Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 3 - Motherboard

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Just because someone looks innocent, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry. Beware little people with big brains.

 

 

“They can’t be here!”

“But they are, Deloris.”

“But they can’t, Morty! We’ll be fined, imprisoned, banished from Clockworks!”

“Calm down, Deloris.”

She punched him in the arm. “Don’t tell me to calm down! What am I supposed to say in a situation like this?”

“I’m sorry would be a good start.”

“What are you talking…oh.” She looked cautiously over Morty’s shoulder. Chuck, Dax, Alhannah and Lili sat quietly in a corner of the warehouse. The wizard smiled warmly and wiggled his fingers in a dainty wave. She quickly snapped her head back behind the protection of her ex-husband’s frame. “Alright. I’m sorry. There.”

“Really?” he frowned, “after all this time and all my pleading with you to believe me, that’s it? You’re just going to say I’m sorry…like that?”

“This is too much for me to digest right now, Mort—so don’t push your luck.” She sighed and rubbed her temples with both thumbs. “Oh this is giving me a headache.”

“They,” Morty started, but corrected himself, “well, Chuck, specifically asked for you.”

Deloris’s eyes grew wide in fear. “Me!? Why me? No—that’s impossible. He can’t ask for me. I don’t know any humans. I’ve never even met a human before! How could he possibly know my name?”

Morty shrugged and reached out to rub her shoulders. “Calm, Deloris. These are good people.”

“That’s a TROLL, Morty,” she hissed in a whisper, grabbing his shirt roughly by the collar, “…as in vallen. Who like to eat us!”

“Not that one, dear,” he replied calmly. “He’s…relatively safe.”

“…and isn’t that Alhannah Luckyfeller? The Trench Wars champion?”

“Yes.”

“What is she doing here, of all people…and why is she with them?”

“She’s the bodyguard for the dead boy in the crate.”

Deloris gulped and nearly slid from her seat. “D-dead body?” she flipped her head around to look over at the delivery cycle. “In there?”

“Yes.”

“Why…did they bring it here?” with a quivering bottom lip, she looked up into Morty’s eyes, “…and ask for me, personally?”

His smile reappeared, “So you can bring him back to life, dear.”

It was another few minutes before she gained consciousness. This time, Morty sat close and wrapped his arms around her, slowly rocking back and forth. When she started to stir, he lightly kissed her high forehead.

“You really did talk to a wizard and a troll all those years ago?”

“Yes.”

“…and you got those inventions from…”

“Chuck. His name is Morphiophelius, but we all call him Chuck.”

“Chuck. Right. Of course. Because that sounds like a wizards name.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. Chuck has fondness for our people, Deloris. That’s why he’s always helped me when I asked. He just had to attend to his own business and vanished before I could introduce you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, dear.”

“No, Morty, I mean,” she looked up into his face, “…I’m sorry. For not believing you. All those times, when you were telling me the truth. I’m…sorry.”

He kissed her forehead again, “Does that mean we’re getting back together?”

Deloris snuggled her head against Morty’s chest, hiding her own smile. “We’ll talk.”

“Hey, I’m glad things are working on the domestic side, Mort,” called Dax, “but we’ve got some urgent business of our own.”

Deloris sat up only to be startled by Chuck, who had knelt down right in front of them. She gulped hard.

“Hello, Deloris,” he smiled softly. He took off his wide rimmed hat and gave a bow of his head. “I know you’re wondering how I got your name or what I could possibly request from someone who owns a run down computer store.” He winked, “Oh don’t look so shocked, my dear…after all, I did give your husband the basic plans for the uPod.”

She gasped and looked at Morty. He shrugged.

Chuck nodded towards the cycle, “I need you to look in the crate, my dear.”

“No, really, I…” she started to protest, but the wizard stood in one fluid motion and held out his hand. For the longest moment, she looked between the wizard and Morty, who also nudged her forward.

Timidly, she reached up took a hold of his giant fingers and stood.

