File GSB-063: Hope

Nix slunk through the streets of Ironforge, keeping well out of sight of the people. He’d recently come up with a marvellous game, which he called putpocketing. From the shop, he’d got a few nuts and bolts and bits of copper wire. He’d twisted the bits of wire round the nuts to make little artefacts. He would then sneak up on people and put the things in their pockets without them noticing. It was a bit of a shame he never got to see their faces as they reached for their keys and found their new gifts. The horn for four o’clock went off. Time to pick up Trix, do the shopping and go home. He trotted to the Military Quarter, and waited for the Warriors-to-be to come out, sitting on one of the rails that kept people from falling into the small lava pond in front. Trixie came out talking to a few classmates. He waved and she came over.

“Hi Bro. Wassup?”

“Shopping. Got a bunch of IGNITE people coming over tonight, so we need some more food.”

“Oh wonderful. A whole bunch of steampunks discussing the finer points of smelting copper all night. Can I duck out?”

“Ask Dad,” said Nix. He looked over Trixie’s shoulder. His mouth fell open. Trixie gave him a strange look, and waved her hand in front of his face.

“Nix? Hello?”

“Who… is she?”

Trixie looked.

“Oh, that’s Gemma. She dual-wields battle-axes. Bloody scary to have a Dwarf barrelling down on you at full speed, but actually it’s pretty easy to deflect people when they do that.”

“Not her, you cow. Her! The one with the short black hair and the…”

Trixie looked again, then chuckled.

“Oh, that’s Dora. Hold on.” Trixie waved, and called. Dora walked up.

“Yes?”

Nix glared at his sister, then grinned at Dora. Trixie waved her hand between them.

“Meet my brother. Dora, Nix. Nix, Dora.”

Dora turned piercing light blue eyes on Nix. Nix felt them burn on the inside of his skull. He had to say something. Anything.

“Hi! You’re hot!”

Dora slowly nodded, smiling not even a little bit. Nix slowly wilted on the spot.

“Anything else?” said Dora.

“Nice… swords,” said Nix.

“Yes they are,” said Dora. She glanced at Trixie, who was biting her lip, her face red. She turned her gaze back to Nix.

“Well, nice to meet you. Got to go.”

She gave Trixie a look, turned round and trotted off. Trixie waited till she was out of earshot, then bent over laughing.

“Oh that was smooth, bro. Nice-pregnant-pause-swords.”

“Oh shut up!”

“Well, you’re right. She does have a lovely pair of… swords. Girls really do appreciate it when you notice.”

“Oh for the Titans’ sake, I wasn’t even looking at her tits!” He stared in the distance. “Those eyes! Do you know it’s pretty rare to have really black hair and such light blue eyes?”

“Probably dyes it,” said Trixie, starting off to the shops. “Got the shopping bag?”

“Yeah got it. I don’t think she does, though. And then you go and ruin it for me.”

“Ruin it for you? I wasn’t the one going on about her lovely ti- swords. Is there any parsnip on the list?”

“I wasn’t ready yet. Yes there is.”

“Can we forget those and get something else instead? I hate parsnips. Not ready?”

“Yeah. Hadn’t thought of a good starter line yet. You could have waited a bit. Give me a few seconds. Anyway, Mum’ll catch on. She knows exactly how much you like parsnips, and they’re apparently good for you.”

“They’re nasty, even if you fry them. Is throwing up good for you? Oh, and let me tell you, girls like pre-recorded pickup lines about as much as I like parsnips.”

“Whuh,” said Nix. “We could get sweet potatoes. What do girls like, then?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Be honest. Be interesting.”

“Interesting is a curse in some places,” said Nix. “And I was honest. I really do think she’s hot.”

Trixie said nothing for a while. Dora wasn’t ugly or anything, but she’d struck Trixie as being a bit mousey. The kind of girl you wouldn’t expect could hit as hard and fast as she could. Reducing boys to dribbling idiots was yet another unexpected talent. In the nicest possible way, Trixie couldn’t see what Nix saw in her.

“Oh well. She knows you exist now.” Trixie grinned. “Go easy on her, will you?”

Nix scowled at Little Sister. “Lots of nice soggy parsnips tonight. You can have mine.”


“Good morning Warlock Bezoar, and may your mind be steadfast. Were you able to shut out the witterings from the Wild Nethers?”

