Part 20: Shards

“Captain?”

Kuryon walked into Captain Andral’s cabin. Captain Andral was sitting at his small table, writing a letter to the people whose goods he still had in his holds, informing them that a Stormwind tall ship would shortly be bringing them to their final destination. He’d found a ship with space in the hold. It was going to cost him gold, but he could probably get that back from the Darkshore Admiralty. The Captain looked up.

“Mr. Swellrider?”

“We’re sailing in two days, aren’t we?”

“Yes. We’re off to Azuremyst Isle. Some mage wants to take himself and a lot of equipment to Auberdine. He’s got friends in the Admiralty, and we are the smallest vessel in the area.”

“Right. In that case, permission to visit Moonglade, Sir?”

“Granted. Give my regards to Syndrien. Do you need your wages now?”

“Yes please.”

X

Kuryon took a breath, smiled and quietly walked into the room. On the bed lay a young woman, hands lying gently in her lap, looking up at the ceiling. A bowl of fruit was on the night table next to her. The sheets had just been changed, and smelled of lavender. Though her eyes were open, the woman made no sign that she had heard Kuryon come in. Kuryon pulled up a stool, sat down by the bed. He took the woman’s hand, slender, almost translucent, in his own strong, hard hand.

“Hello Syndrien, my daughter.”

Syndrien said nothing, blinked once. Kuryon knew that probably wasn’t in response to his words, but still, it might be.

“The captain sends his greetings. You look more beautiful than ever. Almost as beautiful as your mother.”

Kuryon talked. He talked about his recent adventures, hopes, dreams. About that brave Dwarf and the Human, who had given their lives for them. Then he took out his sailor’s knife, cut one of the apples in the bowl beside her into small pieces, and fed them to her, one by one, watching her swallow. Syndrien always smiled when he did that. She liked apples. Peaches were her favourite, but there weren’t any. Finally, the fruit gone, he gently turned her face towards him, and looked deep into her eyes. He let his thoughts flow into her mind.

“Syndrien. It has been twenty-two years since your mother and I invited your soul to come and live with us. You are still welcome. So very welcome. Please come soon.”

He quietly left the room. There had been visits when he’d cried on leaving, but he hadn’t done that for at least ten years. The kind Tauren woman smiled at him.

“She be well, Sailor.”

“I can see. Thank you.”

“Yesterday, I come in, she look at me. Eyes follow me round the room. She be coming. Coming from a long way away, but she be coming.”

“She’ll be there next time I come here,” said Kuryon. “Next time.”


Cullan stood on the edge of the Warrior’s Terrace, looking down on the training grounds. Nægling was there, sword out, attacking the strongest of the training dummies. He tilted his head slightly. Something was different about her. Perhaps the difference was that she had no living enemies here. Or Undead ones. He walked down the ramp, to watch her more closely. Some of the sheer ferocity had gone out of her attacks. Also, she was annoyed with herself, that much he could see. She took a few steps back, and Cullan could see her take a better grip on her sword. She took a breath, and leapt at the training dummy again. The Beast within Cullan made him smile to see her strength. She noticed him, looked at him. The Beast wanted him to stick out his tongue and pant at her. Cullan firmly vetoed such an undignified and vulgar thing.

“Mr. Cullan,” said Nægling.

Cullan bowed his head. “Sister. I notice your fighting stance is different. Is something wrong?”

Nægling swung her big sword round with one hand, then shook her head.

“Nothing is wrong. In fact, something has been put right. Druid Mira healed some of my old injuries.”

“Ah. I see.”

Nægling opened and closed her right hand. The strap between her fingers was gone. The Beast pointed out to Cullan how that made the muscles in her arm move. Cullan told the Beast to be quiet.

“Grateful though I am to Druid Mira, it does affect my muscle memory. My sword feels different in my hand. No matter. That is a luxury problem. All I need to do is practice.”

Nægling raised her sword again, brought it down. Wood chips flew. In an effort to stop Cuchullainn commenting on the way Nægling moved, Cullan approached the next dummy over, drew his daggers and attacked. He hadn’t refreshed the poison on them since the fight at sea, but for a wooden dummy, he didn’t need poison. He looked round to see Nægling look at him, leaning on her sword.

“Aren’t you going to become a bit Bloody Mary like that?”

Cullan stabbed deep into the guts of the dummy, his other dagger hitting the neck. He shook his head.

“It is tied to anger. I could even practice with my fellow thieves and cutpurses back in Gilneas without changing.”

“There’s nobody here,” said Nægling, with a gleam in her eyes. “I came here specially to practice alone.”

“Apologies Sister,” said Cullan, unconvincingly, with a combined double slash across the dummy’s abdomen.

“Not at all,” said Nægling. “I quite like your company.”

Nægling watched Cullan fight his pretend enemy, daggers striking home in precisely controlled places. Whoever had taught him, had told him all about vital organs and how to render their owners non-vital. She kept watching him, patiently waiting for him to get the hint.

Cullan took a step back, saw Nægling standing there with her arms crossed. He took a deep breath, and allowed his Human disguise to flow away. Nægling grinned. Cuchullainn grinned back. Once more, they faced their wooden enemies and attacked.


