Arcanum – Of Steamwork and Magic Ch. 23-5

And Gillian sprang up, laughing. “Ha ha!”

She held up Kraka-Tur’s eye in her hand – the very item gleaned from the Panarii Temple in Arcanum. Kraka-Tur shirked. “That’s mine!” he exclaimed. “Give it ba-ahhh!” He yelped, for Gillian had immediately thrust her arm over the edge of the Void’s floating island. She made as if to drop it. Kraka-Tur made a whining, wailing noise. “Give it back! Give it back!”

“I will,” Gillian said, her voice stern. “But only if you do something for us.” She grinned. “You have wings. Do you not?”

***

Dogmeat sniffed. He sniffed and padded along black corridors, his tail wagging. He didn’t know where master was, but he could smell something like master’s friend. And so, he followed the scent with his nose – padding past door after door of empty cells. His nose flared as the scent grew stronger still. Then a voice! A gruff, male voice, calling out: “Eh! Eh! Eh poochie! Poochie poochie!”

Dogmeat turned. He saw a great many dwarves – about fifty, maybe sixty in all, crammed into a single cell. They looked haggard and warn, their beards untrimmed, their hair wild, their bellies nearly flat, their ribs clearly visible. The one that had spoken was thrusting his arm through the bars of the cell, his fingers drooping. He said: “Heyyy poochie. Me name is Geldar Shaleshaper – I’m tha’ head of the Black Mountain Clan’s engineering guild.”

“Geldar,” another dwarf hissed. “That mutt nay cares what yer qualifications are!”

Dogmeat padded forward and started to lick at Geldar’s fingers. Geldar did his best to pet Dogmeat. Dogmeat licked him more. But then Geldar whispered. “Okay, poochie. We need ya ta do sommit fer us. Tha’ mad bugger, Kerghan, he’s kilt half of us fer sneakin’ Stennar through. Since yer here, sommit come ‘ere too. And we gots ta help.” He pointed. “We just need tha key over there!”

Dogmeat turned to see that the nice dwarf was pointing at…oh! There was an adjoining place like where master worked. A laboratory, with many tools and bits and bobs

Dogmeat padded over, picked up the wrench on the table with his teeth, then walked back, setting it down, panting happily as his tail wagged and he sat on his haunches. Geldar sighed, softly. “Nay, poochie. The keys. Get the keys.”

Dogmeat woofed softly.

He returned with one of the mallets from the workbench.

***

Resh watched as Beatrice, Maggie, Gillian, Sally, and Raven entered the room, each looking a bit battered, but no the worse for wear. He smiled, cheerfully, then put his feet up on the side of the gate machine, looking at Kerghan. “Thanks for providing the monologue for me,” he said, his voice as cocky as if he had just laid a straight flush of cards down on the table. “It provided more than enough time for my companions to extricate themselves.” He shrugged. “I had faith in their abilities.”

Kerghan shook his head slowly. “I see your soul, Living One. As much as you wish to deny it. It screams. Tatters.” Resh felt a faint tug at his heart. “Do you feel its pull? Do you hear its wailing? I have the power to calm these waters. That is what i shall do. One man could not stop me. Five cannot. An army cannot.”

Resh sighed, but Beatrice stepped forward. “What Kerghan is saying isn’t completely untrue. I told you of it – of the silver river. Of the peace.”

Resh paused. He looked upon Beatrice – but he knew no fear. He smiled. “So, you think he is right?”

Beatrice smirked at him. “No,” she said – knowing it both needed to be said and never needed to be uttered once. She took Resh’s hand, squeezing. “No.” She said it again, forcefully, looking square at Kerghan. “There is pain in life. Pain and loss and sorrow. But there’s joy: Joy in growing, joy in learning, joy in others. Joy in love, in laughter.” She shook her head. “You cannot have one without the other and merely being short does not give one the right to trample it into the dirt.”

Resh nodded. Kerghan, though, frowned. “I cannot tolerate the atrocities of life. I cannot bear to see more dragged, screaming, through it. I will bring peace. I will bring quiet. I will go…” He pointed at the portal. “I will go to Arcanum and I will end it all, and I will, at last, join the souls of the Dead.”

