Part 8: Promenade IV

“Look, the place has a bit of a name, that’s all I’m saying.”


“Draenei women dancing on top of the post boxes in their underwear, sort of thing. They’re having to draw up schedules for barfights.”

“Draenei chicks can’t hold their liquor. Someone ought to protect them from themselves.”

“I know only one Draenei chick, and let me tell you, you don’t want to get into a drinking contest with her. She can drink a Dwarf under the table.”

“Well, at least let’s stop there long enough to check my mail. I want to know if there’s any news from Shaw.”

“Shaw? Mathias Shaw? SI:7 Mathias Shaw?”

“Yeah. He said he’d send word when they caught Baltar.”

“They use the mail? I’d think a note saying ‘The Coast Is Clear’ pinned to your chest with a dagger would be more their style.”

“Only for the undead ones. Now stop whingeing about the place and let me get my mail.”

Raven rode up to the Lion’s Pride Inn. At this very moment, it was not living up to its name as a place of sin and debauchery, and Raven could just walk to the mailbox without being propositioned, assaulted, challenged to duels, or offered non-recommended substances. Fancy that. She touched her hearthstone to the mailbox, and her face fell.

“Nothing?” asked Nix.

Raven shook her head. “Means he’s still out there somewhere.”

Trixie stepped up. “Hole up at Steambender Manor if you want. I’m sure Mum won’t mind.”

“Our tents are not very protective,” said Thunderpetal. “And many people come and go. If people look for you, you are not safe.”

“Also, don’t knock our home,” said Nix. “We kept out the zombies during the plague, using only the house defences.”

Raven got back on her ram, and pulled her hood over her face.

“Don’t fancy heading out again. Are you sure Lenna won’t mind?”

“Not a problem,” said Trixie.

Raven had to go down on her hands and knees to enter, but inside, she could move about in a sort of crouch, as Steambender Manor was once used by Dwarves of Ironforge as a shipwright’s office. Interalia was in the living room, setting the table. Seeing Raven, she made her way to the cupboard and put out another plate.

“Hi Raven. Hi guys. It’s just us four tonight. Boilerman and Lenna are taking the little one to the mage trainers. Fuzzball not coming?”

Nix dropped the bag of engine parts on the floor in the hallway and walked up to Interalia. “Said he had to go and report to his Teacher.” He put his arms round Interalia and kissed her. “How’s Spud?”

“Alive and kicking,” said Interalia. “Gonna get a slap in the butt when he comes out.”

Raven looked round the room and pointed. “You still have that table? I remember that from Ironforge.”

“Built to last,” said Trixie. “What’s for dinner?”

“Go peel spuds,” said Interalia. “Making a stew. Nix, go get some pork out of the freezer. Raven? Carrots. Washed and sliced.”

Trixie grinned. “Training the Mummy Voice?”

“And I’ll have none of that, young lady,” said Interalia. “Hop to it.”

“Yes, O Great One.”

“Was that a fat joke?”

The stew was a mere memory. They were sitting round the table with cups of coffee from the highly advanced coffee machine that had nearly cost Griggin his marriage when he bought it. Raven looked round. She’d only once been in Steambender Manor 2.0, back in Ironforge. She recognised a few pieces of furniture, like this table and the wall cupboard that young Bieslook had broken into so she could feed her biscuits.

“Do you still play that weird game?”

“Sure,” said Interalia. “Bieslook is getting good at it.”

“And I didn’t even have to say which weird game.”

“It’s not exactly weird,” said Nix. “It’s a metaphor on life.”

“What? Riding from one place to the other on little carts, and getting up each other’s noses?”

Trixie raised her arms and looked up at the ceiling. “Are we all not, in some way, looking for the solace of Mornington Crescent?”

“No,” said Raven. “Just a safe place to stay for a while.”

Trixie got up. “Let’s find you a place to sleep.”

