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Quincunx

Tinytop Toys!

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For those who have been gone from Norrath for awhile, in the expansion "Secrets of Faydwer" released in September '07, the evil gnome necromancer Meldrath launched his secret flying fortress into the sky, coincidentally breaching the Steamfont Mountains and opening unreachable parts of the continent for exploration. It's a very gnomish expansion. Very Minta-ish. Disturbingly Minta-ish. I-wonder-if-the-guys-who-scripted-this-know-me-ish. (I should check that.) When our guild started to conduct raids into Meldrath's Majestic Mansion, I fell into the role of dispensing lore which may or may not have been EQ canon, but which dovetailed quite well with what did exist. . . .

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"--isn't any such tinytop! It was probably a plain old tumbler."

 

"There is too, I saw it when we were all explorin' in the hallways." Minta waved her free arm around to indicate the invisible wall. "Yeahyeah there were two tonkyhonk tinytops upstairs playin' music, an' a towertall tinytop in between them tryin' to put itself on their heads, but behind those was a different dolly, an' it looked a lot like my old tinytop dolly I never got to finish! An' just when I finally learned when Meldrath's gonna be holdin' town meetings, suddenly the door gets jammed?! He knows I want my dolly back!!!"

 

In the brief lull between report and reminiscence, Fenik cast all the grafts onto his spectre, including those most useful and unknown versions, Hearing Graft and XP Graft, and set it to auto-follow Arkaniah. While his consciousness meandered down to Crystallos, his physical body remained beside Minta, nodding every once in awhile as she prattled on.

 

*****

 

At the Stoppit Place for Naughty Little Runaway Gnomies

 

Minta Rose pried out the cardboard backing piece with the outer shell strapped onto it ("TINYTOP - Ak'Anon's favorite children's toy for 515 years!"), the box o' parts, and the special wrenches which always seem to get lost right before you need them. The tools she lay out carefully by type (English, Metric, and Gnomish) upon the wrinkly old sock that used to hold her pocket money, except for the one with a safety-blunted box opener, with which she popped open the box o' parts. Out came the usual shower of cogs, rods, pins, gears, and--"I never saw this kinda gear before!" shrilled Minta, pouncing on a misshapen gear with teeth, channels, and three attachment points. "What's it gonna be. . ." and she looked down at the shell of the clockwork with guaranteed mystery function, ". . .a tinytop I dunno?"

 

Tinytop's empty clockwork sockets stared out from the cardboard backing. Every little gnomie dreamed of getting one of the special toys. Any gnomie not living in the Stoppit place had at least one broken and discarded tumbler or towertall or tipsytoes tinytop shedding gears on the floor, until gnomie mommies got upset about always stepping on parts too small to re-use. Once, Minta had watched another runaway gnomie pick a funny metal comb and bumpy cylinder out of the box o' parts, then put the tonkyhonk heart into a salvaged tumbler, making a tinytop that made music whenever it fell over. That was neato, or it was until he got spanked for stealin' the tonkyhonk tinytop parts and had to give them back. Sure gnomie kids could put together different tinytops, but a really new function was hard to find. What result could that weird, asymmetrical gear produce?

 

Ding Ding Ding Dinner! Ding Ding Ding Dinner! She looked 'round, dropped the gear back into the box, repackaged the whole kit, and shoved it into the most secure place she could think of, then thought of a better one an' pried the box out from under the bed, then a better one than that an' climbed up the light cord again, then a better one than that an' didn't have to wear her nightgown to dinner any more. . .Minta was very late to dinner, but it didn't help; she got back and the box o' parts was gone! . . .

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months later. . .

 

Gnomie children milled around the center tables in a loose circle, mostly ignoring the adults setting up rows of full-size but empty clockwork shells. Minta dipped into the little cluster of runaway gnomies not mixing with the ones with families, sneaked up on a certain boy gnomie, and bonked him over the head!

 

"Ow!" he cried out, rubbing the new lump on his noggin, which set off the echoes of two prior and fading lumps. "Can't you grow up?"

 

"Not until you give me back my tinytop dolly, Illof!" Minta stamped her foot, but he'd already moved his. He glared down with two centimeters' advantage. "You're gonna be a rotten gnomie rogue, I know it!!!"

 

"I took their parts. You lost your entire tinytop," he pointed out, his voice getting ever more reasonable as a teacher noticed the commotion and rolled up a copy of the Ak'Anon Report.

