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The Flight of the Mudskipper

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The Flight of the Mudskipper

Post by Ronson on Mon Aug 09, 2010 11:56 am

The Flight of the Mudskipper (part 1)

By the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell --


Though the tight lipped Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz was sometimes difficult to coax a tale from, Twiddy enlightened me many a time with the tales of their shared past. Like many halflings, he has an innate storytelling ability that would shame many a trained bard, or at least he carries on as if he does.
It is clear that the more I get to know my companions, the more I have come to believe they were all in some way fated for this journey. Of them, only I seem out of place, as if I somehow forced the hand of fate to include me.

The sun dropped low in the sky, and as it cast a final spray of light on the tree tops of the Misty Thicket, a chorus of voices rose up from the village of Rivervale. The home of the halflings was dressed in all the colors of Myrthday, and the sunset marked a shift in the festivities. Over the squeals and squeaks of many a successful prank were the songs and cheers of a birthday celebration, and not just any birthday, this day marked the 50th year that Twiddy Bobick had walked, skipped, and jumped his way across Norrath, and the whole of the village came out to celebrate him as he entered his prime. Merrymakers flooded into the party in a parade of costumes and dancing; debutants wore masks and mocked the lads close at their heels, old folk dressed as characters from tales to delight of the infants, and young ones hobbled in atop stilts in their fake beards and oversized tunics, scolding elders in mock ups of their own voices.

Twiddy stood at the helm of his boat and raised a drink high. Below him, the crowd let out another cheer and lifted their own drinks before taking a long swallow of whatever spirit they had filled it with. The scaffolding that held the R.N.S. Mudskipper up high in the center of the vale was surrounded by a mess of tables spilling over with juicy roasts stuffed with cabbage and apple, and salads of wild spring lettuce topped with shavings of roasted nuts, and crispy jum-jum pies with their sugared purple insides. Though the boat might one day hold a mess of passengers, it was in the middle of construction and its deck had just enough room for Twiddy and his most honored guests. Twiddy himself sat on poop deck presiding over everything like a king at his court, and the town elders, as well as Twill and Liddy Bobick, his well aged parents, sat below him on a long table of fresh oak that his father had just put the finishing touches on that day. Everyone beamed with pride and good drink, Twiddy's father more than any other. He spent the whole of the night boasting of his son's fine skills; Twiddy had already proven to be an accomplished carpenter and was bringing them the first of many vessels in their very own halfling navy, so there was much to celebrate.

Our young shipwright drank as much as any, swallowing cup after cup of honeyed dandelion mead, and as the night wore on, and he listened to his praises sung again and again, Twiddy grew bold. Finally, as the ship was praised for what must have been the many dozenth of times, this particular time by the venerable Rothbur Tagglefoot, Twiddy interjected:
"Aye, a good ship she is, she'll certainly give the birds something to talk about!"
The party atop the ship all laughed. Rothbur Tagglefoot tipped his head to Twiddy, exhaled two long strings of smoke from either side of his mouth, and said, "Yes, the birds, and the fish too, I'm sure."
Twiddy shook his head and said, "I doubt the fish will see much of her when she is so high in the sky."

There was a pause before the laughter this time, as everyone stopped to consider his meaning. Tagglefoot took a long drag off of his pipe before pointing its end at Twiggy and saying, "You mean she will go so fast they won't have a chance to see her?"
By this time, the revelers below had begun to listen to the conversation above them, watching as Twiddy staggered about the poop deck making grand, sweeping gestures as he spoke. Twiddy shook his head yet again, emboldened by alcohol and a desire to share his secret that had been building for months, before saying, "I mean exactly what I say. This ship is bound for the sky, not the waves."

