This story takes place some time shortly after the story; “Somewhere Bitter in the Darkness” where the conversation between the little gnome and her strange and curiously dauntless friend reveal more about certain unexpected and controversial realities about the ‘competent counterpart of the pair’..
There was a strained, sentient silence in the large, ancient, bitter cold cave as one small figure banged and clanked with her numerous tools as she worked on her mechanical monstrosity, while another, a very tall, very dark figure watched her with mute curiosity and somewhat a determined, ‘will pay off’ expression.
The two unlikely pairs continued like this for quite some time until the small figure blew out an exasperated and infuriated hiss, stopped what she was doing, and irritably asked.
“So how did you do it?”
The tall figure smiled.
It seemed her mother had been right; determination, along with a good dose of mute patience, always won in the end..
It’d worked just fine on her father hadn’t it? And he’d been one deuce of a man..
“How did you learn about my classes? Hells bells, girl, how did you learn about my grades? And don’t tell me you charmed the academy staff. Those guys all have anti-student-charm wards.”, the little gnome asked.
“Yea.. Sadly, that’s true. Would have made my job so much easier if they didn’t..”, the tall figure signed.
“How did you do it? You couldn’t have found more than two people who’d want to talk about me or about my classes. And certainly not about my grades. Many of the kids detested me more for my high grades than they did for being a demon summoners’ kin! Seeing as how I was a social leper, I must also be mentally defective.”
“Actually, I beat you in survival class.”, the tall girl said smugly.
“The hell you did! No one beats an artificer in survival class”, in total disbelief.
“I sure did.. Though I didn’t brag about it. Not after seeing you sulk when you saw the grades posted on the students’ notice wall.”
“That was you?”
“Yup, that was me..”
“It was the one time, damit..”
“True.. I didn’t bother to do better after that. You seemed so upset.. sulking like a kitten caught in the rain.. Shattered my heart, it did..”
“I did not sulk!”
“The hunched shoulders, the crossed arms, the scowling red face, and the blistering curses.. Yep, you were sulking. And doing it so cute, I might add. I mean, even then, way before we were paired, I was like, ‘Awww, isn’t she so darn cute, sulking like that. Oww, I just must have her. I could put her into my coin purse and carry her around all day!'”, the tall figure said with a happy smile.
The little gnome scowled but bit back a savage retort..
The smile on the tall figure stayed, but the happiness faded.
“So.. How did you do it?”, she asked again, after a while.
“You don’t want to know..”, said the tall figure with a long, sensual yawn. “I am going back to sleep.. Can’t keep my eyes open any longer.”
“How did you do it?”, persisted the gnome, but the tall figure had left the scene.
The sound of soft, naked feet grew quieter and finally dissipated all together.
“TELL ME, DAMIT!“, hissed the gnome with burning frustration.
From the other side of the cave, a very faint rustling sound was heard.
Only after a long, infuriating pause, did a sleepy, voluptuous voice say, “I burglarized the academy staff offices!”
The little gnome just stared at the darkness and at the girl lost in it.
Unknowingly, she dropped her hammer.
“You.. You broke into the academy staff offices? Just to get to my grades?”
“Well..”, the sleepy voice said, “I wanted to get to know you, and your interests, and how competent you were at them. We had, after all, just been paired, so yes, I broke into the academy staff offices. And what I found wasn’t limited to your grades. I read every single remark, note, warning, possible disciplinary action, and everything anyone had to say about you. You wouldn’t believe how many complaints were filed against you out of petty spite! I also found all your research papers and read them as well.. I must say, your studies on steam-propelled engines was quite inspiring and I strongly suspect your professor plans on stealing it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’s published a paper on your steam thing with his own name on it by now..
Altogether, it was a very long read. Much, much longer than mine. What they had to say about me was quite colorful, but they were all basically the repetition of the first. They only got wilder and wilder towards the end. I honestly felt flattered at how talented my mentor thought I was in my persuasion classes. That old stick had left a rather long explanatory note for the dean, trying to explain himself, why he had me repeat my finals seven times —alone with him— just to make sure I wasn’t cheating..
I did admire the old fool’s passion for pink, though. It rivaled my own! I am sure he wanted to see more, but his heart finally gave in..”
A sensual, throaty and somewhat cruel laughter echoed in the darkness..
“I ended up giving him CPR and he ended up trying to explain himself to the dean..
Your file, on the other hand, was thicker than my thigh, which isn’t saying much, I know, but it was all written in this small, clandestine-like print. It took me the better part of the night to get to the end.
Some of the notes and cautionary warnings I read came from some very high people and very far places like Arashkan, Bari Na-ammen, and Durkhahan! Did you know they had a permanent ‘Watchful Eye’ spell cast on you during your whole tenancy at the academy? That sort of pissed me off because I knew for a fact that it is a highly dangerous and very much an illegal spell, not to mention, extremely expensive to maintain, totally pointless and cruel to place on a young student.
