Part 15: The hut on fowl’s legs

“Her boobs are bigger. You want her, don’t you? You slept with her.”

No!

Lenna raised the bottle to her mouth. It contained a clear liquid that wasn’t water at all. She glared at Griggin.

“Just because she flashed her tits at you. Did she like it? Did you make her scream?”

No! I didn’t sleep with her.”

Lenna ripped open her blouse. “If these had been bigger, would you still have wanted me?”

“No! Yes! I…”

“Aren’t you wondering what you ever saw in some drunken floozie? Everybody’s baby? Don’t you want to know how many boys I had before I finally allowed you to…”

Lenna choked. The tips of two large swords appeared underneath her naked breasts. Blood ran from her mouth.

“Griggin, you…”

Lenna slumped forward. Behind her, eyes aglow with a fierce red light, stood Trixie, pink pig-tails and all. A look of pure evil blood-lust was on her face. She put her foot on her mother’s back, and pulled out her swords. She raised up the blades, and watched the blood trickling down them with shining eyes.

“I killed her for you, Dad. I killed her. She was a rubbish Mum. She deserved to die.”

“Trixie…”

Trixie laughed, a shrill sound in Griggin’s basement, then swung round her swords, hacking Lenna’s corpse into smaller and smaller pieces.

“How does it feel? How does it feel to be dead?” Trixie looked up. “I’ll kill everyone for you, Dad. Everyone. I’m Fury now. I am the Fury!”

“Dad?”

Griggin turned round. Nix came walking towards him, the stumps of his arms raised. Red tears ran down his cheeks. His eyes were hollow and lifeless.

“Dad? Interalia cut my hands off, Dad. How am I going to make locks now? Why didn’t you stop her, Dad? She cut off my hands.”

“Nix…”

Someone pushed up against him from behind.

“Never mind him. Whiny little shit. I stole all of Lenna’s dresses.” Interalia pressed her cheek against Griggin’s. “Want to see me in them? You can tear them off me if you want. I won’t mind a bit. Or do you want me to struggle, perhaps?”

NO!”

Trixie, her armour spattered with Lenna’s blood, raised her swords in the air, and cried out.

Katra zil shukil!

“Dad, it hurts.”

“Forget them. I am all you need. Take me.”

Griggin raised his fists and screamed.

“None of this is real!”

Griggin cast his mental shield spell, and almost welcomed the pain for the sudden quiet. A cruel laugh echoed through the cellar. Neera bent down over him, smiling in a way that showed her long pointed teeth.

“Just wait for your little spell to wear off, Griggin Steambender. With every try, I am improving. Soon, everything will be real.”


Thunderpetal frowned. Beer had not worked, not even the heaviest. After some consideration, he had decided against tea. Plain water was not the answer either. After each failed experiment, he had carefully taken apart the engine, dried out the parts and put them back together again. By now, he knew every piece. Master Windstrong had helpfully provided him with Jonno Smallfly’s toolbox. Just as Thunderpetal put the last few bolts into the machinery, Huang came walking up.

“Is it working yet?”

“No,” said Thunderpetal. “I haven’t found her the right drink yet.”

“Are you sure that is what is wrong with that machine?”

“Of course. This tank is clearly meant to hold drink for her. At the present, it holds no drink. All I need to do is find what she likes.”

“She?” Huang laughed. “How did you determine this kite is a girl?”

Thunderpetal raised his eyebrows. “Is it not obvious?”

“Not to me,” said Huang. “Ships are thought of as female, but kites? It does not look very feminine to me.”

“She carries us under her heart. And just look at her. Strength. Elegance. Grace. How can she be anything but female?”

Huang snorted, put a hand on Thunderpetal’s shoulder.

“If you start talking to her, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, then there is this priest I wish you to talk to. Dinner is in two hours. Do not be late.”

Huang walked off, laughing quietly. Thunderpetal put his hand on the flying machine’s engine.

“Do not take offence. Once he sees you in flight, he will understand.”

“You idiot!”

“I am sorry, Master.”

“Do not call me Master. No apprentice of mine would allow such a thing to happen.”