“I happen to know that you own a rather peculiar facility here. That you dabble in the technological arts of the mind. Am I right?”

Before Deloris could pull away, Alhannah stepped forward and took her by the elbow, guiding her firmly to the back of the crate.

“Deloris, right? There’s no need to be afraid. We know you’re a member of the Gnome Resistance Revolutionaries. You can argue all you like, but we know about you, about Morty…as I have known about my own father. That’s why we came to you.” Wendell’s body was turned on its side, his face towards the opening. The black hair and the pale skin of his face lent him a peaceful look. Even the fixed smiley face on his shirt looked like it was dreaming pleasant dreams. “His name is Wendell. We need you to wake him up.”

Deloris took a closer look. “And you were is his body guard?”

Alhannah nodded, “One of them. Dax is his guardian, I’m a backup.”

“Looks like you did a lousy job.”

Alhannah shrugged it off, “He’s not dead, only asleep. Chuck seems to be under the impression that you have the ability to wake him up.”

“Perhaps.”

“You can or ya can’t,” cut in Dax.

“My point,” Deloris clarified, “is why should I care?” She looked back at the wizard, “So now I know my husband was telling me the truth. But why shouldn’t I protect us and simply alert the Centurions? Turn you all in? Why should I be willing to put my life on the line for any of you?”

Alhannah looked from Dax to Chuck. “You know she’s going to find out sooner or later.”

“We’ll need as many on our side as we can get,” added Morty, joining the circle.

“What are you all talking about?” Deloris snapped.

Chuck nodded at Alhannah, who hopped up into the back of the crate. “You should care about this boy, because of who he is, Deloris.”

Folding her arms, “And who is he?”

Pulling back the black mägoweave t-shirt, the crate filled with light. A rainbow of colors, shimmering from the surface of…

“Is that…” Deloris gawked.

“The Ithari,” whispered Alhannah. “We are asking you to help us hide and revive the Gnolaum.”

 

****

 

Through all of the events of the day, no one had paid particular attention to the culture shock Clockworks City and its technology had on Lili. Though she remained silent, every click, beep and blip made her flinch. She kept her distance from the gnomes and refused to take part in the moving of Wendell’s body. It was all unnatural. Not just her surroundings, but the very foundation of how the gnomes existed. Sentient beings were made to live in harmony with nature, not dig it up, shape it and pervert it.

The gnome woman they called Deloris seemed to change her stance the moment she saw the Ithari. A table with wheels was brought out and Chuck had lifted Wendell’s body onto it, before rolling it through another door. She followed, but only just. Cringing at the flameless torches sparking to life overhead. The structure they were in went on forever. Doors left and right, creating a maze Lili would never be able to escape, even if she chose to. But she was afraid.

Where could she go? The wizard had brought her here and she no longer had her port key to get back to the Black Market. She had to sell it to have enough coin to travel across Humär. Now she knew it was a mistake to have done so. She never should have sold her means of escape. Her way to hide from prying eyes. Her only fallback. Lili rubbed the flesh around her middle finger…the place where her fathers ring once sat. The Shade Ring that allowed a young girl to pass virtually unnoticed through the mountains, while the vallen horde ravaged the land. She watched the long stride of the wizard as he kept close to Wendell’s body.

He was the key.

The wizard knew Lili. But from where? She would have remembered a meeting with such a character. No one like Chuck had walked among the people of her homeland that she knew of. Her people were isolated by choice. An island folk of laughter, strength and bravery. A crafter of the arcane, dressed in the robes of the Mägo Order would be as obvious as a horse with two heads. Chuck had her ring now, but it didn’t belong to him…and she intended to get it back. It was just a matter of time.

Get the ring, then she would escape.

But he had something else she wanted—the whole reason she was stuck here in the first place. The Lanthya shard. One of the holy relics of the world and she had it in her possession, if only for a moment. Even now she could sense its presence. The teachings of the Bala, the holy men of her people, instructed young to reach out and connect with the flow of the life force around them. Taught them that all things had life, even stone. Yet she could feel nothing in this metal cave. She could only hear the rumble of what could only be describe as pain and despair. But she could feel the Lanthya.