Resh regarded Kerghan the Terrible, Kerghan the First Necromancer. Kerghan, the voyager among the dead. The man who hated every instant of his being for more than a thousand years, who longed inwardly to die, and yet could not bear to see the suffering of the world. Resh smirked, slightly. “I am quite sorry, old boy. But I’m afraid that we shall have to agree to disagree.” And without missing a beat, he charged forward. His electric field crackled to life, roaring with energy, dispersing the first wave of raw, necromantic magick that Kerghan flung upon him. Hard, dwarven crafted steel powered by Resh’s own design and enhanced musculature smashed into one another and both he and Kerghan struck the wall of the castle, exploding through brickwork as if it was nothing more than flimsy wood.

Kerghan screeched and his robes exploded apart, revealing terrible batlike wings. His legs were no legs at all, but a vast tail, segmented and bony. Jaws clamped onto Resh’s arm and Resh grinned as they fell into the Void, together. They plunged over the edge of the castle, and Kerghan beat his wings – but Resh lifted the warbringer and triggered a burst, blowing the wing off in a shower of torn muscle and shattered bones. Kerghan shrieked, and yet more necromantic energy hammered into Resh. A purple flash appeared beside him and he saw Beatrice, falling after him, her arm reaching out – the Vendigroth Device in her hands.

“Resh!” She screamed over the howling wind, over the growing chill as they fell further and further from the islands of the Void.

“Beatrice!” Resh shouted, then cried out as Kerghan’s jaws clamped onto his shoulder and worried. Metal plates squealed and blood spurted. He clenched his jaw, then looked back to Beatrice. In a few moments, it would be further away from the islands than she could teleport without needing a ritual – a ritual requiring firm ground on which she could cast in. And the Device. It would utterly annihilate this man. And even as his teeth sank into his shoulder, and even as Resh knew that the Kerghan hoped for universal annihilation of all life…

He knew he could not destroy him so utterly. Something deep inside Resh called out to him to bring Kerghan to the silver sea. To lay him to rest. For he had never truly been evil, had he? Merely curious. Merely worrying at the world, picking it apart to discover its secrets.

Resh looked back at Beatrice – to Virginia. The woman he loved. She held the Vendigroth Device to him and it throbbed with power. A wicked, terrible power.

Resh lifted his pistol and shot the Device. It exploded apart and he called out to her. “Go back!” He grinned at her. his eyes glinted through the faceplate, and she could see that, despite the pain, that confident gleam she had grown to love shone towards her, like the lighthouse on the end of a foggy voyage. “Trust me, Beatrice. Trust me.”

Beatrice cried out – and screaming in frustration, sobbing and furious – she vanished from the killing cold.

She appeared shuddering and frost bitten, beside the gaping hole in the wall. The castle, though, was beginning to shake itself apart. Rumbling cracks sounded and the islands, held into being for so long by will and by attention, were tumbling apart. Boulders flung off into the Void, lost in the endless blackness, while Dogmeat came charging into the room, woofing and barking, followed by the surviving dwarves of the Black Mountain Clan.

“Come on boys!” Geldar shouted. “We have only one chance at this!”

The portal device thrummed all the brighter. The ground shook. The ceiling began to cave in. Sally grabbed Beatrice by the scruff of her neck, dragging the limp girl away from the hole gaping in the wall. The portal flared to a brilliant gold – and they plunged through.

***

From an issue of The Tarantian – June 20th 1886

REMARKABLE ARRIVAL AT THE RING OF BRODGAR

Woman Rescues Dwarves! Saves all of Arcanum?

On the morning of June the 2nd the world famous tourist attraction in Roseborough, the Ring of Brodgar, was the site of a most remarkable magickal event. A portal opened and disgorged not a demon or some terrible monstrosity, but rather an entire clan of dwarves (the long missing Black Mountain Clan) and a party of adventurers: A human woman, two elven women, a dwaf, and two manservants. Questioned as they recovered from their terrifying ordeal in a dimensional region that was termed “The Void” by the adventurers, several divulged that they had entered due to the vagaries of a prophecy promoted by the popular religious sect known as the Panarii. The Panarii who, as readers of our fine newspaper may be aware, have recently undergone a change in leadership, were approached for contact and had this to say.

“Well, while we don’t exactly what to alarm your readers,” claims Professor Gunther Wilhelm, head of historical research in the Panarii Temple. “But it seems that the prophecy of the return of Arronax, while incorrect in several details, did in fact point the adventurers towards an even greater threat! But as that threat seems handily dealt with, we need not worry about it. We at the Panarii are seeking to renforce the wards at the Ring, so that nothing like this may happen again.”

