Monday, October 18, 2010

The Book and the Banshee

“Cogswaddle, come to me.”

Cam woke with a start. He could tell, from the position of the moon over the ruined chimney, he'd only been asleep a few minutes. It had been nearly ten days since he'd been chased out of Stormwind.

The Lieutenant Detective, despite the excitement caused by Grommet's picnic, had stayed, interviewing every Gnome that flew in or out of Sentinel Hill.

Cam had retreated to the ruins of a farmstead, the same one he'd seen the tottering patchwork bag of bones take refuge in. The mage was gone, and that was for the best. Cam didn't think he could have survived a fight with the Forsaken mage.

He'd seen what he could do. The only reason the militia men survived is that the mage had been trying not to kill the humans. Part of Cam wanted desperately to believe with Grommet that this was their “Uncle” but he knew otherwise. The dead stay dead. What comes back, well, Cam was certain he wouldn't come back to such a ruined shell, so doubted anyone else would either.

Cam decided to hole up there amongst the weeds and debris until the heat was off. He hoped that once the engineer had found that all her tools were back in her warehouse, properly cleaned and calibrated, and that a 'thank you' note with a few silver coins had been left behind, the whole incident would blow over. He checked the mechanical squirrel he'd built for Belnak's birthday, before she'd married that lack-wit dwarf. Too little, too late, pretty much like everything else he'd done lately. Perhaps his cousin Vernier would like it.

Camfollower hadn't slept much. The book, “Flora of Azeroth, both Useful and Pretty” by Professor Castpipe Axle-rod Cogswaddle, his uncle, had consumed his attention. The book was damaged by water, and the mold that attended it. The plates had been painted on a very fine vellum, coated with a clear varnish of Gnomish invention and had thus resisted being infused with the mold. The metal based dyes had faded, or rusted, but the vegetable dyes had retained much of their color. Removing the surface mold had been relatively easy, and Cam had spent the last ten days doing just that. The result was that every plate was in viewable condition. All but a handful of the text pages were readable. Barely. The once bleached light background of its pages were now a riot of water and mold stains in competing greens, grays and brows. What was lost was the front matter, (including the dedication which mentioned Cam and Grommet by name) and most of the index. The time he'd spent as a youth restoring old toys and nick-knacks had proved useful.

At first he'd chosen plates that he and his sister had helped paint. He was tempted to cut them out of the book and leave the moldy remains behind. But something stayed his hand even as his knife was poised over the binding. He sat, remembering his and Grommet's youthful chatter, a private language based on Gnomish Binary, as they applied the pigments where their Uncle had indicated. Two thousand and five hundred total plates they had helped paint, and he remembered they were sick of it before they were even half done.

Cam chuckled out loud, wrens nested in the dilapidated chimney took flight, giving away his position. He was so tired that he didn't even try to slink back into the shadows of the ruins.

That now counted amongst the happiest of his memories. He would give nearly anything to be back in that comfortable work room with its high skylights bringing sunlight all the way from the distant surface. Where the great gears of Gnomeregan turned in the hall below, a rumble more felt than heard, smoothly marking the time and the transfer of energy as they had for generations. He missed the range of Gnomish life, from the regimented schedules of the engineering corps to the random comings and goings of the Outside Gnomes, who were sometimes treated worse even than Toy Makers (Gnomes whose mechanical skills never expanded beyond what they learned in their primary education, doomed to never leave the production lines to never become Engineers or Tinkers, their own creations lackluster and....)

Cam stopped himself. Because of his brain injuries, he would never be anything more than a Toy Maker, the medics and tinkers had decided, and that was that.

Cam remembered his dashing, green-haired, wildly excitable Uncle, a veterinarian (“delisted” surgeon one rumor went), hunter, skinner and herbalist who cataloged and collected the materials that the more “productive” citizens needed for their work. His Uncle was an Outside Gnome, what seemed to embarrass his mother and father secretly made Grommet and Cam giddy with excitement. His uncles' lavishly illustrated field guide was well received -- everywhere but Gnomeregan. It wasn't penned and painted by a Tinker, just an Outside Gnome whose professorship was from a Human college, at that.

Submariners and pilots had stopped to chat with his Uncle, leaving maps and samples of seeds and flowers they'd found in their travels. Dwarfs and an occasional Human called for him, but these he made the trip to the surface to meet, so Grommet and Cam had little knowledge of them, save for one human, Fenton Threadneedle. They had met him one summer and the four of them had made a trip all the way down to the Loch where the twins learned to fish and to swim. (Their parents were appalled. “Only Outside Gnomes swim! You're not to go into the water without a proper diving suit!”) By the time the trip was done, a very short fortnight or so, they had taken to calling the human “Uncle” Fenton.

Grommet thought she was meeting with their adopted uncle. Cam was certain that the undead was no more Fenton than that Death Knight was his mother. The undead brought Grommet the book. A book Cam believed was haunted or cursed, he wasn't familiar enough with magic to say which. The Forsaken had not meant his sister well, of that he was also certain.

Early in the restoration process, Cam sneaked into town, and was surprised to see the Detective Lieutenant still hanging about. He sent a letter to a fortune teller whose address he'd gotten from a fancy flier. While he was in town he borrowed some tools and materials to continue his restoration efforts. He'd risked a second trip into town to pick up her response (and to see if the persistent human officer was still about, he was.) Madam Jinn's reply had been less helpful than he'd hoped.

Lack of sleep caused his mind and body to wander. He walked without thinking, right to flight master of Sentinel Hill.

“You, Gnome, are you from Stormwind in the last few days?” The Lieutenant Detective eyed the apparently drunk Gnome with thinly disguised disgust.

“No, I have to see a lady about this book,” Cam held the over sized field guide up in front of his face.

The detective looked at it a moment and, apparently satisfied that this bookish, slovenly drunk dressed in filthy but still bright yellow and green, couldn't be the sneak thief he was looking for. He let Cam climb aboard the griffin without further question.

Cam wondered where his black leathers had gone, and his knives. Happy memories of that childhood fishing expedition played in his head, overriding any more material concerns. Cam nodded off, only to be awakened as Stormwind's great gate hove into view by an eerie female voice calling “Cogswaddle.”

Instead of shaking himself fully awake, in truth he didn't have the energy for it, he simply kept his eyes closed, savoring the rhythm of the griffin's wings and the cool rush of air through his heavily matted hair. He clutched the field guide tighter under his shirt. It was a good thing the griffin handler had tied Cam into the saddle. In his dream he asked, “What do you want from me?”

“Cogswaddle, come to me.”

Cam nodded, then dozed off.

The griffin, as though confused about its flight instructions, veered sharply away from the landing pattern over Stormwind and beat strongly over the still sleepy city, passing low over the warehouse, site of Camfollower's crime, then along the hilly coast and finally out across the sea.

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