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    Tempora heroica official Tempora heroica official Document Transcript

    • Tempora Heroica by John Symons
    • This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. TEMPORA HEROICA Copyright @ 2013 by John Symons All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any electronic or printed form without permission First Edition: June 2013 Printed in the United States of America
    • For everyone who ever agreed to just blame Toshi After all, it is usually his fault
    • Contents 1 A Path Chosen.................................................................1 2 Lost and Found..............................................................11 3 The Fate of a City..........................................................22 4 Light as a Feather..........................................................35 5 The Mastermind............................................................44 6 Gnomes versus Planes..................................................56 7 Living Legend...............................................................68 8 Hidden in Plain View....................................................77 9 Trust is a Funny Thing..................................................88 10 Tempora Heroica..........................................................96 11 Departures...................................................................107 12 A Rarely Traveled Route.............................................115 13 Up the Mountain.........................................................124 14 Preparing for the Worst...............................................133 15 Needle in a Haystack...................................................140 16 The Death of Dulin......................................................147 17 Slippery as a Fish........................................................155 18 A Reunion....................................................................163 19 A Bird's Eye View........................................................171 20 On the Edge of a Knife................................................179 21 Checkmate...................................................................186 22 An Impossible Idea......................................................193 23 All In............................................................................203 24 Timing is Everything...................................................209 25 What Must be Done.....................................................215 26 Out of the Ashes..........................................................223
    • Tempora Heroica
    • Chapter 1 – A Path Chosen The snow swept down from the mountains in wide swaths, blanketing the ground in the valley below. It was a light snow, by the time it landed, but there was still something odd about snow falling down on a cloudless day, with nothing but blue skies and sunshine up above. The dwarves that made Dun Morogh their home were used to it, just as they were used to the bone chilling cold. The small figure, descending down into the valley along the mountain road, was used to neither of these things. In fact, it felt like she was walking into a dream. She had felt this way all afternoon, and it was still unclear to her whether or not this was a pleasant dream. For years, Reyna had known that she would be heading here; not specifically here, of course, but somewhere like here. After all, her people, the gnomes, were adventurers. It's true that for the most part, they lived in their cities. They were born in cities, warm cities, which were often carved deep below the earth. They grew old in their cities. In every gnome's life, however, there came a day when it was time to head out into the world, and bring something back. Just recently, her cousin Razzle had been off adventuring for weeks, and had returned with the designs for an exploding robot sheep. That had caused quite a stir among her relatives, but for Reyna, gnomes like Razzle were largely missing the point. Reyna leaned heavily on her staff for balance, as the icy road began to slope sharply downwards. Her thick leather boots dug into the ice, but she still slowed her pace in the unfamiliar terrain. As she did so, it seemed like even more of her pink hair ended up brushing across her face. Shaking her head, she took a deep breath, and released it in a big frosty cloud that drifted out in front of her eyes. How strange it was, being able to see your own breath. Reyna hadn't been out in weather this cold since she was a small child, and being able to see her own breath was one of the 1
    • tiny details that she had forgotten. Up ahead, where the path reached the valley floor, she saw a lone guard standing in the middle of the road. He waved briefly in her direction. Reyna raised her free left hand, and waved back. He was a dwarf, covered in dull iron armour, and he leaned casually on a sturdy axe. “Welcome to Coldridge Valley,” he boomed. Well, at least the place was aptly named. “What business do you have down here, little one?” Reyna's eyes narrowed at that; she was very small in size, true, but what did that have to do with anything? Fool dwarf. She took a deep breath, and just shook it off. In her book, it was always worth taking the high road. Well, almost always. “I have come to see Magis Sparkmantle,” she shouted, her voice squeaking a lot more than she intended. Why did it have to sound like that when she raised her voice? “I will inform him directly of my business here.” The dwarf shifted his weight on his axe, and raising a gauntleted hand, tugged his beard. “Mr. Sparkmantle? You don't look like the type. Well, if you are determined to see him, he is in the outpost. Just follow the road, and you'll be there eventually. I'd say soon, but well, for you we'll just have to see.” The guard's beard twitched; was that a smile? Well, she'd show him! At least, as soon as the ice became less slippery. Reyna focused on her breathing as she walked past the guard, and had to concentrate on not glaring at him. “Thank you for your assistance,” she said evenly as she inched past him. “With any luck, I'll be back up this road well before nightfall.” The guard bowed his head slightly, and chuckled softly. As soon as the ground became level, or close enough, Reyna picked up her pace. The road curved around a bend, and the mountains rose up on one side. On the other side, a flat snowy plain stretched out for quite some distance. Squinting her eyes, she was just able to see what looked like two gnomes lying against a snowbank. She briefly considered going over to see what they were doing – after 2
