Part 4: The old castle

They were standing in a hidden spot by the road to the Old Barracks. Nix was wearing his black leathers, over which he had a rather dashing looking silk jacket, in dark shades of grey. He rolled his shoulders and looked at the Old Barracks. There was a side building of which only the foundation and some of the walls remained. Nix and Interalia had been there when the dragon came. Needless to say, they hadn’t stuck around. There used to be a nice park here, which Deathwing had blown to tiny bits with one blast. He had flown over the city, perched on the gate, knocked over the statues in the Valley of Heroes, and finally, just when everyone thought their last hour had struck, he’d flapped off to the South. Nobody knew why, and as the city was still standing as a result, nobody wanted to know. You could still see the imprint of the Dragon’s claws on the gate towers.

A few Dwarven stonemasons had come in, given the place one look, stroked their beards and declared the place a write-off, using words like “Subsidence”, “Fault lines” and “The whole soddin’ place’ll come doon on yer head if ye so much as fart in the wrong place.” As the soldiery of Stormwind abandoned the building, it was taken over by people who didn’t know the first thing about civil engineering, but were happy with even half a roof over their heads. And, of course, some very nice ambush spots.

“So,” said Nix. “Just to be clear on this. Are we looking for trouble?”

“Possibly,” said Griggin. “What we are looking for, is Mr. Thunderpetal’s recipe book. If our assumption, that it was simply dropped somewhere, turns out to be false, then we will need to look for the persons who took it.”

“And ask them nicely to give it back,” said Trixie. Since they were going to be fighting inside, where a two-handed sword would be inconvenient, she had brought her nicest short-swords. If only Dad would let her learn the fury talents. Then, they’d teach her to use two two-handers. Until then, she could only dream.

Thunderpetal was sitting on the ground, hands gently resting on his knees, eyes closed. His bambu staff lay in front of him, and a small keg of brew stood next to him. He picked up his staff, slung the keg onto his back with a piece of rope, and got to his feet.

“General Sun-Tzu says, It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.”

“There are four of us,” said Griggin. “Nix says you were attacked by four Humans, not counting the young lady acting as a decoy. That would make us equal, or them one point two times our strength if the young lady can fight. Ignoring, of course, both weight and differences in fighting skill, which cannot be estimated without more information.”

Trixie laughed. “Dad! You could take on this whole bunch of gits on your own if you get the axe dude in, and you know it.”

Griggin shot his daughter a little amused glance. “Perhaps, but Skurikraksha is somewhat of a blunt instrument. We may need some of these ruffians to talk. In this light, please strike to disable rather than kill.”

“We’re being nice again,” said Nix. “Cause we’re the good guys.”

“Not the way I do it,” said Trixie.

As soon as they stepped down from the road, Nix waved, and disappeared into the shadows. Thunderpetal blinked.

“Where does Ni-chi go?”

“Wherever he pleases,” said Trixie. “No worries. He’s around. Heh! You’ve never fought with rogues before, have you?”

“On our way here, we land on an island. Many Ninjas there. They leave us in peace. Pirates are a better target than simple pilgrims.” Thunderpetal chuckled. “One of them tries to attack Teacher Aysa Cloudsinger. She teaches him not to.”

They slowly walked towards the main building. It rose up high above them. Some of the walls had come down, and you could see inside. Some of the rooms had lights in them. Thunderpetal pointed them at the spot where he had been attacked. They searched the ground in a wide circle around it, without finding anything. Griggin took his staff from his back and planted it on the ground.

“Well, it appears that Mr. Thunderpetal’s book was taken by the robbers, and that we are looking for trouble after all.”

Thunderpetal’s eyes gleamed at Griggin. “These Hozen will be very happy when they finally translate the book from Pandaren and instead of boring spells, they find Great-uncle Fai’s recipe for Perfectly Boiled Noodles.”

“Right,” said Trixie. “Into the building then?”

“I think so. Remember, we’re on their turf. Be prepared for surprises.”

“Let me go in first,” said Thunderpetal. “If they attack, I can keep them from hurting you.”

“Oo! Am I the hacker on this gig?” Trixie’s eyes looked large, blue and sad. “Now if only I had some fury talents.”

“Trixie…” Griggin’s voice sounded tired.

