Part 16: The great gate of Stormwind

Stormwind Cathedral was the focus for all worshippers of the Light in the Eastern Kingdoms. It was a marvellous piece of architecture, with many spires, gorgeously beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes from the scriptures. It was also, so Raven found, a pleasantly challenging climb. She found it was doing her good, after the last few weeks, to have the simple job of getting to the top. She attached a grappling hook to her belt, hooked it on a gargoyle and rested her arms for a moment, savouring the quivers in her stomach as she looked down. Noobs would seize up tighter the higher they got. Climbers knew that after the first ten yards up, it didn’t make a difference how high you were, except you made a bigger splat. She undid the grappling hook, traversed hand over hand and pulled herself up on the ledge. Looking up, she saw the main spire. She looked over he shoulder at the clock of the tower near the Stockades. Ten to midnight. Easy. She took a short run-up and caught herself on the next ledge up. She sat down on the slanted roof, feet firmly braced in the gutter, and looked round. In the distance, the light beam of the Stormwind lighthouse swept lazily over the sea. A patrol of Stormwind Gryphon Riders flew over the city in perfect formation. There was a large mechanical noise underneath her, and Raven just had the good sense to clap her hands over her ears before the bells struck twelve with a noise she could feel resonating in her chest.

“…” she said.

“You’re right,” said someone next to her. “The view is marvellous up here.”

Raven turned round. Next to her was, presumably, her contact. The first thing that struck her was that it was a rather small contact. The next thing…


“Hello Raven. Fancy meeting you here.”

Raven said nothing, just sat there, quietly laughing at herself for not spotting kind, mild-mannered shopkeeper Mavis Fadeleaf as an SI:7 operative. She looked at her again. Mavis was looking out over the city.

“Look at it, Raven. All the pretty lights, and behind every light, there’s a story. A merchant wondering how he’ll pay the next bill. Couples in love. Warriors about to go into battle, savouring the last bit of home comfort. A Horde spy gathering information on us. Every speck of light down there.” Mavis looked up at Raven. “And then, there’s us. We’re here to make sure that the stories end the way they are supposed to, and aren’t cut short by some Hordish varknaaier or some bleeding traitor. If I told you how many of those specks would have gone out if it wasn’t for us, you wouldn’t believe me. And rightly so, because I’d be pulling the number out of my butt. Nobody knows, nobody’s been counting.”

Raven looked at Mavis’ face. She didn’t look any different from last time she saw it, only more thoughtful. Mavis turned her eyes towards her, smiled.

“Want to run with the Stormwind Assassins, Raven? At the least, it’ll keep us from hanging you.”

“Gotta catch me first,” said Raven.

“We would,” said Mavis. “No telling when, but you can’t be lucky every time. We may not catch every thief and cutthroat, but we do catch a fair number. You really wouldn’t like it in the stockade. I know. I’ve recruited a few agents there. Some still said no. Hanging’s not the worst way to go.” Mavis looked at Raven’s face. “You’ve been robbing people for a living. You could just go on doing that. Get caught, and you’re for the drop. But it would be such a waste. You could be much more than a petty thief.”

“Hey,” said Raven. “Who are you calling petty?”

Maven gave Raven a grim look. “You. Nicking things off defenceless civilians when you could be helping to keep all these lights aflame?”

“Pay’s not bad,” said Raven, pushing it against her better judgement.

“Really? Do the sums. Most thieves we catch are about thirty years old. Little Aubrey, if she lives to be, oh, sixty, will make more money out of me than Raven will, in her life. Damn you Raven. How many people could climb up here? How many people could memorise all the spices in my spice rack in a minute? You’ve got talent. Don’t waste it.”

“They’re in alphabetical order,” said Raven. “Medicinal at the top, cooking ingredients below. Heavy drugs in the cabinet in the back room. Key’s on a chain round your neck. Ask Nix Steambender for a better lock, because it’d take me two minutes, tops, to pick it. Interalia Steambender could open it quicker than you could with your key.”

“Interalia Steambender.” Mavis laughed. “I tried to recruit her a while back, and she told me to stick it where the sun don’t shine. I’d really hate for you to do that, Raven. You could play the games you like playing, but for much bigger stakes, with much more difficult jobs, and for the King.”

