File GSB-056: Conquest

Griggin was walking back to his workshop, toolbox in hand. It had been a busy afternoon. He’d warned the Customer that the stream was too far away for the smallest pump to get the water out. The Customer had said that he quite understood, and that he would accept the lower rate of flow. Griggin had sighed, put in the pump as asked, and sure enough, only a trickle of hot water came out. The Customer, of course, was Not Pleased with this and had demanded Griggin upgrade the pump for nothing. Griggin had no problem with upgrading the pump, it was the ‘for nothing’ that bothered him. In the end, to make the deal, he’d slapped on a good discount and left the Dwarf to consider his options. He had the next model up in his workshop, so at least he could swap it in quickly.

Oh well. Another IGNITE meeting this evening. He was looking forward to it. They’d have a special guest, a Dwarf who had drilling equipment to drill shafts into the rock above the magma stream that fed the lake of lava. The distinction was important, lava being magma that came up to the surface. They didn’t actually want to drill into the magma stream, because after some discussion the consensus was that King Magni would probably object to having a miniature volcano in his city. All they needed to do was to drill down close enough to the magma to boil water. Mr. Stonehand maintained that he was the only Dwarf in Ironforge who could. So they’d invited him to explain. After all this time, the ideas were actually going ahead. So far, of course, ideas were all they were, but with Mr. Stonehand’s equipment, they just might be able to drill down and install their first proof-of-concept machine right in Tinker Town.

As Griggin approached the workshop, he noticed a small, black envelope tacked onto his door with a pin. A dark suspicion came over him as he reached for it. He knew of only one group of people who would go for such cloak-and-dagger gestures. With a sigh, he opened the envelope, and took out a small note. There was the smell of ozone in the air as he read it.
 

Fellow Warlock,

 
The Gnomeregan Warlock Society (in exile), requests your
presence at the Forlorn Pool at the stroke of midnight, this
evening, to discuss matters of great importance.

 
Acting Chief Warlock Briarthorn

 

Just as Griggin read the signature, there was a fizzing noise, and the piece of paper caught fire. He dropped it quickly, and stuck his finger in his mouth, an annoyed frown on his face. That was going to cut his meeting short. But it couldn’t be helped. Joining the Society wasn’t really optional for any Warlock who wanted to use the facilities such as the grimoires, summoning circles or for that matter, the fresh air. Independent Warlocks were generally frowned upon. Post-humously, in most cases. Griggin could see the reasoning behind this, but he hadn’t missed the self-important gits in the slightest while he was here. Oh well, nothing for it. He dropped his toolbox inside the door, locked it and went home.


Trixie raised her hand, along with several others. Bilban Tosslespanner pointed at her.

“Miss Steambender? Step forward, please. Mr. Blackknife, your assignment is to win past Miss Steambender, and chop the melon on the pole in two before time runs out. Miss Steambender will, of course, try to prevent you from doing so.”

They squared off. Barry grinned at Trixie.

“Go easy on me? I’ll be in your class if I win.”

“If you fail, I get to beat you up the next time.”

“If I don’t, you get to spar with me each lesson.”

“Fat lot of good that‘ll do me.”

Barry ducked behind his shield and lunged at Trixie, sword out. Trixie parried the sword easily with her two-hander and pushed Barry away. For good measure, she slashed out with her sword. It connected with Barry’s shield with a loud clang. Barry looked at her, eyes large.

“Watch it, will you?”

Trixie stabbed straight out.

You watch it.”

Barry backed up a bit, to get a run-up for a charge. Trixie, a grin on her face, followed him, sweeping her sword high, at Barry’s head, then low at his legs.

“You’re going the wrong way,” said Trixie.

“Yeah,” said Barry. He raised his shield, waited till Trixie swept her sword low, parried with his sword and shoved his shield into her. Trixie leapt back, to avoid falling over, and Barry shoved her again. This time Trixie was prepared, and braced herself, raising her sword, tip down, between them.

“Give it up,” said Barry. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Trixie’s eyes shone at him, full of the light of battle.

“Wimp.”

“Right. Now I do want to hurt you.”

