The deeds of Siravyn and his Bagmen changed the world in ways no one expected. On the cusp of an industrial era, and sweeping into a time of prosperity, Siravyn lived as most gnomes of the time – which is to say, he was largely grumpy and unimpressed with the world. On the eve of this momentous occasion, he gathered his Bagmen and put them to task. To the five assembled gnomes, he postulated a grave concern. Wrinkles deepened into dour canyons upon his stern features, and he addressed them with a finger raised.
“We six are undoubtedly about to undertake the greatest hunt in the known history of the world.”
Siravyn was not a gnome for speeches. He lacked the flair and the charisma to drive his followers through flowery, inspirational talk. On the strength of his name – for had he not in his time slain vampires and dragons? – the five Bagmen listened and nodded. To them, he spoke the truth, even if the truth burned with wild conjecture.
“Is it not a beast that troubles all? Do we not look up to the skies and feel a cold shiver in our spines? It is there, my friends. It is there.”
“Aye.” came five unsynchronized replies.
“So we hunt this most elusive of beasts. You have brought the things I have requested?”
The five gnomes held their bags aloft, and each bag clinked or clonked with metallic thuds and the jingle of their hidden trinkets.
The gnomes set about work. Every gnome had a large study carved out of his underground home, and Siravyn was no different. They drew up plans and sat at the drafting tables, weighed and took measurements. This work went on for hours and carried with it much grumbling, disagreement, and dissatisfaction. Such was the mark of the gnomish masters. Without the intermittent mutterings of “bloody nuisance” to interrupt the candlelit quiet of Siravyn's study, things just wouldn't feel right.
The instrumentation seemed adequate. The measurements for the dark constructs nearing completion... Well, much was based on assumption. What the Bagmen dealt with had too many unknown variables, and no hunt of this kind had ever been attempted.
“They call it prattle, and in a thousand years, long after even the gnomes have forgotten how the skies once filled with our quarry, gnome and man will laugh it off as superstition. We know better. We have seen it over the mountain skies, and in the deep night, above the fields afar, where none tread. They are out there. Tomorrow night, we six will bring this beast down from the heavens. Drink well, friends. Make my home your own for the night. We have much to do in the morning, and we will need our rest.”
The hours of the night stirred down into black silence when the last gnome finally took to his inebriated rest. The thought of what was to come held sleep at bay without the soothing ale's secret shortcuts to slumber. A groggy morning followed, and there was much groaning and dragging of palms upon hungover faces. Siravyn was at his chair, still working, for he had taken on this responsibility, and thus must be the first one awake.
“It has vexed me for so long. But to succeed in this...”
He left the thought dangling in the thick air. A grim fog seeped into his home from the fields beyond the hills. The gnomes, too, looked bleak and none-too-hopeful in the vanishing safeguards of the ale. What transpired in this gloomy, hillside abode had been so otherworldly in scope, and so reliant on a fortuitous state of modern technology, it hardly seemed believable. Yet the air was stymied by a sense of inadequacy, and a feeling of ill-preparedness.
Now the gnomes gathered their tools and instruments into their bags. They set about preparing for the journey. Siravyn supplied jerky and potatoes, and each gnome took one of the wrapped portions, placing them in satchels adorning their hips. After a final check of everything, and a few grim nods and half-hearted “bloody nuisance” mutterings, they set out.
The journey was not a tricky or dangerous one. Despite their burdens, the gnomes managed with some ease. To the place they were heading, it would be many hours, and they would arrive past nightfall
. One of the Bagmen carried with him their twin tents. Yet another had gear for the hunting of small game – small being the only game suited to gnomish tastes. The other three gnomes shouldered the dark instruments needed for this expedition's ultimate purpose. They were led by Siravyn, who carried no bag, but wore a harness with extra flares, torches, and several dozen prepared cigarettes for the occasion, to be distributed when they made camp. This was a smoking hunt, and no mistake, for there'd been no time to ready a barrel of wine.
Each gnome had a small lantern, but only Siravyn's was lit. The Bagmen kept theirs on their belts. They entered the deep woods, and here, at least, the only dangers were wolves and bears. Wolves rarely pestered gnomes, and would have found the going rough for any encounter with these seasoned roamers of the hills. Gnomes knew the soft spots of all creatures. They always found the soft spots.
They were too short for bears to notice.
“Don't jostle the lightning bottles.” reminded Siravyn, when a heavy clonk rang out.
“Weren't the lightning bottles.”
