Part 2: Gnomus

Night covered the city of Stormwind like a blanket when Nix Steambender walked home after his training at SI:7’s unofficial school of Stealth, Subterfuge, and Dirty Tricks. He was taking the long way home, and more or less treating the city as his own private obstacle course. The bit along the new shoreline, where the park used to be before Deathwing blasted it out of existence, was particularly challenging because there were no guards there, and plenty of thieves, cutthroats and other varied Human scum. Nix had nothing against Humans personally, some of his best customers were Humans, but they tended to look down on him for no better reason than that he was about three foot six high. Average height for a Gnome, but from the Humans’ perspective he was a little runt. That was fine by Nix. From Nix’ perspective, most Humans were lumbering dull-witted individuals that were as likely ever to catch or even see him as your average slime mould.

Nix ducked into an alley, and climbed up on a roof. He ran along, keeping himself below the top of the roof, of course. It was one of his favourite routes, with a neat little jump at the end into one of the rooms in the old barracks that had had its wall removed by a Dragon Aspect. That was always a bit of a calculated risk, because chances were that members of Stormwind’s Thieves’ Guild hung out there. Today, the room was empty, so Nix took a good run-up and landed on the stone floor. Usually, his girlfr… wife, Interalia would race him on this bit, but she was not in any shape to race much at the moment, being rather heavily pregnant. She was at home, no doubt trying to open his latest creation: Unpickable Lock Mark Twenty-seven. So far, Interalia had managed to pick all the ones from Mark One till Mark Twenty-six. This one had her stumped for almost two days now, which was a new record. Nix had no qualms about selling any lock that took Interalia more than half an hour to open. She was an awesome picker of locks.

Just as Nix got ready to move again, he heard a woman screaming somewhere behind him. He turned round, all warm and fuzzy thoughts flushed from his mind in an instant. Women screaming were, sadly, not uncommon in this part of town. Neither, for that matter, were men. Nix turned round, moving towards the noise. Somewhere near the street, there was some kind of commotion going on. Nix ran up while checking his daggers, to see if he could do anything. On this occasion, though, it appeared that the screaming woman was not the victim. There were about five Humans standing over the lifeless body of… Nix squinted into the dark. Some kind of bear. That would mean a hunting party, but first, bears did not normally venture into Stormwind, and second, they did not wear clothes. That, at least was something that was being worked on, because two of the thugs were busy taking the clothes off the bear, while the woman stood by, pulling her shirt shut tight, complaining bitterly.

Nix sighed. Five of them. Too bloody many for him to take on, and since the bear-person was probably dead already, there was no sense in trying. As Nix watched, the thugs took from the bear what they wanted, and disappeared into the night, telling the woman to shut up already. When they had gone, Nix made his way to the bear-person. He looked round carefully, because to be jumped now by another band of thugs would be embarrassing. With the coast clear, Nix bent over the still body.

“Hey, you! Are you alive?”

The bear was lying on its stomach. The fur on the back of its head was bloody, and a trickle of blood still ran out. There was a sudden snort of breath, and the bear jerked its head up, then groaned. Sudden movements were apparently not a good idea. Moving very carefully, it rolled onto its back, then slowly sat up, making anguished noises. Even from a sitting position, it looked down on Nix, or rather on something that seemed to be floating round his head.

“Whoa! Easy now,” said Nix. “You’re lucky to be alive. To be honest, I thought the orphans were going to have you for dinner tonight.”

The bear shut his eyes tight, then seemed to focus on Nix.

“Honestly friend. You should know better than to stroll around here at night. Thieves here are as thick as thieves.”

The bear looked at Nix, and said nothing. He carefully put a claw to the back of his head, and looked at the blood on it.

“Yeah, that’s your own fault. Oldest trick in the book! Get a girl, take most of her clothes off, and have her flash a little tit and thigh at passing heroes. So the blood flows from between their ears to between their legs, and they go all Oh Here’s A Woman I Must Save Her Wonder How She’ll Reward Me, and then her boyfriends jump him. Thing is, you don’t seem the type to fancy Human chicks. So what gives?”

The bear put its head in its hands, and groaned. Nix looked into the bear’s eyes.

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” He slapped his hand on his chest. “Nix.”

The bear put his hand on his own chest, and rumbled a few words.

“Eh?”

The bear pointed at Nix. “Ni-chi.” He pointed at himself, and repeated his name.

Nix tried to repeat the bear’s name. The bear corrected him. Nix shook his head.

“Come on, fuzzball. I suppose you’d better come home with me, to get your head seen to.”

“Fuz-ball,” said the bear, and made a noise almost like laughing.

He slowly got to his feet, and looked round. With a satisfied “Ah”, he noticed his staff lying on the ground a little way off. He picked it up. The thugs had rummaged through his bag, taken what little coins it had inside, then thrown it away. He slung it on his back.

