out of her anyway? Raven glanced up at me questioningly as I approached. Without hesitation, I answered, just foolishly blurting out what was on my mind without regard to how exactly I said it. "She told me that my answer lies with Nasrudin..."
Oh good, so you mean to say it makes as little sense to you as it does to me. I was actually quite amused at just how much that confused Raven, although my amusement quickly shifted to one of personal horror when I realized it could be far worse than I was imagining it to be. What if she really did want me to go digging up Nasrudin's remains? Living One or no, I couldn't imagine the Panarii would be willing to just sit by idly while I desecrated the remains of their god. "Why?" Please, tell me I'm not right...
She gave me a hard stare and explained it to me as though I was a child. I resented the attitude, mostly because I suspected if she were in my shoes her questions wouldn't be any different. Besides, her mother was simply impossible to deal with... or understand. "Because Nasrudin has been dead for more than 2,000 years."
Tell me something I don't know. "Wait, you don't mean to tell me it's literal? I actually have to find Nasrudin? How the bloody hell am I going to do that? I'm not going to go traipsing about the lands of the dead to speak with the ghost of an ancient elf." Can you please tell me something that might actually help instead of just repeating the obvious? Damn, you really take after your mother sometimes...
Gods, I was right the first time, wasn't I? Son of a bitch. I didn't suspect that the Panarii would be able to help me much, either, but I wanted to head to Caladon anyway. "I'll do that, Raven. Thank you so much for your help." I began walking away from Raven quickly, finally allowing my mind to turn towards the coming search. I'm on my way, Virgil... dammit, I swear I will find you. I will not make the same mistake twice. For the moment, I didn't even care about the Panarii, the elves, or bloody Arronax. I'd delivered my message, and the elves could either make preparations themselves or they could bloody wait until I'd tracked Virgil down... even if it took me years.
Raven nodded towards me as I left, "Good luck, Samantha. I hope this turns out well... for all of us..." It's no longer my concern, Raven... at least not until I find Virgil. I'm done with all of this nonsense, I've got to start thinking about those close to me. I stalked off, not even bothering to stay the night. Qintarra wasn't as comfortable as the surrounding woodlands anyway. I still had memories of the horrible pains in my back following my night on the wooden bench.
As I traveled down the staircase towards the forest floor I thought of the quickest way for me to reach Caladon. A ship from Tarant would be far faster than overland travel, although Tarant wasn't exactly nearby either. Still, it was my best bet. I made for Hardin's Pass, planning to head from there towards Stillwater. This is an awfully long distance to travel with Vollinger still in tow, but... I can't just tell him off yet. If he can help me get Virgil back even a day sooner, then I welcome his help... for now.
Hardin's pass was as harsh and forgiving as ever, but I refused to slow down. I traveled onward at a maddening pace, feeling the muscles in my legs begin to burn from trudging through the snow so hastily. "Hey, hey, what's the rush? Can't we slow down?" Sebastian was obviously getting tired as well. If I have to leave you behind, Sebastian, I'll do it... I'm sorry, but Virgil means more to me...
I gave him a resolute stare, "Sorry, Sebastian, but if you don't like it then you can leave when we get to Stillwater. I simply have to get to Caladon... I have to find Virgil. I don't care what he says, I won't give up on him... I won't let him just leave!" All of my rage and frustration came flying out at once, and Sebastian was the unfortunate recipient. I felt a bit guilty for blowing up at him, especially since he wasn't the reason I was so upset. I just couldn't handle everything happening all at once.
He held his hands up by his chest, waving me off defensively, "Whoa, hey, easy there! Then we'll make double time, okay? I'm with you, let's track Virgil down as soon as we can. I sure hope we'll have time to rest in Caladon after, though... whew." He chuckled half-heartedly, trying to shake off the tongue-lashing I'd just unleashed upon him.
"I... all right, Sebastian. I'm sorry. We can rest in Caladon, until then let's get a move on." I pressed my pace even harder, ignoring the burning in my legs until some combination of the cold and the strain of overworking them finally numbed the pain at last. I knew I would end up paying for that the moment I sat down to rest, but it didn't matter... nothing would match the pain I felt at Virgil's absence.
We arrived in Stillwater late one evening, unfortunately too late to continue our journey any more that night. There was diligent and then there was suicidal, and trekking about the snowy plains around Stillwater under the cover of darkness leaned far closer to the latter. I refused to make the night a complete waste, however. I headed to the pub, for once not even ordering a single shot of whiskey... even if that was the one time it really would've made me feel better. I slapped a few coins on the bar and looked the bartender in the eye, "Anybody in this town have a boat? I'm in a hurry to get to Tarant."
