“Oh c’mon, Fiona, where’s the adventure in that?” asked Wizgille with a playful grin. Fiona just laughed and shook her head.
The Party was about a week’s journey south of Greyport, off to their next adventure. They were following up on a tip from a mysterious merchant they met at the Red Dragon Inn, who said that there were some old forgotten dwarven ruins in the area that had become a powerful nexus of dark occult forces. In other words, it was the type of thing that The Party couldn’t possibly ignore.
Dimli was acting as party lead on this particular adventure. Fiona and Eve were the combat support, along with Fleck, who also brought his usefully in-depth knowledge of history and lore. Erin was their healer, and Gerki and Wizgille provided the specialized skills that they all knew would come in handy while exploring dwarven ruins.
The rolling plains they were hiking through gradually showed more and more signs of civilization–gnomish civilization, to be precise. The houses they passed were fascinating combinations of art, science and controlled chaos. At first glance, they looked like rather run-down country cottages, but as The Party approached, they saw that even the most modest of the cottages had noticeable pipes, gears and other artifices running up and down, and in some cases through, the walls.
“Hey, Wizgille, didn’t you grow up near here?” asked Fleck.
Wizgille’s broad grin diminished almost imperceptibly. “Um, yeah,” she said. “In the town of Copperforge. It’s a little ways up ahead.”
“Oh, I’m quite interested to see where you grew up!” said Erin.
Wizgille started looking a bit uncomfortable. “Well, about that. There’s a road that will take us around the city rather than through it. It’ll save us half an hour, at least,” she said.
“Nonsense,” said Dimli. “Besides, it’s almost suppertime anyway, and gnomish ale…from the source? We can’t pass up this opportunity!”
“I must agree with our esteemed leader on that!” said Fleck cheerfully. Fiona and Gerki nodded enthusiastically, and even the often-dour Eve seemed intrigued by the possibility.
Wizgille looked non-plussed. “Fine,” she said. “It’s this way.”
As they rounded a bend in the road, they spotted a middle-aged gnomish man with two young children. When the gnomes noticed Wizgille, they suddenly looked awestruck. The two children started whispering excitedly to each other, and one pulled what looked like a well-worn periodical out of her shoulder satchel.
“I think you’re right, Liana,” said the man as The Party came into earshot. “Why don’t you introduce yourself?”
The girl froze.
“Well, if you don’t, I will,” said the boy. He confidently stepped out in front of Wizgille and asked “excuse me, but are you Wizgille the Tinkerer?”
Wizgille, turning decidedly red, managed a weak smile and said “yes, I am.”
“Wow! I’m Jona and this is my big sister Liana and when we grow up we want to be inventors just like you and can we have your autograph?”
The Party looked on amusedly as Liana slowly and nervously held out the periodical she was holding. It was entitled “Gnomish Inventors’ Quarterly” and there on the cover was a picture of Wizgille posing in front of her alcohol-to-gold transmutation device.
“Holy Fillkh, Wizgille, it’s you!” exclaimed Fiona.
“Watch your mouth, lass! There are children present!” barked Dimli. He turned to the blushing gnome and his tone softened considerably. “Still, that is pretty impressive, Wizgille.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Wizgille handed the autographed periodical back to the girl who handled it as though she were a cleric handling the holiest of holy relics.
“Hey, we need to tell the others!” exclaimed Jona. Liana snapped out of her reverie and nodded vigorously. Both children ran ahead down the road.
“Wait!” called the children’s father. He quickly tipped his cap and said “thank you, Lady Wizgille,” then took off after them.
Several awkward moments passed, with The Party staring at Wizgille, dumbfounded. Wizgille looked at the ground for a while, then managed to timidly say “yeah, I get that a lot around here.”
About fifteen minutes later, The Party arrived at the outskirts of Copperforge. Nearly every gnome they passed smiled and waved. Several cheered loudly. When Fleck smiled and waved back, they ignored him, much to his chagrin.
As they approached the town square, they noticed that a sizable crowd had gathered. At the front of the crowd was a gnome who was somewhat more garishly dressed than the others. “Oh no,” lamented Wizgille quietly.
The gnome called out so he could be heard by everyone. “As the mayor of Copperforge, it is my proud privilege to welcome home one of our most illustrious daughters, Wizgille the Tinkerer!”
The crowd went crazy.
The Party stood and gaped as Wizgille was hoisted up onto the shoulders of some of the stronger gnomes, while others closed around her and led her off to the nearby town hall.
An elderly lady was one of the few gnomes left behind in the square. She smiled up at Fiona. “It must be a great honor to work with such an important inventor,” she said calmly.
“Um…yeah?” said Fiona, clearly confused.
Fleck was still a bit annoyed at not being the center of attention. “I don’t get it,” he said with genuine confusion. “What’s so special about Wizgille, anyway?”
The old lady looked aghast. “You mean you don’t know?” she asked incredulously. “Come with me and I’ll tell you all a little story.” She led them into a small tavern just off the square.