“Good morning, Sir. Yes, I was. The techniques I have been taught were most effective, and your advice was very useful.”

Griggin looked at Bezoar’s face. He wasn’t smiling, which would have been unnatural, but he looked peaceful at least. The boy might actually have some talent, which would be nice for a change. Griggin had been given students with barely the minimal ability needed to shield their minds from intrusions. In such cases, Griggin had the Master teach them a few simple Warlock spells, for confidence more than anything else, and left it at that. And then there were the unfortunates who couldn’t do even that. Utterly defenceles against the dark influence, they typically went insane within a week of the Daemons becoming aware of them. Griggin had never seen that happen to any of his Acolytes, but he’d seen others. Locked up in one of the dark places of the Warlock Circle, either screaming at the top of their voices, hurling themselves against the walls of their prisons without even noticing their bleeding faces and fingernails, or lying completely still, not daring to speak or do more than shiver, their faces a mask of agony. Fear beyond fear, suffering beyond suffering. There was only one thing the Warlock Circle could do for them, and they felt no shame or remorse in doing it. Death was a mercy to those unhappy souls, and every Warlock hoped that the White Lady who receives all souls would know what to do.

Luckily, Bezoar seemed to be coping. Griggin took him to see Trainer Briarthorn, who taught him the spell to summon his first Daemon, an Imp. They went outside to a secluded spot in the frozen woods of Dun Morogh, where Griggin drew a circle on the ground with his boot. With a frown of concentration, he instilled it with his energy.

“There. Now step inside, and try to summon your Imp.”

Bezoar bowed his head to Griggin, and started his chant. The small form of the Imp appeared briefly, made a rude gesture, and disappeared again. Griggin laughed.

“Well, the summoning part you have right. Now for the binding.”

Bezoar nodded, cheeks flushed. He set his jaw and tried again. The Imp made a second appearance.

“Piss off! Do you think I have time to play with you? Try it again, and I’ll see you dead!”

The small creature screwed its eyes shut, and tried to disappear. It glared at Bezoar.

“You inbred piss-ant! Let go of me! I’ll burn you with fire! I’ll drown you in your own tears! I’ll…”

“Silence!” Bezoar fixed the Imp with a stare. “You will do what I tell you, or it will not go well with you. Too long have you infested my mind with your inane chatter, your obscenities and your insults. No more! From this moment on, you will obey my commands. You will obey them fully and accurately, or I will make you jump off high places, so that your bones will break. You are bound to me, from this day on until I release you.”

The Imp’s voice came in a hiss of pure hatred. “Or until you die, Gnome. Or until you die.”

“Dismiss him, Bezoar,” said Griggin, quietly.

Bezoar nodded, and looked at his new minion with dark eyes.

“Go.”

The Imp cowered down, and faded from view. Griggin put a hand on Bezoar’s shoulder.

“That was commendably quick. Well done. let’s end the morning with some target practice.”

“Yes Master,” said Bezoar. “What shall we hunt?”

Griggin shook his head. “Target dummies, Warlock Bezoar. We do not harm living creatures if we can help it.”

“But surely, Master, we can hunt boar, deer, or other such creatures?”

“We can,” said Griggin. “But Demonic energy taints the meat, and we would end up spoiling it. Also, I think I asked you not to call me ‘Master’ all the time. You are my student, not my minion. ‘Sir’, or ‘Warlock Griggin’ will do.”

Bezoar bowed his head. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Let’s go. I think we’ll use the dummies by the military ward. Staying in dark places is not good for you.”

“Yes Sir.”


“Lady and Gentlemen, we have a problem. It seems that the increase in efficiency from scaling up is not as great as we first thought it would be. We are experiencing loss of pressure somewhere in the lower regions.”

Anton was pacing to and fro in Griggin’s small living room. It was early in the evening, and Lenna was sitting a way off with Bieslook in her lap, quietly reading her a story from a large book. Nix was sitting in his usual spot by the window, back against the wall, bootless feet on the bench, looking outside. Beatrice sat in front of him, elbows on the table, head resting on her hands, eyes closed. Griggin was busy making everybody more coffee. Chint Waterspray looked up at Anton.

“Gee, are we? I did warn about that, didn’t I?”

Beatrice didn’t even open her eyes.

“Yes, you did, darling. And since you didn’t go so far as to come up with a solution at the time, we thought we’d try anyway.”

“It would be nice if people listened to a damn thing I say now and then.”

