Chapter the Sixty Eighth: Preparation and Confrontation Go Hand In HandThe whole world seemed to shift nauseatingly as I stepped through that portal, and a rather sudden dizziness overcame me. I could feel and smell the fresh, sea air of Caladon and I breathed it in deeply, grabbing onto the hand rail alongside the bridge to steady myself while I got my bearings. The sounds, sights, and smells... I'm home. No, this isn't my home anymore... my home is in the afterlife, with Frederick... pah, now I'm really being foolish... I've got to concentrate, the time for self-pity will come later.
If I wanted to face Arronax so soon, I had to prepare, and the handful of schematics I'd found and parts I'd scavenged from Vendigroth were going to be quite useful in that regard. I needed only to get to a good workshop, and that meant going to Tarant. But first, I made David a promise... and that's why I'm here. The dizziness surrounding my head beginning to fade, I ran off towards the dirt road on the southern end of the bridge.
David's farm was in view, and it looked like his little rabbits had been recovering nicely. So you kept your promise... and I kept mine. The door hung open loosely as it always had and I nearly burst through it in my excitement. "David! I've found a cure for Cynthia! It was in Tulla, as you suspected." A look of shock washed over his face and I quickly pulled the bottle out of my purse, placing it carefully in his hand.
I accepted his offer graciously. Well, at least that covers the cost of the potion... and Cynthia is saved as well. "It was a difficult journey. Thank you for the coin, it will help." I smiled at David and turned around, heading back outside to give him time with his daughter. I sighed, breathing in the fresh air once again.
Virgil took my hand in his and smiled at me, "You've really become a different person since I first met you. That was a good thing you just did. When they tell the story of how the renowned mediator and adventurer, Samantha Colburn, helped them out... that story will have a happy ending."
That's really too much. I felt flattered, but I didn't deserve his praise. "If I'd truly wanted to be charitable, I wouldn't have taken the coin he offered me." Happy ending? No... stories don't have happy endings. Cynthia will have to live with having been a werewolf for the rest of her life.
I could see the sadness behind Virgil's eyes, "That's not... no, nevermind." He let out a deep sigh of his own. "If you don't mind my saying so, you look horrible. Why don't I go rent a couple inn rooms so you can take a bath and Sebastian can clean Terry off in another one?"
Now that's a grand idea if I've ever heard one. "I would love that, Virgil, thank you. Vollinger, why don't you make sure that our ship is seaworthy and as soon as we're done getting cleaned up we'll make for Tarant? I've got to get to a workshop."
He acquiesced easily, "That sounds like a good plan. I cannot wait to find out what creations will spring forth from our collective minds." He did have such an interesting way of phrasing things.
I followed Virgil to the Mushroom Inn, taking the first room key he was offered and scurrying off to the bath. By the time I was done cleaning the dried, disgusting gunk off of myself, the water left in the tub looked like it came straight out of a sewer. I drained it and, just to be safe, bathed fully a second time. Anybody else would've done the same after taking a look at the water they just got out of. Besides, I did so love baths.
Terry was already squeaky clean by the time I finally emerged from my room, and he seemed quite happy about it in that puppy sort of way. By the time we arrived at the docks, Vollinger already had the ship ready to go. Once again, we were off to Tarant... a journey I'd made quite frequently and by quite a few different methods. Although I did so love to arrive by train, I would have to say my favorite method of travel was fast becoming travel by ship. Of course, there was the zeppelin, too, if anybody ever deigned to build another... but I sure as hell wouldn't fly on it even if they did.
Tarant loomed on the horizon not more than a week and a half after we left Caladon. I was eager to get right to work when we arrived and I headed straight back towards the factory areas of the city. Even as I neared it, however, I could see quite the ruckus going on outside one of the larger factories.
I wandered up to the gnomish man hollering at the guards anxiously, "What is going on here?" Curiosity always had been a weakness of mine. My hand rested on my axe handle gently as the gnome turned around to speak with me. No offense to you, good sir, but I think I despise every gnome in Tarant. It's nothing personal.
He seemed quite angry about whatever it was that was going on and his face was fully red from his shouting, "That totalitarian Captain Wheeler has some noble orcs who are striking for their rights trapped inside this factory!"
Now this is turning interesting... it's not every day orcs band together and do something LEGAL. "Captain Wheeler? What can you tell me of him?"
Recognition seemed to flare in the gnome's eyes and he calmed slightly as he talked to me, "I'm sorry, how rude of me not to introduce myself. I'm Councilman Babcock, and you are?"
Ugh... councilman... Gods, if I weren't so curious about what's going on here I would kill you where you stand. "I am Samantha Colburn. Now, about Captain Wheeler...?"
Mr. Babcock grinned as I told him my name, now all too happy to explain the details, "He's the Captain of the Tarantian Guard. He believes the orcs aren't fit to live, let alone have any rights. That's what this is all about - all the orcs want is the right to unionize. I am trying to keep this from deteriorating into... well, into what happened last time."
You can't very well just say something like that and then stop. Why does everybody always stop? "What happened last time?"
I was horrified at the very idea of it. I didn't hold any special love for orcs, but protestation was perfectly legal. "What happened to Wheeler after he killed the protestors?"
Mr. Babcock spit on the ground between his shoes, an action I found quite distasteful for a civilized person. "Nothing. Some on the council actually wanted to give him a medal!" All the more reason to slaughter the whole blasted lot of them.