    • all, gnomes should be friendly with one another – but quickly decided against it. Straight to the outpost, and then back again. That was her plan for the day. Well, depending on what Magis had to say to her. Up ahead, the road curved again, and she saw a large stone building at the base of a large hill. Apparently the guard had been teasing her more than she had suspected, as it had only taken her a few minutes to reach it. She would have a nasty surprise for him on the way back. Well, at least a glare. If her mother had taught her anything at all, it was how to glare ferociously. Out in front of the outpost, several dwarves were standing around. Waving her staff at the nearest dwarf, Reyna put on her best smile, and strode up next to him. With a bow, she asked casually, “do you know if Magis Sparkmantle is here at the outpost today?” “Why yes young lassy,” the dwarf replied. “He's in his usual spot. Which is somewhere. I don't actually remember where. But it's definitely through that opening in the rock wall, down the stairs, and well within range of the furnace. Magis likes it hot, he does.” A warm room! Reyna quickly thanked the dwarf, and hurried down the steps. As she entered the outpost, Reyna shook the snow off her brown fur robes, and began to study her new surroundings. The warm air welcomed her like an old friend. The heat was flowing outwards from a large iron furnace which stood in the center of the room, and at least a dozen people, a mix of dwarves and gnomes, were moving around near the heat source. Some were covered from head to toe in armour, some were wearing ordinary clothes, and all looked comfortable. Reyna practically ran over to join them, twirling her staff as she went. Moving right up next to the furnace, Reyna examined the nearby gnomes more carefully. She had no idea what Magis looked like, but she did expect him to look fairly distinguished. After quickly scanning the room, her eyes stopped on a gnome who was leaning back against the far wall, examining a scroll in his hands. He was wearing bright blue robes, and also had a 3
    • prominent grey beard, that stretched almost to his waist. Reyna reluctantly moved away from the furnace, and walked towards the robed figure. “Are you Magis Sparkmantle?” She asked in the clearest voice she could muster, although she couldn't help but feel her nerves start to rattle. Gripping her staff tighter, she tried to produce a natural looking smile. “The one and only!” Magis said as he looked up from the scroll. “Who are you?” His eyes gleamed with excitement. She had been told that he had lived in this outpost for years, and she had no idea how often visitors came to see him. From his reaction, perhaps visitors were rare. “My name is Reynalesca,” she continued, “and many gnomes have told me that you are very wise. Very wise in certain areas. Areas that I would like to study.” Magis looked down in thought, and began twiddling his moustache. Reyna felt herself relax slightly. Her father had done that when she was a child. After a brief pause, Magis looked up at her as if he had just received some very good news. “Ohhhh....a student, are you? You would like to learn some of my tricks? Perhaps you would like to shoot fire from your hands, or turn your friends into sheep, or teleport instantly from place to place?” Magis threw his head back and laughed, a friendly laugh, like he had just shared a list of things that amused him. “Yes, I would like to learn those things very badly,” Reyna replied. Her eyes were determined; or at least they felt determined. “I would like to become a mage, and see the world. You know of the rumours, about what's been happening out there. I want to go see for myself, and help if I can.” That wasn't the whole truth, but it was true. Her mother always told her there was no need to start a conversation with the whole truth, when you could just pick out the best parts. First impressions are important, after all. “Ambitious, and brave!” Magis threw his head back and laughed again. “Well, you seem like someone that would be well worth showing how to shoot fireballs. Follow me. If you pick 4
    • this up quickly, I have a job that you can do. Do that well, and I'll show you something else.” He turned and started to walk deeper into the outpost, tucking the scroll into one of his deep pockets as he went. Reyna followed, and took a deep breath, trying to shake her nerves away. Fireballs, from her hands! This was just what she had been hoping for, and now was not the time to mess things up. Magis led her down a short stone corridor, away from the main room where the furnace was. The rocks managed to hold some of the heat as the pair of gnomes moved deeper into the building; she was thankful for that. After walking by several rooms with closed doors, Magis paused in an open area, and turned to face her. “We're here!” he cackled. “Fireball time!” Reyna noticed that along the opposite wall, several straw dummies were tied up in the shape of humanoids. Small humanoids, not much taller than a gnome. Magis pulled his right hand back behind his body, and spun to face one of the targets. “The key to all of this,” he began, “is to feel the power inside you. Feel the magic. What you need to do is to channel it, shape it, in a certain way. I personally know a lot about creating fire, and to do that, well....watch.” Tiny flames burst out of his hand, and began to intensify. A few seconds later, Magis thrust his hand forward, and those flames grew into a giant ball. The fireball flew forward from his arm, and slammed into one of the targets. The target was immediately incinerated. Straw normally burned quickly, but Reyna couldn't help but stare. It was simply....gone....and only a black charred wooden post remained. How hot had that fireball been? Magis did a spin move, then threw his hands in the air. “Ok...Reynalesca is it? I think I'll call you Rey. Your turn! Isn't this fun? Just remember, you need to feel the power. In theory, everyone can do it, but in practice, most can't. It takes a certain kind of, hmm, well, I don't know what. You can either feel a connection to the vast ocean of energy within you – mana, it is sometimes called – or you can't. I will guide you as best I can. Concentrate. Empty your thoughts. What is left?” 5