“So I’m not here just because Shaw fancies me?”

Mavis grinned broadly. “Oh he does, bless him. He gave me your name. But no, you’re here because you’re smart, because you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and because you’re a damn good actress. I can think of three missions for you right now. None of them in Ironforge.”

“Heh. You’ve been talking to Baron Samuel Goldenberg, then?”

“He thinks you’re not completely useless, and might be suited to some menial job with a few years’ training.”

“Great,” said Raven.

“Oh come on. He noticed you over the noise of how awesome he thinks he is. That’s a ringing endorsement.”

“I like Shaw’s better,” said Raven.

“Go get him,” said Mavis. “By all accounts, he’s a very considerate lover. He’ll do whatever he needs to do, to make you happy. Just don’t think it’ll get you any favours.”

“I’ve had a rough couple months,” said Raven. “I could do with a bit of whatever makes me happy.”

“I’m serious, Raven. I know of five girls he’s slept with. Two of them are dead, one of them probably wishes she was. She’s in some Light-bereft cage in Northrend and we can’t get her out. There’s lots of sides to Shaw’s personality, and not all of them are nice to look at.”

Raven nodded. Of course.

“Girl number one got shot dead on a spy mission into Silvermoon. Number two was bad. They planted some misinformation on her, and then sent her to be captured and have it tortured out of her. It took them three days to break her. Expert torturers. She died thinking she’d betrayed us. Saved thousands of lives, and she never knew.”

“How do you know that?”

“One of the torturers was working for us. Consider that the end of sugar-coating. Nobody in our job plays nice.”

“Hmm,” said Raven. “You’re really making me want to join up now.”

“Oh, it’s not all doom and gloom. Girl number four is on a long mission in Booty Bay, keeping an eye on the Goblins and the pirates, and loving every minute of it.”

“And girl number five?”

Mavis leaned her head back against the roof of the cathedral. “Runs a small spice shop in Stormwind and does a little work for the recruiters.”

Raven noted in the back of her head that this was the second time Mavis had managed to make her completely speechless. She closed her mouth.

“Well,” said Mavis, “I was talking to him about this guy. Shaw said he was about as well-suited to the job as a Gnome in a Human’s bed. Couldn’t let that slide, now could I?” Mavis’ eyes gleamed at Raven. “You’re picturing yourself with a Gnome now, aren’t you?”

“Trying not to,” said Raven. “You’re shitting me, right?”

Mavis shook her head. “We can, we do, we enjoy. It’s agreed that the girls get a better deal out of it than the boys, but that’s not stopping anyone.” She gave Raven a very filthy grin. “Size doesn’t matter. It’s what we’ll do to you.”

“Throw in a couple of nice Gnome boys and I’ll join,” said Raven.

“What, Shaw and a pair of Gnomish sex slaves? You do drive a hard bargain.”

Mavis got to her feet and put her hand on Raven’s arm. She gave her a little squeeze.

“I like you, Raven. I’m supposed to be all shadowy and mysterious about it and send you one of these bits of paper with a closed fist and so on and so forth, but the job’s yours if you want it. Do you?”

Raven looked at Mavis for a long few moments.

“Yes,” said Raven.

“Good,” said Mavis. “Go talk to Renzik at Headquarters tomorrow. He’ll know you’re coming. Welcome on board.”

Thunderpetal and Huang were sitting in the flyer, doing their pre-flight checks.

Huang looked at the list. “Food?”

“Enough for fourteen days. Twice-baked cakes, packets of rice, fish cakes.”


“Enough brew for seven days, water for nine.”

Huang nodded. “Let us hope it will not come to that. Clothes?”

“Heavy coats, scarves. It will be difficult to change in here, though.”

“Navigation device?”

Thunderpetal pointed at the pendant hanging from the triangle that held the steering bar. “Have it.”

“Drink for…” Huang gave Thunderpetal a Look. “Melodious Nightingale?”

