Arcanum – Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 23-2

Haunting inverse shadows were cast upon the sidewalks and the streets — humanoid figures, painted onto walls and stretched along the ground. It looked almost as if I should be able to see the men and women and children who had cast those shadows, but there was nothing there but the whistling wind of the wastes and a taste of grit, of grime, and a feeling of despair. I slowly looked around myself, shaking my head slowly.

“Dear gods,” I whispered. “I…” I trailed off. “Technology could never do something like this…”

“I doubt magick could these days,” Beatrice said, her voice echoing in the ruins. “The Age of Legends has ended…”

Gillian shuddered. “T-Tarant might end this way, if that beast comes back to Arcanum…” She whispered, horror in her voice.

“We shant let that happen,” I said, nodding. “Now, come. Lets start searching — the device has to be here. Somewhere.” I pursed my lips as we began to walk forward. The city was truly silent and dead — other than the whistling wind and the faint rasp and crunch of our own footsteps, there was no noise at all, and that lack of sound began to tell upon me almost instantly. Lacking anything to hear save those sounds, my ears began to listen for noises that weren’t there. Was that a distant sound of ghostly laughter on the wind, or the shriek of the dying and dead, or were my ears simply playing tricks on me? I didn’t know — but I did keep my pistol drawn and ready, just in case. After an hour of picking through the streets, we finally came to a building that had not simply been bowled over by whatever great force Arronax had cast upon the city. Walking inside, we found it akin to a Tarantian apartment, though there were technological scraps that, even broken and rusted, looked remarkable. If even a lowly apartment could have so many different pieces of technology, it said much about Vendigroth’s ability to produce.

The most remarkable discovery, though, came in the third floor. Walking carefully, the floor creaking under my feet, I found a machine that had not completely broken. It was a rectangular metal box, about the height of a human male, and when I opened the front door, a gasping sound emerged and a wind ruffled my face and a faint humming, electrical sensation reached me. Inside, I saw that several packages of meat and vegetables sat, as preserved as if they had been placed there yesterday, while a roll of newspaper was located on the lower shelf, wrapped around what seemed to be fish.

By closing the door and opening it again, I was able to determine that somehow, the Vendigrothians had used some kind of vacuum and electrical field combined to preserve their foods! Remarkable! However, the food was not what interested us — though it was fascinating to learn that they had eaten the same salmon we did today. Rather, what I was interested in was the newspaper. Unrolling it from the fish, I had Raven cast her translation spell upon it and we all craned over to read.

PROFESSOR HUNLEY TO TEST SUBMERSIBLE

League of Scientists Dispute his Theories

Professor Aldous Hunley is scheduled to finally launch his fully submersible watercraft tomorrow at noon, but his colleagues in the League of Scientists claim his theories are wrong and that he is placing himself in great mortal danger.

“His theories on buoyancy and air recycling are based on sound principles, but he h as come to at best questionable conclusions regarding his ability to control these important factors,” stated his colleague, Professor Jonathan Frink. He continued, “I fear his plan for reestablishing buoyancy by meaning of pressurized air is doomed to failure. When that monstrosity submerges, I fear it will never rise again! I have implored him to do more tests before conducting field studies, but he is determined to prove his theories right at any cost!”

Professor Hunley’s craft, which resembles a large sea creature, can be seen at Dixon’s Landing on the South Port before its inaugural run tomorrow.

“Good god!” I exclaimed. “The crashed submersible on the Isle of Despair!”

The others cried out in shock as well — and I rolled up the newspaper. While it might not be of immediate use, I knew it would be utterly invaluable to the Tarantian Zoological society as well as the Technical Journals. We traveled on. The next place we explored in the vast, wilds of Vendigroth was some kind of technologists office, filled with shattered beakers in vast networks of cabinets that themselves had been flung open — and the ground was covered with strange tracks. Raven attempted to decipher exactly how the tracks shook out, while I found a faded schematic for some kind of chemical augmentation system — a set of drugs and chemicals that would assist with the movement of the body and the activity of the mind. I took it, planning to study it for later, when Raven said: “These seem to be the tracks of several extremely large spiders.”

