File GSB-076: Counterblast

Lenna put her hand on Trixie’s shoulder, and put the mug of hot chocolate in front of her on the table. Trixie put her hands round the hot drink, miracle cure at Steambender Manor for years beyond reckoning. She smiled up at Lenna.

“Thanks, Mum.”

Lenna squeezed Trixie’s shoulder.

“Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you ask Richard and his father over for dinner tonight?”

Trixie looked up, said nothing.

“Shouldn’t we meet the parent? I believe it is traditional. I may still have the baby pictures somewhere.”

“You’re going to show my bare bottom to a stranger?”

“Oh come on, Richard’s not a stranger anymore. I want to meet your boyfriend’s father!”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” said Trixie, automatically.

“Well, quit slacking then.”

 

“Good evening Sir, Mustrum Sparkbolt at your service.”

“Griggin Steambender, at yours. Allow me to introduce my wife, Lenna.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Lenna, shaking Mr. Sparkbolt’s hand.

Mustrum Sparkbolt gave Lenna a friendly nod.

“I think I knew a girl named Lenna, back when I was still at school in Gnomeregan. Well, I knew of her, not personally.”

“Oh?”

“I’m sure that was someone else, though. She had quite a reputation.”

“Did she?” Lenna gave him a brilliant smile, green eyes gleaming. Mustrum Sparkbolt stared, glanced at Griggin and shut up.

“Dinner’s ready,” said Lenna.

Richard and Trixie were allowed to sit next to each other, and they did. About two inches of empty space were between them, and after a quick glance at each other, they stared straight ahead. No force in Azeroth could have persuaded them to breach those last few inches.

Wherever two Mages are present, there shall be discussions of frost magic as opposed to fire. Lenna, as a fire mage, was capable of the big blasts, but Mustrum was much better at snaring and trapping enemies, or slowing them down. Griggin sat back, not involving himself in the discussion, while Nix operated the coffee machine. The Game came out, and they started to play. Mustrum’s style fitted his chosen magical specialisation, always making the moves that slowed other players down while slowly and steadily progressing to the goal. Richard’s style was much like Trixie’s, though Richard paid much more attention to his defence, while Trixie went on the full-out offensive. On this occasion, Nix got three lucky rolls in a row, and won. More coffee was made, and people sat back.

“Ugly business,” said Mustrum. “That poor Dwarf girl. And of course, whenever someone gets burnt, they look at the Mages.”

Lenna sneered. “Don’t they, though? Like we’re the only ones playing with matches.”

“Personally, I suspect Daemons,” said Mustrum. “Nasty creatures from the Twisting Nethers, looking to take over Azeroth.”

“Quite possible,” said Griggin, rubbing his chin. “Though Daemons wouldn’t come all the way here by themselves. Someone would have to summon them.”

“Warlocks,” said Mustrum, the distaste clear in his voice.

“Indeed,” said Griggin. “Though I fail to see the reason why any of us would attack someone in the city. Least of all an ally.”

“What reason would any Warlock need? Simple desire to cause suffering seems a perfectly good reason to me.” Mustrum Sparkbolt blinked. His eyes slowly turned to Griggin. An icy cold look was in them. “One of us, you say? Are you a Warlock?”

“I am,” said Griggin. “And I am quite certain that nobody in our circle attacked young Gemma Ironhand. It would be an abuse of Demonic power. A first-order offence.”

“Sir,” said Mustrum Sparkbolt, “I am a guest in this house, and as such, my honour forbids me from replying to that in the way I would. But I do not intend to remain a guest here much longer. Richard, we are leaving.”

 

Griggin heard the door close behind Richard and his father. Lenna quietly picked up the cups, to wash them up. Trixie looked at the door, shaking.

“Well, that was fun,” said Nix. “Do come back when you like.”

There was a loud bang, and they looked round at Griggin, who had slammed his fist on the table.

“I am tired of this! These people. Do they think we like dealing with eldritch entities? Do they think we invite them for coffee? Mages! All the rules they are subject to, are simply the rules of the land. You shall not commit murder. You shall not steal. Do they even realise how many more laws we have? Do they know how tight a line we walk? I have tortured one of our own to death for having sex with one of his minions. Bumping into a Voidwalker by accident is an offence of the third order, with grave penalties. But they are ignorant of all this, and worse, they refuse to be educated. We have hundreds of rules beaten into us, specifying to the very last detail what we are, and are not allowed to do. And that is not because we are good, but because we know perfectly well how evil we can become, if we allow ourselves. One of us? Killing some poor defenceless Dwarf girl not even out of Warrior school yet? Inconceivable!”