“Come on, let’s go,” said Nix. “They’re not going to believe what I’ve found this time.”


Thunderpetal followed the little man called Ni-chi along the streets to a place near the harbour of Stormwind. They walked up to one of the doors, and Ni-chi made him wait a moment as he went in. For a moment, Thunderpetal wondered how he was going to squeeze through such a tiny door, but then there was the sound of a rattling chain and the whole of the wall rose up and back. Ni-chi waved him inside, then lowered the wall again by means of a complicated pulley system.

Another small person entered the hallway, though “small” was perhaps the wrong word. She walked rather uncomfortably on account of her enormous belly. She took one look at Thunderpetal and asked Ni-chi a question. Ni-chi grinned.

“N’tu-la-lia?” He pointed a hand at Thunderpetal, then hesitated.

Thunderpetal spoke his name. N’tu-la-lia tried to repeat it, but failed. Thunderpetal grinned.

“Fuz-ball,” he said. It was the name bestowed on him by the King himself, so who was he to argue, even if it did mean “Round Furry Person”? It was accurate enough.

N’tu-la-lia laughed. “Fuzzball.”

She turned to Ni-chi and asked him something. Whatever it was she said, it made him slap his forehead and start explaining. N’tu-la-lia looked at Thunderpetal’s head, walked out of the room and came back a few moments later with a roll of bandage, a bowl of water and a clean cloth.

“Eh Fuzzball?” She gestured him to bend down, and cleaned the wound. Then, she neatly wrapped up Thunderpetal’s head. Something told him that she’d done this before. N’tu-la-lia inspected her handiwork, then told Thunderpetal that that’d have to do.

Meanwhile, Ni-chi had wandered off into another room, and unlatched the side of the door, widening it so Thunderpetal could enter. It turned out to be a warm and cosy living room. N’tu-la-lia asked Ni-chi a question, pointing at the door. He answered it with a grin and N’tu-lalia slapped the back of his head. At Ni-chi’s gesture, Thunderpetal went down on all fours, walked in and stopped. The furniture wasn’t large enough. N’tu-la-lia noticed, then pointed into another room and gave Ni-chi a quick order. He walked off, to return a few moments later pulling a mattress behind him. Thunderpetal bowed to Ni-chi then sat down on it. N’tu-la-lia walked to a chair, and Thunderpetal could see that it was difficult for her to walk. She must be near her term. Teacher Cloudsinger had ordered him to find out about the people of Stormwind. He would be grateful if one of the first items of information would not be their birth-giving rituals. The woman sat down, arranged pillows and wriggled a bit to get comfortable. Then, she pointed at Ni-chi.

Ti, Bi-chu.” she said.

Ni-chi walked backwards out of the room, bowing to N’tu-la-lia, mumbling. A few moments later, the smell of tea drifted into the room.


Four Gnomes were walking along the streets, on their way home. Two were wearing wizardly robes, one was wearing full plate armour, and the fourth was sitting on the back of the warrior girl. She was wearing a dark blue dress with white daisies on.

“Lenna?” said the young girl. Her tone was thoughtful, which usually meant a seemingly simple question was under way.

“Yes?”

“When is Spud going to come out?”

“We don’t know for sure, dear,” said Lenna. “Maybe a week, maybe two.”

“And then can I play with her?”

“Or him,” said Griggin. “We don’t know if Spud is a boy or a girl.”

“Why not?”

“Because we can’t look inside Interalia’s tummy,” said Lenna.

“Why is Spud inside Interalia’s tummy?”

The warrior girl, named Trixie, took a little jump to hoist Bieslook higher up. “We talked about the Special Cuddle, didn’t we?”

“Trixie…” said Lenna.

“But if we’d just put Spud in a little bed, then we could see whether she’s a boy or a girl, and buy her dolls.”

“Oh yeah,” said Trixie. “I loved playing with dolls. Did you know that the left head of the Little Ogre fits on the Jaina dolls?”

“And vice versa,” said Griggin. It had been mildly disturbing to see the angelically beautiful blonde head of Jaina Proudmoore smile at them from the shoulders of a fat-bellied Ogre wielding a club. They had got her a Metal Construction Kit, which Trixie had used to make two swords, an axe and a shield.

As they came to their home, Trixie let Bieslook slide off her back and Lenna opened the door. She shouted inside.

“Right kids! Stop whatever you’re doing, the parents are back!”

Lenna hung up her robe on the peg, put her staff in the stand and walked into the living room.

“Oo! Is that tea I smell? Well trained, Interalia. I could never…”

Lenna stopped. Sitting on one of the spare mattresses in her living room was a large black-and-white bear, with its head neatly wrapped up in linen. As it saw her, it grabbed its fist with its other hand, and bowed its head at her, rumbling a few words at her in a language she could not understand. Lenna smiled politely, then turned her eyes to Nix, who was sitting at the table.

