Part 3: Promenade II

Trixie Steambender stepped out of her door wearing her plate armour, two-hander strapped to her back. As she shouldered the bag containing the various pieces of hardware a warrior girl needs in a busy day, she looked up to find Fuzzball waiting for her. He bowed to her and rumbled a greeting in his friendly, deep voice.

Ni-hao, T’li-chi.”

“Hi Fuzzball. How’s the head?”

Fuzzball smiled at her, and nodded. Trixie pointed at his head, then put up her thumb. Fuzzball nodded, and wiggled his fingers at his own head.

“Ah. Seen a healer. Very good. Well, I’m off to training. Strength training on the dummies, and Battle Situation Awareness.”

Trixie set off at a trot, and Fuzzball ran along next to her. She looked up at him. For such a… well-rounded person, he had a surprising turn of speed.

“Just in case you’ve got hopes, I’ve got a boyfriend.” Trixie looked ahead of her. “Now all I need is a boyfriend who’s not afraid to tell his daddy to get stuffed,” she added, safe in the knowledge that Fuzzball wouldn’t understand her.

Thunderpetal spoke a few words back to her. Conversation without communication. A bit like listening to whalesong. Useless, but not unpleasant. In companiable silence, they ran along the streets, into Old Town, up to the gates of Stormwind’s military academy. There was a small grassy area where training dummies of various sizes were under attack from Humans, Dwarves, and Gnomes. Ander Germaine, the head trainer for warriors, passed round, making the occasional comment or demonstrating a move. Fuzzball stood still, watching the trainees. Trixie saw Fuzzball move his head left and right with the movements of the warriors, and imagined he was smiling.

“Hey, wanna learn to fight?” Trixie grinned up at Fuzzball. “May do you some good if you run into more of those Human varknaaiers. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Master Shen.”


“Yeah. Wu Shen. He’s our trainer.”

“Wu Shen,” said Fuzzball, with a new hopeful look in his eyes.

Together, they walked into the building and up the stairs. Trixie put her finger on her lips as they approached the warrior teacher’s room. Teacher Germaine was outside, which meant that Ilsa Corbin and Wu Shen were alone in the room. They were well-known to be a couple, though they’d never admitted it to anyone. One of Trixie’s class-mates was certain she’d heard something going on. Nobody had ever caught them, though. Trixie held her breath and listened at the door. All she could hear were the voices of Trainer Corbin and Wu Shen discussing something. She knocked, opened the door. Ilsa Corbin smiled at her with a knowing look in her eyes.

“Miss Steambender. What are you doing here? Class doesn’t start until nine.”

“Wanted to talk to you about the permission slips for voice coaching. For the battle shouts.”

“Oh Gods, not another one,” said Wu Shen.

Trixie blinked. “I beg your pardon Master Shen?”

“Your furry friend there. If I didn’t know better, I’d say we’re having an infestation of Panda-ren.”

“Oh yes. Master Wu Shen? Meet Fuzzball. That’s not his real name, but we can’t remember it.”

Wu Shen snorted, then spoke to Trixie in the same language as she’d heard Fuzzball use.

“Shen lived in Pandaria for seven years,” said Ilsa Corbin. “I never believed him till a week ago when they started to show up. You wanted voice coaching right?”

“Yes Teacher,” said Trixie.

“That’s going to take a few trips to Sentinel Hill.”

“Really?” said Trixie, with big blue innocent eyes. Gosh. Sentinel Hill just happened to be the place where Richard was stationed. Fancy that.

“Yes, really. Let me show you the form.”

Thunderpetal looked on as T’li-chi and Master Il-hsa walked to a cupboard and busied themselves with pieces of paper. He bowed to Master Wu Shen. The name meant ‘God of War’ in Pandaren. Either very presumptuous, or if he’d earned it, impressive.

“Greetings Master Wu Shen. My name is Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. It is good to hear our tongue coming from one of the Chiu-man.”

“I imagine so,” said Wu Shen. “Do you come for the lessons in the Common Speech?”