    • Reyna looked down at the floor. Well, she had walked all this way because she thought she had the ability for this. She had always felt a certain glow, deep within, that called out to her but always felt just slightly out of reach. She thought this was the very power that Magis Sparkmantle had just described. It was mana. Or at least, it seemed like mana. After all, she had never tried to cast a spell of any kind, and certainly hadn't tried incinerating anything. The closest she had come to doing anything magical is the one time she had attempted to pull out Maj Topplewagon's chair from right underneath her, without actually touching the chair (Maj was being especially annoying that day). In fact, Reyna had been on the other side of the room when she had tried to tug on it with her mind. The chair fell over, and so did Maj. Had she actually made the chair move? She had never been sure. Closing her eyes, Reyna took another deep breath, and tried to follow the advice that she had just been given. The world went blank; nothing but darkness, her breath, and a dim presence on the edge of her awareness. Was that the reserve of mana that glowed inside of her? How was she to do anything with that? “Yes Magis,” she said tentatively, “I think I can feel something. How do I take that energy, though, and do anything with it. I watched you do it, but what exactly were you doing?” She heard Magis laugh, a full rich laugh, and she opened her eyes. He was doubled over, and pounding his hand on his leg. “You just do!” he said. “The most important thing is that you can feel it. The energy is a part of you, just as it is a part of all living things, but as I said, only a select few of us are able to tap into it and manipulate it. If you can really sense your mana reserves, then you've already overcome the main barrier to using magic. To make a fireball like I did, just try to tap into that energy with your mind, and put it into motion. More specifically, imagine that energy filling your hand, and think of heating it up. Heat it up in a specific way....you know, all firebally and stuff. Then, poof! Fireball! I don't know why that works, but it does. Just be sure to actually throw the fireball somewhere!” He threw his head back, 6
    • and laughed yet again. Reyna didn't really understand, but she nodded. Pulling her hand back, like Magis had done, she tried to imagine it filling with energy. She was still quite cold, and the thought of her heating anything up was strange. Despite this, he had said to think of the energy going into her hand, and turning into a flaming ball, so she did. What was that strange sensation? Reyna looked behind her. Flames! There was fire dancing in her hand! “Ahhh!!!!!!” She shrieked. Reyna starting spinning around in a circle. “What do I do, what do I do, help!!!!” Magis dove to the ground, face first, and tried to make himself as flat as possible. “You want to aim!” he said calmly. “Preferably at the targets, but anywhere other than me should be fine.” The flames were getting larger in her hand, and started rounding into a ball. Which way were the targets? The room was spinning so fast, and she was running out of time! Well, it was her that was spinning, but still! She caught sight of one of the straw dummies, tried to plant her left foot, and immediately fell over backwards. As Reyna was falling, she flung her arm forward. The fire was so bright! As her arm straightened out, the fireball flew out from her, and exploded as it slammed into the ceiling. Tiny bits of rock and dust shot out from the impact. Reyna landed on her back with a thud, and quickly raised her head to look around. Other than a very small crater in the ceiling, that was sending out tiny puffs of smoke, everything seemed fine. Magis leaped to his feet, and cheered. “Outstanding effort!” Magis looked up at the crater, then down at her. He was twiddling his moustache again. “It looks like you can definitely feel the energy, and I'm impressed that you were able to do that on your first try. Although we will have to work on your aim.” Reyna brushed herself off as she stood up, and faced the target practice dummies. Reaching back, she filled her hand with fire, and proceeded to launch a large fireball directly at one. The target was struck directly, and it melted away before her eyes. So, 7
    • that's how it was done. Throwing fireballs was very tiring – more tiring than she had expected – but she could do it. This was going well. “Alright, I'm convinced,” Magis said, his face suddenly turning serious. “I believe that you are capable of becoming a mage. A genuine, high quality mage, even though I haven't seen you do much yet. For now, let's say you're an almost mage. To make your mage status official, you'll need to prove yourself by doing a job for me. I should mention that it is a dangerous job, but that fireball ability should be sufficient. If I tell you more than this, there's no going back. Are you sure you want to go down this road?” Reyna didn't even need to think about it, as this is what she had come here to do. “I would be honoured Magis. Whatever you need done, I'm the gnome to do it.” “Alright,” Magis said. “If you recall, the ancient gnome city of Gnomeregan, the true home of our people, has been taken over by troggs.” His face grew sad at the mention of those horrible creatures. Reyna shuddered. As a child, she had been smuggled out of Gnomeregan during the invasion. She barely remembered, but she remembered enough. “It has been many years since the trogg invasion,” Magis continued, “and no gnome has been safe there since. We are all now in exile of a sort, but of course, you know this. What I mean to tell you is that the troggs have come here. To Coldridge Valley. They have taken over the mines to the south, and have camps set up outside. What I need you to do, if you dare, is to sneak into the mines. There is something that I have hidden there – something very important – and I need it back. I'd go myself, but well, that's what brave gnomes like you are for.” His eyes brightened, and he flashed a joyful smile. Reyna frowned briefly, as that did sound dangerous. Still, she had just learned how to throw fire at stuff, and if she came across a trogg....well, she had already agreed anyway. “You can count on me!” Reyna said, her smile returning. “What am I looking for?” 8