 

"I DID NOT!!!--"

 

A few seconds later, Minta had a bruise on her backside to match the one on his head. Another teacher wound up the progressive bell and let it chime until it rang with such volume not even the gnomie children could be heard over it, and thus quieted down. All the teachers on the west side of the room ducked, the bell was disengaged, the clapper broke loose and, pinwheeling end-over-end above the ducked trio, quenched itself in the waters of Ak'Anon. Tobon Starpyre was the first to stand and wring out the water from his robe.

 

"Attention gnomelings!" he shouted, and clapped his hands together twice. "This is not, repeat NOT, a chance for you to experiment freely with tinkering! That is prohibited until you are sixteen levels old! We'd like to see a few of you survive long enough to reproduce! So don't go on trying it, you hear me?" Which they didn't, busy as they were muttering "ewwwwww" and "cooties" and "but I got a great idea for a clockwork--"

 

CLANG!

 

Every little gnomie jumped; Juline Urncaller tapped out the dent in the empty clockwork shell and put the mallet back in the toolbox. "These are not kits like your tinytops. These are gnomework carapaces. Each one has different attachment points, struts, and cable clips." She leaned into the nearest carapace, pointing out each feature as little gnomies swarmed around to peer inside, and continued, "We do not expect you to be able to assemble more than one of them."

 

The third splashed gnomie now lifted a small bucket in either hand, her sleeves dripping trails on the floor as she displayed those buckets to the gnomie children. "We will ring the bell every hour. If you haven't finished assembling your gnomework by the time the bell rings, raise your hand and one of us will fetch you a new carapace and bucket o' parts. Remember, NO SHARING PARTS." Nonnie Texaker tried to wag her finger, but just rattled one bucket a bit. "Now come and get your buckets!"

 

The gnomie children surged forward, but Nonnie didn't get tipped over by the rush--her clockwork footgear bolted into a special plate on the examination room floor.

 

*****

 

Illof's second bucket was more successful than his first. Instead of a condenser apparatus which he couldn't find the space to fit and a gemstone grinder which ground any inserted gem to powder instead of to a luster, this bucket held dampers which he installed in the clockwork's knees and deflective reflectors which he attached to the outside. Minta set down a spring-loaded snapping arm and leaned over to see.

 

"Why're the deflectors stickin' out like that on its head?" she wondered.

 

"Watch," he smiled. He stuck his hand inside the clockwork head, wiggling his fingers in the eye sockets; Minta could see his wiggling even though she was still standing beside him at her own carapace.

 

"A widened field of vision. . .neato!"

 

"That will help it watch out for people sneaking up on it. The dampers will make sure his feet don't squeak."

 

"Why aren't they in the feet then?" wondered Minta.

 

"If they're up here, if the clockwork is not sneaking, they'll help with the balance. I bet I could put it on a ship in a storm and it wouldn't tip over." Illof looked pensive for a moment. "This bucket was supposed to make a sneaky clockwork, but it's still going to whirr and click. I think it's better this way, to look out for people sneaking up on it."

 

Minta nodnodnodded and looked back at the snapping arm. It was meant to be installed on the secondary arm. Rivet a shield onto the end of it and the force of absorbed blows would bend it backwards, tensing the spring and eventually bashing the attacker. But the prospect of melee was so boring, and the bucket before that had been even sillier. It had been a necromancer's bucket, but Minta had glanced at it and known all she needed to know. Whoever created the necromancer buckets wasn't very smart, or efficient. She could've put in five improvements on that design and it still wouldn't have had equal power to Illof's rogue gnomework or to her bucket of warrior parts. Somethin' weird was going on. . .

 

Ding Ding Ding Decision! Ding Ding Ding Decision! Minta put up her hand for another new carapace and bucket as Welno Tanboots began to quiz Illof about his modifications to the gnomework.

 

*****

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thirteen hours later. . .

 

Ding Ding Ding Decision!

 

Juline woke up, leaped upright, and clonked her noggin on the curving-falling stack of empty buckets o' parts. Only she and a robed gnomie who hadn't arrived until the sixth hour were still watching over Minta. "Bucket," snapped Eonis Mournunder, shoving another one down the table.

 

Minta peered over the rim, then heaved a sigh, "Why have the necromancers' clockworks gotta suck? I wanna raise a zombie ARMY but not if I gotta have terrible clockworks!"

