In Case of Emergency26 Jul 2020
With the purchase of the new bulding finalised, Coral was ready. Ready to claim as much space as they could to fill with workshops and apprentices. They were keen to prove to the Wizards’ College that they weren’t an anomaly, but more than that just wanted to help people learn all of the little tricks without being stifled by learning the right way first. Most of all though, they were thrilled to have somewhere that they could work on that project in secret, and in peace.
People in town were getting used to having the Tinker Wizard and their toys around. The constant presence of Contra was also having an interesting effect - when Coral had intially animated their clockwork microdragon to act as a familiar, nobody expected to become so attached to the crazy little “heplful” critter. Whenever the Serpent’s Well weren’t out adventuring, Contra could usually be seen flittering about the town with a crowd of children, playing catch and tag and games that they all invented on the spot. Even some of the younger teenagers weren’t immune to the creature’s charm. While most joined in with the younger kids’ games a few could frequently be seen watching, usually deep in thought or taking notes and sketches as they watched the cheerful contraption. These were the ones that Coral watched… and occasionally nudged towards the idea of apprenticeship.
The party would normally return from an outing in high spirits, with Contra racing ahead of their ship and attracting the attention of the entire town. None of them had set out to be celebrities, but everyone had come to know this band of adventurers and they were a welcome - if unusual - addition to the town. Then one day, they returned quietly. No high spirits, no Contra. Coral could be seen sitting dejectedly on the deck, cradling a large bag that rattled and clanked with the movement of the ship, muttering to themself about fixing, making better. About ‘hepling’. They left the party and returned to their workshop as soon as they could. The children were disappointed to have lost their playful buddy, but the teenagers were hopeful. One of the more courageous teens slipped away from the young crowd and went to hunt down Coral instead.
The girl found Coral in their workshop. Piles of half-built gadgets and parts of unknown use on the floor at either end of the workbench suggested that they’d been roughly swept off to make room for the remains of Coral’s friend, which they were gently removing from the bag, cleaning and mending each of the broken pieces in turn. The girl watched, unnoticed, for a few minutes before knocking gently and asking in respectful tones, “can I hepl? They were our friend too.”
Coral looked up at her with tear-stained eyes, then smiled a little. “You’re right, they were. They were everyone’s friend. And always wanting to help, even if they couldn’t say the word,” she said grinning at memories of the little creature’s silly ways. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if they loved the idea that crashing out like this helped me find an apprentice… Ruby, isn’t it?” The girl nodded, a little surprised that Coral recognised her, and very surprised at the suggestion of apprenticeship. “Contra and I would love you to hepl. Go let your parents know first though, this could take a while. I’ll tidy up a bit until you get back.” Ruby nodded, then gave the surprised Tinker a sudden hug before heading off. “Bring your notebook with you,” Coral called after her.
When Ruby returned, they found that Coral hadn’t been kidding. The workshop was tidy, all of the pieces of stuff that had been swept off the desk now carefully placed on shelves that hadn’t been there earlier, and the pieces of Contra had all been laid out on the bench. Coral directed Ruby toward the pieces and asked, “I have some ideas, but where do you think we should start?”
A little surprised, Ruby looked at the bits of her construct friend for a moment in confusion before realising that she could see how most of the pieces should fit together… and also which of the pieces were the jokers that Coral had put there to test her. She picked one of these up and threw it at the Tinker, sticking her tongue out in defiance. Coral grinned as they deftly froze the offending part in mid-air with a gesture.
“Well done, that was one of the less obvious ones,” they chuckled. After a moment spent glaring at her would-be mentor, Ruby relaxed and laughed as well. Within minutes, the two of them were deep in discussions about how best to rebuild Contra, bouncing ideas off each other for little ways in which they might improve their friend’s physical form. Shortly they had rebuilt enough of Contra for the silly little construct to be able to participate in their own redesign.