Griggin looked up, and the expression on his face was terrible to see.

“I will get to the bottom of this. I will find out who is responsible for the death of young Gemma Ironhand. And if I should find that Warlock magic is involved in some way, then I will see to it that that person is extinguished. So say I.”


Trixie caught up with Richard on her way to school. He looked at her, and then in front of him, avoiding Trixie’s eyes.

“Hey.”

“Hiya.”

Trixie looked at Richard’s face. He looked unhappy, embarrassed to be here, ashamed. Trixie’s stomach knotted up.

“Are you alright?”

“Father doesn’t want me to talk to you,” said Richard.

“Because my father is a Warlock?” Trixie’s voice was small, fearful.

“He does not want me to associate with Warlock families,” said Richard. “He’s really serious about this.”

Trixie said nothing, only looked. She wanted to swallow, but her mouth was dry. They walked on, into the corridor to the Military Quarter. Richard took a deep breath.

“I’ve never disobeyed my father,” he said. “Since I turned twelve. Never.”

Trixie shook. As though a switch was thrown, her face became angry and hard. She gave Richard one last look.

“Well goodbye, then,” said Trixie, and turned round to walk off in another direction. Any direction.

She didn’t get further than one step. Richard grabbed her shoulder, and spun her round. He took both her shoulders in his hands, pulled Trixie to him and kissed her. Trixie did nothing for a moment, then put her arms round his neck.

The world disappeared, as irrelevant.

Trixie looked into Richard’s eyes.

“Well,” she said, “at least you’re not associating.”

Richard laughed, louder than that joke justified, and held Trixie close to him.

“So. Why are you disobeying your father now?”

Righard sighed. “Because he’s wrong. He’s wrong about your father, and he’s wrong about you. Your father is not someone who likes to see people suffer. He’s not evil, and neither are you. You are… are…”

Trixie grinned. “Go on. Flattery will get you things.”

Richard’s eyes gleamed. “A hot chick?”

“Naturally.” Trixie put her hand on Richard’s cheek. “I thought you were going to drop me.”

“Drop you? Were you my girlfriend, then?”

Trixie closed her eyes and leaned her head on Richard’s shoulder.

“Yes. I just hadn’t told myself yet.”


Griggin sat on a sofa in a Dwarf house, in one of the better parts of Ironforge. The sofa was Dwarf size, of course, and his feet didn’t reach the ground. The door opened, and a Dwarf came in. Instead of the usual plate armour, he was wearing a dark jacket over a white shirt, with a black tie.

“Good morning, Sir. I am Gryll Ironhand. I was told that you wanted to see me.”

Griggin leapt down onto the floor, and bowed his head.

“Griggin Steambender, Sir. At your service and that of your family. I am here to investigate the murder of your daughter, on behalf of the Gnomeregan Warlock Circle in exile.”

“Murder? We prefer to say that she fell in battle.”

“Fell in battle. My apologies, Sir. My daughter Trixie knew your daughter. She thought highly of her.”

Gryll Ironhand’s tired eyes wrinkled. “Young Trixie. She was at the funeral. A delightful young lady. I wish I’d known her earlier.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Mr. Ironhand pointed his hand at the sofa.

“Please sit down, Mr. Steambender, and tell me what you wish from me.”

“Sir, it has been suggested to me that Warlock magic, or Demonic powers may have been used against Gemma. To be certain, I would have had to examine her, but I could not. Did you see her… before she was buried?”

Gryll Ironhand closed his eyes for a moment.

“Aye,” he said. “I did. I laid out her body, took off her armour, and dressed her for the last time, like many times before, when she was a child. A father should not survive his children, Mr. Steambender. It is against the order of things.”

“I’m aware that this must be difficult for you, Mr. Ironhand,” said Griggin. “But I need to know a few things, so that I can start searching in the right direction.”

“Yer right, Mr. Steambender. It is difficult. I’ll be fair with ye, I don’t like Warlocks much. No Dwarf ever interfered in the business of creatures from unmentionable places. We don’t have it in us. Only Humans and Gnomes, or filthy Blood-elves or Orcs or Undead do. I have faced all of them in my time, and brought them down with steel and Holy Light. And now they say some Mage or Warlock has burnt my own daughter to death, in the heart of our very own city.” Gryll Ironhand looked into Griggin’s eyes. “Ask what you will. If it helps ye to find the wretched creature who did this to my Gemma, then I’ll suffer.”


“Come on, Bieslook. We’ll be late for class if you don’t hurry.”

