Part 12: The market at Ironforge

The key turned in the lock, the door opened and Baron Samuel Goldenberg came in, followed by his servant Schmuÿle. Interalia looked up from her knitting and banged her fist on the table.

“Heads up guys, it’s the screws!”

“Damn,” said Raven. “Keep ’em distracted while I pour this prison moonshine down the latrine!”

“Pick up your own bloody soap,” said Nix.

“Good evening gentlemen,” said Griggin. “I trust the evening went well with us safely out of the way?”

Baron Goldenberg looked at them, a mildly bemused expression on his face.

“Why all this hostility? I merely took a small precaution for your own safety. It would have been inconvenient having to explain your presence to the unsavoury characters I have to work with in this place.”

“Hey! I resent that,” said Raven. “Some things that aren’t savoury are sweet!”

“Please spare me your feeble attempt at humour,” said Baron Goldenberg. “Let us return, however reluctantly, to the matter at hand. I have consulted with a few of the SI:7 operatives in Ironforge. It would appear that Miss Raven’s former associates have moved, or perhaps extended, their area of activity to this fine Dwarven city. Their modus operandi has been observed in a few places. The descriptions given by the victims match some of Miss Raven’s former gang members.”

“What? they found a new piece of bait?” Raven sniffed. “She’d better not be prettier than I am.”

“You will soon be able to judge for yourself, and perhaps take the appropriate revenge,” said the Baron. “Our mandate includes deadly force. Our orders are to remove the gang as a threat.”

“By any means necessary,” said Schmuÿle, with a nasty grin.

“It is almost always a pleasure to see someone enjoy their work,” said Griggin. “Have our adversaries been sighted anywhere?”

“They ply their trade at the market,” said Baron Goldenberg. “I think I may be about to have my pockets picked. Or be lured to a terrible fate by a fair damsel.”

“That is regrettable,” said Griggin. “Anything we can do to help?”

Thunderpetal sat in an out-of-the-way place, meditating. His hands lay in his lap, his eyes were closed. His consciousness floated above a younger and more foolish Thunderpetal, unable to change his past, but seeking to recognise it as something that his present self would no longer be in danger of repeating. Sometimes, your younger self could be a complete prat. Briefly, he asked himself what an older Thunderpetal would think of him now, but never mind that.

After he had given his staff to Huang, Thunderpetal had become more aware of the anger that lived within him. He would never allow it to make him hurt his friend again, but still, it was there, a dark cloud floating over him. Was this anger something that he had always carried within himself, or had it come from outside, like an unwelcome guest? Was any notion of it coming from the outside a simple wish to keep his self pure and good? To place the blame for almost hurting his best friend on some dark outside agency? As time went on, young Thunderpetal became more and more worried about it, and eventually, his father called him for a serious talk. Father confessed to being stumped as to what had turned his placid son into a blood-thirsty maniac. But there were others who might be able to help. To be precise, the monks of the temple of the Jade Serpent in the Jade Forest. It would be a week-long journey on foot, but Thunderpetal was well used to walking. Huang, on learning of Thunderpetal’s plan, immediately offered to join him. All the crops were in, stowed away, and there was nothing much to do on the farm except feed their beasts, which Thunderpetal’s father and Huang’s mother could do easily.

As the leaves were turning golden, and the air was crisp with the promise of snow, Huang and Thunderpetal stood by the door of their farm, and prepared to say goodbye to their respective parents. Huang’s mother urged him to dress up warm and keep out of trouble. Thunderpetal’s father just gently bumped him on the shoulder, wished him good luck and told him to write. They walked across the fields to the road to the north-west and set off, walking along in silence. Huang had Thunderpetal’s staff, Thunderpetal went without a weapon. They were passing through the Thunderfoot Fields, passing Pang Thunderfoot’s homestead. The Thunderfoots were neighbors, but the family was so large that it was more difficult not to be a neighbor to at least one Thunderfoot. Thunderpetal’s father had always been on good terms with them, and often they had helped each other bringing in their harvests. They stopped for a light meal at a shrine that had a beautiful view of the waterfall across the stream. Then continued on until they came to a stone bridge, and looked for a while at the stone dam that held the stream in check so that the Thunderfoot fields could have more water to irrigate the crops of turnips, carrots, cabbages and many other vegetables. How the Thunderfoots had managed to keep the river in check while they built the dam, neither of them could imagine.