"That's shocking!" The more I learned about that damned council the angrier I became with it. If it weren't such a fool's errand, I was of half a mind to put the fear of death into all of them, starting with the bastard in front of me. Even still it sounded tempting.
My attention was drawn away from my macabre thoughts by a deep sigh coming from the Mr. Babcock. "Yes, it is. And what is more, I feel it is directly responsible for the situation that has arisen here today. The orcs feel they have to do things like this to draw attention to their plight. They feel they can not effect any change through political ends, when they are seen as expendable beasts. It is all the more the pity, as Mr. Throgg could be just the man we are looking for."
The more I chat with this gent, the more I realize I don't have a damned clue what's going on here. Well, at least I'm going about fixing that. "Mr. Throgg? The man you are looking for? I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're talking about."
Anger flashed inside of me once again, though this time not towards the council. It was disgusting how much weight people placed on looks. "I see. So Mr. Throgg appears to be human?"
Mr. Babcock nodded affirmatively, "He is unique in that his features have a distinctive orcish cast to them, but instead of making him look the dumb brute, it actually gives him somewhat the appearance of a swarthy rogue. And I've never met an half orc with the charisma he has, or near anyone else for that matter."
'Near' anyone else... but you just so happened to recognize me, didn't you? "So what can be done to diffuse this situation?" If my persuasive talents could save a few lives, even orcish ones, and make a bloodthirsty guard captain look quite the fool, then I was all for it.
It was certainly within my abilities, but there was one thing that yet bothered me. "Why don't you go in there and propose your plan to him?" I can't offer him the same protection you can, however much I distrust the council and everyone on it... including you.
He sighed, "Because, as a councilmember, I represent the establishment which is holding him down. He will not speak with me. An outsider such as yourself, however, could gain his ear... especially one so renowned for her talents at negotiation." He winked at me and I shuddered a bit.
I love flattery as much as the next woman, but I will not take it coming from a gnome. I sighed, taking a deep breath. Surely the gnome in front of me wasn't directly responsible for the crimes of his fellow councilmen... here he was, crusading against the very man whom his fellows had heaped mounds of praise upon for his commitment to senseless violence. I couldn't bring myself to strike him down, no matter how badly I wanted to. At last, I gave in, "Okay, I will speak with him for you. What do I need to do?"
He grinned at me, shaking my hand excitedly. "Simply go in there and propose my plan to him. I am certain he will listen to reason." When he released my hand I noticed a key had been placed in my palm. How clever. He continued speaking in a quiet whisper, "They've locked themselves inside, but I convinced the owner to give me the key."
I nodded at Mr. Babcock understandingly, "I will return after I have convinced him." Ignoring the collection of guards standing just outside the factory, I strolled boldly up to the doors and unlocked one of them, slipping quietly inside amidst astonished glances. Being human, however, I wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms.
I guess I can't really blame them for their aggression, considering that little gathering outside. "I am here to speak with Mr. Throgg, to help you."
The orc gent thought my presence over for several moments before nodding slowly with a grunt. He pointed towards a door at the back of the factory, "He in back. You try anything, we kill you."
You don't have to remind me. I thanked him politely and made my way towards the door he'd pointed to. The orc guarding the door stepped aside, giving me a rather hateful glance but allowing me to proceed regardless. Strangely, I could understand their mistrust and yet they were still being quite reasonable for the situation they were in. In fact, they were being more reasonable than most humans would be.
The man sitting at the far end of that small room in the factory looked up at me as I entered and I was quite surprised when I looked at him.
I was really getting quite tired of being accused of that. "I am here to deliver a message from Mr. Babcock." I knew he wouldn't like that, but it was best to be up front from the start.
He practically snorted as I said it. "Babcock? What does he want? Does he still think we can gain rights through the system?"
It seemed like being up front was costing me more than I'd thought it would, but there was no turning back now. I chose my words carefully, "Yes. He has devised a way for you to gain the right to unionize."
Donn's anger was quite apparent, and I felt a bit guilty at thinking it had something to do with his orcish blood. "Why should I listen to him?! Or you, for that matter?!"
Oh, I don't know, because the both of us are trying to save your foolish life? "You can continue to hide out in factories, I suppose..."
I supposed that if anybody could appreciate a good barb it would be one with orcish blood. Being direct was the key after all. "Something that will put you legally beyond Wheeler's reach." I'd bet that sounds good right about now, doesn't it?
He nodded understandingly, crossing his arms as he reassessed me. "Hmmm. Alright, you have my ear. It would be intensely gratifying to use the law against Wheeler for once, instead of the other way around."
You can say that again. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a sympathetic ear that wants to destroy the council... Getting distracted by my own, private grievances wasn't going to solve the situation at hand... I did have so much trouble focusing sometimes. "He wants to establish your rights as someone who is half human."
That seemed to actually surprise the fellow. "I see. If it is done skillfully enough, it may work... and then what?"
All I had to do was keep talking, Mr. Throgg was certainly willing to listen to reason. "Once he proves you have rights, you can create a union..."
His face lit up at the idea, "For once old Babcock might be onto something!"
Even a bloody councilman has his uses I suppose... rotten bastard though he may be. No, that's not any fairer now than it was ten minutes ago. "He said Wheeler is sure to kill you if he gets the chance."
