The Beast Tinkerer
The Beast Tinkerer
Our Kickstarter campaign for a new Battle for Greyport expansion is live! To celebrate, we’ve asked Geoff Bottone to write another story set in the RDI world. Enjoy!
From her hiding place under her table, Wizgille remembered something a former professor of artificing told her once, a long time ago. “Young lady, if you wish to become a tinkerer, you must become accustomed to a certain level of chaos in your life.”
She was fairly certain, however, that not even that dusty old professor would have anticipated that Wizgille’s life contained this much chaos.
Much of the recent chaos had to do with where she was, which was Copperforge. Specifically in the Drunken Gearbox, its premiere tavern. As one of the region’s most famous and successful inventors, Wizgille couldn’t go from the table to the bar without spending twenty minutes along the way signing autographs.
Not to suggest that talking to excited and friendly gnomes was bad, of course! It was always nice to meet people and to give words of encouragement to up-and-coming inventors. But the constant praise and starry-eyed adoration started to wear on her after a while, especially when all she wanted to do was have a quiet drink or three with her traveling companions.
It was nice to sometimes visit her old hometown. But a few days in Copperforge always gave Wizgille a fresh appreciation for her adopted home of Greyport. Ah, living in relative obscurity as just one of dozens of adventurers who hung out at the Red Dragon Inn.
And speaking of adventurers…
She stood up carefully, so as not to spill her drink. Biting her lip at what she feared she would see, Wizgille peeked her head over the top of the table.
Wrench was over by the bar, standing in a spreading puddle of alcohol that dribbled out the side of a disassembled drink dispenser. The kobold inventor gesticulated wildly, punctuating his points with sharp thrusts of the brass samoflange in his right hand. The member of the waitstaff Wrench regaled with his theories and discoveries periodically ducked and tried not to look too irritated.
On the opposite side of the table, Lizwick was cheerfully—and a touch absent-mindedly—gathering up the silverware, napkins, and empty mugs and stowing them in her seemingly bottomless bag of holding. Natyli, who had crossed over to an adjacent table, was in the midst of a very heated discussion with a trio of automaton crafters.
“I’m telling you it’s not artificing!” shouted Natyli, waving around a small doll that was starting to look an awful lot like one of the arguing crafters. “Yes, they’re dollies, but there aren’t any gears or whirlygigs or thingamazooms inside of them. They’re just powered by magic.”
“You’re. Using. A. Craft good. And. Magic.” Roared back one of the crafters. “That’s. What makes it. Artificing!”
“Oh, there you are, Wizgille,” said Lizwick, smiling as she closed the flap on her bag. “I thought you had popped off to the privy!”
Wizgille slid back up onto her seat, watching as Wrench, under the watchful eye of the waiter, amiably threaded the samoflange back into place. “Erm. No. Probably should have, though. It would have been a little quieter back there.”
“Right? It’s so nice! And the sound of the water coming out of the automated sink taps is so relaxing.“ Lizwick rested her elbows on the now bare tabletop and leaned forward. “I just wanted to say, thanks for inviting us down here with you. It’s been years since I’ve been in my old stomping grounds, and it’s been a lot of fun!”
“I’m glad,” said Wizgille. Her smile quickly faded as she jerked her head around to shout at Natyli.
Natyli froze in her seat at the other table. The long needle she held above her latest dolly creation trembled in her grip, but did not descend.
Wizgille glanced at the trio of automaton crafters, only one of whom was sober enough to register that a serious magical mishap was on the cusp of taking place.
“What would your uncle say?!”
Natyli puckered her lips between her tusks and put her needle away. She stepped back from the crafters’ table and stomped over to where Wizgille and Lizwick sat.
“Hey, hey!” shouted Wrench as he came running up, balancing four sloshing mugs of extremely fizzy, mint-scented liquid on a tray. “Wizgille, those drink dispensers are great, really great. Nice, clean work on the inside there. I was thinking maybe you and I could make one for Warthorn when we get back. Should be pretty easy to work out the basics, especially since I just got a look inside of one!”
Wrench continued his excitable chatting as he moved the cups from the tray to the table. “I think that guy over there was mad that I popped a panel off to have a look, at first. He calmed down, though, when I told him I could put it back together again! Oh, and that I was friends with you! Once he heard that, he said he wouldn’t need to ask me to leave! Also he gave me these on the house! Such a nice person!”
