Part 16: Songs of sorrow

“Just about right, except for the shoulders. They had two sticky-out bits.”

Albert looked into the face of the castle’s smallest adult occupant.

“Sticky-out bits.”

“Yeah.”

“These… sticky-out bits. What did they look like?”

“By the Light, Scribble, I didn’t stick around to look at him and maybe paint a picture.”

“Why do I give you this extremely expensive imager, again?”

Interalia sneered at Albert the scribe, scratching her arm. The cuts didn’t hurt anymore, but now, they itched.

“The bugger was shooting fireballs at me, what did you want me to do? Tell him to hold still and smile?”

“You couldn’t have waited a bit for the excitement to die down, then taken a picture?”

Interalia looked steadily into the eyes of this Human. He probably really believed that the pen was mightier than the sword, and that the forces of Evil could be stopped with a scathingly constructed argument. And, in this case, that a Rogue, even an exceptionally capable Gnome girl, could keep herself hidden when the whole Tower already knew she was there and wouldn’t rest till they’d got her and could cut bits off her until she’d tell them all she knew and more. Interalia shivered. She could have died in there. Could have spent quite a lot of time there, dying.

Godsnogtoe, no!”

Albert looked at the pictures Interalia had managed to take.

“Number nineteen is missing,” he said.

“Probably a glitch,” said Interalia. In fact, number nineteen showed a sexy Gnome Rogue girl in a rather revealing outfit, holding an open lockbox, smiling seductively at the imager. It was making its way to Stormwind.

“It’s the latest Goblin technology,” said Albert. “It doesn’t ‘glitch’.”

Goeiegenade,” said Interalia. “I’ve been walking round with Goblin engineering in my pocket? I’m lucky it didn’t explode!”

Albert frowned. “It was very expensive.”

“Yep,” said Interalia. “Sounds like Goblin tech to me.”

X

“I think I’ve found it,” said Albert. “It seems we are dealing with some kind of emissary from the Twilight’s Hammer cult.”

“Who are they?”

Albert put a book on the table and opened it at the bookmark he’d put in. He turned the book over so Gerrig could see it.

“A cult of doom who associate, among other things, with the Old Gods C’thun and Yog-Saron. Their current leader is an Ogre-mage called Cho’gall. They are currently roaming the streets of Stormwind declaiming that we are all going to die, and that if we join their cult, we will at least be turned into Undead.”

“And the Horde are associating with them?”

Interalia grinned. “Don’t look like it, Boss Man. Big Green tossed him out. Right at me. That’s when he started shootin’ at me. Luckily, I got away.” Interalia sniffed. “Or they’d have gotten their dirty green hands on that fancy picture box.”

Gerrig leaned forwards towards Interalia. “Your cunning and skill have saved us all. Well done.” He sat up again. “Are these Twilight Cultists likely to come bothering us here?”

Albert shook his head. “That is hard to tell. Perhaps, Miss Interalia’s assailant was trying to gain support for his cult. The Horde has associated with a dragon named Deathwing, who was a major player in the Second war. But Deathwing is dead.”

“Hm.” Gerrig sighed. “Well, if any purple-robed pessimists show their faces at Caer Bannog, I’m sure they will enjoy a refreshing swim in the moat. Thank you both. That will be all.”


Selena stood on the highest place on the bridge, looking round. It was the highest point on the ship, unless she wanted to climb into the mast, which she didn’t. There was no land in sight anywhere. For all she knew, the whole world was made of salt water. Oh well. Time to get her hand in with her new bow. A new one, as she’d broken her old longbow. She had bought this one from Mrs. Naela Trance, the bowyer in Menethil. It had cost her a fortune, but once she had shot an arrow with it, she wasn’t going to give it back. It was made of metal, and it was shorter than her old longbow. It made up for that with a set of pulleys that gave the bowstring more travel. The sweetest part of this bow was the way you drew it. Her old bow had pulled back more and more the further she drew the arrow back. This one would start out pulling back hard, and then, as the arrow was drawn back all the way, suddenly let up. It was probably something to do with the shape of the pulleys. Which meant that she could aim so much more comfortably. It had a kick hard enough to pierce plate armour.

