Chapter the Fifty Eighth: An End To MysteryI walked off in the opposite direction of my companions, hoping I would get the chance to see them again. To say that I was nervous would have been a rather extreme understatement, but I also had confidence in my own abilities. I was no stranger to the Caladonian high security prison, only this time I didn't intend on needing to be bailed out. Frederick... I shook the thought of him off as quickly as it came; I had a job to do.
As Mrs. Morgan had suggested might be the case, the exterior guard to the prison had a rather serious lack of commitment to his job. It was barely even dusk and he'd already dozed off. I quickly picked the lock to the prison and stepped inside. The second line of defense was a trap door, also locked, and also easily picked. I'd been this way before, just with a much larger escort. If I could just keep my memories from overwhelming me they would be a great asset.
I wasn't the stealthiest person in the world, but I at least knew a thing or two about proper sneaking. I carried my shoes in one hand and my pick in the other, quietly opening door after door on my way into the prison. The guard was thankfully light, as I imagined they didn't have much of a problem with people breaking IN. Once I got through the first few layers, however, I had to start being more careful.
Guards patrolled through the hallways at regular intervals, and if I were anywhere near a torch when they passed I would be spotted for sure. I counted the timing between guards, gauging just how quickly I'd have to sneak to avoid a patrol. When I felt I had the greatest amount of time to get to the other side of the prison, I made for the southern wall and from there towards the west. Unfortunately, I hadn't quite anticipated a door in my way.
I fumbled at the lock quickly, praying that my skill would turn it quickly before the next patrol ran through. I was in luck and I managed to shove it aside in only a scant few seconds, quickly pushing my way past it and creeping to the next dark corner of the prison. I hid in that corner until the next guard passed me by and then I quietly followed him, my eyes searching for an occupied prison on the far wall. At last, I found it. I spied a halfling in a particularly tightly secured cell on the complete opposite of the jail from the entrance. They were right to put him where he stood the least chance of escaping, but in the end it wouldn't do them a damn bit of good.
"Keep your voice down!" I hissed, "Are you JT Morgan?"
He nodded slowly, glancing over me with a curious look on his face. "I am he. Might I help you with something?" His voice suggested he was amused to have a visitor at such a late hour, but I also suspected he had a good idea of why I was there.
"Your mother sent me. I have your tools." I waved the red cloth pack in the dim torchlight so he could get a good look at it.
"Oh!!" he exclaimed in quiet surprise. It seemed he really hadn't known why I was there. Perhaps he'd thought I would bail out on my end of the agreement. "Yes. She forewarned me of your coming. I am impressed with your skill, to have made it so far..."
That doesn't excuse you from training me to be even better. "Did your mother inform you of our agreement?"
That was exactly what I'd wanted to hear. "Very good. Here are your tools." I passed the red cloth pack through the bars and he set it down on the ground, unrolling the cloth to make sure I hadn't pilfered anything important. I supposed I couldn't really blame him.
When he was satisfied as to the condition of his tools he looked back up at me with a smile, "Thank you... they are all here. Very good! Now about your training..." He hesitated, frowning slightly.
You'd better not be backing out of it now that you got what you wanted. Damn you! "Yes?"
He sighed. "In managing to get these tools to me, you have shown that you have already mastered locksmithy. Your skill is impressive. Might I daresay it rivals mine own? Allow me to bestow the formal title of Master locksmith upon you. You have earned it."
Flattery will get you everywhere. I supposed if I was confident enough to break a man out of prison that I was, indeed, skilled. It was foolish to seek him out for training in the first place, but that was my own fault and not his. If he truly had nothing to teach me, there was little to be done. "Thank you... I think. Shall we leave this wretched place?"
It did make a good amount of sense. I also supposed that implied if I were to be caught, I could count on JT Morgan to come to my rescue. That seemed like a fair enough trade to me. "I go. It was a pleasure to meet you, sir, and I hope I never see you again." I winked. "Goodbye."
I retraced my steps as he'd suggested, timing my movements so that I lurked in the shadows of the prison whenever a guard strolled past. As luck would have it I somehow managed to avoid alerting a guard on my entire way out. When I emerged back on the street the guard that was supposed to be watching the entrance was still fast asleep, snoring as loudly as ever. I'd have turned him in for sure If JT weren't also making his way out of the prison.
