People are mistaken if they think they can control results. It may seem like we’re in control, but only the greatest of fools thinks it’s anything but an illusion.
Our job is to follow our path and to be diligent in doing so. Results…belong to the Universe.
Wendell wandered the empty halls of the warehouse. When someone called for him—he slid into a side room and hid until they passed. For days the RAT team had been perfecting the S.L.A.G.s, working out the last bugs, while Nat and Alhannah worked on strategies using the wide array of data Cryo64 pulled from online sources. It was the final night before the first round of combat and Wendell found himself not afraid, but disappointed.
He’d never experienced giant robots or an extreme sport of any kind back on Earth. This was so far beyond Wendell’s comfort zone, he’d hoped to gain the attention and encouragement of the two people who couldn’t seem to care less.
Chuck and Lili spent most of their time isolated in a makeshift library, set aside with books and computers. Day after day they hunched over desks, looking for traces of the original tinkerers of the city—then traced their developments, hoping they could discover some mention the last Demoni Vankil seal.
Nibbles called for him again.
He leaned against the wall and slid down onto this rear. The musty smell of the room made him wrinkle his nose, but there were no windows…which blanketed him in darkness.
Lately, he felt better in the dark.
I’m finally making progress, he encouraged himself, even Alhannah and Dax are impressed how I can control Gnolaum. So why can’t I get her attention?
He recalled the first few days after they’d arrived. Lili seemed so impressed. He knew it was a cheat—having understood forms of technology from his own planet, but Lili had quickly lost interest. In fact, she’d begun to shun more and more of the technology around her as soon as Chuck had given her printed books to read.
Small footsteps stopped outside the door and he watched the shadow of a face trying to look through the bubbled glass into the darkness.
It moved on.
He simply wasn’t in the mood for another test run of the S.L.A.G..
No. I want to step out of all this hype.
The news reporters had taken the event at the GAH club and interpreted it as a rival fight between pilots. It wasn’t all false, but to say that Darcy sent armed thugs to break enough bones to eliminate us from the competition was a bit much.
What made matters worse, the news anchors, especially the women, lingered on the lie that Wendell had taken out four of Darcy’s goons, while Dax and Alhannah could only handle one each. Nat said fan mail from female gnomes were already starting to pour into their team account at WET, Inc.
It isn’t real anymore.
Wendell knew he wasn’t a gnome, but he was a pilot in Trench Wars now. He actually felt a growing confidence…but that wasn’t the point. All he was really doing was buying time—so Chuck could find the last seal. Find the last shred of protection this world had of preventing Mahan’s return.
That’s what this is all about. The Dark Lord.
It was about the people fleeing from Eläm. It was about those who have died, like Kyliene, like Hiram. Those who had put their trust in him.
Peeking out the door, he shuffled back up the hall and made his way to the library and stopped outside the door.
Wendell could smell the incense Chuck burned while he worked. The wizard hated being interrupted while he did research, his mind so engaged that any moderate sounds startled him.
Hanging from a stud on the metal door was a sign that said, ‘Just Don’t.’
Turning the knob slowly, it creaked. Wendell cringed, but pushed the door open anyway, determined. He wasn’t completely sure what it was, but he’d grown to rely on the wizards views and input—his counsel and comfort. Yet now the old man had completely withdrawn into his studies and it felt like there wasn’t room for Wendell.
Using one of the countless storage rooms, the library had been converted by Chuck into a place he could ‘get into the zone.’ It amazed Wendell how much the wizard could change his surroundings by the use of magic and a few luggage bags.
The square room was warm and inviting with rugs hanging on the walls and covering the floors where tall, thin, wooden book shelves had been fastened into place. Two dark mahogany desks sat at angles to face the fireplace Chuck had installed in the corner of the room. When asked how he did it, the wizard had only smirked and said, “It’s all in the wrist.”
The overhead artificial lighting was off. Candles burned brightly instead, illuminating everything in soft glows. The overhead chandelier, with its six human-looking arms, balanced candles on every finger. Small sculptures of snakes, dragons, bats, flowers, soldier’s helmets and others lined the bookshelves around the room…all burning wax candles of crimson red, yellow and shades of blue.
Books were everywhere.
On shelves, stacked on the floor, piled high on desks and even balanced to create makeshift coffee tables next to the leather chairs in front of the fireplace.
Chuck’s bushy eyebrows and snow white hair popped up from behind one of the stacks on his desk.