As the sun set, an ominous shadow loomed in front of them. This was the Forest Heart of the Valley of the Four Winds, and to two young Pandaren, it was the very nature of fear. They decided to camp for the night on its border, and dare the forest with a fresh supply of daylight. They lit a fire, cooked a very basic meal of rice and dried fish, then prepared to settle down for the night.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn,” said Huang, “I am told that we should set a watch.”

“Why?” said Thunderpetal, “We are still in decent places.”

“There are… Hozen in the Forest Heart, and large snakes, and giant wasps, and evil spirits, and…”

Thunderpetal looked doubtfully at the shadow of the forest ahead.

“They won’t come out to us here, will they? We have a campfire. Wild animals are afraid of fire.”

“Evil spirits don’t fear fire,” said Huang. “Nor do Hozen.”

“Hmm,” said Thunderpetal, stroking his chin. “I suppose we’d better, then. Do you want the first or last watch?”

“I will take first watch,” said Huang. “I will wake you at midnight.”

“That means neither of us will get a full night’s sleep,” said Thunderpetal. “Are these the hardships of adventure?”

Huang put some more wood on the fire.

“It’s not as hard as becoming one of those bulges in a python’s body. Your night’s sleep starts now.”

Back on the Pandaren’s island near Stormwind, Thunderpetal smiled. Throughout their journey to the Jade Temple, keeping watch had never saved them from anything bad. Still, who knows what might have happened if they had both gone to sleep? Fortune favours those who prepare themselves. Of course, the things you prepare for hardly ever happen. Fate has an infinite supply of ways to mess up your day, and you can never prepare yourself for the unexpected. You can only prepare to be surprised. Thunderpetal got up, and walked off in the direction of the cooking fires. A mug of tea would be most welcome.

Interalia lay back, wide awake, in a canopied double bed large enough to lose her husband in.

“She’s hungry,” she said.

“Mwh?” said Nix.

“Aubrey. She’s hungry. I can feel it.”

Nix pulled interalia a bit closer and put his face in her neck.

“You know, when me or Trix got hungry, Mum used to just put us out in the forest to hunt up our own dinner. None of that sissy breast or bottle feeding stuff.”

“Sod you,” said Interalia. She turned round, facing Nix. “Damn it, Nix, I’m a butt-kicking terror of the night, and I’m feeling maternal!”

“Look, my mum is a butt-kicking fire mage. Don’t sweat it. Your cred is safe.”

“Nix Steambender, my love, my life, my darling? Compare me to your mum once more and I’ll hurt you.”

“I don’t kiss my mum like this,” said Nix.

Every other Wednesday was market day in the city of Ironforge. Once, it took up just a few small stalls on the commons, close to the ditches leading down into the flames. From there it grew, gradually taking over the whole of the Commons, sprawling out onto the square in front of the library, and even outside on the platform, which due to the cold outside was quite suited to selling fish and other things best kept fresh. Ironforge was never a quiet place, but at market days, just about the only place to get some peace and quiet was to walk over to the Mystic Wards, where the priests and paladins had put their foot down and kept the bustle out. Nobody puts their plate iron boot down like a Dwarven paladin. The Ironforge Market was a great opportunity to lose large sums of money, if not to the merchants, then to the thieves and cutpurses that moved unseen among the masses despite the honest efforts of the city guards.

