"Find the boy!"
April 21, 1885
Magnus's Apartment, Late Evening
I was feeling rather better after writing my last diary entry, and anxious to get out of the tiny room I’d been staying in for the last two days. Oh, the room was clean and pleasant enough. Magnus lives in a dwarvish apartment, but it’s big enough to entertain the occasional human-sized guest. But I’d been cooped up there for nearly two days, and I’m not very good at lying in bed all day. It was beginning to drive me crazy, actually.
So I rose up out of my bed, went out the door, and found myself in Magnus’s common room. Magnus and Virgil were sitting at a table talking softly together. They fell silent and looked up at me as I entered. Virgil smiled tentatively: “Clarisse, what are you doing out of bed? I mean, it’s good to see you up, but you should be resting.”
“I’ve been resting for nearly two days, Virgil. I’m feeling much better; I thought perhaps we could begin discussing our plans.”
Magnus looked at me and shook his head. “I appreciate your spirit, lass, I really do. But I think you’d better turn around and go straight back where you came from. Doctor Luggerton’s orders, lass; you should be in bed.”
I sat down in a chair that was just big enough to hold me. “Honestly, Magnus, I am medically trained myself.”
“Is that so?” said Magnus. “And what treatment would you recommend to a patient with your injuries?”
I didn’t really like that question. I sighed, and said, “I suppose I would prescribe restorative medicines, a preparation of ginseng, witch bane, perhaps some kadura stem, and a few days strict bed rest. But could we just talk for a little bit? There are some things that are bothering me, and I shan’t be able to rest properly until we do.”
Magnus looked like he was going to offer some objection, but Virgil interrupted, “Of course, Clarisse. What did you want to talk about?”
“Well," I said pausing to think how to phrase my question diplomatically, "I’m concerned whether it’s safe for me to stay here. Those assassins are still out there somewhere. I’m sure they’re looking for me even now. I’m still in danger, and I must be honest with you, Magnus, I suspect you’re in danger as well as long as we’re staying here.”
Magnus grimaced. “Hmmmph. I can take care of myself, lass, and I’ll thank you not to imply otherwise. Your enemies are my enemies as long as long as you’re a guest here, and as long as we’re working together. That’s a matter of dwarven honor.”
My eyes widened, and I looked at Magnus with delight. “Did you just say we’re working together? Does that mean you’ve finally decided to join with us?”
Magnus looked down and chuckled. “Aye, lass. I still think you’re green, but perhaps you’re not as green as I thought. Virgil here has been telling me about what you’ve been up to of late, and you’ve gone and gotten yourself in the papers again. Twice.”
“Magnus, that’s wonderful, I'm so glad to hear that! Oh, we really must begin to think about how we're going to get into the Schuyler’s jewelry shop. I have several ideas."
Magnus nodded. “Yes, yes, I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about soon enough. Now, as I was saying, lass, you needn’t worry yourself about those assassins. Absolutely no one knows you’re here. No one except Dr. Luggerton, of course, and I got him to swear to keep it a secret. Believe me, there’s no one who can keep a secret like a dwarf; even a city dwarf like him would sooner rip out his own tongue than break his word.”
“I’m sure that’s true Magnus, but is there anyone else who might have seen me come up here?” I turned to Virgil. “What about Peter, the carriage driver who took us here? Can we be sure he won’t tell anyone? The police must have already spoken to him by now.”
Virgil looked at me with concern. “Don’t you remember, Clarisse? Peter didn’t drive us here. I had him take us to a subway station. We switched trains three times; believe me, I was watching for any suspicious characters.” Then, speaking slowly for emphasis, he said, “No one knows you’re here, Clarisse. You’re safe. Magnus and I have been going over all of this together already. Please, just rest, and trust me to take care of things for a while.”
I shook my head slowly, trying to remember. “We were, on the subway? I don’t remember that. I guess I don’t remember much at all after leaving the inn.”
Magnus smiled gently. “I’m not surprised, lass. You were in bad shape by the time you got here. You collapsed like a sack of potatoes as soon as you came through the front door. Virgil and I had to carry you to bed. Now, why don’t you go march back to your room and let us take care of things for a day or two? I’ll even give you some newspapers and a book I’ve got lying around if you promise to stay put. Virgil here tells me that’s the best way of keeping you quiet for a while.”
I had to smile at that. “Well alright. And I’m sorry for being such a nuisance. But if you won’t even let me out of bed, could you at least bring me another plate of those delicious sausages?”
Magnus grinned. “That’ll be your third plate, lass.”
“Magnus!” said Virgil, visibly annoyed.
Magnus looked at Virgil with a twinkle in his eyes. “Twas not an insult! I respect a hard-working lass with a healthy appetite.”
