Arcanum – Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 21-1

March 26th, 1886

I sat on one of the pews in the First Temple of the Panarii and looked at nothing in particular. There seemed very little point to moving myself from where I sat — and there was no better place to sit and think than here, in the quiet of the temple. The building itself was large and rectangular, with enough room it seemed for the whole city of Caladon to take their seats here to be lectured at. However, other than the sheer size of the place, it remained fairly unostentatious. The only designs of any note weren’t done in gold or precious gems. Rather, they were simple paintings in a plain, almost primitive style that harkened back to a simpler time, rather than the styling of realism or the more modern stark abstractionism coming from the painting halls of Tarant.

They showed Nasrudin — a benign elf, with a golden halo about his head — sitting at a table, with the rest of the elven council. The elves there were drawn as if they were in a deep argument, rather than benignly ruling the world. All of them, though, had their faces cast towards Nasrudin with an expression of respect at the very least, outright worship at the most. All save one: A dark haired elf with piercing, blue eyes who glared at Nasrudin as if he owed him something. The shadows about this elf and the conniving light in his eyes made me think…well…

“A bit trite, isn’t it?” I muttered.

I felt a hand settle on my shoulder. I looked and saw Gillian standing there. The half-orc was looking down at me somberly, her face set into grim lines.

“Are you…” She trailed off.

I breathed in and closed my eyes. I felt a deep, solidified core of determination growing — like the pearl around a grit in a buried oystery. I took hold of Gillian’s hand, then stood up. I adjusted my suit jacket with a single jerk of my hands, then opened my eyes. “Quite,” I said to Gillian. I looked to the front of the temple again — and saw where Johanna was speaking with another Panarii. I strode towards the two of them. As I came closer, I caught the trialing edge of Johanna’s words: “…to be held tonight, surely?”

“Of course. With full honors,” the man said.

“What is this all about?” I asked as I came to stand beside them. Johanna looked to me, her eyes rimed with the telltale signs of tears. The fellow she had been speaking to shifted his stance as well as I came close — and I had to admit, my first impressions had been somewhat skewed. While he was in robes and had the gently trimmed beard of most male Panarii, he did not have the air or attitude of a priest. Rather, he stood with the poise and grace of a swordsman, and his pale blond hair was cut short, like that of a soldier. He looked at me with blue eyes and I saw that, underneath his robes, his muscles were clearly defined and thick. He bowed to me.

“Dr. Cog,” he said, simply. “I am the First Acolyte Alexander, the leader of the Panarri Church. I wish to extend to you my deepest condolences. It seems that Sister Virginia was quite…close with you.”

I nodded. “What is this about with full honors?” I asked, trying to keep my voice calm.

“Rayburn,” Johanna said, her voice gentle. “Virginia is dead. She should be buried with full honors.”

“No,” I said, simply.

The two Panarii looked at me — Johanna with shock, Alexander with the unreadable facade of a warrior. “But…” Johanna said. “Why?”

I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to sound calm. Collected. Rational. “While we traveled together, Virginia told me a great deal about her magick. She showed me the arts of conveyance, and she demonstrated her arts of white necromancy. And she said that the ultimate form of white necromancy is the returning of a soul to a mortal shell — in other words, bringing one back to life.” I pursed my lips. “She has come too far, sacrificed too much, and is too important to my quest to allow to simply…die.”

Alexander nodded. “If it were but in my power.”

Johanna placed her hand upon my shoulder. “Rayburn, there is no way. The masters of the necromantic arts, both white and black, do not dwell among the peoples of Arcanum in this day and age. They have retreated to Tulla — the City of Magi. It is concealed somewhere in the Vendigroth Wastes.”

“And I have been to the wastes,” Alexander said, his voice grim. “They are by far, the most dangerous lands in Arcanum. Even the Island of Thanatos pales compared to the twisted monsters that prowl that blasted desert.” He shook his head. “And even I never found Tulla.”

“Forgive me, sir,” I said, lifting my chin. “But you lacked my motivation.”

Johanna’s eyes met mine. Her lips pursed and she nodded. “You may have the will, Dr. Cog,” she said, her voice growing firm. “But what you lack is the time. Virginia’s body, even now, begins to rot. There will be nothing for her to return to in the months it will take for you to reach the Wastes ad the months it will take to find Tulla itself.”