Walking half of the length down King's Way brought me to the only building in town that was both an inn and a bar, where I suspected my companions would be waiting for me. As luck would have it, they were, and I sat down in the unclaimed chair with two shots of whiskey in front of it. Virgil gave me a curious look, as though he'd suspected what I was really up to but didn't feel the need to say anything. It was something I'd had to do alone, more people following me certainly wouldn't have helped.
"Feeling better?" Sebastian grinned, sliding a third shot over in my direction. I slid it back to him and held up my first shot invitingly. He picked up the shot I slid back at him and clinked glasses with me, then we both downed our shots.
"I am now." I grinned back at him. "I think I've come up with a plan on where to go next."
"So we're off to Cattan then?" Vollinger remarked.
I knew he was making yet another joke about all of the places we were traveling, but I decided to tease him anyway, "No, you're a bit off... Thanatos is farther south than that... close, though!" He snorted sarcastically and I continued what I had been about to say previously. "I think we ought to take another look around Roseborough. The diagram on the lid of the sarcophagus... it might refer to the Ring of Brodgar."
Virgil's face lit up at the idea, "Hey, there's a good thought! It's certainly worth checking out."
I tossed the second shot down, a pleasant tingle finally starting to reach my limbs. The four of us chatted for a while longer while Terry happily gnawed on the jerky I kept giving him. I was generous when I was tipsy. Eventually we did wander off to our rooms, and I slept quite soundly for the first time in a long, long while, though doubtlessly I had the whiskey to thank. Despite how well I slept, I still woke up with an aching in my heart, yearning to see Frederick one last time... to apologize, to say goodbye. I tried not to dwell on such thoughts, but some mornings it was more difficult than others. I made my preparations to leave despite the foul mood slowly coming over me and went about rousing the others from their respective rooms.
We journeyed to Roseborough immediately, chatting about why Mannox wrote what he did. My pet theory was that he was trying to point out the center stone that had been removed from the ring, and that's why it was so heavily emphasized. Sebastian insisted that it was just because he'd been writing in blood and it got a little messy. Regardless, our debate wouldn't be settled until I saw that stone. When we arrived in Roseborough it was the first thing I looked at.
"See? I told you he meant the center stone." I teased Sebastian.
"Now wait a minute," he insisted, "That doesn't mean a thing. So what if the stone's got numbers on it? That doesn't tell you anything."
"Sure it does!" He still seemed confused. "There are numbers and directions... the numbers are probably a distance of some kind. He also wrote opposite, so let's go in the opposite direction for the specified number of paces."
Virgil nudged Sebastian in the ribs lightly, "It seems like a good idea to me."
"Aw, fine. I don't have any better ideas anyway," he muttered.
First, we traveled to the center of the Ring of Brodgar. There was a small dirt path off to the side of the inn that lead straight to it. It was every bit as magnificent as it seemed from the distance, if not more. The runes carved on the stones were utterly mystifying, but that only made them all the more intriguing.
From the exact center of the ring I pointed myself in a northeasterly direction and counted out exactly 30 paces. I found that the very last step took me exactly to a strange, round stone platform buried in the ground deeply. I would hardly have been able to see it at all if not for having walked directly to it. "Do you still doubt me, Sebastian?"
He shook his head 'no' with shame. I grinned and continued following the directions on the center stone, although traveling in the opposite directions as the ones specified. Each time I completed a direction I found myself standing on yet another stone that I would use as my new starting point for the next direction. It took me several hours to finally wind my way around the odd maze of stones, occasionally having to backtrack when I lost count for one reason or another, but at last I finally came upon a thick, stone gateway buried into the dirt between two bushes. It was very well hidden, and I wondered just how long it had been around without being discovered.
Hmm... another door with a code word... well, I'm sure as hell not knocking, but what to say...? Vollinger walked straight up to the stone and spoke, "Truth." Just like the stone door to Nasrudin's crypt before it, the small, round stone that made up the center of the gateway slid aside with a rumble and vanished into the frame around it.
