File GSB-100: Departure

Lenna opened the door to her home, and walked in, followed by Griggin, Trixie, and Nix. Richard hesitated. Trixie looked over her shoulder at him.

“Are you going to come in?”

Richard looked at his feet. “I think I shouldn’t. Not without telling Father. I have to sort it out with him first, before…”

Trixie put her arms round Richard.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then. At school.”

“Count on it,” said Richard.

Lenna and Griggin gave each other a look. Lenna shrugged, and walked in. She blinked. Raven was still sitting on the floor, glaring at her. Next to her lay Bieslook, head in her lap, asleep. A biscuit tin lay on the floor, its lid next to it, empty, dead, violated.

“Nix?”

“Mum?”

“I don’t mind you bringing a girlfriend home, but if you’re going to play kinky games with her, I’d like to know beforehand.”

Bieslook stirred, woke up, and saw Lenna. She squealed, and ran at her, wrapped her arms round Lenna’s middle. Lenna lifted her up, with some difficulty, and held her close.

Raven glared at the group of Gnomes. She took a deep breath, and yelled.

“Alright! I’m sorry I tried to stab Nix, I don’t know who made me do it, he did it in the Deeprun Tram, and I was as horny as a goat. Now will somebody get these bloody cuffs off me?”

Bieslook looked round, with eyes as large as saucers.

“You had horns?”

Raven looked at Bieslook, a weary look on her face.

“Yes, kid. I had horns. On my head, and boy did I look silly. Luckily, I got better.”

Griggin smiled, shook his head. “Of course, Miss Raven. Nix?”

Nix reached behind Raven. There was a click and the cuffs came off. Raven rubbed her wrists, and got to her feet.

“Well, I’d say it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been. Catch you later.”

“Miss Raven?” Griggin looked up at Raven. “Without you, this afternoon would have ended in an even greater tragedy than it already has. Please accept my thanks for your help. Would you like to stay for dinner?”

“Um,” said Raven. She was hungry. Biscuits don’t really fill one up.

“I think I have some sausages left in the cold box,” said Lenna. “I could make a stew.”

 

Lenna pointed at the Game board. Because there were more than four players, they had put on the second level, with the added walkways.

“So. Stations are yellow, because it’s Wednesday. That means the Circle Line is at double bonus points, and you get an extra busker on the main points.”

“Riiiight,” said Raven. “So I start at the Tower Hill, right?”

“Nonono,” said Trixie. “You can’t start on a yellow station.”

“I thought they were all yellow.”

“No, that’s just their base colour. By ‘yellow’ I mean a station on the Circle. We’re playing the Woodbridge variant, so if you could start on the bonus colour, it’d give you too much of an advantage early in the game, so that’s why yellow starts are banned.”

Raven looked at Trixie.

“All… right. So. New Cross?”

Nix shook his head. “Well, you can if you want, but that just adds miles to your path. Try Elephant and Castle.”

“Nix! You’re setting her up to shunt me, aren’t you?”

“Whatever gives you that idea?”

“What’s shunting?” Raven looked thoroughly lost.

“A loser move to make someone else take a long way round,” said Trixie. “Only complete noobs do it this early in the game.”

Lenna knocked on the table. “E and C it is. Let’s not turn this into a Gnome-moot, shall we? Richmond.”

“Edgware,” said Griggin.

“Knightsbridge,” said Trixie.

Nix sneered. “You know what’s going to happen if you do that, right?”

“Bite me, sneaky boy.”

“No prob. Baron’s court.”

“Shunt me, and I’ll kick you.”

“Children.” Griggin’s voice sounded tired. “For tonight, let’s keep it civil. No larping. Miss Raven, may I suggest you travel up the Northern? If you are lucky, you could make it all the way to the Monument.”

Raven stared at the board, then up at Griggin.

“You’re making this up as you go along, aren’t you?”

 

Nix sat with his feet on the bench, looking out of the window. Due to a move by Raven, on Trixie’s advice, he’d ended up in Nidd, and was unlikely to emerge before someone else won. He didn’t even mind too much. His mind wasn’t on the game. With a sigh, he got up.

“I need a long walk. Fresh air. Think I’ll see if I can get to Kharanos. If I get out of Nidd, shunt Trix.”

Trixie stuck out her tongue.

Griggin put a hand on Nix’ shoulder, and looked into his eyes.