Lenna picked Bieslook up, on her arm. Ye gods, she was getting heavy. Must stop feeding her. Right. Throw Bies over the doorstep at the Library, then off to the shooting range. Griggin was in too foul a mood to live with today, so a bit of mindless violence was just what she needed.

“It’s a horse! A horse on wheels! And it’s only got two wheels. Why doesn’t it fall over, Lenna?”

“Why don’t we ask Mr. Karnik the historian? He’s sure to know.”

“Mr. Karnik only knows dead things,” said Bieslook.

“A motorcycle is a dead thing.”

“Oh. Didn’t know.”

Lenna stepped forward quickly. The horn for four o’clock hadn’t sounded yet. There was still time. She entered the noisier part of Tinker Town, where all the cool Gnomes lived. As she passed it, a Human woman came out of the tunnel to the Deeprun Tram to Stormwind.

“Madam? Madam! Please, could you help me?”

Lenna put Bieslook down on the ground and turned to the woman.

“What appears to be the problem?”

“It’s Timmy! Timmy has fallen in the tunnel, and I can’t get him out!”

“Let’s call the guard,” said Lenna.

“No! No, please! They’ll take him away from me! Please help me!”

Lenna gave the woman a look. Humans were mad. Tall, thin, and utterly bonkers. But then again, who knew what was the matter. She opened her mouth to ask the woman what in Azeroth was going on.

“Lenna!”

In a flash, Lenna whirled round. As she was talking to the Human in front of her, another one of them had walked up behind her and grabbed Bieslook. She was kicking and struggling in the woman’s grasp. Lenna raised her arm, hand glowing with fire. There were things you didn’t do with a fire mage, and grabbing their children was definitely one of those things. There was a sudden line of fiery pain at her throat, and someone hissed in her ear.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. My friend can slit her throat before you can say ‘Fwoosh’. Come with us, and nobody gets hurt.”

Lenna looked over her shoulder at the woman.

“Why don’t I believe you?”

“Well, if you don’t come quietly, Gnomes will definitely get hurt. Into the tunnel. Leg it, shrimp.”

Lenna looked at Bieslook. “Easy, Bies, easy. Don’t struggle. We’re going for a little walk in the tunnel.”

“Yes Lenna. Are they friends?”

The woman holding Bieslook laughed. “Of course we are, poppet. You do know what a poppet is, don’t you, Mrs. Steambender? Come quietly or we’ll know if you scream when I prick her.

The Humans pushed Lenna into the Deeprun tram station, and down into the tunnel.

“Careful, Mrs. Steambender,” said one of the women. “It’s awfully dark here.”

“I can make some light if you want,” said Lenna.

“Tut tut. Remember. Poppet. Pins and needles.”

Lenna said nothing.

“Left here.”

Lenna walked into a side tunnel, and choked.

“Ugh! What’s that smell?”

One of the Human women laughed.

“You’d better get used to it, little woman. Soon, you will smell like that.”

There was a sudden bang, and a stab of pain in Lenna’s head. She fell to her knees, onto her face, and knew no more.

 

When the Deeprun Tram was constructed, the greatest task was to drill two tunnels, through the hard rock of Azeroth. The Dwarves accomplished this great feat using large mechanical tunnel borers, that worked their way, slowly, through the rock as a worm digs through the earth. When the final bit of rock had been crushed, rather than disassemble the borer, they had backed it up a few hundred yards, turned it sideways, and left it there, its diamond-tipped teeth all but worn away, its engines beyond salvaging, the metal it was made out oif less than the cost of salvaging it. The engineers had shut off the engine, patted the controls, closed the door and walked through their tunnel, to Ironforge.

This was the place where Lenna came to herself, cold, head aching, feeling empty. Her arms were raised above her head. Her feet only just touched the ground. She opened her eyes, to the dim light of a candle. She tried to turn her head away, but the feeling of emptiness continued. She looked up. Three women, one Gnome, two Humans, were casting some spell on her. Blue spirals of light flowed from her, into the women’s outstretched hands. They were draining her mana, keeping her helpless, unable to cast her fire spells. A Gnome man walked forward, into the light. His hand was on Bieslook’s shoulder, and a staff was in his other hand. Lenna thought she could see other figures moving in the darkness. Someone was hanging next to her, tied up as she was. It was a Dwarf woman. Her dead body hung very still, not even swinging back and forth. The flesh on her left hand and arm had been burnt away, and long, thin gashes ran parallel on her naked body. Lenna turned her head away, and tried not to be sick. The Gnome man grinned, and gently ran his fingers through Bieslook’s hair.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Steambender. Welcome to my humble abode. Your husband may have mentioned me, though perhaps he has not seen fit to mention my name. I am Bezoar, Warlock of the Inner Circle.”