All the way over on the prow of the ship, she had tied up a sack filled with firewood. The first try, she had used tightly packed straw, and the arrow had sailed clean through, into the sea. Which was a shame, as these arrows were quite expensive. Her usual wooden arrows would have splintered in this bow. At least the wood stopped the arrows. In a nice, calm, steady rhythm, Selena shot about a dozen arrows into the target, satisfied with the way they were grouped closely together. There was something almost hypnotic about the way you took the arrow, fit it to the string, drew, aimed, fired, and saw the arrow hit the target with a satisfying thud. You could almost feel the impact in your hands.

Dorian Graycloud watched her from the helm, keeping the ship on course with minute movements.

“I had one of those bows once.”

“Hm?” Selena let fly another arrow. It veered off to the right a little. Wind had picked up. She aimed her next arrow a bit to the left, and saw it hit the target right in the middle of the group of arrows.

“I swapped it for a rifle. Bows are nicer, though. Quiet.”

“They are, aren’t they?”

She took the last arrow out of her quiver, when something stirred in the corner of her eye. She looked up, to see a huge sea-bird pass over the ship, then circle round and follow them. Almost before she knew, she’d fitted the arrow to the string, and raised the bow. Finally, something to eat besides ship’s biscuits and dried meat.

Someone’s hand hit her arm, and the arrow went flying, and disappeared below the surface of the ocean. Selena looked round, startled. She saw the look in Navigator Graycloud’s eyes, and shrunk on the spot.

“Are you mad? Don’t ever shoot at albatrosses! Never.”

Selena swallowed, surprised and startled by Graycloud’s anger.

“I’m sorry. Is it bad luck to shoot an albatross?”

“The worst of luck. I heard tell of a ship once, where some stupid bugger shot an albatross…” Graycloud touched his forehead, then his breast to ward off the bad luck. “And the wind failed. It failed for weeks on end, and everybody died of thirst, except the mariner who shot the bird. And just when he was ready to die, the ship moved, without wind, and all the dead sailors groaned, and stirred, and rose again, but they didn’t speak or move their eyes.”

“But…” A cold chill ran up Selena’s spine as she looked into Graycloud’s eyes. “But how?”

“Nobody knows,” said Graycloud. “So don’t shoot at albatrosses. Especially not this one.”

There was a noise behind Selena and she looked round to see the albatross standing on the deck behind her, folding its wings, then preening its feathers. It looked at Selena with one black beady eye.

“Why? What’s special about this one?”

There was a sound as a rushing of the wind, and blue lights whirled round the majestic bird. It grew, changed shape, raised itself to stand upright. Then he looked at Selena, waving a finger disapprovingly.

“It’s the Captain,” said Dorian Graycloud.


Berrin walked below decks. Next to some crates of the finest silk, looted from the finest of Ogres, a hammock hung, and in it lay a young Dwarf girl, face to the bulkhead, back to the world. He put a hand on her shoulder, and she looked round, startled.

“I won’t keep bringing ye food like this, ye know?”

Hieronimo sat up in her hammock, and Berrin hopped up, sat next to her and put his arm round her.

“What’s the matter, then?”

Hieronimo took a bite of bread, chewed a bit before answering.

“Bloody Elves.”

Berrin’s eyes gleamed at Hieronimo. He raised and bent his legs, making the hammock swing.

“What about them?”

“They’re… wrong.”

Berrin nodded slowly. “Aye. Wrong people. Wouldn’t want to mix with Wrong people.”

Hieronimo gave Berrin a dark look, then stared at her feet again.

“Mind you, these Elves aren’t as Wrong as some others I could mention. Mrs. Ravenwing is nice enough. She made lunch for ye. She’s a widow, poor woman.”

“They just… make my skin crawl.”

“Why’s that, then?”

“Haven’t you heard some of the things they do?”