He slashed out quickly with his sword, and Trixie had to move quickly to parry all the strokes. Barry pushed away her sword with his shield, and scored a hit to Trixie’s midsection. Trixie’s two-hander came round with vicious speed and might have severed Barry’s arm if he hadn’t got his shield up in time.

“You hit like a girl,” said Trixie.

“So do you.”

“I am a girl. What’s your excuse?”

Barry grinned. “Your beauty distracts me.”

“Git.”

“Half time,” said Trainer Tosslespanner. “Is this a fight, or a cosy get-together?”

Barry looked at the hourglass, and crouched down. He pushed forward, shoving Trixie back with his shield, keeping her busy with sword-strokes. Trixie spotted a weak spot in his stance, whirled round and brought her sword down on Barry’s shoulder-piece. Barry cried out, and his arm hung limp, stunned. Trixie gave him a good shove, and he staggered back a few steps.

“Nice armour,” said Trixie.

Barry growled, dropped his shield, and swapped his sword to his other hand. He struck out, fast. Trixie parried all his strokes with her sword.

“Ten seconds,” said Tosslespanner. “Get on with it, Mr. Blackknife.”

Trixie raised her sword, taking a step and a half back. Her eyes found Barry’s. Another second ticked away. Trixie raised her eyebrow a fraction. Barry grinned, and leapt at Trixie, sweeping out with his sword, then pushing his shoulder into her. Trixie stumbled and fell on to her back. Three… Two… Barry leapt ahead, and his sword slashed round. The melon burst into pieces.

Barry blinked. He’d done it! His arm reminded him of previous events. He stuck his sword into the sand, and rubbed his shoulder. Then, he walked over to Trixie, and reached out to her with his left hand. She grabbed it with her right, and he pulled her to her feet. He looked into her eyes.

“Good fight,” said Barry, “Thank you.”

“Heels over the ditch, Mr. Blackknife,” said Tosslespanner. “But nevertheless, a pass. Well done.”


Griggin looked at his watch. It was twenty minutes to midnight, and the IGNITE meeting didn’t show any signs of stopping, or even slowing down. Sad to say, the agenda had largely been abandoned and the variously sized engineers were swapping war stories about god-like engineership. Very enjoyable, but it didn’t help much. Griggin got up.

“Lady and Gentlemen, I’m afraid I have another appointment. Good night to you all, and many thanks for your interesting explanation, Mr. Stonehand.”

“And to you, Mr. Steambender. I’ll get back to ye on the issue of the drill heads.”

Griggin left the tavern, and walked past the Great Anvil towards the Forlorn Cavern. Despite its name, the Forlorn Cavern was one of the more pleasant places in Ironforge. There was a small pool of water, and the noise of Tinker Town and the other busy places of Ironforge was a distant murmur. A place to sit and think, or meditate. Or, in this case, meet your fellow Warlocks. Griggin pulled his hood over his face and hid his hands in the sleeves of his robes. He sat down on a boulder and pretended to be asleep.

“I hear the weather in Eredun is quite inclement these days.”

Griggin looked up. A Gnome, wearing a robe much like Griggin’s own, stood in front of him, eyes shining under his hood.

“To the Sayaad, there is no ill weather, merely vestments of ill quality.”

The other knome bowed his head. “Greetings, Warlock Griggin Steambender, and welcome to the Gnomeregan Warlock’s Society in exile. Please follow me to a place away from listening ears, and prying eyes, that we may discuss matters of a confidential nature without fear of discovery.”

Griggin stood up, sighing. A simple “let’s get out of sight” would have worked here. One of the side-effects of belonging to a secret society seemed to be that you were forced to use as many words as you could to say the simplest of things, till words came out in a long thin string of verbal diarrhoea. He followed his fellow Warlock into a small room. There were about ten Gnome men and women gathered round a table that took up most of the room. They were all cloaked and hooded as Griggin was. The room was dimly lit with only a few candles. Griggin took a deep breath, counting. There had been about a hundred Warlocks in the Society in Gnomeregan. Was this sorry group all that was left of them? The Gnome at the head of the table was looking at his hands lying on the table. He raised his head.

“Welcome, fellow Warlocks, and may your minds be steadfast. I see that the search for our learned colleagues has resulted in the discovery of another one. Greetings, Warlock Steambender.”