This time the awkward pause was even longer, but finally everyone laughed. Below, a group of chorus boys and girls began to spin a song about Twiddy and his flying ship. The ditty quickly caught on, with all the revelers chanting it.
"A very fine prank, young Bobick," said Tagglefoot, leaning back in his chair.
"But it's no prank," said Twiddy with an edge of frustration to his voice. "This ship is meant to fly."
This time the silence went unbroken until another elder, the portly Brombbo Stoutloam, said, "If I take your meaning to be the product of the vale's honest truth and not the drink in your hand, Twiddy Bobick, then you mean to tell me that you have been lying and using what we gave you to be so foolish as to try to build a ship that would fly?"
"I wouldn't say I lied, Brombbo," said Twiddy, shrugging. "I said I would be building us a navy, used to travel to distant lands and keep our borders safe. It was you who assumed it would be sea bound."

There was another moment of quiet before the deck exploded with angry voices. Only Twiddy's parents remained silent and still, staring at the clamor around them. Twiddy scrambled away from the surge of angry elders as Rothbur Tagglefoot tried to grab him by the ear and Brombo Stoutloam tried to kick him in the pants and all the other elders went at him in their own way.

Below, the partygoers assumed that all that was going on above them was intended and laughed to stitches over it, continuing to sing Twiddy's song.
Finally, Twiddy stopped scrambling, stood up straight, and pointed off into the distance. All the elders stopped their pursuit and stood, glaring, waiting for what he had to say. "This is my ship!" said Twiddy. "And I say, walk the plank if you won't believe me!"
Rothbur Tagglefoot stepped forward and said, "Twiddy Bobick, your birth might have been spectacular, but that is all that has ever been spectacular about you. You can no more make this ship fly than I can teach a fish to talk. You have shamed us all, as surely as you have shamed Bristlebane by declaring this foolishness on his day of all days. I will make my Myrthday elsewhere."
Tagglefoot began the slow descent down the ladder resting against the side of the boot. After him followed each of the elders, pausing to cast a good glare at Twiddy before they went. Finally, only his parents remained. His father stopped before him, looking deep in his eyes, and then dropped his head and shook it, following the elders out of the boat. His mother, Liddy, stopped and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Perhaps it can still sail the seas, Twiddy," she said with a weak smile. "I am sure this business can be turned around for the best."
Twiddy took one look at her and then out at the crowd, which still sung their ditty in high voices. In the morning, when intoxication had worn off, and the elders spread the truth of what had happened, the village would no longer find it quite so funny. Twiddy let out a long sigh and pulled away from his mother. "It can't be anything but what it was meant to be, mum," he said, "and neither can I."
Liddy clasped her hands together and watched him retreat to the captain's cabin of the ship that was meant to fly.

Twiddy Bobick was nearly never born. Well, born he may have been but it would have been a very short stay in the wide world of Norrath. You see, Liddy and Twill Bobick had been enjoying a picnic on a fine Myrthday on the banks of Scratchbottom Pond when the young Liddy went into labor before her time. Young Twiddy came out as if in a burst and tumbled straight into the pond. Twill ran after him in panic, but in the briefest of moments he had disappeared beneath the surface of the water. Though the poor father plunged into the water and searched through the silt of the pond for his errant boy, it was to no avail.

The couple had nearly given up, and their tears flowed freely, when the sound of a baby giggling on the opposite bank caught their attention. Not nearly daring to hope, they ran to the sound, and there among the reeds they found their baby gurgling happily and chewing on a piece of green plant. Though Liddy knelt to scoop up her boy, Twill spun to search for any sign of who might have rescued his child. For a few moments, there was no sign of any presence save his own small family, but then he glimpsed a froth of curly black hair and a flash of gold and green scales slapping the surface of the water before disappearing into the depths below.

So it seemed a mermaid had touched young Twiddy's life, and from then on forward, neither a birthday nor Myrthday could pass without the tale being spun around firesides. And as this taleteller has told, many had taken the birth to mean he was fated for great things, but as more time passed, and his dreams grew more and more outrageous, the power of the tale wore thin and similarly so did the faith of the elders in his dreams. From here on out, it would be on the shoulders of Twiddy, and Twiddy alone, to prove his dreams were more than just fancies, but realities waiting to prove themselves.