“She is well provided for,” said Thunderpetal. He had removed the original tank and replaced it with two of the barrels of whisky he had bought. In training himself up for the big flight, he had spent maybe one barrel in a week or two when he had barely allowed his feet to touch the ground. By his calculations, they could stay aloft for two weeks at least.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, I believe you may be endowing this kite with more of a spirit than it actually has.”

“She will not disappoint me,” said Thunderpetal. “Are we all strapped in?”

Huang pulled at the belt that would keep him in his seat even if Melodious Nightingale wanted to throw him out for disrespecting him.

“We are.”

Thunderpetal looked round into Huang’s eyes. “This is the last chance to get out if you want to.”

“I do not, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. I did not travel with you all this time to abandon you now.”

Thunderpetal looked at his friend. “Huang, you are my friend, and I am proud to call you that.”

Thunderpetal raised his hand. Huang grabbed it. As Thunderpetal pushed the throttle forward, Melodious Nightingale roared into action, and heaved herself into the skies, singing of distant lands.

“I spy, with my little eye…” Huang thought a moment. “Nothing.”

“These are the Mists of Pandaria,” said Thunderpetal. “I already tried to rise above them, but that makes Melodious Nightingale thirsty. We wish to conserve drink, so that we can travel further.”

Huang bent over to the pendant, The yellow petal was still pointing ahead, without wavering.

“How far have we come?”

“We have flown for three days,” said Thunderpetal. “That would put us… many miles from where we started.”

“That is what you said last time,” Huang pointed out. “It lacks progress. Not to mention predictive properties.”

Thunderpetal said nothing. As far as he could see, they were still travelling in the same direction. The sun had risen and set roughly in the same place for each of the three days. Despite it all, he was still enjoying the feeling of flying. Melodious Nightingale’s engine provided a nice sonorous background, and his mind was in a state he usually associated with deep meditation. He felt he could go on forever like this.

“Biscuit?” Huang put the bag under his nose.

Thunderpetal sighed, and had one. Huang had one as well. Huang raised a claw and knocked on the barrels of fuel behind him. One of the barrels was half full. Good. That meant that they would arrive in at most twelve days. Or fall down into the sea. Either way, there would be the prospect of change. Thunderpetal gave a satisfied nod, stared ahead into the mist, and let his mind float on the winds.

“What do you mean, out of biscuits?”

Thunderpetal was dismayed. They’d packed several big bags. They had been eating their food sparingly, for Pandaren. The fish cakes were gone. Half of the rice was gone. Biscuits had been, well, food for thought mostly.

Huang held the bag upside down, and let it flutter away on the breeze. “I see this as a sign that we have almost arrived at our destination.” Historical evidence was on his side. He had been on many a walk with Priestess Summerpetal, who had always contrived to have exactly the right amount of food for the trip. Navigation by nutrition had never failed him yet. Thunderpetal gave a nod.

“Let’s see what is below us.”

He pulled the bar towards him, and Melodious Nightingale dived towards the ground, sounding happy about the change. The song of her engine raised in pitch until they broke through the mist and could see ocean waves, as far as the eye could reach. Which, admittedly, was not very far, what with the mists.

“Look at how fast we are going,” said Thunderpetal. “Surely, our destination cannot be far off.”

“Good,” said Huang. “Rice cakes do not nourish thought as well as biscuits.”

Thunderpetal pushed the steering bar forward. Melodious Nightingale flexed her muscles and started to climb up, up and up again till the ocean was lost in the grey mists. A quick check of the pendant showed they were still going in the right direction.

“We cannot be far from our destination,” said Huang. “It stands to reason.”

Huang raised his hand to knock on the barrel of drink for Melodious Nightingale. Thunderpetal grabbed his wrist before he could and shook his head.

“Our girl is thirsty, Huang. Do not remind her.”

Huang sighed, nodded. Their brew had run out days ago and they were drinking water. All that was left of their food were a few packets of rice. Nobody knew what Melodious Nightingale was drinking. They didn’t dare swoop down to see what was below. She might not get up again. Even Huang had to admit that she was not sounding as happy as she had when they left. Perhaps the strain of the journey was beginning to tell on her. She had carried them tirelessly across the skies. Her voice had never even stuttered. Jonno Smallfly had made her well. Thunderpetal ran his fingers over the steering bar.