It was a shame I wouldn't be able to stick around long enough to see Wheeler humiliated, but there were more important things to be done. "You're welcome." I walked back out of the factory under the disapproving stares of the orcs. One of them even checked to make sure Throgg was still living as I exited. Being careful to not give Wheeler the wrong idea, I locked the door once again after leaving and approached Mr. Babcock to give him the good news.
I kept my voice a whisper so as not to clue Wheeler or his guards in on what was going on. "I convinced him to escape. He will meet with you later, he said."
I may indeed have done Tarant a great service, but I can tell you're only paying me lip service. Hmph. I almost struck the bastard down against my better judgment, but that would undo everything I'd just done and it wouldn't solve much of anything in the end. "Thank you. Good day." I remained polite until I was just out of view and then let forth a stream of curses like never before. "Bloody son of a bitch councilman bastard! What I wouldn't give to slap that bloody grin off his blasted face!"
Franklin seemed rather surprised, "I say! That is not language becoming of a polite, young lady! Mr. Babcock was nothing but polite! What's got your skirt in a bundle?"
I'm not in the mood for your pleasantries, Franklin. "Oh, stuff it. I'm not exactly a young lady anymore. If you really want to know what I'm upset about then I'll tell you after we defeat Arronax. I've gone far enough off track as it is."
Oddly enough, that seemed to brighten his day. "Haha! A challenge, then? Very well, I accept! We shall defeat Arronax and return to a hero's welcome!"
With that business taken care of, I slipped into another empty factory and laid my technical manuals out on one of the tables. Vollinger and I pored over the manuals and skillfully repaired, altered, and put back together much of the junk we'd scavenged from Vendigroth. Sebastian, too, did what he could to help out. Although he couldn't help us directly, he did manufacture quite the supply of grenades for use on whatever horrible creatures infested the Void. I was sure they would come in handy.
Our work continued well into the dead of the night and the sun was already on the Eastern horizon by the time we finished up. I looked over the heaps of mostly broken junk we had left after the fact with a certain odd sense of pride. Of all the useless things we'd scavenged, we still managed to make out quite nicely. In the end we'd created two oversized pistols that actually looked to be quite frighteningly effective along with two pairs of heavy gloves.
Much to my surprise, Vollinger once again declined the brand new guns we'd manufactured together, instead preferring to stick with his trusty old rifle. It was quite a bit trustier than Old Mary, however, so that was certainly something. Sebastian had no compunctions about taking the 'new toy' from me, and Franklin was only too happy to receive Old Mary Mk2. Virgil and I each took a pair of the war gauntlets I'd fashioned using the exceptionally high quality sheets of metal we'd found in Vendigroth along with a couple pairs of their durable, cloth gloves. It was a bit crude, but it functioned well enough.
It seemed like even Virgil and Franklin had kept busy throughout our lengthy manufacturing process. Virgil had an arm full of magickal potions and other assorted goodies, and Franklin had just returned from several of the local tech shops loaded to the gills with salves and medicinal remedies. "I think that about covers it, then..." Arronax, we're coming for you.
I couldn't help but overhear the paper seller shouting at the top of his lungs on my way towards the docks, "THROGG ESCAPES!! Get your paper here!" It's hardly been one night! News travels so fast these days... I paid the gentleman two coins just to get a good look at the story.
Hmph... unnamed accomplice. I suppose it's better that way in the end. I tossed the paper in a rubbish bin with a smile on my face and boarded the ship. "Vollinger, let's head off to Roseborough."
"Of course, Madam." He nodded at me, beginning to turn the wheel of the ship even as he responded. The journey felt like such a short one, but considering I treated it like it might very well be the last journey I would ever take by sea, I supposed that was only normal. All of us dealt with the uneasiness in our minds differently. Vollinger seemed content to steer the ship and bark orders at Franklin, but he always had been rather practical. Franklin couldn't sit still, so he was all too happy to do whatever Vollinger asked of him. As long as it kept him busy, he, too, was happy. Sebastian sat inside the cabin beneath the deck, tossing a worn ball of leather down the hallway and watching Terry fetch it. Those two were getting along better and better.
As for myself, I stood by the edge of the ship, simply gazing out at the sea with Virgil by my side. We didn't say anything to each other the entire journey, and we didn't have to. We just shared those quiet moments together, enjoying them while they lasted. I was almost sad, in a way, when we finally arrived at Roseborough. The time for relaxation was over, and I now had to face my fate, however unfair it might've been. No, it's perfectly fair... I deserve this and more...
Nasrudin was waiting inside the Ring of Brodgar just as he said he would. He gave me a stern stare as I approached, still commanding quite the presence even in his old age. Standing amidst the stones of Brodgar, he was even more menacing... truly, this was where he belonged. "Are you prepared to face Arronax?"
Oh how I wished this moment would never come. I had kept telling myself throughout my journey in the Wastes that I would grow accustomed to the idea of being banished, but even if I'd been given a decade to adjust I don't think I could've. There was no easy way to think about it, being banished into the great unknown Void was about as horrifying as anything possibly could be. I nodded at him slowly, unwilling to back out now after having come so far, "Yes."
I shook my head sadly, "They had better, or we're all in for a bit of trouble." It was ironic that the very same thing that made me want to fail the most, my own death, was also the one that had provided me with the greatest unearthly blessing. With Velorien watching over me, I somehow knew that I would truly be ready to face Arronax. At the same time, I so desperately wished that I wasn't ready, that I could give it my all and still it wouldn't be enough. Frederick... I want to return to you....