“Spiders?” Beatrice muttered. “I hate giant spiders.”

“I haven’t seen any -hic– webs,” Sally muttered.

“I don’t like this place,” Maggie murmured back.

I shook my head. “Ah. Ah! What’s this?”

This transpired to be another newspaper — a scrap that I was able to carefully extricate from what seemed to be a rotting, leather book full of other newspaper clippings. As this was the last one that had been placed within, it had been most protected from the ravages of time by its placement and protecting material. The newspaper, when I unfurled it, was translated by a quick casting from Raven.

PROF. HUNLY MISSING, PRESUMED DEAD!

Experimental Submersible Fails to Return!

Professor Aldous Hunley of the League of Scientists has been listed as missing and presumed dead after his experimental craft failed to return to port at its previously scheduled time.

“This is a sad day for all science,” Commented his sometimes adversary on the council, Professor Jonathan Frink. “We may have disagreed on quite a few matters, but we respected each other’s opinions. He will be missed.”

Professor Hunley launched his experimental seven days past, and was scheduled to return two days ago. Professor Frink predicted this as a likely outcome, and tried to dissuade Hunley from proceeding with the test, to no avail. “I imagine my colleague is resting somewhere on the ocean floor about now,” he was heard to say as he walked away from the press conference where Hunley’s disappearance was made public.

“Well, we could have answered that,” Gillian remarked, shaking her head slightly. I nodded and together, we emerged from the former pharmacy or chemist shop or whatever it had been in the days gone by. I slowly scanned the horizon of this vast, blasted city, shaking my head — I was almost positive that the Vendigroth device could be found in this terrible ruin. I was growing increasingly certain that it was somewhere beneath our feet. I drew my pistol, then, an instinct sizzling through me. I swore I had seen a shadow, moving in that alleyway there!

“I see it too,” Beatrice whispered, then lifted her palm — her fingers glowing. She threw out her hand and a small dart of shimmering, magickal light into the alleyway. As it landed, the light shone outwards like a star, and it cast dark shadows and patterns along the walls, thrown into jagged, insane relief by the sudden movement of whatever was within. I saw chiten and limbs and glowing red eyes — and then they came boiling out of the alleyway: Massive spiders with chittering, clicking legs and humanoid torsos emerging from them, like hideous centaurs from legend. Their faces were clad in mandible armor and dripped with oozing green venom, and they carried weapons, explaining the enigmatic warnings of the halfling from before.

“Behind us!” Sally bellowed — and I glanced back and saw Sally swinging her battle ax in a curving arc. The beast’s head went flying and my hand tugged out one of my grenades. I yanked the pin from my grenade and slung it underhanded. The spider-centaurs charged over it and the grenade exploded with a fierce whump, no time to try and intimidate them. The shrapnel tore into their bellies and only one emerged with enough control to skitter forward, hissing and chittering. They lifted their sword above their head, only to bring it down. It struck Beatrice’s blade with a shower of sparks. She vanished, appearing behind the creature, standing upon its back. It reared, screeching, and I saw another coming from my left.

I snapped up my accelerator pistol and the bullet took the creature in the face and the head vanished entirely. As the body slumped, Beatrice landed beside me, leaping over her corpse. Then a screech caused both of us to turn — and I saw that two more were charging. Both suddenly fell, their heads knocked backwards, arrows sprouting from their two largest eyes. They sprawled on the ground and silence rang out.

“It seems that the Vendigrothians have adapted admirably to their new condition,” I said, quietly, stepping away from the cooling bodies. “Come! Lets get out of here before more show up.”

***

The discovery of a faded map for some kind of above ground, fully automated, self propelled stagecoaches the size of small subway cars provided the transportation in this city, before it had fallen, provided us some measure of direction towards the more militarized portions of the city. We were attacked thrice more on the way by scattered gangs of spider-centaurs, but each was seen off without us taking any damage, and without the spiders being more than lightly injured by shot and warnings. But when we did arrive at the militarized section of the city, we found that the Vendigrothian military had built large, ostentatious and to last — even with the wrath of Arronax befalling upon the city, the fortress remained entirely intact.