“We are nearly there, my girl. Nearly there.”

Melodious Nightingale coughed. Her voice, a constant in their days and nights for all this time, was silenced. Thunderpetal looked at Huang with fear in his eyes, as much for their own lives as out of concern for their beautiful flying machine.

“We have arrived, my friend,” said Huang. “May the Jade Serpent grant that out landing will be soft.”

Thunderpetal nodded. He took one last look at the jade pendant, then took it and put it in his pocket. No use looking at it anymore. With their engine gone, Melodious Nightingale quickly lost altitude, but in the everlasting mists, they could not see it. Huang pointed his ears forward. They could never have heard it over their own engine, but in the air was the heavy drone of engines much, much larger than theirs. They looked at each other, then steered towards the noise, which was below them, a little way ahead.

From out of the mists, a monstrous machine appeared before them, going roughly in the same direction they were travelling in. Thunderpetal’s eyes narrowed and he tried to steer Melodious Nightingale to land on top of the other machine, a whale to their minnow. They almost made it. With a sickening crunch, Melodious Nightingale ran into the back of the larger creature. Thunderpetal ripped away his seatbelt and leapt. Huang did the same. Thunderpetal only just managed to grab the anchor chain with one hand, Huang’s ankle with the other. They slid down the chain together and ended up sitting next to each other on the enormous anchor of the large vehicle. As they looked up, strange hairless faces looked down on them. Orders were shouted in a strange language, and they started to rise. Strong hands grabbed them, pulled them on board, and then flung them to the deck. The strange creatures searched them for weapons, then took them below, into a small room. The door closed behind them.

Thunderpetal sat down on the floor. Tears were rolling down his cheeks.

“Farewell, my Melodious Nightingale,” he whispered. “may the Red Crane preserve your memory.”

“You’ve caught what?”

“Bears, Ma’am. Black and white bears. They appear to be intelligent, wearing clothes, but they don’t speak Common.”

“We can hardly expect that, Sergeant.” Captain Delora Lionheart sighed. “Well, we’ll sort them out when we reach dry land.”

“They may be Horde, Captain,” said the sergeant. “Maybe we’d better just toss them over the side.”

“You don’t know that, Sergeant. And in any case, they would be prisoners of war if they were. Killing prisoners of war is not what we do. Not in the Alliance, and certainly not on board the Skyseeker. Dismissed.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

Griggin looked round the table at the faces. Lenna, Bieslook, Trixie, Nix, Interalia. Interalia had Aubrey on her arm, making tiny noises. Cups of coffee, tea and mugs of chocolate were on the table. Lenna had brought out the old game. Bieslook, being the youngest player, had started at Oakwood. Everybody had chosen their favourite starting positions. Nobody except Bieslook was really concentrating on the game.

“Oval. Shunt me and you’re dead,” said Trixie.

“Would if I could. Green park,” said Nix.

“Earl’s Court,” said Griggin. “Extra busker for downward escalator.” He took a red marker from the bowl and placed it in his reserve. “Pass. Has your assignment come through, Trixie?”

“Yeah,” said Trixie. “Starting next Wednesday.”

“Queen’s park,” said Lenna. “I saw Mustrum in the bank today. He nodded at me.”

“Bond street,” said Interalia. She turned over one of the stack of cards. “Oh great. Trip hazard. I thought we weren’t playing those?”

“Turnpike lane,” said Bieslook. “Watch out Lenna.”

“They want me to stay over the weekend the first two weeks, but after that I can come home. Elephant and castle. Change for Bakerloo. Richard’s dad?”

“Ye gods,” said Nix. “Next thing you know, he’ll be here asking to borrow cups of sugar. Charing cross. Am I skipping a turn Mum?”

“Yeah.” Lenna pulled out a card, showed it briefly then put it on the discard pile. “Isn’t it lovely to be seen as a Gnome again?”

“Taking disabled access,” said Griggin. “Good service on Hammersmith and City. Baker street. Can’t really argue with his aversion to Warlocks. I’m not exactly happy with them myself.”