    • “A purple box,” Magis replied. “Just find the box, and bring it to me. It could be anywhere in the mines by now, but I remember where I left it. Let me draw you a map. Let's see, where is my quill...or my ink....or paper....hmm...well, let me describe a map! On one corner, there will be an E, so you know that corner is East. Wait, East should be centered on the right, not actually in a corner...ok, put an E on the right! Then you want to draw a line....” As Magis rambled on, hopping about and flailing his arms as he went, Reyna struggled to follow what he was saying. Still, it was clear that she had to go into some mine, and find a purple box, and avoid becoming lunch for troggs. That was a more difficult afternoon than she had expected, but still, it could have been worse. Magis was babbling on endlessly, it seemed, and had moved on to describing a scale for the bottom of the imaginary map. Something about one thumb width being equivalent on paper to 16 paces, if you were walking while in a good mood. Perhaps she should interject. “Um...Magis?” Reyna said softly. “Where is the mine, approximately? From where we are now? And, um, how do I get in?” Magis turned to face her, and frowned. “Well, I suppose I can just skip ahead to that. The mine itself is directly south of here. Just walk south, and you'll see it. If you don't see it, then just wander around. You should find it. It's a small valley.” Magis had a much more serious look in his eyes at the moment, and it was a bit startling. “Now, Rey, here's the vital thing to remember. I know of a secret entrance. It's top secret, as I had one of my apprentices make it for me awhile back. Mostly by accident, as I had just told him to practice his fireballs in an open space. After he blew a small hole in the side of the mine, however....well, I soon found that the hole was very useful. A way to get into the mine without the dwarves seeing, you see? I put the purple box near that opening, at the end of a small cavern to the...well, to the left or right. I can't remember at the moment. Perhaps if I finished thinking through my map.” 9
    • Reyna threw up her hands. “That's alright! I'll be able to find it, don't you worry at all. I'll be right back, you just stay here. Should I go right now?” Magis nodded, and smiled warmly at her. “Go, and come back,” he said. “Make sure you bring my box though! I'll be cheering for you.” The two gnomes both jumped up into the air, and pumped a fist towards the ceiling. It was surprising how they had managed to synchronize that. Flashing Magis one last smile, Reyna turned quickly, and practically ran back down the hallways, and into the main room of the outpost. With one last reluctant glance at the blazing furnace, Reyna bounced up the steps, and headed back out into the cold. Perhaps she could hold a ball of fire in her hands to keep herself warm? On second thought, that was something to experiment with later. For now, she was an almost mage. Turning to face south, she marched off into the deep snow. Her footprints started sinking all the way up to her knees, but she didn't mind. She was an almost mage. If she had her way, the “almost” part wouldn't last long at all. 10
    • Chapter 2 – Lost and Found The snow was piled high in the south end of Coldridge Valley, and with troggs lurking in every direction, Toshi had struggled to conceal his tracks. For years, the dwarf had practiced being a chameleon, and was used to blending into his environment. He was very good at it. Some things, though, like footprints in the snow, were especially difficult to work around. Still, with care, he had managed to descend from the mountains like a soft breeze. Looking behind him, the snow was swept to the sides as if simply blown by the wind. From his current position on top of a large boulder, in the shadow of a thick white pine tree, Toshi briefly admired his work. Nothing could have seen him approach this place, and nothing would be following him. Now was not the time to be looking behind him, however. He had work to do. Adjusting the twin daggers sheathed at his sides, Toshi studied the opening in the rock face that lay ahead. It was a wide opening, with plenty of room for ten dwarves to march through side by side. The problem, at the moment, was the group of four troggs standing guard. They were spread out across the entrance, and were watching the area in front of them. Troggs were not clever, and were barbaric, caveman like creatures. It was hard to believe the rumours that they were distant cousins of his own people. Shaking his head at the thought, Toshi spat into the snow. Distant cousins or not, he had never enjoyed fighting the savages. It was nowhere near as exciting as taking down an orc, or a troll. Still, troggs were dangerous, and he would need to be quick to handle all four. There was a large open space between Toshi and the trogg guards, and with the snow so deep, it would be very hard to approach with stealth. Crouching down even lower on the rock, Toshi's long black beard brushed against the ground. Better to go 11
    • in fast, and launch a frontal assault. After quickly checking that his black leather armour was strapped on tightly, Toshi drew both of his weapons, and exploded forward from the boulder. As he sprinted across the snow, so fast that his feet barely even touched the ground, Toshi felt an adrenaline rush. The nearest trogg had turned its head in another direction, and he slammed into it from the side. With both of his daggers leading the way, the trogg was instantly down on the ground, its eyes glazing over. The next trogg was only a few feet away, and as it turned in surprise at the noise, a dagger slashed across its throat. Staggering backwards, it made a futile attempt to hold its own neck together, before falling over awkwardly. The remaining two troggs had time to react, and roared as they raised their clubs. Toshi slid underneath a wicked swing from the trogg on the right, and leaping to his feet, spun quickly and planted a dagger deep into the creatures back. It howled in pain as he pulled the blade free, and ducking under another wild swing from the last trogg, Toshi spun again and slashed both weapons across the trogg's leg. It fell forward into the snow, and Toshi quickly stabbed it in the back of its neck. It thrashed about momentarily, before going still. Pulling his weapons clear, he surveyed the area, and everything was quiet. There was no sign of any other troggs nearby. All four trogg guards were also no longer a threat, and lay sprawled on the ground, clearly dead, or close enough. Toshi spat at the nearest corpse. No challenge at all from these ones. Yes, it was definitely more fun to take down orcs or trolls. Wiping his daggers on one of the fallen troggs, Toshi turned to the cavern ahead of him. This had recently been a dwarven mining operation. His people had dug well, as the cavern was not only wide, but high and spacious. Large braziers had been setup at fairly close intervals, on each side of the cavern, and the troggs had kept the fires burning steadily. They may not be clever creatures, but they did like to be able to see, and Toshi was glad the braziers were lighting the way. He had brought a torch with him, but he hated using the thing. It was extremely difficult to 12
