Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 8 - Familiar Comforts

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When you find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances, don’t panic. The key is to retrace your steps to last sure moment when you knew your course was correct. It’s ok to take a moment to re-plot your course…and to lick your wounds if need be.

 

 

“He doesn’t remember anything at all?” Alhannah asked.

“Not a stinkin’ thing,” Dax replied. “Which is kinda freaky. You should have seen the look on his face. It was like the world had ended.”

“Well,” she added, “it kind of did. For him anyway.”

“That’s not what I meant, Hannah.”

“I know, but what’s the point? If it was so scary, maybe it’s a good thing he’s blocked it out, right?”

“Quite right,” snapped Deloris, pushing her way in through the doorway. “Now, if you’re going to stand around whispering like plotting politicians, do it elsewhere. Wendell needs his rest.”

She stared at both of them until they finally shuffled out of the room and down the hallway, out of view.

The recovery room had not been used in nearly a year—and had been converted into a minor storage facility. She scooted around the boxes and books, setting the tray next to the bed. Chuck sat in the corner, legs up in the recliner, asleep.

“I’ll get back in here in the morning and get the junk out of here. Make it a bit more comfortable for you, alright?”

Wendell smiled gratefully, “Thank you, uh…”

“Deloris.”

He nodded, “Deloris. And we…” scratching his head, “we’ve met before, correct?” He chuckled then, though it was more out of nervousness, “Because you really look familiar to me, but for the life of me, I can’t recall meeting too many gnomes.”

Deloris smiled, “That’s a mental residue you’re feeling, from the procedure we used to bring you out of your coma. Nothing to worry about. You’ll connect the dots soon enough.” Lifting the lid from the soup bowl, she placed the tray in front of him. “Hungry?”

“Famished.”

“Hope you like mushrooms.” She clicked on the small lamp next to the bed.

Wendell took a deep breathe and sighed happily. “Smells wonderful, whatever it is.” Grabbing the slice of bread, he broke off a piece and dipped it in the thick, grey liquid. “Thank you.”

“Finish that up and get some rest. You’ve had a busy first day in Clockworks City,” Deloris winked, “let’s take the second one a bit slower, alright?” Taking a last glance at the snoring wizard, she clicked off the overhead light and shut the door behind her.

Wendell made munching sounds as he ate. It tasted wonderful—which made the experience even better, because it tasted a lot like home. It felt good to have something…anything familiar.

“Can’t remember a thing, eh?” Chuck said calmly.

Wendell flinched, the silverware rattling on the tray. He coughed, a crumb of bread stuck in his windpipe. “You’re…awake.”

The wide rim hat shaded Chucks face from the lamplight, keeping his eyes in deep shadow. “You gave us quite a scare, son.” His hands remained perfectly still on the arms of the recliner. “How you feeling?”

Taking a sip of water, “A lot better than being dead, I guess—though it’s all a bit confusing. I remember pain,” he shuddered, “Lots of it…that I don’t think I could even describe. Then,” he looked around the room, “I wake up here.”

“You don’t remember anything else? Nothing in between?”

Wendell dipped the last of the bread into the soup and popped it into his mouth. “Mm-mm,” he shook his head.

Chuck leaned forward and pushed the rim of his hat back, so the soft light revealed the whole of his face. He smiled warmly, “Then let’s not dwell on it, shall we? There’s much to do and if you’re meant to remember…” There was a short pause and he watched Wendell scoop up the soup and gulp it down, completely oblivious to the conversation or even where he really was. “Well,’ he said a bit softer, “it’ll come back.”

 

****

 

“I say it was a miracle,” Morty snorted, “ and I wouldn’t push your luck either. That’s not a normal kid in the other room.” He poured the hot water into the cup and handed it to Lili. The group had retired to the main lounge and now sat around the meal table. The strong scent of butter and garlic filled the air, now mingled with the cinnamon tea.

Dax shook his head when a saucer was offered. “Got any beer?”

Deloris nodded to the cooler.

He pushed his chair out and strut across the lime green room. “Whaddya mean he ain’t normal? I don’t like what yer implying, Mort.”

Handing the last cup to Nat, “I mean that that’s the Gnolaum, Dax. That boy in the recovery room has the actual Ithari—the gem of legend…in the next room! Surely you can’t consider treating him just like any other youth?”

Yanking open the cooler door, Dax snatched one of the bottles from the door. “Why not? He ain’t no freak. He ain’t a warrior, either. He’s a decent kid who made a wrong turn and got stuck with a job he’s terrified of! If there’s a way I can ease the way for him, I wanna do it.”