“Overground is on, right?” Lenna moved her marker. “Euston. Anyone shunting me?”

“Me,” said Bieslook. “Down to Bank.”

“Right.” Lenna moved her marker again. “Pass. Mr. Sparkbolt will be in the family. Let’s try and get on. Nix? What is this I hear about our old house?”

“It’s still up for rent,” said Nix. “Too strange a shape for everybody.”

“Nix put in an offer,” said Interalia. She counted everybody’s buskers. “Odd. Good. No tripping. Holborn. Just to see if they’d take it. They did. A little money is better than no money.”

Griggin looked at Nix with a look of both pride and sadness.

“I think I left a screwdriver under the floor boards there. See if you can find it.”

“King’s cross,” said Bieslook. “I have three buskers. Anyone want to try?”

Nobody did. Bieslook watched Lenna’s piece with eagle eyes.

“Charing cross,” said Trixie. “Good service on the Northern line.”

“That’s a triple cross,” said Bieslook. “I get another turn. Use all my buskers to walk across to Euston… Mornington Crescent!”

Bieslook looked round, surprised to see everybody so sad. Interalia ruffled her hair.

“Well done Squirt. Anyone for more coffee?”

“Chocolate please!”

Raven stepped off the Tram in Ironforge. For the occasion, she’d been teamed up with a short-tempered Dwarven rogue woman named Edda. Raven was sure that once she’d peel away that rough outer shell, through sheer charm and love, she’d find an equally rotten core inside. Together, they walked along the way to the Gates, and past the tavern.

“Got yer gloves? Ye’ll want gloves for cleanup duty. Some of them have maggots in.”

“Lovely,” said Raven.

“Grumbling about the job? Everybody starts doing these jobs. Do you good. Builds character.”

Raven said nothing. Edda opened the door to the room Raven knew well. She’d been told that the Baron had used this room to dump all the bodies. They walked into the wardrobe, down the stairs. Raven coughed at the smell. Edda heard her, laughed and breathed in deep.

“Bout a week old. Good. Not enough time to get runny. They’re giving you an easy job to start with.”

“I’ll remember to thank Renzik,” said Raven.

“What did ye expect, ye long-legged pansy? Go undercover as some Blood-elf princess and have them feed ye grapes?”

They reached the room in which they’d left Baron Goldenberg to get on with it. Raven lit a few torches and looked over the sad remains of what had once been the terror of the Old Barracks. She smiled to herself as she saw that the blonde girl she’d let go was not among them. Sensible people deserve to live. Maybe, she’d end up somewhere nice.

Edda pulled out a few burlap sacks and a large meat cleaver. She walked over to the nearest corpse and pulled it into the middle of the room.

“I chop, you pack. Next one, you chop.”

“At the joints, ye sissy. Put some back into it.”

Raven said nothing, and slashed the cleaver into the shoulder of a woman who’d once tried to steal her daggers from her. She hadn’t tried twice, after Raven offered to show her how to use them. Raven couldn’t help grinning at the irony. I’ll cut you to pieces if you cross me again. And here she was. Not as easy as she thought it would be.

“Yer lucky they’re dead. I’ve had to clean up after some stupid git who didn’t make sure afterwards. Started twitching after I got his arm off. Stopped when I got his head off.”

“Yeah, bless that Goblin’s little green socks.”

“Shut up and get on with it. Like I said, everyone starts doing the dirty jobs. Infiltrating Blood-elf brothels comes later when you’ve earned the privilege. I know your sort. Seen dozens of ’em pass through the Fourth Finger.”

“And you are still here,” said Raven, to herself. She sat up. “You mean to say that this isn’t what Blood-elf princesses do? Damn you Renzik, you lied to me!”

Raven and Edda loaded the bags of remains into a cart. Edda took the time to point out the water-proof lining of the sacks so that the blighters wouldn’t ooze through. Thanks sister. Edda pulled the cart to one of the smelting rooms, and opened the door. To Raven’s amazement, sitting on a chair with Schmuÿle standing behind him, was Baron Samuel Goldenberg. Edda nodded at him and opened the door to the incinerator. She started to toss bags in, grinning.