    • move stealthily while holding a burning stick in your hands. Toshi crouched down low, and began gliding his way into the mine, holding his daggers out in front of him. With the firelight dancing around, it would be hard to remain unseen, but he would try. If another group of troggs noticed him, as unlikely as that was....well, that's what the daggers were for. He wasn't here to kill troggs, but if he had to, he would kill as many as necessary. Either way, the troggs weren't important. What was important was the item that he had been sent to retrieve. All he had been told was that it was of great value, and while he didn't know what it was, he intended for things to proceed smoothly. If anything else unexpected got in his way – something that wasn't a trogg – well, Toshi was prepared for that too. The sun was still high in the sky when Reynalesca finally found the secret mine entrance. It hadn't taken her long, in the grand scheme of things, although she had needed to search the hills a bit. Heading south from the outpost had actually led her fairly straight to the mine entrance – the main mine entrance – and she had taken a long look at four nasty looking troggs that were lounging about. They hadn't seen her, as far as she could tell, and she had quickly darted off to safety. A bit too quickly, perhaps, but four troggs were a lot of troggs. In any case, she had headed off in a somewhat correct direction, and after spending some time walking around to the side of the main entrance, she had seen it. A hole cut into the rock, barely big enough for a gnome to squeeze through, with charred black markings around its edges. It was the secret entrance Magis had mentioned. It had to be. As Reyna approached the hole, her thoughts lingered on those four troggs. They had been so large. Troggs were bigger than gnomes, true, but those troggs had seemed especially big. Throwing fireballs was fun, in her very brief experience, but facing four troggs at once seemed a bit much. If even a single real live trogg started charging her, could she react quickly enough? Well, maybe all the troggs were taking a nap right now. 13
    • Troggs needed to nap, didn't they? It occurred to Reyna that actually squirming through the hole would be a challenge. Crouching down next to it, she could see that it wasn't very wide, and that she would need to go in sideways. Her staff would clearly be a problem. It was also hard to see what awaited her inside the mine, as the only things visible were rock, ice, and dancing shadows. The shadows were a result of fires which were burning inside. She was glad for that. A mine could be pitch black inside, and she had planned to light the way by randomly throwing fire around. That probably hadn't been the best idea. There was one obvious way to get her staff through the hole, and Reyna decided to just throw it ahead of her. It landed with a thud on the rocks, and she smiled. She had been worried that there may have been a steep drop on the other side. From the sound that her staff had made, it appeared that the ground was level. Pulling her robes close to her sides, Reyna turned sideways, and brushed up against the icy rocks. Why was everything so cold today? Grimacing, Reyna pushed her back into the wall, lifted both legs up onto the edge of the hole, and began to inch her way through. Abruptly, the ground underneath her sloped down sharply, and she started sliding. Spinning around awkwardly, she had to muffle a cry as she crashed onto her back. Somehow, she had managed to land directly on her staff. Slightly dazed, Reyna lay there for several moments. She hadn't been very loud there, had she? Well, there was nothing to do about that now. After rolling over to get off of her staff, she slowly closed her fingers around the smooth wood, before proceeding to push herself up off the ground. Looking around, it became clear that she was now in a very narrow tunnel, with a single brazier burning off to one side. She also saw a mining pick propped up against the rocks, practically right next to her. Well, at least she hadn't landed on that thing. Up ahead, a tunnel veered off to the left, and there was a wider tunnel to the right. Perhaps she should have let Magis try to work out which way she was 14
    • supposed to go. With a sigh, Reyna spun her staff above her head, and threw it in front of her. It landed with one end pointing almost directly at the tunnel on the left. That may have not been the most scientific approach, but at least it was something. Reyna picked up her staff as she walked past it, and turned left. Once she was in it, the tunnel she chose seemed especially narrow, and there was maybe room for 2 gnomes to walk through side by side. The dwarves likely hadn't finished carving the path here. The tunnel curved to the right, and she couldn't see very far ahead. At least everything was quiet. All she could hear were her own footsteps, and the tapping noise that her staff made as she pressed it into walking stick duty. She would hear a trogg if it was up ahead, wouldn't she? Reyna slowed down her steps a bit, and raised her staff up into the air. Her breathing didn't slow, however, and puffs of frosty mist continued to steadily emerge from her mouth. The tunnel ended abruptly, and a large open area lay ahead. Reyna squeezed against the side of the tunnel, and leaning over, looked out into the room. Troggs. She could see at least five moving about, although thankfully, none were close to her position. The room itself seemed blanketed in ice, and as she looked down into the main area, she could see a large frozen pool of water. It filled most of the room, and the five troggs appeared to be converging there for some type of conference. From where she was standing, she could barely make out grunting noises, as they gestured and pointed at one another. Around the edge of the room, there was a pathway, and she knew she had to get moving. If she just kept waiting there in the tunnel entrance, one of the troggs would see her eventually. Stepping out onto the rocky path that ringed the room, she saw that several other tunnels darted off at various points. There was a tunnel fairly close to her left, and close was good. Crouching down as low as she could, while still being able to walk, Reyna moved to the nearby opening. She was almost immediately out of view, and hadn't been in the larger room for long. Perhaps instead of learning how to become a mage, she 15