Interalia jerked upright in her bed. She crawled over to the other side of the shelf, and put her hand on Nix’ shoulder. Nix was also sitting upright, breathing fast. Interalia listened. The occupants of Nægling’s shelf were still asleep. Nix’ eyes turned to her, wide open, reassuring himself that he was safe. Nix’ teeth were chattering, and he was rubbing his hands together. Interalia took Nix’ hands in hers. Please stop that. For decency’s sake, they were sleeping with their feet together. She looked at him. That wouldn’t do. Wouldn’t do at all. She moved over to lie down behind him, gently pressing her warm body against his back. She whispered small words of comfort into his ears, words of sleep, until finally, weary, he slept.

X

“Who gives a damn whether a bunch of lugs get wet?”

Griggin looked at his son. “We do. We have already been paid. If we do not deliver, then we will move onto such painful subjects as ‘refunds’, which we do not want. Move it, my boy!”

Nix got up from his bed. Interalia was on patrol. Trix was already up and doing, laying out lengths of copper pipe.

“Good thing it isn’t anything subtle. Bang in a bunch of pipes. Hope it isn’t too much for me.”

“I’ll need your help assembling the pump as well. That’s a two-man job.” Griggin looked into Nix’ eyes. “I need you, Son. Without you, I won’t pull this off. I’m counting on you.”

“Wish you wouldn’t, Dad. I’m not up to it anymore.” He held up his hands, shaking. “It still hurts, Dad. Can’t hold them still. Can’t put a point-four nut on a bolt, even.”

“You’re hungry,” said Griggin. “Go get some breakfast and you’ll feel much better.”

X

Brother Alruin shook his head.

“Impossible. We have cast every healing spell we can usefully cast on that boy, Mr. Steambender. Anthropomorphic memory on Gnomes is phenomenal. There is nothing wrong with Nix that healing spells can repair.”

Griggin sighed. “He says it still hurts.”

“That is entirely possible,” said Brother Alruin. “But the damage to his body has been taken care of. You have to remember what happened to him. Torture goes beyond damaging the body. It touches the soul.”

Griggin simply nodded, made no comment.

“Our healing spells do not touch the soul. Only our prayers do, to some extent, and he has been in our prayers ever since you brought him here. He needs the love and care of his family and friends. Wounds on the soul are slow to heal, but you are a long lived kind. He will be healed. Luckily, you were quick to rescue him. His ordeal lasted only a few hours, grievous though it was.”

Griggin stared outside. It was a bright, sunny day. Soldiers were practicing outside. He took a deep breath.

“We have killed the Orcs who did this to Nix. You have healed his body. Miss Interalia is kinder to him than I would have expected of her. I may not have given her the credit she deserves. Trixie… She doesn’t know what to do.” Griggin smiled. “Usually, they fight like cat and dog. She wants to, for the sake of normality, but won’t allow herself.”

“And you?”

Griggin’s face darkened. “I am not a vindictive man, Brother Alruin. And my religious doctrines do not allow me to relinquish control of my emotions. Still.”

Brother Alruin waited.

“In my mind, Stonewatch Keep is a smouldering pile of rubble, and all its occupants are dead.” Griggin looked up at the Priest. “Do you realise what kind of man I am?”

“You are a Warlock,” said Brother Alruin. “Daemons and the shadow-fire of the Twisting Nethers are yours to command.”

“I am,” said Griggin. “I know at least three Daemon-lords who would be delighted to make my vision reality. For a price, of course.”

“Your soul,” said brother Alruin.

“Indeed,” said Griggin. “My complete destruction. It is not worth the satisfaction of watching these misguided wretches die.” He took a deep breath. “So speaks all my mind, except for a tiny splinter of it. That tiny splinter says, let them burn.”


All the way to the edge of Darnassus, there is a waterfall. The fresh water from the springs, deep below the Sea, that feed Teldrassil the World-tree, falls down into the sea, blown by the wind into a fine spray. It is one of the few places where you can look all the way down, and see just how high up in the air you really are. Lirael sometimes came there, to think. It was a good place for it. She had just delivered a message from Priestess Jandria to Mathrengyl Bearwalker. His response was in her hand. The High-ups, Tyrande Whisperwind and Arch-druid Fandral Staghelm, were officially Not Talking To Each Other, but still, actions needed to be coordinated. Lirael grinned. Jandria and Bearwalker were flirting shamelessly in their messages. She was not, of course, supposed to read the messages, but he’d written it while she watched, and handed it to her without sealing it. As a priestess, it was her job to be nosy. Lirael doubted very much whether it would ever go further than perhaps a quiet shared cup of tea at Saelienne’s, but they seemed to be enjoying it.

Lirael reached the waterfall, and found that it was occupied by a dark-haired Human warrior. The Lieutenant seemed lost in thought, and didn’t even notice her until she stood next to him.

“Good afternoon, Sister Lirael,” said Smitty.

“Hello Lieutenant,” said Lirael, with a gleam in her eye. “How’s the butt?”