Griggin put down the jug of fresh, strong coffee and looked at his fellow Gnomes.

“Since we are all going to be in deep trouble if the pumps don’t perform as expected, it does not matter who was right or wrong. We need to think about the solution, not about whose fault it was.”

“Great,” said Anton. “And what would that solution be, then?”

Chint leaned back in Griggin’s chair, and spread his arms wide.

“Pipes! We drop two big fat copper pipes down there and fill up the hole with cement. U-bend at the end, or if we want to get fancy, we put a spiral there to catch more heat. That way, the stone can be as porous as a sugar cube, and still, we get our steam.”

“Do you have any idea how much that is going to affect our budget? We’re talking about two-hundred yards of copper pipe there, and the trouble of actually sticking it down there. Speaking of pipes, I could use one.” Anton searched his inside pocket for his tobacco pouch and started to fill up. Griggin gave him a look.

“Not in the house, please. I’m afraid tobacco smoke is not good for young children.”

“Fine. I’ll step outside for a bit. Fresh air will do me good.”

Chint got up. “I need a biological break. Where’s the…”

Griggin pointed.

“Thanks,” said Chint, and disappeared. Anton walked outside. Griggin closed his eyes a moment, shook his head and followed him. leaving only Beatrice and Nix sitting at the table. Nix turned his eyes back inside, saw everybody had left, and heaved a great sigh.

“Mrs. Glowpipe?”

“Mm?”

“How do you get a girl to like you?”

Beatrice slowly looked round to Nix.

“Get her drunk, have your way with her and leave without telling her your name. It makes her feel like crap, but in the long run, it’s less painful, believe me.”

 

Lenna closed the book. Bieslook’s small body fit just right in the crook of her arm. She was looking at nothing in particular, with a serious look in her blue-green eyes.

“How did they get her out of the belly of the wolf?”

“They cut open its belly, and got her out. And her grandmother, too.”

“But a wolf tears you to bits and chews you up. How did they put her together again?”

“Well, the wolf swallowed her whole. So they just pulled her out again.”

“But a wolf can’t swallow you whole! You don’t fit down its throat.”

“It was a very large wolf. A Worg could do it. Or a corehound. A corehound could swallow her and her grandmother. At the same time.”

“And then they put stones in its belly, and sewed it up?”

“Yes.”

“But didn’t that hurt?”

“It was asleep, dear.”

“Trixie stepped on my hand. I woke up.”

“Perhaps a Worg is so tough it doesn’t notice.”

“But then the wolf tried to have a drink and it fell into the water and drowned.”

“Well, it was a bad wolf.”

“Why?”

“It ate a young girl and her grandmother!”

“Why didn’t she see it wasn’t her Grandmother? That’s stupid.”

“The wolf was under the covers, wearing Granny’s bonnet.”

“But it was a big wolf. Didn’t its tail stick out?”

Lenna looked at the small girl. Time for that old stand-by.

“Perhaps this was a magic wolf that had a Granny form. I can make people look like sheep, remember? Maybe this wolf could turn itself into a Granny.”

Bieslook nodded slowly.

“I still think they’re mean to the wolf.”

“I suppose they were. Time for bed.”


“Hiya!”

Dora Rainfist looked over her shoulder at Nix, and made a small noise acknowledging his presence. Nix gave her what he hoped was a winning, friendly and not in any way offensive smile. Dora walked on, in the general direction of one of the armour shops near the bank. It just so happened that was also near where Nix lived, who’d have thought that?

“Where’re you off to?”

“To buy things to hit people with.” Dora looked round at Nix. “Wanna come with?”

“Sure!”

Dora looked at the cave roof, far, far up, and sighed. Luckily, Nix was radiating enough enthusiasm for the both of them.

“What are you going for?”

“Two-handed mace.”

“Cool.”

“They’re lame. A spiky ball on a stick, and you can’t use a shield while you’re using them. But we have to pick up and use any weapon we find.”

“Can you use a dagger?”

“Who’d want to use one of those?”

Nix produced his new dagger. It was about six inches long, and made from blackened steel so he didn’t have to use a candle to stop it shining. A tiny sliver of bright shine ran down its edge. Nix pulled up his sleeve and shaved some hairs off his arm.

“It’s tiny,” said Dora.

“I’m compensating,” said Nix, with a grin.

“I’m sure you are.”

