When last we left our hero he was about to have dinner with Dr Gnome.
Silence greeted them as the door opened onto a spacious room. The gnome woman gestured for them to enter then stepped out of the way. A small click sounded as she closed the door behind them.
Two large trolls stood on opposite sides of the doorway. They appeared not to notice the elves as they walked onto the plush carpet leading deeper into the room.
“Please come in, Mister Pond,” a high gnomish voice said.
Alchemy glanced through the room’s opulence and spotted a short man standing near the head of a long table. In the soft light that permeated the room from unseen sources, the man’s bald head had a light green cast to it. Large metal shells protruded from the side of the pale green cranium where his ears should have been.
“Doctor Gnome, I presume,” said Alchemy, starting toward the man.
A high gnomish laugh answered him. “Ah, but I am the only gnome in the room, Mister Pond. At this point who else could I be? But please, if you and Miss Leek would kindly have a seat, we can begin dinner. It has been a very busy day and I, for one, happen to be hungry.” He hopped up on the well padded chair at the head of the table.
Alchemy still holding Dolce’s hand, led her to the places waiting for them near the gnome. As they drew nearer to the doctor, the wizard noticed that the gnome’s hands weren’t exactly normal, where most gnomes had small rounded hands, more like an elf or human’s, Dr. Gnome’s were slightly elongated, more like a goblin’s. His nose was also more pointed than bulbous.
Carefully positioning himself between their host and Dolce, Alchemy pulled out her chair. She smiled weakly at him. He tried to look reassuring as he patted her hand before releasing it.
“Mister Pond, do you enjoy working with the Fragrance Guild?” Gnome asked as Alchemy settled into his own chair.
“You don’t beat around the bush do you, Doctor Gnome?” Alchemy responded.
“I’m a very busy man, Mister Pond, and I like to get to the meat of my problems as quickly as possible,” their host replied as several goblins approached the table carrying food-laden trays.
“I’ve done worse jobs,” the elf smiled as one of the goblins dished out a portion of steaming red meat onto the silver plate before him.
“Like when you apprenticed for the old coot Shamus the Magnificent?” Doctor Gnome asked, ignoring the goblins that placed food on his plate.
“Your information is very good,” Alchemy replied.
“I have my network of people. Fortunately you elves aren’t very good about keeping things quiet in your kingdom. So how is it that a person such as yourself that took so very long to complete his apprenticeship came to the attention of the Fragrance Guild and became one of their field operatives?”
Now that the plates and goblets were filled, the serving goblins placed the trays on the table and vanished. Alchemy reached for his wine goblet and took a sip before answering.
“I happen to be better than most people assume,” he smiled.
Doctor Gnome raised his glass at the elf. “That’s what I presumed with the reports I’ve been hearing about your exploits. From what my observers have relayed, you are an incredibly talented wizard with a quick head on his shoulders. I could use a man like you in my organization.”
“But I thought gnomes despised magic?” Alchemy asked as his knife slipped into the tender meat before him.
“Oh we do, Mister Pond, don’t get me wrong,” Gnome assured him. “But I didn’t build the empire I have being short sighted or narrow minded. I know that even though its future is limited, magic in our world has its uses. That usefulness is why I’m trying to disrupt the human’s firebird hatch. Did you know that those creatures actually have a hive-mind intelligence? The humans don’t like to let that out. It’s what makes them so important in long distance communications. The mother of the brood maintains a mental link with her offspring. Keep the mother close by and she can communicate with her children all over the planet. It’s so much faster than sending messages by courier.”
Alchemy didn’t respond. He and most of the rest of the world thought the birds would be used to carry messages back and forth since they fly faster than any other creatures in sky. There were no firebird nests outside human lands, so most of the other races didn’t know what the birds were capable of. If they communicated mentally, it would mean the humans had their own equivalent of the mirror network the elves and some of the other magical races had. He covered his silence by chewing on the tender meat longer than necessary.
Doctor Gnome chuckled “By your silence, I presume you didn’t know that. Of course I’ve been working on long distance communications for the races that don’t have magic. Since we can’t use the mirror network like the rest of you, we have to come up with something, or be dependent on other races to keep in touch.”
“But why not let the humans have their advance?” Dolce asked after taking a big bite of potatoes.
“Because, we can’t allow them to go on,” their host’s voice rose a couple of octaves. “Already they are becoming one of the most populace races. They have no concern for anything but their own expansion.”
Alchemy nodded. “That’s right, aren’t they threatening to push into some of the disputed lands between the gnomes and the ursas? Something about bringing peace to the area?”
“Peace? Peace?” Gnome shrieked as he slammed his fork down on the table. “What do the humans know of Peace? They will move into that land which is rightfully gnome land and within a generation they will engulf both the gnomes and the ursas. If we stop their firebirds from hatching, they will have no long distance communications without using riders and carrier birds. It will make their expansion harder.”