When questioned, the leader of the group — Beatrice Burmmund, a 28 year old Panarii Priestess — had this to say: “I am very tired and I wish to just sleep for a week.”

Rumors persist that the Adventuring Party was lead by none other than Tarants own most remarkable technologist, the enigmatic and controversial Dr. Rayburn Cog — survivor of the terrible IFS Zephyr blimp explosion last year. However, no signs of Dr. Cog have been seen, though his inventions and patents are now being produced by the first ever Half-Orc owned factory in Tarant. We here at the Tarantian believe, based off rumors and conjectures, that he was slain in the encounter with whatever evil existed beyond the Ring.

Still, if it is true and all Arcanum was saved by his quick wits and steady hands, then we at the Tarantian wish to doff our caps. Good show, old boy.

***

December 19th, 1962

Professor Cartwright tapped his stylus against his green palm, smiling up at the panoramic view of students that clustered in his class. “Now, as this is the last day of the semester before winter break,” he said. “I believe that I owe it to you to at least wrap up this lecture on this most curious stage in Arcanum’s history.” He shook his head. “The ripple on effect of Resh Craig’s adventures can be easily seen by the fact we’re all here, and that you’re listening to me, a half-orc, lecture you in the history building of Vendigroth University.”

A chuckle rippled through the class as pencils and pens scritched. Outside, the sky was shading towards black as the sun set — and the desert chill of Vendigroth would be settling. Coats and hats and gloves would be needed, even if Tarantian visitors always seemed to expect the evenings to be as balmy as the days. Professor Cartwright drew down the large map of Arcanum he had been using to teach the class ever since the start of the school year. He whipped out his stylus. “Let us begin with Shrouded Hills. A simple thing, one would think, dispelling a ghost from a mine.” He chuckled. “But who here knows what they found, once the mine was reopened under the leadership of Sarah Toonie?”

A student raised his hand. Professor Cartwright pointed at the elf.

“Toonite?” he asked. “The material that was causing all the iron to go sour in the first place.”

“Correct. And now, T-Reactors provide nearly limitless power to our cities,” Professor Cartwright said, sounding amused. “A high sight better than those petrol designs that the Bates Industries keeps floating about, eh?”

A soft chuckle came from the audience. “Next, in Tarant, with Dr. Craig interfering in the strike led by Don Throgg…well, we all know how that ended up.” He grinned, tugging out one of the Tarantian bills that remained commonly circulated, even in Vendigroth. He waggled it around, letting everyone see the picture on the single dollar pound: Don Throgg, first half-orc Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Still handsome, even eighty years or so after the image had been taken. “The other interactions are easy to see — Dr. Craig provided the needed information to return Queen Maxine to Dernholm, which led to their golden age. His council to Caladon during the negotiations sealed the entrance of Arland into the United Kingdom. He revitalized the Panarii faith, and their steadfast dedication to justice and equality remains a vital force for good today. He convinced King Longhaire to return to the Wheel Clan…so when the Second Clan Wars began and Queen Margret Shalefist of the Iron Clan revealed herself to the world, her marriage to Randvir ended the war before it started, and has led to the new golden age of the dwarves.”

He slapped his palm against his knuckles, turning to face the class. “The ramification goes on and on and on like this. The Bedokaan, convinced to align with the elves by his council, enter the world, and we have some in our class this very day! Arronax returned, and her magicks allowed us to rebuild this very city.” He shook his head. “Think on this, my students, when you go home to your families and thank the gods for another year…and remember: Whenever you think that you alone cannot make a difference, see what a single person can do when given the opportunity. And then act accordingly.”

As the class started to leave, the arachnid students making out first, as their larger bodies required them to stay near the front row, Professor Cartwright started to pack up his belongings, humming cheerfully. When he looked up, he saw that one of his human students had edged closer. Melissa, he thought her name was. She was adorable: Blond, bubbly, blue eyed. She beamed at him, clasping her book close to his chest.

“Y-You made it all sound so real, so exciting,” she said, her eyes shining.

“Oh, I just reported what was in his journals,” Professor Cartwright said, cheerfully.

“Is it true, though?”

“Is it true?” Professor Cartwright turned to face her.