Albeit a touch…

Melted.

By the front door, we found a large container that served to be some kind of automated newsboy — doing away with an entire profession in a single moment. Seeing this, I contrived to open it with the pillock known formerly as the heel of my boot. Swinging it open, I found one of the newspapers in was in enough repair to be read, with some more translation magick.

MAGE THREATENS VENDIGROTH!!

Crazed Wizard Warns against Technology

An uninvited mage burst into the Governor’s office yesterday and warned him severely of repercussions if Vendigroth did not stop developing technology. This mage, who identified himself as “Arronax” and claimed to be a member of the “Elven Council”, demanded we observe the decisions of said council.

Governor Nikolai informed “Arronax” that Vendigroth is a wholly independent country. We have never asked for, nor accepted, help from the Elven Council, nor do we recognize its authority. “Arronax” launched into a prolonged lecture o the right of the elves to rule, after which the Governor asked him to leave. Before departing, “Arronax” said we would do well to heed his warnings.

We of the Vendigroth Times would like to applaud the actions of the Governor, who we have been critical of in the past, and we also like to call the citizenry for possible conflict with this crazed mage.

Local scientists have begun work on a device that will hopefully make any mage thik twice about attacking us. After yesterday’s encounter with “Arronax”, the Governor allocated the needed funds for t he device, which scientists have been proposing for months. We at the Vendigroth Times have been able to get a rough idea of the working of the device, even though, understandably, its innermost workings are a government secret. The device is meant to somehow drain the very life force from a mage!

Only through the wonders of science is such a thing possible!

I nodded. “Well, they were fairly confident,” I said. “Now. To open this door.” I eyed it. “It seems that this door has several heavy duty hinges. I believe that maybe I could use a bit of dynamite placed here and here and here.” I pointed out the places. “Then the detonations should successfully…Sally, what is this about?” I asked, frowning as Sally blocked my way — and then she stepped forward, worked the edge of the ax between the hinges and the doors, and levered them off. Rusted, decayed metal squealed and popped and the hinges went flying. Then Sally stepped backwards, casually moving out of the way as the door smashed down upon the ground and cast up a vast pal of dust.

I coughed, heavily. “Yes, very good, Sally.”

Dogmeat barked.

Stepping into the fortress proper, we swung around our lights and saw that the interior had been designed with mechanized guns in mind — weaponry aimed into the central area to create a kill field for any who entered. But the guards, if there had been any assigned, were either off their posts or long, long dead. I whistled softly, and my voice echoed along the wrought iron walls — and I saw a makers mark, similar to the design that Gilbert Bates used on his steam engines, a set of Vendigroth letters that, when translated by Raven, proved to proclaim this to be the creation of Vault-Tech. We began to fan out, investigating the interior chambers. We found rack upon rack of Vendigroth weapons — rifles that had rifling and chambering and firing mechanisms that were clearly merely extrapolations of the gunsmithing in Tarant.

I took one, without pausing, and began to think of how to combine this technology with my own. An idea was forming when Beatrice called out: “I found a bigger door!”

We all clustered about her and the door itself opened when Beatrice worked her magick upon it — undoing the latch that kept it closed, followed by Sally’s magick of her foot. The door swung inwards and we headed down into an ancient laboratory, which had been secured by several automatons — large, spidery constructs that ticked nearly silently, like vast, deadly clocks. As we stepped inside,t he automatons began to rise — but I gave them no chance to fully spring to their feet. My accelerator pistol roared and roared again, spreading clockwork and gearing along the floor, like the viscera of more living creatures.

And in the center of the laboratory, perched in a spiderweb network of cables and electronic containment units, and glass boxes, was the Device. It had the appearance of a large, bronze colored egg, made of segmented petals that looked as if they could spread and open like a flower. A green light emanated from the center, throbbing and dull. Looking upon it made me feel as if I was looking at death itself. The device would easily fit inside my backpack, and when we took apart the containment unit, I found that the device barely weighed one stone. It seemed incongruous, that such a vastly dangerous item could be so very light.