"Thanks, Vollinger... good thinking!" I peered beyond him into the small chamber hidden behind the stone gate. All I could see from the outside was darkness.
"You're welcome, Samantha. I do try to take a rather analytical view of things." I pulled out an old electrical light I'd made quite a long time ago for practice and I flipped it on, peering again inside of the chamber. I could see a rather old, but very intricately crafted sword lying on the ground next to a book. I knew that both were old just by looking at them, but the chamber had been so well hidden and sealed that they were in marvelous condition considering how old they really had to be. I picked up the book and opened the front cover. It appeared to be a journal of sorts. Curious as I was, I wasted no time in starting to read through it.
ingratiating himself into the council. He claims to be the son of an original Elven Council member, but I am not certain I believe him. The others have taken a liking to him, though, and seem to have no doubts as to the veracity of his tale. I do not know why he makes me uncomfortable, but I feel great distress when I am in his presence.
10th of New Sun, 1109
K'an Hua has brought several of his elven folk into the fold. Worse, he is beginning to spread heresy about the truths of the church! He has insinuated that the wards are merely an outward representation of an inward discipline that we all must cultivate, or some such nonsense. He trivializes the life of the great Nasrudin by offhandedly suggesting that he never existed, that the whole tale of Nasrudin and the banishment is allegorical! He has not been stating these preposterous theories outright, but I have engaged him in several philosophical debates on matters of doctrine, and have all but cornered him into admitting his beliefs. His animosity towards me is growing, but he is not my concern. It is the rest of the leadership. They welcome him...he offers an easier, less disciplined view of the Panarii life.
35th of New Sun, 1109
Amidst my great turmoil I have been delivered a sign! I was visited today by the physical manifestation of Nasrudin! I am certain of this. As I was tending the wards (as I do these days with no help from my brothers) he appeared to me. He asked me all manner of questions, and appeared pleased when I explained how I was maintaining the wards. We talked for what seemed hours, and he even tested my faith by hinting that he knew Nasrudin, and that he was not divine! It was only after he departed that I realized I had actually been speaking with Nasrudin himself. I do not know from where this certainty comes, but I am sure in my heart that it was him.
37th of New Sun, 1109
K'an Hua means to kill me. Yesterday, I confronted him with the news of my vision of Nasrudin, and he exploded with rage, calling me a heretic. Him calling me a heretic! I would laugh if the situation were not so desperate. I almost attacked him on the spot, but I called upon my training to calm my rage and quickly excused myself from his office. I then returned to my room to contemplate what my course of action should be. Later that night, as I was out performing my walking meditation, I was set upon by his elven cohorts. After killing several of them, I fled. I do not know what I shall do now. I know my life will end should I set foot in the temple again, but it is not my life that matters. The truth of the Panarii must live beyond me. I can only imagine the lies K'an Hua has been spreading in my absence.
1st of Solstice, 1109
My exile is at an end. I have meditated on my situation, and I know what I must do. I will return to the temple and declare what I know for all to hear. I will leave my writings safely hidden here, along with my ceremonial sword, as I feel my death is at hand. My soul I now commit to the hands of Nasrudin.
"By the Gods..." I stared at Virgil wide-eyed. "We've got to get this to Alexander!" I hastily grabbed the sword before he could respond and I stalked off back towards the south. Virgil muttered about it for a short while until I finally handed the journal off to him. I did not stop my journey or even slow it, but nevertheless he did his best to read it while we walked and after a long enough while he finally handed it back to me. "Well?" I asked impatiently.
"Nothing. You're right, this belongs to Alexander. I think he should know." The curious looks on the others' faces subsided with Virgil's agreement, and we continued our journey back to Caladon in silence. It was late when we arrived, but that certainly wasn't going to stop me from delivering my news to Alexander. I pushed my way through the front door of the church and stalked up to Alexander purposefully. He bowed his head respectfully at me. You deserve to know... "I have something very important to tell you, Alexander."
His eyes lit up, "What? What did you find?"