“So you want to protect the gnome lands?” Alchemy asked. “Then while not file a grievance with the People’s Forum?” Alchemy knew how useless the People’s Forum was in issues between the different races. But it was normally the route that most races used when they had issues with the others. The forum consisted of three members of each race, and each member had a vote, with an odd number of delegates, it was impossible for a tie, unless someone abstained from voting.
“Everyone knows the amount of influence the Fragrance Guild has in the forum,” the gnome sneered. “There’s no way they would back the gnomes. They see science and invention as abominations. No, it is far easier to move within the shadows and work out the issues there. I should know. I’ve moved in the shadows for years. I’d still be there, but one of my operatives in the human capital got caught, alerting the humans and the Guild. Now I find I must face the light for the first time in my life. But there is little the Guild or any of their allies can do to stop me.”
“What do you mean?” Alchemy asked taking another sip of his wine. “If the human’s are aware of your plan to interfere with their hatch, they are doing everything they can to make sure this clutch is safe.”
“Ah, but once I learned about the impending deployment of the firebird network, I did some research on them,” Doctor Gnome said, taking another bite of his steak. “Did you know that a mother firebird will destroy her hatchlings if she feels threatened by a dragon?”
“But we killed your dragon,” the elf replied.
“You killed one of my dragons,” Gnome said. “I’ve lived my life always having a backup plan. What you killed was a young female I’d been grooming for this, but I still have others. Before the sun rises tomorrow, my goblin and troll troops will mount their dragons and we will fly toward the secret nesting spot of the firebirds. The humans don’t have the firepower to stop a flight of dragons coming down on them. And even if they manage to take out one or two of the dragons, there will be at least one that makes it through their defenses. The mother bird will be so scared by the dragons she will set fire to her nest, destroying the eggs and any hope the humans have of getting their communications network up and working before I can inform Gnomeland Security that the way is clear for them to invade the human lands.”
“You can’t do that,” Dolce objected. “What about the innocent lives that will be lost.”
“Have you paid attention to how fast those humans breed?” their host asked. “They are the biped equivalent of rabbits, worse, rats. The rest of the races breed slower, age slower, live longer. We are the better races, yet the elves and their allies protect the humans like they are beloved pets or something. We have to put the apes back where they belong.”
“Gnomes are almost as short lived as humans,” Alchemy observed. “There is even some evidence that the two share a common ancestor.” He’d heard many arguments over the years about which race was better, and lifespan always came up in the arguments. A lot of people thought the longer lived races were superior just due to the time they had in the world to accumulate knowledge and power. This thought pattern was particularly prevalent in magic users who did everything they could to extend their live spans.
Gnome sneered. “Trust me there is nothing human about me. Of my gnome father I could not tell you.”
“So you’re not completely gnome?” Dolce asked, a look of distaste crossing her features.
“Please, my dear Miss Leek, don’t pretend to be coy. You knew the minute you laid eyes on me that I wasn’t a full blood gnome. My mother was a goblin servant in my father’s home. I lived in the shadows after my father and his people kicked me out. But his genes gave me the brainpower to become what I am today. Once I destroy the human’s firebirds, the gnomes will welcome my genius back into their fold. I will be one of their guiding forces of intellect.”
“That’s monsterous!” the elf woman said, slamming her fork down on the table. “You’re going to destroy those defenseless firebirds because you want the gnomes to take you back? You’re a monster! No one would ever want you!”
“Dolce, please calm down,” said Alchemy putting a hand on her arm.
Doctor Gnome gestured. “No Miss Leek, you are correct. I am a monster. But sometimes, the monster wins. This time it will be all about the monster winning and there is nothing you or your magical boyfriend’s precious Fragrance Guild can do about it. You see I’ve neutralized Mister Pond here. We’ve eaten Mister Staghorn, and even as we speak, my trolls are closing in on Mister Whitehawk.”
Alchemy stared at his plate in horror and felt Dolce stiffen under his hand as she realized what Doctor Gnome had just said. With his other hand he flung his plate with his partially consumed bear steak on it at the little mad man. Gnome ducked, but the plate still clanged off his left ear. Massive hands grabbed Alchemy by the shoulders as he started to rise.
“Monster!” Dolce screamed.
“We are what we are, Miss Leek,” Gnome said straightening in his chair.
“You realize that I will stop your plan,” Alchemy said through gritted teeth.
“You are welcome to try, Mister Pond, but I assure you, it will be impossible for you to escape the prison my trolls are about to put you and Miss Leek in,” said Doctor Gnome, nonchalantly pushing the scattered food on the table away with a light green hand. “When I have destroyed the firebirds, I will be back for you. I need to arrange for quick transport of your head to the mysterious K before I kill you.” He gestured at the trolls.
Alchemy fell silent, his mind trying to find a way out as his troll captor pulled him the rest of the way out of his chair and moved him out of the room. Dolce’s screams echoed down the stark metal hallway. Alchemy noticed the gnome woman waiting just outside the door.