Wordlessly, Nasrudin began chanting a spell so powerful that my skin cried out in pain the second he fixed his stare on me. I could feel the world around me fading away, I could see the black closing in around everything. The ground cracked and then broke beneath my feet, and I hung there, suspended in mid-air, my heart racing in my chest.
As I began to descend downward I gazed up at Nasrudin in horror, but he was no more. After finishing the spell that sent the six of us into the Void, he had collapsed lifelessly on the grass. Goodbye, Nasrudin... in the end, I suppose it really doesn't matter that I'm not your reincarnation... but I don't think I ever could've lived up to your legacy even if I was.
I could feel myself shifting across the barrier between worlds even as I stared up at the ground closing back up after I'd passed it by. I floated in midair, dizzy, bordering on unconsciousness for what seemed like hours. At last, I landed on solid ground... gently, somehow. I stood in what appeared to be the Ring of Brodgar, but different... darker, twisted. The small ring of grass that surrounded it was the only grass I could see in the entire place and at its edge I saw ringed, metal spires protruding upwards from the ground, surrounding the great stones I stood within.
Before I could even get my bearings on where I was I heard a horrible and all-too-familiar screech.
Gods, the portal in the forest... Liam... THIS is what that was all about? No... the rift that Stennar used to escape while the machine was yet incomplete... it must've opened a hole elsewhere... I was stunned, but the lizard bastard that bit into my leg ferociously woke me from my endless train of thought. I brought my axe down on its spine, killing it in a single strike.
Gunfire erupted from behind me as Franklin and Sebastian tried out their new firearms, lizards nearly exploding as the bullets contacted their flesh. Terry darted around a nearby stone, leaping at a nearby lizard and tearing its throat out effortlessly. We'd been in the Void less than two minutes and already we had started paving our path in blood.
Fighting Void lizards was nothing new to me, and I cut them to ribbons just as I had the very first time. Back then, I'd known so little about combat... been so naive. Virgil was right, I really had changed since I met him. The lizards herded more thickly here, though that made quite a bit of sense. The six of us fought through them regardless, leaving not a single one alive as we desperately battled our way towards the far end of the floating chunk of rock we seemed to be stranded on.
Towards the edge of that rocky platform there was a strange machine the likes of which I'd never seen before. It was a platform clearly intended to be stood upon by several persons, and connected by a thick, metal rail to what looked to be not only a power source but also some type of control box. Curiously, I stepped onto the platform. I could hear Virgil shouting behind me, "Not again! Wait! Be careful!"
I could feel every part of my body slowly rearranging itself, though strangely it wasn't an uncomfortable feeling. Sparks flew forth from the platform beneath me and my vision grew rather suddenly hazy. When I at last opened my eyes I was in another place entirely, still whole despite the sound feeling that I would not be. There wasn't terribly much time to consider exactly what just happened, other than a technological equivalent to teleportation. I was being set upon by more of those bastard, floating jellyfish that I'd grown to hate so long ago.
Vollinger's bullets were no less effective against them this time than they had been the previous time and he killed one of the smaller ones even before it could reach us. Franklin and Sebastian opened up as well, their unparalleled firepower bringing down more of the creatures as quickly as they could pull the triggers. Franklin shouted gleefully, "Take that, you floating... whatever you are!"
I launched myself forward, slicing apart the largest and most menacing of the strange things. It split apart easily beneath my blade, not even able to reach out towards me with its acidic tentacles. Considering I felt woefully unprepared to repair my own armor in this hellhole, it would certainly be for the best if I continued to avoid getting hit. Luckily for me, I was truly a master at the art of dodging.
When the ground was littered with the corpses of the strange jellyfish I finally noticed a rather large structure that dwarfed the whole of the platform I now stood upon. I couldn't make out an entrance to it amidst the twisted and broken trees that surrounded it, but there was a staircase off towards one side of it that looked promising. I held my axe firmly out in front of me and cautiously descended it.
The walls at the bottom of the stairs were smooth and intricately engraved. It was obvious that a great deal of labor had been invested in their construction. That wasn't the most surprising thing I saw, however. There was a massive, spectral snake at least three times as long as I was tall, just slithering up and down the hallway in utter silence. Off to the side of the hall I could see a circular doorway blocked by tendrils of metal that somewhat resembled a spiderweb. On either side of that strange door were spectral guards, armored in black plate with dozens of protruding spikes. I could hear the voice of the nearest one booming at me as I drew near, "Hold there. What's your business here?"
I held my axe out in front of me menacingly, giving the ghost a hateful stare, "I'm here for Arronax. Get out of my way if you know what's good for you!"
Well, that was easier than expected. I lowered my axe a bit and took a few cautious steps forward, keeping an eye on the spectral guard. As I approached, the strange door opened for me, the thick metal blades retracting into the sides of the doorway. Why do I not like how that door operates? I stepped through quickly, lest the door skewer me as I tried to make my way through. Thankfully, it was well-behaved. The others followed after me nervously, obviously wondering the same thing I did when I skipped through.
My attention wasn't focused on my companions, however... I stared straight ahead to the elf in black robes, sitting on the ground in the middle of a glowing, green barrier of energy. So it all comes to this... call it what you will, good vs. evil, technology vs. magick... I don't care. All I want is to get back and begin searching for the spirit of my son, or die trying.