“It’s my orcish blood,” I said to Magnus. “I’ve been like this ever since I came of age. We half-orcs have an average of about ten percent extra muscle mass to support.”
Magnus cocked an eyebrow. “Do you, now? Why that’s even better! Are you sure you don’t have a drop of dwarvish blood in you, lass?”
Of course I knew Magnus was joking; dwarves have never been known to mix with the other races of Arcanum. But I had to laugh: “Why Magnus, I had no idea you had such a silver tongue!”
He smiled at that. “Go to bed, lass. I’ll get you your sausages.”
I wasn't going to admit, but my shoulder was aching and I was feeling very tired after my little foray. Modern medicine can accelerate the body’s ability to heal itself to a degree that would have seemed like magic only a generation ago, but it does seriously tax its reserves in so doing. I returned to bed. Magnus entered with the sausages and a book soon after. He put the sausages on the little table, and I eagerly accepted the book. It was a large volume with the title, “Roan’s Almanac of All Things Dwarvish.” I was delighted to see it, though disappointed when I discovered that Mr. Roan was a human scholar whose information was all second hand. Magnus sheepishly explained to me that dwarves do not write books about themselves for outsiders, and this was the best he could do.
Magnus left and I ate the sausages, but I was too tired to do anything more than glance at the book. Before I knew it, I was asleep again. Honestly, I’ve spent almost as much time sleeping these past two days as I did the whole previous week.
I woke up perhaps a couple hours later. I sat up in my bed and looked out the little window that faced westward from my room. The sun was setting, and the sky was turning red. The sunsets in Tarant are so beautiful, I think it has something to do with the smog from the factories. I got up to take the dishes I’d used back to the kitchen. Magnus was alone in the common room, reading a paper. He looked up at me as I entered and rolled his eyes. “Lass, are we going to have to tie you down? There’s a privy just adjacent to that room, so I don’t see why you keep tramping all through the apartment.”
“I was just going to wash these dishes. I promise I’ll go right back after I take care of them.”
Magnus put his head in his hands and chuckled. “You don’t seem to understand, lass. You are supposed to be resting. Dr. Luggerton specifically prescribed at least five days of strict bed rest. Now put those dishes down and go back to bed, unless you want me to carry you.”
I sheepishly put the dishes down and went back to my room. Magnus came in shortly afterwards carrying some newspapers. I sat up in my bed and looked at them eagerly as he approached.
“I wasn’t sure whether I ought to give these to you,” he said. “You shouldn’t be exciting yourself unduly. But I thought you’d want to see ’em.” He handed me the first paper, and I could see my picture was on the front page again. The headline read:
Blimp Crash Survivor Flees Assassins!
“Oh the assassins can’t be happy about that," I said, reading the article. "I got away, their man was killed, and to top it all of, they’ve made the headline of the Daily Tarant. I do hope that means they’ll want to lie low for a while after this.” I read a bit further. “Oh, they've finally admitted I’m a half-orc!”
Magnus nodded. “Aye, and I ought to warn you about that. There are some ignoramuses out there trying to blame you for what happened to the Zephyr. You might not want to read today’s paper for a while.”
I felt my stomach lurch as he said that, but I put on a brave face. “How dreadful. Still, I suppose I ought to have expected it. At any rate I doubt the authorities will take any of that seriously.”
Magnus nodded. “Aye, as I said it’s just a bunch of ignoramuses. A few pompous stuffed shirts with little in the way of brains and nothing better to do than write letters to the paper. Oh, there was someone who stuck up for you. A lady at the inn you were staying at.”
“Aye. The paper interviewed her. You must have made quite an impression on her. She said you doctored her son, that you saved his life. She said all the folk saying rotten things about you were all pea brains that didn’t know what they were talking about. That’s not exactly how she put it, but that’s the gist of it.”
“Oh, how sweet of her! I do hope she hasn’t gotten into any trouble on my account. That reminds me, I’ve been wearing her dress these past two days.” I looked down; of course by now it was terribly wrinkled. “I need to get some clothes of my own so I can have her dress cleaned and returned to her.”
“Your friend Virgil’s gone out shopping for a dress for you; that and some other sundries.”
“Really? Oh, that’s so sweet of him! I guess I can’t very well go out and get one for myself now, can I? Magnus, did you say I’d gotten myself in the paper twice?”
Magnus nodded. "They don't mention you by name, lass; the rich lady said you wanted to be anonymous. But I know it's you." He handed me today's paper.
Outlander Finds stolen Painting!
Local thieves foiled by heroine.
Magnus smiled as I read it. "As I said, I guess you’re not as green as I thought.”
I smiled back, though truthfully I felt a little nervous. After all, I really am rather green; I silently prayed I wouldn’t disappoint my new companion after finally winning his confidence.