Steambender Manor 3.0 overlooked Stormwind Harbour, a relatively new part of the city. Gnomes were lucky in that they didn’t need much space, and could fit into small places. A normal-size office, with a few extra partition walls, could be a spacious house. Which was all good and well, but an industrious Gnome needs a workshop to build his water pumps and heaters. Griggin had tried to rent a workshop, but the prices in Stormwind were simply insulting. Extending the house was quite impossible, because of adjoining buildings. So the only way to go was down. So far, there were two levels of basement. The first one was a workshop and a small storeroom. This was the current birthplace of the Optimal Prime range of water heaters that were Griggin Steambender’s main source of income. Powered by Un’goro crystals, they provided a near-inexhaustible source of steam or hot water. A rather ridiculously over-powered one was powering the heating, hydraulics and, most importantly, the coffee machine.

The lower basement could only be reached through a pipe with steps. It was dedicated to Griggin’s other job, and contained the library of his writings and his summoning circle. To prevent, or at least delay, Daemons breaking out into the light of day, it had sturdy hatches that could be fastened and locked air-tight.

“Want safe?” said Trixie, “That’s safe. Nobody and nothing gets in or out.”

Raven stared down into the dark hole.

“I’m not sleeping in a cellar. I’m just…” she looked at Trixie. A chill ran up her spine. “Not.”

“It’s the only part of the house you can stand up in. And it’s well lit and ventilated. Go on. Try it.”

“I don’t like being underground,” said Raven. “It reminds me of death.”

Interalia put a hand on Raven’s leg. “Bunk up with me instead. Nix can get a mattress in for you and we can gossip about him. Did you know him in Ironforge?”

Raven sighed, and a weight seemed to drop off her shoulders. She’d think on how stupid that was later. For now, she just felt relief.

“Oh my, did I? We were in the same class with Trainer Fenthwick. We were pretty close. I can still feel the bruises.”

They walked back into the living room.

“Hmm. Like a bit of rough and tumble, do you?”

“What fun is it otherwise?” said Raven, with a grin. “He handcuffed me to the heater once.”

“Really? He handcuffed me to a cart.” Interalia looked round. “Nix? What is it with you and handcuffing girls to things?”

“Well, if I hadn’t, you’d have run away,” said Nix, reasonably.

“Sounds like a perfectly good reason to me,” said Trixie.

“Tell you what I’ll do,” said Nix. “Tomorrow, I’ll let Shaw know where you are and where to send news. Until they get the bastard, you can stay here and look after my poor pregnant wife.”

“What, me? A nursemaid? I’m a highly talented operative. That’s demeaning!”

“More demeaning than lying on your back moaning with half your clothes off?”

“You make that sound so much more sleazy than it really is,” said Raven.

Nix shrugged. “Prostitutes do an honest job. You pay your money, they make you happy.”

Raven looked at Nix. What she really wanted to say was that was a bit rich coming from a rogue. But apart from picking his friends’ pockets for fun, she hadn’t known him actually to steal anything. Nix was probably one of the most decent people she’d ever met. She looked at her feet. Compared to who, exactly?

“When this is over, I’ll sell spices for a bit, I think.”

Griggin poked his head into the door of the living room, where Interalia was instructing Raven on the way to have the coffee machine produce boiling water for tea, without laying waste to Stormwind Harbour.

“Ladies? I’m heading below. While the red light is on, please do not open the hatch.”

“Right-o, Boilerman,” said Interalia. “Going to be long?”

“Most probably the rest of the day. Powerful creatures from beyond the Void are still refusing to obey my every command.”

“Perhaps you could get in a huge magnifying glass,” said Raven. “And stand behind it. Make yourself look bigger.”

Griggin laughed. “Strangely, you’re not that far off from what I really do. Anyway, enjoy your sunshine.”

Griggin went below. Raven dropped tea-bags in the pot and lit a tea-light. She asked Interalia where the mugs were, and added them to the tray. She got some milk from the cool-box, added the sugar pot.

“Fancy a cuppa, Interalia?”

Without waiting for an answer, Raven picked up the tray and turned round. She threw the tea tray on the floor and went for her daggers.