“Lili dear, did you bring…?” he started to say, but his expression froze. For a moment Wendell wasn’t sure if the old man even recognized him. Long, gnarled fingers reached forward and shifted the books out of his path of sight. He gave a nonchalant nod.
“Hello Chuck,” he answered timidly. The door slowly closed behind him and clicked shut.
The wizard looked at the opposite desk, which was empty. “Can…I help you with something?”
Wendell bit his lip and stepped further into the room. “Actually, yeah.”
Come on Wendell, just say it. You’re never going to find out anything if you don’t spit it out.
Nervously, he slid his fingers into the pockets of his jeans, the smiley face averting its eyes from the wizards attention. “Have,” he started to say, but it got caught in his throat. He coughed.
Chuck stood up and slowly rounded the side of the desk. “Yes?”
Do it. Just do it Wendell. “I’m just wondering, Chuck. Have I…done something wrong?”
“Why would you think that?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know. We…used to talk and since we got here, you…” he paused, “well, I…ahem, just wondered if maybe you were mad at me or something like that?”
It felt like an eternity, standing there, the only sound was the crackling and popping of the wood in the fireplace. Wood that never seemed to be consumed by the flames. Chuck looked into those flames, unblinking. When he refocused on Wendell, his expression was warm and supportive—a familiar smile on his face.
“Come here, son. Sit with me.”
They sat in the deep leather chairs and Chuck turned his whole body to focus on Wendell. “I’m sorry.”
Wendell frowned, confused, “For what?”
“For…the neglect,” he said softly. “You haven’t done anything wrong, I promise.” He scratched his high forehead, “This research is getting to me and there’s something important I’ve forgotten. I just know I have, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is.”
“Is there something I can do to help?”
The bushy mustache swayed to one side of the wizards face, then to the other. “Actually, yes. But I need to apologize first.”
Wendell smiled, “You just did that, Chuck.” He’s losing his mind.
“Not for this,” he replied and reached into one of his sleeves and pulled out a folded letter with the residue of a red seal on its front.
Mouth dropping open, “Is that…?”
Chuck nodded and handed it back. “I took it from you when you were bur…,” he paused, “hurt. I didn’t know if you’d wake up again.”
“Well that’s ok. We all forget things.” Wendell started unfolding the letter.
“I didn’t forget, son.”
Wendell looked up to find the wizard staring down at the letter. His gaze was transfixed. “What…do you mean?”
Chuck sighed and shook his head. “I was trying to find a way to use it.” Staring up at Wendell, “To find the last seal.”
“Why didn’t you just ask me for help?”
“Have I lost your confidence? Your trust?”
The wizard averted his gaze, “No, of course not. You’ve had so much on your plate, son.” His eyes shifted to spots on the floor, his expression turning flustered, as if he were searching desperately for something he couldn’t find. “For the first time I saw you happy since you’d been here. The technology all around you was something you could understand and pick up easily. I was more concerned with you finding something you were good at—to develop some confidence in yourself than to worry about the oddities and dangers of magic and mayhem.”
He looked up, his eyebrows raised, “You’ve been through so much—you deserved a time to just be!”
Wendell wasn’t quite sure what to say. The wizard held his gaze and there wasn’t the faintest hint of deception in his voice or expression. It had been a long and difficult road thus far and it contained more pain than Wendell had ever experienced.
“But Chuck,” he said calmly, “I chose this.” Softly shaking the paper in front of his face, “And this…was intended for me, not you.”
Smiling, “You’re right.”
“So, you’re not mad at me? I didn’t do anything wrong?”
Chuck snorted, “Not in the least. Just an old man worried about his work, that’s all.” He shrugged, “Well, and I felt guilty for keeping that letter from you.”
Wendell turned the paper over in his hands. His fingers traced the creases in the paper and then slowly unfolded it.
“So did it?” he said aloud.
“Did it what…huh?” answered Chuck, confused.
Wendell flicked the corner of the paper with his finger, “Did it help you? The letter.”
“Oh,” he sighed, then shook his head, “Not in the least.”
Looking down at the writing, Wendell’s eyes grew wide.
Chuck sat upright. “What’s the matter?”
Wendell blinked several times. “It’s changed again. The handwriting.”
Sitting forward in his chair, the wizard nearly slid off. “What’s it say!?”
The smiley face on Wendell’s face curled up so far on each side, the tips almost touched. “It say’s…WIN.”