File GSB-055: Prosperity

Trixie crouched down, two-handed sword raised above her head. She yelled and charged forward. The combined sweeps and thrusts were coming easier and easier to her as she practiced. No training dummy would dare stand in her way.

“You’re still using too much muscle,” said Bilban Tosslespanner. “Let the sword work for you. Brute force and ignorance is for Dwarves. We walk the path of effortless effort.”

Kelstrum Stonebreaker, the other warrior trainer on duty, heard that. He looked round, something between a grin and a scowl on his bearded face.

“That’s because ye couldn’t lift yer own mammie, ye wee half-pint!”

“Ah,” said Tosslespanner. “The famous Dwarvish ‘Send me mother at ye’ strategy.”

Kelstrum Stonebreaker laughed. “Ye haven’t met me mother, have ye? She could tell the Lich King to go clean his room.”

Trixie rested the tip of her sword on the floor, and leant on it. The Warrior Trainers were at it again. The first time she’d seen it she was sure that it would all end in bloodshed. And it had, for values of “blood” that included wood splinters and straw. Trixie could usually make a nice training dummy last all day. When the trainers pushed each other to let rip, it didn’t last two minutes.

This is how ye do it, ye bunch o’jobbies!”

Mr. Stonebreaker launched himself at one of the dummies, battle-axe out, and made it fly up in splinters.

“Oh, very impressive, in a brutish way,” said Tosslespanner. “And in only two-point-five seconds, too. Now observe, Miss Steambender. This is how Gnomes do it.”

Trixie held her breath. She loved to see this, and would happily practice the rest of her life if only she could do it herself just once. Mr. Tosslespanner dropped his shield, and became a blur of metal whirling round the training dummy. He stood still, smiling, next to the dummy. At a small poke of his finger, it fell down in gentle cascades of straw.

“Bloody showoff,” said Mr. Stonebreaker.

 

Trixie trotted home, sword strapped to her back, bouncing up and down while she ran. It was only a short way from the military ward to their house overlooking the Commons. Someone ran up next to her. He was about half a head taller than she was, and carried a shield on his back, a sword at his side. Trixie looked ahead of her, wondering.

“Salutations,” said the boy.

“Hi,” said Trixie. She sped up a little, and the boy kept pace with her.

“I’m Barry,” said the boy. “What’s your name?”

Trixie glanced aside at the lad. He wore an earring. Black hair. Ponytail. Clean shaven. She looked ahead, and said nothing.

“Nice sword you have,” said Barry. “What are you, Arms?”

“Protection,” said Trixie.

“Cor! So am I. Going to be a tank then?”

“Meh,” said Trixie.

“I think you’re way too pretty to be a tank,” said Barry. “Also, you may want to drop that two-hander and get a shield. Just saying.”

Trixie gave Barry another look. Smarmy git. They trotted side by side over the bridge.

“I want to go fury,” said Trixie.

“Way to go! That’s much more like you. I can see it in your eyes.”

“Dad won’t let me. Says it’ll make me too agressive.”

Barry grinned. “I like feisty women.”

Trixie scowled. “Sod off.”

“Hah. Precisely.”

Trixie sped up a bit more. Barry kept pace. Well, at least he was fit. They came up to Steambender Manor. Trixie fumbled for her keys.

“Well,” said Trixie, “This is where I live. See ya.”

“Hey,” said Barry. “You still haven’t told me what your name is.”

Trixie looked over her shoulder.

“No. No, I haven’t. Bye.”

She closed the door. Barry stared at it for a while, chuckled to himself, then ran off.

 

“Boo,” said Nix, appearing behind Trixie. “Who’s that then?”

Trixie gave Nix a weary look. There ought to be a rule against stealth in the house.

“Nobody,” she said. “Followed me home, and I didn’t want to keep him.”

“Oo! Does Little Sister have an admirer?”

“And why not? He said I was too pretty to be a tank.”

Nix laughed. “Have you seen some of the tanks? Must try harder. Now too pretty to be a priestess, that’s trying.”

“Well, I’ll leave that to you,” said Trixie. “All you need is a bit of rouge.”

Nix winced. That particular word always gave him the shudders, even when used correctly. It reminded him that most of the Gnomish, Dwarvish, Human or Elf race were idiots, and in the annoying way, not in the easily exploitable way.

“Who is he, anyway?”

“He’s called Barry. Probably trains in the same place I do. Never noticed him before.”

Nix grinned wickedly. “So. Are you going to be Trix ‘n Barry or Baz and Trixie? Important to work out in advance. Last one wears the trousers.”