Smitty gave a little laugh. He’d never live that one down. “I have not had any arrows in it since last you commented on it, Sister.”

“Good,” said Lirael. “Selena will be pleased.”

Smitty turned his eyes back to the sky and the sea, and said nothing.

“Oh, I know,” said Lirael. “Silly love-sick puppy following you around everywhere. You must be so tired of her now. When do you hand her in to her brothers?”

Smitty slowly turned his head, and looked into Lirael’s eyes.

“That ‘silly love-sick puppy’, as you call her, will someday be the leader of all the Caer Bannog hunters. She, Sir Gerrig and Master-at-arms Bannog are the rulers of my house. Please do not refer to her in that way.”

Lirael laughed. “You’re not fooling me, you know. You’re certainly not fooling her.” She sat down next to Smitty, treating him to the full intensity of her alien eyes, shining with the Light’s glow and intelligence. “I could tell that you cared for her back at the Castle. There’s nothing wrong with Selena’s instincts. She knows what she is seeing. What she doesn’t know is whether to trust the evidence of her eyes.”

“I…” Smitty hesitated. “I am not in love with her. I will admit to a certain fondness for her, but…”

“Oo,” said Lirael. “A certain fondness. Wait till I tell her that.”

“Please don’t,” said Smitty, with a weary tone in his voice.

“Why not?”

Smitty took a deep breath, wondering how to rid himself of this irksome priestess.

“Look at me, Sister Lirael. I am Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith, warden of a farmstead that was burnt down by Orcs for the second time less than a month ago, soldier of the Army of Caer Bannog.”

“Don’t mind if I do look at you, Second Lieutenant Smith. Lady Selena’s taste in men is beyond reproach.”

“Yeah,” said Smitty. “I entered the castle as a recruit. My dad sent me, as I’m his second son. They taught me which end of a sword was which, and to run towards the enemy as well as away from them, and I somehow didn’t mess up spectacularly. And then I was Sergeant Smitty, and nobody minded me giving them orders, because I like to keep my men alive, and they know it.”

Lirael nodded, and said nothing.

“And then the Blackrock Orcs came knocking on our doors, and one of these Light-bereft Ogres thought he’d fling prisoners over our walls. So I mounted one of the big crossbows and shot the bastard. And M.A. Bannog noticed. And then, we went to hit back at the Blackrock, and he put me in charge of the horsemen. And they all survived.”

“Very good,” said Lirael.

“And then we caught a few leftover Orcs, and M.A. Bannog comes out of the tower like a thunderstorm, and tells me to kill them.”

“What? I didn’t know Bannog was that bloodthirsty.”

“Oh he was that day. He’d just offed their leader, and that leader had ordered the murder of Old Sir Bannog, part of Light. Still don’t know what got into me, but I told him that was against the laws.”

“Oh that’s brave.”

“I survived, so yeah. He was about ready to knock my block off. If he had, it would have been stupid, not brave. As it was, he promoted me to the exalted rank I have now.”

“I remember. I was there.”

“I know. Still. Everything I’ve earned up till now, I’ve earned myself. Bit of skill. Bit of luck. Second Lieutenant Smitty.”

“Well-earned if you ask me. You’re a good man. Like I said, Selena’s got good taste. So what’s that got to do with it?”

Smitty picked up a pebble and threw it over the waterfall, down, down.

“Let’s say that I… No. Let’s say that you fall in love with that Arch-druid, what’s his name again… ah. Fandral Staghelm.”

Lirael snorted, then nearly rolled off her rock laughing.

“That, Lieutenant, is about the worst example I’ve heard in my entire life.” She got a grip on herself. “Go on.”

“Alright. And let’s assume the two of you get together.”

Lirael clutched her breast, looking up into the sky. “Oh Fandral! Your arrogance. Your disdain for your fellow Elves. I find that so attractive in a man. Take me! Do with me what you will!”

“Yes, yes,” said Smitty. “So he’s a git. Humour me.”

“Oh alright then,” said Lirael, still chuckling to herself. “Go on.”

“You’re what, a Priestess now? Novice? Acolyte?”

“I’m an apprentice Priestess of the Temple of the Moon.”

“And you want to become a High Priestess?”

“Nobody wants to become a High Priestess. It sort of happens when you get good enough. You want the power that comes with it. Power to do good. The respect of your peers. Mind you, I’m much more likely to go with the choir. I love singing with them.”

“Choir. Right. So your husband then arranges to put you in charge of the choir. Say he can do that.”

Lirael fell silent. She looked at the tiny ripples on the sea, deep below them. She shook her head.

“He couldn’t. Even if Staghelm had anything to say in the matter, which he doesn’t, the rest of the Choir would never stand for it. Trainer Jandria has built the choir from the ground up. I wouldn’t stand for it if someone came in and replaced her. I’d be out of there just like that, and so would everyone else.” Lirael turned her eyes back to Smitty. “I understand what you’re saying.”

“You do?”

“Selena is above you in the order of things.” Lirael smiled, thinking of Selena. “The silly girl would probably think she’d be doing you a favour by promoting you to whatever she’d think of.”