The clack-clack-clack of Chucks staff grew louder in the dark hallway. A moment later, the point of his tall hat poked through the doorway. He stooped through, his face drawn. “He’s asleep.”

Dax bit the cap off the bottle and spat it into the waste can. “You believe him?”

Everyone stared at the wizard. Chuck sighed and stretched his shoulders as he rounded the end of the table. Alhannah pulled out one of the chairs for him, which he gratefully accepted. Letting go of his staff, it stood at attention where he left it. “I do,” he said soberly. Flopping his hat onto the table, gnarled fingers ran back over his forehead and through the thinning white hair of his head. “There’s no reason not to. We can’t know for certain what Ithari was doing in his noggin. We may never know. But what we do know, is that we have our dear boy back and we must do all that we can to help him…and protect him.”

Dax grabbed another beer from the cooler and slid it haphazardly across the table. Chuck held out his hand. The bottle curved across the surface in a wide arc, into his open fingers. Deloris and Nat coughed into their tea.

“Then what’s the plan?” Alhannah asked outright. She set her cup of tea onto the table and tapped the surface with her knuckles. “You wanted to get him here, we got him here. You wanted him healed and awake, he’s healed and awake.” She paused. “But you said something back at Til-Thorin that concerns me.”

Blowing at the beer cap, it popped off and flipped onto the table. “Oh? And what was that dear?” Putting the bottle to his lips, he started guzzling.

“You said there was a traitor.”

The wizard threw himself forward and started choking. Bubbles rolled up over his lips and down his beard.

Alhannah jumped up and patted him firmly on the back. “You ok?!”

Chuck shot a glance at Lili, who immediately averted her eyes. “Quite,” he said through his coughs. “The beer was more bitter than I was expecting, that’s all.” He set the bottle down and wiped his face with the lower part of his beard. “The traitor has been found and dealt with my dear, so there’s no need to concern yourself. Besides,” he said with a cheerful spin in his tone, “I need you to run that interference I mentioned.”

“Anything we can help with?” asked Nathan, curious.

Chuck grinned at him, then at both Deloris and Morty. “Actually, my young mobile genius, there is something the entire G.R.R. can help with.”

Morty frowned, “Oh no you don’t. You count me out old man. I did my deal with you…and you owe me!”

Waving his hands, “Yes, yes I owe you. Just tell me when you’re ready.”

Morty sat upright, cocking his head back in consideration, “I’m in no rush. If you intend to stick around for a bit, then I want time to think this through.”

Chuck squinted, “You really want something good I take it?”

The gnome squinted back, “Painfully so.”

“Right then!” the wizard exclaimed, “That leaves the resistance and the fate of the world.”

Deloris coughed into her tea once again. “I’m…sorry, what did you say?”

“The fate of the world, woman. I came to Clockworks for more than just a jumpstart for the boy in the back room.”

Dax grumbled, “I knew this was too simple. Come in, fix the kid, get out…”

“Oh hush.”

“Why don’t you ever lay out the whole plan, so we know what we’re getting ourselves INTO?”

With the flick of his wrist, the bottle cap from the wizards beer jumped up from the table and flew across the room. It hit Dax square in the middle of the forehead. “That’s precisely what I’m trying to do, monkey, so if you’re quite done whining, I’ll get started!”

Dax growled and flicked the cap off the table.

“Approximately twenty chimes ago, I’m guessing you felt a tremor here in Clockworks?” Chuck looked to Nat, “That is, if you pay attention to anything outside the walls of this city.”

Nat looked to Deloris, confused. We…do, but I figured it could have been anything. It’s not uncommon for collapsing structures to send out shockwaves during reconstruction.”

The wizard shook his head, “This was a world shake.”

Nat frowned and pushed a few buttons on his chairs console, “Cryo?”

Yes, Nathan?

“Would you check seismic activity outside the pond?”

Certainly, Nathan. Processing now.

Dax scoffed, “The pond?”

“It’s what we call our gnome-made lake surrounding the city,” Deloris clarified, “We built it as a first line of defense against invasion.”

“Invasion?” Dax laughed, “Invasion from who!? You’re out in the middle of the ocean, a month from the shores of any continent!”

Deloris glared at him so intensely, his laughter dropped off almost immediately. “My people were hunted, not to wipe us out, not because we were a threat…but for food!” Morty squeezed her hand, but she pulled it away abruptly, “In the dark of night, we cast ourselves into the sea by the thousands! Life rafts and meager boats of our own designs, risking the unknown to get here because we were being slaughtered for meat.” Her body trembled, the grip around the tea cup tightening as it rattled against the saucer…tap-tap-tap-tap.