    • should be learning how to become a spy, or a scout! Smiling at the thought, Reyna reminded herself to concentrate. None of this was make believe. This was real. In fact, it was some of the realest real that she had been a part of all day. She quickly rounded a bend into a very small open space, which was lit by a single torch that stuck up out of the ground. Reyna gasped. In the middle of the far wall, she saw it. There was a small purple box – painted metal, by the look of it – sitting on a ledge. Could she have found it so quickly? Reyna looked admiringly at her staff, and thrusting it up into the air, she had to suppress a cheer. She still needed to be as quiet as possible, with troggs nearby. Still, the hard part was mostly over, at least in theory. After all, the box was encased in a massive block of ice If she threw a fireball at it, the block of ice might just melt. Perhaps that was why Magis had needed someone that could throw fireballs. He could have even froze the box in place himself, as a security measure. Yes, that must be it. She would just need to concentrate, fireball the thing, hope the box was only mildly damaged, and then get out of this place. Reyna pulled her hand back, and as she did so, she heard footsteps in the tunnel behind her. Her breathing stopped. She spun around quickly – too quickly – and fell over awkwardly. The end of Reyna's staff hit the ground hard, popped out of her hand, and bounced away to the side. She looked up, and saw a trogg entering the room. The thing was at least five feet high slouched over, which was enormous, and it was flashing its sharp, pointy teeth. Troggs ate gnomes. It raised a thick wooden club over its head and growled. In a panic, Reyna scurried backwards on the ground, as she tried to stand up. The ground was slippery, though, and her feet couldn't seem to catch on anything. The trogg grinned and started walking slowly towards her. She looked over at her staff, which was well out of reach. This was it. She was trapped, and she was going to be trogg food. Unless she could use a fireball on the thing. First, though, she had to stand up. Reyna's feet continued to push her backwards, and at this point, she was about 16
    • to crash into the ledge underneath the frozen purple box. What had her mother said about times like this? Nothing came to mind. She wasn't going to go out like this. She wasn't. Time seemed to slow down, but as she searched inside herself for the magic energy, all she could find was the thud of her heartbeat. The tunnels that had taken Toshi deep into the mine had been fairly narrow, and he had mostly abandoned stealth. Over ten troggs lay dead behind him now, and the ones that still roamed the mines were bound to notice that. Well, at least, there was a good chance that they would notice. They were troggs, after all. It seemed best to move fast now, though, and if any troggs appeared in front of him, he would just add to the body count. As Toshi dashed out into a large open room, he reconsidered his tactics, and hid himself in the shadows. This was the room he had been told to find; a large, cavernous room, with plenty of ice in the center. His search should end here, or somewhere close to here. Before moving on, though, he had more troggs to deal with. He could see six of the creatures moving about the area, with the majority huddled close together on the ice in front of him. A rock pathway circled the room, with multiple tunnels branching off to the sides. The pathway climbed upwards as it reached the opposite side of the chamber. As he looked about, trying to decide which tunnel to explore first, something caught his eye. Was that a ball of pink? What was that? Toshi concentrated, and high up on the pathway, in one of the tunnel mouths, he could clearly make out a blob of bright pink. The pink blob started to move, and as it did so, he saw that the pink blob was actually someone's hair. A gnome's hair. What was a gnome doing here? It's true that gnomes were allies of the dwarves, and that for years now, dwarves had allowed the gnomes to live in the dwarven capital. Still, Toshi couldn't assume anything; not all gnomes were to be trusted. In his experience, most were actually quite devious, and made better footballs than friends. 17
    • The gnome slid along the pathway – in plain view, the fool – and quickly darted down another tunnel. Toshi started sneaking his way along the path, and headed towards that tunnel. Wherever that led, he intended to catch up to that gnome, and find out what it was doing here. As he moved quietly through the dancing shadows, Toshi saw that the solitary trogg off in a corner had also seen the gnome. It hadn't alerted the other troggs in the room, and was walking casually up the path towards the tunnel on its own. Troggs ate gnomes. Perhaps this trogg was hoping to get a meal all to itself. With a curse, Toshi hurried after the moving trogg. The trogg would get to the tunnel first, but if the tunnel had any length to it, Toshi would easily catch the thing. Before it got to the gnome. Better to move carefully, though, and not alert the other nearby troggs. He could easily handle them, if needed, but he wanted to learn what pink hair was doing here. To get that information, he couldn't let that trogg do what it wanted, and fighting off all the other troggs would take longer than moving carefully. Toshi soon found himself on the other side of the large room, and he headed down the same tunnel that the gnome and trogg had taken. Almost immediately, the tunnel turned into an open space, and there was nothing but rock walls. Walls, a burning torch, and a dead trogg at his feet. The thing had been turned black, and smoke was rising up from its chest. A few feet away from the trogg, the pink haired gnome was standing there, doubled over, her arm extended forward. She was panting. So, it was a she, and a dangerous she at that. Clearly, the gnome was some kind of magic user. Well, she had just saved him from killing the trogg himself, although in truth, with the tunnel ending so soon, he wouldn't have got there in time. That was a minor detail, though, and Toshi still had to find out what she was doing here. If there was a problem...Toshi raised his daggers, and narrowed his eyes. Magic users could be fun to dance with. Reyna had done it. She had barely got the fireball off in 18