“Please,” said Smitty, reproachfully.

“She’s my friend. I can call her a silly girl if I want to. She calls me a weird woman. Just tell me one thing.”

“Sister?”

Lirael’s eyes pierced Smitty’s. “You have plans. You want to raise yourself in the ranks, and see how high you can get. At any point in those plans, can you see yourself becoming Selena’s equal?”

Smitty looked at his feet. “I might.”

“When you do, what then? If I know Selena, she’ll still be in love with you, even if it takes years. She’ll still be wondering if you love her, or whether she’s fooling herself. It’ll wreck her life. I don’t want her life wrecked, because I like her. Do you want her life wrecked, Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith?”

“I don’t,” said Smitty. “I…”

Lirael got up, looked down on Smitty where he sat.

“You can’t leave it like this. The longer you leave it, the longer she’ll suffer. You do realise that she is suffering, don’t you?”

Smitty looked up at Lirael, nodded quietly. Lirael bent down over him.

“As I can see it, you have a choice. You either tell her, convincingly, that you do not love her. Cut her loose. Make her never want to look at you again. Or, you tell her that you’re coming for her. And ask her to wait for you.”

“Sister, I…”

“You have a choice, Smitty. Many, many people don’t have the choice you have. Be with her, and you’ll make Selena a very happy girl. Cut her off, and you’ll make her sad for a while, but she’ll recover and be a wiser girl for it. Leave her hanging…” Lirael turned round to leave. “And you’d better hope that all the archers who shoot at you are lousy shots.”


The door to Saelienne’s inn opened, and Mira looked up to see a blonde Human girl enter with a blonde Dwarf girl. She blinked. Hold on, wasn’t that…

“Short-ears! What in Elune’s name are you doing here? Don’t tell me Blondie is here as well.” Mira frowned. “Can’t be. There’s still booze in the place.”

Selena laughed. “No, she isn’t. All the rotgut is for you.”

“Oi. We are Keldorei. We don’t have rotgut, we have pourriture noble.”

“How are you, Mira?” said Selena, giving her a big hug.

Mira rested her chin on Selena’s head. “I’m up and running, and keeping the fighters from falling over at inopportune times. Healer’s work is never done.”

“Oh, I heard that a Druid healed Filyen. I didn’t know it was you!”

“Hey, that blue girl back at Caer Bannog. How’s she doing? Manages to stay away from the Orcs?”

“She’s off with Ariciel, for some training. Lirael says they went off to Outland.”

“Really? Why? The place is crumbling at the edges.”

“Mareva wanted to go there. Show Ariciel where she was born.”

“Oh, that will cheer her up. It’s pretty much a demon-infested dump, and about to whirl off into space. Miracle it hasn’t already. There’s about two nice places left there. Nagrand isn’t too bad, and Zangarmarsh. If you like fun guys.”

Selena pointed a finger at Mira. “That is a horrible pun.”

“I’m a horrible girl.”

Selena grinned. “And on that note… Meet Hieronimo. Hieronimo? Meet Mira.”

Heronimo sneered at Selena, nodded at Mira.

“Pleased ta meet ye, Miss.”

“That’s what you say now. Drinks anyone?”

“Gonna need a bigger table. Lots more coming.”

Selena ended up on a table with Mira, Hieronimo, and Lirael. Much to her surprise, they were joined by Second Lieutenant Joseph Smith. His shoulder brushed Selena’s as he sat down, and she looked up at him. He gave her a quick, well, not really a smile, but a look a few points warmer than his usual get-me-out-of-here look. He stared at the menu on the wall.

“Try the escargots,” said Selena. “They’re lovely.” Lirael gave her a Look.

Saelienne came, went, and returned with their starters. Smitty stared at his blisteringly hot dish of delicious snails. Selena innocently dipped some bread in her vegetable soup.

Mira was looking over to the table where Aviana’s Wingbeat’s crew was sitting with the Caer Bannog soldiery. Kuryon wasn’t back yet, so Breladon had taken his seat, next to Filyen. His arm was out of sight behind Filyen’s back, and she was wriggling her shoulders with a happy look on her face. She was going to be just fine.

“Ah yes,” said Lirael. “You healed that girl, didn’t you? Well done. Maraine went there and found she had nothing to do.”

“You priests are a bunch of slackers. Breladon wanted her in one piece, for some reason.” Mira smiled smugly. “And I was happy to help. Chalk up a few more brownie points.”

“Hmm. You may have to wait a bit to claim them. They look like they have plans.”

“They do, don’t they? Bless ’em. We’re sailing tomorrow. Make the most of it, my love.”

Hieronimo blinked, looking from Mira to Lirael, to Filyen, back to Mira.

“He’s yer boyfriend? The one sitting with Miss Filyen?”

“Aye lass,” said Mira, imitating a Dwarf accent.

“And… just look at ’em! He’s all over her!”

“Would put a bear off honey for a month. Sickening.”

“And ye just… just let em?”

Mira frowned. “Let them? What do you mean?”

“He’s cheatin’ on ye, right in front of yer eyes, and you just go ‘Oh. Oh well.’ What… what?”