“No Master Wu Shen,” said Thunderpetal. “I am here to learn about the ways of the people. T’li-chi is one of the kind No-mu who look after me when I am ambushed by thieves near the broken buildings to the West.”

“Hmm,” said Wu Shen. “The old barracks. That’s not a nice part of town.”

“So I observe, and by this, my wisdom grows.” said Thunderpetal.

“Well, learning about our mysterious ways is easier if you speak Common. Do you have forty silver on you?”

“I believe so, Master Wu Shen.”

“I can give you some basic knowledge here and now. Enough to buy things from a merchant and some phrases like ‘Where is the Inn?’ and so on. Forty silver. The spellsmith who prepares it needs his part, or I would give it to you for nothing.”

Thunderpetal nodded. He turned round, unbuckled his belt and pulled a gold coin from the secret compartment. About half his money, but it would be worth it if it helped him to understand these people. He handed the coin to Wu Shen.

“Give me your hand,” said Wu Shen.

“…talked about this dozens of times before, Trixie. Your father doesn’t want you to learn those things. He knows you better than I do, so unless he says yes, you’re not getting any fury talents.”

Thunderpetal looked round as the incomprehensible noises, without warning, turned into words that he could understand. He bowed to Master Wu Shen.

“Thank you, Master,” said Thunderpetal.

Wu Shen handed him sixty silver in change. “Not at all. The translation of your name, by the way, is Thunder-petal. It doesn’t come with the standard package, because you can’t normally translate names.”

“Thunder-petal.” He had never thought about translating nis name before. There was thunder. There were flower petals. These things together were not any word, they were… him.

“The No-mu will be able to pronounce it,” said Wu Shen. “I can see that you are not a sword-fighter, but if you wish to do so, feel free to use our training dummies.”

“Thank you, Sir,” said Thunderpetal, in Common. The words felt strange upon his tongue.

Trixie looked round at him. “I thought you didn’t speak Common!”

Thunderpetal pointed a hand at Wu Shen. “Master Wu Shen teaches me.”

“Hmm. I’ll tell my folks to speak secrets only in Gnomish then.” Trixie grinned evilly. “Except Nix.”

“Better not to speak secrets at all,” said Thunderpetal. “Or perhaps speak them always. Secrets are like burning embers in the heart that keeps them. Meditate on this.”

“Sure,” said Trixie. “But first, I’ve got dummies to beat to bits. Wanna come?”

“I am honoured,” said Thunderpetal.

In his sub-basement in Stormwind, Griggin Steambender completed the summoning, and the creature projected itself into the here and now. Of late, there had been new kinds of Daemon accessible to Warlocks willing to take the risk. They were found in the Outlands beyond the Dark Portal, but only now had Griggin’s Warlock Circle found the right incantations to bind them, and use their powers. One of Griggin’s jobs was to see if it was now safe to summon them. Chief Warlock Sindala, despite appearances, did have a sense of humour.

Griggin had summoned the new Daemon into a circle of binding strong enough to hold Illidan Stormrage himself, just in case the answer was ‘No’. He watched it. This was a Daemon of Shivarra kind. It had chosen a blue-skinned female body as an Azerothian trapping, but had given it six arms rather than two. It had hissed when he summoned it, found it could not break through the circle, and now looked at Griggin with open hatred.

Griggin concentrated, then cast a spell that transformed his own body into that of a dark, winged Daemon. The experience was, like many dark spells, thoroughly unpleasant, but one of its effects was that he could now speak the Demonic languages without having to concentrate on it.

“Release me,” said the Daemon. “And I will kill you quickly for your insolence. Disobey me, you miserable creature, and the suffering of a thousand lifetimes will be yours.”

Griggin concentrated. Words of power turned round in his mind. The words became images, of walls, bars of iron, ropes, chains, a sphere of ink-black glass. He infused the images with his mana, willing them into existence round the Daemon’s projection.