He pocketed the coins happily. Bartenders were always happy to accept tips in exchange for the local gossip. Usually there was alcohol involved, but they were all too happy when there wasn't, "You'll want to be speaking with Daniel Porter. He's the one nursing an ale over in the corner there." The bartender pointed at a fairly well dressed man, seemingly well-to-do for a denizen of Stillwater. It was a relative term, however, since at times having enough coins to buy a second drink could be considered well-to-do in that backwater town.
"Give me one of what he's having, then." I tossed the bartender a couple more coins and took the offered ale in return. I boldly strode over towards Daniel's table, but he didn't notice me approaching. I sat down across from him and slid the ale over to him slowly and purposefully. He seemed curious, but more than willing to tolerate the company of a lady offering him more alcohol. I ignored any potentially strange impressions I might be leaving, not caring one damn bit what Stillwater folk thought of me anyhow. "You're taking me to Tarant on your boat starting tomorrow morning. How much do I have to pay you for this service?" It was brazen, surely, but it wasn't a negotiation. I'd steal his damned boat if I had to.
He finished draining his mug of ale and then started in on the mug I brought him. He drank it slowly and yet still he was already half finished by the time he'd concocted a response. I simply sat there watching him drink it, refusing to leave. With a sigh he finally said, "I suppose I have to go down that way anyway. Say 300 coin?"
I counted out several coins from my purse and handed them to him, "I'll make it 600, and you'll get me there as quickly as you can." My normal prudence when it came to parting with coin was tossed completely aside in my desperation to find Virgil. I'd spend 600 coins, I'd spend 6,000... if only it would bring me Virgil back.
He took the coins happily, "Now that is something that I can do." He was fairly quiet and shy, although I imagined that had a lot to do with the way I looked. If I were in his shoes, I would've been afraid to refuse. I didn't mind leaving that impression one bit, at least I was paying him reasonably for his services. He surely did love his ale, though.
We left early in the morning, at my insistence, traveling to the nearby branch of the river. Normally it would've been a two-day journey but if I was paying 600 coin I was damn well going to set the pace. Daniel stayed quiet, not wanting to anger me, and we reached the river in just under a day's time. From there it took only a few more days before we reached Tarant.
I bid Daniel goodbye, tossing him another 100 coins as a tip for the speedy travel, and I immediately wandered onto a nearby ship. There was no time to waste, no time to stop for even a quick rest. I looked at Sebastian and the look he gave me in return suggested he understood perfectly. I looked at Vollinger, too, though he could see the pain and distance in my eyes and he merely looked at the ground. Is he actually upset...?
I tossed the ship captain 500 coins, "The going rate for passage to Caladon is 500 coins. I've given you that, and I've got 1,000 more. Each day that passes that amount will reduce by 100 coins. When we arrive in Caladon you'll get whatever's left."
He heard the tone in my voice and saw the serious look in my eyes. "Yes, ma'am. Weigh anchor!" Most ships took nearly two weeks to reach Caladon. I reached it in only 6 days. I tossed the captain his 400 coin tip and strolled onto the streets of Caladon early in the evening. I'm back again... but nothing is left for me here except Virgil. Where are you, Virgil? What have you been doing since you left me? My first stop was the Sobbing Onion.
I wandered into the back room of the place, keeping an eye out for shady individuals. I was willing to shake information out of anybody I could get my hands on, and if I had to get nasty about it I was going to. The paper had mentioned that Lawrence's murder might be connected to the crime ring, and that was the best place to begin my search. I looked around the room carefully, noting the trap door in the corner. That must be the shady basement where they make all of their underhanded dealings. I overheard one of the nearby men speak the name 'Razzia'. Ah, it looks as though I've wandered in at an excellent time... you're the same man that made Stennar's passport... and you're bound to have a connection to the crime ring. I walked up to him boldly, "I have some questions about a passport you made." I let my hand drift near to my axe, prepared to use it in any way I had to in extracting the information I needed.
He cleared his throat and stared at me nervously, eyeing up my axe as sweat began forming on his brow, "I do not know what you are talking about. I do not 'make' passports... that is against the law, madam." I could hear the trembling in his voice and I knew he was lying. I would've known even if I weren't carrying Stennar's passport with me.
I'm in no mood to argue. I pulled the passport out of my purse and showed it to him, "Mr. Preston Radcliffe begs to differ." More eyes in the room turned towards him and I secretly delighted in the unwanted attention I was drawing to the man.
It seemed I was finally getting somewhere with the fellow. "Off a body near the IFS Zephyr. I need some information about him." As I spoke I could see him start backing away unconsciously, running into the corner of the nearby pool table. What is it you're so afraid of? I know I'm not THAT intimidating... I'm a woman for heaven's sake!