“A thousand apologies, Master.”

“I trust you with the keys to my store. My very livelyhood. Do you think that those were trophies, to show your friends? You were to lock it. Hozen, you miserable creature. Hozen in my precious whisky barrels.”

“They did not drink it, Master, or spill it.”

The Master bowed down to his apprentice, who was cowering on the floor.

“They bathed in it. In my priceless special reserve. They washed their filthy pits in it. They fouled it with their vile bodily excretions.”

The master pointed at the open barrels.

“Get rid of it.”

The apprentice’s eyes opened wide.

“Pour it into the river?”

“No, you pea-brain. Do you wish all the fish to die? Empty these barrels into smaller vessels, and carry them on your back to a faraway place. Make sure my name is not on them.” The Master breathed out a few flames. “And take as long as you wish. Do not hurry back.”

Thunderpetal walked from Master Windstrong’s workshop back to the dormitory. He was not an impatient Pandaren, but he had to admit that the constant stream of failures was beginning to wear him down. Nothing he’d tried had even given a small spark of hope. Master Windstrong had said she used fire. He needed something that would burn. But the really strong drinks were far out of his reach, and also, if he’d tell the merchants what he wanted to use it for, they would throw him out of their shops.

“Look where you’re going! Do you wish me to drop this?”

“Pardon me,” said Thunderpetal, looking up.

In front of him stood a Pandaren carrying in his arms and on his shoulders about six or seven barrels. Thunderpetal was in awe of his strength and agility. With some trouble, the Panda put down his load for a moment. He pulled out a red handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

“You carry a heavy burden,” said Thunderpetal. “Do you have to go far?”

The other Pandaren looked at him thoughtfully, and put away his handkerchief.

“I am returning from the market. These barrels of fine whiskey, I could not sell. As you can see, the labels have fallen off, and my Master would not wish me to sell this fine cask-strength single malt if he did not know what variety it was. He wanted me to pour it down a hole somewhere rather than risk his good name. I can’t tell you, the name, of course, but I can tell you that there are a lot of deer in his valley.” The Pandaren gave Thunderpetal a wink and tapped the side of his snout with a finger. “Tell you what. If you’re willing to take the chance, I can let you have one or two of these barrels for a mere two gold a piece. What do you say?”

Thunderpetal gave the apprentice a blank look. “I am only a poor monk,” he said. “And used to sleeping on the cold ground. I do not have that kind of money.”

The apprentice took a deep breath and slowly let it escape. He looked at Thunderpetal. “In truth, I would much rather that this fine whisky be enjoyed by someone who appreciated it than that I give it to the Earth-spirits. Tell you what. Fifty silver for two barrels.”

Thunderpetal scratched behind his ear. “I don’t know,” he said. “Can I have a small sample?”

The apprentice shook his head. “This is cask-strength whisky, the strongest drink in the world. Once I open a barrel, it will spoil within hours unless it is bottled. Fifty silver for two barrels. Take or leave.”

“I’ll give you fifty silver for the lot,” said Thunderpetal.

“Done,” said the Apprentice. “Enjoy it in good health.”

Thunderpetal nodded, pulled out fifty silver pieces and handed them over. The Apprentice tossed the bag in the air and caught it. He bowed to Thunderpetal, waved, turned round and went his way, grinning as soon as his back was turned.

“Idiot,” he whispered to himself.

Thunderpetal watched him go, and looked at his newly acquired half-dozen barrels of aviation fuel. He grinned.

“Idiot,” he whispered.


As they stood in a circle round the door to Steambender Manor, Interalia came walking up with Aubrey in a pram. It was the most comfortable pram ever, because Nix had made it with his own hands, and given it a state-of-the-art pneumatic spring system for the smoothest ride imaginable. They could push little Aubrey through Northrend without waking her up. At the moment, the cover was down and Aubrey was enjoying the sunshine on her face.

“What’s up,” said Interalia. “Why are we all standing round here?”

“House is locked down,” said Trixie. “Can’t get in. Dad’s inside, probably fighting some kind of Daemon-bitch from what Chief here tells us.”

