The nice thing about warlocks

This story is firstly a present for Arcane Ratsel, who has just seen her worst nightmare come true: She has to say something… NICE about WARLOCKS. On Youtube! The reason is that she’s recently organised a charity roflstomp that I participated in, and she’s just hit $1000, which is going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Well done Rätsel!

The other reason I’m writing this is because I’m curious how my Gnomes (Steambender and recently Shutfast) are doing in Draenor. Can’t stay away from the Gnomes. So, Rätsel is going to run into them, but first, she’s going to run into some rather larger individuals.


 

“Oh damn!”

Rätsel jumped back as another one of these Light-bereft Ogres joined the party. So far, she’d taken down three, and one of them was on his last legs, but it almost seemed like these tall bastards were coming out of nowhere, just to beat up on this little gnome girl. Racist sizeist bastards. Without any warning, Rätsel found herself flying forward, and as she landed on her stomach (square-cube law don’t fail me now), she looked over her shoulder to see a Light-blasted talbuk had joined in, most likely annoyed by Rätsel’s arcane explosions. Well, if you didn’t want to play, you should have stayed the hell away!

As she leapt to her feet, she did the last thing she could. With a quick breath and a three-syllable spell, she encased herself in an impenetrable ice block. The noise round her subsided as the ogres simply stood and looked at her, waiting for the ice block to crack so they could continue pounding this little runt into the ground. Rätsel mentally prepared herself, and made her plan. (1) Blink thirty yards forward. (2) Cast Invisibility as fast as she could. (3) Run like shit off a shiny shovel. She didn’t like this plan, because her friends at Halcyon Guild would never let her hear the end of it. But that was the point. They would get to laugh at her. Outside her ice block, meanwhile, there was a noise, and Rätsel drew on her large vocabulary of Gnomish swearwords. A demon? She bared her teeth, seething with anger. REALLY?!

But just when she thought a promising career as an arcane mage would be cut cruelly short, she saw that the new arrival was hammering away at her enemies. A large explosion of purple light enveloped the ogres and the talbuk, and the demon whirled round, blades out, until all its enemies were down. It stood still, checked quickly if anything mortal was still moving, and then ran away behind her. What by the thundering Titans?

Rätsel’s ice block cracked and fell to pieces around her. For three long breaths, she stood still listening, but nothing moved.

“Good afternoon Miss. Are you alright?”

Rätsel looked round. A gnome dressed in dark robes was calmly walking towards her, followed by the very tall demon that she’d thought would be having her for lunch. Her face fell. She looked at the gnome. His spells were fading away, and the colour of his skin returned to normal. This was just not her day.

“Yeah fine thanks,” she said.

Rätsel was a lovely young gnome girl, with many charming ways, and always a happy smile for her fellow beings, gnome, elf, human, dwarf, draenei, even worgen. As long as they weren’t…

“You’re one of those warlocks right?” she asked, Best to be sure about this.

The other gnome smiled. “Indeed I am. Griggin Steambender at your service. Do not let the daemon bother you, I assure you it is under my full control, Miss…”

“Rätsel.” she scowled. “You’re not after my soul are you? Because if you are, you’re not getting it.”

“Your soul would taste like strawberries,” said Griggin. “And I am definitely a raspberry person.”

Rätsel’s eyes narrowed. “And you’re not getting to see me naked either. I know your sort.”

Griggin leaned on his staff and smiled disarmingy at Rätsel. “No man could hear that and not feel heartbroken, but my wife would probably kill me if I did, so it’s all for the best.”

“Puh,” said Rätsel, never short of an answer.

As she watched, another gnome came running up in plate armour, carrying a big two-handed sword. She pulled off her helm to reveal a head full of pink spiky hair.

“Dad? Mum wants to know what’s keeping you… oh hello.” The warrior girl waved a hand at Rätsel. She looked round at the fallen ogres and the talbuk. “Had a bit of a scrap then?”

Rätsel sniffed. “I nearly had them. I was just… toying with them.”

“Bloody waste of time,” said the warrior girl.

“Time you enjoy wasting, or are paid for, is never wasted,” said Griggin. “If you allow me, Trixie, this is miss Rätsel. Miss Rätsel, this is my daughter Trixie. May I invite you for some coffee?”

“I’d rather suck face with an undead murloc,” Rätsel wanted to say, but to be fair, this warlock had saved her skin. She made herself smile. “That would be lovely.”

Griggin and Trixie took Rätsel to their campfire, where a coffee maker was just starting to gurgle. Griggin introduced Rätsel to his son, a leather-clad lad named Nix, and his wife Lenna, who was a fire mage and looked nice enough, except for the insanity that had made her marry a warlock. Rätsel sighed quietly. She had to admit that this Griggin had not tried to enslave her or drain her will to live for his own fel purposes, but anyone who actually wanted to work with demons was automatically a creep. Still, the coffee was good. Very good even. Lenna held out a tin to her, containing cupcakes. Rätsel looked. They had green icing, and black letters saying “Maiden’s Anguish”, “Deadly Poison”, and “Wound poison”.