- Eylee Zephyrswell



The Flight of the Mudskipper (part 2)

On a recent expedition into the lair of Trakanon, a team of adventurers uncovered a satchel of ancient parchments. On those parchments were a series of writings by an otherwise unknown bard by the name of Eylee Zephyrswell. Gnomeish scolars have dated the documents to some time within the heart of the Lost Age. This, the second story to be pulled from those documents, deals with an odd little halfling and his even odder gnomish companion.

For weeks, none but Twiddy set foot on the Mudskipper. When any came close, a ballista launched rotting food their way. For his part, Twiddy sulked around on deck. The truth was, he hadn't been anywhere near achieving flight with his contraption. He had built the boat to what he believed would be suitable specifications necessary for it to travel aloft, balancing and rebalancing time and time again; but it was lacking any necessary mechanism to actually perform the lifting. In order to keep trying to find the necessary mechanisms to lift the boat into the air, he was going to need support, and they'd all but cut him off from that.

Twiddy was lying within the crow's nest and gazing into the sky, waiting patiently for some inspiration to hit -- after all, if he was truly destined for this, it was not so foolish to think the answer might be written in the sky -- when his ears picked up a ruckus some distance off. He sat up and peered over the edge of the nest. From his vantage, he was able to watch in plain view as a giant metal wheel rolled through the tunnel leading through the village and down the pathway. Halflings were scattering this way and that out of its pathway, children screaming in excitement and mothers screaming in earnest. Twiddy squinted, studying the contraption attached to it. There was some sort of small cabin with a similarly small driver inside of it, and a series of pipes attached to the back of the wheel belched smoke and steam. The halfling watched as the wheel rolled and rolled, noting as it drew closer the stream of frustrated shouts that were coming from the cabin of the strange craft. The wheel veered wildly to the left just as it was about to run into one the small red-roofed cottages that the Stubtoes called home. It careened into a creek and stuck fast in the gooey mud of its bed.

Twiddy scaled down the mast of his ship and then down the scaffolding to join the flood of halflings running to check on their curious visitor. Rivervale was no stranger to visitors. Especially in recent times, as the elves of the Elddar Forest flooded out of its dying canopies to make for new lands, they played hosts to visitors nightly, and as their hospitality was considered only second to their good cooking, their inn had remained almost solidly booked.

This particular visitor was one of the strangest they had received in some time. Climbing out of the jumbled mass of metal, a gnome appeared muttering a string of words and numbers to himself. He was dressed in such a way that nothing but his eyes and bulgy nose were visible, and his eyes only remained visible until he pulled goggles down over them and stuck his head straight into the creek to survey his craft. His head was covered by a bulky cap, his mouth by a scarf, and the rest of his clothing seemed to serve as a tool shelf. Odds and ends stuck out everywhere from his person.

While everyone else stared on in fascination, Twiddy stared on in excitement. He knew the gnome to be one Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz, and they had met some years ago when Twiddy undertook a journey to find the mermaid who had rescued him from Scratchbottom Pond. On his way north to the Everfrost peaks, his boat had fallen to disrepair, and he needed to moor it in an elven outpost known as Fayspire until it had been fixed. Fiddlewiz had in his possession the only book on shipcraft that could be found in the Fayspire library, and in exchange for a lift to the north, the gnome had offered his help in repairing the vessel.

They had parted ways then without much of a thought of seeing one another again, but Twiddy knew that the gnome's timing was nothing less than the destiny he had been waiting for. He pushed his way through the crowd, crying, "Fiddlewiz! Fiddlewiz!"

When he had finally reached the creek's banks, trying his best to ignore the laughter and chanting that had started up behind him, Fiddlewiz was waiting for him. The gnome had by then settled down to lean against his vehicle and light up a pipe. Twiddy smelled a distinct scent of moon's glow root, and knew it for elven tobacco.

"Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz," said Twiddy as he finally reached the gnome and leaned over, panting, "I don't know if you remember me, but we journeyed together so many years ago on our way to the north." The gnome regarded him and then, after a moment, nodded. Fiddlewiz pulled up the goggles onto his head and unwrapped the scarf, smiling.