Nix fretted. “Even if he’s won, if he’s locked himself in the cellar, he can’t open it. He did that specially so that if ever something went badly wrong, it would be buried with him.”

“A commendable amount of care,” said Sindala. “But he should have left an opening for help to get in.”

“You can just open it from the outside,” said Nix. “But you have to be in the house to do that.”

“That sounds like a bit of an oversight,” said Sindala.

“Or a design feature,” said Nix.

Lenna came walking up, hand in hand with Bieslook. She gave Sindala a not-too-kind look.

“Chief Sindala. What’s going on?”

“Mrs. Steambender. How much has Griggin told you of his work?”

“Do you mean to say I have been married to a Warlock for forty years, and never even knew it? If you have something to say, say it.”

“An old enemy has returned. Do you remember the young warlock named Puissance?”

“I do. Nasty piece of work. What about her?”

“Her Succubus was called Neera, and Neera was bonded to her without the proper rituals afterwards. I am sorry to say that Miss Puissance touched it inappropriately. A grave crime.”

Lenna glanced at Bieslook, who was looking up attentively. She loved scary stories, bless her little socks.

“Well, she got her own back, didn’t she? Hardly enough left of her to bury.”

“Indeed,” said Sindala. “And yet, the Daemon Neera was not appeased. It demanded more. Griggin refused, and instead banished it forever.”

Nix sneered. “For a very low value of ‘forever’.”

“Our new friends in Ironforge were quite eager to try out the wonderful new abilities they had just learnt.” Sindala shook his head. “Dwarves have never been drawn to the Daemonic Arts until now. Their understanding is only now starting to develop. As I’m sure Griggin has told you, Daemons do not wish to be summoned, and unless the Warlock knows what he is doing, all they manage to summon is a metaphorical middle finger from the Twisting Nethers.”

“So how did a bunch of amateur Warlocks manage it?”

“The Daemon Neera wished to return. The spell Griggin used to banish it, paralyses part of the Daemon’s spirit in its own demesne. A mark of weakness. And any sign of weakness in the Wild Nethers marks one as prey. All Daemons hate us, Mrs. Steambender, but none more than Neera hates Griggin. And it is unbound, making it ten times as strong as our own minions. There is only one glimpse of hope.”

Sindala paused. Lenna frowned at him, in no mood for dramatic posturing.

“Well?”

“The Daemon Neera now resides completely in Azeroth. When one’s minion ‘dies’, all that really happens is that its hither projection is destroyed, and it can simply make a new one. Neera has had to project its spirit fully into Azeroth.” Sindala’s eyes turned to the door. “We can kill it.”

“We need to get to it first,” said Nix. “And the house is locked up tight.”

Bieslook’s little voice spoke up. “There’s a witch in our house. Like Baba Yaga. Her house didn’t have any doors or windows. She flew around in a great big cooking pot.”

“Yes dear,” said Lenna. “Be quiet now. We’re trying to think.”

“She could only get in or out through the chimney,” said Bieslook.


Raven opened the door to Mavis’ spice shop, wearing her civilian clothes. The bell rang, and Mavis turned round from where she had been grinding herbs into powder for a pork spice mix. All the way from Pandaria, honest. Her face lit up with a bright smile when she saw Raven.

“Hi Aubrey! It’s so good to see you. I heard what happened after the party. Are you feeling better?”

“Much better, Miss Fadeleaf. Thank you.” Raven hesitated. “Um. Am I still working here?”

“Of course you are. People have been asking for you.” Mavis giggled. “Henry Stilger was working up the courage to ask you for goat’s head.”

“Oh my,” said Raven. “Hope I haven’t given him any ideas.”

“Him? Never. Staunchly loyal to his wife.” Mavis studied Raven’s face. “How are you, really?”

Raven looked back at Mavis. “I’m good. All healed up. I owe Huang a lot.”

“Why are you really here, dear?”

Raven thought for a moment. “Hiding,” she said. “My name isn’t really Aubrey.”

“Shame. It’s a nice name. So what is your real name?”

“Raven.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I’ve been calling myself that since I was fourteen or so. Not what my mother called me, but it’s my real name.”

