Punctuality was fifth on Nestor Pinkly’s list of top six-hundred favorite things. Number four was the sunrise. So, a few years back, Nestor had enchanted a clock so that it would produce a sound, like an alarm, whenever it reached a specified time. He called this the Loud Noise Clock. The Chamber of Sanitation promptly banned it, citing noise pollution.
“Everybody knows that noise pollution brings bugs,” the Chamber said in unison. “And with bugs come mosquitos. And with mosquitos come mosquito eaters. And with mosquito eaters come the rare mosquito eater eaters. And with rare insects come the foulest creature of all: entomologists.”
So naturally, Nestor invented the next-best thing: a semi-sentient magical automaton which could be programmed to wake Nestor fifteen minutes before sunrise each morning. He called it Dovetail.
All of this is to say that when Nestor awoke on his own one morning and saw Sol’s light coming in through his makeshift curtains, he knew that something was amiss. He quickly donned his robe and bolted out of his bedroom, which was small even for a gnome, and into the kitchen, where he found Dovetail.
Dovetail, who was about fifteen months old now, resembled an elegantly-dressed adult human from the neck down. Its head, however, was unmistakably metallic and manufactured, with features that were far too shiny and square. It was still figuring out who it was and wanted to be, so today Dovetail was dressed as a woman. She looked nice.
She was also frantically struggling against ropes that bound her to the wall and being climbed by dozens of very small creatures. Many of them even had mountain climbing gear, and Dovetail’s body was covered in pitons. These strange creatures looked humanoid, and they were murmuring among themselves very excitedly.
“Good morning, Nestor,” Dovetail’s voice crackled. “It appears our home is. Our home is…it appears…it appears our home is under attack.”
“I don’t mean to be rude to my guests,” Nestor said as he observed and cautiously approached the situation. “But who are you and why are you climbing my friend?”
One of the creatures shouted in a language Nestor did not understand before touching a necklace it was wearing, which began to glow a faint yellow. “A giant!” it shouted so faintly Nestor could hardly hear it. “Perhaps he is responsible for this talking statue.”
“I’m not a giant!” Nestor said. “I’m a gnome! And you haven’t answered my question!”
“I am Captain Ernad VI,” another of the small humanoids said. He was only a few centimeters tall, and wore shiny, flexible metal armor. “And we are the Minitoa. Our transdimensional leap from Realm 28 to Realm 1, our home realm, has gone awry, and we seem to have ended up in a world of titans such as yourself. We had just begun to collect our bearings when your guardian statue began trying to kill us.”
“…trying to sweep them,” Dovetail explained. “Thought they were bugs.”
“We have no choice but to declare this an act of war,” Ernad VI went on. As he was saying this, a number of the people climbing Dovetail began loading tiny crossbows. “And when the Minitoa declare war on a realm, we take no prisoners. I take no pleasure in these actions, happy giant man. But please try to remember which of our worlds’ dealt the first blow.”
A cacophony of high-pitched thunks! marked the launch of a dozen tiny crossbow bolts. A few of them grazed Nestor’s skin, leaving behind shallow scratches. Only one of them drew the smallest trickle of blood.
Nestor frowned. He wasn’t looking forward to using magic this early in the day. With a wave of his hand and a brief elvish incantation, sharp blades of air sliced the ropes binding Dovetail. The automaton shook the creatures off of her, and Nestor used another spell to sweep them all into one spot with a swift, powerful gust of air which made a mess of some papers sitting on his kitchen counter. Lastly, Dovetail put a large pot over the Minitoans, and sat on it. They screamed and rattled from within, but to no avail.
“Huzzah!” Nestor cried.” Now, I’m already quite late for work, Dovetail. Do you think you can keep them under there until I get back?”
Dovetail nodded. “Y-y-yes, Mr. Pinkly. They merely got the…they dropped on me, while I was on standby. Willn’t happen again.”
“Won’t,” Nestor corrected. “But don’t beat yourself up, Dovetail! Everyone gets surprised by an interdimensional army now and again! Now, if you feel comfortable with the box, I really ought to get going.”
“I’ve prepared an oat bar for you so that you may walk and eat simultaneously. Enjoy Odds Ends.”
“Aw, Dovetail! You’re the best assistant a gnome could ask for! Enjoy your pot!”
Nestor left for work feeling quite proud of himself. He’d always loved stories of The Suntouched and other such heroes back when his family traveled the surface providing entertainment to the people of Solkin. Sure, he wasn’t saving Castiron from an invading army of giants, but he’d certainly saved Skymoore from a minor inconvenience, and that was good enough for him.
“Good morning, Mr. Pinkly,” Mrs. Dew, the mayor’s wife, said as Nestor made his way out of the town’s labyrinthine government district. Kaia Dew was a halfling woman who lost the use of her legs in a golf accident some years back. Nestor had been watching the game, and quickly fashioned a makeshift wheelchair with golf clubs, pie pans, and Old Lady Makapardon’s dentures. Since then, she’d acquired a much nicer and more comfortable chair. “How was your first day at the magic shop?”
“Good morning to you as well, Mrs. Dew. It was splendid!” Nestor said. “Even though Donovan and I have only just met, I feel like we’re going to be great friends and business partners forever! It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed!”
“I’m very glad to hear it,” she said, though her mind seemed to be elsewhere.
“Is something the matter, Mrs. Dew?”
“Oh…it’s just a little thing,” she said. “Every morning I like to sit by my garden and watch the children go to The Shoe Polishers’ Academy for the Unfortunately Underprivileged, but today I found that many of my flowers had gone missing, including my favorite bluebell.”