Berrin gave a little laugh. “Living their lives in sin and debauchery? Between the furs quicker than you or me shake hands, and only findin’ out afterwards who it was and whether they were a boy or a girl? The more in the bed the merrier? That sort o’thing?”

“Well… they do, don’t they?”

Berrin moved his legs in and out, till he had a nice swing going. You had to get the timing just right.

They think that Dwarves spend their lives swillin’ beer, and gettin’ into fights with each other, before they stumble into a ditch somewhere, and wake up with vomit in their beards and frogs in their helmets.”

“What?! You know that ain’t true!”

Berrin laughed, leaned over to Hieronimo and looked into her eyes.

“Dint ye come back to the inn no more than a few weeks ago, on the broad shoulders of Mr. Thorfin Stoneshield?”

Hieronimo scowled. “That was because of that cheap plonk Selena gave me. Should’ve stuck to ale.”

“Forced it down yer throat, did she?”

“Pf.”

Berrin pulled Hieronimo a bit closer. “Thing to remember, lass, is that there’s always a grain o’ truth in all these stories, but the story’s a great big field of barley.”

“That Elf put her hands on me,” said Hieronimo.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.”

“She shouldn’t have. It’s not proper.”

Berrin sighed. “Maybe she shouldn’t have, but she was just trying to be nice.”

“None of us wearin’ nothing. Should’ve kept her hands to herself.”

Berrin sighed, and said nothing.

“No Dwarf girl gets it on with another girl.”

“You’d be surprised,” said Berrin. “I think I know two girls who do. Can’t say for sure, mind. If they do, then they’re keeping it indoors. They live together in a cabin in the woods, few miles away from Thelsamar. No telling if there’s any goings-on, but I’ve seen the look in their eyes.” Berrin’s eyes softened. “Ye can see there’s love there. Who cares whether they keep their clothes on or not?”

Hieronimo looked at Berrin’s face, to see if he was serious. Berrin looked back into Hieronimo’s eyes.

“It ain’t the kind of thing you want to parade about in Thelsamar.”

“Well… good,” said Hieronimo. “Ye don’t want to disturb decent folk.”

“Huh. All those girls do, if they do it, mind, is cuddle up together. So-called decent folk would beat the stuffing out of them if they’re not careful.”

Hieronimo said nothing.

“Och, get out there, lass. Find Miss Filyen, tell her yer sorry and all will be right.”

Hieronimo looked up. “I ain’t sorry, and I’m not gonna lie to ‘er.”

“Then stay here in yer nice hammock. This trip’s going ta take maybe two weeks. Dinner’s at six.”

He jumped out of the hammock, shook his head at Hieronimo, and went above decks.


The sun was setting, and all the crew and passengers, except the captain at the helm, were gathered amidships. Berrin was pleased to see that Hieronimo had emerged after all, and was sitting on the deck between Selena and Sister Nægling with a subdued expression on her face. Freja handed out bowls of soup made from dried meat and some hearty spices from Westfall, adding the last of the green vegetables before they went off. It was very good, and praises were sung to the cook, who refused to give out the recipe, claiming that it was a family secret only to be passed on from mother to daughter, on their death-beds. The bowls were washed up (in sea-water, nobody needed to add salt to anything on board), and Freja disappeared into the galley to come back with a large kettle of something she’d prepared earlier.

Kuryon grinned broadly. “Ahh. Grog. The only good thing to come from the Human navy. Prevents scurvy, puts a smile on your cheeks, and awakens the fire in your loins. Do try it, ladies! I’ll be available in the fo’c’sle if you need to quench the after-effects.”

Sandra Pike accepted a mug, raised it to Kuryon. “May ye live as long as ye want to, and want to as long as ye live.” She took a sip. “By the way, there’s seven men on board besides yourself, and frankly, I’d start on the women before you.”

“Brave words,” said Kuryon. “I salute you, and the offer stands.”

Dorian Graycloud stood up, and gave Kuryon a look.

“I think it’s time for some music.”