    • time, but she had done it. The trogg had been right on top of her, club ready to strike, when she had pushed the energy through her hand, and launched the fire. The impact had thrown the trogg back several feet, and killed the thing instantly. At least, she thought it was dead. The smell of burning trogg flesh was sickening, and her head spun, both from the smell and from exhaustion. She had put a lot of energy into that fireball, and casting spells was tiring. It would take her a few moments to recover, and for a time, she stood frozen in place, arm stretched forward. When she finally looked up, she blinked, and jumped backwards. There was a dwarf standing over the body of the trogg. Where had he come from? She hadn't heard him approaching at all! The dwarf was holding a wicked dagger in each hand, and was dressed in almost pure black. He also seemed to blend somewhat into the wall behind him, as ridiculous as that was, and stood completely still. Despite how dangerous this particular dwarf looked, dwarves were friends, right? It was best to say something friendly, while she still could. “Hello there Mr. Dwarf,” Reyna began. “It's good to see you, with all these nasty....” “Why are you here?” He cut her off. She noticed a scar above his left eye, and was that an eye patch over his right eye? His voice was cold, and it wasn't clear to Reyna how she could warm things up. In the sense of easing the tension, that is. She could always warm things up in another way, although the way he held those daggers, she wasn't eager to try. “I was sent here on a mission,” she said, trying to keep her voice friendly. “A very important mission.” As she said that, it looked like the dwarf's expression grew even harder. Was that possible? “In any case, it should be easy to explain things to you, as what I'm looking for lies right here. In this room.” Reyna stepped to the side, and gestured at the purple box. The dwarf muttered something to himself, and lowered his daggers slightly. His muscles seemed to relax, although he also looked strangely disappointed. Disappointed about what? Reyna 19
    • didn't want to think about it. The dwarf pointed a dagger at the ice block containing the box. “If that is what you are here for,” he said, “then we have no problem.” Reyna smiled. It was good that she didn't have to try throwing a fireball at him. He seemed like a difficult target to hit. “If I may ask,” she said carefully, “what brings you to these mines?” “I am also looking for something,” the dwarf said, turning away as he did so. “And it certainly isn't a purple box trapped in ice. I don't know what's in your box, but hopefully it is worth the trouble.” “I don't know what's in my box either!” Reyna said with a chuckle. “Hopefully I won't melt the box when I try to get at it, as I'd very much like to find out.” The dwarf looked back over his shoulder. “It seems we are in a similar situation today,” he said mirthfully, and his sudden change in tone was startling. “I also am looking for a box – although definitely not that one – and also don't know what's in it. In any case, it's best we both move quickly.” He spat on the dead trogg. “These creatures will probably notice something is wrong soon, with both of us here, and we should finish up as soon as we can. Farewell pink hair.” He started gliding out of the room. “Wait!” Reyna called after him, trying to keep her voice low. “I'd like to think we could be friends, being in the same situation and all. My name is Reyna. What's yours?” The dwarf paused, and without looking back, shook his head slightly. “Oh, alright. My name is Toshi. Whether or not we can be friends.....well maybe one day. Do you like to duel? My friends like to duel.” Reyna thought she heard a soft laugh, as Toshi seemed to disappear into thin air, and was gone. Well, she was alone again, but that was no problem. She knew what she had to do. After retrieving her staff, Reyna turned to face the block of ice, and pulled her hand back. She was still tired from the last fireball, but after talking with the dwarf, she felt recharged a bit. Recharged, or perhaps just frightened. Either 20
    • way, the effect was the same. Drawing on her power, Reyna felt the fire start to fill her hand, and then visualized a fireball. She threw her arm forward, and fire slammed into the block of ice. Shards of ice flew off in all directions, and the purple box bounced off the back wall, landing with a thud on the ground. The box was singed a bit, and dented, but otherwise alright. Reyna picked up the box, and as it was a fairly small box, she jammed it into one of the pockets in her robes. It was always good to have lots of pockets. With a sigh, Reyna retrieved her staff from where it lay on the ground, and keeping her right hand free, started back the way she had came. If she needed to fireball more troggs, it was best to be prepared. With that dwarf in the area, however, the troggs would probably be busy right now. Reyna smiled, and headed back towards the sunlight. 21