In the herd of bodies, it was not easy to move about, but Baron Samuel Goldenberg managed it by sheer force of personality, or perhaps through the slack-jawed horrid fascination of the onlookers. If push came to shove, the shove was provided by Schmuÿle, who in his neat black suit was practically invisible. Griggin was following them at a few dozen paces, staff in hand, hood pulled over his face, looking every bit the Dark Sorceror. People glanced at him, then got out of his way quickly. Nix, Raven and Interalia were in the wings, hiding on the first floor of buildings, flitting from location to location unseen. They kept an eye on each other as well as on the Baron, and communicated with the hand signals they’d learnt all those years ago from Fenthwick, the rogue trainer.

So far, nobody had laid a finger on the Baron, which was most uncooperative of them. Baron Goldenberg walked along the stalls, now and then commenting on the merchandise, making the occasional purchase and paying from an impressively large purse, mostly using gold coins and waving away the change. If ever anyone was begging on his knees to be robbed, then Baron Samuel Goldenberg was it. Without even looking over his shoulder, the Baron walked into the walkway that connected the east arm of the Commons to the Great Forge, with its famous anvil and its craftsmen. These days, they were mostly a tourist attraction. The heavy industry was in the lower levels of ironforge where the general public wasn’t allowed. Nix, Raven and Interalia clambered up the walls, and ran through the corridor that was normally used by the Gryphons that flew into and out of Ironforge.

“Ye gods,” said Interalia. “His Overlordship is really laying it on in spades, isn’t he?”

“Any more, and he’d need a flashing sign saying ‘I Have Lots Of Money, Please Help Yourself’,” said Nix.

“He’s overdoing it,” said Raven. “If he’d tried that with me back in… my youth, I’d have signalled the gang to stay the hell away.”

“Let’s hope your replacement isn’t as smart as you are,” said Interalia.

“Nobody is,” said Raven, climbing down the wall on the other end of the corridor. “A miracle I’m still so modest. Everybody spot him?”

“His Lordship shines with the radiance of the Sun,” said Nix. “Oh sod, he’s going by the Forge. Does he think we can bloody fly?”

“He knows we’re awesome,” said Interalia. “Own up. Who told him?”

“I’m going left,” said Raven, and sprinted off.

“Right,” said Interalia.

Nix watched the ladies disappear, then set off behind the Baron.

Griggin watched as the Baron stopped on the bridge across the lake of lava that fed the Great Forge. He walked to the side of the bridge and stared into the roiling mass of molten rock, the heat of which was siphoned off a few inches above the surface by what was probably the most powerful heat transferrence spell in the world. He had often stood in that very place, making wild plans on how to turn the enormous energy in that lake into something that would make the lives of the people of Ironforge better, providing them with hot and cold running water. Amazingly, he and a few of his engineer friends had actually pulled it off, and the Ironforge Gnomish Network for the Implementation of Thermal Energy, IGNITE for short, now ran every hot tap in the place. There was a tap on his shoulder, and he looked round to see Nix.

“Hi Dad, if you get a chance, tell his Lordship to dial it down a bit. He looks like bait, not like a good catch.”

Griggin only nodded and Nix disappeared in the direction of the Hall of Explorers, passing the Baron.

A few dozen steps ahead of him, the Baron was on the move again, and Griggin followed, keeping a sharp eye on anyone near the Baron. The normal modus operandi of Raven’s old gang was to lure the victim to a quiet place where they could have their way with them, but there were several competent pickpockets among them. The Baron’s purse probably held enough gold for one of them to retire on.

As Griggin watched, a young Human boy sidled up to the Baron, and nearly bumped into him. Griggin’s mind reached out to the boy, and he spoke the final three syllables of a spell that had been revolving in his mind ever since they entered the market. The effect was immediate. The boy’s face turned pale, and he stood still, his body shaking uncontrollably. Griggin grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side of the bridge. He looked at the boy with dark gleaming eyes.

“What is your name?”

“I… I…”

“Out with it, boy,” said Griggin. “Don’t make me waste my time.”