His voice was firm and clear, his words pronounced in a very particular manner. He looked at me with a tired stare not at all becoming of the ancient evil that still plagued Arcanum even today. I glared back at him with hatred in my eyes, never once letting up my grip on my axe. "Arronax, I presume?"
He glanced at me and at my companions curiously, "Your presumption is correct. And who might I have the pleasure of addressing?"
I felt like a fool, politely introducing myself to Arronax, though I would have felt even more foolish if I didn't. "I am Samantha Colburn." Samantha, meet Arronax. Arronax, Samantha. Why do clashes with ancient evils in storybooks never mention this awkward part? Aren't we supposed to be taunting each other mercilessly by now, explaining exactly why we can't let each other live in the most grandiose fashion we can muster?
The tone in his voice remained unchanged. "Well, Samantha Colburn, what brings you to my corner of oblivion?"
Damn you! I can't stand this... I've had it with this nonsense! "Enough with the pleasantries, Arronax. I've come to stop you."
His obvious sarcasm only added to my anger. Do you really think to defeat me with witty banter? I came to fight you with my axe, not my vocabulary! If he insisted on being so snide, I would have to spell things out as clearly as possible. "I will not permit you to escape the Void and return to Arcanum."
He actually cracked a slight smile and I desperately wished he would remove that barrier of his so we could get to the fighting already. "You will not permit me? How droll! You really have absolutely no idea of what you are involved with here, do you?" At the very least his attitude was affirming my resolve to kill him in the most gruesome way possible. I still didn't like the Vendigroth device, however.
"It doesn't matter. I'm here to stop you, it is as simple as that." My resolve was firm. Unlike him, I'd gone to my banishment calmly and willingly. Now that I was in the Void, nothing could shake my will.
Again I felt his stare passing over me, silently judging me. "You are so sure of yourself! It must be comforting to be free of self doubt."
Stuff a sock in it. "I don't sit around bemoaning my fate, if that is what you mean." I bemoan it while I walk... you get more done that way.
He sighed heavily, shaking his head. In that moment I could sense a genuine sadness in him. "I haven't had opportunity to do much else... destiny seems to play unfairly with some of us, don't you agree?"
Are you serious? No, you've got to be kidding me... all this time and you really believe that what happened to you was UNFAIR? "You are here because of your actions, not some cruel twist of fate."
Oh it's so bloody easy to blame somebody else. Who do you think you're fooling? It's Nasrudin's fault?! Get over yourself! "I don't think it was Nasrudin's intent that you destroy a whole city."
Naturally, Arronax got defensive at that accusation. "What did he expect? He shoved a young, immature, inexperienced fool into a position of immense power and set me loose on the world." Now that's... that's an ood thing for YOU to be saying. His voice quieted down to a regretful scowl, "Why didn't he stop me... he should have stopped me..."
I didn't quite believe what I was hearing. "Wait, are you trying to tell me you feel guilt over what you did?" No, I couldn't believe it... I didn't dare. He was just trying to catch me off guard.
He nodded quite assuredly, "Most certainly. I have had two thousand years of my grievous errors in judgment replaying themselves in my mind. One tends to grow a bit of a conscience in all that time." He sounded sincere, but he'd probably been planning that speech of his for months... and I was falling right into it.
Well, I certainly wouldn't play the fool, and only a fool would take a person like Arronax at face value. "You'll excuse me if I don't believe you're overcome with guilt."
He just seemed so damned matter of fact about it that I desperately wanted to believe him. I couldn't, though... I had to be guarded against whatever it was he was planning. "If you are so regretful, why are you trying to return for revenge?"
His shoulders slumped forward and he sighed deeply, giving me a rather incredulous stare. It was as if he was beginning to tire of trying to convince me. "I have nothing planned, save to live out the rest of my days in peace."
Hogwash. You attacked me! You started this! I didn't ask to be some bloody pawn of prophecy! "I tire of your lies. Come out of your shell and fight me." I hefted my axe up menacingly, preparing myself.
Arronax merely laughed, and laughed, and laughed. It was a dark, arrogant laugh and I would expect nothing less from the likes of him. It echoed off of the walls in that expansive, empty chamber several times over, crossing back on itself as it reverberated back and forth. "You fool! You think this is my protection? This is my prison! I've been trapped inside this shell for nearly two thousand years!"
There was no joke in what he was saying, no deception... his anger was genuine. "What? That's impossible! This must be some sort of trick." You almost had me with that one, Arronax... no, you still almost have me... it's so ludicrous it must be true.
I could see it in his eyes that he was not trying to deceive me. He could've been the best liar in the world, but his eyes were honest and direct. "Who could have possibly trapped someone of your power here?" The more I thought about it, the more I knew in my heart that it was true... he wouldn't just be standing there if he could possibly move.
Even as he spoke the words they made a terrible amount of sense and, inwardly, I cringed. "This is Kerghan's doing. When I first came here and realized what he was becoming, I attempted to stop him. Our battle was intense, yet brief. As you can see, I was not the victor."
No, Kerghan... why him? If there's one man I could possibly be more afraid of than Arronax, it's Kerghan. "Why didn't he kill you?"
It seemed so strange to me, the idea that Kerghan had somehow become more powerful than the great Arronax. I was going to be up against an even worse evil than I had thought possible. Worse than Arronax? Indeed, somehow it's true.... "What happened when you had him banished?" I needed to know everything. All my preparations, everything I'd brought with me... it was all for nothing.