“Those were the last words you have spoken to me without permission,” said Griggin. “From now on, you will speak only to answer me.” Griggin stepped closer to the circle. “I am he who has summoned you. From this moment on, until I die, or release you, you will come when called, and do my bidding without fail, without question. Now answer me. Who commands?”

The Daemon screamed in Griggin’s mind. With reckless rage, it hurled itself at Griggin’s bindings. Some broke immediately, others held out longer. In only a few seconds, all bindings except the dark sphere were gone. The Daemon tried with all its might to break it, to no avail. Then, seeing it was useless, it kneeled before Griggin.

“You command, Master.”

“Good,” said Griggin. “Now I am done with you, for the moment. Return to your demesne in peace.”

The Daemon raised its head, a puzzled look on its face.

“Peace? What is peace? I do not know that word.” Its form faded, disappeared into nothing.

Griggin let his Demonic form fall away from him.

“Just my little joke,” he said, knowing full well that the concept of a joke was as alien to the Daemon as that of peace. He walked over to a writing table, pulled down one of his journals, and started writing.

Trixie focused on the training dummy. She had swapped her two-hander for a broadsword and shield. Her mind calmed itself, and she sprinted forward, struck out, paying close attention to form. With every attack, she felt her rage build, a red ball of fire, somewhere in the pit of her stomach. It was useless to try and explain rage to anyone who didn’t follow the school of combat she did. Most people, when you mentioned the word, simply thought that you got angrier and angrier, until the red mist came down and you turned into a mindless killing machine. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Telling Mr. Brain to go away in a fight was a sure way to get yourself killed. Rage made you concentrate. It made you completely aware of all your moves; burning paths in your mind. It made you forget everything that was not to do with killing your enemy. Trixie slashed out with a cutting downward stroke that would have taken an Orc’s arm off. Training dummies were made of sterner stuff. She swung her sword round with vicious speed, and executed a textbook-perfect Mortal Strike, meant to cut open your enemy. A hard over-handed strike followed.

She’d first learnt to appreciate this particular combination of attacks when she and Richard lived in Ironforge, and a band of rogue warlocks had taken Trixie’s mother prisoner. It had worked beautifully on the Human bitches and their Voidwalker Daemons. They had won. Nix had freed Mum, while she and Richard kept the Warlocks busy. Mum had burnt the ones that were still upright to a cinder. Trixie bared her teeth, and hit the dummy again, harder this time.

Richard’s father, a well-respected fire mage, did not approve of Warlocks. No surprise there. Nobody approved of Warlocks. Trouble was, Mr. Sparkbolt also did not approve of their daughters. So he’d told Richard to drop her, and forget she’d ever existed. When that didn’t work, he’d left for Westfall, taking Richard with him. Soon after, there had been the “Steambender’s Relaxing Steam Bath Incident”, after which Trixie and her family had moved to Stormwind. As it happened, Trixie could get to a place called Goldshire, south of Stormwind, in two to three hours depending on which of their mechanostriders she borrowed. So, as it happened, could Richard. So that was what happened.

Trixie took a few steps back and raised her shield, ducking behind it to reflect incoming magic back at its caster. Then, she leapt forward again, ramming her shield hard into the training dummy. Trixie and Richard had been to Goldshire lots of times. They would meet in the Lion’s Pride Inn, go out for long walks in Elwynn Forest, and return to the inn rather out of breath from all the healthy exercise. Which was lovely, but not enough. Trixie wanted the whole package. She wanted to walk with her head up high, and occasionally drop the word ‘boyfriend’ into conversations. And Richard would promise to talk to his dad, but somehow, at their next meeting, the right moment would not have come up.