“People call me Spag, Sir.”

“Spag. Good. Did Baltar send you?”

“Sir?” The boy looked at Griggin.

“Did you know that once your body is on fire, your clothes act like a wick, and you keep burning like a candle until all the fat in your body is gone? It can take hours. Did Baltar send you?

The boy nearly fainted. “Nosir! I don’t know anyone by that name!”

Griggin looked at the boy’s face for a few moments. If he was acting, he deserved every ounce of loot he’d got.

“Today, Spag, you live, but only because you are not the thief I am looking for.”

Griggin pulled a few coins out of his pocket. “Go to the Mensa Silex, and have a meal. Then think about where you want to be in five years. Now get out of here.”

The boy took the coins, muttered a few incoherent words and ran. Griggin shook his head and turned back to the Baron.

Griggin caught up with the Baron and Schmuÿle in a small shop by the Library, where he was running various kinds of fabric through his fingers. Griggin drew near, pretending to be interested in something else.

“I take it our street urchin was not connected to Miss Raven’s gang?”

“He wasn’t. The rogues say you are too obvious. They would like you to act more natural.”

“When they have reached my rank in SI:7, that is the day I will start taking orders from them.”

Griggin sneered. “In that case, please see it as advice, rather than orders.”

“Their advice will be taken on board,” said Baron Goldenberg.

“And thrown over the side as soon as we leave port,” added Schmuÿle.

Griggin took a deep breath. “Lead on, Sir.”

Despite the Baron’s attempts at acting natural, they hit gold. They passed from the Hall of Explorers to a place where there was a small tranquil pool of water. Raven had to admit the operation was carried out smoothly. A pretty blonde girl wearing thigh-length trousers and a shirt that left her midriff bare, walked across the Baron’s path, and smiled at him. The Baron looked. Hell, Raven looked, though more with a professional eye to just the right amount of hip wiggle and hidden promise, than anything else. They continued on towards the Mystic Ward, when there was a high-pitched scream, and they could just see the poor defenceless girl being dragged into one of the doors by a big man, to a fate worse than death. The Baron, in his role as Sucker, immediately gave chase, followed by Schmuÿle. At a safe distance, so did Griggin. Raven followed, almost bumping into Interalia. Nix was behind her.

“Recognise that guy?” said Nix.

“Yeah,” said Raven.

They ran on to see if Messrs. Steambender and Goldenberg needed any help. The evildoer and his prey were still on the move, luring the Baron deeper and deeper into the building. A few dozen yards ahead, Griggin stood still, chanting a spell of summoning. A few moments later, the Felguard Skurikraksha appeared, axe in hand. It gave Griggin a look filled with hatred, contempt, and outrage that such an inferior creature should be allowed to press it into servitude like that. Griggin motioned it to follow, and he ran on. Meanwhile, the thieves had decided they had the Baron where they wanted him. Four of the thugs now closed in on the Baron and his servant, who were standing back to back. Schmuÿle had pulled out a set of brass knuckles and was looking round with an evil grin on his face.

Griggin wasn’t having any of this. He was here as the heavy artillery, and by the Titans, if there was any hitting to be done, he was going to do it.

“Skurikraksha! Attack! Axe storm, please.”

The Daemon simply grunted, and with an unworldly speed rushed out to the thieves. With bulging muscles, it started spinning round on the spot, hitting all that came too close. Griggin marched forward, seemingly unaware of the deadly whirlwind of steel, then raised his fists. The ground round him blossomed into fire. Two of the thieves were hit by the Daemon’s blade, and were dead before their dismembered bodies hit the ground. Two thugs lit up in flames, and rolled round screaming on the floor until they stopped moving. The girl, who was not dressed to kill at all, had hidden herself somewhere in the room.

Griggin finished his fire spell, dismissed his Daemon, and came walking towards the Baron sucking on a healthstone. One of the unpleasant aspects of the Hellfire spell was that it also burnt the caster. Healthstones helped with that, though you really did not want to know what they were made of. The Baron shot him a filthy look.