“Greetings,” said Griggin.

“As you can see, Warlock Steambender, our numbers have dwindled. Many of our vocation have been slain in the Gnomeregan massacre, but so far, our studies show that more of us were scattered than were slain, and to return our wandering brethren to the fold is still our most urgent concern. I am pleased that you have been found.”

Griggin bowed his head, hoping that this gesture might be interpreted to mean that he, too, was pleased to be back. In truth, he had never liked the Society much, as a body, though he did have a few good friends. Mostly, his friends had shared his opinions. There was one thing he did want to know, though.

“Has Warlock Chief Sindala been counted among the survivors?”

The Acting Chief looked at Griggin.

“We have not detected his Daemons in the Wild Nethers. We must therefore assume that Warlock Chief Sindala is alive.” He paused a moment. “Whether he is enjoying life where he is, is an entirely separate issue. We have no knowledge of his whereabouts. The grimoires have not been recovered.”

Griggin gave a single nod. It would of course be inappropriate to apply the words “Done A Runner” to the chief of his order. However accurate it might turn out to be. Oh well.

“And so,” said Acting Chief Warlock Briarthorn, “We are glad to have a high-ranking Warlock such as yourself back in the ranks. As is right and proper, we will elect a new acting leader at the next meeting. Your candidacy is assumed.”

Griggin was glad that his hood covered his face. Oh burst! The last thing he wanted was to preside over meeting after meeting of these pompous gits.

“Acting Chief, I am afraid that is impossible. If I am correct in my assumptions, I was one of the very last to see Chief Warlock Sindala alive. This means that I am now beholden to carry out his final orders. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into the exact nature of such orders, but this much I can say. They preclude my assuming any kind of leadership role within the Circle.”

Acting Chief Briarthorn managed to look crestfallen even in a robe that covered his head and body.

“Then that must be the way of it. We will continue the search for Chief Sindala.”

 

Griggin stepped out of the door, when there was a tap on his shoulder. He looked behind him into the face of one of his vague friends from Gnomeregan.

“Warlock Griggin. Good to see you alive and well.”

“Edward. Still upright, I see.”

“Yes. Congratulations on not becoming Acting Chief. Well deflected. Briarthorn has been trying to foist off the mantle on everybody since we got here.”

“No sign of our Fearless Leader, then?”

“I think he’s grabbed the grimoires, as much of the gold as would fit in his pockets, and buggered off somewhere safe,” said Edward happily. “At least we can work with Briarthorn. He’s not as difficult as Sindala.”

Griggin sighed inward. He knew that Chief Warlock Sindala could be inflexible now and then, but to be honest, when he was, there usually was a good reason. It was slightly worrisome that standards were being relaxed. Griggin staunchly refused the thought that he should do something about this, to enter his mind.

“Well, I’m off,” said Griggin. “See you at the next meeting.”

 

The Stonefire Tavern was on the way to Griggin’s home, and he couldn’t help glancing in the window to see if the meeting was still going on. As it happened, it was, if one could ‘meet’ alone. Beatrice Glowpipe was sitting on her own in a corner, staring into a half-empty glass of red wine. Griggin walked up to her.

“Hello. Working out the minutes?”

Beatrice looked up at him. Griggin could see in her eyes that this glass was definitely not the first of the evening. Her eyes wrinkled.

“I’m thinking of calling them ‘Engineering for really tough guys’.”

“Where’s that husband of yours?”

Something in Beatrice’s face hardened.

“Left early,” she said. “Just after you did. I wonder if he’s home already.”

Griggin looked at the clock. It was two in the morning. The Stonefire Tavern never closed, but the bar had stopped serving drinks.

“Why don’t I walk you home?”

Beatrice drained her glass, then got up.

“Why don’t you?”

As it happened, it was only a little way off. There were no lights on. Anton must already be in bed, or not back yet. Beatrice fumbled with her handbag, and produced her keys. She unlocked her door, and turned to Griggin.

“Thanks. Can I offer you something? Coffee perhaps?”

Griggin smiled, and shook his head. “No thank you. If I drink any coffee at this time of night, I won’t sleep. Good night, Beatrice.”