Mira laughed. “He’s not cheating on me! I know exactly what they’re going to do. Do her good. Works wonders against bad memories.”

Hieronimo stared in slack-jawed astonishment, shaking her head.

“And I suppose ye’ll find yer fun somewhere else?” She sneered, jerked her head at Lirael. “With her maybe?”

“Oo! Score one of the top sopranos in the Temple Choir. Now there’s an idea.”

Lirael raised her eyebrows at Mira. “Just ‘one of’ the top sopranos, chérie?” With her finger, she drew a cross in the air.

“Oh well. I don’t do girls anyway. Désolée, my sweet.”

“Light be thanked for small mercies,” said Hieronimo.

Mira studied this strange Dwarf girl’s face. What in the name of all that’s weird was she blathering about? Selena, who had been showing Smitty how to deal with the snails, suddenly felt a chill next to her and looked round. Oh dear.

“Hieronimo? What’s up?”

“Bloody unnatural acts, that’s what!”

“What, at the table?”

Mira stared at Hieronimo, and icicles were on her voice. “We are Keldorei. I think you’ll find that we’re shit hot on living in harmony with nature, thankyouverymuch.”

“Och really? And gettin’ it on with anything that moves is all natural I suppose?”

Mira took a deep breath, but before she could rip the head off this annoying little piece of work, Lirael raised her hand. She looked into Mira’s eyes.

“Mira? Gueule.” She turned back. “Hieronimo? We do not ‘get it on with anything that moves’. I don’t know what gave you that idea, and I don’t care. Look at me. I am a Night-elf. You’ve met Arador. He is my boyfriend, and I love him with all my heart. There is also Feanor, who is also my boyfriend, and Milo. I love all three of them, each in their own way. When I am with any of them, I cannot imagine being sad. Arador has a girlfriend in the guards, and she’s, well, I’d say ‘lovely’, but she’d kick me. Still, she is. Milo is married to a beautiful woman, and living in Stormwind with her. Nobody’s cheating on anyone. We all know what’s what.”

Hieronimo opened her mouth to say something, but Lirael wasn’t finished.

“I also have this girl, lives over in Shadowglen. I don’t see her all that often, but I love her, too. She’s not as lucky with her boyfriends as I am. Seems to be a magnet for rotters, and she really deserves someone better. When she’s in one of her bad patches, I’m over there just like that, and you better believe I’ll do whatever I can to make her feel better.” Lirael looked into Hieronimo’s eyes. “And yes. ‘Whatever I can’ includes making love to her. Do you have a boyfriend?”

Hieronimo shook her head, unable to look away.

“Are you a virgin?”

Hieronimo swallowed, then nodded. “Yer not supposed to be doin’ that kind o’ thing till yer thirty-three.”

Lirael’s eyes softened. “How long to wait?”

“Five years.”

“And everybody waits?”

“Of course,” said Hieronimo. “Ye can’t get married till yer thirty-three, and ye don’t get yer privates out till yer married.”

“Um,” said Selena. “What were you trying to do with that bloke in Kharanos then?”

“I wasn’t goin’ to take me clothes off for him, ye daft bint!”

Lirael smiled at Hieronimo, putting a hand on her short, strong arm. Hieronimo looked at Lirael’s hand, then back up into her eyes.

“I hope you find a wonderful husband,” she said. “To make love to someone, it’s the most sincere, the most powerful way of saying to someone that you wish them well, to make them feel better when they’re sad, or completely ecstatic when they’re feeling good to begin with. When you give yourself to someone, give them the gift of touch, the magic, it is impossible for them not to understand, not to know that you love them. Anyone can do that for anyone else. Boy, girl, doesn’t matter. I could make love to a Human, a Dwarf, even a Draenei, and even though they come from farther away than all the paths of Azeroth laid end to end, they would understand. My hand is touching you now. Do you understand what I mean with that touch?”

Hieronimo looked away.

“I don’t get it on with girls.”

Lirael shrugged. “Neither does Mira. I do, sometimes, but I wouldn’t dream of trying it with you. That would not be making love.”

Lirael looked round the table. Everybody happy now? Good. She picked up her fork and started on her salad.

X

“You’re a better woman than I am,” said Mira. They were watching Selena and Hieronimo walk off into the night. “I was about ready to go bear on the little…”

“Aww. She’s nice, really she is. And she’s all alone in a strange place, where nobody behaves the way she’s used to.” Lirael looked sad. “She’s a product of her people. Dwarves are very much in favour of things being right and proper.”

“Meaning we’re not?”

“Not according to their rules, we’re not. Gettin’ it on wi’ girls? Ye dirty hussies. That’s not going to change in a hurry, either. And it won’t change ever if all you do is punch someone in the face for being different.”

“Pf. Do you really think that girl is now all right and cosy with our wicked and depraved ways?”

“Of course not,” said Lirael. “I’m battling against a whole life of being told what’s right. You have to stick to just one boyfriend. So which one are you keeping?”

“Sod that. I’m going to get them all together in one big bed.”