“Hm. What do I call you in here? Customers already know you as Aubrey.”

“Aubrey’s fine,” said Raven. “Gnomes named their daughter after me, would you believe it?”

“I heard. Mrs. Steambender became a grandmother.”

“Granny Fwoosh,” said Raven. “I owe her my life.”

They stood still a few moments, looking at each other, weighing, considering. Mavis jerked her head in the direction of the small kitchen and workroom in the back of the shop.

“I fancy a cuppa. Go make tea.”

“Yes, Miss Fadeleaf.”

It was a fairly busy day. Lots of people wanting dried peppers, powders for headaches, pickling spices, the amazing new Pandaren mixture. Some people said it was good to see her again, and how was she doing? She felt a bit strange about that. Aubrey wasn’t really her. She was just a disguise. And still, people seemed to really like her. If they knew who was behind that friendly smile, Raven, a rogue, a thief, with blood on her hands and a sharp knife hidden inside the sleeve of that pretty cardigan, they’d shit themselves. Raven had played lots of different roles, in her daily work of separating suckers from their money. She was playing these people now, but she wasn’t actually planning to take anything from them. They left the shop with a bit more than they came in with, and Raven felt a curious mixture of satisfaction and a faint jealousy of Aubrey. As she closed the till, she spotted a small piece of paper lying next to it. It was lined up precisely with the edge of the till. Placed there carefully, purposefully, not dropped by accident. She glanced to her side. Mavis was talking to a customer. Her fingers closed on the bit of paper. On it was a picture of a hand, fingers outstretched. On the other side of the piece of paper were a few words: Midnight. North face of the main spire of Stormwind Cathedral. Come alone. Raven held her breath. The bit of paper hadn’t been there a moment ago. She thought back on the customers she’d served, recalling faces, sometimes names. All normal people, but then again, what did that mean? She stuffed the piece of paper down her bra, for later examination, and smiled at the next customer.

“What can I do for you, Sir?”


Nix and Trixie stood on the roof of Steambender Manor, and looked down into the chimney.

“Fire’s on,” said Nix.

“Yep,” said Trixie. She pushed herself up on her hands and swung her legs inside the chimney.

“Wait,” said Nix. He pulled out a handkerchief and tied it over Trixie’s face. “Take a few deep breaths now. You gonna be alright?”

“Sure. Bloody warriors stand in fires all the time.”

“Right. Get in there, open the door, let us all in. Don’t stop for anything.” He put a hand on Trixie’s armour-plated shoulder. “Don’t get yourself killed in there.”

Trixie’s blue eyes shone at him over the red handkerchief. “I’m a bloody tank, bro. Getting killed happens to other people.”

Trixie jumped into the chimney, and lowered herself towards the merrily burning fire, grunting as she went. Her metal boots landed on the burning logs, and she jumped out.

“Ow, ow, ow,” she whispered to herself.

Her hand went to her sword and she looked round. Nothing. She ran through the living room, into the hallway and looked again. Dad’s “do not disturb” light was on, but this time, two red lights were on. He was in there. Maybe dead. Maybe still fighting. Maybe just waiting for someone to open the hatch from the outside. She had to swallow down a lump in her throat. Someone was in there, trying to kill her dad. Perhaps even strong enough to do it. She wanted to get down there and tear to shreds whoever, whatever it was.

“Gonna need more firepower,” she said. She turned to the control panel and shut down the house defences. She opened the door, and people poured in. Lenna grabbed Bieslook’s hand and put it in Interalia’s.

“Take them to the Pandaren island,” she said.

Interalia hesitated a moment. She didn’t want to be kept out of the action. Then, she gave a short nod.

“Come along, Squirt. We’re going to the Pandas. Maybe they’ll have some biscuits for you.”

“Will Griggin be alright?”

“Sure,” said Interalia. “Hurry along now.” They disappeared in the direction of the harbour.

Lenna took a firm grasp on her staff. No more pissing about. They undid the latch on the entrance to the cellar. Nix turned the wheel and opened it. Behind them, Sindala spoke a few syllables of a summoning spell, and a little fel imp appeared. He waited.