He walked to his bunk, and picked up a box, from which he produced that most beloved of maritime instruments, the concertina. He started slowly, with a few sad airs, then as his fingers loosened up, he picked up the pace with jigs, reels and hornpipes. Swordsman Stanley Gerald stole Swordsman Jack Alan’s spoon. He put it, and his own spoon in his left fist, and tapped them together with his other hand by way of percussion. They kept this up for a long time, until Filyen raised a finger and spoke a few words in Darnassian. Graycloud gave Stan Gerald a quick warning that they did this song with a few strange jumps in the beats, then started playing. Filyen sang a song in Darnassian, with Freja joining in:

X

Non, ce n’était pas le radeau

De la Méduse, ce bateau,

Qu’on se le dis’ au fond des ports,

Dis’ au fond des ports,

Il naviguait en pèr’ peinard

Sur la grand-mare des canards,

Et s’app’lait les Copains d’abord

Les Copains d’abord.

X

The song went on for a few more verses, which few of the audience could understand. After the song finished, Stanley Gerald pointed at Dorian’s concertina.

“Mate, I know a Song of the Sea as well. Mind if I hold that for a bit?”

“Not at all,” said Dorian, handing it over and refilling his cup of grog from the kettle.

Stanley put his thumbs in the loops, then pressed a few keys in an experimental kind of way. Apparently satisfied, he began to play a short intro, then to sing:

X

When we set off from dear old Stormwind

The Maiden’s Breath, a sad old crate

Had cockroaches all in the midships

And in the for’ard nests of rats

We had a little boy from Westfall

As cabin boy with us on board

It was the first time he went sailing

He’d never heard of sharks before

And on the pier in Stormwind Harbour

He shyly told his Mum farewell

Because he was afraid to kiss her

That little sailor from Westfall

X

The stokers scolded him with malice

Because on the very first day

Still within sight of Stormwind’s lighthouse

He sea-sick in the fo’c’sle lay

And with some gin and with some lemons

They put him back upon his feet

Because sick sailors are a bother

And likely to affect the freight

When he came for’ard from the galley

Under the weight of tea-jugs full

He looked a little heap of sorrow

That little sailor from Westfall

X

Still at the end of all his labour

When blessed sleep had finally come

The man who slept above him scolded

Because he cried out for his mum

Then on a morning bright and early

The sea was still, the sky was red

As they were roaring for their coffee

He hadn’t got up from his bed

And as the helmsman came with quinine

And castor oil to no avail

He asked advances on his wages

For the old woman in Westfall

X

In canvas and weighed down with iron

They laid him on the deck that day

The Captain took his cap off sadly

And raised a groggy voice to pray

While singing hymns for those in peril

They slid his body in the wet

Who didn’t dare to kiss his mother

Because real sailors don’t do that

They sent the letter to his mother

Some extra rum was given all

That was the end of a young sailor

That little sailor from Westfall

X

He finished with a few chords, then looked round. A dead silence had descended on the ship. Filyen sat in her usual place, leaning against the mast, looking at the red sunset with large, liquid, sad eyes. Kuryon took a deep breath, and from the depth of his soul spat out a single word.

“Bastards.”

Dorian Graycloud got up, put his hand on Stanley’s shoulder, nodded once at him, then went aft to see if the Captain wanted relief at the helm. Stanley carefully put the concertina back in its box.

“Is there any more grog?”


“So you weren’t actually born on Teldrassil?”

“Nobody is,” said Filyen. “Teldrassil was made about a dozen years ago. If an adult tells you they were born on Teldrassil, they’re Horde spies.”

Selena looked impressed. “From what Ariciel tells me, Teldrassil is a really, really big tree higher than the clouds! There’s a whole city on top of it. How’d they do that?”

“Fertiliser of the Gods,” said Filyen, with a completely straight face.

Selena grinned. “You follow a god around with a bucket and spade?”

“And hide the bucket behind your back if their Allseeing Eye falls on you.”

Filyen was preparing a new piece of rope that needed an eye on the end. She’d frayed out the last bit, and was weaving the strands back into the rope. A bit of metal was inside the bend in the rope, to strengthen it. They would be using it to replace the halyard that raised the mainsail.