“The smelters have been complaining about impurities. If they only knew.”

The Baron gave Raven a sharp-toothed smile. “Good morning, Miss Raven. You’ll be pleased to know that Schmuÿle and I have finished our job. The Old Barracks gang is no more. We will be returning to Everlook this afternoon.”

Raven looked at the Baron. He seemed to be expecting something.


“Don’t mention it,” said the Baron. “In fact, to show you that there are no hard feelings, we have left you a present. It’s in the next room. Make sure that you dispose of it properly when you are finished with it. Come on, Schmuÿle. You too, Miss. I believe our young friend wishes to be alone with this one.”

“Bloody pussy footin’ if ye ask me,” said Edda.

Raven found herself alone in the room, wondering. She opened the steel door to the next room. In the shadows, something was moving. Raven’s eyes went cold. She grabbed it, and dragged it into the light. It was a man, hands and feet tied to a chair. With a grunt, she pulled the chair upright, and kneeled in front of him. His face was bloody. His clothes were torn. Cuts on his chest had stopped bleeding and congealed blood stuck to him.

“Hello Baltar,” said Raven.

Baltar gave a startled snort, looked at her. His eyes opened wide, and he started to shake.

“Remember me?” said Raven. She pulled out her black knife. “Remember this?”

Baltar struggled to speak. “Please… I’m sorry. I’m…”

“Bit late,” said Raven.

Baltar’s eyes closed. “I’m sorry. Please…”

There was a sound like trickling water. Raven sniffed, looked down. A small stream of liquid ran from the leg of the chair. Baltar’s breath came in gasps.


Raven closed her eyes. She took a long, slow, deep breath to stop herself from shaking. Quietly, she got to her feet, stepped behind Baltar. Almost gently, she put her hand on his head and pushed it down.

Raven closed the door behind her. Edda had gone. Only the Baron and his servant were waiting for her.

“That was quick,” said the Baron. “Where is he?”

“In the incinerator,” said Raven.

“I would have thought you might have taken a little more time with him. As it is, Schmuÿle took longer.”

Raven turned a cold stare to the Baron.

“What were you expecting me to do? Cut his fingers off one by one? Put his eyes out? Cut his nuts off? Make him eat them?”

“You might have. Do you think he was going to spare you at the last moment? We have to take our little pleasures where we find them, Miss Raven.”

“That’s not what I’m about, little man. Are we done here?”

“We are,” said the Baron.

“Good,” said Raven. “I need a bath. And a stiff drink.”

Thunderpetal sat meditating in a small room. The deep drone of the huge machines engines resonated in his very bones. Huang was on the bed, asleep. They had tried banging on the doors. The hatch had opened, a face had appeared in front of it. It had looked round, then closed the hatch again. There was a tap in the corner that produced cool water. There was a bucket attached to the wall for obvious purposes. Now and then, someone outside pushed a plate under the door containing bread. Thunderpetal had pulled out the pendant, and they were still moving in the right direction. All he had to do was wait. Huang gave a sudden snort, then woke up and sat up, scratching his belly.

“Have our hosts tried to talk to us yet, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn?”

“They have not,” said Thunderpetal. “They do provide us with enough bread. It is fresh, but it lacks variety.”

“I hear the other guests have stopped shouting,” said Huang. “I hope they have settled their differences to their satisfaction. I like this room. It has all that a monk needs for quiet contemplation.”

“I would like a view,” said Thunderpetal. “Or perhaps a small walk outside. I would like to know if the mists have parted yet.”

“Perhaps if we put it reasonably to the creature who feeds us, he will let us out for a while,” said Huang.

Shouts came through the door. Huang frowned.

“They should concentrate on what they have. We are warm, we are dry. We are not drowning. Food is provided. All this anger is not good for the Self. It stems from a desire for things one cannot have.”

“They sound like what they want is their fingers round their hosts’ throat,” said Thunderpetal. “Most uncivilised. I am going to try to sleep for a bit.”