Two big men had entered. In the blink of an eye, Raven saw, calculated, judged. Chainmail. Swords. Not scared of her. Noises in the hallway, probably more. Only exits leading into bedrooms. Outside windows not opening.

Interalia stood next to her. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.” She was shaking in her fluffy slippers. “Miss Raven? What are they going to do to us?”

Raven looked down into Interalia’s face, and almost missed it. For a splintered moment, Interalia stopped looking scared. Then, she moved to her chair as quickly as she could, and hid behind it.

“It’s her you want! Leave me alone!”

“Gee thanks, short stuff.” Raven’s eyes narrowed, and she moved sideways, lining up the sword fighters one behind the other. One of them came towards Raven.

“You’re gonna die, you little whore.”

“Hey shitheads!”

Both sword fighters looked round to where Interalia stood, weight balanced between her legs. Her hand shot forward, and one of the men had a knife in his throat. He made a faint movement to grab the handle, then fell to the floor. The other man raised his sword.

“You’re going to know if it’s a boy or a girl, you little runt.”

Raven leapt forward, and stuck one dagger under the man’s chin, the other in the gap between chainmail and belt. He crumpled up and Raven jerked her daggers free.

“And you won’t,” she snarled. She ran to the door, grabbing a chair as she went. She could see people moving outside, but since two of their friends had just died, they were a bit hesitant to come in. Raven slammed the door shut and wedged the chair under it. She looked round at Interalia as people outside started to bang on the door.

“You alright?”

“Fine,” said Interalia, with a grim face. She walked over to the dead sword fighter and pulled out her throwing knife. “Can’t run, can’t fight, can’t stealth, but there’s nothing wrong with my aim.”

Raven gave a little nod. “How solid are those bedroom doors?”

“Very.” Interalia grinned. “Mostly sound proof too.”

“Great. Get in there, and I’ll see if I can sneak out of here and warn Griggin.”

“Good luck,” said Interalia, and ducked into her bedroom. A moment later, the lock clicked.

Raven looked round. Back at the door, the chair was slowly moving backwards. No time to try a window. She ran to the kitchen, and homed in on the Doomsday Device that was the coffee maker. One of the things that Interalia had warned her about was never to open the steam valve without selecting coffee strength, because with the power of Griggin’s heat pump behind it, it would steam up the whole place in seconds. Perfect. She turned the valve. Large clouds of super-heated steam billowed out of the machine, scalding Raven’s hand. Swearing onder her breath, she retreated to the other end of the room and waited for the steam to fill the place up. At the door, the chair clattered to the floor. Several people came in, and instinctively drew to the place where the steam was thickest. Raven crept round to the door and disappeared into the hallway. By the door was the little shit who’d been there when Baltar had tortured her. He spotted Raven and yelled his little head off. No time to stab him. Raven sprinted into the hallway. The red light was still on above the hatch. Raven twisted the wheel on top of the hatch, pulled it open and dropped herself in. She climbed down the steps set in the side of the pipe as fast as she could, and dropped to the floor. She stopped, and despite the situation, she stood stock still.

This was a large room. On the high ceiling were bright lights, shining down on a scene out of a bad dream. At the other end of the room stood a monstrous figure, purple, winged. The purple creature was talking to a black winged demon, the colour of molten metal, surrounded by an eerie green circle in which strange runes revolved slowly. They were using a language that sounded like every syllable dripped with pure evil. Raven pressed herself into the wall, wide-eyed. The purple creature saw her. A cloud of smoke revolved round it, and it re-formed in the form of Griggin Steambender, who did not look pleased. Not pleased at all. He raised a hand and called out a single word. The orange Daemon disappeared. So did the green runes. The place looked like a normal cellar again.

“Miss Raven. I may not have made myself quite clear. I am doing very difficult experiments, with forces that, if left unchecked, could put the whole of Azeroth in danger. I need to concentrate, hence the red light. I do not require tea.”