“Hey, after you make your purchases, wanna come with me? I know all the nice places here. I could buy you a drink.”

“Buy me a drink,” said Dora.

“Yeah,” said Nix.

“An alcoholic drink?”

“Sure, if you like.”

“Engage in some diminutive conversation?”

“Yeah.”

“Establish a rapport?”

“Yes!”

“And walk me home afterwards?”

Nix looked at the few tiny freckles on Dora’s face. She had pale skin, probably had to be careful if she got out in the sun for too long. Her eyes were definitely blue, though, and not grey. Nix wished he could paint, or draw things besides schematics.

“Um… yes, sure.”

“And come up for another drink?”

“Sure, why not?” Nix hardly dared to breathe. Surely, it couldn’t be this easy?

“Get your hand inside my blouse?”

“Sure.” Nix’ eyes grew large. “No! Nono!”

They arrived at the armory shop. Dora turned her stare on Nix.

“No thank you. Goodbye.”

She turned round, and walked into the shop. Nix decided trying to follow her there would be counter-productive. He stared at the shop door for a few moments.

“That was a stupid, nasty trick.”

He said nothing for a while, lost in thought.

“Ye gods, she’s gorgeous.”

Nix shook his head, and walked home.


“Ahh, Warlock Griggin. How go things with your new acolyte?”

“Better than I expected, Chief. He performed his first summoning this afternoon. It took him only two tries. Very impressive.”

“Excellent! Another capable Warlock in the Circle will not come amiss. The authorities may not like us much, but they do appreciate our firepower.”

Griggin waved a hand. “I wouldn’t expect much of young Bezoar yet, Sir. I had not expected him to do so well. I have had a few students who were left alone for a while by the Daemons to lull them into a false sense of security. In fact, that is also what happened to me when I was a student. I’m expecting setbacks, and I hope I’ll be quick enough to catch them.”

Acting Warlock Chief Briarthorn laughed.

“You’re always the pessimist, Griggin. I suspect you do that so that you’ll only ever be pleasantly surprised.”

“In my experience, Sir, there is no such thing as a pleasant surprise.”

“Well, in that case, keep your eyes open, but don’t worry too much. I have a good feeling about Warlock Bezoar. His close shave with Daemon possession will have taught him to be careful, steady and unwavering. I see this often. The hardest cases turn out to be the most worthwhile Warlocks.”

“Hmm. Tomorrow, I will make him put his minion through its paces. Let’s see how well he does when fatigue sets in. The fields outside Gnomeregan should offer a target-rich environment.”

“Excellent. Well, I must leave you. Keep me informed.”

“I will, Sir.”


Trixie stepped out of the changing room, bag of metal gear in her hand. As she turned round to leave, she spotted Richard coming out of the boys’ changing room, making for the gates. She waited a bit and fell in step with him. He was rubbing his neck.

“Hiya,” said Trixie. “Hard practice?”

Richard pulled a face. “Stumbled over my own feet and fell over. Silly git.”

Trixie nodded. “The floor is a much-underestimated opponent. I daresay floors are responsible for over forty percent of injuries.”

Richard laughed. “We should ban them. No more floors! Free fall for everybody!”

They grinned at each other, then fell silent as they walked on. They came to the fire pool. Usually, this was where Richard went straight on in the direction of the Mystic Ward, and Trixie turned left. Today, though, Richard turned left with her.

“Not going home?” asked Trixie.

“Going to the Stone Table to grab a bite to eat. Dad’s off with his Mage friends. Very important meeting on Mage stuff.” Richard grinned. “They must have very in-depth discussions about the fabric of the Universe. Usually doesn’t come home before midnight.”

“Ah,” said Trixie. “My dad has meetings like that. Staggers in at an ungodly hour reeking of strong coffee.”

“Your dad doesn’t drink?”

“Meh, the odd pint or so, but I’ve never seen him drunk. Says he likes to keep his faculties about him.”

They walked on. Trixie glanced at Richard’s face. The idea had come to her the moment Richard mentioned food. The debate on whether or not to act on it took only a bit longer.

“Hey.”

Richard looked round. “Yes?”

“I’m sure if I ask, you can have dinner with us. Not sure what we’re having, but I think it’s better than the fried rat they serve to the students in the Mensa Silex.”

“You sure your mum won’t mind?” said Richard, after a small pause.

“Worst she can do is throw you out,” said Trixie. “We have a rule against fireballs in the house.”