"Nothing, strangely enough." Arronax's voice took on a rather uncharacteristically bright tone. I could see him staring off into space even as he thought of it. "He went quietly to his fate..."
My, if that doesn't just explain the whole thing. Oh, wait, it doesn't. "Sounds like a coward to me." Since he wouldn't share information when I outright asked for it, I had to try provoking it out of him. It had worked before, so it seemed wise to try it a second time.
Sure enough, my bold statements did far more to loosen his lips than asking direct questions ever did. "It almost sounds as if you admire him." If that's the verbal sparring match you'd like to have, so be it. I suppose I'm here to stop Kerghan, then, and I'm not leaving until you tell me what I want to know.
Arronax gave my statement a bit of thought, correcting it as he deemed necessary, "Fascination would be a more appropriate term. I am intrigued by the workings of his brilliant, twisted mind. Have no doubt, though, I would destroy him without a second thought were the opportunity to present itself."
It made me wonder if sending him to the Void had really been the proper answer in the first place. "Do you regret having him banished?" Ugh, who knows what Arcanum would be like today if Kerghan hadn't been banished? Nevermind...
"Regret, no," Arronax shook his head, "though I can't help but feel that I was so set against him simply because he was human. Regardless of my childish excesses, though, there is no denying the base evilness of his actions." Hmph. You're not really one to talk about evil.
Despite my personal opinions on Arronax, right now I needed information only he could give. "Hmm... let me get all of this straight, then. The dark elves desired your return so you could help bring the whole world under elven rule. Thinking Kerghan was you, they had the Black Mountain Clan banished in order to construct a machine for Kerghan to return. Then it would have been Kerghan that attacked me on the plains of Morbihan...? Do you really think he's the one behind all of this?"
But why...? Kerghan's plenty evil enough, he certainly doesn't need Arronax's namesake to strike fear into the whole of Arcanum. "To what end?"
Arronax explained, but haughtily. Although he may very well have developed a conscience during his banishment, there was that streak of arrogance that told me I really was dealing with the one and only Arronax. "It sounds as if these dark elves you mentioned have patterned themselves after the misguided philosophy of my youth. They are proving to be powerful allies in his quest to return to Arcanum, it seems. I doubt they would be willing to help Kerghan the Terrible return to exact his revenge."
I suppose that does make a good bit of sense. I had realized it long ago, but I affirmed my suspicions vocally. "So Kerghan is the one I'm here to stop."
Arronax nodded at me, "That would appear to be the case. If you were able to facilitate my release from this prison, it would be my pleasure to help you destroy Kerghan."
I knew I was treading on thin ice. Even if he isn't the one I've come to defeat, he's STILL Arronax. I scoffed at him disbelievingly, "How? Kerghan defeated you last time you fought."
For some reason, I wasn't nearly as bothered by the idea that it might be fatal as I probably should've been. I felt so selfish but, if I could return to Frederick that much sooner, I welcomed death. It was so hard to forget my memories of that hauntingly peaceful place.... I've got to focus on the present. I may not have been preparing for Kerghan, but the weapons I bring will me will work all the same. "I have the Vendigroth Device."
That seemed like it pleased him greatly. Whatever lies he might be telling, he certainly did like the idea of Kerghan's ultimate destruction. "Then our task should be at least a fraction easier. All we need to do is hurt him enough so that he attempts to regenerate himself, and then you can use the Device on him. Of course, this is easier spoken of than accomplished."
I sighed. A part of me really wanted to trust him. I could certainly use the help of Arronax when going up against yet another ancient evil. Fight fire with fire, as the saying went. "I'm not sure I can trust you." I want to, but... you're Arronax...
His voice was a mixture of amused condescension and honest sadness. "Your reaction is... understandable." He looked at me with a sarcastic grin, "Perhaps you should gain an audience with Kerghan himself. I think a conversation with him will erase any doubt as to the veracity of my claims."
You can't be serious. I know you're not serious. "Where is he? How do I find him?" I asked despite my reluctance. The only problem talking to Kerghan was likely to solve was the intrusion of a technologically-inclined outsider into his corner of the Void.
Arronax's voice remained as sarcastic as ever. He obviously knew as well as I did that nothing would come of such a conversation. There was no reasoning with madmen. "There are still things I need answers to." Come on, Arronax... you're so bloody charismatic when you want to be... make me trust you.
He sighed impatiently, ever one to allow his arrogance to get the better of him. Of all the lessons he might've learned, that was certainly not one of them. I imagined a lack of contact with anybody aside from Kerghan for a couple thousand years was bound to do that to a chap anyhow. "What are your questions?"
Well, gee, sorry to be such a bloody bother about it. "Where is the Black Mountain Clan?"
He shrugged at me, amused. "I do not know." Yes, all right, I know you've not been able to leave since first arriving. You don't need to remind me. "I would assume the gate they are building is located somewhere near Kerghan's castle, though."
His response at least reminded me that I knew very little about the strange place I now found myself in. The curious mix of technology and magick had been gnawing at me since I first arrived. "What can you tell me about the Void?"
That seemed like a rather dark prospect. "The Council didn't even know what the Void was?" That's the thing about bloody mages... always wrestling with forces they don't understand... at least with technology you've got to know every bloody thing about it before you go mucking about.