"Twiddy Bobick, if I recall correctly," said the gnome.
Twiddy nodded rapidly. "The very same!" said Twiddy. "And how is it you've landed here, friend?"

The Professor looked at Twiddy and then back at the wheel and said. "My craft's stuck," he said. "I lost control just as I hit town. I believe it may have to do with the mechamagical carthine converter, which, you see..." With that, the gnome proceeded to launch into a full explanation of the inner workings of his machine, which caused more than one halfling to doze off before it was through. "And that is why I am going to need to ask for your hospitality."

Twiddy nodded, and said, "Of course! Of course! I believe the inn may be full..."
"No it isn't," piped up Sully the Innkeep from behind them. "I've at least two good rooms empty."

Twiddy shot a glance of annoyance back at Sully and then looked back at the Professor. "Well, the inn is always very crowded," he said. "You are more than welcome to stay with me on my ship. There's plenty of room for another"

Fiddlewiz looked long at Twiddy and then back at the crowd. He shrugged and said, "It's always a pleasure to talk with another craftsman."

Twiddy led the Professor away from the crowd, who watched the pair go with curious eyes. How did Twiddy know such a curious individual? Everyone supposed it must have been on the journey he went on so many springs past, and as that memory was stirred, stories of Twiddy's uncommon fate began to resurface, and by nightfall, Twiddy's humiliation on Myrthday had all but disappeared as the village of Rivervale remembered why they had once believed in Twiddy in the first place.

For Twiddy and the Professor, it was a sleepless night. Twiddy showed Fiddlewiz what he had built so far, and all the notes he had been making in regards to his studies of the possibility of flight. Fiddlewiz looked over it all quietly, only now and then muttering an equation to himself and then shouting the answer gleefully. Finally, when all was said that could be said, and Twiddy stared on at Fiddlewiz hopefully, the little gnome nodded a short, quick nod and declared:

"This is a challenge meant for a gnome. I'm going to stay with you and work on this whether you like it or not, so I hope you are amenable."

Twiddy grinned ear from ear, as all night he had been dancing around asking for the Professor's help. As the new day broke, the halflings of Rivervale peered out from their windows to see Twiddy scurrying around with planks and lengths of cloth and ropes of all lengths and thicknesses, and in the background, Fiddlewiz drew out equations in the dirt with a stick, occasionally stopping to shout something at Twiddy. The town buzzed with excitement. Even the elders couldn't deny that something great seemed to be coming for the village of Rivervale.

But there were none who could claim to be as excited as Twiddy himself, who saw, piece by piece, his dreams assembled before his eyes.

It was in his twentieth year that Twiddy Bobick had first met Professor A. M. Fiddlewiz. Though not yet an adult, it came upon Twiddy that he should make a journey unlike most halflings ever would, due to circumstances most halflings would never understand, and creatures they would never meet. You see, as a young child, Twiddy had been terrified of water, and on a day when he should have been in swimming lessons, he was instead running wild and had his first encounter with the mysterious Drafling. The tiny green dragon with the face of a halfling and his servant, a stoic ogre with a penchant for chewing on tree bark, rescued the young lad from a swarm of angry bixies, and in that meeting, gave Twiddy his first taste of destiny.

While comforting the frightened child with pieces of jum-jum toast, the Drafling got to talking, and in his talking, revealed a thing or two about Twiddy's past and future.
"Tell me, why do you fear the water?" asked the Drafling, amid a cloud of sweet dragon smoke.

"When I was born I was swallowed up by Scratchbottom Pond!" said Twiddy, chewing the toast as he spoke. "If it were not for a kind mermaid, I would have drowned. She scooped me up and threw me onto the edge of the pond."

"Lasydia! That was Lasydia you were saved by. She's the queen of all mermaids. She must have swum down from the Nest. I hear she visits the frozen lakes of Norrath while on holiday." The Drafling nodded matter-of-factly. Behind him, the ogre grunted and tore a strip off a nearby tree.