“Don’t worry,” said Lenna, seeing what Rätsel was looking at. “Our Interalia back at the garrison is experimenting with being housey. She’s easing herself into it. Do have one, they are lovely.”

“First batch, she forgot the yeast,” said Nix. “Hard enough to kill an ogre at twenty paces. But this batch is the best ever. Freshly baked this morning. I’ll have it if you won’t.”

Rätsel took one. Clearly Interalia, whoever she was, did know the importance of sugar in cakes. It was pretty good, actually, and despite what it said, it didn’t kill her, which was a win.

“What are your plans?” said Rätsel. “I wouldn’t want to keep you.”

“Attack pattern Omega,” said Trixie immediately.

“Eh?”

Nix grinned at Rätsel. “We run around like headless chickens till we see something we don’t like, and then we rush it and hit it till it stops moving.”

“That’s not much of a plan,” said Rätsel.

“Don’t knock it,” said Trixie. “It works. We weren’t the ones inside an ice block.”

“In connection with which,” Griggin added, “Would you like to join us? There is safety in numbers, and frankly Nagrand is not a place for a young lady on her own.”

Oh drat. Part of her really wanted to get as far away from that warlock and his demons and his fel magic as possible, but it made so much sense. She looked round the group. Rogue, warrior, fire mage, no healer… oh well.

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” Rätsel hoped the gritting of her teeth wasn’t too obvious.

As it turned out, hunting with the Steambenders was enormous fun. Rätsel loved her friends in Halcyon Guild, but even the dwarves were taller than she was, and it was kind of nice not to have to look up at her party all the time. She stayed with Lenna Steambender, who was casting her spells with an admirable focus and concentration. Not bad for a flamethrower. Nix tended to disappear whenever they spotted a group of ogres, only to reappear where he was least welcome. Trixie was more of a straight-up-and-at-’em kind of girl, and she moved like a tiny whirlwind of death. All Rätsel had to do was to shoot her missiles at whatever Bleurgh-yukbarf, Griggin’s faithful demon, was hitting. Shooting the demon, fun though it might be, was below her dignity. Precision is what makes an arcane mage.

At the end of the afternoon, they totalled up their scores. The loot was what might be expected: armour that wasn’t as good as the stuff she already had, but which would break down into magical dust well enough. There was also the Ogre’s pocket money, which they split among themselves. The fact that this afternoon’s work was basically murder, looting, and pillaging had long since stopped bothering any of them. There’s a war on, don’t you know? They all mounted up and made for Telaari outpost. Being the seasoned adventurers they were, they ran straight for the inn. Ratsel disenchanted the junk they’d won, and shared the magical dust with Lenna for future enchanting projects.

“Are any of you ready for dinner?” Rätsel looked round and, moved by the Light only knows what, added: “On me!”

Griggin shook his head. “I’m afraid we can’t, Miss Rätsel. Interalia is waiting for us with dinner at the garrison.”

Nix laughed. “Yeah. She said she’d stab us if we were late or if we’d die or something. But you can join us if you want. She’s making my favourite. Food.”

Rätsel’s stomach growled at the mention of food. She hesitated, looked at Lenna, Trixie, Nix, then Griggin. They had been nice to her when all she’d wanted to do was get away from this dratted warlock.

“That’d be lovely, thank you.”

“Right then,” said Lenna, and conjured up a portal to the garrison.

They all stepped through and found themselves in the town hall. A big fire was on at one end of the room, the table was set, and a big pot of stew was bubbling. A Gnome woman with a dark standing-up plait was stirring it. She tasted, shook her head, and added some more spices.

In an easy chair sat a gnome girl maybe ten years old, and she was bottle-feeding a little baby, fully concentrated on her task, occasionally pausing to wipe milk off the baby girl’s face.

The woman looked round at the newcomers. “You guys are early! How am I supposed to get dinner ready in time if you just show up whenever you want to?”

Lenna grinned broadly. “Stop whining and get good at it, young Missus Shutfast! I once managed to feed two dozen soldiers on no notice at all, and all I had was two loaves of bread and a fish that was getting a funny smell. The impossible is standard. Miracles are extra.”

“Pah.” Interalia’s eyes fell on Rätsel. “And I suppose you’re expecting me to feed her as well?”

Nix walked up to Interalia and kissed her. “Interalia, this is Rätsel, an arcane mage of great renown. She saved my life. She saved all our lives.”

“Really?” Interalia turned to Ratsel and embraced her. “Thank you Miss, thank you!” Interalia neatly lifted Rätsel’s purse out of her pocket and tossed it at Nix, who put it on the table to see how long it would take Rätsel to notice it.