Trixie batted her eyelashes at Nix. “I may not even let it come to that. Maybe I’ll just use him for sex. By the way, you did put in those reinforcing struts on the upper bed, did you? Cause he looks like the energetic type.”

Nix stared. Images appeared in his head that he really could have done without.

“Um no, I didn’t.”

“Oh. Oh well. We’ll just use the lower one, then.”

“Oh no you don’t! That’s where I sleep!” Nix scowled. “You’re disgusting.”

A filthy grin was on Trixie’s face. With a flick of her hand, she swept a pink ponytail back over her shoulder.

“Some boys like that!”


Griggin turned off the boiler. It had passed the checks, and soon another Dwarf in Ironforge would have hot and cold running water. This was one of the places without access to a convenient spring or stream or water well, so he’d have to put in a tank as well. Nix was out to check with Mr. Deepforge the blacksmith that it was ready. These small models, the OP-125s, were by far his best seller. The big OP-5000 for the Stonefire Tavern had been a one-off, and at any rate was scandalously over-powered for the job. But Customer was Happy, and that was the main thing. Griggin visited the tavern every few weeks or so, usually just to see if everything was still working as specified, sometimes to put in another shower or taps. So far, he’d had to replace one tap that some ingenious customer had managed to break trying to clean his war hammer in the sink.

He took his keys out of his pocket, and opened one of the wide drawers that held his designs. He’d heard of a custom, popular in the North, of stoking a fire in a small cavern or even in a specially constructed tent, to heat up stones. Water would then be poured over the stones to make steam, which promoted sweating. This, apparently, cleared out the accumulated filth from one’s pores, leaving the skin in pristine condition. The Northmen would then run out and roll around in the snow, to cool off. The practice was known as “Loyly” and was a much-valued custom among the people of the North. But pouring water on hot rocks? We can do better than that. The OP-125 could provide both hot steam and icy cold water. Another issue was that people sweating in this small room for extended periods of time was a wonderful way to promote the growth of all manner of fungi and bacteria. Fortunately, super-heated high pressure steam was just the thing for that. So the steam bath would be self-cleaning.

Griggin shook his head. This was clearly an idea that needed to mature for a bit. A while ago, he’d sold someone a bath that would pump air into the bath from below, making the water bubble as if the user were in one of the famous Troll’s cooking pots in Stranglethorn Vale. Without, of course, the being boiled alive, then eaten. He had tested the concept on Lenna, and she had approved. after a thorough evaluation. Putting soap in the water had nearly flooded the workshop with bubbles, so there had been a small addendum to the user’s manual.

All in all, they weren’t doing too badly. Nix and Trixie were making good progress at their respective schools, Bieslook was eating them out of house and home, and Lenna could afford the occasional luxury. Most of Griggin’s money, he put back into the Steam Fund, though. He still dreamed of tapping the sheer endless power of the Great Forge itself. Actually submerging metal pipes in the fiery lake was out of the question. It was, after all, hot enough to melt rock. So he’d have to position his heat exchanger at such a height above the surface that convection and radiation could heat up the water passed through it. Turbines could power the pumps, so the entire installation would be completely self-sufficient. Griggin was thinking of locating it under the bridge, out of sight, out of mind. But, Griggin thought, it would be a fortune in Titansteel. Even all of his savings would only allow him to build one small prototype with which to convince King Magni. Griggin sighed. So far to go yet, with no sure knowledge that he’d be able to pull it off. He put the designs back in the drawers, licked a finger and touched one of the pipes on the boiler. It had cooled down enough to move. Time to make another customer happy.


Griggin walked along the passageway from the Mystic Ward to the Great Forge, taking his time. As always when passing the Great Forge, he stopped on the bridge, back to the Great Anvil, and looked into the burning molten rock below, dreaming, dreaming. Sometimes it seemed to him that dream about it would be all he could do. Today, another Gnome walked up next to him and, like Griggin did, looked into the inferno. The Gnome looked aside at Griggin.

“You’re thinking steam, aren’t you?”

Griggin looked round at the Gnomish man next to him.

“Steam, hot water. Turbines. Electricity, even. We could do so much, but this lake is so hot that even Titansteel couldn’t survive for long.”

The other Gnome nodded. “I’ve been thinking of using the same magic armoursmiths use to make armour fire resistant, for my heat exchanger. But enchantments don’t last. You don’t want some damn clothie to have to come in and do the enchants every week.”

“That would be inconvenient and dull. Dull work is what machines are there for.”

“Exactly.”

The Gnome turned to Griggin, held out his hand.