“What he did. I mean.” Melissa gulped. “S-Some people say that we can’t really trust everything he wrote down. And there are rumors about the other-“

“The journal with all the sex in it?” Professor Cartwright asked, his eyes glinting playfully. Melissa turned nearly beat red. Her hands clenched even tighter to her books. Professor Cartwright sighed, shaking his head as he realized how trivial it would be to get this girl into bed with him — he could already see her eyeing him eagerly.

“I’ve read the supposed true journal,” Professor Cartwright said, cheerfully. “And while it is, ah, entertaining, it seems like most of it was fabricated to sell more books.” He smiled. “The real, verified journal? That has historical evidence backing it up. And has produced far fewer people claiming to be related to Resh Craig. If I never have to see another Resh Craig impersonator in some revival fair…”

Melissa giggled. “You’d make a pretty good one, you know?” she asked.

“I do hope you’re not saying that because I am half orc,” Professor Cartwright said, picking up his bag, fully packed with papers to grade.

“Oh, no!” Melissa said, horrified, blushing furiously as Professor Cartwright winked at her and turned to go. The professor walked through the campus, past the garden, past the dormitories, where a drunk elf was being led along by a sober lizardman. He stepped out of the front gate and strode along the sidewalk, hearing the faint humming sounds of the automobiles that filled the streets of Vendigroth — most of them using batteries, though several were also based in magick. The new mithril based insulators were definitely a thing he’d want to get his hands on. He tipped his cap to ladies and gentlemen, ducked past children who were racing to get home now that they were freed from school, and came at last to his home — a modest little house, tucked between two apartments.

He opened the door, then called out. “Oh, honey!” he grinned. “I think we might need to move.”

“Really?” A woman called from the back.

Professor Cartwright rolled his shoulder. A pale glow suffused his body. He walked around the corner — and emerged in a shining meadow. A naked woman sprawled on the grass, looking at the infinite blue sky as he sprawled next to her, grinning as he did so. “Yeah,” the half-orc said — though he was not entirely a half-orc anymore. His body glowed from within, shimmering and crackling with raw magickal energies. The energies of two thousand years of knowledge and power, contained within a shell of technological knowledge and the will to do good. His glowing hand caressed along the woman’s belly. “I think that some people are beginning to suspect.”

“You just are worried you’ll fuck your cuter students,” she said, playfully.

“Well, there is that,” he said.

“You’re just vain,” she said, shaking her head.

“Vain?” the man gasped, drawing back. “You’re the one who immediately made yourself look eighteen again!”

The woman sniffed, primly. “I have no idea what you are talking about, Dr. Craig.”

The man rolled the girl onto her belly, then slapped her ass. “You call yourself a goddess! Lying to my face like that!” He smacked her rump again and the girl bit her lip, hard. Her eyes closed and she wriggled happily in the grassy field that existed beyond the edge of Arcanum, bounded by magick and sustained by will.

“I do not!” She moaned, then gasped as he spanked her again. Then, quietly, she whispered. “Maybe we can check on our children? Resh Junior’s grandson is just out of college. I’ve heard rumblings he wants to explore the Glimmering Forest, to see if he can find Raven.”

“More like to see if he can sleep with her,” the man said, dryly. “I swear, every male descended from me has the same urge to screw that elf. And she never stops allowing it.”

“Will we ever tell them what you did?” The woman asked. “How you took the Kerghan’s energies. How you wandered the worlds beyond and mastered those powers — and returned to Arcanum?”

This was a question that had been asked many times — between the two godlings. For gods they were. Mastery of magick, mastery of science, bounded within two forms shaped in a world beyond the limitations of this one. While the male might have become a god first, the woman had waited for him — waited and raised their son. And only once their son had grown and found his own life, and his own way, did she leave with her man. Only then did he show her the secret ways, the true names. The science beyond science and the magick above magick. And now they watched. They gently encouraged. They intervened when things grew tense.

That spot of bother in 1914, with the assassination of Maximilian II. That could have flared up nastily. And again, in 1934, if the election in Caladon had swung towards the Golden Boughs party, the whole of Arcanum might have gone up in smoke. It had never taken much. Just a prophecy here. A quiet whisper there.

Slowly, the male drew his finger along the grass and he nodded. “How about we become this ones friends.” He grinned. “We could lock our memories away, hide our powers unless they’re needed. Make it fair. See what he can do with steadfast comrades.”

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