“Son, those women would have died no matter what you did. Either the Daemons would have driven them insane, or the Circle would have executed them. They would not have been as quick about it as you were.”

Nix nodded, and walked out of the door.


Nix walked out of the Gates. Just outside, there was a small open-air forge run by some Human man. Nix looked at the sunset, and the fiery red colours in the sky. He sighed, and walked on. There was a small wall round the platform, to keep careless wanderers from throwing themselves into the valley of Dun Morogh, several hundred yards below. On it sat a dark-haired Gnome girl, wearing plate armour. She was looking West, and not moving.

Nix walked up to her. She heard his footsteps, and looked round. Nix took a deep breath.

“What is wrong with you?” he shouted. “Just what by the rampaging Titans is wrong?”

Dora said nothing, just looked at him.

“You… women! All I’ve ever done is try to be nice to you, and you treat me like I want to sell your organs on the auction house.”

Dora looked at her feet, and said nothing.

“And alright, I’ll admit it. I was hoping to get a bit closer to you. In the clothes-off sense. I’ll admit it! You’re gorgeous, and I would love to do that with you. So what in Azeroth is wrong with that? I’m sure that in this day and age girls are allowed to enjoy it, even.”

Nix took a deep breath, and pointed back at Ironforge, finger trembling.

“And meanwhile, some murdering bastard just has to snap his fingers, and you trot along happy as anything. Oooo! He melts faces! That’s sooo sexy!”

Nix looked at Dora, eyes burning with rage, taking deep breaths.

“I give up! I just don’t care anymore. Get stuffed, the lot of you!”

Nix turned round and took a step back to the Gates. Before he had the chance to take three steps, there was someone’s hand gripping his arm. Nix jerked his arm, but Dora had a surprisingly strong grip. Nix looked round, into Dora’s face. He swallowed. Dora was too tough to cry. But the look in her eyes said that if she hadn’t been, that’s what she would have been doing. She slowly pulled Nix to her, put her arms round him. Nix put his hands on her back, carefully, as if she might suddenly sprout spikes. He closed his eyes. Dora’s voice was small, and he almost couldn’t make it out over the wind.

“Nix,” she said. “Keep your mouth shut, and this may just work.”

 

Dora lived in a room at the edge of the Military Ward, a place reserved for the children of soldiers and officers. Her room was small. There was just enough space for a sofa, which presumably unfolded into a bed, a cupboard, and a small desk. A petroleum burner was on a shelf in the corner. Nix looked round. Bookshelves were on the walls, and there were pegs where Dora could hang her plate armour. A trunk held her weapons. Nix looked at Dora, who was striking a match, lighting the burner. She shook out the match, dropped it in an ashtray and put on the kettle. They hadn’t spoken a word all the way between the Gates and here.

“This is nice,” said Nix.

Dora looked over her shoulder, and there was a kind, almost amused look in her grey-blue eyes. She opened a cupboard and got two mugs out.

“I thought you’d live with your folks,” said Nix. He spotted the copper pipes he’d welded together hurriedly, on a shelf, though the flowers were gone.

“They’re not here,” said Dora.

“Oh. Where…”

“Gnomeregan,” said Dora.

Nix winced, and kicked himself. Dora sighed.

“They’re in a cleared area, defending it as a foothold. They’re not dead.”

“Sorry,” said Nix.

“I’ve just had word. My little brother. He’s… had an accident. Fighting irradiated Troggs. He got sprayed with acid, and the healers couldn’t get to him all that quick. He’ll live, but…”

Dora stopped, closed her eyes, looked down.

“Dammit Nix. I asked you to keep your mouth shut, didn’t I?”

Nix sighed. “I’m sorry, Dora. I should probably go.”

“No. Please don’t. Just…” Dora looked up at Nix. “Don’t.”

Nix gave a little nod. Dora turned round, picked up a tin and shook it over a small pot.

“Whoa!” said Nix. “Instant coffee? Stand back, I’ll save you.”

Dora looked over her shoulder, and laughed.

“Yes. These are coffee leaves. Sit down, Steambender.”

Nix sat down on Dora’s sofa, and looked up at her, as she took off her plate armour and hung it on the pegs on the wall, inspecting it for damage as she did. Underneath, she wore a loose white shirt that hung down to her thighs. She poured boiling water over the tea leaves.

“So, what have you been up to this afternoon? What’s all this about murdering bastards?”