Nix sat at home, at the table. A plan of the Throne Room of Ironforge lay in front of him on the table, and he was marking out hiding places on it, from his notebook, when there was a knock on the door. Nix looked up.

“What is the meaning of this interruption,” he intoned, and walked to the door. On the doorstep stood a Human woman, wearing black leather armour. She was smiling at him. As she saw him, she licked her lips.

“Hello. Are you in the house?”

Nix looked up at her. “Raven? What are you doing here?”

Raven stepped forward, and sighed happily.

“I’m in the house,” she said. “You’re in the house. Who else is in the house?”

“Um,” said Nix.

“We’re all in the house,” said Raven. “I love to be in the house.” She bared her teeth in a wicked grin. “Master says everybody in the house should die!”

With predator-like speed, Raven drew her daggers and stabbed the space where Nix was but a splintered second ago.

“Come to me,” said Raven. “You’ll be in the house forever!”

Somebody hit her head, from behind, very hard.

 

“Ow. Ow, ow!”

“Pain is good,” said Nix. “Pain means you’re alive.”

“Nix?”

Nix raised an eyebrow. “Raven?”

“How the hell did you get here?”

“I live here. You pointed sharp things at me. Why?”

“Oh come on. I wouldn’t…” Raven looked at Nix’ face. Only now, she noticed that her arms were cuffed behind her back, and round a piece of Steambender Manor infrastructure.

“Oh yes, you would. Well, try at least. Fat chance long-legs. What made you do it?”

“I…” Raven faltered.

Nix scowled at her. “Go on. Say you don’t remember. See where that gets you.”

“I… don’t. Please believe me.”

“Hmmm. What’s the last thing you do remember?”

Raven closed her eyes a moment. “I was… walking. Walking in… the Gnome place. With all the noise.”

“Tinker town,” said Nix.

“Yeah. And then I thought I saw something moving, gleaming, on the floor. I think it was a silver piece or something like that. So I picked it up, and there was another one just a bit further, so I picked that up as well.”

“And you didn’t think that was a bit, shall we say, odd?”

“Sure. But a piece of silver is a piece of silver, isn’t it?”

“I suppose. Then what?”

“Well, then I walked on a bit, and there was another silver piece. So I bent down to pick it up, and there was this… this…”

Nix raised his eyebrows. Raven had closed her eyes, and was licking her lips, breathing hard. Nix slapped her face. Raven looked up, startled.

“Hey!”

“What happened after that, Raven? Stop pissing about.”

Master came,” said Raven. “And I had to go to the house, and kill everybody inside.” She screwed her eyes shut, shook her head. “And the idea of killing felt… felt like the best thing I could ever do. Even better than…”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Nix. “Tunnel to the Deeprun Tram, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. Think I’ll go there and take a look. See what’s up.”

“Hey! Aren’t you going to let me go? We could go there forever. I want to have a word with the bastard who mind-controlled me.”

“Nope,” said Nix. “For all I know, you’re still under mind control. I’m not about to have you start stabbing me at an inconvenient time. Sit tight, and enjoy your headache.”

Nix went to his bed, pulled on his leather armour. Then, he opened his weapons box and took out all his favourite daggers and other instruments for ruining someone’s day. He waved at Raven, and closed the door behind him.

“Crap,” said Raven.


“Impossible!”

Griggin frowned. “Paladin Gryll Ironhand described it to me perfectly clearly. Extensive burn wounds over the poor woman’s whole body, and a purple discolouration of the flesh. I don’t have to tell you what can cause that.”

Briarthorn raised his arms. “Nobody, nobody in my Circle would be so mad as to attack citizens of Ironforge. It is not done.”

“Well, somebody did, and that somebody was using Demonic magic to do it.”

“I don’t believe it. There must be some other explanation. I will assign some of my investigators immediately, to investigate the matter. Surely, that Dwarf mis-read the signs. We must get the truth from him, and put his mind at rest. Warlocks were not involved in this.”

Griggin grabbed Acting Grand Master Briarthorn by the collar of his robes.

“Gryll Ironhand is a grieving father, who did me the great honour of answering my questions. I will not have a bunch of interfering Warlocks try and talk to him, simply to soothe your conscience. Gemma Ironhand was killed using Warlock magic. There is no doubt in my mind.”

“Well then, you find out what’s going on.”

“I will, believe me.”


