Part 6: Disputes of children at play

Raven woke up with a start, sweat pouring off her. She was in a tent, its roof gently flapping in the breeze. There was daylight. It wasn’t dark. She was not back in the cellar. Her skin felt strangely tight, but she wasn’t in any pain. She looked down. Someone had put a long shirt on her. She wasn’t wearing anything else except her underwear. With her eyes closed, she pulled up the shirt, baring her stomach, her breasts. Then, she took three deep breaths and opened her eyes. Half a dozen pale white lines ran from her breasts to where her belt had been. Oh gods. Her face. Would it look as bad as this? She wasn’t particularly pretty, and she wasn’t particularly vain, but there were roles you couldn’t play with a big scar on your face.

Someone rustled at the tent flap, and Raven quickly pulled her shirt down again. The tent door opened and one of the Pandaren came in carrying two mugs of tea. One of them, he pushed into Raven’s hands.

“It is a good morning,” said the Pandaren. “My name is Huang. I heal you last night. Does any discomfort remain?”

Raven couldn’t find her voice. The Pandaren sat down next to her camp bed.

“Drink your tea. It is…” Huang searched his newly implanted memories. “I do not know the Common word. Good for healing, restoration. Good for heart.”

Raven bent over her cup, but she could not make out her reflection in the surface. She could remember perfectly where the knife had cut through her cheek, the metal point touching her teeth. She raised her finger to her mouth, and tried to feel.

“Please do not touch it,” said Huang. “It is still a bit fragile, though I am very pleased.”

“Does…” Raven coughed. “How does it look?”

“It looks very good. It is healing very well. I leave it to heal by itself for a while to help with scarring. This afternoon, I cast another healing spell. Then it is done.”


“Yes. It looks very good. The Chiu-man have no fur to hide the scars, so I pay special attention to your face.”

The tent flap moved again, and a Pandaren woman walked in. Raven recognised her as Aysa Cloudsinger.

“Please forgive Huang his bedside manner,” said Aysa. “It is the first time he heals one of the Chiu-man. He considers it an honour and a challenge.”

“Please, Miss,” said Raven. “Could you tell me how it looks? I mean…” She raised her shirt. “Like this?”

Aysa raised her eyebrows. “Did Huang not show you?”

She left briefly, to come back a few moments later with a mirror, which she handed to Raven. Raven steeled herself and looked. Her breath slowly escaped her lips. All that she could see was a thin line running from her ear to the corner of her mouth. It was not invisible, but it could have been so much worse.

“I cast another healing spell this afternoon,” said Huang. “I hope it is sufficient.”

“Thank you,” said Raven.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but when she woke up, a man was sitting next to her on a chair, looking at her. He had short reddish blonde hair, and a small goatee. He was wearing very expensive leather armour, and a sword was at his side. A notepad was on his knee, and a pencil was in his hand.

“Miss Aubrey?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Congratulations on your speedy recovery. The Pandaren healers have really outdone themselves. Nobody short of a dance partner would notice that your cheek had been cut open completely. If they intended to impress us, then they have succeeded.”

Raven said nothing.

“Do you happen to know who I am?”

Raven looked into the man’s eyes.

“Shaw,” she said. “Mathias Shaw.” Shaw was the leader of SI:7, formerly known as the Stormwind Assassins. Stormwind’s secret police.

Shaw nodded, with an amused look in his eyes. “Correct. I am a contradiction in terms, a famous secret agent. I have a few questions for you. For reasons I won’t bother you with, I am taking a special interest in your case.”

“Sir?” Raven looked slightly worried. She hadn’t done anything… very bad… recently… here.

“Don’t worry. I am not after you, but rather after your assailant. I know your name is neither Cordelia nor Aubrey. You trade under the name of Raven, but I suspect your mother did not give you that name. Your hair used to be longer, and blonde. A grave mistake you have wisely corrected. Black suits you much better. You used to run with a highly disreputable gang operating out of the Old Barracks. You have recently said goodbye to them, thereby incurring their ire. They attempted to torture you to death, but luckily for you, one Mrs. Lenna Steambender spotted you, followed you and managed to drag you out of that place. You were found and healed by the latest race to enter the Alliance. If any of these things had not happened, then you would be dead now, and I would not have the opportunity to learn some facts from you that have eluded me up to now.”