Nix didn’t answer for a moment. Was he even supposed to talk about this? It involved Warlocks. Never a happy subject. Sod it. Nix wasn’t very happy anyway.

“It’s my dad’s apprentice, acolyte, whatever. He’d gone bad from listening to Daemons. And dragged a whole bunch of women down with him. They grabbed my Mum, and made one of my classmates try to kill me.”

“Damn,” said Dora. “I have a third cousin who’s a Warlock. He gives me the creeps. Your dad is a Warlock? Why would he want to do that?”

“You don’t get to choose. You either get good at it, like my dad, or you go mad. Usually end up killing lots of people.”

“People like… Gemma?”

“Think so, yes. Oh gods… They’d tortured some poor Dwarf woman to death. And just left her body to hang there.”

“And you got them,” said Dora.

“Yeah. Me, Trix, Richard, Mum once we’d got her loose. Dad got the apprentice.”

Dora poured tea into their mugs, and handed one to Nix.

“Sorry. No milk.”

“Don’t ever apologise for not putting milk in tea or coffee.”

Dora laughed, and sat down on the sofa next to Nix. Nix noticed that she’d sat down underneath his arm, which was lying on the back of the sofa.

“So that’s what got you all in a twist.”

“Yeah. Sorry for shouting at you. You didn’t deserve that.”

“No worries,” said Dora. She sipped tea.

They fell silent. Nix looked at Dora’s books. Fighting manuals. Biography of Gelbin Mekkatorque. A few trashy romance novels. Should he put his arm round her shoulders? She might kill him. Was it worth it? Dora finished her tea, and reached across Nix’ lap to put it on the side table. She ended up leaning against him. Nix looked at her from the corner of his eye. Her body felt warm. She looked up at him, amused. He felt more than heard her laugh. She reached up, picked up his arm and pulled it round her. She put her own arm round Nix’ waist, and turned her face up to him, eyes closed. Nix didn’t dare breathe or speak. Dora looked at Nix through her eyelashes.

“Would you like me to write you an invite, Steambender?”


Raven had left. Trixie had gone to bed with a book. Bieslook was asleep. Lenna was putting away the last of the coffee cups. Griggin sighed, got up from his chair and took his robes from the peg.

“Are you going out, love?”

Griggin nodded. “There are things I must do, and I can’t put them off. I won’t be too long.”

Lenna looked out through the window.

“Will Nix be alright?”

“I think so. We caught all of Bezoar’s… associates. If we missed any, his influence will have worn off tomorrow morning, and there’s just these poor women’s souls to worry about. Unlikely we’ll be able to save them. May the Light grant that we have them all.”

Lenna put her arms round Griggin.

“You did what you had to do today. You are a good Gnome.”

Griggin held Lenna in his arms. She was right, but she was also wrong. It’s what he should have done these last few weeks that was the problem.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

 

Mr. Ironhand walked into the room, impeccably dressed in his black suit, despite the fact that it was far past midnight.

“Mr. Steambender. I have been told that you have news for me.”

“I have, Sir. I have found those who are responsible for the death of your daughter.”

Gryll Ironhand’s weathered face showed nothing of his emotions.

“Where are they now?”

“They are dead, Sir. They came out of hiding to destroy my family. Luckily, we were able to prevent them from doing so.”

“Good. Who were they?”

Griggin looked at one of the pictures hanging on Mr. Ironhand’s wall. Then, he looked into Gryll Ironhand’s eyes.

“The main culprit was my student. Unknown to me, his mind was corrupted by a fel entity, which drove him insane. I was not able to see it happening, much less prevent it. I am deeply sorry.”

“Have you had many students?”

“Perhaps a dozen or two, Sir.”

Gryll Ironhand ran his hand through his beard.

“Several dozen Warlocks, in this city? May the Light preserve us.”

“Most of us are well able to resist temptation, Sir. There were about two hundred of us in Gnomeregan. This was… an isolated incident.”

“That is a mercy, little comfort though it is to me. Thank you for telling me this, Mr. Steambender. Now unless there is anything I can do for you, please excuse me. I must pray.”

“There is one thing, Sir. One of the victims of my student’s circle was the daughter of the keeper of the House of Ribs. Her remains are still in a side-tunnel of the Deeprun Tram, and they need to be returned to her father.” Griggin looked up into Mr. Ironhand’s eyes. “If you can avoid Mr. Oakenfire seeing the body, it would spare him distress.”