And the Ithari.

Alhannah ran back and grabbed her hand, “Come on, Lili. I know this is hard for you and I’m sorry, but we have to go down a floor.” She pointed, “That means we have to ride in a small box.” She tugged her towards the small opening where everyone was stuffed shoulder to shoulder. Chuck had to stoop under the low ceiling.

Lili yanked her hand free. “I am not getting into…that cage.”

“It’ll be alright, I promise,” Alhannah reassured her, but Lili didn’t budge. “They don’t have stairs to where we need to go. Security, if that makes any sense. There are bad people looking for the folks we need help from. So this building was designed to make it harder for our hosts to be found. Understand?”

“Perfectly, but I do not wish to go.” She stared at the elevator with trepidation, “Not in a moving coffin.” She looked down at Alhannah, panic blossoming across her face. “Please don’t make me.”

Alhannah sighed. “Hang on,” she whispered, then ran to the elevator. Deloris exchanged words with her, then nodded, pulling weaved metal teeth down in front of her. There was a grumble, the sounds of scraping metal upon metal, and the party slowly descended into the floor.

Lili breathed a sigh of relief.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Alhannah warned her, “We’re going down on the next one. The cage will come back for us—but it will be empty.” She patted Lili’s forearm as she passed, “At least it’ll be empty.” She smiled, “It’ll make the ride more bearable.”

Lili exhaled loudly and stretched her arms. Now would be the perfect time to escape. The gnome warrior was fierce and highly skilled, but Lili was confident that she could quickly outdistance her. The thought lasted the length of her breath. Escape was an impossibility. Where could she possibly run to? If the gnomes caught her, there was no telling what they would subject her to. It was clear that it would be better to wait for the right opportunity.

“I feel bad that you got pulled into this,” Alhannah said casually, “but for what it’s worth, I’m glad that you came. If nothing else, for Wendell to see that you’re still alive when he finally wakes up.”

Lili didn’t know what to say. It was hard enough, being blackmailed into traveling with these people—but to be beholden to a young man she didn’t even know. It frustrated her. Annoyed her. Then again, Wendell wasn’t just anyone.

“You think Wendell is really the Eyinen?”

Alhannah made a face, “A wha-huh?”

Lili chuckled, “Eyinen. The one who’s eternal or perpetual. It’s from one of the nomadic races, I think. Our holy men teach the children about a circle of power, granting man the ability to learn and grow—to enable progress. Two forces, opposites, who fight for life and death. The Gnolaum is the being of light. Do you really think Wendell is that person talked about?”

The gnome scratched her head. “I…don’t know, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, that kid is something special, I have no doubt…but I grew up with my parents and grandparents telling me stories about the Gnolaum. The one who promised our forefathers that he’d come back and deliver our people from this isolation. Bring us back into the fold of the world.” She shrugged and let her torso lean against the wall. Drawing one of her knives from its sheath, she used the tip to pick at the dirt under her nails. “But I’ve seen enough to know that there’s a lot more to a person than meets the eye. Gnolaum, Eyinen, doesn’t matter to me. That kid could be plain old flesh and blood for all I care at this point—he needs help and I’m.”

“Admirable.”

There was a deep banging noise and then a slight shudder under their feet.

Alhannah looked at Lili and grinned, “It’s on it’s way back up. You ready?”

“No.”

“Then I suggest you fake it.” Pushing herself upright, “But that’s not what’s really bothering you.”

Lili shifted her weight ever so slightly. “What do you mean?”

Spinning the blade around her index finger, the knife slid flawlessly back into its sheath. “I know all this dark magic,” she said in a gravely voice, making wiggling motions with her fingers, “makes you uncomfortable, but I don’t think it’s the technology you fear. I get the impression you want to get away from us.  Wendell in particular.”

The elevator arrived, clunking to a rough halt. Alhannah pushed the gate up and walked inside. “Come on.”