Outwardly, Wizgille smiled. Inwardly, she facepalmed.
“Well, then,” said Lizwick, raising the mug in front of her as Wrench hopped into his seat. “I think that’s as good a reason as any for a toast. To Wizgille’s good name, and to the free drinks it provides!”
Wizgille and Wrench also took up their cups and brought them together. Wizgille even managed a slightly half-hearted “hear hear!”
Only Natyli did not partake. Instead, she stared out the window, frowning.
“Natyli,” said Wrench, “you all right?”
“Yeah,” Natyli grumbled. “It’s just… The animals you have here. Are they, you know, weird?”
“Weird?” Wizgille shared a look of bafflement with Lizwick. “Weird how?”
“Like, I don’t know.” Natyli squinted out the window even harder. “Well, I guess, you know, like wolves with metal limbs and little brass hats with spinning blades on them?”
Wizgille blinked. “No…oooo?”
“Oh, all right,” said Natyli. “It’s just that there’s a whole pack of them charging up the street, and I wasn’t sure if I should be worried about them or not.”
Wizgille flipped her Omni-Sight Goggles down over her eyes and looked through the wall of the Drunken Gearbox. Natyli was right. Maybe a dozen or so wolves with artificed limbs and wearing helmets equipped with high-speed, saw-like blades rampaged up the street. They howled and snapped as they came, knocking over helpful street automatons and forcing innocent pedestrians to run screaming for cover.
Oh, no, Wizgille thought. Those poor people! Those poor automatons! This is really bad!
Wizgille looked around the walls of the Drunken Gearbox, which had come just a bit too confining, at the still dribbling drink dispenser, at the hopeful young gnomes who formed a gauntlet by the door, hugging their blueprints to their chests.
I… should leave here and stop them!
She turned back to her friends and flipped up her goggles. “Monster attack! Let’s go.”
Lizwick cracked her knuckles. “Right!”
As one, they got up from the table and raced for the door. Natyli offhandedly tossed the dolly she had been holding over her shoulder. Wizgille, who was bringing up the rear, watched in apologetic horror as one of the automaton crafters somersaulted out of his chair and smashed his table to pieces.
The battle was upsetting, the aftermath even moreso. Wizgille spent no longer than needed to inspect the now-motionless mechawolves. When she found one whose long-range control mechanism was still more or less intact, she popped it off and retreated back to the porch of the Drunken Gearbox.
While Wrench excitedly explained to Lizwick and Natyli the particulars of the mechanism, how it worked, and how it was like the various wizard control spells, “but, like, for artificing!” Wizgille cracked the thing in half, reversed its polarity, and soldered it to the base of her Autocompass.
She turned in a slow circle, until the modified Autocompass pinged on an area somewhere to the northeast. Wizgille looked at the compass’ distance-o-meter. The signal was coming from somewhere outside of Copperforge, two miles away at most.
“We go this way,” she said, rather more abruptly than she wanted to.
Wizgille was not usually the fastest walker in the Party, and often wound up in the rear guard with Dimli, Gerki, and anyone else who was either stealthy, squishy, or slow. Today, though, she was invigorated, and she stomped through the Copperwood at a nearly breakneck pace. Even Wrench, who was quite quick on his feet, was having trouble keeping up with her.
“Hey, hey,” said Wrench, from a few paces behind. “We’ve been going full bore for, like, twenty minutes. Can we take a little breather?”
Wizgille stopped, at last aware that she was red-faced and panting. Wrench scampered up behind her as Lizwick, her cheeks blown out, half-jogged across the carpet of dry and crackling leaves to join them.
A few moments later, they were at last joined by Natyli, who sauntered through the forest, a disaffected expression on her face.
“You all right?” said Wizgille, as Natyli came up.
“You know I don’t run,” said Natyli. She slowly closed her eyes and opened them again before cocking her head to one side in a gesture of appraisal. “But what about you? Are you all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t run either,” said Natyli. “And now you’re tearing off through the forest like you’ve got a gear from one of Wrench’s inventions embedded in your forehead!”
“Oh, come on!” shouted Wrench. “That was one time.”
“A funny time, though,” said Lizwick, who had pulled a spotted hanky out of her capacious bag to dab her glistening forehead.