Selena looked across the deck. Hieronimo had taken apart her gun and had all the parts neatly laid out on a white handkerchief. She was cleaning and oiling the parts, prior to putting them back together again. Selena got up and walked over to her.

“Hi.”

Hieronimo looked up at Selena, then went back to cleaning the rotating magazine with a long brush.

“Hi,” she said, finally.

Selena frowned at her. “Oi short stuff, who are you and what have you done to Hieronimo? You used to be more fun, you know?”

“Hrm,” said Hieronimo, explaining in a single grunt that that was in Kharanos, among decent folk, not all these wild tall long-eared…

“Oh cheer up!” Selena looked at Hieronimo with large eyes. “I miss the Dwarf girl who got me my first tattoo.”

Hieronimo held the magazine up to her eye, imagined she could see a tiny speck of dirt inside, and resumed brushing. She looked up at Selena with a hint of a gleam in her eye.

“I wasn’t going to tell you,” said Selena, “But I went back to that tattoo Dwarf and had him tattoo your face on my left tit. Wanna see?”

Hieronimo snorted, looked at Selena’s face and burst out laughing.

“Well, he had to do it from memory, so he may not have gotten it just right, but as long as we both know who it is, that’s all that matters.” Selena’s hand went to the first button of her shirt. “Lemme show you.”

“Och, put that away, woman.”

“Oh alright then.”

Hieronimo sighed, and looked out over the sea. “Have you ever been to Kalimdor?”

“Nope. Never a step out of Redridge till early last year. Ironforge doesn’t count, because I was too young to walk.”

“I think there’s a few Dwarves in a place called Theramore, but we ain’t going there.”

“Teldrassil,” said Selena, with a sigh. “The world-tree. Darnassus is on top.”

“They want us to climb up a sodding tree?”

“Bannog told me there’s a portal at the bottom that takes you straight to the top.”

“I don’t like heights.”

“I don’t think you can even look down most of the time.”

“And it’ll be packed with Elves.”

“Yeah,” said Selena. “You get that, with Elf capital cities.”

Hieronimo looked over to Filyen, who had finished her rope, and was coiling it up, by laying it down loop after loop. They would attach it to the sail later. She looked over to Selena and Hieronimo with a neutral expression on her face. Hieronimo looked away.

“Filyen’s alright,” said Selena. “Knows all about Teldrassil, too. Anything you want to know, ask her. Would you believe she’s over a hundred years old?”

Hieronimo put her gun back together quickly, without even looking at her hands. She pointed it out to sea, because even if you’ve just cleaned it, there is no such thing as an unloaded gun. She pulled back the hammer, and pulled the trigger. It fell on the empty chamber with a metallic click.

“Maybe I will,” she said.

X

Nægling had made herself comfortable on the foredeck, out of sight, out of mind. She’d pulled the strip of leather from her hand, and was exercising her ring finger. It moved, but it still hurt. She looked out over the ocean, as Aviana’s Wingbeat made its way towards the North-west. In battle, she ignored pain. Up here, alone, it annoyed her. She looked down. This was all part of her penance. It was right that she should suffer. Others had, and would, because of her failure.

“Excuse me? May I join you?”

Nægling looked up to see Mr. Cullan stand next to her. “Please do,” she said.

Cullan sat down next to her, leaning against the fo’c’sle. Nægling went back to bending and straightening her ring finger, not showing any hint on her face that it might hurt.

“Did you hurt yourself in the fight against the Undead?”

Nægling shook her head, said nothing. Cullan looked ahead of him. His face looked placid, content. He wasn’t going to Stormwind as quickly as he might, but it didn’t seem to worry him.

“It’s an old injury,” said Nægling.

“I see. Even with healing magic, some injuries still take time to heal. We cannot simply wish away all our hurts.”

“Or, in some cases, we choose not to,” said Nægling, before she thought to stop herself.