Wizgille had not been viewed as a particularly gifted student when she enrolled at Copperforge Inventors’ College, but she had two qualities that served her well in her studies there. First, she worked hard (and didn’t need much sleep), and second, she had an unflappable optimism that was almost impervious to failure. While other students were questioning themselves, wondering if they really had what it took to be an inventor, Wizgille simply took failure in stride, brushed herself off (often literally), and tried something different.
This particular personality trait meant that Arcane Invention was a natural fit for her. Arcane Invention, the art of blending engineering and magic, was not a particularly common subject for gnomish inventors to study, due to the high device failure rate and frequent dangers. Arcane inventors studied ways in which powerful magic crystals, talismans, and other artifacts could be used to supercharge inventions with abilities far beyond what they should, by all rights, have.
Like most gnomes, Wizgille did not have any magical aptitude herself, but that wasn’t a problem. From her teachers at the Inventors’ College, she learned how to detect magic and harness it to power inventions of all kinds. She also learned that arcane inventions frequently failed, sometimes catastrophically, and that any especially powerful invention could be considered a triumph even with a success rate as low as 10%. Her Omnisight Goggles earned top marks during her final exams, and her career took off from there.
Within a few years, Wizgille had become a prominent inventor–one who was known for taking on high-risk, high-reward projects. At the annual Inventors’ Guild conference only four years after her graduation, she introduced the world to her alcohol-to-gold transmutation device. Since very few arcane inventors had ever attempted anything so ambitious, her device was expected to be a mere curiosity with a vanishingly low success rate. But, like all devices displayed at the conference, it was subjected to rigorous public testing to see just how reliable it was.
The device’s success rate of 26.2% left the testing panel of the Inventors’ Guild dumbfounded. They had never seen such a wondrous device work so often–or at all, for that matter!
After that conference, Wizgille became a celebrity among gnomes, and even among inventors of other races. But the success soon took its toll. Wizgille found herself spending most of her time giving talks, attending conferences and parties, and making public appearances. Precious little of her time was spent building and testing interesting new devices. About three years after the success of her alcohol-to-gold transmutation device, she published an open letter in Gnomish Inventors’ Quarterly:
For several years now you have made me feel like the greatest inventor in the land. This has been both a blessing and a curse. I have learned a great deal, taught a bit, and acted as a role model to many. However, this has left me with little time to pursue my true passion: pushing the bounds of Arcane Invention.
It is with a heavy heart, but firm resolution, that I announce my immediate departure from Copperforge to embark on an adventuring career. I plan to use my talents to fight evil, help people, and subject my devices to the most demanding test–real-world, life-or-death situations.
I am eager to start on the next phase of my journey. I apologize if my decision disappoints or offends any of you, but I truly believe that it is only by using my inventions in real-world situations that I can make the best use of my skills.
“Since then,” said the old woman, “Wizgille has sent frequent reports back about the devices she has built and how she has used them while adventuring. Her work is highly regarded–each new article she writes is eagerly awaited by inventors everywhere!”
“Wait a second,” said Eve to the old woman. “You’re telling me that all a gnome has to do is invent something that works a quarter of the time and they’ll be famous?”
“No, that would be ridiculous,” she said. “Look around you. All the devices you see here in this tavern are gnomish inventions, and if they didn’t work reliably, this tavern would be out of business! But truly gifted arcane inventors don’t bother with mundane stuff like this. You must understand, Wizgille makes the impossible. The fact that her devices work at all is truly amazing.”
As The Party was finishing their food and drinks, Wizgille rushed into the tavern, causing a ruckus of cheering among the few gnomes who had chosen to be there rather than at the party at the town hall.
Wizgille looked shell-shocked and exhausted. “Let’s get back on the road,” she said simply.
The mayor’s party was still going on, and sounded like it would probably continue well into the night.
Fiona looked confused. “Don’t you want to stay for the party? I mean, you’re a hero to these people!”
Wizgille gave Fiona a faint, wistful smile. “That’s why I had to leave,” she said. “Using my devices to do great things is much more important than accolades or awards or parties.” She looked toward the tavern door. “I want to be out there adventuring, not resting on my laurels in Copperforge.”
Dimli nodded sagely. “I understand, Wizgille,” he said. “Come on, friends,” he called out. “It’s time to move on. We can get a few more miles in before it gets too dark.”
The Party headed out of town in silence. As the buildings began thinning out, they noticed one with a well-lit outbuilding. In it, young Liana was tinkering away on a workbench that was adorably small, even by gnomish standards. She looked up from her work as the party passed. This time, she didn’t hesitate. She ran out to the road to talk to Wizgille.
“Lady Wizgille, I’m sorry I didn’t thank you before,” she said. “I didn’t know what you’re supposed to say to such an important person. But now I know. Thank you for the autograph, thank you for all of your work, and thank you for just being great. I’ve always wanted to be an inventor like you, but now I’m even more sure of it. Thank you.”
Wizgille noticed that the copy of Gnomish Inventors’ Quarterly she had signed was already framed and hanging over Liana’s workbench.
“Why don’t you show me what you’re working on, Liana?” she asked. She smiled down at the girl and thought, well, being a hero isn’t all bad…