“Mr. Steambender, I believe I made it clear that I needed some of these people alive.”

Griggin raised his eyebrows. “I can count, Baron. There were six of them, including the scantily-clad young lady. We have four dead. Two remain unaccounted for.”

Nix, Interalia and Raven came calmly walking up, seeing as how Griggin had done the hard work already.

“Hi Dad,” said Nix. “You got them, then? You alright?”

“I’m fine,” said Griggin. “Two still missing, so keep your eyes open.”

As if she had been waiting for Griggin to say that, the blonde girl broke cover and ran at full speed towards the exit. The Baron pointed.

“Get her!”

“On it,” said Raven and sprinted after the girl.

Raven caught up with her just as she put her hand on the door. There was no need for subtlety here, and Raven kicked her legs out from under her, jumped on her, and twisted her arm behind her back.

“Gotcha,” said Raven. “Congratulations on your new job. You really look the part.”

The girl turned her head to look at Raven.

“Cordelia? They told me about you.”

“Only nice things, I hope?”

“You betrayed the Brotherhood.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘Yes’, then.”

“Sod you. What do you want from me?”

“Me? Nothing. Now my new friends, they want you to tell them where to find the rest of your happy family.”

“I wouldn’t tell them even if I knew.”

Raven said nothing for a moment, then let go of the girl’s arm and sat down with her back to the door.

“Just let them work on you for a while. You’ll tell them anything you think will make them happy. Some of my new friends are really not nice people.”

“I’ll never betray my friends,” said the girl.

Raven looked at the girl standing in front of her, arms crossed, looking down on her, defiance and bravado masking the underlying fear. Raven shook her head.

“Before you give them your undying loyalty, there’s a few things you should know. First, Baltar. He used to work for the Stormwind Assassins. Now he doesn’t. They’re a bit upset about that. They set the sodding Goblins on them.”

“Piss on the Stormwind Assassins,” said the girl. “The Brotherhood took me in when I had nowhere to go. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be dead now.”

Raven smiled. “Have they stopped hitting on you yet? I had to make it pretty clear that any piss-head that went to sleep next to me would wake up without his nuts.”

“They have,” said the girl. “I hooked up with Jolo. He’s very jealous and easy to keep happy.”

Raven chuckled. “That’s one way to do it. But Jolo’s going to be dead. Baltar is going to be dead. If I saw right, Yorrick is already dead.” Raven’s face darkened. “And I can guarantee you that little shit Ghostfinger is going to be dead. I want him dead as much as I want Baltar dead. They’re all going to be dead, girl. I don’t have to explain what’ll happen to you, do I?”

The girl gave Raven a nasty look. “So. What are you going to do with me? Hand me over to your new Goblin friends? Watch them break me? Watch them take hours and hours to find out I really know sod all about the inner workings of the Brotherhood?”

Raven got up, and stepped close to the girl, looking into her eyes.

“No. I’m going to let you go. I’m going to help kill everybody else, but you are only a newbie. When I’m looking at all their corpses, I’ll say to myself that at least I let you go. I hear Kalimdor is nice this time of year.”

“So you really are a traitor then,” said the girl.

“I suppose I am,” said Raven. “But only after they did this to me.” Raven opened her leather jacket, pulled up her shirt and showed the girl the scars on her stomach. “Baltar did that, and he did it because he needed to show his brothers how badass he was. Me today. You tomorrow. Just keep that in mind if you feel like telling Baltar all.”

The girl looked at Raven’s face, and saw that she was completely serious. Raven stepped aside and opened the door for her.

“Run,” she said. “Run like hell. Get on a bird and get your sorry arse out of here.”

Raven walked back to the Baron and the Steambenders. The Baron turned to her with a sneer on his face.

“Where is she?”

“She got away,” said Raven.