Lenna raised herself. “Nix, you first. Stealth up. Trix next. Then me. Chief Sindala, take up the rear.”

“Right,” said Nix. He disappeared into the pipe.


Thunderpetal would need a priest to remove his grin. She was flying! Her beating heart and muscle had been glad of the drink he’d given her, and she roared, roared with the joy of being aloft again after so long on the ground. The wind was in his face. He was having to steer a bit to one side because there was nobody in the other seat, but apart from that, she flew herself. The flyer climbed, banked, swooped, as Thunderpetal moved the bar in front of him. The sense of freedom was overwhelming. He could go anywhere. Anywhere in the world. Just now, though, he needed to go back to Master Windstrong. He moved her controls, and, because she allowed him to, she turned on one wingtip and dived down to the workshop.

“You got it to go?” Master Windstrong’s eyebrows tried to jump off his face. “I would never have thought that. Well done young monk.”

“Now can I borrow her to seek for master Shang Xi?”

Master Windstrong gave Thunderpetal a sad look. “I am a man of my word. You can, but I wish you wouldn’t. The Wandering Isle is far away, far away over the ocean. What if your pretty flyer runs out of drink? You’ll drown in the Great Sea. There are places that Pandaren were not meant to go, Thunderpetal.”

“Yet, there are explorers who have travelled to the lands of the Kel-do-lei and returned to tell wondrous tales.”

“A great many more explorers never returned,” said Master Windstrong. “Nobody knows what happened to them. The companion of that pretty little bangle may well lie on the bottom of the sea.”

Thunderpetal pulled out the pendant and spun it round, watching the blur of yellow to the South.

“I do not think so,” said Thunderpetal.

“Go then, and take this infernal machine with you. But if you plunge to your death and are swallowed up by the seas, don’t come complaining.”

Huang looked at the flyer, briefly wondering how it got to be right in front of the dormitory. Thunderpetal was sitting in it, wearing a leather helmet and goggles.

“Are you mad?”

Thunderpetal laughed. “I don’t think so, but how would I know? Do I look mad to you?”

Huang’s eyes narrowed. “You are wearing a silly hat.”

“It is an aviator’s helmet. Come on. Get in, I’ll show you how she flies.”

“Am I mad?” said Huang.

He looked into Thunderpetal’s face. He was hard pressed to remember when it had ever looked happier.

“I am mad,” said Huang, and got into the flyer next to Thunderpetal.


Griggin screamed. He looked at his hands, dripping with blood. Lenna’s blood, Trixie’s blood, Nix’. On the floor before him lay Interalia’s dead body, all the flesh burnt off the arms that still held a very small corpse. Sharp claws dug into his shoulders.

“Why did you do that, Griggin Steambender?”

“I wanted to,” said Griggin. “Let them all die.”

“Yes. Kill them all. Kill them slowly. Make them suffer. For all the things they did to you. Do you want to do it again?”

Griggin’s teeth showed in an evil scowl. “I want to kill you.”

He turned round, raised his hands at the skeletal winged creature and tried to cast his most deadly spells. Useless. His mana had run out. He had tapped into his lifeforce so often that to do it once more would be fatal. The most he could do was kick. Neera laughed at him.

“Little mortal worm. There’s nothing you can do anymore. Not even the little bubble around your head. The next time, you will be mine. All mine. Or perhaps you are already now.”

Griggin lunged forward, and punched the Daemon in front of him until his fists were bloody. Real blood this time. His blood. Neera only laughed.

“Maybe I’ll give you a little hope now. Do you want this mana potion?” She held the bottle up to him, shaking it. “Do you?”

Griggin’s hand shot out to grab it, but before he could, Neera dropped it. It shattered on the stone floor. He cried out.

Neera moved its face close to Griggin’s. “Don’t break yet. I’m having so much fun.”

Griggin breathed hard. “I will end you.”

“No you won’t, worm. Once your mind has crumbled, I will use you to kill your wife, and your children. You will be my minion. And after they are dead, I will make you kill as many innocents as I can before they destroy you. All that you are, and all that you have been, will perish. What do you say, Worm? Shall we practice once more?”