Besides reinforcing how deeply the Serpent’s Well had become embedded in the town’s identity, Contra’s unscheduled disassembly prompted some of Coral’s more radical ideas to coalesce into something nearer to an actual plan. Despite all of their precautions, Coral had been made suddenly aware of just how fragile life is - but also that consciousness transcends that fragility in unusual ways. They declared silently that there would be none of this death business while there were still friends to help, and started looking into ways of preserving that spark of consciousness beyond the destruction of its vessel.
After the rout of the enemy stronghold, the adventurers of the Serpent’s Well returned home without a party member again. This time, it wasn’t Contra.
The party’s strategic insertion into the command centre of the outpost had gone amazingly well; they had taken out the baroness and her command staff in a well executed precision strike while the allied forces had hit the main entrance. The only thing that hadn’t worked out was the speed at which the demoralised enemy soldiers fled through the relative safety of the base’s lower levels, the same evacuation route the party was using. Coral threw a shockwave back down the corridor, knocking an entire squad of enemy troops flat. Picking up a shield one of them had dropped, they yelled to their friends, “I’ll buy you some time. Don’t wait for me, I’ll meet you at home.”
Reluctantly the party withdrew, shepherded by Contra and their calm reassurances that everything was under control. Swiftly they evacuated, meeting no resistance as the sounds of explosions and screams faded into the background. On returing to the ship, the party decided to wait just a little while longer for Coral. Contra looked at them with a glint in their eye and said, “don’t be silly, they said they would meet us back there.” Nobody believed them, so they flapped over to Golly, and whispered into it’s mind what had happened. Golly nodded calmly, and started ordering the crew into action. Despite the protests of the party, the ship was soon underway.
They’d been sailing for barely a minute when Contra faltered mid-flight and crashed awkwardly to the deck. The party rushed to the aid of the little construct. Despite the rough landing, Contra was physically fine although clearly disoriented. The small dragon raised their head and whispered quietly in the party’s minds, “it is done. I am unbound. They are…”, before slumping back to the deck.
Raelia knelt next to Contra and reached out to provide comfort to the construct. Contra heaved themself into the offered hand, then brightened up as the disorientation lifted. Raelia reassured them, “don’t worry, it’ll all work out somehow. We’re all still here with you.”
Contra winked at her, only replying with “yes, I expect it will.”
The adventurers’ ship returned to town once more, the last of the strike force to return. The party were still in low spirits despite their spectacular victory; the loss of their friend was clearly weighing heavily on them all. It seemed a little incongruous to them all that the town they were approacting was apparently in a festive mood, with the sounds of music and laughter floating in the breeze long before they could see the town clearly. As the ship neared the docks, they could make out some figures on the docks watching their arrival. Within moments the figures resolved into Coral’s not-official-yet apprentice Ruby, and someone hiding themself in a long hooded cloak. Contra excitedly leapt into the air and darted off towards the pair, landing happily on the hooded figure’s shoulder with a faint clang.
The ship soon docked and the party disembarked, and they made their way slowly over to Ruby who was watching them with interest. Styrm stepped forward to talk to the girl, steeling herself to tell her the kind of news nobody ever wants to deliver. “I’m sorry Ruby,” she said sadly. “We couldn’t bring Coral back with us.”
Ruby smiled knowingly and replied, “I know. It’s alright though.”
“Yes,” said the hooded figure in a familiar voice. “I told you I’d meet you at home.” Coral pulled back their hood, revealing the familiar face of the Tinker, the sunlight glinting off their strangely metallic skin. “Come on, everyone’s waiting for us.”
The entire party stared in stunned amazement, trying to work out exactly what nonsense Coral had managed to create this time. Styrm recovered first and punched her friend solidly on the upper arm, producing a resounding clang. “Warn us before you try something like this again, you damn fool of a… wizard… tinker… whatever the hell you are now. You’ve got some explaining to do.”
Coral shrugged, her arm hanging strangely. “I know, but first we’ve got to debrief and stuff. And I’ve got to fix this damn arm now… couldn’t you have hit the left one instead? We’d finished building that one!”