“And there you have it. Are you going back to the ship?”

“Naah. Still pissed off. I think I’ll take a run through the forest to walk it off. See if I still remember the paths. You?”

“I feel pretty good, actually.” Lirael punched the air. “I struck a blow against ignorance. Go me!”

“Well done,” said Mira. “Wanna come with? I’ll show you what a Moonwell looks like when there’s actual moon.”

“Out in the woods by night? You strange person. I’m heading for Arador’s. Got some music to practice.”

“Oh alright. Enjoy.” She waved, and ran off into the dark.

Lirael grinned. “Oh, I will.”


Griggin started the big Optimal Prime 5000 water pump and heater. It was the very pump he had once installed in the Stonefire Tavern in Ironforge, until the IGNITE (Ironforge Gnomish Network for the Implementation of Thermal Energy) network of pumps and pipes had made it redundant. Mr. Firebrew had let him take it away with him. The pump still used the same energy crystals from Un’goro Crater. He’d left a fresh set of crystals so that Selena’s grandchildren could replace them. Griggin was moderately pleased with their handywork. Pipes ran from the basement to a spring deep under Caer Bannog’s foundations. He hadn’t even considered feeding it from the moat. As Quartermaster Declan put it, Orcs could piss in it. From the pump, more pipes ran to the kitchen (an extra he had put in for free), the secret tunnel (which was also an extra, but definitely not free), and for some bizarre reason, three pipes, (hot, cold, and waste), ran to one of the storage cupboards in the keep. If they were going to be visiting this castle more often, a quiet place to wash one’s face was no extreme luxury. He walked up the stairs from the boiler room, to find Interalia leaving the kitchen.

“Miss Interalia?”

“Hi. What’s cooking?”

“I have just started the pump. It should be at operating temperature in approximately twelve minutes. Could you run upstairs and tell Nix? He should be just about done with the final making good. I’ll be in the kitchen testing the flow regulators. Ask him if he would test the showers for pressure and temperature.”

“Sure thing, Boilerman.”

Griggin watched Interalia skip up the stairs.

Boilerman?

X

Interalia opened the door, and walked into the new bathroom. She looked round, and whistled. The Steambenders had outdone themselves. Smooth tiles from floor to ceiling, wash basin, benches for sitting on while you pulled your socks on. Pegs for hanging up your clothes, all done in tasteful marble, with the device of Caer Bannog on one of the walls. Nix was by the wash basin, with the mirror in his hands, trying to slot it onto the clamps.

“Nix?”

Nix looked round, lowering the mirror.

“Give me a hand, will you? Can’t get it in.”

Such a sad look was on Nix’ face that Interalia completely ignored the excellent innuendo in that sentence and took the mirror from him. She slotted the mirror in the bottom clamps, pushed it up against the wall and slid down the top clamps.

“Thanks,” said Nix, rubbing his hands together. Interalia looked at him, and he stopped.

“Your dad says the pump is running. And to test for…”

“Temperature and pressure,” said Nix. “I know. I heard the pipes.”

“Right.”

Nix walked into the shower, and turned on the taps. Air started to hiss. Interalia looked up.

“Hey! It isn’t working.”

“There’s still air in the pipes,” said Nix, “And the pump isn’t up to full pressure yet.”

He walked out of the shower. Behind his back, there was the stuttering sound of water and the rains came down. Nix walked over to the wash basin and turned on those taps as well. Water splashed down into the basin, and disappeared down the plughole. Finally, Nix walked up to a strange device sitting in a separate corner of the bathroom, and turned a tiny valve. There was the sound of water running.

“What’s that?”

“In-door latrine,” said Nix.

“Eww! Why’d you want to have that indoors?”

“Most castles have ’em,” said Nix. “Only this one flushes out with water. Better than your basic hole in the wall.”

“Oh the joys of modern living. Give me a proper cludgie any time. If you’re lucky, the seat is still warm from the one before you.”

Nix gave a little snort of a laugh. Interalia looked up at his face.

“So now what?”

“Well, we wait a bit, and then we check water flow and temperature.”

“How hot and how wet, you mean?” Interalia gave Nix a filthy grin.

“Yeah,” said Nix.

Interalia sneered. “That was a come-on, just in case you didn’t notice.”

“Sorry.”

Interalia slapped the back of Nix’ head. “Dammit, Nix, we’re rogues. We don’t apologise, ever.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Now you’re taking the piss.”

Interalia looked at the rushing water, then at Nix. A little grin started on her face. On one of the benches was a sheet of paper with a drawing of the pipes on. She looked in Nix’ toolbox and found that friend of all plumbers when the waters come down where they’re not wanted: a ball of putty. Interalia reached out, pulled Nix’ stub of pencil from behind his ear and wrote on the paper. Then, she stuck it to the door with putty. Nix blinked.

“What the hell, pardon my Orcish, are you doing?”

“Testing,” said Interalia. She started to unbutton her blouse.

“Oi! Keep that on! Someone could come in!”

Interalia threw her blouse at Nix and started on her leather trousers.

“Put a ‘Keep Out’ sign on the door.”