"Lasydia!" said Twiddy, wide-eyed. "The queen of all mermaids? Do you think she might still be watching over me?"

"Ahh... No!" The Drafling shook his head. "That's a bit much to expect anyone to do out of the simple goodness of their heart. You know what though? You might be able meet up with her someday and do something nice for her, I bet then she would be there to save you from drowning for the rest of your life."

Twiddy jumped to his feet and came straight up to the Drafling, clasping his arm; the Drafling looking on with amusement at his boldness. "What can I do? Where can I find her? Will she come back to the pond?"

"Slow down, lad. It's not like Lasydia to venture here. I doubt she'll be back to this little vale. But you might be able to meet up with her at the Nest. Yep, that is your best bed, lad."

"Can you take me there? You are the Drafling and you can use your magic tower to get up and walk all the way to the Nest you speak of. Will you please take me?"

"Look, lad..." The Drafling pushed him away and turned around, trundling across the clearing in which they sat. "You're a good stout and all, but my tower is neither child proof nor leg advantaged. You'll have to get to the Nest on your own. It will be a long and dangerous trip. The Nest is hundreds of miles beyond the horizon, far into the wintry lands to the North. Good luck with that one, lad!"

"Please help me Mr. Drafling! I am just a child, and a cowardly one at that. I can't survive a trip to the frozen Northlands."

He turned back to the boy wearing a deep smile. "You are many things, Twiddy Bobick, but a coward you are not. Don't worry, lad. Lasydia won't be on holiday in the Nest for another ten years. You'll be a full grown stout by then. And I am sure you will make the journey then. As I am sure you will make many journeys in your life and do many great things. For now, be the child that you are and worry not about such things."

The Drafling blew a plume of sweet smelling smoke into the boy's face, and Twiddy faded into dreams, barely remembering the encounter until many years later when it would come for him to make that journey, though in those brief moments when he would remember it, he always stopped to wonder, "How did the Drafling know my name?"

When it came time for that journey to be made, the Drafling did not appear himself but rather sent his ogre companion, who still spent his time chewing on bark. The two travelled north, passing through lands belonging to elves and barbarians and all other manner of folk Twiddy had only ever seen in passing. They glimpsed the Elddar Forest in its final days, walking silently through dried out husks of what had once been the world's greatest wood and passing retreating groups of elven refugees, and they had met Fiddlewiz while in one of the last outposts of the elves off of Faydark. Along the way, Twiddy learned much about building a ship as he struggled to keep together their small ship. Battling gnolls and building ice shelters and dodging bloodthirsty clans of thanes, they finally reached the fabled pool, and waited many a long night for the mermaid queen to appear. Finally, in a mist, they caught sight of Lasydia at the highest point of Mermaid Rock.

"Who is it that comes to visit?" she asked with a voice that lilted like a haunting melody. "Why, it is the Scratchbottom newborn all grown up. What brings you to my holiday home?"

Twiddy mustered all his courage and glanced at the ogre, who nodded at him. "I have come to thank you for saving my life when I was born... with the hope that you can remove my fear of the water."

Taylisia smirked and even as she smirked, her face was enchanting to look upon. "Young halfling, you need not fear to drown. There is much below the surface of pond, lake, and ocean that is too beautiful to lose to fear."

Looking doubtful, young Twiddy frowned and said, "Please, the Drafling said you could help me."

"Listen little halfling, and listen well. I saved you only as a favor to that funny little man. It is not in my nature to play guardian to the creatures of the land, as there are too many below the water that need me." The mermaid drew closer to Twiddy, and as she drew out of the water, what had once been a fin became a pair of long, elegant legs. "The puffing man wishes you to fulfill your fate. Such a destiny would have been destroyed had I not stepped in, so I was happy to play my part, but would likely never even have noticed your presence had he not alerted me."