“Anton Glowpipe, at your service.”

“Griggin Steambender, at yours,” said Griggin, taking it.

“Steambender? Are you the Gnome with the water heaters? I’ve spotted those. Ingenious. My honour prevents me from disassembling one, but I must say I’m at a loss as to how you’re powering them.”

“My associate found a way of extracting the energy from crystals found in a place called Un’goro Crater. I made the concept marketable by adding safety features and reducing noise.”

“Who is your associate? I’d like to meet him.”

“Marvin Sprocket, but we went our separate ways a while ago.” Griggin stared back into the churning lake of lava. “I’m afraid I am mostly to blame.”

Marvin Sprocket? Ye gods, if it’s the Gnome I’m thinking of, then I blame him, no matter what. I was his Sane, a year or two ago. Took me months in the House for the Bewildered to get over it. Imagine that. He’s not here, is he?”

Griggin sighed. “No, I don’t think so. He is a kind soul, and I’m afraid I must have scared him with the less pleasant aspects of my… magical vocation. I hope he’s well, wherever he is.”

“You spooked him? Well done sir.”

Griggin said nothing.

“Say, do you fancy a pint of something or other? It’s always good to meet a fellow Steampunk. I could introduce you to my wife.”

Griggin pulled out a watch, and looked at it.

“Actually, I should be home in ten minutes or so. But how about meeting up after dinner? I can bring my son. He’s working on his Journeyman’s piece. I have educated Mr. Firebrew at the Stonefire Tavern on the proper strength of coffee.”

“Really? Then I must sample his work. About eight?”

“Fine. See you there.”


“Would you like me to carry that for you?”

Trixie looked over her shoulder, not entirely surprised to see Barry standing next to her with a winning grin on his face. She noticed he was wearing a leather jerkin and a small skull on a leather string round his neck. He looked more like a pirate than a warrior. She swapped the bag of groceries from one hand to the other and started walking.

“No.”

“Aww, come on. I’m just trying to be nice. I’ll even give it back to you when you get home, without you having to ask for it. Now where will you get a better offer than that?”

“Anywhere I want,” said Trixie.

Barry laughed. “I believe you, really I do. Mind if I walk with you?”

” ‘s a free city,” said Trixie.

“And I’m very glad it is.”

Trixie glanced at Barry, and started towards home, grocery bag hefted on her back.

“So what’d you buy?”

Trixie sighed. “Veg. Milk. Potatoes. Boar ribs. What’s it to you?”

“Well, I want to know what you eat to get a figure like that. I could get any girl I wanted if I looked as good.”

“So now you know. Bog off.”

Barry walked on, shaking his head.

“Why are you being such a pain? I’m really only trying to be nice. Don’t tell me that nobody else tries it on with you.”

Trixie scowled. “Nobody so far. And before you ask, that suits me fine. Last thing I need is some boy hanging on all the time.”

“Oh come on. Do I look like I’d do that? I’m an independent type, me. I just happen to like warrior girls. You’re a warrior girl. We could… worry together.”

Trixie gave him a scornful look.

“That’s a very bad joke.”

“Humble apologies, O shining one.”

“Pf.”

“You still haven’t told me your name.”

Trixie sighed, and did.

“Trixie. Short for Patricia?”

“No.”

“Nice name.”

Trixie gave him a look that conveyed precisely how much she cared whether he liked her name or not, swapped her bag of groceries to her other hand and walked on.

“Hey. Me and a few mates are going for a few drinks in the Stone Table after class. Want to come?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“Oh come on. What do you have to do that’s so important?”

“I’m starting an interesting rock collection.”

“Oh? How many do you have?”

“None. So better get moving.”

Trixie opened the door, and stepped inside.

“Hey,” said Barry. “Stone Table, seven o’clock. Maybe some of the guys’ll even have a rock or a pebble for you.”

“Goodbye, Barry.”

The door closed.

“Until we meet again, Trixie,” said Barry.


“I still think that immersing heat exchangers in molten lava is a non-starter. Even Titansteel. Thing’ll melt in a week.”

“Even if you put fire resistant charms on it? Channel most of the heat away? That’s how they keep the place from going up in smoke here.”

“That’s a one-off. The Dwarf enchanters here have a cushy job renewing the enchantments every fortnight or so, but I don’t want to spend eternity here. Greener pastures and so on.”

“Gnomeregan? Bloody glowing green pastures there. Just what Mekkatorque was thinking, I’ll never understand.”

“Oh shut up about Gnomeregan, Chint. It’s not funny and it’s not useful.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Anyway, couldn’t we try to channel the excess heat back into the lake?”