My meaning was clear, and it seemed he even agreed with me. "It seems irresponsible in hindsight, but at the time they felt the Void was oblivion. Nothing was supposed to be over here." Damned bloody mages...
Harping at him certainly wasn't likely to do any good, no matter how tragic it seemed. I certainly couldn't even begin to right any wrongs committed well over two thousand years prior. It seemed like two hundred was about my limit. I thought carefully before asking my next question. "Why did you destroy Vendigroth?" If I'm going to bloody free you, that's one question I want an answer to.
He shrugged sadly, staring at the ground with regret. "When they began constructing their device to protect themselves from my unprovoked attacks, I lashed out without thinking and destroyed them all. My fear of what technology could bring was so pervasive, I never thought there was any other solution. Of course, I regret it now. I still think of my father and what I did to him. Even though he must bear a fair share of the blame for what happened, I do not think he deserved his fate."
Little do you know... he gave his life to send me here to stop you... and here you are, so damned focused on how he 'wronged' you by not stopping your recklessness sooner. I would get nowhere arguing with him. He was every bit as stubborn as I would have expected him to be. "So when at last your father DID stop you, and you came here... you just attacked Kerghan outright? Unprovoked?"
You've still got plenty of the latter. For all of the points that I disagreed with Arronax on, I was at least convinced of his genuine regret. Although I cringed at the idea of setting him loose upon the world, if he could help me defeat Kerghan... it might all be worth it. "I think Kerghan needs to be stopped."
He sighed helplessly, staring at me, "I could not concur more vigorously. If you would facilitate my release from my prison, I would join with you to defeat him."
I glanced at my companions briefly, noting how the uncertain looks in their own eyes matched the feelings I myself held. Turning back to Arronax with a heavy sigh, I finally answered, "What do I need to do?"
In the end, that arrogant confidance of his amounted to a whole lot of nothing. Fat lot of good your attitude does when you're still trapped helplessly, eh? Hmm... something near here... what's nearby? I suppose that snake just outside the door is something of an oddity... I'd been so guarded that I hadn't bothered to put my axe back on my belt, so the conclusion I came to next was quite a natural one.
I ran out of the door, screaming at the top of my lungs. The spectral snake was slithering past just as I emerged and I dove towards it, my axe flashing through the air with practiced precision. The upper half of the strange beast's body slumped to the floor with a curious lack of blood, its bottom half having been completely separated.
The guards behind me grew quite suddenly alarmed and I turned my attention towards them as well. Kerghan's lapdogs... let me send you back where you belong. Before they could even react to the sudden blur that had burst from Arronax's chamber, I was attacking them as well. The first one went down with an unearthly groan by the time the second one even drew his blade.
The sound of gunfire roared from the doorway and the second guard stumbled backwards. With one final bang he finally toppled the rest of the way over, his spectral figure crashing to the ground without the slightest hint of noise. Even when victorious, fighting against such obviously disembodied spirits was quite unnerving.
"Well, that was invigorating, wasn't it?" Sebastian laughed outright while Virgil chuckled nervously. Franklin cheered at me and Vollinger clapped quietly. Terry nosed Sebastian's bag of jerky. I suppose it's a bit too early to be patting ourselves on the back just yet. I strode back into Arronax's chamber, noting uneasily that his peculiar green shell had at last vanished.
Thankfully, the look on his face was one of gratitude and be bowed towards me most graciously. "Many thanks for releasing me from my horribly lengthy incarceration, madam. I am at your service."
If this isn't just about the very last damned thing I expected to happen... "It is high time we showed Kerghan the error of his ways."
Anywhere else and I would've laughed the madman in front of me out of the room. That madman was Arronax himself, and we were about to confront Kerghan the Terrible... as much as I didn't like the idea of teaming up with even more legendary horrors, it did seem somewhat prudent. "Do you think they would join us?"
He simply shrugged. "We can only hope. We will have to convince them that Kerghan is a danger to them as well." For all his nonchalance, he had an excellent point.
Worrying about whether they would or wouldn't join us was pointless. I was a negotiator, I had to get them to join up. No matter how horrible any of them were, Kerghan was even moreso. "How do we find them?" Hmph... I cannot believe I'm going to go through with this. Say, Arronax, old fellow! Have you seen the Bane of Kree around? I was hoping we might have a nice chat!
Well, that's easy. Step on platform, try not to be sick, step off. "Let's go." Even as I forced myself forwards, I was all too aware that the lesser evil was still evil.
Bonus ContentA Response to "The Soot of the Gods"
Any visitor to Tarant has seen and experienced the many wonders of Technology, and I for one agree that Technology has many uses and, indeed, has made life more interesting. But these same visitors have also experienced the soot to which Sir Lucan refers. If one were to make the journey to the countryside surrounding Tarant, one would see the deforestation and the pollution of the waters close to the fair city. With these things in mind, it becomes clear that Technology, though it has brought some good to our world, has also brought some evils. The polluting of the skies and the waters are in themselves bad enough, but the felling of whole forests?
It saddens me to see how the shorter lived humans, who make up half of my heritage, disregard the needs of their own descendants. To so easily fell the forests so that their children and grandchildren may have to travel far distances to see the grandeur that only a great forest can possess! My elven heritage lets me know the land and its suffering, and I know that a force that does this to the land cannot be purely a blessing.