 

"Now Minta," yawned Juline, "necromancy is a very naughty discipline. Not at all suitable for young. . .yawn. . .gnomes. . .Much better to be an enchanter. You could make this hard desktop feel as soft as a pillow. . ." She didn't remain awake long enough to cast the illusion.

 

Eonis, on the other hand, was quite awake and glaring sideways at the gnomeling. "You've gone through thirteen buckets, Minta. How many were necromancy kits?"

 

"Three; the first one an' the tenth one an' this one. This one an' the first one had mana collectors an' life siphons with little holes drilled in them to let most of the life leak out. The middle one had a tri-headed gear mesh for bone chippin' which woulda taken a huge chunk of bone in order to make bone chips instead of bone dust. Somethin's wrong with them."

 

"Curse those Eldritch Collective!" muttered the teacher. "They swore up and down the girders of Ak'Anon's palace! Did they think we had an infinite supply of our own parts? I asked for no favors!" He swung himself up onto the table and stared down into the bucket also, knelt and sorted cogs and tubing. "Well! You. Minta. Were there any other gnomes in your year who noticed this?"

 

"Umm. . ." Minta thought 'bout it. "Nope. I told one of them 'bout it but he didn't care. He didn't know how to put together the mage clockwork so I don't think he woulda been a neato necro anyway."

 

"You know."

 

"'Course I knew!" Minta rolled her eyes at the impossible denseness of boy gnomies.

 

"You're about to know a lot more. Juline! Wake up. I'm taking this one!"

 

Juline blinked awake, looked over at Minta's last incomplete clockwork carapace, then smoothed her hair back to severity. "No, she hasn't completed her clockworks, and she isn't on the list of tinytop innovators. In fact, I don't believe she even completed tinytop assembly. She needs to be held back for another year."

 

Minta goggled, but Eonis cut in. "Absolutely not! Girl's a natural. Maybe you remember the last gifted gnome that you tried to force through tutelage in the Libraria?"

 

Juline's eyes lost their sleepy look.

 

"Yes, that gifted. I don't want her to be self-taught. Understand?" Eonis grabbed Minta's wrist and marched her out of the examination room. Down the unplated by-ways of Ak'Anon they marched, Minta staring at the extra slime and rust on the girders in this section of town. The Stoppit Place was starting to look very nice in comparison. Eonis halted at the top of a bank crumbling down into the water.

 

"Minta. Listen. Tell no one. Evah will find out anyway, but tell no one. Some months ago, one of our Dark Reflection renounced King Ak'Anon and fled. He had to bring a bribe. Stop Meldrath from feeding him to the minotaurs. He stole all of the Dark Reflection's parts for indoctrinating young gnomes. Also a unique gear. Channeled sides, three attachment points, asymmetrical, function unknown. Sound familiar?"

 

When Minta opened her mouth to shriek, Eonis clamped a pile of musty old cloth against her mouth.

 

"I said tell no one. Especially not at top volume. Do I need to bring you into the Mines with a mouth full of mummy wrappings?"

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Evah found out anyway, and fumed throughout the Mines of Malfunction, squashing unoffending rats. Minta took the hint. No talkin' about the Meldrath part. Still, that meant she could ask about her tinytop dolly, and she did. Out in the sunshine of Steamfont, weird too-tall not-quite-gnomies hadn't even heard of tinytops. Across the Ocean of Tears, a lost gnomie called Timmit tried to make a copy of the gear from Minta's memories, but it wouldn't work in his tipsytoes tinytop, or his cousin Ashrot's twirlabout. Pharren gnomie grew up too fast to even care very much about tinytop dollies. Bastler the Starfleet gnomie lectured her on a parallel plane of discordant existence, discussing the history of tinker propulsion and Starpyre's theories of space-time tick-tock-ulum, and concluding that her missing tinytop's gear was not a motive gear. Guky gnomie gave her a brand-new tinytop dolly, but that one turned out to be a trumpeter. Supermann and Kecks even let Minta peek inside their very rare, twinso'tin tinytops, but they didn't have any familiar parts. Never a word about Meldrath the Meanie. Not a hint what that unique gear could have done. Still, when the Steamfont Mountains trembled and a chunk of them shuddered free, and flew into the sky bearing Meldrath and his stinky minotaurs, Minta figured that Evah was gonna be more angry with him than she ever could be with herself.