I reached up and stroked my mustaches.

“Keep Virginia in state,” I said, nodding my head. “I have some purchases to make.”

And with that, I turned and strode away.

Caladon was a city of both magick and technology. Finding the chemistry shops and purchasing the latest issues of the Technical Journals was simplicity, as was wiring the fund transfer to Mr. Bates. He had financed me so far, he could finance the purchasing of the chemicals I needed. I flipped through the technical journals, finding the papers I had seen mentioned in other journals: On Revivication by V. F. Stein, The Preservative Natures of Caustic Chemicals by G. Wilder and, last and far from least, Electrification and the Impact Upon Nerve Conduits by J. Low. With those papers, the chemicals, including in their number a significant amount of formaldehyde, methanol and glutaraldehyde, and a significant amount of pipes, tubing and needles, I returned to the Panarii temple with Sally behind me, carrying the majority of the supplies.

The Panarii watched me with growing fascinantion as I was let into the preparing room where Virginia’s body had been laid. Some minor restorative magicks had been worked upon her body to restore the wounds, and the blood had been wiped away, leaving her appearing distressingly lifelike. It might have been easier to do as the papers suggested if she had been more palorous. AS it was, I needed to harden my heart. Virginia was not in this body — she would be later. Not now. For now, I merely had to think of veins, of tissue, and of chemicals. Once I got the feeds working, I pumped the chemicals into the veins with a simply mechanical pump, bringing a fresh glow to her cheeks. Her eyes remained closed and her chest rose — as if she was breathing. But then I came to the most astounding part of Dr. Low’s papers. I took one of my electrical rings from my finger, placed it on Virginia’s — painfully aware of the marital significance of the gesture — and then hooked the ring to a case the size of a lady’s traveling bag. Said case contained a plethora of glass and copper plates, filled with carbolic acid, to provide the electrical energies required.

Virginia breathed in, then out, her body twitching ever so slightly, while Panarii watching with fascination and disquiet gasped in shocked. Alexander gasped and Johanna cried out, striding forward. She placed her fingers to Virginia’s neck, then looked at me. “You have brought her back to life! Her heart is breating!”

“Half right, old girl,” I said, wiping some sweat from my forehead, my knees going quite wobbly with relief. “I have merely returned life to the body — and warded off the decay of the flesh, with her heart providing the circulation to ensure the chemicals are continually placed in her body. This, combined with magick healing such as the kind that already repaired the skull and the brain, will keep her newly dead…well…indefinitely.”

“Remarkable!” Alexander said, his eyes wide. “This…you created this?”

“Based on papers written by other scientists, yes,” I said, distractedly. “Merely standing upon the shoulders of giants, and all that.”

“You sell yourself short, Dr. Cog!” Alexander stepped up to slap my shoulder, looking down at the seemingly sleeping body of Virginia. Seeing here, shrouded by thin tubes of burbling chemicals, with her breast rising and falling as if she breathed, I felt the tension in my gut loosen. I would bring her back — if I had to comb every inch of the Vendigroth Wastes to do it!

***

I felt the fatigue of my day crash into me moments later, and was barely aware of being led to rooms. As my companions took their rest, I fell into the bed offered and took stock of the room: A small niche of stone, lit by a single guttering candle. It felt strangely comforting — as if I had fallen backwards four centuries to the days of knights and castles and swords. Such an era must have been quite simple compared to these days. My eyes fluttered shut and I fell into a deep, and thankfully dreamless sleep. When I woke, I felt aching and tired and moved like a old man as I stepped away the bed — and found that there was an adjoining bathroom, with an already piping hot bath within it. I was not sure if a servant had placed the bath here for me, or if some kind of magick had created it. All I knew was that I needed it.

I sprawled in the water, feeling it sooth away my aches and my pains. I looked at the ceiling, wishing badly that I had something to read — and then my eyes fell upon the book that had been set beside my bed on the nightstand. I pursed my lips, weighing enduring a bath without a book and getting up. In the end, I tracked a line of dripping moisture along the ground before snatching the book and sloshing home. I found once I opened the book that it was the holy scripture of the Panarii. Of course. I frowned as I read the first passage that I opened to.

For Nasrudin saw all beings as made equal, and gathered those about him who loved all the races as their own. Dawrf and elf, human and gnome, halfling and orc, all were beautiful to Him. And He watched over them all as if they were His own children.