"I found Mannox's journal..." The way he stared at me, so intent, so enraptured by my every word, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't tell him what had happened to the ancestor he held in such high esteem. "H-here... read it for yourself." I handed it to him, looking away. I sat there patiently for several minutes while he read every word eagerly, an expression of anger and horror slowly washing over his face.
Then boy do I ever have a gift for you... "I also found this..." I held out the finely crafted sword that I had discovered next to the journal.
He stared at it for several moments, utterly stunned, not quite believing what he was looking at. "I... never hoped to see this... it was lost so many years ago. It will be put to good use... I can assure you."
I smiled, thinking about exactly what 'good use' meant. "I'm sure. Good bye, and good luck."
Before I could go, he grasped my hand in both of his. "Thank you, Living One. Your help here has been invaluable. I wish you luck on your quest, and in the conflict to come."
"Good luck to you, too, Alexander. I'm trusting you to set things right here." He finally smiled back at me, understanding my meaning. Without another word, I departed. One down... two to go. I'd made other promises, and I intended to keep them. Next I visited old Hadrian, hoping that my news would cheer him up at least a little bit.
He looked up at me with dark, haunted eyes the moment I set foot in his room. I placed a hand on his shoulder and spoke to him softly, almost like a child although I didn't quite mean it as such. "Hadrian... I've found the whole truth."
His response was barely a whisper, and it looked as though he was almost afraid of what I had to say. I hoped he didn't have to be. "What?" he rasped.
I sat down on another chair next to his and related the entire tale, telling him of the original purpose of the Panarii and the betrayal of Mannox by K'an Hua. He listened intently, growing more and more animated as my tale continued. At last, when I finished, his expression was one of quiet rage.
I made a promise to you, and I kept it. "Glad to be of service, Hadrian." The satisfied look on his face, the relief to the anguish I'd brought to him made all of the effort worthwhile.
He smiled up at me, making a strange but quick gesture in the general direction of the back of the room. "As a token of my appreciation, feel free to take the objects in the display case. I can't tell you what they'd be good for, but they're yours all the same. The cases will be open now."
I stared at him in shock, glancing back and forth between him and the cases at the back of the room as if to ask if it was really all right. He nodded at me gently and I couldn't help the grin that was now spreading across my face. "Thank you so very much, Hadrian."
"Would you do me just one more favor?" He asked as I started towards the back of the room. I nodded at him. "Speak with Alexander of these things if you haven't already done so. I'm an old man, and tired... there is little I can do to right this wrong. But Alexander is strong, the strongest of us all, and will know what to do."
"I already have, Hadrian. I returned his ancestral sword to him and he told me it would be put to 'good use'." I winked as I said the last part, ensuring that Hadrian understood my meaning.
He thought it over for a moment, a slow nod coming over him as he realized exactly what that meant. "I envy not the man who Alexander finds responsible..."
Hadrian stared out the window peacefully while I walked over to the containers at the back of the room. First I gently opened the container on the far right and plucked out the skeletal finger of Mannox. I felt a strange power wash over me as I held it and I noticed the thin, leather cord that it was tied to. It felt somewhat gruesome, but I hung the cord around my neck and buried the skeletal finger beneath my dress, wearing it like a secret amulet.
I next picked out the eye of Kraka-tur from beneath its container, studying it with a sick fascination. It truly did look and feel like a rock, but a very smooth one. I placed it into my purse, figuring I would discover a use for it at a later date. Lastly I picked up the very device I'd desired from the moment I laid eyes on it, a device I could only think of as the glass key. I very carefully wrapped it up in some spare cloth and gently set it into my purse, being extra careful to not break it. I waved goodbye to Hadrian and wandered across the hall to tell Gunther the news. He was the last person I felt obligated to inform before running off to the north, chasing excitedly after the mystery of the iron clan.
Gunther greeted me as warmly as ever, "Hello, my sister. How are you today?"
"I started off fairly unsure, but now I'm doing quite fine, thank you for asking. I've discovered the truth about Mannox. Actually, I found his personal journal... where he wrote about his duty as First Acolyte in maintaining the wards around the Ring of Brodgar. Unfortunately, an elf whose name you might recognize, K'an Hua, subverted the Panarii into abandoning that duty... and when Mannox refused, he was killed."