Huang looked up from his meditation. There had been a crash, and the sound of breaking wood a bit earlier. Voices in the hallway, by the sound of it warning each other to be quiet. Then, disappearing footsteps and… silence. Since there was nothing Huang could do about it, he had gone back to meditating. Now, though, there was a change in their world. Concentrating on it, he had noticed that the pitch of the engine noise had changed. Huang reached out and poked Thunderpetal, who was on the bed.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn? Something is happening. The voice of the great flyer is changing.”

Thunderpetal sat up. he pulled out his pendant, and observed. His eyes opened wide.

“Huang? Look! We are changing direction. The yellow petal is moving. We must be going round in circles.”

Huang looked.

“Interesting.” He paused. “I believe that the floor is no longer level. Would you agree?”

The plate containing only a few breadcrumbs slid from one end of the room to the other. The sound of the engines increased in pitch, until it sounded positively… agitated. Huang and Thunderpetal looked at each other.

“I think the bedposts look very sturdy,” said Huang. “I think I will hang on to one. Feel free to use the other.”

Thunderpetal opened his eyes. A ray of sunlight shone down through the boards of their room. He closed his eyes again.

“Hold still, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn,” said Huang. “I am casting a spell of healing on you. You must have knocked your head on the wall.”

Thunderpetal sat down on the floor so Huang could heal a head wound. He felt like a wave of chi passed through him, flushing away his pain as it went.

“Thank you, Huang,” he said.

They picked themselves up and looked around. Their room was at a strange angle. Light came through a slit between two boards that had been wrenched apart. Thunderpetal pointed.

“Shall we see if that will respond to a little force?”

“Flying crane kick?” Huang grinned at Thunderpetal. “I bet you a rice cake I can break that board before you do.”

“You do not have a rice cake,” said Thunderpetal.

“I do not need one,” said Huang. He leapt up into the air and kicked the board.

Thunderpetal ripped out the last few planks. The hole was now large enough for a well-fed Pandaren to squeeze out of.

“I owe you three rice cakes. You owe me one fish cake and a bag of biscuits.” He pulled Huang up through the hole.

“Good,” said Huang. “Let’s find a civilised place where we can settle.”

Thunderpetal looked round. This part of the woods was not as quiet as it might have been. Several strange creatures were fighting. There were green creatures fighting the pinkish brown creatures that had been their hosts. Meanwhile, bluish scaled people came out of the sea and attacked… anything that moved.

“Where do we go?” said Huang. “I would ask someone down there, but they seem… busy.”

Thunderpetal pulled out the pendant. “I think we don’t need to.”

He looked round to Huang, but Huang wasn’t listening. He was staring at the wreckage of their flying ship, at the woods round them. A look of anguish was on his face.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn… We are on the Wandering Isle. We stand on the shell of Shen-zin Su.” Huang pointed to where the bow of the ship had buried itself. “And the bare-faced creatures have just stabbed him.”

With proper care, they went in the direction the pendant led them. They came to a fast-flowing river that they could not cross. They followed it downstream until they came to a bridge. On the bridge stood one of the green-skinned strangers they had seen fighting the brown-skinned ones. Thunderpetal and Huang walked up. They bowed to the stranger, then tried to cross the bridge. The stranger raised his hand to them, and growled. Thunderpetal waved his hands at him, smiled, and pointed to the other end of the bridge. He started walking across, but the stranger put his hand on his chect and shoved him back so that Thunderpetal rolled onto his bottom. Huang picked him up.

“He does not wish us to cross,” said Thunderpetal.

“Nonsense,” said Huang. “This is a misunderstanding. Allow me.”

He walked up to the stranger, but before he could say anything, the stranger punched him in the face. Huang fell back, and rubbed his snout.

“You are right after all, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. He does not wish us to cross, and he will fight to make his point.”

Thunderpetal scowled. “That is good. We can do that, too.”

He slowly walked up to the stranger, eyes locked. The stranger growled at him, spoke words he couldn’t understand. Probably something like ‘Haven’t you had enough yet?’ The stranger’s hand went to his belt and drew a sword. Thunderpetal’s eyes narrowed. With a bellow, the stranger lunged forward. It wasn’t a lethal attack, not yet. Thunderpetal dodged, spun round, kicked the stranger’s wrist. The sword went flying. The stranger fell back to pick it up. Green eyes stared at Thunderpetal. He bared his fangs and spoke some words.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn? Catch.”