“No, Mr. Steambender. We Dwarves do not shy away from the grim aspects of life. Pain and suffering serve to off-set the joys of living in the Light.” He sighed. “So poor Glynis is dead, after all. Do you know how she died?”

Griggin nodded quietly. “She was murdered in a brutal fashion by my student and his associates. This was no battle, Sir. It was the wanton destruction of another living being. If we must convey this to Mr. Oakenfire, warn him to brace himself.”

“We? Do you wish to be there when he receives the news?”

“Sir, I consider it to be my duty.”

 

The cart stopped in front of the House of Ribs. The door opened, and Glynis Oakenfire’s remains were carried inside, and gently laid down on the table. With trembling hands, Mr. Oakenfire pulled away the sheet and looked at his daughter’s burnt face. His shoulders hunched, and he started shaking. Then, he howled. Howled as only a strong man can, when finally it is too much, and he doesn’t care anymore what anyone thinks of him.

“Wizards! Warlocks! Murderers all! Look at what they did to you! Curse them! Crush them and grind them to dust!”

Griggin had pulled back his hood, and wished he could pull it up again, hide his face. He made himself look at Mr. Oakenfire, who was now sobbing on Mr. Ironhand’s beautiful expensive suit.

“Sham,” said Mr. Ironhand. He pointed at Griggin. “He is the one who slew them who did this to Glynis.”

Sham Oakenfire looked at Griggin, through tear-filled eyes. His voice was hoarse.

“Thank ye, Sir. Thank ye for avenging my daughter.”

Griggin bowed his head.

“I am so sorry,” he said. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

 

“Excellent! Excellent, my friend. Cleared up the whole problem. I hope nobody of your family was hurt?”

“Not much, Sir,” said Griggin. “Bumps and bruises.”

“Good. Very good. And without anyone the wiser that it was a Warlock who was to blame. Well done.”

Griggin scowled at Acting Chief Warlock Briarthorn.

“I told Gryll Ironhand, Sir.”

What?! What in Azeroth made you do that? Do you have any notion at all how this is going to affect…”

“It was his right to know, Sir. We messed up. I messed up. We cannot keep our friends ignorant. Not if we truly wish to be their friends, rather than simply troublesome guests.”

“You idiot! Do you realise how much careful diplomacy you’ve just swept into the bin? It’s going to take ages to cover this up.”

“Then perhaps we should not seek to cover it up. Do you think you can convince the Dwarves of Ironforge that we are nice people? We are not, Sir. We are the ones who walk at the edge of darkness, because we must. And sometimes, some of us fall over the edge, and when they do, those of us who can, do whatever is needed to mend the situation. At whatever cost to ourselves.”

The door opened. Silhouetted in the entrance stood a robed figure. A staff was in his hand, and underneath his cowl, cruel lights burnt in his eyes.

“Trainer Briarthorn. Good day to you, and may your mind be steadfast.”

Acting Chief Warlock Briarthorn stared, and even under his hood, Griggin could see his face turn white.

“Chief… Sindala?”

“Indeed. It is good to see that someone has seen fit to take up the mantle during my absence.”

“Only… only temporarily, Sir. Until your return, and I hereby relinquish my office and welcome you back to the Circle.”

“It is less good to see that during my absence, a group of unchecked Warlocks was allowed to run rampant in the city of Ironforge, causing grief and suffering.”

“It was Warlock Griggin’s apprentice, Sir. He fell to Darkness, and committed the atrocities that you have undoubtedly heard of.”

“And who allowed this to happen?”

Griggin bowed his head, and faced Chief Sindala.

“I did, Sir. I missed the signs that another Entity had taken control of young Bezoar’s mind.”

“Did you not consult with your fellow Warlocks?”

“Yes, Sir. But ultimately, the mistake was mine.”

“Hmm. Is Bezoar dead?”

“Yes sir. I extinguished him when it became clear that he was beyond saving. The unfortunate women he seduced to Darkness are also dead.”

“Good. At least someone here is competent enough to fix their mistakes. Warlock Briarthorn. How have you handled this situation?”