That's what I liked about Gunther. He was willing to accept things at face value and deal with them in his own way without getting overly bothered about them. It was a trait I sorely lacked, and wished terribly that I didn't. "What do you think I should do now, Gunther?"
He looked towards the front of the church, thinking about something, and then back at me. "Well, if you would, please go and tell Alexander what you've found. I would think that he's going to want to have a very long talk with some of his superiors. I'm glad I'm not one of them." He smiled, then, quite wickedly. It was rather unbecoming of him, but I couldn't help smiling back.
"I've already done so, Gunther... and I couldn't agree more with your assessment. I must be going, then... good day to you."
"Good day, friend." He called out to me as I left. I barely heard it at all, as I was in quite the hurry on my way out. I'd done what I promised I would do, and now I could turn my attention to a wholly more positive mystery. Not that discovering the truth behind Mannox was wrong in any way, but there was something inherently saddening about the whole thing. It was hard to not feel sorrow for what happened to the poor man, and sympathy for his proud descendant, Alexander.
"Thank you, Samantha." Virgil's voice sounded very soft and genuine.
"You're quite welcome, Virgil. I didn't do it just for you, but I'm glad that it makes you happy. You see? I don't hate the Panarii religion after all!" I laughed and he started to turn a light shade of red.
"I... I know you don't... I suppose I'm sorry for being so pushy all the time. You're right, it really doesn't matter if you're the Living One or not. You're still doing the right thing." I could tell that Virgil meant what he said, but there was more to it than that... it was as though he really wanted me to be the living one, even if he knew it didn't matter. I couldn't think of anything positive to say on the subject, so in a rare moment of sensibility I kept my fool mouth shut.
After many days of journeying we finally arrived at the entrance to the iron clan caverns. I pulled the glass key out of my purse very carefully and unwrapped it with great care. I was nervous at first, but eventually rather relieved that it seemed to have made it in one piece. I placed it inside of the metal pillar until it fit snugly, and then with a barely audible click the metal gate on the ground next to it opened up.
Wordlessly, I stepped down into it and followed the lengthy, metal staircase. At the bottom the cave widened out into a spectacularly large, stone chamber with a rather ornate symbol emblazoned on the ground. I thought the symbol looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn't place exactly where from. I wrote it off as something I might've seen in one of Frederick's books at some point. Books I'll never have the pleasure of reading by his side again... I let out a deep sigh, and Virgil placed an understanding hand on my shoulder. We continued inward.
The cave itself almost seemed to function like a second layer of entry. At the far end of the chamber was a thick, reinforced iron gate that looked as though it could be barred shut to keep out intruders who made it past the first gate I'd already been through. It was presently unlocked, however, so I wandered through it curiously.
On the other side were extensive hallways, looking completely abandoned by all forms of life. There were no zombies, nor wolves in this particular abandoned cave. It had stayed perfectly sealed since whatever fate befell the dwarves that once lived in its grand halls. At last I discovered a room with three exceptionally large, iron pillars and a throne made of iron at the far side. No sooner had I entered it, however, than I was assaulted by humanoid machines! They were much like the clunky abomination that had assaulted me in Ashbury, but their construction was far sturdier. I reflexively swung at one with my axe and scored a powerful blow, however it barely even seemed damaged.
I ducked underneath its powerful, mechanical arm just in time to avoid what could very well have been a lethal blow considering the power of the damned thing. It wasn't alone, however, and in my negligence I took another blow to my side. I winced in pain, wondering if the bastard had just cracked a rib. Terry snarled and grabbed the machine by its spindly ankle, biting down hard. I heard a soft crack and Terry suddenly let go, blood dripping out of his mouth. He whined pathetically and shuffled off to the side of the room. I'll salve you up a nice jerky, Terry... don't worry, we'll handle these things for you...
I twirled around the machine that Terry had wounded himself on, slicing at it expertly with my axe blade. I'd managed to dispatch the clunky machine in Ashbury only due to its shabby construction, but now I had far more tricks up my sleeve and I was far more skilled. Even a machine of such amazingly perfect construction eventually fell beneath my repeated assault. It felt shameful to ruin such spectacular robots, but their construction was so perfect that I hardly had any other choice. It was that or let them ruin me, and I wasn't planning on dying for some damned ancient dwarven secret.