“We’re under attack,” said Raven. “My old gang. They’re after me. Interalia’s locked in the bedroom. One of them saw me go down the ladder.”

At that moment, someone came down. It was one of the lesser thugs, and he was followed by a larger man. They looked, and saw a little Gnome and the girl they were after.

“Gotcha,” said the big man, stepping forward.

“And a little Gnome too,” said the little one, following.

“They give a funny little squeak when you kill them,” said the big one.

The men stepped forward, into Griggin’s summoning circle. Griggin raised a hand, and the green barrier sprang into existence with a crackling sound. The men tried running into it, but soon stopped. Griggin stepped up to the barrier.

“You come into my house. You offer violence to my guest and my family. You walk into a Warlock’s den. You are too stupid to live.”

Griggin closed his eyes, and spoke a few words of power. With a growl, the orange Daemon re-appeared. It turned to its terrified Human cell-mates, then looked at Griggin.

“Kill,” said Griggin. “Miss Raven, you may want to look away.”

Raven, of course, didn’t, and then wished she had. She had to fight to keep her dinner inside. She looked at Griggin, whose face betrayed no emotion at all. He looked back at her.

“I am sorry, Miss Raven. But I cannot have the violent walk into my house and live to tell the tale. I cannot risk word of my activities to get out. Daemonologists are not popular among the general populace of Stormwind.”

“Um,” said Raven.

Griggin’s eyes wrinkled. “You are a friend, Miss Raven. I trust your discretion. Anyway…” Griggin looked at the orange Daemon. “This is the first time I managed to get a Terrorguard to do what I wanted. We may never gain full control, but still, they may have their uses.”

Raven coughed a few times to get her voice back. “I think it already wanted to do… that.”

“Indeed,” said Griggin. “Making sure that its desires and mine are in alignment, is one of the most powerful methods of binding. But anyway. Let us clear Steambender Manor of evildoers, and regroup.”

Griggin stepped up to the coffee machine and with a resolute gesture pulled the hose out of the steam connection. It would take a little time for the machine to cool down and make coffee. Griggin wanted coffee. There was nobody left in Steambender Manor except the people who lived there. Raven banged on the door to Interalia’s bedroom.

“Interalia? It’s us, you can come out.”

There was no answer from within. Griggin and Raven looked at each other.


Griggin made a noise, reached in his pocket, and pulled out a key. He opened the door. As soon as he opened it, a throwing knife sailed over Griggin’s head. It stuck in the wall on the other side of the living room.

“Ah, Interalia,” said Griggin. “Good to see you’re alive. Why the throwing knife?”

Interalia came out of the shadows, grinning. “You’ve got to be at most this tall to live,” she said. “All but Gnomes is scum.”

“Hey!” said Raven.

“No worries,” said Interalia. “You’re so skinny, I’d have missed you.”

Griggin looked round his living room. Everything was soggy from the steam. Humans had bled all over the carpet, and left their messy corpses just lying around.

“Lenna will not be happy,” said Griggin. “Nor, for that matter, will I. Miss Raven, did you say Mr. Mathias Shaw was looking for these people?”

“He is,” said Raven.

“Good. Nix can inform him that we have some silent witnesses for his attention.” Griggin made a small tour of the room, opening windows and doors to get the place to dry a little. Then, he walked back into the kitchen, licked his finger and touched the coffee maker. Ah. He closed the valve, selected Engineer Strength coffee, plugged the steam hose back in, and set the machine in motion. Precisely one minute, thirty seconds later, a very small cup of pure rocket fuel was in his hand.

“Would anyone else like some? Pressure’s up.”

“No thanks,” said Raven.

“Uh-oh,” said Interalia.

“What’s up?” Raven looked round, hands on her daggers.

“It’s time,” said Interalia.

Raven sneered at Interalia, who just stood there with a blank expression on her face. “Time for what?”

Interalia simply looked at her, and said nothing.

“Uh-oh,” said Raven.

“Oh dear,” said Griggin.

Part 9: Ballet of the unhatched chicks


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