Cullan looked at her, eyebrows raised, wordlessly asking, but in a way she could ignore if she wanted to. Nægling bent her ring finger again. Hold. Release. Bend. Hold. Release.

“What does it feel like?”

“I beg your pardon, Sister?”

Nægling looked at Cullan’s face. “To change. What is it like?”

Cullan’s eyes stared at the foredeck, not seeing the wood, scrubbed white, bleached by the suns of all the seas of Azeroth.

“Terrible,” he said, quietly. “I have done… terrible things while the Beast was upon me. It is the destruction of all the things that make… made me Human. Compassion. Self control. Restraint. I become… savage.”

Nægling bent her finger again, held it. Not as far as the last time. She exerted herself. The Priest had told her to stop when the pain became acute. She pushed harder. Held. Released.

“I watched you fight,” said Nægling. “You are strong. You fight as one possessed. Relentless. Nothing but death could stop you.”

“Once the Beast takes over, everything changes,” said Cullan. “Sometimes I wonder. Was this something that the curse bestowed on me, or was I always like this, but simply unable or too restrained to indulge myself?”

Nægling closed her eyes, laid down her arm in her lap for a moment.

“When I have enemies before me, and spoken my prayers of battle, so that I am strengthened and protected by the Light Everlasting, the moment just before joining battle. That is when I feel… almost at peace. That is the moment that I am free of doubt. Free of…” Nægling paused, bent her ring finger again. Hold. Release. “Free of guilt. That is when I know that if I should die, I am clear of all blame at last.” She looked at Cullan. “Do you understand?”

“It is the thing that frightens me most,” said Cullan. “In my True Form, with prey before me, all my strength, my weapons. I feel…” Cullan looked into Nægling’s eyes. “I feel glorious.”

X

Selena held up the piece of rope. Halyard, stay, sheet, whatever. She’d been trying to split back the last end as neatly as she’d seen Filyen and other crewmembers do it. So far, the proper nautical term was a Mess. Selena sighed, and pulled out the bends, to try again. She saw a shadow on the deck, and looked up. Kuryon was standing next to her, looking down on her. He kneeled next to her.

“Not working?”

“No. I think I’m doing it right, but…”

Kuryon took the rope out of Selena’s hand, showed her.

“Middle strand, you bend down like this. Then the right strand, you bend around. Finally, the left strand, you put through the loop, like this. Pull gently… like so.”

Kuryon pulled the strands apart again, gave Selena back her rope.

“You try.”

Under Kuryon’s patient instructions, Selena finally managed to tie off the end of her rope. It wasn’t quite as neat as it might have been, but it would do. Kuryon raised his hands.

“Practice, and more practice, my Lady. Remember, we’ve been doing this since before your parents were born.”

“Is it going to take that long?”

Kuryon grinned. “By no means! I think you’ll be able to put in a proper split within a mere fifty years.”

Selena laughed. “Human here. We learn a bit quicker than that, I hope.”

“I am sure you will.”

Selena looked up at Kuryon’s face.

“You know, you’re much nicer when you aren’t telling the ladies how pretty they are. Just saying.”

Kuryon put his finger on his lips.

“Ssh. Don’t tell anyone.”


Interalia jumped down from the gate, and walked down the stairs, a little grin on her face. She’d spotted a cart coming down the road. The first time she’d been in that cart, Nix had hand-cuffed her to it. She’d tried to seduce him then, but that was just to get him to take off the handcuffs. She could have done it, too. Nix at the time was a complete pushover. Sadly, Nix’ sister Trixie had caught on and cramped her style no end. Interalia sprinted out of the gates, down the path, and hid herself behind a boulder next to the road. When the cart came past, she took a running jump and landed in the box next to Nix.

“Stand and deliver! Your money or your life!”

Nix grinned at her. “Heh! I bet you say that to all the boys.”

“Sure,” said Interalia. “They all get snotty when I don’t ravish them as well.”

“If you didn’t ravish me, I’d ask for a discount,” said Nix.

“Gimme my purse back,” said Interalia.