“Well Sir, I tried my hardest to keep the matter confidential, but then Warlock Griggin exposed us to the Dwarves. We may have to…”

“Thank you, Trainer Briarthorn. I must confess that I hoped I could leave you to your own devices for a while during my stay in Stormwind. I have been able to establish a rapport with the Human Warlock circle there, which may prove to be essential to our endeavours here. This affair is… most unfortunate. But no rest for the wicked, I suppose. You may go, Trainer Briarthorn.”

“Thank you, Sir,” said Briarthorn. He left with poor grace and a nasty look at Griggin.

Chief Warlock Sindala took a deep breath, and looked round. He shook his head.

“What a dismally sub-standard set-up we have here. I see there is much work to be done. I suppose I had better get on with it. Oh. Before you go, Griggin, there is something I’d like you to do for me.”

Griggin looked up. “Please Sir, I don’t feel I should take on any apprentices for a while.”

Sindala studied Griggin’s face, gave a single nod. “I agree. You have failed grievously, and you require time to extract the wisdom from that failure. But this is not an apprentice. I would like you to take over a Voidwalker, who has been mishandled.”

“Mishandled? In what way?”

“The Warlock in question, a certain Aquaregis, could not help it, as he was dying. His young slave then dismissed the Daemon improperly. ‘Piss off then’, indeed. If only the Unknowing knew how much damage they did. The Daemon’s abridged name is Thuljuk. You will find his true name in this document. I do not wish this Daemon to be handled by a rank beginner. We have a duty of care, as specified in the Covenant.”

“Hurzag will be only too happy to be rid of me, Sir. I accept.”


Dora lay on her bed, on her stomach, head on her arms, eyes closed. As Nix had expected, the bed was made by folding out the sofa with a mechanism so simple, elegant and beautiful that Nix had almost folded it back in again to see how it worked. Dora had vetoed that very effectively by taking her shirt off. Nix lay next to her, looking at her, head leaning on his hand. Even now, with every inch of her skin available to the eye, his eyes were still drawn to her face, though Nix did notice a few bruises on her ribs, due no doubt to some enthusiastic sparring at school. Warrior girls were not treated like delicate flowers. Dora opened her eyes lazily, and smiled at Nix. His stomach knotted up.

“That was nice,” said Dora.

“It was. Thank you.”

Dora rolled over onto her side.

“My pleasure.”

Nix looked into Dora’s eyes, intense, bright, framed by dark hair. Dora reached out and ran her hand up Nix’ chest.

“So,” said Nix. “What happens next?”

Dora grinned. “Well, do you notice that nice warm glowy feeling?”

“Uh yeah.”

“Well, you wait till that goes away, and then you do it again. And you keep repeating it till one of us can’t move anymore.”

“One of us…”

“Well you. Cause you’re a wimp.”

Nix laughed. “Or until we run out of sonkies.”

Dora rolled onto her back, grinning.

“I’m sure I’ve got another pack somewhere, but don’t let that keep you from trying.”

“So what are we now? Lovers? Am I your boyfriend? Lost souls seeking comfort? What?”

“Nix, I like you. Really. You’re not as bad as I thought you were.”

“Oh good.”

“But you and me, we’re fighters. What do you expect? Love forevermore? I’ll be leaving in a few weeks, for Gnomeregan. Join the fight there. I may be dead next month, or hurt so bad that you’d never want to look at me again.”

“Dora, I’d never…”

“Shut up Nix. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If I’d got half my face ripped off in a fight, I wouldn’t want to come back.”

Nix stared. “But…”

“You know, my commander is going to put me in harm’s way. Fighting Troggs, fighting the leper Gnomes. Left-over technology. Thermaplugg’s cronies. And sometimes, commanders know when they send people out, that they’re not going to see them back. And we know. And still, I’ll go.”

“Why?”

“Because if I don’t, then we all die. That’s why there’s only here, and there’s only now. And here and now, I’m yours. All of me. Nothing held back.”

Nix said nothing for a few moments.

“What about tomorrow? Can we do tomorrow?”

Dora put her hand on Nix’ face.

“Sure. I can do tomorrow. Tomorrow’s fine. Can we do some here and now please?”

“Gods, yeah!”