His fear was thick and tangible... he was wary of me to the point of being almost terrified. "Who was this man, anyhow? You are not the only person who has been asking questions..." The tone in his voice was accusatory and he nearly shouted at me. One would think I'd just asked him about a murder he'd committed only hours prior.
I wondered briefly if the other person he mentioned might've been Virgil, but it didn't strike me as the kind of thing he came to Caladon to investigate. No, Virgil's purpose was much more personal... if he'd wanted to investigate Stennar he never would've left me. Virgil... what is it... where are you? "Who else has been here?"
He shook his head uncomfortably, "A couple of thugs came by right after the Zephyr left Caladon. They wanted information about him. When I refused to talk, they decided I needed a little encouragement." The pain in the man's eyes was evident, even these several years later. Whatever they'd done to him had stuck with him for a very long time, as vivid now as it had been at the moment it was happening. No wonder he was afraid, so willing to talk at the show of a single passport. It must have been quite horrible indeed. "I do not know who they were..." He shook his head nervously, silently praying that what he said would be enough to satisfy me.
I see... that must have been the Molocheans, hot on Stennar's trail. So that's how they tracked him down, that's why they went after the zeppelin... Gods, the gnome in Shrouded Hills knew to use the name Radcliffe. "What did you tell them?"
Deep in my heart I hated the man I was speaking to, but I couldn't bring myself to hurt him. If it hadn't been for him the I.F.S. Zephyr would never have crashed, everybody on it would still be alive. ...and Frederick never would have died... "What did they do?" I remained calm, despite my growing anger. No matter how much I wanted to blame the man in front of me, it wasn't really his fault.
He winced again, remembering vividly the torture he suffered at the hands of the Molocheans. Truly, I was surprised he even lived the experience. He must've been quite valuable to them. "They were 'insistent' that I give them information on how to get to the Zephyr. I laughed bitterly and told them they were out of their minds... Crazy old Maxim had built the Zephyr in his factory outside of town, and it was a one of a kind beast..."
Everything was beginning to make sense. So that's how... the flying machines... bloody hell, it all came down to you! "You told them where the factory was?"
He shook his head shamefully, "I thought nothing of it. Everyone knew where Maxim's factory was... it was that very night that it was burnt to the ground. That is all I know." You put it all right in their laps... told them everything they needed to know. Gods, so many have suffered and died... and you've no idea what you caused... I tried to change my line of thinking, tried to forgive the man for his weakness. His pain was evident, and I didn't care to think about just how brutal the Molocheans could get in their coercion.
Dwelling on the zeppelin crash wasn't getting me any closer to finding Virgil anyhow. I shifted the topic of conversation, focusing more on what I'd come to find out in the first place. This Razzia was definitely the same as the one I knew to be a member of the crime ring, and he had to have some clue as to Virgil's whereabouts. "Where does that trap door in the corner lead?"
Once again a look of discomfort crossed his face and he glared at me. I was lucky that he was afraid of me or I suspected he would've attacked me outright. He was lucky for his fear, too, for I had no compunctions about cutting him down where he stood. "Y-you don't want to go down there right now-" His speech was cut off by the sound of gunfire from below and I heard a horrible scream. I pushed Mr. Razzia out of the way and dove for the trap door.
I saw Virgil standing in the middle of three men, with a fourth dead on the ground behind him. He had his axe out and he was fighting for his life. I've found you...! The half ogre's blade landed solidly against Virgil's shoulder and he grunted. I ran forward in a panic, "Virgil! Virgil, no!" The gnome fired a gun from point blank range, blood spilling out from behind Virgil's armor. "By the Gods, Virgil, RUN! I'll help you!" I continued running forward as fast as I could.
Virgil's axe came down upon the half ogre brutally in response, slicing clear through the beast's shoulder and all the way down to his waist. Blood splattered all over the ground and on Virgil's armor. I could see splinters of the half ogre's rib cage from inside of his chest cavity and I almost gagged. I kept running forward as fast as my feet would carry me, but it seemed like that basement went on for an eternity.
The gnome fired a second shot as Virgil ran towards him and I saw Virgil stumble, then fall backwards. The other remaining man stepped behind Virgil, shoving a blade down between the cracks of the armor at the shoulder. "Stop! Stop hurting Virgil, damn you!" I continued screaming as I ran forward, watching everything in front of me happen in slow motion. I was just an observer, irrelevant to the action at hand. My cries were neither heard nor heeded. "You'll kill him! Stop!"
Please be all right, please be all right... you're tougher than that, right Virgil? Come on, get up...! I continued running forward, but in my extreme haste I tripped again on the hem of my dress, just as I had in the forest around T'sen-Ang. The gnome continued firing his gun as Virgil lay there helplessly. It wasn't just a fight, it was a bloody execution. I pulled myself to my feet as quickly as possible and continued my dash towards Virgil, desperately wanting to help him.