They clambered up onto a fallen piece of masonry and made their way into the building, into a large room. A stairway led up, but there were voices coming from behind a door. Thunderpetal listened at the door, then raised a finger and pointed. He took a few steps back, and waved Griggin and Trixie to the side. Thunderpetal closed his eyes, breathed in, smiled, breathed out. From an inside pocket, he took a small bottle, from which he drank only a few small sips.

With surprising speed, Thunderpetal bent down his large head, and rolled forward. The door shattered off its hinges and Thunderpetal rolled further into the room, and twisted as he jumped to his feet, with his back to the wall. With one hand he raised his staff, and with the other, he swung the brew keg round on its string. Brew splashed all over the occupants of the room. Dazed and confused Humans staggered to their feet, slowly drawing weapons. Thunderpetal blew, struck a few sparks with a ring on his finger and fire spouted from his mouth, setting the brew aflame that stuck to the Humans. With rapid strokes of his staff, he knocked down three Humans before they could even roll to put out the flames on their clothes. Trixie jumped in and swept the legs from under a fourth one. The last Human was the blonde woman who had been the bait to lure unsuspecting heroes to, if not their death, then their lasting embarrassment. She sprinted out of the door, her clothes still smoking, and disappeared upstairs.

“Holy crap,” said Nix, appearing from the shadows with his daggers almost forgotten in his hands. “That’s what they call taking the door into the house!”

Thunderpetal turned over one of the Humans, but could not get any useful response out of him. “These Chiu-man cannot talk now. I over-estimated them. Teacher Cloudsinger is not pleased with me.”

“Well, there’s still Little Miss Bait upstairs,” said Nix. “But she’s either long gone, or has told all her friends about us.”

Griggin gave the little grunt that told those who knew him he was not happy with himself.

“Well, since it will take these Humans a little time to recover, we must find some more.”

“I’ll scout,” said Nix, and vanished.

“Catch something this time,” said Trixie.

“Well,” said Nix, “There’s about a dozen of them upstairs, and if we can believe that floozie then there’s a whole horde of wild animals downstairs, eating their way through their friends.”

“I do not eat Chiu-man,” said Thunderpetal, affronted. “I do not bring the right spices, and there is no oven. Do they think I am a savage?”

Griggin sighed. Except in his basement, with proper containment facilities, he did not like to summon Daemons into Stormwind. It tended to upset people. They had easily defeated four of the Humans, but surprise had been on their side. Not anymore.

“I suppose this is as good an opportunity as any to see if Shiriah will obey my commands.”

“Shiriah? Who’s she?” said Trixie. “Your girl from below was called Darva, wasn’t she? You used her when we…”

It,” interrupted Griggin, not wishing to remind Nix of that particular adventure. “Darva, and indeed Shiriah, are not women, they just look that way.”

“If it looks like a duck,” said Nix, “Wiggles its hips like a duck, has a cleavage like a duck…”

“Then that is exactly what it is,” said Griggin. “Something that looks like a duck. People have come to grief with these… ducks.” He turned to Thunderpetal. “Please do not be alarmed, Mr. Thunderpetal. I am going to summon us some help. I assure you, it is on our side.”

Griggin closed his eyes, and started a chant. Lights rose from his upturned palms, and a few moments later, the blue not-a-woman called Shiriah showed itself.

“Who dares summon me,” it hissed.

“I do,” said Griggin. “You are still bound to my will. I have summoned you to aid us.”

“Whoa,” said Nix. “Six arms? One of her ancestors get it on with a spider?”

“It’s a Shivarra,” said Griggin, “From the Hellfire Peninsula.”

Thunderpetal looked at the Daemon. Then, as this was supposedly an ally, he bowed to it.

“Welcome to our group. I thank you for helping us.”

The Daemon bared its fangs and explained without a word what it thought of the arrangement.

Griggin waved a hand, and at once Shiriah turned its head towards him. “Shiriah, We have fourteen…” Griggin considered. “Twelve… you have three pairs of five-fingered hands. What base do you use? Never mind. More than twice our numbers. Please prepare to fight.”

Shiriah gave a hiss, and raised four hands. Swords appeared in them. It looked back at Griggin with eyes filled with hatred.

“She’s not as nice as Darva,” said Nix.

“I saw Darva remove a man’s liver with its thumbnail once,” said Griggin. “And eat it as he watched. I used to quite like liver. Please take us upstairs, Nix.”

Led by Nix, they quietly walked up the stairs, to where they could hear voices. Two guards stood by one of the broken rooms, but they were listening to the conversation inside, and not looking outside. Thunderpetal put a hand on Griggin’s arm.