Taking a deep breath, Lili held it and stepped in. The floor looked solid, but she could feel the unstable motion under her feet. It swayed, as if on strings. Trying her best to look brave, she found it most comfortable to have her back in a corner, firmly pressed against two walls. “There,” she whispered to herself, though not altogether convincingly, “that’s not so bad.”

Alhannah grinned back at her as she yanked the guard gate down, “Oh, this isn’t the hard part.”

She pushed the button. With a moan and a screech, the box swayed and banged against the hidden outer walls of the shaft. Lili shrieked and crumpled into a ball on the floor.

“Ok, I could be wrong,” Alhannah said aloud, trying ever so hard not to laugh out loud, “…maybe it is technology you fear.”

 

****

 

Alhannah let out a single-note whistle that carried, echoing back from the darkness. What looked to be an abandoned vehicle storage unit, was packed with banks of monitors, processors, servers, cables and an assortment of tables laden with computers, beacons, microscopes--even plant life. “What in the name of TGII is this place?” she stammered.

“Over here, Hannah,” called Chuck, who was standing under an embankment of lights. Wendell was sprawled out on a large metal bed now, positioned atop of fluffy white pillows. Deloris was taking colored wires and taping them to Wendell’s forehead.

On the other side of the bed was another gnome, a male. He looked young, scruffy shaven and with bags under his eyes as if he’d been without sleep for days. Wrapped around his midsection was a metal casing, enveloping the lower half of his body. Small monitors and a keyboard protruded from the device. He plugged one end of a cord into his monitor and started typing. “They’re right, Deloris,” he said, “he’s alive. Heartbeat is solid, breathing steady and his brainwave patterns are strong, though I have to say they look…irregular.”

“Whose this guy?” asked Alhannah abruptly, “And what’s he doing to Wendell?”

Pulling the cord free of the monitor, the the gnome made no outward motion—yet the device he was attached to rolled around the edge of the bed. The whole device was balanced on a single giant ball. It rolled silently across the floor until it was within reach of Alhannah. He smiled handsomely at her and offered his hand. “Name’s Nat Taylor. Deloris’s technical assistant and officer of the G.R.R..”

“Nat needs to perform some tests on Wendell,” replied Deloris, clicking away at a computer nearby, “to see if…and how we might be able to help him.” A larger monitor flashed on overhead. “But we have to get permission to do so.”

“Permission?”

Dax leaned in and elbowed the warrior, “Apparently they’re not the ones in charge around here.”

Nat laughed, “Not hardly. Everything we do as an organization has to be coordinated and approved if it runs any chance of putting out plans at risk. Just having you here could turn up the heat and motivate either faction to come after us.”

“Woah, woah. Wait a second.” Alhannah looked disturbingly at Nat, “What do you mean by either faction?”

He looked at her curiously, “I mean the government and religious factions, of course.”

She laughed, “Church-goers don’t get involved with politics.”

Nat rolled away, “I beg to differ.”

Deloris stopped typing. “Surely my dear, being a popular pilot of the Trench War games, you know that you have a fan base in both camps?”

“Well sure, but…”

“And are you aware that there are sponsors from within the Church? I’m not talking about members of the Church, but actual, wealthy leadership, using their influence and resources from the people…to back pilots?”

“Yes…but…”

Deloris held up her index finger and Alhannah closed her mouth. “You were a Grand Champion, were you not?”

“I was.”

“You had sponsors.”

Alhannah nodded.

“What are you, as the Grand Champion, obligated to do for your sponsors should you take the title? What is required of you, personally, for all the money poured into your training, gear, repairs and RAT support team?”

It took a moment before the questions started to click. “I’m obligated to promote the cause of my sponsor…which is why we have open contract negotiations. To make sure a pilot is willing to promote a backer before signing.”

“You never had to worry much about this area of the games, Ms. Luckyfeller,” added Nat, “because you have always been the favorite of the Brother’s Trench. You could always feel good about sponsoring and promoting the games you played in, am I right? Unfortunately there are several pilots that have been picked up and promoted so that the Church can gain in popularity and influence as well.”