She dropped the last of her clothes, and stepped into the shower.

“Brr! It’s cold!”

“Look, the pump isn’t up to speed yet. Get out of there!”

“Oo! This perks you up. Look at me! I’m getting goosebumps.”

“Interalia!”

“Ah, no. It’s warming up. Ooh. This is nice!”

Interalia turned her face up to the falling water, and flaunted herself at Nix shamelessly.

“Get in here, plumber boy.”

What?! No!”

“Stop arguing. Get your kit off. Humans are twice the size of Gnomes. If this thing can get us both wet, it’s working properly.”

Nix looked at his feet.

“I don’t want you to see.”

Interalia looked at Nix, standing there, one hand behind his back to avoid rubbing them together. With a lump in her throat, she stepped out of the shower, dripping, and put her hands on Nix’ shoulders.

“Nix?” Interalia looked into his eyes, and started unbuttoning his shirt for him. “You’ve seen Nails with her clothes off, have you?”

“Yeah,” said Nix. He didn’t move, but then again, he didn’t try to stop what Interalia was doing either. Interalia pulled his shirt down. She looked, quickly. It wasn’t pretty. Nails’ scars were more or less random, made by little more than wild animals. Savages. Nix’ scars were precise. Burns in neat rows on his chest. Long cuts. Someone had figured out precisely how to make someone suffer, both body and mind. What a waste of brains. Nix had been healed by the Human priests, leaving only white marks on his skin, memories in his mind, nightmares in his sleep.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” said Interalia. Her face was only inches away from Nix’. “Makes you look badass. Did I ever tell you that badass Gnomes turn me on?”

“No.”

“Well, they do. You’ve been through hell and come back. They aren’t breathing anymore. You are. By the Ancient Gods, you do turn me on. You’re not getting away.”

Interalia took a hold on Nix’ arms, and walked backwards till the water fell on them both. She closed her eyes and kissed Nix, pulling him close to her. Her hands ran down his back, no longer smooth. She’d lied to him. She would have told him the very same thing if she’d had to keep herself from throwing up. She’d have done the exact same thing she was doing now, pushing her body into his, urgently, hungrily. So. Was it still a lie if it happened to be true? She pulled at his ear-lobe with her teeth.

“And you make the best shower-baths,” she whispered.

X

Interalia ran into Trixie on her way to her cupboard. She was whistling a very dirty song. She’d left Nix in the bathroom, feeling much better, though a few repeat treatments might be needed.

“Hi Aggro-girl!”

“Saw your sign on the bathroom door,” said Trixie. “Serious Injury Or Death? It’s a hot tap. What do you think we are, goblins?”

“Perfectly accurate,” said Interalia. “If anyone had opened that door, I’d have ripped their nadgers off.”

Trixie nodded slowly. “Ye Gods, I wish I could go back to kicking your butt for that. As it is… Manage to cheer him up a bit?”

“Just what the doctor ordered. Cheered me up no end. He’s pretty good when he gets going. Very…”

“Yeah thanks. There’s things I really don’t need to know about my brother.” She said nothing for a few moments. “Good.”

“Aww.” Interalia put her arms round Trixie in a big sisterly hug. “I always knew we’d be best friends some day.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t push it, you little tart.”

“I wuv you too, Aggro-girl.”

She grinned, took a few steps, then turned round. “Catch!”

Trixie caught her purse, looked at Interalia.

“You’re too easy,” said Interalia.

“Bit rich coming from a girl who always walks round with a pack of sonkies in her pocket.”

Interalia laughed, then turned round. She had taken only a few steps, when she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. Her face turned pale.

“Oh shit!”


“Your spies are crawling all over the Stonewatch Keep. This is a violation of the Accord.”

Gerrig gave the Orc sitting across the table from him a friendly look.

“Whatever are you talking about?”

“Gnomes! The little runts are poking into my business at your bidding.”

“They are not my Gnomes. I hired one of them, once, to inquire of you whether you were behind the attack on our farm. They’re from Stormwind. Feel free to go whining there if you want.”

“You won’t get off that easily. The one I caught betrayed you. You have been spying on me ever since the start of the Accord.”

“The one you caught would have told you anything to make you happy,” said Gerrig, coldly. “I spoke to those who healed him.”

“Your warriors slew eleven of my Orc. Do you think I will let this pass?”

“That was the boy’s father, and his family. I think you made him rather angry. I hired them to do some plumbing at the Castle. If you did not want him in your tower, then you should not have imprisoned his son.”

Jheren Gath’ilzogg stood up.

“I will get to the bottom of this. I will find all your spies, and wring the truth out of them. And then, we will meet again.”

“I am looking forward to it,” said Gerrig.

X

The two Orcs rode down the path to Stonewatch Tower. They didn’t speak. No need. Their mind was made up. Humans have no honour. Destroy them. Destroy them all.

They almost missed him. A tiny robed figure sitting in the middle of the road. They stopped.

“How are you, Gentlemen?” said Griggin.

Gath’ilzogg stared at the small, small creature.

“Now that we meet, I am very well. Very well, Gnome.”