The gnomes hushed their voices and moved swiftly. They spoke little. The forest by night would always seek to draw within its brambles the luckless traveler. Being nigh a foot tall, the gnomes weaved through all that nonsense on paths that no human would discover, much less be able to follow.
“Pah! Humans...” muttered one gnome. The rest either repeated the objection or spat. Gnomes did not particularly dislike humans, but this was almost a built-in reaction from a race that often looked down – metaphorically, of course – on the other races. Those silly humans and their farms and...and...and their taxes, and things.
While no one had the time or patience to wonder what thoughts had brought that particular gnome to the subject of humans, the general agreement stood. Pah was right.
So the time passed. The moon rose in the sky, and the gnomes broke the forest edge and arrived at the flatlands. Siravyn stood just inside the treeline, his Bagmen close behind. They all took a moment for a cigarette.
Job time. Time for the bags.
“Don't jostle the lightning bottles.”
They dared not step beyond the trees. Siravyn had chosen this place for its remoteness. Gnome and man alike did not oft tread this way. Siravyn knew where the beasts roamed the skies. If they be about tonight, they would be here.
The group backtracked and set up the first tent. Two Bagmen, one with lantern and one sticking close, so as to reduce light, scouted the area for a good clearing. It did not take long to find a spot in the lower valley, ideal with hills and trees on all sides. The other gnomes did not make any fire, but readied blankets for warmth. In the event that they had to abandon camp, the other tent and two large blankets would be enough to survive a hasty retreat. Once the two scouts returned, the Bagmen joined them for the short trip to the clearing, and the work began.
What they had in mind was difficult to understand, and would be even harder for the gnomes to explain. Though all the technology was current, what the gnomes had done with these base components, and what they had built on such short notice, could be nothing short of a marvel. Gnomes had a certain elegance to their ingenuity, peppered with the total lack of elegance in design. The many tubes and taut windings that they slowly worked through the trees made for a macabre feature in the moonlight.
But when they were finished, none could see their fortress for the trees.
They returned to their camp, gathering their nerves. Siravyn, especially, steadied himself with another cigarette. The reason he did not carry a bag lie in what came next. The six gnomes moved silently to the edge of the flatlands one more time.
They waited. It might have ended up that nothing happened that first night. It was so unlikely, the gnomes were shocked when the red fire rose over the horizon, moving in a zipalong fashion to the backdrop of the night sky. This most elusive of game darted one way, then another, moving over the flatlands with no clear objective. As it approached, it slowed, and suddenly it moved at a slow and even pace, a hovering light pressed into the world as if it belonged to some other dimension.
“Haven't seen one since I was a child.” Said one of the Bagmen.
“My first time.”
Siravyn said nothing. He was judging distance, for the thing moved so evenly, so perfectly, that it was difficult to tell just how far out it was. The time came when Siravyn saw fit to trust his senses, and he stepped out from the trees, walked a few paces onto the flatlands, casually reached into his pocket, and produced another cigarette. He placed it loosely in his dry lips, took his eyes off the soaring best just long enough to flick a match and light the cigarette, then he shook the match out, tossed it to the ground, and looked up.
He took the cigarette from his mouth, and with a voice like a gnome whose time would not be wasted, he growled, “Well?”
The hovering light ignored him. Siravyn waited. Gnomes were often like this as well; they would see, but they were largely unimpressed, or too busy to be bothered. But Siravyn bored those grumpy eyes right into the fires of the sky beast, demanding attention.
The fire paused in midair. It had no wings and made no sound. It merely stayed in place, like something stuck in the fabric of the universe. It didn't wiggle or vibrate or shake an ounce. It was just there, unsettling and wrong.
A bright light settled over Siravyn. He covered his eyes a moment, and his cigarette fell to the ground. He wouldn't need it now. After a moment to make sure he'd really drawn in his quarry, he turned and ran, giving a shout to the Bagmen, who took the lead. Two of the gnomes slowed to a trot, allowing Siravyn to catch up. It would not do if the beast thought him alone. They would all run, and it would chase, perhaps to no end, but the stories said they always chased for a time, if one were to run.
The light moved swiftly toward them, but it could not break the dense canopy. It moved in line with them, following easily from above as the gnomes ran at break-neck speed toward the clearing. Dread filled all six, though they knew that if they stayed in the forest it would not attack them. But if they came to the clearing...
It was said that it stole folk away to its nest. Stories were just stories, of course, but this story was often told by those who had come back.
“Don't jostle the lightning bottles!”