And the Elven Council, they protected Arcanum from the evils which infested it. And many were sent to the Void, banished from this place for their Crimes.

Mighty Gorgoth, whose hunger was only satiated in the emptiness of the Void

Kraka-Tur, whose heart was dark and fearful, but whose fury was only quenched in the blackness of the Void.

The Bane of Kree, whose bloodlust was limitless and could only be contained in the endlessness of the Void.

And Kerghan the Terrible, betrayer of the Eleven Council, whose dark magicks were an abomination and could only be forgotten in the blackness of the Void.

And the land was peaceful, until the coming of Arronax…

I shook my head, thumbing forward a page or two, though I did wonder about these villains. I had heard of the city of Kree — it had been the Tarant of the Age of Legends, or so the stories went. Historical records were hard to come by, due to the great vastness of time between us and the Age of Legends…but also, simply, because Kree had ceased to exist at some point in the year negative 98. I frowned as my eyes alighted on the next paragraph. I murmured softly: “But so great was this battle that Nasrudin himself was mortally wounded. And so, great Nasrudin traveled to the southernmost tip of the land and there laid himself to rest.”

Caladon was the southernmost city — the furthest south it was possible to go on Arcanum and still be on Arcanum.

I emerged from my room after drying off and dressing and strode through the temple’s corridors. The back rooms here were narrow and tall, and I walked past several priests, each busying themselves with different tasks. Only one gave me pause: A tall, gangly looking fellow with nut brown hair, who was dressed in a modern Tarantian style suit. He was seated before a collection of books and scrolls spread on a mahogany desk, lit by an electrical lamp that seemed to be run off a battery similar to the one I had used to ensure Virginian’s heart would beat in prepetuity. I stepped to the door, rapping on the edge. “Hello?” I asked.

The man looked to me and looked rather bemused. “Yes? Can I help you?”

“My name is Rayburn Cog?” I asked, to see if that sparked some recognition. His brow furrowed, then he blinked.

“The gentleman who accomplished that technologic feat with poor Sister Virginian?” he asked. “You’re…him?” He stood up, suddenly, as if he realized how rude it was to remain seated before an honest to gods Doctor. He bowed his head. “That’s most remarkable! I am Dr. Gunther Wilhelm, head of historiography in the temple.” He held his hand out to me and I took it, then shook it.

“Historiography?” I asked.

“I study modern and primitive versions of the Archaeon, our holy scripture, as well as what little writing exists detailing the life of Saint Mannox, the villains that Nasrudin battled, and so on.” He smiled. “Do you have any questions, Dr. Cog?”

“Some, actually,” I said. “I was reaching the Archaeon — can you tell me more about those villains? I’ve only heard of one in passing: Kerghan the Terrible.”

Slowly Wilhelm took his seat and leaned back in his chair, gesturing to another for me to take. I took it and listened as he said. “Well, the villains referred to in the holy texts were only remarkable enough to be noted down because they were not simply slain in a magick or martial battle. There was a plethora of villainous beings extant in the Age of Legends — as is true today. But most can be smote by a good stiff clock across the jaw, after a fashion.” He chuckled as I smiled and nodded. I knew precisely what he meant. “The villains written of in the Archaeon were those too dangerous and too powerful to be dealt with in any way other than utter banishment.”

“What makes banishment so different from death?” I asked.

“There are, er, were, magicks that could bring one back from the dead. In the Age of Legends, it is reputed that such an act could be accomplished for a shockingly low price in gold and favors — why, some records say that adventuring parties were so blasé at the idea of being slain that they would devel into dungeons without even scouting ahead, assured that they could be dragged back to town and restored to life by the local cleric.” He shook his head. “The ambient levels of magick in Arcanum are far too low to allow such tomfoolery today! But banishment? Banishment to the Void is irreversible. Nothing sent there ever returns.”

“Do you know what the Void is, precisely?” I asked — not having the heart to tell him how reversible it seemed to be. Though, I suppose, the amount of effort that Arronax had needed to expend to escape did make him right, in a sense.

“…no,” Wilhelm admitted, finally. “As no one ever returned, we don’t know if it is a metaphor for unbeing, a place that cannot be escaped from. It may even be another world entirely, like our own but operating under different laws — or even simply a different history. But according to attempts to scry into it using the spells of Divination, it is most likely a plane of hellish unreality.”