"Destiny? What destiny? This destiny? To come here? I've already done more than many of Rivervale dare to dream by coming here. But..." He looked at the mermaid sheepishly. "I can't help but hope there is more."

Lasydia smiled, and the smile was beautiful to behold. "Oh there is, there is. I do not know the full extent of your destiny, but you have completed it in part. You have earned your legs as an adventurer, and I do believe you'll find that all your troubles getting you here have helped you master the craft of shipbuilding. For all that will come, you are now far better prepared to face it. Let your odysseys begin."

With that, the mermaid queen jumped high and landed in the water, her legs gone and swapped once again for a green and gold scaled fin. In a flash, she was gone.

As Twiddy considered her words, the ogre gave him a cup of warm Mudtoe Mocha to drink, and from the smell of it, Twiddy could tell it was unlike anything he had ever drunk before. As his world began to spin, Twiddy asked the ogre, "What have you done to me?"

The ogre smiled, removed the bark from his mouth, and said, "You will know. You will know soon enough."

Twiddy Bobick awoke the next day home in his bed, gripping a cup of Mudtoe Mocha and filled with a desire to build. But not just anything, no, he would build a boat unlike any the world had seen -- one that would fly above the trees and the mountains and even the clouds. This was the destiny the mermaid had spoken of, the destiny the Drafling had meant for him, and he intended to see it made true.

And so Twiddy Bobick began to build.

- Eylee Zephyrswell


The Flight of the Mudskipper (part 3)

On a recent expedition into the lair of Trakanon, a team of adventurers uncovered a satchel of ancient parchments. On those parchments were a series of writings by an otherwise unknown bard by the name of Eylee Zephyrswell. Gnomeish scolars have dated the documents to some time within the heart of the Lost Age. This, the second story to be pulled from those documents, deals with an odd little halfling and his even odder gnomish companion.

Nearly five years had passed, and it was once again Myrthday. Similarly to five years previous, everyone had come out to celebrate Twiddy, but this time they did so not only to celebrate his birth, but the launch of the Mudskipper.

Twiddy dashed this way and that, checking rigging and pounding nails that protruded just slightly. Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz looked on calmly, smoking his pipe and lounging against the console from which he would operate the wing-like structures that protruded from either side of the craft. "Just a little of this and a little of that and ahh! I need to settle down." Twiddy fell to a heap before Fiddlewiz and looked up at him. "How are you always so calm, friend?" Fiddlewiz shrugged, releasing a breath of pipe smoke, and said, "I calculate the odds of failure in everything I do. When you realize it all comes down to precise calculations, of which there is no true variability if you've done your equations right, you can more or less know and accept what is coming?" Twiddy blinked and shook his head, saying, "I don't understand you, Fiddlewiz, but I wish I did."

Fiddlewiz shrugged and turned to the side of the boat to knock ashes out of his pipe. They floated down through the wind and twirled past the crowds of halflings that waited to see the Mudskipper off. Among them were Twill and Liddy Bobick, and Twiddy paused at the side of the boat to lift a hand to them. Liddy was weeping into a kerchief, but she lifted a hand and said, "Twiddy, my little love, do us proud!" Twiddy smiled to her and then looked at Twill. The halfling's hair had gone completely white in the last five years, and his back was just beginning to stoop from so many years bent over a workbench. Twill looked neutral for a moment as he caught his son's gaze, but finally, he smiled and said, "Like your mother said, we are waiting for you to show us exactly what we didn't think could be done."

Twiddy stood up a little straighter as he went to the wheel. Assuming a position behind it, he shouted, "Fiddlewiz, let's launch!" The gnome nodded and gestured to the halflings on the ground. One by one, they released the cords binding the ship to the ground. The balloon of multicolored cloth above their head began to shift in the wind, and Fiddlewiz one by one pulled down a series of levers that made the wings at the side of the ship begin to move up and down mechanically. Ever so slowly, the ship began to move. Twiddy's heart leapt as he felt it shudder beneath him, and as they began to move, he appreciated the wind in his hair and stared into the sky above him as the ship drew away from the scaffold that had held it in place for so many years and, miraculously, took flight.