Trixie went back to her Mortal Strikes and Overpowering Strikes, throwing in the occasional Heroic Strike (so named because it had been the signature move of Anduin Lothar, hero of renown), and Slam (so named because Warriors are not very subtle creatures). Richard was not a coward. Back in Ironforge, he had followed her into a den of Warlocks without hesitating, knowing full well he might not walk out. Back in Westbrook, he had earned marks in the fight between the Westbrook Garrison and the Defias Brotherhood. He was brave, and kind, and Trixie would be proud to call him her boyfriend. But… Trixie bared her teeth, and hit harder. Why by the thundering, rampaging Titans… The strokes were beginning to jar her arm, which was a bad sign because you weren’t hitting the enemy with the sweet spot on your sword. Trixie hit the training dummy even harder, blindly slamming her sword into it. Why didn’t the stupid, annoying git tell his father that she was still there? Trixie cried out and hit the training dummy so hard that its head came off, and her sword slipped from her hand.

“Miss Steambender!” Ander Germaine came walking up. “Keep your mind on the job. Do you want someone to get hurt?”

Trixie slowly looked round at her head trainer, and truly did not know if the answer was yes, or no.

“You are angry,” said Thunderpetal. They were walking from school to the market. Trixie had some food shopping to do.

“Not with you,” said Trixie.

“Panda-ren at home are possessed by Sha. It makes them sad, tired, angry. To cure them, one must drive out the Sha.”

“Oh,” said Trixie. “How?”

“We have brews,” said Thunderpetal. “I know three different ones, for different Sha.”

“Brews?” Trixie gave Thunderpetal an incredulous look. “Like beer?”

“Yes, yes,” said Thunderpetal, warming up to his subject. “The Tsingtao brews, for strength and resilience. The Yanjing brews, for concentration and magical power. The Zhujiang, for travelling in spirit to places one cannot walk to.”

“Huh. Drinking lots of beer to forget your trouble? Yeah that’ll work.”

Thunderpetal looked down to Trixie. “You do not need much brew. Just the right brew.”

“Don’t think it’d help,” said Trixie. “Sure, get drunk and the problems go away, but then you sober up and the problems are back, and you have a hangover.”

Thunderpetal gave a little laugh. “Use Chou’s hair-of-the-dog ale for hangovers. But you have no Sha. Something else is wrong.”

“Yeah,” said Trixie. “Don’t want to talk about it.”

Thunderpetal nodded. “Another thing. I have a request. To thank you properly for your kindness and help, I would like to cook for you tonight. Would N’tu-la-lia allow it?”

Interalia?” Trixie laughed. “Sure she would. Food! But you want to ask Mum instead.”

“Pardon me,” said Thunderpetal. “Then Len-ah is the head of your house?”

Trixie had never thought of it that way. Who, come to think of it, was the formal Head of the Family? There were the Grown-ups: Mum and Dad, the Children-who-should-know-better: herself, Nix, and probably Interalia since she was now married to Nix, and the Kids: little Bieslook, and when he or she arrived, Spud.

“Well, for things like cooking, I suppose she is.”

Thunderpetal nodded. “Do only the women of the No-mu cook?”

“Naah. The last couple centuries, even our men have learnt the difference between crispy bacon and charcoal. It’s just that Mum does most of the cooking. Just ended up that way. I suppose she won’t mind a night off.”

“Good. Then I search for ingredients.”

“No bloody parsnips, I’m warning you.”

Stormwind was a maze of little streets, and Thunderpetal and Trixie went from one shop to the other. The butcher’s, for some duck and chicken. To Trixie’s surprise, Thunderpetal insisted on birds with the head and the feet still on, and all the insides still in. Then off to the greengrocer’s, for some cabbage’s, carrot’s, onion’s and aubergine’s. Finally, they went into a spice shop run by a Gnomish woman. Thunderpetal walked inside. As he breathed in deep, a big smile appeared on his face. While Trixie watched, first with amusement, then with boredom, then with anxious looks at the clock, as Thunderpetal opened all the jars, sniffing them, discussing them with the shop lady, then either putting them back on the shelf or placing them on the counter. Suddenly, he turned to Trixie.

“Pardon me T’li-chi, do the No-mu like food that is…” Thunderpetal suddenly stopped, with a frown. Then he opened his mouth and flapped his paw in front of it. Trixie looked puzzled, then understood.