“Guli-jin, we cannot fight a dozen Chiu-man at once, not even with the she-devil here. General Sun-Tzu says we must seek to divide them, that we may deal with them piece by piece.”

“I agree,” said Griggin. “Nix? What is the situation there?”

“One bandit leader, big strong sucker. One lieutenant. Four big thugs with clubs, six little sneak-thieves, including the bait.”

“Hmm…” Griggin stroked his chin. “I think if those guards were to disappear, he’d send out his second-in-command with some muscle. We could take those, and then deal with the rest inside.”

“Dad, we could also go home, and Fuzzball could cook out of his head. He’s good enough. The book is just a feather to make him believe he can fly.”

Griggin laughed quietly. “I think a little more is at stake here. I think the Panda-ren are eager to show they can be of service to the Alliance.”

“And we’re just the Gnomes to tell King Grumpy how good they are?”

Thunderpetal smiled at Nix. “I show him my Tiger Palm when I visit him. I regret that he falls on his bottom.”

Trixie’s mouth fell open. “You knocked King Grumpy on his arse? Oh pull the other one!”

“My children,” said Griggin, “We have thugs to knock over. Nix? Can you lure the guards here?”

“Sure Dad,” said Nix, and disappeared.

Trixie drew her swords and tapped Thunderpetal’s thigh. He looked round at her.

“I’m going to find out if it’s really true about you and Varian, and if it is, I’m dropping Richard and you can be my boyfriend.”

Thunderpetal looked into Trixie’s eyes, mildly worried, then saw the gleam in them. Nobody can belly-laugh like a Pandaren.

“Here they come,” said Griggin.

The two guards came walking down to them, carefully. One fell to Nix’ sock weighted with lead pellets. The other ran into Thunderpetal. He knocked the Human back with a roudhouse kick, then cut his cry short by knocking him out with his staff. They tied the men up, then dragged them to a quiet place. The disappearance of the guards had not been missed inside, and sure enough, a few moments later six of the Humans came out, weapons out, looking in all directions at once.

“That’s the Boss’ mate,” said Nix. “With two of the heavies and a few expendables.”

“A nice even split,” said Griggin, satisfied. “I suggest that if we hit the group inside first, then make our escape, we may not have to deal with the second group.”

Nix looked at the advancing thugs. “Want me to draw them off?”

“If you would. Will you be alright? We’ll need about half an hour, I think.”

“Like a kite on a string,” said Nix, checking his smoke bombs. He grinned to himself. “If only Interalia was here. She’d love this.”

Nix disappeared into the gloom. A little later, they heard a small explosion and smoke billowed out. The lieutenant waved his hand and several of his minions stalked towards the smoke. There was a loud snap, and one of the thugs next to the lieutenant fell to the ground. Griggin smiled to himself. Nix was enjoying this.

“Well, friends,” said Griggin. “Let’s see who we can find inside.”

Thunderpetal hefted his battle keg on his back, and felt in his bag for his fire-brew. With Griggin, Trixie and their demonic minion in tow, he ran at a trot up the stairs. The people inside would have a lookout. No sense in trying to sneak up. As he approached, he crossed his arms in front of him. A big Human appeared in the doorway and took a swing at Thunderpetal with a club. Thunderpetal, with surprising agility, ducked under the blow and rolled into the room. Trixie followed him inside, swords out, with a wild look in her eyes. Looking round, she picked her opponent, a big Human man wearing leather armour and fighting with a dagger. Trixie leapt up high and slashed her swords at his chest. Before the man could strike back, she had run out of reach of his weapons.

At the other end of the room stood a big, burly man wearing blackened chainmail. He watched Thunderpetal and Trixie fighting for a moment, then turned to the woman next to him.

“A little Gnome girl with a bear pet? That is who attacked you? You stupid wench, why do you bother me with that?”

“It breathes fire,” shouted the woman. “It kicked all of our butts without even breathing hard!”

“Bear for breakfast,” said the leader. “You idiots take the Gnome girl if you can manage it.”

He pulled out a mace and rushed out to Thunderpetal. Then for all his blood-thirst, he could not help standing still and looking at Thunderpetal. Thunderpetal reached into his bag, took out a bottle and drank. He belched, said something that sounded like ‘Pardon me’, then simply stood there swaying from side to side with a big grin on his face. The leader swung his mace but Thunderpetal moved out of the way, and counter-attacked with an open palm to the chest. The leader staggered back, steadied himself, then attacked again. This time, he scored a glancing blow to Thunderpetal’s shoulder. Thunderpetal grunted, then spun round on one foot and kicked the leader in the side. The leader fell down to one knee, and shouted.