For close to half an hour, they kept altitude, and Fiddlewiz pumped at levers to try to gain them height. They had not yet made any altitude, but Twiddy wasn't worried. It would happen, and they had done it: they had flown. Behind them, the village roared, and excitement surged through Twiddy's veins. But as quickly as it seemed they had triumphed, everything began to fall apart. Fiddlewiz was the first to notice.

"Twiddy," he shouted, "the wings are moving all wrong. This isn't the way I set them to go!" Immediately, the gnome began to mutter equations to himself and crawled under the console upon which his levers connected to the wings. Twiddy watched him disappear, trying not to panic. He tried to keep his gaze fixed forward, toward the sky, and maintained a firm grip on the wheel. Suddenly, the whole craft lurched to the side. The wheel spun out of his grip. "Fiddlewiz!" he shouted. "What's happened?" "Nothing!" said Fiddlewiz, emerging from under the console with a perplexed look on his face. "I didn't touch anything!"

The craft lurched to the opposite side and it was all Twiddy could do to grab something to keep from falling straight off the poop deck. Below, Fiddlewiz had slid to the opposite side of the ship, crashing heavily into the railing. "Hold on!" shouted Twiddy. "I'm going to try to steady her!" But they lurched again, and this time, one of the wings caught in a tree, tearing off completely as the ship continued forward. The change was immediate, and nothing was to be done about it, the ship began tipping down toward the ground. "Fiddlewiz!" shouted Twiddy. "Abandon ship! Abandon ship!"

Fiddlewiz was on his feet in a flash, making to jump from the side. "Bobick!" he called. "Come on!" They had not been so high in the sky that there was time for any more conversation. Twiddy made one last desperate attempt to straighten her before moving to jump off the side. As he did, his leg caught on a piece of loose rope and was caught. He tried futilely to loosen himself, but there was no time. The ship hit the ground with a terrible crunch, and Twiddy screamed, covering his face with his hands. The last thought he could recall before darkness took him was that the Drafling must have been playing some terrible joke on him so long ago. If he'd had any destiny, it must have been to die here, a fool and a failure, and where was the greatness in that?

Twiddy awoke to feel himself being pulled across the ground. Through blurred vision, he saw Fiddlewiz, a bloody gash across his forehead, dragging him across the ground. "Fiddlewiz?" he mumbled. "What's happened?" "She's down, boy," said Fiddlewiz, in a soft voice. "She's down and burning." Twiddy immediately snapped to attention. "Burning? My ship? The Mudskipper?!" He pulled himself to his feet and out of Fiddlewiz's grip. Turning, he set eyes on the truth of it. Before him, his ship was burning as the alchemical agents in the mechamagical engine ignited; flames devouring the cloth of the balloon, and wearing down the wood of her hull slowly, but steadily. Twiddy watched it all for what could have been minutes but felt like hours, too shocked to speak. When Fiddlewiz finally set a hand on his arm, something inside of him snapped as the reality of what had happened set in.

"Auuuuugggghhhh!" screamed Twiddy. "Auuuuuughhh!" He dropped to the ground and began tearing at the grass and pulling up clumps of dirt and throwing them every which way. "Auuuugggghhh!" He screamed again and again as he pounded furiously at the ground. Behind him, Fiddlewiz watched without comment or gesture, pulling a now cracked pipe from inside his jacket and setting to light it. For his part, Twiddy tore at his hair as he watched so many years of work burn before him. "I'm done!" he shouted. "I've had it! So much wasted time! So much wasted effort! I won't do it anymore! I won't be laughed at for nothing! Nothing! Why did they tell me I could when it could not be done?! Why!"

There was a long stretch of quiet as Twiddy remained kneeling on the ground, hands gripping his hair, breathing heavily. Finally, the Professor stepped forward and put his hand on the halfling's shoulder. For a long time, he didn't say anything, but only watched his friend breathe heavily and hold back tears.