“Sorry, I just…” Wizgille glanced down at the long-range control mechanism attached to her Autocompass. “This thing with the animals. It’s really bothering me. Someone cut them open and put artificed parts in them. It isn’t right.”
Natyli nodded. “I mean, I get it. That’s why we’re doing what we do. We find whoever’s responsible and we defeat them. But I don’t see why–”
“Heeeeeeelp!” came a shout from over the next hill.
Wizgille was already off running. “Breather’s over!” she shouted.
“Thanks,” said the pixie, fluttering down out of the tree as best as her tattered wings would allow. “I was almost those animals’ lunch for sure.”
“No problem,” replied Lizwick, who had crammed her arm up to her shoulder into her magical bag. After some rooting around, she pulled out a pair of tweezers. Taking those in a gloved hand, she daintily extracted a miniscule glass bottle filled with no more than a drop of red liquid.
“Why don’t you have a seat on that mushroom over there until you get your breath back?” said Lizwick. “Also, you should drink this healing potion. It should patch your wings up good as new.”
The pixie took the bottle in both hands and goggled at it. “Do I have to drink the whole thing?!”
“Uh, hang on. Let me get my jeweler’s eyepiece and I’ll read the recommended dosage.”
Wizgille wandered away from the conversation and soon found herself surveying the carnage. The bodies of perhaps a score of animals that had been crudely fitted with artificed parts lay in heaps at the base of the tall oak tree. Wizgille had hated to do it, but she knew that she and her friends had no choice. It was appalling. It was–
A touch on her shoulder caused her to whirl around, raising her battle wrench in a defensive posture. Wrench, eyes wide, hopped backward.
“Hey, hey! Take it easy!”
Wizgille lowered her weapon. No. Tool. It was a tool. It fixed things. Usually. She could fix this.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” said Wrench. “You need a hug?”
Wizgille felt a tear come to her eye. “Yeah.”
Wrench took her in his scaly, bony arms and patted her back. “We’re gonna get whoever did this, you know.”
“I know we will,” she said, as she left Wrench’s embrace. She tapped the side of her Omni-Sight Goggles, causing them to vent all internal moisture as tiny puffs of superheated steam. “I just hope we don’t have to fight any more animals before we do.”
“Hey!” shouted Natyli. “You should hear this.”
Wizgille and Wrench came over to the mushroom upon which the pixie sat, the now empty potion bottle sitting in her lap. Her wings were as good as new.
“What’s up?” said Wrench.
“Your friends were asking me about the animals,” said the pixie. “I told them that I hadn’t seen them before today, when I was collecting morning dew in the Merry Meadow, right near where Torinahl the Druid lives. I heard all this growling and yelling and metal banging on metal, so I flew over and had a look.”
The pixie gestured at the bodies of the defeated mechanimals. “I saw these poor creatures, and a bunch of others, all around Torinahl’s house. Then they saw me. And then, shortly after that, you heard me, for which I’m grateful. I–”
“You’re welcome,” said Wizgille. “But it sounds like this Torinahl person might also be in trouble. If you tell us where his house is–”
Natyli raised her hand. “Hang on. She’s not finished yet. This gets worse.”
“Yeah,” said the pixie. “The animals were in Torinahl’s yard, but they weren’t attacking his house. From what I saw, I think… I think they belong to him.”
The pixie’s last words hung over the forest like a pall as metaphorical gears turned quickly in Wizgille’s mind. The mechawolves and the other artificed animals had, so far, attacked everything they had seen. Her Autocompass showed that the control signal for the animals was being broadcast from very nearby. If the animals weren’t attacking Torinahl, there was only one logical explanation. He was the one controlling them.
“Wizgille?” said Wrench, his voice subdued.
Wizgille tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. She coughed instead. Then she knelt down beside the mushroom and looked the pixie in the eye, causing her to fold up her wings protectively.
“This house,” she said, crouching down to look the pixie in the eyes. “Is it near here?”
“Yes,” said the pixie, in a tinier voice than usual. “But… those animals… they chased me! They tried to eat me!”
“We’ll protect you, we promise,” said Wizgille. “And we also promise that if you show us where Torinahl lives, we’ll show you how we kick in doors and loot rooms.”
Battle for Greyport: Chaos in Copperforge is live on Kickstarter, so back now!