Lenna pulled at the ropes holding her to the ceiling, but succeeded in doing little more than pull herself up. The draining blue beams of sickly light didn’t waver. Occasionally, one of them would stop, only to start again a few moments later. Lenna felt like she was slowly suffocating. The stench was horrible.

“Mrs. Steambender, I apologise for the inconvenience. It’s just that I have a healthy respect for the efficacy of your fire magic, and no wish to be its target.”

“Bezoar, why are you doing this?”

Bezoar thought for a moment.

“Do you realise, Mrs. Steambender, what it is like to be possessed by Daemons? No longer to be in control of your very thoughts?”

Lenna made herself concentrate. She raised her head, and looked into Bezoar’s eyes.

“No. Griggin doesn’t talk about it.”

“Warlock Griggin has no idea. The attacks on his mind were weak enough for him to resist. Insignificant. I had to claw myself back from the very abyss!”

“Griggin… is stronger than you.”

Bezoar shook with anger. He pointed his hand at Lenna, and concentrated. A green stream of light, much like the women’s, struck Lenna’s chest. Lenna choked. She bit down, not wanting to show the pain to Bieslook.

“Warlock Griggin,” said Bezoar, pronouncing the words very clearly, “Has all the things that I could have had if only he had taught me the right way to keep the Daemons at bay. A family. Children to care for him in his old age. Riches. I had to teach myself! And now, I am… damaged. But soon, it is he who will be damaged, and I who will have everything.”

Lenna closed her eyes, as Bezoar’s spell completed, and the pain subsided. She hung her head, said nothing.

“Your son is already dead. I, shall we say, persuaded, one of his class mates to kill everyone in your house.”

“Nix…”

“I will find a suitable death for your daughter as well, Mrs. Steambender. Perhaps her fate will be like that of her class-mate, the Dwarfess. She begged for a quick death. How much pain can your daughter stand, Mrs. Steambender? You’ll never know. But I will.”

“Griggin is… on to you. He will find this place.”

“I daresay he will, Mrs. Steambender. And he will find what’s left of you. He will be able to read your every scream of pain in the wounds on your body. And then, he too will die.”

Lenna raised her head, hardly able to keep her eyes open.

“Please. The little one. Does she have to see this? Let her go.”

Bezoar laughed out loud. He looked at Lenna with cruel delight.

“I think the little one has outlived her usefulness.” Bezoar turned to the group of women. “Which one of you wishes to take care of this little girl?”

One of the women stepped forward, the one who had brought Bieslook here. She walked up to Bezoar, eyes glowing, a parody of a smile on her face.

“I will.” The woman looked at Lenna. “Quick, or… slow?”

“You choose,” said Bezoar. He turned to Lenna, pointing at the poor Dwarf woman’s arm. “She did that. The only time I couldn’t keep her from fainting.”

Lenna screamed. “Troggs! You’re all Troggs! You will all burn! Bieslook! Tell Griggin! They are like Troggs! Tell Griggin! Emergency! Emergency!”

The woman laughed. “Oh, I was going to do it quickly. But now, just for that, I’ll make sure you can hear just when she dies.”

She picked Bieslook up by the back of her dress, and carried her to the door. She held the small girl up, facing Lenna.

“Say goodbye to Mummy, little girl.”

The woman disappeared out of the door. A few moments later, they could hear Bieslook scream. The unworldly noise of magical fire filled the tunnel, echoing up and down. There was a sickening smell of burning flesh, perversely reminding Lenna of boar ribs, roasting under the grill. She sagged in her ropes, body shaking in sobs.

Bezoar turned round to Lenna. He put his hand under her chin and made her look up at him. His eyes glowed with pleasure.

“There. Now, your little one will not have to witness your suffering. A kindness not to be underestimated.”

He looked at Lenna’s face.

She was not crying.

She was laughing.

“The situation amuses you? Oh, please don’t tell me you have gone insane already.”

Lenna laughed again.

“Why should I be upset?”

The door opened, and silhouetted in the doorway was a creature that might once have been Human. She no longer had hair, no longer had clothes, no face, no eyes. One of her arms was burnt till only bones remained. The other felt blindly ahead of her as she staggered into the room. The creature took one breath, and its broken voice uttered one single word, almost impossible to make out.

“Mas-ter.”

The body fell to the ground, and silence was complete. Even the noise of the mana-draining spells stopped.

“O dear,” said Lenna.

Bezoar shook himself.

“You. You. Keep this woman’s mana pool empty. The rest of you, get her, and kill her. Do it now!”


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

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