What truly struck me came at the very end, though; that none of it had changed anything I felt or thought about you. I got out feeling exactly the same as I got in. Just more excited and determined..
When they first paired us, I thought I had gotten me a cute, somewhat dorky but smart, and a highly organized little overachiever. Would you like to know the only thing that changed after I read all those ill things about you?”
“What?”, the little gnome’s voice fizzled, feeling totally crushed by now.
“Nothing..”, came the sultry voice softly from the darkness, stifling another yawn.
“It did, however, change my perspective of those paranoid fools at the academy though because I had, in fact, gotten me a girl, still very cute, still dorky, but with a very sharp, singularly unique and sensitive mind and no one was going to hurt her ever again!
With you, I thought of all the impossible things we could accomplish together. And all the crazy fun trouble we could get in and out of.
✱ ✱ ✱
I could almost imagine myself..”, the voice said with a tingling, yearning, happy little chuckle, “..with you tucked under one arm, running in terror with my pinks on fire while you screamed, ‘RUN, GIRL.. FASTER! FASTER!..‘ as some massive explosion bloomed behind us.. Ahhh, it was such a beautiful, exhilarating, and vivid dream. All the more so, because we would have just witnessed the total and catastrophic failure of yet another plan we had concocted together.. But every once in awhile, we’d succeed too. We’d have this silly, smug expression on our faces as we sat in some out of the way inn with large, filthy mugs in our hands because we’d just found out that we’d been banned from yet, another town! All because I thought you would be my sturdy, unwavering, and unbending pair.. That you would be the light in my shed..
I knew, of course, that this would never happen. You were just too sensible, too smart for total, catastrophic failures. It’d be a lot more boring in real life but that didn’t really matter either because, at the end of the day, I’d still get to have my pair to joke about it..”, the voice sighed.
“As for my burglarizing, it never came up, so I never mentioned it. But I was also the best in my stealth class as well. At least in camo and night stalking and I could squeeze through any given crack as long as my head would fit in it. I could also stand still and go unnoticed for hours, if you can believe that, because I’ve always had a very good inner metronome, I’ve always been very patient, inhumanly so —which is to be expected— and I never fidgeted. Probably the end result of a combination of listening to too much beat music, my mother and never feeling ashamed of who or what I am, nor the things I did, no matter how silly or foolish they were, because once I did it, I’d own it.. I couldn’t say the same when it came to the actual creeping and sneaking, though. On that score, I am afraid, I was a bit of a clutz. I mean, I am so tall and somethings just can’t be helped..
I still had to do quite a bit of crawling and slithering to get in through the ventilation shafts leading in and out of the academy staff offices and nearly got stuck and suffocated. I spent two days in those shafts, stranded and unable to move, waiting to lose just enough weight untangle myself, and get through. I probably couldn’t do it at all now, even if I fasted for a week. I was so skinny when we were at the academy. I am a lot taller and have much more flesh on me now, then I did back then.”
“THE TWO DAYS YOU WENT MISSING AT THE ACADEMY! A WEEK TO GRADUATION!“, gasped the little gnome in sudden awakening.
“I.. I thought you’d run off to avoid pairing with me..”
My dear girl, if I hadn’t wanted you, I would have used my ‘right to refuse’ at the pairing and gone solo.. Besides, we’d already been paired. Once paired, always paired. It’s not a matter of mere honor and integrity. Pairing is also a magical binding. That is why pairs function so much better than solo graduates.
No, girl, quite the contrary. Nothing ever excited me more than having been paired to you..
By the time I came down the shafts, I looked more like a ghoul than myself.. Then came the issue of the wards.. Turns out most of them rely on light sensories. I just breezed right past them and none was the wiser. They barely gave me a suspicious buzz, then totally shrugged me off. Though, all things considered, that shouldn’t really be a surprise for you. I mean, just look at me!”
“I did not know..”, said the little gnome, drowned in the things she had just learned.
“Well, you never took that class so you couldn’t have known that I did.”
“I didn’t take that class because I had a ban on stealth, practical magic and sorcery, deception, and medicine.. They really didn’t want me taking arcana either, but you can’t be an artificer without arcana, so they gave in, provided I take history as a mandatory prerequisite for it, just in case I missed the reasons why I’d been banned from all the other classes!
After what my uncle did, all Arcantons were..”, the gnome said bitterly. “..but that’s not what I meant.”
“I know..”, came the voluptuous voice softly.
“Then, why? Why do it at all? Why take such a risk? You would have been banned and excommunicated from the academy if you’d been caught. Your name would have been black-marked and black-listed! Hells bells, girl, you could have died and no one would have even found your body until the start of the new scholar year!..”
There was a moment of silence as if the voice in the darkness was considering whether to tell or not.