 

*****

 

". . .Idiots. I'm surrounded by fleshy idiots," Geartop wheezed. Raiders poured in through the unlocked doors, some of them tying on bibs as they ran after the assistant, others peeling away from the fleeing gnomie and surrounding the pot-bellied clockwork!

 

"That's the one, he's gonna spit out my tinytop!" Minta squealed, shoving and elbowing her way to the front of the raid, ducking a swat from this weapon or that. "Am here tinytop, it's safe to come out nownow, cut that out 'chanters, come back tinytop!" Geartop unlatched his stomach hatch and disgorged a tinytop trio. Instead of performing some funny trick, they all whirred thin soprano notes and converged on the nearest plate-wearer, working their limbs like can openers as the tips began to glow red-hot. Minta froze mid-caper. "They're--they're not good tinytops! They're torturers!" On cue, the hapless shadowknight yelped as one torturer tinytop got through. Minta looked down at her neato new multitool an' scowled, "Gonna salvage them for scrap."

 

Tiny springs flew, tiny 'sproing's repeated. Tankthrasher tinytops which mimicked Geartop's every punch and spin. Tynodyne tinytops funneling their electrical power through their little limbs like the wizzy clockwork carapaces. Tearapart tinytops which ganged up on Fenik gnomie an' tried to spin his arms in opposite directions. Cruel, evil tinytops kept bursting from Geartop's guts, nothing like the innocuous dolly in every home in Ak'Anon.

 

"They're not right at all!" Minta wailed in Ruikahrn's general direction. Fenik had run off by that point, decommissioning the full-size gnomieworks mobilizing one by one.

 

"What aren't and start helping us with Patch," he replied, powering up the iksar version of a mana-slurping crazy straw.

 

Minta, instead of turning away from Geartop and his terrible tinytops, just poked her epic over her shoulder and waggled it a bit; vivid red blood dripped off of the six tines, coalesced into a shining skeleton, and charged at the patch thing. Ruikahrn's instruments of mana dissection arced in the same direction, and just as quickly rebounded at the necromancers. "The tinytops aren't!" Minta squealed as she pole-vaulted over the deflected implements.

 

"Soon I will be all grown up!"

 

Ruikahrn ducked under the reflected spell and spared a glimpse away from his fight. "What tinytops?"

 

"Whatcha mean what tinytops ooooooooooo NEATO!!!!!!" Minta tossed her epic back into storage, grabbed the extend-o-pliers, and squinted through the eyepiece with inscribed gnomish scale. "They are, they really are! There's somethin' growin' them an' it's not an Anizok's device! There's no room for a mana battery inside a tinytop when it's still tiny! That's amazin'! That's neato!"

 

"That's irrelevant, we're STILL FIGHTING!" Ruikahrn waggled tail and unoccupied hand in tandem, and several dead raiders lurched to their feet, falling forward and converging on Patch. The rest of the raid struggled to subdue the other figures: Fenik at the head of the gnomiework disassembly group, Ruikahrn flinging an endless supply of inventive melee pets at Patch the engineer, and the Seneschal in his punk steamwork, which glowed from an innovative but dangerous innovation linking the heat dumps with external armor--an assignment meant for Minta, but she never noticed. She was sending spectre around the edges of the stage with a broom and backing up in front of him with a dustpan in hand, salvaging every scrap of Geartop and tinytop she could find.

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Epilogue. . .

 

Druid spires can only dissolve and reform the body; it's each soul which controls how fast its body becomes its home. So it was the magician, with many levels of practice in coalescing mana, who was able to mount his pale pony and ride towards Ak'Anon first, and then the dark elf pair conjuring black steeds before racing towards the Steamfont Moun--Steamfont Pit That Used to Be Part of the Minotaur Cave Complex. Minta, her mind on other matters, came through only slowly, and stretched the mana-shepherding ability of Portingya to the limit--he almost lost his grip on the world before coalescing within the circle.

 

When his eyes started to see the physical world again, he found Minta, and only Minta, watching him with a worried look. "Where is everyone? Don't they want to see this?" he asked.

 

"Star's not interested much an' Fasren had to go inform on me," Minta told him, pointing one hand towards each destination.

 

"OK," Portingya replied, and unpacked a picnic cloth from a misty thicket picnic, laying it out upon the hill, before catching the implication. "--He's going to tell on you?!"

