One of Thousands
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Current Game: Dragon Age II
Runs like Clockwork: Chapter 2
((Author's Note: My previous chapter was only Chapter 1. Sorry!))
Chapter Two: Friends and Enemies
In our fair Gnomish city, carved laterally into this realm’s grandest mountain, there are two ways to get anywhere. One is to walk, using the power of one’s tiny but wide feet. The other one, which I preferred since the distances between one location and another were always long, was by underground tunnels. Since many of us are miners, though not as many as the Dwarves would have in their own subterranean cities, we Gnomes have built special mining carts with seats to take us wherever we need to go if we don’t want to walk (for what would be miles on the surface). Clockworks drive the carts, which run on iron rails, because they have an even better sense of direction than we do! Of course, that’s the way they’ve been programmed by their Designers, but I often think of them as having minds of their own.
That’s another reason why I’m considered an—oddball. Everyone else knows clockworks are just that!
When I got to the PQS-GUR, or the Patrolmen’s Quarter Station of the Gnomish Underground Railway, I discovered a pleasant sight. My best friend, Olivine, was already waiting on one of the stone benches!
“Hail!” I cried. Olivine, smiling, slid over to the left and made room for me on the warmed-up limestone slab. “So,” I began with a rueful giggle, “are you nervous about taking the GKNAT today? I am.”
“I’m really not,” she replied, which was characteristic for her. “I’ve always known what I’m good at, and what I wanted to do. I hope to be selected as an OLEE—an Oil, Lubrication, and Emulsion Engineer.”
I winked at Olivine and then rolled my eyes. “Boring!” She and I then started laughing really hard, making all the other waiting travelers in the PQS-GUR stare. I blushed, but that didn’t dampen my spirits a bit. Olivine knew that I was a very impractical sort of Gnome, even for a girl! I dreamed big, and my dreams didn’t exactly include mixing clockwork oils. However, she knew I joked when I called her aspirations less than exciting. We kidded around a lot, because that’s what Gnomish teenagers do!
I hope that I don’t lose my sense of humor as I get older. It seems to me that most Gnomes over forty (that’s twenty in human years) are so serious about everything. Only people like my Ded seemed to have retained their ability to joke and laugh. I wonder why that is. Oh, well! Aging makes you somber, I guess. That and having children—and—having your wife die in an explosion that never should have happened…
“Hey,” Olivine said, waving a dark hand in front of my face. “The mining cart’s here already. Let’s go!”
She and I stood up from the bench on which we were sitting and filed into line along with the other travelers who were waiting for transportation. Once the rest of them saw that this particular metal cart was labeled HALL OF KNOWLEDGE, however, they turned around and reclaimed their seats inside the station. “Have fun, kids!” an elderly Gnomish lady called out to us. She looked about 150 years old.
Olivine and I smiled at one another as we climbed into the mining cart. If she only knew what today was!
My favorite part of any school day is going to and from the Hall of Knowledge. There are no safety straps across the seats inside the mining cart, and so it’s always a bumpy, whirling, wild ride! My best friend and I held on tight to the rim or sides of the cart as it sped along two twisting iron rails. When I was younger, I used to get sick and dizzy each time, but I don’t anymore. I’ve gotten used to it. You might find it strange that Olivine and I were the only two Gnomes in the cart, besides the clockwork driver. Most of my classmates walk to the Hall of Knowledge, not only because they can, but also because it’s required in their GSAP (Gnomish Student Achievement Plan). With that and their training in GIFT, my fellow students stay in top physical shape throughout their early and adolescent lives. I consider myself lucky that I don’t have to walk—it would be too hard because of my lack of brain and bodily coordination. As for Olivine, she coughs and wheezes uncontrollably if she has to walk too far…
My best friend’s malfo, too. Just like me, although Olivine can hide her limitations better than I can!
As she and I rode to the Hall of Knowledge, we tried to yell over the din of the rattling metal cart:
“ISN’T THIS THE BEST PART OF SCHOOL?” I asked.
“THE OTHER GNOMES DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH FUN THEY’RE MISSING.”
“AGREED!” Olivine gave a wink, and then spluttered as her long black hair caught in her mouth.
“HEY—DO YOU THINK WE’RE GOING TO GET GOOD SCORES ON OUR GKNAT TODAY?”
“UNDOUBTEDLY. NOT ACREE BREWBOILER, HOWEVER—THAT BARTENDER’S HORRIBLE SON.”
I made a face. “UGH! DON’T TALK ABOUT HIM. YOU’LL MAKE ME EVEN MORE NERVOUS!”
In order to understand a Gnome like Acree Brewboiler, you’ll have to understand a bit more about us. Olivine and I are unique among our classmates. Sure, many of us wear glasses—in fact, almost all Gnomes do—and many of us are far from athletic. However, our bodies and minds, which malfunction in very particular, visible ways, have earned us particular scorn and derision from Acree. Olivine is the only one in our class, and perhaps the entire Hall of Knowledge, who has such trouble breathing if she has to walk long distances. Likewise, I’m the only one in our class, and perhaps in the whole Hall, who walks like a defective clockwork and is absolutely terrible at doing the most basic physical things!
Acree Brewboiler notices this, and he makes sure that we notice, too. He calls us malfo all the time, almost as soon as he sees us. I get teased worse than Olivine does. She doesn’t always cough and wheeze, whereas I always walk the way I do and am perpetually clumsy! It’s no use trying to talk to him or “assert myself,” as my Instructors are always advising. Even if I point out that it’s rude and unkind to insult people, Acree doesn’t seem to care. Empathy is a foreign emotion to him, or so I think. Others say that he’s nice to his friends, but in my opinion, so what? Everyone’s nice to their friends. It takes real guts and character to be nice to people you don’t like. Do I try to be nice to Acree? I must admit that I go out of my way to avoid him. When you’re tripped in the hallways, stared at, and made the victim of cruel jokes and supposedly “misplaced” homework, you spend your time just trying to survive at school!
I closed my eyes, hoping and praying that Acree wouldn’t spot either of us as we went to class today.
When I opened them again, I took notice of a long, unlit tunnel up ahead. As our mining cart whizzed by on the left, I thought I saw two eyes flash in the midst of the cavernous dark. My heart skipped a beat. Was it a rat? Clearly not, because rats don’t stand upright, no matter what size they grow to be…
I thought about telling Olivine, asking if she’d seen what I had, but then decided not to. My throat was sore from the yelling I’d already done, and after a few more hairpin turns, the cart finally stopped!
“Arrival,” announced the clockwork gnome driver. “Hall of Knowledge: Destination 0011. Good day.”
Olivine and I gathered up our satchel bags and books, regained our balance, and got out of the cart. Fate awaited us within the eight towering stories of the Hall of Knowledge. Our class was on the top floor.