“Aptly named, then,” I said, slowly. This was all fascinating — but the simple fact was that while it was interesting, it had not gotten me one step closer to the thing that had brought me to Caladon in first place. “Listen, old boy, I need to see the remains of Nasrudin.”

Wilhelm’s eyes widened. “Good heavens, why?”

I rubbed my hands together, smiling. “Why? Well…” I said, then told him the story — beginning with a short summery of the Zeypher, then on to the Silver Lady, the prophecy, the need to find Nasrudin’s body. Once I had finished, Wilhelm was looking at me with a wry little smile.

“I never expected to come face to face with the Living One in my lifetime,” he said, his voice soft. “So, it’s come at last. The final battle between good and evil, the end of the world, the beginning of a new one…” He sighed. “Gods help me, I’m actually excited.” He nodded. “You need to speak to my colleague, the head of archaeology. Hadrian. He’s an old coot, but he will be the one to speak to when it comes to getting you into the catacombs to examine Nasrudin himself.”

I nodded. “Can you direct me to his office?”

Hadrian, as it turned out, was a gnome. Dressed in a priest’s robes and tending to a set of glass jars, he spun about when he saw me, then relaxed when he saw that I was not here to rob him. He bustled over to me, his hands sliding into his sleeves as he came to me. “Hello there! Are you here to see the artifacts?” he gestured to the glass jars, each one situated upon a small pedestal. One contained what was unmistakably the index finger of a human, long rotted into being clean white bone. The other contained a perfectly spherical black gemstone. The third contained a key made of pure glass, with a strangely familiar symbol upon it. My brow furrowed as I looked at the glass key. Hadrian, seeing my look, chuckled.

“Oh? That? We have no idea what that is,” he said, chuckling. “If you want a story, you must look at this.” He walked hurriedly over to the glass container containing the finger bone. “This is the finger of Saint Mannox himself, the great-great-great-great-great-great…great…great…” He paused. “Oh, well, add another seventeen greats and then a grandfather and you have the linage betwixt him and our very own Alexander.”

“Good heavens,” I said, remarkably impressed. That would mean that The First Acolyte’s ancestry stretched in an unbroken chain through two thousand years of tumult and history, from the end of the Age of Legends to now. “What did Saint Mannox do, precisely?”

“Oh, he was one of the first to believe in and follow the teachings of Nasrudin,” Hadrian said, cheerfully. “And he ascended to heaven in a pillar of fire, so great was his faith. This finger, though, was lost quite a bit earlier. You see, he was captured by brigands who were taking advantage of the dissolution of the Elven Council. They said that they would cut a finger off and send it to the Temple, as proof they had them, and get his ransom. And so, he cut his finger off right then and there, plucked the knife from their hands before they could even blink! He tossed them his finger and said: Take this instead of your ransom, pigs.”

“A hard man,” I said, my eyebrows lifting. My curiosity piqued, I pointed to the last glass jar. “And what is that gemstone?”

“That is no gemstone,” Hadrian murmured, his voice growing hushed. Awed, even. “It is the eye of Kraka-Tur. Yes, one of the villains Nasrudin banished into the Void. There was a bit of a battle beforehand, and the villains eye popped out. Someone cleaning up after the scene found it and…here it is.”

“Remarkable,” I said. “Most remarkable. Though…all these artifacts are interesting, but I must know…where is Nasrudin’s remains? I heard he was buried here, was he not?”

Hadrian sighed, reaching up to tap his chin with his pointer finger. He looked to the door, then leaned up towards me onto the tips of his toes. He crooked his finger and I leaned in close, so that he could whisper to me. “He is. But no man, woman nor child has clapped eyes upon him for nearly six hundred years.”

My eyes widened. “Really?” I asked. “Why not?”

“His catacombs are sealed, by the orders of the elders of the Temple. And every request I’ve put in to examine the body has been dismissed on the grounds of sacrilege! Sacrilege, if you can believe it! For some reason, those small, petty minds saw me wishing to take the bones of our sacred leader apart to examine the evolutionary differences between modern elves and ancient elves, as well as taking some minor, I hasten to add minor bone samples from the marrow and the edges of the bone to make see what the differences are between an elf with significant magick power and modern, less magickally potent elves, are. They think it is an insult to his ‘sacred dignity.”

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