“Found him in the park,” said Nix. “He’d bumped his head on a bunch of robbers, so I took him home for bandages and a cuppa. I still didn’t catch his name, but he answers to ‘Fuzzball’.”

Fuzzball?” Lenna looked accusingly at Interalia, who never used anyone’s real name if she could help it. ‘Mama Fwoosh’ had been banned under threat of fireballs at dawn. Interalia put on her innocent face.

What?”

Trixie came walking in, busy with her own thoughts, and was half way to her room to get out of her armour before she noticed Thunderpetal sitting there like a giant black-and-white elephant in the room.

“What the hell is that?”

Griggin, having inferred from the noise that something was up, walked in, nodded at Thunderpetal.

“I believe that this gentleman is a Panda-ren, one of the mythical inhabitants of Pandaria. Welcome, Sir, to Steambender manor. My name is Griggin, at your service.”

Thunderpetal bowed to Griggin.

“Guli-jin, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn.”

Griggin nodded. “Welcome to my house, Mr. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn.”

Thunderpetal raised his head, surprised. Griggin smiled.

“I have to pronounce Daemons’ names correctly, Mr. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. Pandaren names are easy by comparison. Meaning no disrespect, of course. Most names are.”

Interalia snorted. “Showoff.”

There was a sudden, delighted, high-pitched squeal as Bieslook came in, and barreled straight into Thunderpetal’s round, furry stomach, face aglow.

“It’s a fluffy bear! Can we keep him, Lenna? I’ll feed him!”

Thunderpetal looked at the very very small girl that had her tiny arms round him as far as they would go, and her cheek against the soft fur on his stomach. He very gently patted her head.

Nix got up, walked out of the room for a moment, and came back pulling on his leather jacket.

“Well, now you’re all here, I can go and get Interalia her salty herring with pickled gherkins. Forgot all about that in the commotion with Fuzzball here.”

Interalia got to her feet, walked over to Nix, grabbed him by his jacket and kissed him. Nix had to bend forward a bit.

“I love you. I’ll love you twice as much if you bring me salty herring.”

“With chopped onions?”

“Is salty herring really salty herring without onions?”

“A pale shadow of what it could be,” said Nix. “Later all!”

Nix walked out, and they heard the door slam. Interalia walked back to her chair, and sat down. She picked up the lockbox, carefully selected one of her lockpicks and started poking in the lock, occasionally giggling to herself. Trixie looked at her.

“What’s with you all of a sudden?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh come on.”

Interalia giggled. “I wuv my hubby. Here I am, size of a bloody whale, likely to keel over if I walk the distance I used to run in a minute, and all other husbands can do is go, ‘Ooo you’ve never been more bee-yoo-ti-ful than you are now, you are gloooowing!’ But not Nix.”

“No?”

Interalia grinned as though she’d split at the ears. “He gets me someone with a bigger tummy than I have.”


“What happened to you?” Aysa Cloudsinger pointed at Thunderpetal’s head. “Let Huang have a look at that, will you?”

“I was ambushed by Chiu-man by the edge of the water to the West, where the old broken buildings are.”

Aysa’s face darkened. “You were attacked by the Alliance?”

“No, Teacher. These were thieves and ruffians. The Hozen of this city. They surprised me. I was insufficiently prepared.”

“Hmm,” said Aysa. “Who decorated your head like that?”

“The people native to this city come in three sizes, Teacher. Smallest are the No-mu, who perform feats of mage-craft and mechanics. Of middle size are the Dor-fu. They are the best stonemasons and miners this city has to offer. They also have a knowledge of brewing that I am quite interested to investigate.”

“The Dor-fu are renowned for their brews,” said Aysa. “There is an inn nearby that is run by Dor-fu. We should sample their brews, and perhaps offer our help. The tallest, I presume, are the Chiu-man?”

“Yes, Teacher. There are also the Kel-do-lei, and D’len-ai, but they are strangers here as we are. One of the No-mu took me into his home and they saw to my injuries.”

“That is kind of them,” said Aysa. “How do the no-mu live?”

“It is hard to say,” said Thunderpetal. “It appears that they live in families not unlike the wolves. My injuries were seen to by the alpha female. Her name, N’tu-la-lia, was longest, and it appears that she is the only one allowed to breed. She is with child.”

“Interesting,” said Aysa, rubbing her chin. “If you can do so with honour, go to them tomorrow, and see if you can find out more.”

“Gladly,” said Thunderpetal. “I still need to repay them for healing me.”

“You did well, Thunderpetal,” said Aysa. “Please write this down, so I can share this knowledge. After you see Huang.”

“Yes, Teacher Cloudsinger.”

Part 3: Promenade II

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