“What’s it worth to you?”

“Your teeth stay where they are.”

Nix laughed out loud, and handed Interalia her purse back.

“And the money inside.”

Nix chuckled, and dropped the coins into the purse, one by one. Interalia put her purse back into her pocket, then grabbed Nix’ shoulder, pulled him towards her and kissed him for a rather long time while the cart swayed from one end of the road to the other. Nix gave her a suspicious look, and checked his pockets. He frowned.

“What’d you take?”

“Nothing.”

“Pull the other one.”

Interalia leaned back in the seat, humming to herself, looking very pleased with herself. Nix looked at her through narrowing eyes.

“You git. You didn’t take anything. You just want to keep me guessing what it was.”

“Well, I can’t afford to give you a discount.”

This is what you call ravishing?”

“We’re within sight of the towers. I’m sure the lugs can’t wait to find out all about Gnomish mating habits.”

Nix looked up at the tower. Interalia grinned.

“They’ve got telescopes. They make things look bigger.”

“Why’d they want to?” said Nix, innocently.

Interalia laughed. “What do you have for us today?”

“First half of the actual water pump,” said Nix. “Dad’ll be along day after tomorrow with the other half, and then we can assemble it and make this place steamy and hot.”

“Oo baby, baby,” said Interalia.

X

They hit the part of the road that had paving stones, and the wheels started to rattle. Copper piping in the back started shaking, making a noise that drowned out all conversation. The cart rolled into the courtyard, and Nix turned off the mechanostrider, then hit the brakes. The cart came to a standstill. Interalia turned to Nix, hand on his thigh.

“It’s good to see you. Nails is off on a mission. No-one to talk with. All by myself.”

“No-one to stalk with, either?”

“Nope. And I can tell you, it’s getting lonely on my shelf.”

“Oh, behave yourself,” said Nix.

“I ain’t misbehavin’,” said Interalia. She gave Nix a mischievous grin. “Yet.”

“Hey, did you manage to get the latest box open? The one I sent you after the one with the decolletage?”

Interalia grinned. Nice to know her efforts were appreciated.

“Hm, yes I did, but I think you made a mistake somewhere, or the stupid lugs broke it in the mail. Far too easy. Wanna come with? I’ll show you.”

Nix followed Interalia to her cupboard, and shook his head at the ‘Guard Gnome’ sign. Interalia opened the door, pointed her hand inside.

“It’s on the table,” she said.

Nix walked in, followed closely by Interalia. Interalia kicked the door closed behind her, grabbed Nix’ arm, pushed him into the door, pressed her body up against him and kissed him as though her life depended on it. She looked at him, eyes gleaming, catching her breath.

“Oh come on,” said Nix. “We’ve done the pickpocketing.”

Interalia started to undo the buttons on Nix’ shirt.

“Only one thing that’s guaranteed to work against pickpockets,” she whispered, starting on his belt. “Don’t have any pockets.”

X

Interalia was lying on her shelf, eyes closed, with a happy smile on her face. She was warm, sweaty, and a bit sticky, and she didn’t believe how long she’d done without this, and how much she’d missed it. Nix lay close behind her, and his hand was lying on her stomach. No good at all. She picked it up, and put it somewhere where it could do some good. Nix’ fingers started to move slowly. Interalia sighed happily. Good boy.

“Wow,” said Nix.

“Yeah,” agreed Interalia.

“Um,” said Nix, “Not that I’m complaining, you understand…”

“Good. Keep doing what you’re doing, by the way.”

“No problem. But what do I owe this to?”

Interalia wriggled a bit. “Does it matter?”

“Inasmuch as I’d quite like to know what I’d have to do to repeat this.”

“Couldn’t get your lock open,” said Interalia. “You win. Did I tell you to stop doing that?”

“You’re wearing the necklace,” said Nix, continuing the thing he’d been doing. For good measure, he kissed her behind her ear, which seemed to be received well.

“Thanks for that. It’s nice.”

“So?”