“Did I say ‘This One Is Mine’ or something? Get him!”

All the thugs, except for the one still locked in a fight with Trixie, now gathered round Thunderpetal. Thunderpetal spun on one foot, and kept spinning, twisting, turning as he kicked anything with the bad sense to come within claw’s reach. Usually, the phrase “fur flying everywhere” is bad news for the wearer of the fur. Not so now. Thunderpetal seemed almost to dance round his opponents, moving like a drunken ox among them. All round him, Humans fell over, struck by accturate blows of hands, feet or staff.

Trixie’s enemy made the mistake of turning round and looking at the whirlwind of black and white that was Thunderpetal. Trixie saw her chance. With one sword, she swept his legs from under him. The other sword landed on his helm. He fell to the ground, arms slowly moving, trying to get up. Trixie turned round to see if anyone else needed hitting, then there was a shout from outside. Silhouetted in the lower half of the doorway was Griggin, cloaked, hooded, staff in his hand.

“Shiriah! Attack the leader.”

The blue Daemon Shiriah jumped straight over Griggin’s head, four swords pointing at the leader. Griggin ran into the middle of the room, cried out words of destruction and the floor round him seemed to bloom up in a hellish glow. All the Humans turned to flame, and screamed.

The leader of the bandits shrunk back. “Warlocks! Daemons! Devilry! Retreat! Every man for himself!”

Every Human who still could, ran for the exit. Last to leave was the woman called Live Bait. When the fight started, she had jumped up on what remained of the floor above, and she was unhurt. Thunderpetal took a running jump, rolled over and tackled her just before she could reach the door. She leapt to her feet and slashed out with a vicious looking knife.

“Out of my way,” she shouted, and stabbed at Thunderpetal.

Thunderpetal stepped aside, grabbed her wrist, then kicked her legs out from under her. The knife clattered to the floor and the woman landed on her stomach with Thunderpetal sitting on her, with a wrist lock on her arm.

“Slow down,” said Thunderpetal. “Life is to be savoured.”

“Let me go!”

Thunderpetal applied a little more pressure to the woman’s wrist, making her gasp.

“You are the one who makes me come down here, for your friends to attack me, like Hozen from the trees. Luckily, my head is hard.”

The woman looked up. “Nothing personal.”

“You give me the wisdom not to go to this place unprepared. I give you and your friends the wisdom not to attack Panda-ren. It is my hope that when broken bones and burns heal, wisdom remains. That is why you are all still breathing.”

Trixie turned over the Human she had fought.

“This one’s had it,” she said. She looked up at Griggin. “I think his helm wasn’t as good as I thought it was, and your fireworks finished him off.”

Nix came walking calmly in, just in time to hear that. “Occupational hazard if you’re a thief and a robber. Dad, I left our friends in the bay fighting off a bunch of sharks. Don’t think they’ll be back for another half-hour or so, but when they are, they’ll be pissed off.”

Thunderpetal moved his head a bit closer to the woman’s face. “Your friends take something from me when they attack me. A book, of recipes. You will tell me where it is.”

“What book?”

“Do you need more wisdom to tell me?”

No! We didn’t get any book off you. What do you mean?”

“It is a roll of very thin paper, in a holder of bambu almost as thick as your wrist.”

“It’s in the for sale pile. Couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”

Nix walked up to Thunderpetal, and looked at the woman’s face. She was breathing quickly, and her eyes were shut tight. Nix looked better. No. It couldn’t be. The hair was now blonde, and there were a few lines on her face that hadn’t been there before. Still.

Raven? What by the Titans are you doing here?”

Despite the pain in her wrist, the woman’s eyes opened, and she turned her head round so she could see Nix.

“Nix?”

Griggin had just dismissed Shiriah, and now came walking up. “Oh hello Miss Raven. How nice to see you. Why is it that whenever we meet, you are restrained in one way or another?”

Raven glared at Griggin, teeth showing. “Tell this mutt to let go of me!”

Griggin gave a little laugh. “Mr. Thunderpetal? We know this young lady. Please let go of her. Miss Raven, please do not try to run away.”

“Oh, would I?”

Raven got to her feet and shot Thunderpetal a filthy look, rubbing the life back into her wrist.