The other man shoved his blade into even more cracks in Virgil's armor, each time coming out with fresh blood on it. Virgil no longer seemed to be moving. No, by the gods no... he's going to be all right, he has to be all right! As I finally drew near to them I suddenly spied the thick pool of blood staining the ground beneath Virgil's body. The gnome turned away and leveled his gun at me, firing once and missing.
I pulled my axe off of my belt and screamed, "YOU BASTARDS! STOP IT! LEAVE VIRGIL ALONE!" The gnome fired his gun yet again, but I dodged out of the way quite easily. I was trained and practiced. I'd killed hundreds, everything from dragons to powerful wizards. I was the master of close combat. These men were thugs, only able to take down Virgil through sheer force of numbers. Virgil... no... no, you can't die!
Time stood nearly still and I was behind the gnome faster than he could even blink.
My axe cut across him no less than three times in rapid succession, each time striking a lethal blow. In my rage, I did not stop my assault, fully chopping off two of his limbs before finally having the decency to put his excruciating final moments to a bloody end. My last strike quite neatly severed his head from his body in a fountain of gore. Not Virgil! ...why? What have you done?!
I turned my attention next to the man holding a sword, who looked as though he was in the process of turning around. He'd barely even realized that I was in the room and I was already behind him, my axe striking out once again. I could feel the blood pumping through my veins so hard that it felt as though every limb in my body might burst at any moment. My arms surged with strength as I brought my axe down across the man's neck and back, and not until it had embedded itself into the stone floor did my axe ever stop.
Nearly a third of the man's body was severed in an instant, his head and the left half of his torso landing on the ground with a wet thud. I dropped my axe as he fell, kneeling down next to Virgil with tears in my eyes. I pulled his helmet off and winced when I saw the amount of blood staining his neck and his face. No, Virgil, not you, too... I can't bear to lose you, too...
I placed my hand on his neck to try and feel for a pulse, but I knew what to expect even before checking. There was no pulse, no heartbeat, no blood flowing through his veins... Virgil was dead. The tears wouldn't stop flowing from my eyes. I couldn't think, I didn't know what to do. All I could focus on was that I was too late, I couldn't save Virgil in the end. He was the last person in the world that I truly felt close to, the only person remaining that I really trusted... and now he was gone.
Sobs wracked my body evenly with guilt. I wasn't fast enough... if only I hadn't wasted so much time in Qintarra... I rested my forehead on the cold exterior of the plate armor I'd made for Virgil. I made this to protect you... but in the end it wasn't enough. I wasn't good enough. I... I failed you.
I felt something wet on my shoulder and I looked up to see tears in Sebastian's eyes. "Aw, hell... he was a good kid... why'd he have to go running off like that, anyhow?" He placed his hand on my shoulder and looked away, trying to hold back the tears for my sake. Terry looked me in the face and began licking the tears off of my cheeks.
Vollinger's voice broke the silence, and with good reason, "I'm not the most familiar with things of a magickal nature, but I do believe the scroll sitting on that barrel is a scroll of resurrection." Vollinger... oh, thank you... I'm so glad I kept you along after all...
I looked up, suddenly hopeful, "Can you use it? Do you think it'll work?" My mind began racing. It doesn't have to end like this, we can bring you back... I won't lose you, Virgil! I can't lose you! I can't bear to!
Vollinger shook his head sadly, "No... I could never get a scroll of this magnitude to function. If any of us can... I think it will be you." Me...? You want ME to use a magickal scroll?
Doubt assaulted my mind. It'll never work... this magick is complex for me. My technological affinity has only grown over the years... such a powerful scroll might not even work in the same ROOM as me... Regardless of my personal reservations, I had to try. Virgil's spirit was rapidly drifting away and if I didn't do something soon I would never be able to bring him back at all. I tried to remain positive, tried to fill myself with false confidence. As long as I held a firm will, maybe... just maybe... It will work, it has to work. I've used scrolls before to good effect... I'm Virgil's only hope now, I can't fail him. Virgil, I won't fail you again... "Give me that scroll, quickly!"
Vollinger handed the scroll off to me and I rolled it out in front of me. I've been good, whatever gods are out there looking over me have to know that... I've not stolen anything for a long time now, and I did my best to rid the world of the horrible Dark Elves... I've helped people for no personal gain, like Maximillian and Loghaire... no just god could possibly deny me this one wish. Please... please, to any Gods that might be listening, please bring Virgil back to me. I read the words on the scroll aloud and then closed my eyes, feeling the scroll crumble between my hands. Then I felt it slipping, turning... something had gone horribly wrong.
"No... Virgil, no..... VIIIRGIIILLL!!"