Raven opened her mouth, found there wasn’t anything she wanted to say, then closed it again.

“Now I am afraid that I must ask you to cast your mind back to last night. I know this is painful for you, but it is quite important.” Mathias Shaw scribbled on his notepad. “Did you get a proper look at them? Anything you remember at all.”

Raven cleared her throat. “There were six of them. Three of the heavies. One on each of my arms, one on my feet. Leather legs, One green, two dark grey. Chainmail shirts, two with shortswords, one with a club. One woman was at the door as a lookout, she died when Lenna blasted through. One nasty little shit laughing at me, no armour, just rags. Pickpocket. The guy who cut me is called Baltar, the only one wearing full chain, nicked that off someone they jumped before I joined, two big holes in his back from spears… You’re not writing that down.”

Mathias Shaw turned over the notepad. All that was on it were squares, circles, triangles, stick figures. Shaw slowly shook his head, and gave Raven a gentle look.

“Wouldn’t be much use in my job if I had to write down everything. By the Light, woman! You were caught, in a dark room, and they were cutting you to pieces, planning to kill you. You were delirious from blood loss, and still you remember what they were wearing?”

Raven shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Honestly, you were wasted on those people. Anyway, this confirms what I had guessed. It may surprise you, but Mr. Baltar was working for me. Was being the operative word. He has since decided that working for the King is not as glamorous as robbing people we do not want robbed, and keeping the loot. Which I’m afraid is a first order offence. We will have to find Mr. Baltar and mend his evil ways for him. I’m afraid Mrs. Steambender’s fireworks did not finish him off. In the light of this, I fear that if you do not disappear for a while, he may try to attack you again. If you could make yourself scarce for a few days, I suggest that a place like Redridge or Westfall might be good for your health. I can send word to you when we have him.”

“I’ll leave as soon as I can,” said Raven.

“Good. Oh. I believe this is yours.”

Mathias Shaw held out his hand, something hidden in it. Raven took it, looked at it. It was her black knife. When she looked up again, Mathias Shaw was gone.

It was late in the morning at the Gates of Stormwind. Since the coming of Deathwing, the place had lost some of its glamour. Deathwing had toppled over some of the large statues, and one of them had landed in the pond at the foot of the bridge. Deathwing had eventually been defeated in a way so complicated that only a madman could have thought of it, and the place was quiet once more except for the stationary engines of two Gnomish mechanostriders. Next to them stood a large Pandaren riding tortoise. It was the luxury model with the lanterns and the large beer keg tucked away behind the saddle.

“I am like old Dshang Go,” said Thunderpetal, quite pleased with himself. “In Pandaria, we tell of eight immortal monks, and the second is old Dshang Go. He has a white mule that he keeps in his trunk, and can unfold when he needs it. It can travel a thousand miles in a day. With my tortoise, I am lucky if it travels a thousand miles in a thousand years, but it is very trusty.”

“Unlike Humans,” said Trixie. “If she’s not here in five minutes, I’m off.”

“Probably has to steal a horse first,” said Nix. “These things take time.”

“Ni-chi,” said Thunderpetal, “That is not a nice thing to say.”

“She’s not a nice girl,” said Nix.

“I’m here!” Raven came riding up on an honest-to-goodness Dwarven riding ram. These beasts, twice to three times as large as any normal ram, were bred in the cold mountains of Dun Morogh.

Nix pointed. “Did you just knock over a Dwarf?”

Raven smiled charmingly at Nix. “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies. Are we off?”

“Giddy-up,” said Trixie, and kicked her strider into gear.

They rode down the road towards Goldshire, then took a right on the long road to Westfall, a rural province of the kingdom of Stormwind. The Alliance’s main military presence there was the garrison at Sentinel Hill, where Trixie’s boyfriend, Richard Sparkbolt, was stationed. After the Steambenders had left Ironforge, everybody had expected their romance to fizzle out, but so far it hadn’t. They managed to sustain it with fiery letters and the occasional meeting in Elwynn Forest. They had been to the Darkmoon Faire together. Picnics by the side of the river that the Undead of Duskwood were thankfully unwilling to cross.