Griggin was working in his own workshop, on a little project he’d given himself. All the IGNITE stuff was coming along nicely. Contractors were annoying all the Ironforge citizenry by ripping out the streets for pipes. He needed some time to himself, and had pulled a design out of his box at random. It was the Loyly design, but since nobody in Ironforge was likely to speak Nordic much, he’d named it Steambender’s Relaxing Steam Bath. The first prototype was taking shape in his workshop. He’d connected an OP-500 steam heater to it, fitted the cold showers to cool off. The OP-500 was a leftover. It had been decommissioned when the Dwarves in question had been connected up to the IGNITE network. He’d offered to take it away for them for nothing. It was scandalously over-powered for the job. As always, he’d shamelessly used his own family as test subjects. Lenna had screamed as the cold water hit her. She had taken some convincing that that was as designed and people actually enjoyed it. All that was left to do was to test the sterilisation function. Griggin lifted the cover on the big red button marked, in big letters, STERILISE! He pressed it, and there was a mighty blast of super-heated steam. It kept on blowing for exactly thirty seconds, then shut off. Griggin opened the chamber. Hmm. All the wood was still wet. He’d have to add some kind of ventilation system to dry it out, preventing wood rot. Still, as a proof-of-concept, it was ready for demonstration.


Trixie walked into school, humming a tune, and looked round. Richard wasn’t there yet, but Dora was. Trixie waved. Dora grinned and waved back. Trixie gave her a Look, and sat down next to her.

“I haven’t seen Nix all night yesterday, and you look like a cat who’s eaten a whole cage full of canaries. Start talking.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Ye gods. That good?”

“Well, let’s say we’ve settled our differences. We have both learnt a valuable lesson. I have learnt that your brother is not a sick little pervert after all, and he has learnt that, when the mood strikes me, I am.”

“Ugh,” said Trixie. “Too much information.”

“Well if you can’t stand the answer, don’t ask the question.”

“I suppose. Speaking of which, have you seen Richard? Did Nix have time during your busy night to tell you what happened?”

“He did. By the Light, I wish I’d been there!”

“Yeah it was fun, in an entirely un-fun way. Anyway. I want to ask Richard how his arm is, and whether he needs someone to rub salve into it or something.”

“Oh? Did you…” Dora wiggled her eyebrows.

“No, dammit. His dad has something against Warlocks, and he’s told Richard not to talk to me.”

“Oh. Well, there’s always touching and tasting.”

“Ye gods, you are in a pervy mood.”

“Yes!”

 

“Richard Sparkbolt?” Trainer Tosslespanner sighed. “I’m afraid his father has removed him from this school.”

“What? Why?”

“No idea. Didn’t want to talk about it, but apparently he’s going to move to Sentinel Hill, in Westfall. Why anyone would want to… Miss Steambender?”

 

Trixie bent over the neck of her Mechanostrider as it clunked noisily along the road to Coldridge Valley. In the distance, she could see two Gnomes on a little cart. Trixie tried to wring every last bit of speed out of the old truttenschudder.

“Richard!”

Trixie could see Richard look back, then at his father beside him as he bit a few words at him. Richard jumped off the cart, and ran towards Trixie. Trixie slammed on the brakes, jumped off the strider and hung on to Richard for dear life.

“Got you, you bastard. Did you think you could just get away from me?”

Richard said nothing. Trixie’s eyes burnt with anger.

“What have you got to say for yourself? Don’t like long goodbyes? Any goodbyes at all?”

“Father wouldn’t let me. We were going to go to Westfall at the end of the year anyway, but with all this… Father decided to go now.”

“But what about…”

“Trix. I love you. I do. But I can’t ignore my dad. You couldn’t go against your dad’s wishes, could you?”

“Find a better dad,” said Trixie.

Richard let that go. He sighed.

“I had to choose. I couldn’t be with you without telling my dad, and my dad can’t get on with Warlocks. He’s my father.”

Trixie’s shoulders jerked in something between a sob and a laugh. Not looking at Richard, she simply stood there.

“Daddy or Trix. Trix or Daddy.”

Richard laughed, at a joke that would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He pulled Trixie to him.

“I want you both,” he said. “But it’ll take some work.”

The cart stopped next to them.

“What by the Titans do you think you’re doing? Get back on, we’re late.”

“We’re two months early, Father,” said Richard.

“Don’t give me that.” He turned to Trixie. “And you Miss, stay away from my son. I’m sure he can do better than the offspring of some trollop and a devil worshipper.”

Father!” Richard bristled with anger. “If you’re going to drive, drive.”