“Spicy. Hot. Pedis. Sharp?” She grinned. “Yes please!”

“Spicy,” said Thunderpetal. “Hot. Yes. It is a shame I have no time to brew Chou’s Fire Quenching Brew. I bring some milk, and leave that for next time.”

“And what time do you call this?” Lenna was Not Pleased with Trixie. “When you get out of school, bring a few extra spuds. Not very difficult, was it?”

Trixie raised her hands. “It’s all Fuzzball’s fault,” she said. “He wants to cook for us tonight. I thought you wouldn’t mind. Oh, and Master Wu Shen taught him a bit of Common, and his real name is Thunderpetal.”

Thunderpetal bowed to Lenna. In Steambender Manor, he had to move about on all fours or knock his head on the ceiling.

“A thousand pardons, Mistress Len-ah. If it pleases you, may I see your kitchen? In thanks for your kind aid and hospitality I would like to prepare a simple but nutritious meal.”

“Simple? There’s six of us and one of you. Little Bieslook can’t eat mushrooms, Trixie eats parsnips only if I tie her down and use a funnel, anything with cooked tomatoes in gives me the drempels, and Interalia…” Lenna looked over where Interalia was standing, watching the whole conversation with interest. “Eats everything and nothing at the same time. Think you have what it takes, Mr. Thunderpetal?”

“I have ingredients. I see a stove. I see knives and pots and pans. No cook should need more.” Thunderpetal grinned. “Please sit down, Mistress Len-ah.”

Thunderpetal had to be shown how the modern stove worked, but the steam-powered oven and the pressure cooker met with approval. After a few minutes, Lenna looked in to see Thunderpetal sitting in the middle of the kitchen, taking the bones out of a chicken and dropping them into a pan of boiling water. He was humming a strange little tune as he worked. He saw Lenna, smiled at her, pushed a mug of tea into her hands and waved her away. Lenna walked back into the living room, looking rather dazed.

“He threw me out of the kitchen. My kitchen! He threw me out!”

“Oh my,” said Interalia. “Nobody has ever dared to do that before.”

Lenna sat back in her chair, pulled Interalia’s footstool away from her and put her own feet on it. She closed her eyes and breathed in her tea.

“The word you’re looking for, young missus Steambender, is bothered.”

Thunderpetal came walking in, with some difficulty, as he had to bend down deep, carrying a tray of food. Nix and Trixie had set the table. They sat down, looking at the unfamiliar food. Dark grilled duck meat was in a tray, and saucers of thinly sliced cucumber and spring onion were next to it.

“The sweet and spicy chicken is done in a half-hour. To start with, this is duck. You take pancake, like so, and put in bit of duck, then spring onion and cucumber. Add little Hoi-sin sauce, then fold like so.”

“We have to assemble our own food?” said Nix. “Why not just put it in packages to start with?”

“Then, the vegetables are too warm and the duck is too cold.”

Everyone nodded, and started to wrap up bits of meat and vegetable. little Bieslook, a frown of concentration on her face, rolled up her pancake, and picked it up. The insides fell out. Thunderpetal showed her how to fold up the underside first, then roll it up.

After the duck came the main course. A large pan of rice, a large pan of bubbling stew, and a smaller one next to it. Thunderpetal pointed at the smaller pan.

“This one is not so spicy, for young Bi-cho, and maybe N’tu-la-lia. The other one is very spicy, to warm hearts on cold days.”

“Hurt me plenty,” said Trixie. She held her plate up, and Thunderpetal put rice and chicken on.

“They say hot food can bring on labour,” said Interalia. “I could do with a bit of labour. Smells gorgeous, Fuzzball.”

“I want the spicy!” Bieslook bounced on her chair.

Griggin looked a bit worried. “Are you sure, dear?”