“It’s alright,” Morty whispered, undaunted and casting a reassuring smile in Dax’s direction. “He meant to offense. They don’t know our history.”

“But I do,” said Chuck plainly.

Nathan, I have that data if you’re ready.

“What did you find?”

Deloris turned back to her cup of tea and sipped in silence. Morty leaned over and kissed her on the temple.

Readings show an island wide tremor, at 21.1.12n. It was a 4.2 on the shift scale—easily absorbed by Clockworks foundation stabilizers. However, this was only an aftershock. The origin of the disturbance is beyond the range of my sensors.

“That’s because it happened at Til-Thorin,” added the wizard. Sitting back, he combed through his beard with his fingers, “The tremor you felt was from the destruction of a Demoni Vankil seal.” From the corner of his eye, he noticed Lili wince.

“A what?” Nat asked, confused. “What’s a Demoni Vankil?”

The Fishis Archive Foundation defines it as one of the greatest magical devices ever devised, which was used, in conjunction with Lanthya shards, to trap and bind the Dark Lord Mahan, rendering him powerless and chained to Unrest. Further information is found in Höbin Luckyfeller’s Fieldguide, entitled Demoni Vankil. End of reference.

“Three seals keep Mahan where his is,” Chuck groaned under his breath. His eyes were fixated on the bottle in front of him, lost in thought. “Imprisoned,” he added, almost in a whisper, “and away from this world so long as the seals remain intact.”

Nat looked around the table and shifted in his chair, “B-but you just said one of the seals was destroyed. That doesn’t sound good. Not good at all. If the other two were to…”

“The other one,” Dax said bluntly. The gnomes looked up at him and his expression softened, “Two of the three seals are already toast.”

Now it was Morty that gulped. “There’s only one seal left?”

Dax nodded.

“…and what happens if the last one…”

Draining the last of the beer from the bottle, Dax looked up from under his thick brows, “Then there’s nothing to stop evil one from coming back to Elämä.”

Morty let his forehead hit the table, “Oh balls and bolts.”

“That’s the other reason why we’re here, Deloris,” said Chuck, “to find the last seal and keep it safe.”

“But what can I do?”

The wizard smiled, lightly shaking his head, “Not you, personally, my dear—you’ve helped save Wendell. I couldn’t be more grateful, though you’re beginning to see how important the boy is to all races.”

“Absolutely.”

“As I said, I know a bit about gnome history. Before your time. Before the FAF.”

Nat cocked his head to the side, but said nothing.

Chuck brushed his fingers over the surface of his hat, inspecting it casually, then flipped it back upon his head. “The last seal is here, in Clockworks.”

Nat’s jaw dropped open.

“Here?” Morty squealed. Now it was he who pulled away from Deloris’s touch. “That’s like placing a big, fat target on our foreheads!” He pushed away from the table, jumping to his feet. Throwing his hands into the air, he shouted, “Hey you blood-sucking cannibals, we have your masters key to freedom…COME AND TAKE IT!” His chest heaved, shoulders rising and falling. Eyes wild and unblinking, he stared at the wizard, “Who in the depths of insanity thought of THAT idea!?”

Chuck’s mustache and beard quivered. The rim of his hat slowly lowered across his face until his eyes were hidden altogether. “I did,” he mumbled, barely above a whisper.

The gnomes in the room, including Alhannah, all stared back at him as if they’d be doused with ice water. Deloris leaned heavily on the table, trying to peer under the rim of the wizards hat, “I’m sorry…what…did you just say?”

“I said it was me,” he mumbled again. He shrugged, then said louder, “Well, not just me, but I was the delivery boy.”

The shriek was almost deafening, sending chills down the spine like nails across a blackboard. “WHY?” Morty yanked painfully at the two braided legs of his beard. “WHY CHUCK? WHY US??”

“Because the last hero told me to, that’s why.” Sitting forward, the wizard placed his elbows on the table and leaned forward, “It was because I saw what you would eventually become.”

The tinkerer fumed, “Fodder?”

“NO!” the wizard snapped, “Brilliant! Mortimur Teedlebaum, you’ve made yourself heard, now sit down and shut up. Let me explain.” He reached out and grabbed Alhannah’s hand, giving it a loving squeeze, while keeping his focus on Deloris and Nat. “Let me tell all of you the whole story.”

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