“Heh! I didn’t tell him I was coming. If we disappear for a bit, don’t come looking. We’ll be just fine.”

Raven laughed. “Gnomish mating habits. One of Natural Science’s great mysteries. These shy and retiring creatures do not breed in captivity, and the only tantalising glimpse we have into this fascinating world is their characteristic mating call of ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!‘ echoing through the valleys, and a mystifying heap of shedded rubber skins.”

“Oh damn,” said Trixie. “Um… Do you think we have time to drop by a shop before we hit Westfall?”

“And that is how Spud came to be,” said Nix.

“Richard wrote that he was going to have a talk with his dad about us,” said Trixie. “Finally.”

“Fat chance,” said Nix.

Trixie glared at Nix. “What do you mean by that?”

“Our Richard is a great natural resource for alternatives to ‘Sorry Trix, I haven’t, the moment just wasn’t right’. How long has he been saying that now?”

“Damn you Nix, this time…”

“This time will be just like the times before. Why should he? He’s getting all that he wants from you.”

“He loves me. I love him. We’ll sort it out.”

Nix scowled. “Far as he’s concerned, it’s already sorted out. Cute girl over in Stormwind, inspiring letters, the occasional…”

“Shut your mouth, Nix Steambender! What’s it to you anyway?”

You shut up,” said Nix. “I don’t like to see any of our family being taken for a ride. It’s bloody embarrassing!”

“Oh right, like you are a shining example. Interalia only married you because she had to. That’s why you get away with calling her fat.”

Nix slowly turned his head to his sister. “Interalia is married to me because when I was going through a really bad patch, she was there with the right mix of sympathy and a good solid kick up the arse. All it would’ve taken her to get rid of me and run off into the blue is one little trip to the Priest. No more Spud, no more Nix. But instead, she took it on the chin, and acted like a responsible adult. Unlike that boyfriend of yours. And I get away with calling her fat, because I will run through fire for her, and she knows it.”

And that was that. They rode on, quietly fuming.

Raven turned to Thunderpetal. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No. I am an only child.”

“Shame,” said Raven. “Look what you’re missing.”

It was late in the evening when they finally crossed the last bridge that was between Elwynn Forest and the grain fields of Westfall. Most of the crops were already in, and the land was barren. It was the season for stocking up, drying fruit, making jam and conserving meat for the coming winter. The land looked empty, remote, turned in on itself, with its yelllowish soil and the occasional building. Trixie rose in her stirrups to look ahead.

“How much further is it?”

“Sentinel hill?” Raven pulled her cloak a bit tighter round her. “About another four hours at this rate.”

“I never realised how far it was,” said Trixie, staring ahead without seeing much. “Must have taken Richard more than half his leave to come visit me.”

Nix glanced sidelong at Trixie, but said nothing. Richard wasn’t the worst bloke Trixie had come home with. There had been Barry, the git. Before that, in Gnomeregan, Trixie had had a friend or two, but none of them really qualified as boyfriends. Nix himself had been the textbook pipehead. It had taken him quite a long time to catch on that some girls wanted to do other things besides play with cogs and springs. He’d ended up with a girl who like him hadn’t caught on quick enough and together, they’d approached the battlefield of love in much the same spirit as they’d approached school projects. She had actually read the instructions on the packet of sonkies to be sure that they were standard issue and no surprises were to be expected. It was a nice memory, and the girl had moved a few months later. The standard three letters had been written and that was it.

“It is dark soon,” said Thunderpetal. “Perhaps it is better to find shelter for the night. I bring dinner.”

“Oo!” Raven’s eyes shone. “Not those veggie spring rolls by any chance? I loved those!”

“I am sorry, no. I can make some if you want, when we get to Sentinel Hill. It is Lei Stormstout’s recipe. I swap it with her for Father’s crayfish soup.”

“Oh Fuzzball, you’re going to make some girl very happy.” Raven pointed. “There’s a shed, or a barn there. Something with a roof on.”

“Great,” said Nix. “Let’s get inside.”