Being Gnomes of the World, they had tasted the curries of all the species on Azeroth, and one of the things that had always offended Griggin’s engineer’s sensibilities was that there was no generally agreed-on standard for spiciness. What a Dwarf inn would advertise as ‘Hellishly Spicy’, a Goblin would classify as ‘O dear, we’re out of chillies’. There was such a thing as a Scoville unit, but when someone mentioned those, it was usually to describe a curried fire elemental. Griggin poured Bieslook a glass of milk. He put a spoonful of chicken on Bieslook’s plate.

“Taste this,” said Griggin.

Bieslook did. “Like it,” she said. “It makes my mouth warm.”

Griggin and Lenna looked at each other.

“Fire mage,” they said, at the same time.

Interalia tasted the food, closed her eyes, and groaned. “Nix? Cuff this bear to the stove. I’ll never eat anything else, ever.”

Trixie turned to Thunderpetal. “That means she likes it. Mind you, she likes anything. We sent her out to go shopping once. When she got back, she’d eaten all the food.”

“Spud made me do it,” said Interalia.

“Even the potatoes,” said Lenna. “Raw potatoes. I ask you.”

Interalia grinned. “Crunchy!”

Nix nodded. “I’m taking her turns shopping now.”

Thunderpetal filled his bowl and took out his chopsticks. “I am happy that you like my meal.”

“Sure do. Thanks Fuzzball.” Interalia frowned, put a hand on her stomach. “Stop kicking Spud, I’m enjoying this food and I’m going to eat it. If you don’t like it, you can always come out.” She suddenly stopped, put down her fork. “Oh… oh crap.”

Interalia jumped to her feet. Nix and Griggin knew the signs and jumped up to give her room. Interalia ran off in the direction of the toilet. Everyone looked at each other.

“Please forgive our daughter-in-law, Mr. Thunderpetal.”

Thunderpetal nodded, got to his feet and went into the kitchen. After a few minutes Interalia came back, angry and wearing a different blouse.

“Damn, damn, damn. I used to be a kick-ass Rogue. I used to run for miles. Damn it, I want this child out of me. The healer said you only get sick the first couple weeks. Bloody lies!” She looked round. “He hasn’t run off, has he? This is nothing to do with the food, it’s just…”

A large claw was on Interalia’s shoulder. A steaming mug was gently pressed into her hand.

“This is ginger tea with honey. It takes away the bad taste, and settles the stomach.”

“Thanks, Fuzzball,” said Interalia. “The food was great, honest. I loved it… the first time.”

“I can make you Great-uncle Fai’s brew,” said Thunderpetal. “Good for sickness.”

“Heh. No thanks Fuzzball, I’m on the wagon till Spud comes out.”

“On the wagon?” Thunderpetal frowned, not understanding.

“No beer, no wine, no nothing”, said Trixie.

“Ah, no. Great-uncle Fai’s brew does not…” Thunderpetal searched for the word. “Bubble. Not make drunk.”

“Ferment,” supplied Griggin.

“Ferment. Yes. It is drunk by Panda-ren with child. I have the recipe here.”

Thunderpetal grabbed his bag, and searched through it. His mouth fell open.

“My recipes! They are gone! They were written by my Father, my Mother. My Great-uncle… Gone!”

“Damn,” said Nix. “Those robbers probably took ’em. Does this mean you can’t cook anymore?”

“I can see every page in my mind,” said Thunderpetal. “I can write them out. But for the important recipes, I need to read it from my recipe book. If I don’t, the spirits of my ancestors are not with me, and it comes out all wrong. I must have them back!”

“Maybe you just dropped it there,” said Nix. “We can go looking tomorrow.”

“Not without some extra muscle,” said Trixie. “The Old Barracks are a great place for getting yourself killed.”

“And I’ll stay here, and wait,” said Interalia.

Lenna put an arm round her. “It’ll be alright. I had two children, and I’m still light on my feet. You’ll see.” Lenna looked at Griggin. “You or me?”

Griggin straightened his shoulders. “I’ll go. If someone decides to bother us, there’s a few of my assistants that I can call on.” He turned to Thunderpetal.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Thunderpetal. If your recipes are out there, we will find them.”

Part 4: The old castle


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