Mustrum Sparkbolt grunted, pulled the reins on his cart and drove off. Trixie looked at the cart, vanishing in the distance. Her strider’s engine was still running. She leapt on, turned it round with some effort, and set off back to Ironforge.

 

Lenna hadn’t had Trixie in her arms like this for years. She was sitting on Trixie’s bed, leaning against the wall, Her big strong daughter was lying back with her head on Lenna’s stomach.

“He called you a trollop,” said Trixie. “I didn’t even want to hit him. What’s the point.”

“I’ve been called worse,” said Lenna. “And with perfectly good reason. I’m afraid I wasn’t very respectable some forty years ago.”

Trixie looked up. Lenna stroked her hair, looking ahead of her.

“I, well… let’s say that boyfriends didn’t last very long in the Greenhollow part of town. Days. Hours, even. There was this girl, Ginger. My very best friend. We had a competition going on.” Lenna shook her head. “I don’t really want to remember. I caused a lot of grief back then. I only got out of that world by nearly dying of alcohol poisoning.”

“But you never drink. Not even shandy or a single glass of wine.”

“Still scared to. Once you cross a certain line, there’s no going back. I don’t ever want to be in that same situation again. Trixie, I’ll ask you something and I really mean it. If you ever see me drunk, punch my lights out. I’m not joking. But anyway, if someone calls me a trollop, I can’t really deny it. Stupid old fashioned word anyway.”

“He called Dad a devil worshipper.”

“Well, that is a load of old bollocks. But that miserable little git Bezoar was. In a way. And that’s what people think of when they hear the word ‘Warlock’. And not a century of being good ever fixes that.”

Trixie closed her eyes.

“Damn it. Why couldn’t Richard just have told me to piss off? Easier all round.”

“Because he loves you,” said Lenna.

“Well, he’s gone with Daddy. Says he’ll try to talk him into believing we’re not the scum he thinks we are.”

“Who knows? Maybe he will.”

Trixie shook her head, pink tails brushing Lenna’s arm.

“I’m counting on maybe one letter. Then it’ll fizzle out.”

“I don’t know,” said Lenna. “Don’t give up hope.”


Griggin walked back and forth, trying not to laugh at the row of Dwarves, who were sitting on a wooden bench in their underwear, waiting their turn. Inside the small room, the steam was circulating round the room exactly as calculated, and the filth of years was being removed from rough Dwarf skins. The first test had been a resounding success, with Dwarves coming out laughing at each other’s screams as the cold water replaced the hot steam.

“Scuse me, Master Steambender?”

“Yes?”

The Dwarf pointed at the Big Red Button.

“What’s ‘Sterilise’ mean?”

“Ah,” said Griggin. “The Sterilise button releases a high-pressure cloud of super-heated steam into the chamber, for an intense cleansing, getting rid of any fungus or skin flakes that may have built up during use.”

“Brilliant! Just the thing for that smelly lot inside!” He shouted into the door. “Yer about to be taken to the cleaners ye filthy buggers!”

He raised the cover on the button.

He pressed the button.

The heat pump roared.

A high-pressure cloud of super-heated steam was released into the chamber.

The screams started.

Griggin turned pale, and leaped at the pump. With his fist, he smashed the glass window, and pressed the emergency shut-off. There was a noise like thunder, and great clouds of steam billowed from the exhaust pipes.

“Open the bloody door! Get them out!”

Four Dwarves were pulled from the steam bath, skins red as lobsters. One of the dwarves, a healer, shouted.

“Fire damage! Get them here!”

He closed his eyes, concentrated, and as best as he could without his usual armour and equipment, cast spells of healing on the burnt Dwarves. After a while, their skins returned to their usual colour.

Griggin glared at the Dwarf who’d pressed the button, shaking.

“You idiot! The sterilise function is meant to kill anything in the chamber that could make you sick! Funguses! Fleas! Whatever else comes off you when you clean! You don’t do it with people inside! That’s why the sodding button is on the outside! With a cover on!”

“Then why dint ye say so, ye great pillock?”

“I did say so! What part of ‘high-pressure super-heated steam’ don’t you understand?”

The Priest, who was sitting on the bench, slowly sipping a sweet drink to replenish his mana, looked round.

“Why don’t we all calm down, and head for Stonefire Tavern, for a few pints?”

“Good plan! All this cleanin’ and bathin’ can’t be good for ye.”

Griggin looked at the last few wisps of steam that came from the boiler as the Dwarves filed out. He sat down with his head in his hands.