“Joking aside folks, it’s going to take maybe half an hour or so. You can’t hurry stew, it’s gotta stew.”

Griggin gave a polite cough. “Perhaps Miss Rätsel would like to take the time to freshen up a bit?”

Rätsel looked at Griggin. Was this warlock calling her smelly? The only thing that excused it was that she was feeling a bit less than pristine, to be honest. But soaking in a strange tub, without her clothes on?

“Um… I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”

Griggin smiled. “No inconvenience to us, Miss. We may not have the largest of garrisons, but we do know how to take care of ourselves.”

Lenna put her hand on Rätsel’s shoulder. “Follow me dear, I’l show you where it is.”

Rätsel stared. She was in a room with a marble floor, but the floor was warm. It was lit by subdued gas-light. There was no bath, but a separate compartment had water nozzles at the top and the sides that shot hot water at you.

“Right dear. Blue tap is cold water, red tap is hot. Start with cold, then mix in hot or you’ll burn yourself. Soap is over there, towels are over there. Enjoy!”

Rätsel, mildly parboiled, thoroughly pummeled clean from all sides with hot water, with a fresh set of robes on, was feeling like a million gold. She had to admit, this was great. She walked into the main room. Little baby Aubrey was sleeping in her cot, and everybody else was sitting at the table waiting for her. Someone had set a plate for her, and on it was her purse. She frowned.

“Did I drop that?”

“In a sense,” said Nix. “You hugged Interalia.”

“Oh you rogues are the worst,” said Rätsel. “Except for warl-”

She stopped herself just a moment too late, and looked at Griggin. “I’m very sorry. Please forgive me.”

Griggin gave her a wry smile. “It is not a popular vocation. Mostly because people don’t know what it means to be a warlock. I hope you did enjoy my other speciality, which is steam engineering?”

“Yes very much so.” Rätsel gave Griggin a long look. “Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, why did you want to become a warlock? Working with demons? Aren’t they… evil?”

“I didn’t,” said Griggin. “You can become a warlock if you are foolish enough, but most warlocks are born, not made. It manifests itself as a connection between your mind and the demesne where daemons live. When the daemons find that connection, they will attack your mind, trying to seduce you, frighten you. The first thing a warlock must learn is to defend against that. If not, it will drive you insane. Binding daemons to one’s will is the natural extension of that skill. My attack spells are fed from the same energy that allows daemons to manifest themselves in Azeroth, or Draenor.”

“But aren’t demons your allies, your friends?”

“By the Light, no. Zig-Barash fights for me because it recognises my mastery. Daemons don’t have friends, can’t have friends. The only currency among daemons is strength of will. If my resolve would slip for even a moment, it would kill me.”

“But um…” Rätsel bit her lip. “I’ve heard about warlocks doing all kind of things with… succubuses?”

“Succubi. Or rather, Sayaad.” Griggin closed his eyes a moment. He had once been charged to torture a man to death for precisely that crime. It had been one of his darkest moments. A punishment not only for the hapless fool who had been seduced by his own Succubus, but also for the circle of warlocks that allowed such a thing to happen. Never to touch a daemon, even with permission, even when the daemon pleaded, begged for it, was one of the first laws taught to young fresh-faced daemon-botherers. But that was not a subject for the dinner table. “That is a common misconception, fuelled mostly by boyish hormones. Succubi look the way they do because that is their way of overcoming foes.”

“But now you have overcome those attacks, why not stop?”

Griggin laughed quietly. “I’ve always wanted to be a paladin. No, Miss. I have not overcome the whispers from the Void. I have merely become very good at keeping them at bay, even in my sleep. If that skill were to leave me, I would be better off dead.”

Rätsel paused at that phrase. She’d used it, but that had always been one of those exaggerated things like just dying of embarrassment. She could see that Griggin was completely serious.

“Stew anyone?” Lenna took the lid off the pot. “That smells great, Young Missus.”

Dinner was done, coffee had been served. Rätsel was about ready to port home. The Steambenders were shaking hands with her. Interalia held her arms open and grinned at her wickedly. Ratsel gave her a Look, then hugged her.

“If I’m missing anything when I’m home, I’m coming to get you. I’ve got loads of polymorph spells. Wanna be a pig?”

Interalia chuckled. “You mages crack me up.”

“We can. Thanks for dinner, it was lovely.”

Only one person left to shake hands with. Griggin smiled at Rätsel.

“Safe home, Miss Rätsel. Until we meet again, and may your mind be steadfast.”

“And yours,” said Rätsel. “Thank you for everything.”

Rätsel took a deep breath and chanted out the syllables of her teleport spell. The Steambender garrison faded from view, to be replaced by her own home away from Azeroth.

A soft draenei voice sounded. “And where have you been all this time?”

Rätsel smiled. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

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