Beatrice gave Griggin a smile, then went inside.


“Trix! Wait up!”

Trixie turned round, to see Barry hurrying towards her.

“Hiya gorgeous,” said Barry.

Trixie raised an eyebrow. “Now if you’d say that like you mean it, I’d be impressed. What’s up?”

“We-ell, my mates and me, we’re going to have a little picnic tonight. To celebrate my passing the exam. Wanna come?”

“Picnic? Where?”

Barry grinned. “Gol’bolar Quarry. It’s a picnic with… entertainment. We’re going to raid the mine and kick some serious Trogg.”

Trixie opened her eyes wide. “Is that allowed?”

“My dear, it’s practically encouraged! The Dorfs are having almost as much trouble with Troggs as we have, and we’re offering our vast experience in dealing with the buggers. Humongous piss-up afterwards.”

“Yeah… We did kill lots of them, but we also killed a lot of our own people. Not a shining example, that. Are we going to do that as well?”

“Oh don’t be a sissy. Nobody’s going to die. Nobody important anyway.”

“Oh good. Am I important?”

Barry grabbed Trixie’s hand, and pressed it to his chest.

“You are the most important thing in the world to me.”

“At the risk of repeating myself, try saying that like you mean it.”

“C’mon Trix. It’ll be fun! And we’d be helping the miners there win their quarry back.”

“Oh alright. I’ll ask my mum. If she says it’s alright, I’ll be there.”

“Great! Oh, do you have a Strider? Bit of a long run otherwise.”

“I’ll ask Dad if I can borrow the old one.”

 

“It’s an out-of-school thing,” said Trixie. “Practical experience in offensive and defensive capabilities.”

Lenna looked into Trixie’s big blue eyes. Trixie knew better than to look away. After a few moments, Lenna snorted.

“Is any alcohol involved?”

“Um, yes. But you know I don’t like to drink much anyway. Can I go? All my class is going.”

Lenna looked doubtful. In her time, she’d been to a few of these “extracurricular activities”, but that was in what she called the Days Before She Came To Her Senses. She stared into the middle distance. Strangely, coming to her senses had coincided with her meeting this dashing young warlock. Her last act of unthinking recklessness had been to marry him. She reached out over the table, and put her hand on Trixie’s arm.

“You know to take care of yourself, don’t you?”

Trixie’s eyes gleamed. “Oh yes, Mum.”

“If I find you’ve run away with a circus, sold yourself into slavery, become a Dark Queen or otherwise behaved in manners unbecoming a Gnomish Warrior princess, it’ll be fireballs at dawn, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Mum,” said Trixie, her face glowing.

“Go on then. Enjoy yourself.”

“Oh,” said Trixie. “Can I borrow the old strider?”

“Ask your dad.”


“Ye gods. Couldn’t you have found a more quiet strider? This one’ll scare off all the Troggs.”

“Well, isn’t getting them out of the mine the whole point?”

Barry grinned at Trixie. “Not really, no.”

Trixie looked ahead. “You sure this kind of thing is allowed?”

“Sure! Done it loads of times. As long as you talk to the Dwarfs at the entrance first, so they know you’re there and not to shoot you if you come back out, you’re fine. If they’re in a good mood, they’ll even pay you.”

Trixie looked round. There were about a dozen of them, boys and girls. All grinning, looking forward eagerly, their best weapons at their sides. Most were on mechanostriders, though some had managed to get their hands one of the rams that Dwarves used for their mounts. Nobody looked like they expected to die tonight. Trixie said nothing and rode on.

 

Trixie stood still, shaking, in the gloom of Gol’bolar Quarry. Her two-handed sword was in her hands, dripping with blood. All round her, people were cheering. She looked again at the dead Trogg at her feet. He’d come at her, howling with anger, armed with a club fashioned out of the thighbone of something altogether larger than a Gnome, or even a Dwarf. At that point, her training had taken over and she’d struck out, fast. It had been ridiculously easy. Though they were angry, savage, the Troggs weren’t really good fighters. Trixie had killed maybe half a dozen. She hadn’t thought to start counting. She raised her sword up to her eyes, gleaming in the moonlight, except where it wasn’t gleaming. A sudden urge came on her to wipe it clean. She took out the oily rag she kept in her pocket for the purpose, and carefuly removed the dark liquid. When not a trace was left, she sheathed the sword.