 

Griggin walked in the door to find a strange boy sitting at his table. He glanced over to the kitchen, where Lenna was stirring one of the pans. She gave him a little grin and a shrug. The boy got to his feet.

“Good evening, Sir. Richard Sparkbolt at your service.” He held out his hand.

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

Trixie looked at her father. “He’s in my class. I asked if he could stay for dinner.”

Lenna walked up, wiping her hands on a towel. “And how could I refuse?”

Griggin put an arm round Lenna’s shoulder. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“This isn’t the one who…”

Lenna shook her head. smiling. “No. He looks like a nice boy.”

“Hm good.” Griggin turned to Richard. “Welcome. We’re just waiting for Nix, and then we can eat. Sparkbolt…” Griggin thought a moment. “Are you by any chance related to Grand Master Engineer Mericet Sparkbolt?”

“He’s my uncle, Sir, on my Father’s side.”

“Ah. Well, he passed me for my Master Engineering.”

“I understand that’s no mean feat, Sir,” said Richard. “He refers to it as torturing students.”

“Does he now? That explains a lot.”

The door opened and Nix walked in. He threw his jacket in the general direction of the pegs by the door, saw Richard, and stopped.

“Oh hi. Who’re you?”

Trixie sniffed. “Richard? This is my brother, Nix. Nix? This is Richard. He’s in my class.” A slight edge crept into Trixie’s voice. “He specialises in swords.”

Richard held out his hand to Nix, who shook it. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise,” said Nix. He looked at his mother. “What’s for dinner?”

“Fantasy Stew if you’re not careful,” said Lenna. “Set the table, will you?”

Richard jumped to his feet. “I’ll help.”

Nix and Richard started on the table. Lenna looked at Griggin, eyes wide, mouth open, and pointed. Griggin laughed quietly and shook his head. The table was set with exemplary efficiency and they sat down. Lenna had enlarged the stew by adding more potatoes and carrots. With satisfaction, she noted that there was just a little bit left when nobody wanted any more. Bieslook sat back in her chair, and patted her stomach.

“I’m all filled up,” she said.

“Oh? No cake for you, then?”

Bieslook’s eyes gleamed. “Yes please!”

“Ah,” said Richard. “The Second Stomach.”

“What?”

Richard bent over to Bieslook. “It’s a special stomach, for when you have eaten all you can, and someone offers you pudding.”

“Oh,” said Bieslook. “Cows have four stomachs. They barf up their food and chew it again, and then they swallow it back down.”

Nix grinned. “If you were hoping to put me off my dessert, fat chance.”

Dessert was dealt with to the last crumb. Griggin walked to the cupboard, and pulled out their old board game. He put it on the table, looking at Richard.

“Would you like to join us for a game?”

Richard pointed. “Hey! That’s a classic board. It’s got White City on. Those things are rare.”

Griggin laughed. “Ah. So you’re a player too? Good. Saves us having to explain the rules.”

“I know Stovold’s Guide almost by heart,” said Richard. “I read it front to back and back to front for months. I was hoping to catch my mother out. Not a chance.”

“You have a copy of Stovold’s? That’s lucky. It’s been out of print for ages, and people ask ridiculous amounts for second-hand ones.”

“Well, we had it back in Gnomeregan. It’s probably glowing green now. We had to leave in a hurry.”

“That’s a shame. But if your mother is such a good player, perhaps we should invite her and your father over for a few games.”

“I’m sure my father would be delighted, Sir. My mother… remained in Gnomeregan.”

Griggin closed his eyes a moment. “My apologies, Richard. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“You weren’t to know, sir,” said Richard.

Lenna handed Richard the dice.

“You start. Escalators are up, stations are green, and three buskers per station.”

 

Lenna was putting Bieslook to bed. It was long, long past her bedtime. Trixie was letting Richard out and the house was winding down. Bieslook blinked slowly.

“Is Richard going to live with us too? He can sleep in Trixie’s bed, that’s big enough. Nix has too much stuff.”

Lenna laughed. “I don’t think so, Bies. He lives with his own father. You like him, then?”

“Trixie smiles with her eyes when she looks at him.”

“Hm. I noticed. And he helped washing up. He may be around the place more.”

“Need more chocolate and biscuits,” said Bieslook.

“Oh? Like them, do you?”

Bieslook turned over, settling down.

“For Trixie,” she said.


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

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