"By the way, Magnus," I said, "I’m sorry for being such a stubborn half-orc. I’m afraid I’m not used to being waited upon. It’s just not in my nature to lie around all day while people do things for me. I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”
Magnus scowled. “Now, lass, you’re not about to go insulting my hospitality again by talking nonsense about rent and compensation, are you? I won’t have it.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. But I do hope you’ll at least allow me to cook and clean a little when I get better.”
He looked at me appraisingly. “Well, that would have to depend, can you cook decently, lass?”
“Well, of course. I mean, I’m not a chef or anything. But I was brought up in a boarding school for young ladies, after all. Believe me, we weren’t waited upon. It was an excellent education really, they taught us to look after ourselves.”
“A boarding school for young ladies?" said Magnus, his eyes widening. "Ah, so you were brought up as a human then?”
“Yes, of course,” I said laughing. “You don’t think I learned to speak this way in an orcish household, do you? No. I’ve literally spent most of my life pretending to be a human.”
Magnus looked at me curiously. “Forgive me, but I don’t see how you could have managed that.”
“It wasn’t so difficult, really. I looked pretty much human when I was little. I mean, it might not have worked in a city like Tarant; everyone knows what half-orcs look like here. But there were hardly any half-orcs at all in the city where I grew up; as far as I know, I was the only one. Of course it got harder as I got older. I started putting on extra muscle around the time I turned 15.” I chuckled softly. “I used to keep a stash of food hidden away so I could go and eat secretly late at night without anyone noticing how my appetite had grown.”
“Where did you grow up, lass?”
I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, I’m never going back there again.” I hugged my knees to my chest and paused in thought for a moment, remembering. “I was eventually apprenticed to a doctor. He trained me for over three years before he discovered what I was. Of course that was the end, no one would apprentice me after that. No one would even rent me a room after that. So I decided to go to Tarant. I thought I’d have a better chance of finding a doctor willing to apprentice me in the new world. I made my way to Caladon, I bought a one way ticket on the maiden flight of the IFS Zephyr, and that’s how I got myself into this mess.”
Magnus looked at me quietly, making up his mind whether to speak. Finally he said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, lass. Why are all these assassins trying to kill you? I asked your friend Virgil about it, but he wasn’t altogether clear.”
I laughed. “It’s true, Virgil is a dear fellow, but he isn't always altogether clear. But I’ve already told you everything I know. It’s not my fault if it doesn’t make sense.”
Magnus looked down. "I must apologize to you, lass. I didn't believe you back when you first told me your stories about those assassins trying to kill you after the dirigible crashed."
I looked at him surprised. “You didn’t?”
“Well, you have to admit it sounded a bit far fetched. All these people trying to kill you just because you were a passenger on a blimp? I take it you think the man who tried to kill you the other night was part of the same group that shot down the dirigible?”
“Absolutely. He was wearing the same amulet as the ogres who shot down the dirigible, and the gnome who tried to kill me in Shrouded Hills. They’ve been after me ever since I survived the dirigible crash. I lost them after I left Shrouded Hills, but then I went and got my picture in the paper. It only took them two days to find me after that.”
“As for why they want to kill me,” I continued, “it’s because I happened to be on the same craft as Mr. Preston Radcliffe, the gnome I told you about. I was just an innocent bystander, really, together with everyone else on board that ship."
I was feeling tired again. The memory of what had happened weighed heavily upon me. I sank back into my bed while Magnus sat silently, unwilling to push me further. I continued, “You know there were children flying on the Zephyr with their families? I don’t understand how anyone could have done such a thing.”
Magnus stroked his beard. “So this is all because of that gnome that gave you that ring? He must have known something important.”
I nodded. “I wish I’d paid more attention to what he was trying to tell me. He said something about being a prisoner in some place horrible, he was being forced to build something and it was almost finished.” I paused making an effort to remember what he’d said. “Not just him, I remember he said ‘us’, ‘he forced us to do it,’ and ‘the work is almost finished, and then, he’s coming back to kill everything and everyone.’ At the time, I thought he was raving.”
Magnus sat thinking, saying nothing. Eventually I sat up again and continued, “There’s another thing I should probably tell you. I don’t know if Virgil has mentioned this, but he’s a follower of the Panarii. Do you know of them?”
He nodded. “Aye, a little. I read about them in a book. They worship an elf, don’t they? Can’t say I care much for the idea.”
I smiled and nodded. "That's right. Nasrudin was the head of the elvish council. He lived many thousands of years ago during the so-called ‘Age of Legends.’ The Panarii believe he will be reincarnated some day. There’s an inscription about it on an altar just outside the valley where the IFS Zephyr was shot down. It said... here let me look it up in my diary.” I picked up my diary and found the place where I’d copied down the inscription. “And the spirit of Nasrudin shall be reborn on wings of fire in hills shrouded in fog, and fight the last battle with the evil one.”