The shed turned out to be open on one end, dry, and sound enough not to collapse on their heads. Nix looked at a rusty metal plow, perhaps wondering from long habit if he’d be able to get it going with a bit of oil. He gave a pull at one of the wheels. Not a chance. The mechanism had devolved into Art. Meanwhile, Thunderpetal had put down a floor of loose bricks, just large enough for a brazier. He struck fire and put on the kettle. From the back of his travelling tortoise, he produced parcels of rice and meat, neatly wrapped in large leaves. They sat down to eat. Thunderpetal looked round at his companions. Nix and Trixie were still not talking to each other. Raven wasn’t talking at all, but simply sat there, staring at the fire. Her hand was underneath her shirt, slowly moving.

“I’m turning in,” said Trixie. “Unless I’m up for first watch?”

Raven raised her hand. “I’ll take first.”

Trixie kicked her clothes off and got into her sleeping bag. “Wake me at midnight,” she said, and turned over.

They all woke up at a loud cry from Raven. She was sitting by the last glowing embers of the fire, shoulders hunched, shivering.

“I’m awake. Just dozed off. I’m sorry.”

Nix put away his daggers, walked over to Raven and put his hand on her shoulder.

“I can take over if you want. You get some sleep.”

“Don’t want to,” said Raven.

Trixie stepped up to Raven, looked into her eyes. “You look like death warmed up. Go on. Get some sleep.”

“I don’t want to,” said Raven, again.

“Why not?”

Raven struggled with herself, almost as if to say something, then simply shook her head. Nix looked at her, gave a little nod.

“I understand.”

“You understand? What do you understand? I don’t want to sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I’m back in that Light-bereft cellar, with… with him, cutting into my skin. Into my face, and that little shithead laughing at me. I… I don’t want…”

Nix closed his eyes a moment, then slowly unbuttoned his shirt.

“What are you doing?”

Nix pulled open his shirt, and held up one of the lamps. Raven stared. Cuts and burns covered Nix’ chest. Nix buttoned up his shirt again.

“I get it, Raven, really I do. It does pass. It takes time, and you never really forget it. But it does pass.”

“Raven.” Trixie put a hand on her arm. “You’re safe with us. Nothing’s going to happen to you. They’ll have to go through me to get at you, I promise.”

Before this week, Raven would have laughed at the idea of a three-foot tall girl protecting her. But she’d seen Trixie fight, and more than that, nobody had ever wanted to protect her. Raven’s eyes misted up, and she cried with quiet sobs.

Nobody moved for a few long moments. Then, Thunderpetal stirred.

“I feel more need for meditation than I do for sleep,” he said. “Come here, Lei-huen. Lie down.”

Raven sniffed, then lay down on the floor with her head in Thunderpetal’s lap. Someone pulled a blanket over her, and Thunderpetal’s large hand gently rested on her shoulder, his large body a comforting presence behind her. Raven closed her eyes.

“You are with friends,” said Thunderpetal. “You are safe. We watch over you.”


The nice Gnomish priestess cast a professional look between Interalia’s legs, put her hands on Interalia’s tummy and squeezed.

“Head’s pointing down. Good. Having backaches?”




“Shortness of breath?”


“Still throwing up?”


“Oh poor dear. Swollen feet or ankles?”



Interalia’s face fell. “No.”


“Look.” Interalia grabbed her breasts and thrust them at the priestess. “They’re huge. That’s got to mean something doesn’t it?”

The priestess laughed. “Oh I bet Daddy likes that!”

“Look, but don’t touch. So. How much longer?”

“Few days to a few weeks,” said the priestess.

“That’s what you said last time!”

“Well, it’s still true. Babies come when they feel like it, dear.”

“Anything I can do to… hurry things along?”

“Hmm. Tried spicy food?”

“Yep. These Pandaren are great.”


“So Nix says. Can’t see what he’s doing down there with Spud in the way.”

“Well keep doing that then. For the love of the Light, don’t go horseriding. Make sure you’ve got a nice comfy chair, and wear shoes with just a bit of heel for posture. And wait. Not long now, honest.”

Bieslook saw Interalia walk out of the door, and trotted up. She cast a critical look at Interalia’s belly.