Finally, Fiddlewiz said, removing his pipe from his mouth, "My dear boy, I do believe what we have seen here today proves well and indeed that a ship can fly. So far as I am concerned, what needs be done now is to figure out how to make it fly at length. We have done the impossible and proved that the possible is not what anyone previously thought it to be. Now it is time to get to work at the may-be-possible, and that's not nearly so intimidating, now is it?"

Twiddy gently released his grip on his hair and straightened to a stand again. He stepped up beside Fiddlewiz and once again surveyed the smoldering wreckage of the Mudskipper. Turning to look at his friend, he noted that for once, Fiddlewiz's head was not covered by anything. Though seeing him so made him realize how tiny the man was, with his nearly bald dome, and his pointy little chin, and his too large mouth, but despite it all, Fiddlewiz did not look small, or scared, or upset by the day's events. The gnome's eyes shone with anticipation, and his lips were set in determination. He had truly believed what he had said.

"What do you say," said Fiddlewiz, finally, turning to look back at Twiddy, "shall we begin work on the Mudskipper II?" Twiddy considered his friend's words and, without response, went to the wreckage. Twiddy marched over to the Mudskipper and began walking her length at as close a distance as he could manage. "She'll need to be lighter but somehow stronger... and made in a way that the air parts like water before her... and, and..." Twiddy paused and struggled, searching for that missing piece.

A flash of metal caught his eye. He frowned and made his way over to it. By the forest's edge, within a patch of long stemmed ferns, he spied a small metal object in the ground. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hands. It all but completely resembled his flying ship -- with one exception, its tail end was shaped differently, almost like a four pointed star.

"What in the name of Bristlebane...?" he muttered.

A green tail flashed between the trees before him, and a familiar chuckle filled the air. "The Drafling?" Twiddy murmured. He bolted into the trees. "Hey! Hello!" he called after the disappearing figure. "Is this yours? Did you leave it?" He swung the box around, snaking through the undergrowth. Immediately, the figure stopped and turned. The halfling face squinted out at him from the dragon's body. "Is what mine, then?" asked the Drafling. "This... model of my boat," said Twiddy. He tapped it and started as it resonated with his touch.

The Drafling grinned. "This is for the egghead and you. Consider it carefully, and you might find a way to stay off the ground for more than a minute." Twiddy looked down at the box and then back up at the Drafling. "How can I ever thank you?" he asked. The Drafling's eyes crinkled with delight. "In exchange for my good deeds, I ask that you do one thing for me. Build me a tower at the heart of this land, on that isle. Do so and... well... do so and I won't eat you and all you love!" The Drafling roared ferociously and Twiddy scampered backward, tripping over an exposed root and falling to the ground. The Drafling laughed for a minute before continuing, "Hah ha ha! Get on with your work. Build the tower here and the boat someplace higher. Farewell little mugs."

With that, the Drafling turned and in just a few moments, had vanished into the underbrush. Twiddy scrambled to his feet and gripped the box tightly. He retreated back to Fiddlewiz, carrying the box aloft. "Fiddlewiz!" he called. "Fiddlewiz! Get to your gears, we've work to do! This time, it will fly. This time, the ship will not just leave the water, it will fly straight up into the clouds! Let's not let ourselves get tangled up in the past. This is the future. We'll be building ourselves the Cloudskipper, and she will fly as high as the birds - no, higher! Fiddlewiz! We've work to do! Get working!"

And that is how Twiddy Bobick and Professor A.M. Fiddlewiz began down a path that would lead to the building of the Cloudskipper, the craft that would eventually carry our party to locales none had known before. Though they were a pair of little men, their ambitions were enormous, and we wouldn't have gone half so far without them.
And the tower they promised the Drafling? It was built tall and true just outside of Rivervale only months before our party was to encounter and recruit them. Though I myself have not ever truly believed he was anything more than a halfling dressed up as a dragon, Twiddy swears otherwise, and loathe am I to disagree with him.

- Eylee Zephyrswell

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