“No,” said Anton Glowpipe. “Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter body.”

“Not of itself,” said his wife Beatrice. “But you could set it up like a firebolt. Shoot the excess heat right back into the lake. Cool pipes, everybody happy.”

“Well, you can try if you like but you’d far better not,” said Chint.

Griggin raised a finger. “But, Lady and gentlemen, conduction is not the only way in which heat can move. There’s also convection and radiation. Why don’t we simply move the heat exchanger far enough above the surface to avoid it melting, but close enough to grab the heat?”

“Dwarves won’t stand for it,” said Beatrice. “The heat redirection spells funnel off all the heat about a half-inch above the surface. You could levitate above it without breaking a sweat.”

“But surely, they could remove a small portion for the heat exchanger?”

Anton laughed. “I want to be there when you put it to them, just to see the look on their faces.”

Beatrice turned to Griggin. “It took the Dwarves ten years to set up this heat shield. Nobody wants to poke a hole in it.”

“Hmm…” Griggin rubbed his chin. He was enjoying himself. It had been a while since he could bounce ideas off fellow engineers, and he’d missed it. He picked up his coffee cup and drained it before it could get cold. He held up the empty cup.

“More coffee anyone?”

Nix sat up, eyes shining.

“Could I have another beer, please?”

Griggin gave him a fatherly look.

“How many so far?”

“Just two! I can take another one!”

“I’m not carrying you home, nor am I going to clean up after you. And neither is your mother. Understood?”

“Sure, Dad.”

Griggin wandered off to the bar, to return with coffee for Anton Glowpipe, Chint Waterspray and himself, red wine for Beatrice, and a pint of Thunderbrew for Nix.

“We should do this more often,” said Griggin. “Each one of us has been knocking his or her head against this problem. Maybe together we can crack it.”

“Hah,” said Chint, with a grin. “We’re a conspiracy, to make Ironforge a hotter and wetter place.”

Beatrice gave Chint a look. “And what, pray, do you mean by that?”

“Warm water for everyone,” said Chint. “What else?”

Meanwhile, Anton was scribbling on his pad. Griggin looked at the paper.

“What’s that?”

“Something just popped into my head,” said Anton. “I’ve almost got it right, but I need a synonym for ‘Club’ or ‘Gathering’ or ‘Organisation’ that starts with an N.”

Griggin read.

“Ironforge Gnomish Blank for the Investigation of Thermal Energy. I.G.N.I.T.E. Looks good, except for the N. Suggestions?”

“Neighbors?” said Beatrice.

“Meh,” said Anton.

“OrgaNisation?” said Chint.

“It’s supposed to be an acronym,” said Anton. “That nym isn’t very acro.”

“Nationals?”

“Ne’er-do-wells?”

“Noses?”

“Nasties?”

“Neverending Investigations?”

Nix looked mournfully at the bottom of his beer mug. Not a drop left. He had taken rather a liking to Thunderbrew’s ales. It was one of the few nice things about this place. He started paying attention to what the Big Ones were saying.

“Whut?”

Beatrice smiled at Nix. “Synonym for ‘Organisation’ or ‘Club’ starting with N.”

“Network,” said Nix.

Everybody stared at him.

What?

“Network it is,” said Anton. “So we are now the Ironforge Gnomish Network for the Investigation of Thermal Energy. IGNITE for short.”

“Yay!” said Nix, holding up his empty pint.


There was a small noise in the middle of the night, and Nix woke up. Rogues never sleep easy. He saw Trixie climb up the ladder to her bed, and get in.

“You’re in trouble,” said Nix.

Trixie looked down over the edge of her bed.

“Why? It’s still before midnight.”

“No it’s not,” said Nix.

“Well, it was when I closed the door behind me.”

“Where’ve you been?”

“For a few drinks with some class-mates. Why?”

“Barry isn’t in your class.”

Trixie glared.

“How did you know-“

“I didn’t. Now I do.”

“Well, keep your trap shut about it.”

Nix sneered.

“I don’t like him. He looks dodgy to me.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Yeah, whatever. Been buying you drinks, has he?”

“Sure. What else are boys for?”

Nix looked up at his sister’s face. “Do I need to draw you a picture?”

“As long as you draw me on top.”

“By the Titans, Trix…”

“And what makes you think it’s any of your business?”

Nix said nothing for a while. Then he shook his head.

“Head over hormones, Sis. Oh, and not in my bed. Reinforce yours yourself if you must.”

“Sod you.”

“Not my taste,” said Nix. He turned over, and went back to sleep.


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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