“And here I thought you were competent,” said Baron Goldenberg. “But never mind. We have another.”

Raven looked, and took a short breath. On the floor, hands tied behind his back, lay the one person she hated more in all this world than anyone else, except Baltar.

“I believe you know this gentleman?”

“Ghostfinger,” said Raven. He’d been in the gang before she was. Practically before anyone was. Before Baltar took over by killing the previous leader. He’d know everything.

Ghostfinger looked round and grinned at her.

“Oh, I told him. I told him you were a bad one. She’s too smart, too smart by far. Turns out I was right! Ghostfinger’s always right!”

The Baron grabbed a handful of Ghostfinger’s hair and pulled his face up towards him.

“We would quite like to know where your friends are. Could you tell us where to find them?”

Ghostfinger cackled with laughter. “Shitty-faced goblins. Think you’re people, do you? Little cheats with your little grabby fingers in everyone’s pockets. We’ll grind you up and turn your bones into shit-paper.”

“Yes, yes,” said the Baron. “Where are your friends? Where are they hiding?”

“In the shadows. In the corner of your eye. Behind you when you least expect it, and then you die!” Ghostfinger’s laugh echoed in the dark room. “You die you little turd! Yesterday, I shat in the Great Forge, and I could hear your little brother go… Fssst!”

The Baron looked up. “Schmuÿle…”

As Raven watched, Schmuÿle sat down on Ghostfinger’s back, and took one of his hands.

“This little piggy went to the market,” said Schmuÿle. He held Ghostfinger’s little finger in his fist, bent it back, then further back, till there was a snap. Ghostfinger screamed, then laughed, then screamed again.

Raven’s breath was racing. She’d let the girl go. She’d let the girl go, so she wouldn’t be here, screaming as the little green bastard broke each of her fingers, while she wished she had something to tell them, something to stop them…

Miss Raven!”

Raven’s head snapped round towards Griggin.

“Miss Raven, I need your help.” Griggin looked round to the Baron. “Sir, I think there is another avenue to pursue. We’ll be in the tavern if you need us.”

“If you must,” said the Baron.

Nix, Interalia and Griggin took Raven back to the tavern. She fell down on a sofa, eyes closed, shaking.

“Little shit,” said Raven.

Griggin gently took Raven’s hand, and she pulled it back in a reflex.

“Miss Raven? I know what you need. In the other room, there is an enormous bath. Interalia?”

“Running it,” said Interalia.

“We made those taps,” said Nix. “Let me show you how they work.”

“Piss off, dearest,” said Interalia, then grinned at Nix. “Maybe later. This round is girls only.”

They gently led Raven into the bathroom. Griggin and Nix left Interalia to help Raven out of her clothes and into the bath.

“Oh my, they’ve got every kind of bubble bath here! Oi Scary Chick? Lavender or lily of the valley?”

Raven was simply floating in the water, and said nothing. Interalia splashed water over her and she startled, and looked up.

“Lavender, or lily of the valley?”

“Don’t give a damn,” said Raven.

“Oh snap out of it, will you?” Interalia dropped her clothes and jumped in, sticking two bottles in Raven’s face. “Lavender. Lily of the valley. Which?”

Raven stared at Interalia.

“You may think it makes no odds,” said Interalia. “But if you walk out of the bathroom smelling of the wrong flower, there can be… trouble.”

Raven half opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again.

“Oh you don’t want to know,” said Interalia.

“This is stupid,” said Raven. “You’re being stupid at me.”

“Gah! Got me there.” She shook the two bottles. “Which?”

Like a broken cup being glued together again, like strapping on armour after you have it repaired, Raven’s expression returned to normal. There were cracks in the cup. The armour now pinched in places where it had fitted snugly before, but it’d do for now. The sparkle returned to Raven’s eyes, and she grinned at the tiny woman standing in front of her, water up to her neck.

“Both,” she said.

Part 13: Catacombs


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