With the item in hand, we turned to Beatrice. And, like thieves in the night, we transported ourselves from Vendigroth, leaving the blasted ruin of a city behind us — full of its ghosts and its anger. We had what we needed.

And the endgame was upon us.

***

June 1st, 1886

The weeks between our emergence from the ruins of Vendigroth and our arrival at the Ring of Brodgar was spent in furious work. I sent Gillian and Sally together to the capital of Cumbria, the city of Dernholm, to bring a message I had been meaning to deliver for several months now. When we had been trapped together on the Isle of Despair, I had met the true queen of Cumbria, Maxine, and she had needed us to bring a message to her allies in the court of Cumbria for some time. Gillian, when she returned, also returned with the news that she had dropped off the funds I had allocated for Sarah Toonie.

Literally a year before, I had traveled into the silver mine in Shrouded Hills — and, oh, what an innocent time that seemed to be now — and found that it had been haunted by the owner, Bessie Toonie, who had wished her daughter to own the mine, but had been overridden by her greedy son. Well, with a thousand gold coins in her bank account, I was sure that Sarah could get the mine under her control, putting her mother’s spirit to rest.

Now, I simply had to insure that there was an Arcanum in the weeks to come. And to do that, I had worked with Maggie to purify steel, creating plates as tough as could be found while remaining quite thin. I called upon Mr. Bates to donate some of his finest steamworks and then used what I had gleaned from examining Vendigroth automatons and other journals on automation to miniaturize them even more. I used watch gears as bases for the molds, then purified steel to create gearing of sufficient strength to serve the purposes. Next, I used rubberized tubes and whale oil — the cheapest kind — to serve as hydraulic pressure conduits. It took three days to hook them into the articulated frame, then two more days to affix the plates to the frame. The final touch, though, was the integrated capacitors and magnetic coils, designed to form a sheath of charged energies — which would repulse magick and metal alike. Only someone of great strength in either would be able to bypass the field to then strike enough metal to armor a railroad carriage against artillery — armor that was supported by the hardened struts, and moved via a battery powered micro-boiler and pressure system.

And to go with this suit of armor — which I submitted to the Technical Journals as T-51b (short for Type 51b, as I had sketched a great deal of preliminary designs before settling on this one) – I crafted a weapon that would suit entering into the Void itself. The design began by taking apart the Vendigrothian rifle and combing it with the mechanized systems I had seen in the minaturized weapon that the bartender at the Sobbing Onion had used so effectively. The automatic loading was based on the Maxim gun, but shrunk down, and with the expanded room provided to me by the Vendigrothian machinery, I was able to fit inside my accelerator coils. They would charge my bullets with electrical power and additional energy, to combine with the rapidity of the fire.

I emerged from the arming room, clad not in a suit, but in steel — the whirr and hiss and click of the mechanized armor filling my ear as the pistol, which I had termed the warbringer — clasped in my right hand, my left having an electrical lamp built into it to provide illumination when we were in the Void.

“Remarkable!” Gillian exclaimed.

“Jolly good!” Maggie chimed in.

Sally belched.

“A mite technological, but quite effectively looking,” Raven said, quietly.

“I prefer the old suit,” Beatrice said, at last, shaking her head. “I can’t see your beautiful mustache in this.”

I chuckled, my voice echoing from inside of my helmet.

Thus attired, we teleported, at long last, to the home of the Iron Dwarves. Maggie stepped away from our arrival point, with clear trepidation in her eyes, while I took in the surroundings — we were standing at the base of a vast mountain range, the Stonewall Mountains that spanned the distance between the western coast of Arcanum and the eastern expanses. But the entrance to the Iron Dwarves’ home was easily observed: A massive, circular metal door that bore the exact same symbol as the symbol upon Maggie’s bracers. As we both looked at the doorway, Maggie whispered.

“I…I can hardly believe I am here,” she said, her voice husky, almost as manly as her normal false tones. “I’ve hunted for a place like this for…for so long. I’ve dreamed of it. Now…now I’m here. But…but what if what I find is terrible? What if it is bad?” She gulped.

Leave a Comment