“If I give you the sodding bit of paper, will you leave me in peace?”

“I will be most grateful,” said Thunderpetal.

They kept Raven between them as they walked up to the robbers’ stash, a pile of those things that you got off your victims that might be worth something, but only if you could find a buyer. All the nice weapons, jewellery, and money of course, were long gone. Raven dug through the pile of junk, then pulled out a bambu tube with a red tassel attached to it. She handed it to Thunderpetal.

“That it?”

With trembling fingers, Thunderpetal opened the tube, and pulled out the roll of rice paper. Father’s recipe for haddock boiled in yak milk. Uncle Fai’s Tranquility Brew. His own recipe for chicken stir-fried in honey. They were all there. The collected knowledge of his family was once more in his hands. He put the paper back in the tube, put the stopper back on, touched it to his forehead, then put it in his bag.

“Miss Lei-huen, I thank you for returning this to me.”

“The others wanted to chuck it in the fire,” said Raven. “But I told them not to. It could be that they were magic enchantments, and you don’t want those to go off all at the same time. So if it wasn’t for me, you’d never have seen that again.”

“You are a lady of great wisdom,” said Thunderpetal. “I am blessed that you are there when Fate decides I should be robbed.”

“Yeah,” said Nix. “When you’re cornered, lie your butt off. That’s wisdom, that is.”

“Excellent,” said Griggin. “Now then, I think we have all that we came for, so we’ll bid you farewell, Miss Raven. I hope that our next meeting will be under more pleasant circumstances.”

“Like hell you will,” said Raven. “I’m coming with you.”

“Huh?” Trixie gave Raven a strange look. “Why’d you want to leave your friends here?”

“Well, they’ve probably seen me coming along with you. They’re going to think I betrayed them, because, not to put too fine a point to it, I did. And then, they’ll find out I know you. So I’m sure that if I explain all of that calmly and clearly, they’ll…” Raven bent down to Trixie. “Strap me to a bloody tree feet up and cut bits off me and make me eat them! I’m getting out of here. You are getting out of here. So let’s get going.”

They started back towards the road, Trixie first, then Thunderpetal and Griggin. Nix and Raven took up the rear.

“Dammit,” said Raven. “I had a sweet gig going here. Lie down in the nice warm grass, moan piteously at the passers-by, then wait till the noise stops and collect my share. And you bloody shrimps come and spoil it for me by…”

“Winning?” said Nix.

“Oh shut up,” said Raven.


Thunderpetal was sitting on a rice mat by the fire, with a nice hot cup of green tea in his hands.

“Today, I have taught the Chiu-man of the Old Castle to the West that attacking the Panda-ren has its disadvantages.”

“All by yourself? said Aysa Cloudsinger.

“By no means,” said Thunderpetal. “The No-mu named Steambender helped me, and I am very grateful to them.”

“That is very kind of them,” said Aysa. “The No-mu are a generous people.”

“It turned out they know the woman who lures me into the trap. She is called Lei-huen, after a carrion bird that lives in Elwynn Forest.”

“I know of these birds. They take shining objects and hide them in their nests.” Aysa sipped her tea. “It is an apt name.”

“I believe it refers to the colour of her hair, which was black when they knew her. She returned my ancestors’ recipes to me.”

“Of her own free will?”

“Not entirely,” said Thunderpetal. “Still, my gut tells me that her heart is not evil.”

“There are Hozen who study in the Chun Tian Monastery,” said Aysa Cloudsinger. “People are like a glass filled with a mixture of clear and troubled water.”

Thunderpetal nodded quietly. Aysa Cloudsinger refilled her tea cup from the large teapot by the fire and tasted, noticing how the tea had grown stronger than her last cup.

“On the whole, the Chiu-man, Dor-fu and No-mu are kind to us. The Kel-do-lei keep to themselves. The D’len-ai think we are funny and interesting. I think we should give back something to all the people who have welcomed us.”

Huang looked up at Aysa. “We have no riches to speak of, Teacher. What can we give to these people?”

Aysa swirled the tea in her teacup, looking down into it.

“Those of you who have befriended hunters, ask them where you can gather meat. The farms to the East can provide us with vegetables at a reasonable price. Perhaps some of us can help them tilling the soil as a sign of good will. The Alchemists can provide us with the materials for fireworks.” Aysa grinned. “Let us show the Alliance how to enjoy life!”

Part 5: Promenade III

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