Sebastian's gun managed to blow a gaping hole in a second one of the machines, the peculiar chemical properties of it reacting with the metal the machine was made out of quite in our favor. Vollinger and Virgil laid into the third, Virgil distracting it while Vollinger tried his best to aim carefully at it. Vollinger's bullets, unfortunately, bounced right off of the machine's hard exterior. I ran up behind it and struck it repeatedly with my axe, relentless in my abuse. Before it could even turn around to try and block my attacks, it was finished.
I wiped the sweat off of my brow and slid my axe back onto my belt carefully. "Well, looks like this Iron Clan really had a flair for technology, eh?"
Vollinger cursed quietly, "I've never fought against anything that could deflect bullets... what marvelous technological construction indeed..."
Sebastian grinned, "Hey, with this gun you gave me it was no problem at all! Where the hell did you get this thing anyway?"
"I...er... I made it..." The look on Sebastian's face was utterly disbelieving. "It's not my design... I really just formed the barrel out of mithril and combined it with a part I scavenged on the Isle of Despair... to be honest, I don't know quite what's in it. At least it works, right?" His expression still didn't change much.
Virgil sat down with his back against one of the iron pillars. "Boy, I sure hope there aren't any more-" He cut off suddenly as the pillar he was leaning up against started whirring and creaking, a compartment on the front of it opening up. Inside I could see a thick, dark grey stone with unrecognizable characters on it.
Virgil scrambled to his feet while I walked over to the strange container, pulling the heavy stone out of it. "This must be the Durin Stone that Erick was after. Amazing..."
While I marveled over that stone, Virgil wandered over to a second compartment and Vollinger to the third. They opened easily enough, seemingly by pressing a button near the base of them, and inside were ancient dwarven treasures of the highest magnitude. Virgil came back to me dragging a particularly weighty hammer along. "I don't think that's going to fit into my purse." I said sarcastically.
He sighed, "I suppose I can carry it, but it's too heavy for me to use. I'd like it if we just left it with Erick when we give him the stone."
I nodded, "That's fine." Vollinger was staring into his compartment and I wandered over to see what he was looking at.
"Oh my... now that is a rather fine quality suit of armor. I don't think that'll fit in my purse either." I stared at it in awe.
Vollinger reached in and pulled it out of the compartment, staggering slightly under its weight. "Well... it's a touch heavy, but if I put it on over my clothing it shouldn't be too bad."
I laughed at him, "Do you have any idea how difficult it'll be to fire your gun from inside of that thing?"
He simply shrugged. "Who needs to fire a gun when nobody can lay a finger on you in the first place?" The next leg of our journey was bound to be an interesting one.
Bonus ContentAnd now what somebody maybe was hopefully waiting for... but probably not: bonus content.
I actually tried releasing JT earlier, knowing he was in prison, but forgetting that you have to talk to his mom. I kinda wish it would've just worked, but here's what happens.
Hmm? Yes, what?
Who are you?
Why, I am JT Morgan, Master locksmith.
Master, huh? Well, I'm here to free you. Come, join me...
Seems a bit weird to me.
In more interesting news, some of you are already aware it's possible to get Loghaire in your party. I didn't really like his fit in the party for this play through so I skipped over him. Here's what it looks like, though:
This reaches much further than even I thought. The fate of Arcanum itself hangs in the balance. It seems it is again my place to make things right.
What do you mean, Loghaire?
I'm saying that I mean to do whatever is necessary to avenge my people, and save our world...
Splendid. Will you join me?
Yes... to whatever awaits us...
He's pretty solidly average as a character, which means he's way better than most NPCs. That willpower isn't doing a whole lot for him, though.
Is anyone finding all of this random bonus stuff interesting? Most of it is just pictures I already have laying around that I just shoved into their own directory and I toss 'em up with some basic explanations. If you keep reading, I'll keep tossing out the content... just curious what people think of all the non-story mini-updates I've been posting lately.