 

"Is gnomie law," Minta explained, without any anger. "No Meldrath clockworks get to be taken into Ak'Anon, ever. Someone's afraid he'll send in a device to make them all revolt or somethin'. Plus I think Fasren's gonna get a finder's fee from the Libraria Mechanomagica for information. But I got the clockwork!" Minta laid out the wrenches, English, metric, and gnomish, along with the trumpeter tinytop, and then, reverently, a mended misshapen gear. She unhinged the crab-cracker attachment on a gnomish army knife, slipped that around the tinytop's torso, paused, sighed.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

". . .Am just missin' a gnomie or two. Astralis woulda wanted to see this. Asma honorary gnomie too. . . .But you did come along. Portingya honorary gnomie." She shook off the gloomy moment, beamed at the halfling, then bent down over her work.

 

CRUNCH. Minta wiggled the extend-o-pliers into the crack and opened tinytop's chest, detached rods, sharpened pinions, separated cogs, slipped the misshapen gear between the cogs, set the styluses into the groove, re-attached rods in the three axes at the three attachment points, shut and fused the chest plate. Portingya got a little fidgety at the keyhole tinkering, unable to see much of what was going on, and instead took a closer look at the trumpet clutched in tinytop's hand. There wasn't any air bag attached to it. It was just a plain, miniature, put it to your lips and toot, trumpet.

 

Minta picked up the tinytop, stepped off of the picnic blanket. "Um, couldya roll that up please? Am not certain what's gonna happen an' I don't wanna char a hole into the middle of it." Once he'd put the blanket away, Minta set tinytop on its feet, let it droop down, gave the key two turns, and let go. Tinytop straightened up, looked from side to side, lifted its trumpet, and played!

 

tootadootatoootaadooootaaaaTOOT!

 

"IT'S A TALLERTYPE TINYTOP!" Minta shouted! "I GOT A TALLERTYPE! NO GNOMIE EVER GOT ONE OF THOSE BEFORE!!!"

 

Portingya cheered as loud as he could! "IT GREW BIGGER!"

 

"THEN IT'S NOT A TINYTOP ANY MORE," came an annoyed shout/mutter from the northwest, just before Silvershadows and Starmender rode beyond the range of hearing. Both gnomie and halfling stopped cold, then took another look at the tinytop. Star was right! It had the delicacy of tinytop construction still, but it was as tall as a full-grown gnomie. Minta raced to its side, drummed her fingers on the tinytop's head and chest. It rattled.

 

"Lookit lookit lookit wait here lookit I gotta see!" Minta turned the extend-o-pliers to the bonking attachment, swung, cracked the new weld, and eased the chest plate away from the rest. While she knelt down and opened up the factory welds along the tinytop's legs, Portingya looked inside the chest cavity. The chest plate was still tinytop-thin, not constructed to the standard of a full-size gnomiework, and the tinytop's gears and rods clung to the back plate like cobwebs. Minta snipped an opening down tinytop's arms down to the elbows, and Portingya watched two thin rods strain to stretch the arm plating even further, guided as they were by the misshapen gear in the heart of the clockwork assembly. He didn't quite get it.

 

"'Scuse me please, is gonna be a close fit," Minta interrupted, poking him with the extend-o-pliers.

 

Portingya moved over a step, and then a step more, and then kept moving until Minta stopped poking. "What are you doing?"

 

"Watch!" Minta stuck her extend-o-pliers in the hand which didn't have a trumpet attached, bounced a few times until she was levitating at the highest possible point, then turned her back to the opened clockwork carapace, and stepped backwards into its legs. The titanium tinytop shell shook as she maneuvered her leg into place, then slowly lifted a foot and wiggled its clockwork toes. "I think it's gonna work!!!!"

 

"WOW!" Portingya got it now, and lifted up each clockwork arm to help Minta get her own arm into it, and tilted back the tinytop head so Minta could fit her neck into place, and lowered the clockwork helm over her head. She turned her extend-o-pliers towards herself, and with greatest care welded the seams shut one more time, then dropped her arm in the weighty clockwork fashion and swiveled her head. "Minta?" he worried. "Can you breathe in there? Say something if you can't. I mean, bang on your chest if you can't! I'll get you out!"

 

"No WAY! Is a trumpeter tinytop, it draws air through its mouth grille same as we do! I could stay in here forever as a GNOMIEWORK!" Minta bounced around the druid circle, babbling the praises of tinkering and gnomiehood. . .tooting her own horn.

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