Nestor gasped. “Who could do such a thing?” The gnome removed his top hat and reached inside, producing a small cloth pouch. “I don’t have any bluebells,” he said, pouring some seeds into his hand, “but I can help you get started.”
“Oh, Nestor, I couldn’t.”
“It’s no trouble, Mrs. Dew! I have more at home. I keep these seeds on me for just such an occasion. Spring is tunnelbear season and, well, you know how that gets.”
Kaia Dew smiled and accepted the seeds. “You’re such a wonderful little fellow, Nestor Pinkly. If your customer service is anything like your neighborly service, your little shop will be the nicest in all of Skymoore.”
The gnome smiled, his face flushing and spirit soaring. He wished the mayor’s wife a wonderful day, and continued on his way. There was a pleasant warmth inside of him – the light of Sol – accompanied by a tingling sensation along the surface of his skin.
“Ah, Mrs. Grantham,” he said. “Your essence feels wonderful today! This wasn’t even my first good deed today. Earlier, I saved Skymoore from an army of tiny invaders. No, they’re still in my house. No, no, Dovetail’s keeping an eye – or, a bottom, I suppose.”
Nestor didn’t get far in his daily conversation with the late Mrs. Grantham before he was interrupted by a loud crash! from behind him. Mrs. Dew was still there, looking back up at her house with concern. “Nestor, do you mind checking if everything’s okay? Sounds like Gendry’s pot may have fallen over. I would, but, you know.” The sound came from the mayor’s office, accessible only via a flight of stairs. The gnome raced up them, hopping up two steps at a time.
Nestor was relieved to find that it was not the mayor’s pot that had shattered, but a glass inkwell. He was less relieved to find the mayor looking terrified despite his smile, his pot precariously close to falling off the edge of his desk, with two Minitoans on either side of it. A third stood on the rim of the pot, holding a tiny compass which was making a persistent clicking noise.
“Mr. Pinkly!” the mayor said. “These creatures have-”
“No talking, plant man,” one of the Minitoans said. “We’re stranded on your world, and we need plant life to complete our world-hopping ritual. According to my little gizmo here, you are an extremely magically-attuned plant, which will speed things up considerably. It’s nothing personal, but we’re gonna have to kill you.”
“Wait!” Nestor said, removing his top hat. “If it’s plants you need…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” another Minitoan said. “Hands where we can see them, giant man!”
Before Nestor could explain himself, a sound like the pattering of rain was heard from the stairs. Nestor glanced behind him to see that there were now several dozen Minitoans coming up from behind. Among them was Ernad VI, who stepped forward.
“Your statue fought honorably,” he said. “But we found strength in our numbers. Now surrender this magical plant to us, and we might spare your city.”
“Before I do,” Nestor said. “Would it be alright for me to reach into my hat? I have some seeds inside, and I’d like to offer a gift as a reward for your mercy.”
Ernad VI thought for a moment. “Yes, I suppose that would be allowable.”
Nestor produced a cloth bag once more. As he untied the string around the top of the bag, Ernad VI produced a compass similar to the one on the desk. “Hey!” Ernad VI said. “That bag is magical! Get him!”
As the Minitoa swarmed him, Nestor screwed his eyes shut, opened the bag, and released a blinding white light into the room. He swatted the tiny people away with ease. Meanwhile, the Minitoa on the desk were pushing Mayor Dew to his doom. Nestor unfurled a handkerchief in his pocket as he dove across the room and threw it down on the floor beneath him, transforming it into a hole to the floor below. He caught the falling mayor with one arm and pulled the handkerchief down with them with the other, sealing the ceiling once more.
Nestor slammed chest-first into a desk, but managed to keep the mayor’s pot safe. “You alright, Mayor Dew? Sorry I didn’t warn you about the light.”
“Sorry? You’ve saved my life! Almost. See that bookcase there?” They were in the mayor’s study, and just behind the desk was a mahogany bookshelf stacked to the brim with impressive-sounding titles on everything from local history to beekeeping (a forbidden practice in Skymoore after a harvest festival gone awry, but Nestor was hardly going to call the mayor out for owning a banned book). “There’s a secret room behind it. A bunker that I use when I forget my anniversary or on gift-giving holidays.”
“So I just need to pull out a fake book?”
“Just the opposite, actually. They’re all fake except one. See Ballroom Dancing for the Disabled? That’s a fake spine. Pull it off, yes, just like that. Now take out the real deal.”
The real deal was a book titled Torture and You: DIY Pain Solutions! (“came with the house,” Mayor Dew said dismissively). Behind it was a button, which Nestor pressed. The case swung open to reveal a solid steel room. It had a phonograph in the corner, and the floor was totally covered with comic books. The bookcase slammed shut behind them, leaving them entirely encased in steel.
They heard murmuring from outside the room. “Oh right,” the mayor said. “They have a compass.”
“Prepare the drill!” Nestor heard one of them say.
“Well, it should take them a while to get through the door.”
“I can just get out there and deal with them,” Nestor said. “I’m a little tired but I could cast-”
“We can’t take that risk! You have to stay in here and protect me in case they get past you.”
“Mr. Pinkly. That’s a direct order from your mayor.” Even now, Mayor Gendry Dew was smiling. “Also, you can’t tell a soul about this. If the people knew we were invaded by aliens, there would be total hysteria. Also, it would be embarrassing. So take a seat, put on some music, and wait this out with me, will you?”
Nestor sat against the wall, placing Mayor Dew beside him. Dovetail had been hurt, he was late for work, an army of tiny people was trying to kill him, and there wasn’t much Nestor could do about any of it from where he was. So, he picked up a comic book about a narcoleptic knight, and waited out the storm.