People were piling all the bodies in a great heap. Someone walked up with a can of Mechanostrider fuel, poured it over the mound of corpses and dropped a lit match on it. Trixie scowled. Stupid people. Did they think Troggs were made of wood? You needed at least thirty cans for a mound this big. All they’d do was scorch them slightly, with more light than actual heat. She looked at the mound, and took a quick breath. She watched more carefully. There it was! One of the shapes was moving feebly. Anger flared up, and with one fluid movement, Trixie drew her sword and plunged it deep into the Trogg’s chest. She felt the hilt of her sword tug in her hand as the body spasmed, then lay still among the crackling flames. She glared at the Gnome with the fuel can.

“You idiot! Can’t you make sure the sods are dead before setting them on fire?”

“Heh. Who cares?”

Trixie looked at him, drunk with the joy of killing, satisfied with a job well done. Not worth arguing with. She turned round, to look into the face of Barry Blackknife. She opened her mouth to say something, but Barry grabbed her shoulders, pulled her close and kissed her, to jeers and shouts of his mates.

This is what victory tastes like!” Barry’s eyes gleamed at Trixie. “Do you like it?”

Trixie grimaced, trying to get rid of the smell of burning fuel and burning flesh.

“You were talking about a giant piss-up. Got any booze?”

“More than we can drink,” said Barry. “Probably.”


Lenna turned over in bed. Griggin made some indistinct noises, and turned his head round to her.

“What izzit?”

“Nothing,” said Lenna.

“Oh good,” said Griggin. He turned onto his back and waited.

“She’s not back yet.”

“She’ll be fine. She’s thirty-two. She’ll come of age next year.”

Lenna sighed.

“When did that happen? I remember carrying her up the stairs on my arm about two weeks ago.”

Griggin laughed quietly.

“Time dilation effects. Eddies in the space-time continuum.”

“Must be it. And now she’s out at some wild party. I don’t buy that ‘School Project’ stuff for a minute.”

“So why didn’t you say no, then?”

Lenna rolled onto her back, hands behind her head. She stared at the ceiling, quietly.

My mum said no. Didn’t help a bit. At least this way, she knows she can come back.”

“She would anyway. And I like to think that our Warrior Princess is smart enough to stay out of trouble.”

Lenna took a deep breath.

“I was. And still.”

Griggin got behind Lenna and put his arms round her, gently stroking her stomach. Memories bubbled to the surface.

“You didn’t use to wear a nightie in bed, in those days.”

“And look where it got me.”

Griggin pulled Lenna a bit closer.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.


Trixie shut off the engine on her Strider, and pressed the button to collapse it. The old bird folded itself down. Next to her, Barry did the same. He dropped the Strider in the locker and shut the door.

“Hey Trix? Wanna come up to my room? I’ve got a bottle of cider upstairs that was too good to waste on the bumpkins at the picnic.”

Trixie looked at Barry. What, no coffee?

“Sure.”

They walked up the stairs. Trixie had half expected to find Barry’s room in decomposing squalor, but to her surprise it was neat and tidy. There was a big sofa, a coffee table, a dinner table pushed against the wall, a wardrobe.

“Sit down. Just let me get this.”

Barry ducked into the cold-box and emerged with a green bottle. He grabbed two glasses, which he gave to Trixie. He pulled the metal wire off the cork, and opened the bottle with a modest ‘Pop’. Cider poured into the glasses, fizzing, foaming, then settling down. Barry sat down, next to Trixie. He laid his arm on the back of the sofa, definitely not round Trixie’s shoulders. Not that she was fooled for a minute, but, as she sipped the fizzy drink, she found she didn’t mind all that much.

“So,” said Barry. “What do you think? Good way to spend an evening?”

Trixie waggled a hand non-committally.

“Doesn’t it make you feel alive?”

Trixie sighed. “It wasn’t that dangerous, was it? For us.”