“And why we have to be extra careful, Alhannah.” The monitor above Deloris’s head began to beep softly, “If the Church knew the Gnolaum was here, in Clockworks—could you imagine the lengths they would go to secure his capture…and favor? To use his presence to influence the whole of our city would enable them to rise above the political powers at large! That’s why we need to bring Wendell’s presence to the attention of the leader of our own faction.”

The beeping suddenly stopped. “This is an unscheduled meeting Deloris,” came a artificial voice. There was a momentary pause, then a cough.

“I know sir, I am sorry—but there is critical issue that you need to be aware of.”

The screen adjusted and a pale faced gnome came into view. Black hair, combed back over the large skull, mirrored glasses covering his eyes. “Then I suggest you contact Nat. He can handle any…”

“I’m already here, sir.” Nat glided along the floor, the device deft in its avoidance of trays, consoles and cords along the floor. It stopped next to Deloris, in full view of the monitor. “I insisted that she contact you.” He paused for a moment, looking nervously at each of the visitors.

The face on the screen leaned closed, enlarging his nose and glasses. “Nathan?”

Nat’s attention stopped at Wendell, lying prone on the table behind him. “Sir, we’ve come across something that could very well ensure our victory…or unravel the entire structure of our organization.”

The voice deepened and cooled, “Spit it out, Nathan.”

“We have the Gnolaum, sir.”

Another suppressed cough, “Excuse me?”

“The actual, literal Gnolaum…from prophecy, sir. We have him in our charge.”

Chuck stared at the monitor—the face frozen in place. All that could be heard through the speakers was a deep, labored breathing. Then the screen went black, the speakers silent. The wizard looked over at Morty nervously, “Is that it?”

Morty shrugged, “Don’t look at me.”

“Far from it, sir,” Nat said calmly. The lights around them lit up with a pop, pop, pop of breakers, revealing the full size and potential of their surroundings. The G.R.R. bunker was tens of thousands of feet in depth, every wall lined with computers, odd-looking devices or book shelves. Portions of the area were separated by glass walls. Several looked like surgical rooms. A long, wide table in the center of the room lit up—blue lights glowing from its surface. “You’ve grabbed his attention,” Nat smiled.

Dax and Alhannah, pulling Lili in train behind them, approached the glowing table. Chuck followed Nat and Morty, while Deloris typed away furiously on a console. Shapes formed in the soft blue glow, which mimicked fog rolling across the tables surface. Along the outer edge, a ripple effect started, sweeping under the fog, bubbling over the surface. The motion slowed as the shapes came into focus.

“Mountains,” Dax muttered.

The fog sank into the center of the table, the surface pulling away from the mountains. The ripples started once again, but this time from the center of the table. These were smaller and only noticeable when you stared directly at it.

“Water,” added Alhannah.

From the surface rose three circle, each a different size, but connected as one solid mass. They looked like gears, fused together, with teeth protruding out from the rim into the water surrounding it. Up and up the shapes climbed, forming layer upon layer, story upon story. The largest gear stopped, while the other two continued to grow taller. The second circle, which formed cracks and looked more like the stone steeple of a great cathedral, also stopped--while the third and thinnest spire continued to rise to a point—looming over the entire structure.

“Welcome to Clockworks City,” said Nat.

With one breath, Dax, Chuck, Morty and Alhannah all gaped in amazement.

Even Lili stared at the structure with open fascination, though she kept her distance. “Is that…where we are?” she asked out loud. Reaching outward to touch the spires, she realized what she was doing and, embarrassed, snatched her hand back. She side-stepped behind the wizard without a word.

“Whose attention have we grabbed?” asked Dax.

Deloris pointed up at the largest ten foot monitor in the room, which hovered over the table at an angle. The giant face of a gnome, now dressed in a crisp red robe, was staring down at them.

“May I introduce Motherboard,” she said with a hint of pride. “The founder and leader of the Gnome Resistance Revolutionaries.”

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