With her long claws, Neera took hold of Griggin’s head and pulled his lips to hers, until Griggin’s body started to shake. She let go and dropped him on the floor, watching his body twitch.

With a high-pitched yell, Trixie charged out at the Daemon-creature and slashed her sword across its back, finally able to unleash her full rage on an enemy. Neera turned round, and hissed at Trixie. Its claws grew and it slashed at this new arrival. Trixie blocked with her two-hander, stabbed out. The sword could not pierce the hardened Daemon-skin, and it bounced off. Trixie leapt back out of arm’s reach. Neera followed her. As Neera drew back its arm to strike, Nix leapt up onto its back and stabbed it. The Daemon bent its arm back further than any creature should be able to and grabbed Nix by a leg. It dangled Nix in front of its eyes, then threw him across the room, into the wall. Nix landed with his feet against the wall, kicked off and flipped over backwards, landing on all fours with a dazed look in his eyes.

Down!”

Lenna stood up straight, brimming with power, magic staff gleaming. A dazzling ball of plasma, the size of a Gnome’s head, floated above the palm of her right hand, still growing as Lenna poured all her energy into it. She cried out, and a wrist-thick stream of pure light shot out towards the Daemon, setting the very air alight as it passed. It hit Neera in the middle of her body, passing through and finally spending itself in the wall behind. The ball of plasma slowly deflated as Lenna played the beam of destruction over the Daemon’s body. With a final shout, she threw the rest of the plasma ball at the Daemon. It lodged inside its body. Neera’s scream of hatred and anguish stopped, and its misshapen body fell to the floor, smoking.

Lenna dropped her staff and ran to Griggin, pulling him up into her lap, stroking his cheek with her hand, calling his name. Griggin’s eyes opened wide.

“Get away from me! Get away!”

Lenna drew her sleeve across her face, sniffed.

“Well, that’s a bit ungrateful, Griggin Steambender.”

Griggin shook, eyes staring into Lenna’s face, torn between wanting to believe and fearing that this would turn out to be another trick.

“You are… you are real?”

“Yes, my love. I am real.”

Griggin wrapped his arms round Lenna and pulled her to him.

“I didn’t want to kill you. I didn’t…”

Lenna held Griggin more tightly, made shushing noises. Then, she looked up.

“Everyone alright?”

Trixie put away her sword. “Got a blister on my foot.”

“I’m good,” said Nix.

Trixie grinned at her brother. “Ye gods, when that bitch threw you into the wall I was sure you were gonna break your neck. That was an epic move you pulled off.”

Nix brushed some dust off his jacket and studied his fingernails. “They teach it at SI:7. I was the youngest rogue to master it.”

Sindala spoke to his imp, and it disappeared.

“I feel positively surplus to requirements,” he said. “That was an impressive firebeam, Mrs. Steambender.”

“Sod you,” said Lenna, not in the mood for idle chatter. “Let’s get Griggin up into the light. This place stinks of fel magic.”

Just as Griggin was back on his feet, they heard a choking noise coming from Neera’s broken body. Trixie’s sword leapt into her hand.

“Wait,” said Griggin. He stumbled over to the Daemon and turned it over so it faced up. It struggled to speak.

“Have you come to gloat, Worm? This body is done. My last body.”

Griggin threw all the laws to the wind, and took the Daemon’s hand.

“I am so, so sorry,” he said. “I never wanted you to suffer like this.”

The Daemon’s face showed emotions for which there was no name in the Common tongue.

“Why not? We live to cause pain. It is…” the Daemon coughed, drew a laboured breath. “It is the way.”

“It is not our way. Not always.”

The light in Neera’s eyes flickered, came back as if for a last effort.

“Mortal, what is it like to die?”

“I don’t know,” said Griggin. “We do it only once.”

“I feel… alone. Nobody to torment. Nobody… to torment me.”

The lights in Neera’s eyes went out. Griggin put a hand on its forehead, then held out his hand to Lenna. She pulled him to his feet.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Part 16: The great gate of Stormwind

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