“For us, sure,” said Barry. “You and me, we could probably have cleared out those Troggs without the rest there. The others, though. For them, it’s a bit more tricky.”

Barry stopped pretending and put his arm round Trixie’s shoulders.

“I have to admit though,” he said, and grinned at Trixie. “A fight like that does give me an appetite.”

Trixie looked at Barry. “Well, I think the Stone Table is probably closed by now, but I think I could–“

Barry gently touched Trixie’s cheek, turning her face up to him. He looked into her eyes.

“That’s not the kind of appetite I’m talking about.”

Trixie fell silent. She took a slow, deep breath, looking at Barry, wishing she hadn’t had quite as much to drink as she had.

“Um,” said Trixie.

Barry’s hand was at the back of her head, playing with one of her ponytails. He stroked her hair. Then, he pulled her a bit closer, closed his eyes, and kissed her. Back at the quarry, Trixie had been surprised, and somewhere between annoyed at her fellow warriors and amused at Barry’s reaction. This, though, was quite a different kind of kiss. Slower, hungry, promising. It went on for quite a while, until Trixie found herself looking into Barry’s eyes. She was breathing faster. Her hands somehow had found their way to Barry’s waist. Barry wiggled his eyebrows at her.

“Again?”

Trixie closed her eyes. Well, just another kiss couldn’t do any harm. As long as it didn’t go any further than that. Yeah right, said the last remains of her brain. Like you’re just going to leave it at kissing. It did feel good, though. Very good.

Barry grinned at her from two inches away.

“I think we’re in the wrong room, and wearing too much.”

“Wait.” Trixie put her hand on Barry’s chest. Her fingers brushed that ridiculous skull-on-a-string he wore.

“Don’t you want to? I can tell you do, unless I’m very much wrong.”

“No. Yes. It’s just,” Trixie closed her eyes a second, looked down. “I haven’t done this before.”

Barry gaped at her. “You’re a virgin? A gorgeous girl like you? At, what, thirty? That’s… unnatural!” He held her face in his hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

Trixie looked up. “I don’t want to get–“

“Don’t worry. Got the things in my room.” Barry’s fingers ran down the collar of Trixie’s shirt. “I’ll take good care of you. You’re in good hands with me.”

 

Trixie looked up at the ceiling, wide awake. So that was it, then. Girl to woman in, what? Ten minutes? People had told her that it was supposed to hurt the first time. It had, but she’d had worse in sparring matches. So that was over with. No more distractions. Just undiluted fun from now on. She looked at her, well, lover she supposed, next to her on the bed, asleep. Trixie was feeling unaccountably short-changed. If this was really what having a sex-life was all about, then she didn’t understand why everybody went on about it so much. It had been novel, but not the explosion of bliss everybody seemed to have had.

She looked down. Barry’s hand was still on her bare breast. She picked up his wrist gently between thumb and forefinger, and dropped it beside him on the sheets. Well, at least he had been quick about it. The conclusion came to her, fighting its way through the barriers of pretend and expectations and self-delusion. This simply hadn’t been any good. It hadn’t been what she had waited for all her life. Her first time with a boy had, well, sucked.

She looked at Barry asleep, lying on his stomach, face half buried in the pillow, mouth open, gently snoring. Would this improve with age and practice? The answer came to her even before she’d finished asking it. She sighed, and carefully got up. Not a keeper, then. She almost felt she had to wake him up and tell him, but she couldn’t face it. Tomorrow’s another day. She quietly put her clothes back on, started up her old and decrepit Mechanostrider and rode home.

She took off her clothes, chucked them straight into the washing machine. Then, she walked to the bath and turned the tap on to hot. As the bath filled, she pulled the bands from her hair and let it fall over her shoulders. She held her hand in the bath water. It was too hot, but she lowered herself into it anyway, the water nearly burning her skin.

She closed her eyes, and simply floated for a while. She’d tell him in the morning. Thanks for a wonderful evening, but if you don’t mind, I’ll keep looking. She pulled the plug from the bath, and watched the water fall, down her shoulders, breasts, hips, until it was all gone. She climbed out of the bath, towelled herself off like every evening, put on her plain faded pink nightgown and climbed into bed. She’d tell him in the morning.


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

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