“Spud is still inside you,” she said, with certainty.

“Oh good,” said Interalia.

Lenna put her arm round Interalia’s shoulders. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

Two mechanostriders, one Dun Morogh ram and a Pandaren riding turtle pulled into the fort at Sentinel Hill. Since the last time they’d been here, the tower and the half finished inn had grown into something you could properly call a town. After the defeat of Vanessa van Cleef, the attacks of the Defias Brotherhood had stopped, and the fires had been put out. Since so many new soldiers had flowed into the place, a few of the trainers had been moved here, including Trixie’s voice coach. She would be taking a few lessons, and then they would all move on to Darkshire, where Nix needed to visit the Gnomish engineers for some parts.

“They finished the inn,” said Raven.

“Yes, and then the Defias came and burnt it down, and they rebuilt it again.” Nix grinned. “Much faster this time. They’ve been practicing.”

As they stood looking round, a group of soldiers came out of the tower, and walked towards the barracks. Without a word, Trixie jumped off her strider, ran towards one of the soldiers and planted her face on his. Nix turned to Raven.

“Wanna guess which one of those soldiers is Richard?”

Raven rubbed her chin. “The Dwarf with the two beards?”


“Hmm… The human next to him?”

“No. One more guess.”

“Well, then it would probably be the Gnome attached to your sister.”

“Got it!”

They stood still for a few moments. Trixie showed no sign of letting go. Several of the other soldiers were cheering them on. Raven turned to Nix.

“Oh, you’ll know this. I read something once where they made a metal globe, hollow, cut in two halves. And then they fit them together and sucked all the air out from between. And then they tried to pull the halves apart, and they couldn’t. Is that really true?”

“Oh yes. The atmosphere is pretty impressive. There’s a column of seven miles of air pressing down on your head, and you’re just standing there.”

“Bit more air on your head then,” said Raven.

“That’s ’cause we gnomes are just that little bit more awesome,” said Nix.

“So did they ever get those half globes apart again?”

“Oh yeah. Took them about sixteen horses and a hundred soldiers.”

Raven looked back at Trixie.

“Did they try a bucket of water?”

All good things must finally end, and just before Raven turned into an old woman, Richard and Trixie came walking up, Richard with his arm round Trixie. He raised his fist at Nix.


Nix knocked his fist into Richard’s. “Richard. How’s things?”

“Good. How’s the XYL?”

“About to burst,” said Nix. “Any day now.”

Raven blinked. “What’s an XYL?”

“Well, YL stands for Young Lady. But I went and married my young lady, so she’s now my Ex Young Lady.”

“These things are far too subtle for you lugs to understand,” said Richard. “Whole worlds of nuance in a few simple letters.”

Raven tilted her head slightly and raised an eyebrow at Richard. “Do you shag a YL, or do you have to be X rated for that?”

“Um… yes you can if you want to,” said Richard. “Given mutual interest.”

“Right. Got it,” said Raven. “Do the Pandaren have XYLs, Thunderpetal?”

Thunderpetal folded his hands on his stomach. “The Panda-ren have transcended the cycle of birth. We are a gift from the Great Jade Serpent to this world. We walk fully formed from the Mountains of Birthing. Which is a great shame, because many Pandaren women make our hearts beat faster and our stomachs forget food.”

“Saves you from girlfriend trouble, though,” said Nix.

My girlfriend is worth all the trouble,” said Richard, turning to Trixie and bumping his head gently into hers.

“Bucket!” said Raven.

Nix just frowned, and said nothing.

They walked into the inn, and got three beds for the night, because Trixie, as a pupil of the Stormwind Military Academy, could sleep in the barracks for free. They had the standard Westfall stew for dinner, which Thunderpetal tasted thoroughly.

“They use too much salt,” he said. “And the chillies drown out the flavour of the boar meat. Much better to use less salt and put in some lemon juice.”

“Hot.” Trixie smacked her lips. “Lots of it. Spicy. Good.”

“Got your taste buds shot off in the war?” said Raven.

“Remember the Mensa Silex in Ironforge?”

“Oh thanks for reminding me.” Raven shuddered.

“The lovely Cheez-with-a-z-because-it-doesn’t-contain-cheese?”