Thunderpetal glanced over his shoulder and caught Huang’s staff, his own staff, actually. The stranger bellowed and ran forward, slashing out with a disembowelling stroke. Thunderpetal leapt over the blade and thrust out his staff, catching the stranger in the chest, sending him backwards. The stranger didn’t even slow down, and slashed out at him again. This time, Thunderpetal blocked at the start of the stroke, struck back with the other end of his staff, then a head shot with the top end again. The stranger cried out and retreated, pain and surprise flashing across his face before scowling again. Thunderpetal saw his muscles tense up to spring forward and responded immediately. He slid his staff through his forward hand, and hit the stranger’s knee. The staff whirled round and hit the shoulder of the stranger’s sword arm. It dropped down, useless, and the sword fell to the ground. Thunderpetal roared, and hit the stranger in the head, then stabbed him in the stomach. The bottom end of his staff hit the stranger’s face, and he fell to his back. Thunderpetal bared his teeth, and raised his staff for the killing blow.

Huang grabbed the end of the staff. “He has had enough, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. Let’s go.”

Thunderpetal looked at Huang, then back at the stranger, who was looking up at him, panting, blood streaming from his face. He handed Huang his staff back. “Thank you for lending it to me, Huang.”

Huang nodded. “There is bambu growing up ahead. I suggest you cut a staff of your own. We may need it.”

The statues of the heroes of the Eastern Kingdom looked down on them. A mechanostrider, all washed, maintained, and fuelled up, stood still, engine ticking over. Trixie was hugging Lenna while Griggin, Nix, Interalia and Bieslook looked on. Aubrey was in the pram, asleep. Lenna looked at Trixie’s face.

“Got everything?”


“Change of clothes? Food?”

“Sonkies,” whispered Nix. Interalia hit him.

“Yeah,” said Trixie.

“Say hello to Richard for us, will you?”

“I will.” Trixie looked round. “Well…”

“Get going,” said Griggin. “You don’t want to be late for roll call.”

Trixie jumped onto the strider, waved once more and kicked it into gear. They looked at her as Trixie rode off in the direction of Goldshire. Griggin and Lenna turned to Nix.

“So you’re off too?” said Griggin.

“Just picking up the keys, Dad. And getting in some of the bare necessities. We’ll be back in a week for the rest of our stuff. Guess you’ll be happy to have the room back.”

“Going to be my private hobby room,” said Lenna. “Finally, I’ll have a place to put all my spellbooks.”

“Great place for it,” said Nix.

Lenna drew near to Griggin. “Well, be off then, the three of you. Sure you don’t need me to help clean up the place?”

“House warming in two weeks,” said Interalia. “Need major cleaning up after that.”

Lenna sniffed. “You know that if you ever need help with Aubrey or anything, you’ve only to ask, don’t you?”

Interalia walked over to Lenna and hugged her. “Yeah. When we need fire set to anything, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Next tram in ten minutes,” said Griggin.

“Eager to get rid of us, Boilerman?”

Griggin looked a bit worried as Interalia put her arms round him, then gently patted her back.

“Be safe, children.”

“No worries Dad,” said Nix. “I’ll be staying out of trouble, working on my masterpiece.”

“Titansteel lunchbox,” said Griggin, with a grin. “A study in over-engineering.”

Nix held out his hand to Griggin. Then they changed their minds and hugged. There were smiles, and then Nix and Interalia pushed Aubrey in the direction of the Dwarven District.

Little Bieslook looked up at her foster parents. She pulled at Lenna’s skirt.

“Lenna? Do you want some chocolate and biscuits?”

Griggin bent down to Bieslook. “We would love some chocolate and biscuits.”

“Only there aren’t any biscuits, and I’m not allowed to use the oven. It’s hot hot hot.”

Lenna put her hand on Bieslook’s hair. “Today, dear, we’ll show you how to use the oven without burning yourself.”


Part 17: Meditation


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