Magnus’s eyes grew wide. “That was on an altar just outside the valley where you were shot down?”
“Yes.” I chuckled. “And the valley was covered in fog that morning, and the Zephyr did burst into flame. It was horrible. Ever since that crash Virgil has been convinced I’m the Living One, the reincarnation of Nasrudin. That’s why he’s accompanying me. I must admit, walking away from that wreck must have seemed pretty miraculous.”
"What do you think?" said Magnus.
“Do you think you’re the Living One?”
“Of course not!” I said, laughing. “It’s all so ridiculous. And please don't tell Virgil I said that. I mean, he’s not ridiculous, he's a very good man and I’d never want to say anything to offend him. I wouldn’t be alive now if it weren’t for him. Anyway, I’m only telling you this because if Virgil thinks I’m the fulfillment of some prophecy, other people might think so as well, and that might have something to do with why these assassins are trying to kill me. I thought you should know.”
Magnus thought about this. “Have you told your friend you don’t think you’re the Living One?”
“Well of course. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least try to be honest with him. But he won’t listen. And I can’t push too hard because I don’t want to offend him.” I sighed. “I’m afraid he’s going to be very disappointed some day when he finally discovers I 'm not who he thinks I am."
Magnus listened, stroking his great scraggly beard. “How do you know you’re not this ‘Living One’?” he asked.
I was taken aback. “You’re not serious, are you?”
“I didn’t say I thought you were, I just asked why you’re so sure you’re not.”
I looked at him, momentarily at a loss for words. “Well, the Living One is supposed to be the reincarnation of Nasrudin, a great elven hero; supposedly the greatest hero who ever lived. I’m no hero, I’m just a poor half-orc girl who’s trying very hard to get on with her life.”
“Is that so?” said Magnus, smiling broadly. “Let’s see now, after surviving the fiery crash of the dirigible IFS Zephyr, you crossed the Stonewall Mountains, dodging assassins, outsmarting thieves, and looking for the owner of a mysterious ring pushed into your hands by a dying gnome who told you of a terrible danger to all of Arcanum. I see your point lass, you certainly don’t sound like any heroic character I’ve ever read about.”
I laughed despite myself. “You forgot to include befriending obstinate dwarves. But it’s not like that at all, Magnus. I’m only doing this because I have to. I can’t very well study to be a doctor while assassins are out to kill me, now can I? I don’t really have any choice.”
“But isn’t that what all those heroes in those books like to say?” Magnus replied. “Oh no, I’m no hero, I’m just doing what I have to do. They’re modest, don’t y’see?”
I laughed even harder this time. “Magnus, I can’t be the reincarnation of Nasrudin! He was an elf, for goodness sake! I don’t even like most elves!”
Magnus smiled. “I can’t argue with you there, lass. Still, I’m wondering, suppose you do find the owner of this ring you’re looking for. What do you imagine happening then?”
My laughter faded, and I became serious again. “I don’t really know, but I’m hoping he’ll know what to do. That’s what Mr. Radcliffe kept saying to me, ‘Find the boy, and give him back his ring, and he’ll know what to do.’ So I suppose once I’ve delivered the ring, my part in all this will be over. I mean, I’ve told you I’m no hero. I’m just someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
I took a long breath, shut my eyes, and continued, “Once the boy has his ring back, perhaps these assassins will lose interest in me. I mean, it would be too much to hope they’d give up entirely, but perhaps it will be enough so I can go into hiding somewhere. I can’t stay in Tarant anyway, there’s no future for me here. I suppose I'll have to find some other city somewhere; then I'll start looking for a doctor who’ll apprentice me again.” I paused and shook my head slowly. "Honestly, I don't know."
I opened my eyes and saw that Magnus was looking at me with concern. "I'm sorry, lass, I shouldn't be bothering you with all these questions. You should rest."
"That's quite alright," I said. "I was going crazy lying in bed all day. Besides, if we're going to work together, we should know a little about each other. I hope you’ll eventually be able to tell us a little bit about your own search for your lost clan."
Magnus looked at the floor and didn’t say anything. I continued, “I mean, I understand it must be hard losing your family as you have. In a way, I’ve lost mine as well, and more than once.”
Magnus looked at me, but said nothing, and I could not guess what he was thinking. He sighed. “Get some rest, lass. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” He walked to the door and opened it as though to leave, but then paused. He turned around. “Do you have any talent for magic, lass?”
I smiled, because I could guess where this was going. “None at all. I’ve always been much better at the scientific disciplines. That’s why I’m trying to become a doctor and not a white magician.”
Magnus smiled broadly. “I knew it! You’ve got dwarvish blood in you for sure.” With that he left.