“Didn’t mind the Cheez,” said Raven. “It’s the strips of meat they flung at me, the flesh of I dare not guess what creature.”

“Flunked assassination rogues,” said Nix. “And other rats.”

“And on that happy note,” said Trixie, “I’m off to the barracks. Coming Richard?”

Richard got up quickly, waved, and walked out with Trixie. Nix heaved a deep sigh, and said nothing. Thunderpetal looked at him.

Li-cha does really love T’li-chi. I can tell. They look happy together. There is no worry.”

Nix looked up. “So ‘all the trouble’ does not include telling his father, then? How are they going to get anywhere when Daddy thinks my little sister is a cockroach?”

T’li-chi is a lovely girl. Why would he think that?”

“Our dad is a warlock. You’ve seen the demon, haven’t you? People don’t like warlocks. Can’t deal with demons unless you’re at least a bit grubby.”

Guli-jin is an honourable No-mu! He knows right from wrong better than some people who have never had to choose the path to walk.”

“I know that. Now convince Magis Mustrum Sparkbolt. Honestly, sometimes I think Trix would be better off dropping Richard and finding someone else.”

Raven pushed away her bowl, and lay down on the bed, hands behind her head.

“Nix, if I may give you some advice, coming from a woman…”

“As good a piece as ‘punch her in the face and tell her she’s your bitch now’? That would have worked a treat.”

Raven tilted her head back and laughed, remembering. “Even better than that.” She raised her head, looked seriously at Nix. “Butt out. Let them work it out for themselves. You’re a nice guy, Nix, really you are. But you haven’t a clue about girls.”

Nix opened his mouth, but Raven pointed her finger at him.

“Your XYL is special. One in a million.”

Nix looked back at Raven, with a little smile on his face.

“Yes, she is. Trust me, I know.”

Trixie and Richard had run off in the general direction of the barracks, but somehow, they had completely lost their way, and were now by a little pond. Luckily, Trixie had brought a blanket for them to lie on while they kept each other warm. They were lying close together, a bit sweaty, a bit sticky, and very happy. Trixie sighed as Richard’s hand crept up towards her breast, perhaps as a way of gauging interest in seconds. Maybe. In a bit. Too comfortable now. She gave a little giggle as Richard kissed her behind her ear. Definitely. Soon. She turned round in Richard’s arms to look into his eyes. His hand brushed her cheek.

“Got any sonkies left?”


Not soon. Now.

She pushed Richard’s shoulder, and rolled him onto his back, then sat on top of him. Her hands moved from his chest to his shoulders, back down. His hands copied her movements. Trixie grabbed the box, took out one of the shining packages.

“Did you talk to your dad yet?”

Richard’s expression told Trixie all.

“Why not?”

“He’s out to Ironforge. Meeting with the Mage Circle.”

Trixie breathed in deep, breathed out.

“All the time since last time I asked you?”

“No, but…”

Trixie bent down over Richard. “And the time before that?”

“No. Look Trix, I…”

“In fact, ever since you bloody left Ironforge?”


“Don’t ‘Trix’ me! When are you planning to tell him that I still exist?”

“I… I…”

Trixie got up, anger on her face like the first thunder in a storm. She picked up her underwear, put on her clothes, looked over her shoulder once, and left.

“Let’s go.”

“Do you not say goodbye to Li-cha?” Thunderpetal held out the reins to his riding tortoise, and with a grunt, it appeared out of nowhere. No matter how often he would ride, he was never going to tire of seeing that.

“Already did,” said Trixie.

Nix hit the button that made his mechanostrider unfold itself. Raven was already sitting cross-legged on the back of her ram. She’d had a quiet night’s sleep without dreams.

“Hey short stuff? What’s up with the boyfriend?”

Ex boyfriend,” said Trixie.

“Told you so,” said Nix.

“Shut up,” said Trixie.

“Seconded,” said Raven, with a dark look at Nix.

Thunderpetal looked at Trixie, the pink bunches of hair in front of her face, her hunched shoulders, and said the best thing anyone could have said. Nothing.

Their small caravan set itself in motion, heading for the road to Darkshire.

Part 7: Bydlo


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