The Magick/Technology conflict has another frightening consequence, should Technology reign supreme as Sir Lucan predicts. From perusing the works of John Beddoes it is clear that many of the races that constitute the population of Arcanum harbour in their very tissue mystical vibrations. These vibrations are found in the races of Halflings, Gnomes, Ogres, Half-ogres, Orcs, Half-orcs, Elves and my own race, the Half-elves. These vibrations stem from the fact that these races are not naturally evolved, as are the Humans and Dwarves. Nay, these races are the result of what Beddoes calls supernatural selection and are descended from the naturally evolved races. I have travelled the world for a century, and I can see that the words of Beddoes are not simply idle speculation, and I suspect he may be correct in his theories.
These facts, combined with Sir Lucan's paper, make me uneasy, for if Technology should reign supreme and Magick thus die out, what then shall become of the races begotten by Magick? The vibrations common to these races are evident even after death, but should these vibrations die out together with Magick, would these races then too cease to exist? It is known that devices of great Technological wonder can make people with great aptitude towards Magick ill. If Technology should turn all-pervasive, would all these "Magickal" races then fall ill and die out? Also, we must not forget that, as Sir Lucan points out, the very Gods themselves are not "natural", and so must be Magickal. Should Magick die out, are then the Gods themselves
children, be they human, gnomish, elvish or any other race.
To the shorter-lived races of Arcanum I offer this advice. Take comfort in these wonders as well, and do not trust blindly in Technology nor Magick. The Gods still exist, and they have apparently intervened before with moments of supernatural selection. If we become too complacent or confident in our Magick or Technology, then who is to say that the Gods themselves might not intervene again to teach us all a lesson? Even as this might never come to pass, the advice remains sound. Hastening into anything might be perilous, and while Technology has achieved some astounding breakthroughs recently, we must be careful not to blindly embrace everything these new wonders might show us. Temperance in introducing new Technology might mean the difference of putting many lives, even whole races, at risk, or living in a peaceful coexistence and bringing all of Arcanum to new heights of wonder.
I'm running out of opportunities to share all this stuff with you, so have a whole mess of it all at once!
First off, here are some pre-void shots of what happens when you get above 80% technology. Samantha is level 62 now and had just enough points to master therapeutics, which she did just to make a disturbing amount of buff potions. Of course, most of them are redundant and useless, which is why I almost never take therapeutics. I didn't really have anything better to spend the points on vv
Note that he actually will not sell you anything. You're banned from magick shops at this point. All your magickal equipment has to go to junk dealers for a lower price!
Alright, I think you get the idea. Anyway, it's fun as long as you don't have to deal much with mages. Speaking of mages, let's pay our old friend Nasrudin a visit in his shack now that we have the Vendigroth device.
Sorry, I forgetted.
I'm pretty sure some of you want to see just how absurdly prepared I was before heading into the Void. If any of you know me by now, you should know that it was far and away in excess of what I needed. Let's take a look!
Grenades, ammo, salves, fatigue restorers, reanimators, and a bunch of therapeutics potions for the most part. Virgil's stocked up, too. The therapeutics potions buff various stats, for example I have potions that raise perception on my gunners, since firearms is governed by perception. They can't take stats in excess of 20, however, and all of my gunners have 20 perception
Basically, the only potions being used are ones that buff strength for anybody that doesn't meet their MSR (Virgil), and ones that buff dex for anybody that doesn't have dex maxed. One day I might try playing a character that relies on therapeutics instead of maxing stats, but I get the feeling it would get annoying to keep downing potions.
Next, I'm sure somebody wants to see Arronax's character sheet, so here it is:
...THIS is the legendary evil? His stats aren't bad until you consider he's level 50 and still sucks. His highest level spell is a fourth rank (I think it's in forces), and his best spell is the third level fire spell. He really, really sucks... even as a mage. Magickal aptitude of thirty fucking five? . He doesn't have to suck, but he does anyway
Enough bitching about how terrible Arronax is. I made some avatars! Well, most of them are just in-game portraits, but not all. I'm happy to make anything by request, though. I'm getting pretty handy at making all this stuff. Since there are a lot I'll try and break it down by category.
Temporary Party Members:
There are plenty more portraits, too, I just picked ones that relate most closely to this thread. If there's a request for another one, I'm happy to oblige. I also made a few animated avatars myself:
Lastly, quite possibly the best animated gif I have ever made:
Please do let me know if there are any other requests for images. I have so many backup saves that I can seriously get a picture of damn near anything.
If anybody needs any recommendations for text to go with the portraits, there are plenty. I'll list a few here and if you want more, just ask in the thread or PM me.
- Terry: Woof.
- Arronax: I have so many things on my social calendar these days, it is difficult to know which you are making reference to, in particular. (Alternate: Splendid! I applaud your talent at smiting fools!)
- Magnus: Hey! I don't understand why we're attacking such a decent type. I won't do this for much longer.
- Swyft: 150/f/Qintarra
- Gar: Politics. Mathematics. Tea.
One more thing! Since we're so close to the end I've also decided to post what may well be my last sound pack. Unless there are some requests for more, this is it. Because of that I've made it a tad more full than the others, including quite a few quotes from my favorites (Geoffrey, Franklin, and ). There are also samples from Arronax since he's got a really awesome voice actor, but I've avoided mentioning it until now for obvious reasons. I tossed a couple of Kerghan in, too. One from when he taunts you outside of the Void, and one from inside the Void... just so you have a mental idea of what his voice sounds like when I get to him.
Anyway, here's the sound pack: Link