“To say thank you for lending me your smoke bombs and the goggles that go with ’em?” Interalia looked over her shoulder at Nix. “Seriously. I’d have been toast without those.”

Nix’ eyes strayed over Interalia’s skin, only now noticing scratches on her arms and legs, and a dark blot on her arm. Interalia saw him looking.

“Some good advice. Don’t jump through a closed window unless you really have to.”

She turned round, facing him, and put her hand on his cheek.

“We’re in a sodding war. It doesn’t look like it, because this place is nice and quiet, and nobody cares about it enough to come bothering us. But we are.”

Nix looked into her eyes. Ran his fingers from between her shoulders down to her bottom.

“Nothing happened to that,” said Interalia.

“Good,” said Nix.

Interalia’s smile faded. “I was really going to say ‘yes’. You’re a great Gnome. Should have done a long time ago. You’ve got to take your fun as you find it, because life’s lonely, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

“Isn’t that just you?”

Interalia punched him in the ribs.

“I’m serious. I came this close to never seeing you again. Maybe next time you’re here, I won’t be. I don’t want there to be anything that I was going to do but didn’t because I thought it’d be funny to wait.”

Nix looked into her eyes.

“Had a Warrior girlfriend once. Well, girlfriend… about two weeks from getting naked with her till she left for Gnomeregan. She said the same thing. And it’s a load of bollocks.”

“Huh?”

“You’re great. This…” Nix made a gesture that included the cupboard, the bed-shelf, their naked bodies. “This is great. But that we’ve done it, doesn’t mean I’d miss you any less if you weren’t there anymore. I still think of that girl now and then. Still remember her face. Never forget you either. I’m going to make lots more locks for you, and you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of opening them. And still, you always do. Do you think those locks are easy? You are the only one so far who’s managed to pick any of the last ten. Nobody else can. I could have stopped improving on them months ago. But I won’t, because there’s you. Do you think because now I’ve seen you naked, that I’ll stop? Nobody makes locks like I do, and nobody but you can pick ’em. I don’t want that to stop! You and me, we’ll make locks that the bloody gods can’t pick.”

“Um,” said Interalia.

“I’m not done with you, Interalia. I want to pick your pockets for lots more years to come. I want to listen to each one of those stupid jokes of yours, and I’ll never know them all because as long as you’re alive, there are more coming. And, um…”

Interalia looked at Nix, question in her eyes.

“I want to do lots more of this too.”

She looked into Nix’ eyes, completely lost for words, which didn’t happen often. For a couple of breaths, she tried to think of something to say, and still she couldn’t. Then it occurred to her. She didn’t need to say anything. She rolled over on top of Nix, closed her eyes and kissed him. This time, she really believed that her life depended on it.


Captain Andral Fairbreeze landed on the bridge, changed from an albatross into his Elf form, and called to Dorian Graycloud.

“Mr. Graycloud, some bandages if you please?”

“Light save us, Captain. What happened?”

“Some sailors do not have the proper restraint against shooting at albatrosses, may they be becalmed for a year.”

Dorian put his Captain’s hand on his shoulder and started winding bandages round his arm.

“Who shot at you?”

“Bunch of Lightless pirates,” said Captain Fairbreeze. “What’s worse, they’re on a ramming course with us. I hope the bastards haven’t spotted us yet, but that may be idle hope. If they have anyone on board who knows tracking spells, then we’re in trouble.”

Dorian Graycloud ripped the last end of the bandage in half, and tied it off with a knot.

“What sort are they?”

“Pff. What sort aren’t they? I’ve seen Humans, Blood-elves, Tauren, even an honest-to-goodness Draenei. Nice to see that the Horde and the Alliance can set their differences aside for the common good.”

“Evasive course, Captain?”

“Aye. They’re heading North. If we change our heading to West, maybe South-west, they’ll pass us astern.” The Captain looked at his navigator. “Unless the bastards have spotted us, of course, in which case we’re stuffed no matter what we do. Still, South-west if you please, Mr. Graycloud, while I alert crew and cargo.”

“Aye-aye Sir.”

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