Siravyn bolted ahead of the other gnomes. Danger time. He, alone, broke into the clearing, the intense ball of light just above. It dashed ahead of him, and came to hover just a few feet above ground, so swiftly moving in his path that Siravyn had to nearly fall over to keep from running right into the creature.
Siravyn hefted one of his flares in his hand. He tossed it up and caught it a few times, testing the weight. There was no telling if the beast before him had any expression, because it had no discernable face. It was just a giant ball of orange-red light, hovering menacingly.
Siravyn hurled the flare, end over end, right into the light, and it burst into brilliant flame.
“Get 'im, boys!”
Most of the Bagmen didn't hear his yell over the noise of the wind. They were just very, very well prepared. There would be no second chance at this. A dozen, two dozen, fifty loud thwonks sounded. Wound cables, tethered to punctured discs, flew into the sky. The spring contraptions had all worked flawlessly, and the air over the clearing filled with a crisscross pattern of wire. The Bagman with the lightning bottles already had one in hand. He thrust it into a small wooden box, itself having cables that snaked away in every direction. The Bagman pulled a lever, and the bottle discharged its lightning, which traveled every wire, so distraught from being caged that it split fifty ways.
Much of the wire net had landed over the beast, and the lightning hammered into it from every direction. There were sputters and sparks and stutters, and for a moment, the glow flickered on and off. Something gray and smooth appeared, only briefly, but it terrified the onlookers, who now saw a beast with skin like bright iron.
The glow intensified. Siravyn came to a skidding halt next to the Bagman and said, “Another!”
The Bagman slammed another bottle into the box and pulled the lever.
The beast shook and wobbled, trying to rise. It should have easily torn through the net, but the lightning battered it from above and held it from rising too high. Again it flickered, and again that gray skin appeared, ominous to all who lay eyes upon it.
Once more, the Bagman sacrificed a bottle and pulled the lever.
The beast shook with a silent rage, thrashing about to escape. The light vanished completely, and now a strange half-disc stood in the darkness, wobbling like a spinning coin coming to rest. Finally, the beast would be tamed! Finally, centuries of mystery were going to come to a close! Siravyn bit his lip and watched, nervous, but hopeful.
Then, the brilliant light sparked to life again, and the monster from every ancient nightmare of this world began to rise, to rise...
Siravyn watched in something like despair. Gnomes didn't think much in terms of despair. His mind raced. Three bottles left, and the first three had only somewhat slowed the inevitable. This was a creature that could shake off the lightning. No matter if they coursed a hundred bottles into the thing, it would come right back to life.
Siravyn shook the Bagman's shoulder.
The Bagman raised an eyebrow in confusion, but a smile suddenly crossed his face, and he snatched up the bag with the remaining bottles, taking off at a run.
Moments later, there was a distant thwok. The gnomes all watched as the bag spun through the air, rising to the ascending beast's underbelly. The half-disc had risen nearly clear of the canopy, but those springs had the tension to launch their discs from one end of the clearing to the other. The bag burned away in the heat of the orange light that made up the skin of the beast, but the glass bottles broke through and shattered against the hard surface. There was an explosion, and smoke, and the great ball of light suddenly went dead.
Then, with a groan, the metallic beast slid to the earth, and crumpled in the dirt.
How did all of this change the very course of the world, you might wonder? To the great surprise of the gnomes, their prized trophy was more than some mere beast of legend. They found charred metal in a heap, of a kind that none of their tools could pierce. There were creatures as well, which at first the gnomes assumed were some kind of elf that the beast had devoured. Closer examination proved them to be nothing of this world. Where the disc had cracked and the gnomes could enter, they encountered not so much the remains of a monster as that of a craft. Unfathomable instrumentation covered the central interior, and the whole thing had this surreal, minimalist design that existed nowhere else.
And they had been in the skies for centuries.
Siravyn, being wiser to the situation than his companions, came to several conclusions, and found himself in dread of the future.
The gnomes picked apart the debris. They hastened to their camp and packed up everything, staying up for five days and nights, back and forth from the crash site to Siravyn's home as they carried away all evidence of their work on that night. Siravyn knew that such beings as had kept themselves hidden for so long could not possibly be creatures of good intent. Something about the stories of their nests worried him intensely.
It would be five hundred years later, when the ships came down from the night sky, and mankind stood on the brink of destruction, that the gnomes would suddenly return, and the war would come to an abrupt end. The great science of the gnomes, reverse-engineering the spoils of Siravyn's hunt, would burn every last ship right out of the sky.
This was the legacy of Siravyn and the Bagmen.