When she finally spoke, there was a wretched and desolate pain in her voice.
“Because I detest small talk. I have always found it to be demeaning, prosaic, and artificial. I wanted to skip all the silly ‘weather’ talk and get to the real, honest part of our conversations. Not like we’d just met, but like two people carrying out a heated discussion they’d started days before.. I wanted an honest relationship where neither you nor I had to tiptoe around each other because we were strangers. I wanted us to start without the delays and the setbacks of the shallow, superficial stuff..
..and because no one is ever honest around me. People just look at me and suddenly start lying about the most immaterial things about themselves, just to get to impress me and by doing so, they unwittingly cast me as the pretty, stupid girl and miss the ironic significance in that; when you lie about the insignificant, you are unable, to be honest about the significant! They fail to grasp one of the most basic and fundamental truths in life; that which is insignificant for you might be dearly significant for me..
For all that’s good and not, I’d even prepared a like dossier for you, with all the classes I’d taken, my grades, my favorite professors, to whom I had a secret crush, a covering selection of my likes and dislikes, and things that I felt to be particularly dear to me..
I put anything and everything that I could possibly think of into that dossier.. Everything you would have found out about me in the course of a long and honest friendship; my past, which I thought to be rather boring compared to my sojourn at the academy, the things I admired about you, including the first time I saw you and my preferred shades of pink, all color-coded. I’d even added a FAQ section and indexed the whole thing for easy access.. Just so we’d start on an equal footing. Still got the silly thing here somewhere, though I could see no point for it now..
A shame really. After two years of trying, I have nothing to show for it.. I guess no matter how hard you try, apparently somethings you never get to have.”, said the voice with a sigh.
“You know what truly depresses me? This insignificant seeming little banter that we just had, has been the only honest and significant conversation that we ever shared. Many pairs get to babysit each others’ kids after two years from graduation and here I am, actually happy for a mild banter.. Isn’t that just sad, Arcantonic?
In the end, I did have you. Just never got you.. I suppose I am never going to be putting you in my coin purse and carrying you around to my heart’s content..”
..the voice slurred in the darkness and finally drifted into sleep.
✱ ✱ ✱
No, I guess not..”, the little gnome silently agreed.
“I.. I don’t know what to say.. I really don’t. The things you have done.. and for what? To get to know some social reject? A nobody, if not for my degenerate uncle! I am.. funked!”, she said in quite bewilderment, but should she ever be asked, the word she would honestly have preferred would have been; Awe!
It was all just too much to compute, let alone, digest.
Arcantonic felt disoriented.
From a point-blank perspective, all her pair had done was to break into some offices to take a peek at her grades out of sheer, stupid curiosity. But then, whenever she’d looked at her pair from that same point-blank perspective, all she’d seen was.. pink!
This time she knew, she just knew, she could not explain away the actions, nor the reasons of her pair with her usual, unmuted sarcasm..
Hells bells, the girl had spent two days, stuck in some draft pipes, unable to move and gasping for breaths, in hopes of losing enough weight to get through.. Just to get to know, to understand, and to relate to an ‘undesirable’ girl she’d barely known!
“I am not sure about the total, catastrophic failures,” said the little gnome finally, with the same subdued voice, “..but I think I can help with the big, blooming explosions. Provided, you run faster!”
“And..”, she said, “..that’ll be ‘Tonic’ for you, girl.”
The little gnome felt something shift inside her.
A point in perspective, perhaps?
Whatever it was, it would come to her in due time. But she had this pinching feeling that it seemed like it was high time she got off her high horses and stepped up to her end of the pair.
To that end, she turned and hastily gathered all her tools; her hammer, her wrench, her drivers, pliers, nippers and cutters, the numerous gadgets, spare bolts, and coiled wires and put them to their proper places inside her large, portable toolbox. She sat down and took off her clobbering boots, ignoring the freezing cold biting at the soles of her naked feet as she opened the little hood of the lantern and pinched the life out of the candle in it. Cast in darkness, she skimmed the elegantly made lantern with her slim fingers until she found what she was looking for; a well-concealed runic button hidden at its base. She lightly tapped the button, setting it to MODE B…
..on the other side of the ancient, bitter cold cave, where the curvy form of a very tall, pitch-black figure —her pair— slumbered..
She might not be much of a sneak, nor have many of the quirky talents her pair did, but she was an artificer and that meant compensating what they lacked by way of substituting them with pure ingenuity and dedicated craftsmanship..
There was still time, and she was going to make things right with the only person who had bothered to get to know her, damit!
She reached up and twirled a small knob on her goggles, turning the black darkness into shades of blue and gray as everything became oddly distinct for her..
Arcantonic Palecog quietly faded in the darkness to do some burglarizing of her own; it was going to be a long night and hopefully, an even longer, FAQed and color-coded, read..