“What have I done to deserve this?”

 

Stephen walked over to Griggin with another strong cup of coffee.

“Thank you, Mr. Smolt, but I didn’t…”

“You had the distinct appearance of needing it, Sir,” said Stephen. “Please accept this as a gift from the house.”

“He sued me! First, he by-passes all the safety features, and nearly boils his friends, and then he has the gall to blame it on me.”

“I trust your defence was adequate, Sir?”

“Oh yes. The Judge threw out the case. I never expected to hear the words ‘ye stupid bugger’ in a court of Law. Unfortunately, I am not being judged inside the courtroom.”

Stephen sighed, and decided to commit the faux pas of sitting down next to Griggin.

“People are like that, Sir. As soon as one enters into a commercial agreement, there is a tendency for personal responsibility to be left, languishing, by the wayside. My second cousin twice removed ran a weapons factory. Just a small one, in Brewnall Village, where he manufactured firearms of exceptional quality and workmanship. He was sued for criminal negligence, by a gentleman who had seen fit to shorten the barrel of a rifle, and not being content with even this savagery, to file out the chamber so that larger-calibre ammunition might be fitted. I am sad to say that the first test firing removed two of his fingers and one of his eyes. The result was an entirely undeserved reputation for producing weapons that are almost as dangerous to the operator as they are to the target. Poor Wesson never recovered, Sir. I think I still have one of his rifles about the place. And to my shame, I must admit that firing it always gives me pause.”

“I think I might want to apply to the King for a new law, mandating capital punishment for deviating from any device’s operating procedures.”

“That is legislation that deserves all due consideration, Sir,” said Stephen. “You have my best wishes for the attempt.”


Griggin called the Family Meeting to order.

“My dear family, the situation, while not desperate, is serious. For about three months now, I have not been able to make any profit on my Optimal Prime series of water heaters. With IGNITE water supplies now reaching more than half of Ironforge, many people don’t need them, and those that do have somehow got the idea that it’s about to boil them alive. Which I trace back to the unfortunate incident with the steam bath.”

“Should have tied their hands behind their backs,” said Nix.

“Next time, Nix, I will. My suggestion, meanwhile, is that we move our business elsewhere. I have had word that the Humans of Stormwind are building a new harbour. Opportunities abound for competent Engineers. What are your opinions?”

Trixie looked up. “Stormwind. Is that closer to Westfall or further away?”

“Closer,” said Nix.

“For it,” said Trixie. Much to her surprise, Richard had been keeping in touch, writing letters about his work as a guard in Sentinel Hill. He still had Trixie address her letters to a nearby farm, though, presumably to avoid them being intercepted by his father.

Nix sneered. He had visited Dora at her station in Gnomeregan, but Dora now had to keep herself upright in a group of battle-hardened Warriors. Though she was still the same girl underneath, she had built up a plate-steel armour type attitude that she could not afford to let down, even for a moment. She had shown him to the door, ‘boosted’ him, as she said, and they had kissed before he left, Nix in his Rogue’s leathers, Dora in her plate armour. There had been a glimmer of a smile on her face, a ‘take care of yourself’, and that, more or less, was it.

“For it,” said Nix.

Lenna looked at her son, knowing exactly what he was thinking of.

“For it,” she said. “As long as we don’t take that bloody tram. I never want to enter that tunnel again as long as I live.”

“There are no ships yet from Menethil to Stormwind,” said Griggin. “We could go on foot, or take a cart. Even mail our belongings ahead. I think a small expedition could do us good.”

“Sounds like fun,” said Nix.

“Bieslook? What do you think?”

“Do we have sausages on the campfire?”

“We could do,” said Lenna, with a smile.

“Yay!”


Raven lay back on Old Beardy’s arm, notepad on her knee, looking at the people passing by. She didn’t really need to do this anymore, but it would edge her results in the right direction, and it was relaxing. Just a few more weeks, and her time would be up. She had her Subtlety and Combat papers almost in her pocket. If she flunked something, she could probably just steal the paper. She looked down. Four Gnomish mechanostriders, heavily laden. Four, no five Gnomes. Well, four-and-a-half. So that was the Steambender family out of here, then. Raven almost waved, but Rogues live their lives not drawing attention to themselves. She smiled.

“So long kid,” she said. “Best of luck with the Mage stuff.”


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

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