“Excellent. My name is Griggin Steambender. You tortured my son. I assume, being Orc warriors, you are already prepared to die?”

The Orcs leapt off their mounts. Gath’ilzogg looked down on his enemy, no higher than his knee. His lieutenant looked round for possible ambushers, found none. Gath’ilzogg laughed.

“So you are the father of that little shrieker. What happened to him was just a beginning. Your suffering will be a hundred times worse. Get him.”

Griggin’s skin burnt with a cruel purple light, and he spat out the syllables to a spell of summoning. Out from nowhere stepped a Daemon warrior wielding a massive axe. The Orcs took a half step back. This enemy did stand taller than their knees, by almost a whole body length. It was vaguely Humanoid, blue skinned, with huge arms, heavy muscles, bone spines sticking up from its back and head. Its voice was deep, and seemed to reach their ears a fraction of a second after the lips moved, as though the sound was coming from far away.

“Do not waste my time, lesser creature.”

Griggin pointed at Gath’ilzogg’s lieutenant. “Kill him.”

“A paltry task,” said the Daemon. It stepped forward, as the Orcs drew their weapons. With a deceptively slow arc, it swung its axe at the Orc. The Orc parried the blow, and was sent staggering back by the force. The Daemon followed him with slow steps, inevitable as Doom. Gath’ilzogg turned round, scimitar out, to attack. A bolt of dark fire hit his back, and he turned round to see Griggin pointing his wand at him.

“Not you. You are mine.”

Gath’ilzogg laughed. “And what do you think you can do against me, little man? We have long prepared ourselves against Shadow magic. I do not fear your tricks.”

“That is not wise,” said Griggin.

“Would you like to know what we did to your son? He didn’t hold out long. Disappointing. Just a few broken bones. He cried out for you, until he simply screamed. It was a shame that you were not there. I hope your tolerance for pain is greater.”

“You are trying to make me angry in the hope I will make some mistake. I assure you, I am already quite angry. In the unlikely event that you live to see another day, I suggest you stop using that tactic on Warlocks.”

There was a cry of pain. Griggin’s Daemon had slashed open the Orc’s armour. Griggin raised his hand, and a spiral of bright white light shot out to the Orc. The Daemon brought its axe down with a final crash. The light retreated back into Griggin’s hand, leaving a small crystal, pulsing with a green light.

“I want you dead, Jheren Gath’ilzogg. Skurikraksha, keep him away from me.”

Gath’ilzogg sprang forward, scimitar out, to cut Griggin in half. The Daemon Skurikraksha sped forward, intercepted the blow and beat Gath’ilzogg back. It positioned itself between Griggin and the Orc.

Gath’ilzogg scowled. “Are you too pathetic to fight your own battles?”

“I often wonder, lesser creature,” said the Daemon.

Skurikraksha attacked again. Gath’ilzogg’s scimitar slashed out, and scored a hit on the Demon’s arm. Griggin raised his hand, and a bright red beam of magical light shot from him to the Daemon. Dark red sweat was on his forehead as the Daemon’s wound disappeared. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

Griggin raised his arms, and cast spells and curses on Gath’ilzogg. Gath’ilzogg tried with all his might to reach Griggin, but the large Daemon held him back. Finally, Jheren Gath’ilzogg fell to his knees, flesh burnt, rotted, corrupted. Griggin kneeled by his head, waiting for his spells to complete. Gath’ilzogg’s breath came in shallow, rasping gasps. Then, it stopped. Griggin stood up, dismissed his Daemon, and mounted his mechanostrider. With one last look at the Orc leader’s corpse, he rode off to the North-east.

X

Griggin caught up with Sir Gerrig a quarter of an hour later, and turned off the noisy turbine enhancer so as not to startle Sir Gerrig’s horse.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Steambender,” said Gerrig. “Out for a ride?”

“Indeed, Sir,” said Griggin. “Purely by chance I met a pair of Orcs on the road. They were most impolite.”

“They tend to be,” said Gerrig.

“Thank you for increasing my chance,” said Griggin.

Gerrig simply nodded. “How is your boy?”

“Recovering well, Sir. Your priests’ spells were most effective.”

“That’s good to hear. How’s the work getting on?”

“Final tests have been completed, Sir. We will be leaving tomorrow afternoon. It has been a pleasure doing business with you, if not with some of the other inhabitants of Redridge.”


Interalia sat in Nix’ cart. They had the bigger strider in front. She’d had a little talk with Boss Man and, tears in her eyes, told him that Nix needed her, and she wanted to be with him. She looked at him. That wasn’t a lie, exactly. He still looked sad, scared. But it wasn’t the whole truth. You use a tool till it breaks. Interalia had almost broken. For Nix, it hadn’t been “almost”. Damned if she was going to keep skulking round that damned tower till she finally got caught. Time to move on. And then… Interalia put her small hand on her stomach. She didn’t know of course. Too early to feel sick. Stupid, stupid girl. She looked at Nix again. Would he realise? Should she tell him?

Griggin’s cart set itself in motion. Nix pulled on the reins, and their cart followed.

Hell, no.

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