    • Chapter 3 – The Fate of a City Ultimar never liked coming to the northwest corner of Dun Morogh. It was always especially cold here, and at the moment, an icy wind was chilling him to the bones. He raised a black gloved hand, and rubbed the top of his mostly bald head. He still had a ring of white hair, around the edges, which he had grown quite long, and which was currently blowing in all directions. Today, the cold didn't really bother him though, and neither did his baldness. How could these things matter, when he had just been down there. He had descended into Gnomeregan several times in recent years, since the trogg invasion, and every time he went, things looked worse. The troggs were growing in numbers, and were spreading out from here to other parts of Dun Morogh. Troggs were just troggs though; you killed them, and moved on. The problem was with what had happened to so many of his people – innocents, all of them – who had been left behind. He was some distance from the ancient city now, but saw another one of the creatures approaching along the snowy plains. Its body turned green from the corruption, its mind twisted to the point of madness, it still had the shape of a gnome, but little else. As it trotted towards Ultimar, he could see the thing draw a curved blade, but its eyes remained empty. Ultimar raised his hand, concentrating, and shot a purple beam out towards it. Waves of light connected him to the creature, as he channeled the magic. It would be any moment now. There was the sound of a bowstring off to the side, and almost instantly, an arrow appeared in the creature's chest. Whatever light remained in its eyes flickered, and went out, as the green gnome fell over. The purple beam of light flew back towards him, and crystallized in his hand. Another soul shard had been created, to add to his stockpile. Opening the brown cloth pouch that hung from his belt, Ultimar tossed it in. He had at 22
    • least 20 soul shards now, mostly from corrupted gnomes. The poor things. He was doing them a favour. Ultimar turned to his right, and struggled to see the tall elf standing nearby. Night elves naturally blended into the world around them, purple skin and all, but Iashon seemed especially good at it. The elf had already slung his bow over his shoulder, and called over his pet tiger. Kupo was a massive white beast, with jagged black stripes, and wicked fangs. In the snows, Kupo was almost as hard to see as Iashon was. Almost. Ultimar tried to ignore the thing. Iashon always joked that if Ultimar wasn't careful, well, Kupo loved eating gnomes, and Ultimar looked quite tasty. The tiger hadn't ever actually eaten a gnome, had it? In any case, it was time to keep moving. The rest of his group was thinking the same thing. To his left, he saw Sparkel standing on the road, arms crossed in front of her chest, as she tapped her foot impatiently. She wasn't particularly tall for a human woman, but was at least a foot taller than he was. Her long black hair was tied securely in a pony tail, which was attempting to fly off behind her, and her eyes....why did her brown eyes pull him in like they did, even when she looked annoyed? Ultimar shook it off, and started walking towards her. A little bit further down the road, Burrfoot and Archimede were already marching along. The two gnomes were huddled close together, and Archimede was proudly brandishing his newly acquired long blue staff. The hydrocane. Retrieving the thing had been their main reason for going to Gnomeregan today, and it had been fairly difficult to find. Still, Archimede had insisted on looking for it, as it was rumoured to have some unique magical properties. Ultimar noticed Archimede's long white beard blow up over his left shoulder, as Archi threw his head back and laughed. Burrfoot was chuckling too. Who knows what they were laughing about now. They had both been in a good mood the whole day; did the current state of Gnomeregan not bother them at all? Perhaps it didn't. After all, Ultimar had long suspected that both of them were insane, or near enough. Still, 23
    • they both had their uses, and were very good at certain things. Archimede was a more obvious kind of crazy. He was always inventing something, whether it was a new magic spell, or a ray gun of some kind, and his ideas always – always – sounded ridiculous. At least to Ultimar, in any case. Most of what he attempted to do was a disaster from the start, but when he suceeded, Archi's craziness really paid of. Burrfoot was harder to figure out. There was no question that he was a great warrior, and despite where they had just gone, his gleaming silver armour barely had a scratch on it. He currently had his massive broadsword out of its sheath, and had it casually resting on his shoulder. Burrfoot was a rock. Nothing seemed to upset him, or bother him, and while he laughed a lot, his laughter often seemed tinged with a deep sadness. More importantly, it was also unclear whether there was a single thing in the whole world that actually mattered to him. To Ultimar, there was something crazy in that. Ultimar pulled up next to Sparkel on the road, and the two of them started walking side by side, with Iashon and Kupo bringing up the rear. Ultimar looked up at her over his shoulder, and admired her new white staff, that curved upwards into a dazzling crescent. The hydrocane wasn't the only thing they had brought out of the depths of Gnomeregan. “Well, it looks like we are finished here, and I think I have enough shards gathered now,” Ultimar said with a smile. “With you coming along to heal us today, it's a miracle we survived, but here we are.” He liked to tease her, for some reason. Sparkel poked him in the ribs with the butt end of her staff, which actually hurt quite a bit, and he was barely able to suppress a grunt. “Well, you do make it interesting, the way you push past the limits of your power and convert your own life force to magical energy.” Sparkel looked down, and raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps next time, I will just let your drain yourself all the way; it would be very amusing to see you kill yourself. In fact, I've heard you actually did that once, when you were young.” Ultimar ground his teeth. He wasn't much older than her, 24
    • despite his white hair. However, it was true that he had tapped his life force to the breaking point before – several times, actually – but he always had managed to keep a copy of his soul safely stored away, in an orb at his side. The dark arts he practiced had their dangers, but were worth the risks. After all, why just use the magical energy available to you, when you could augment your powers with the pulse of life itself? In any case, soul stones were wonderful things, especially when you didn't have a healer nearby to resurrect you. He hadn't stored his soul today though. If something had gone wrong, Sparkel would have pulled him back from the grave, right? Ultimar frowned as he pondered the question. Sparkel laughed as she saw his expression change. “Well, we should be back to Ironforge soon, and we have good news to report. I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to seeing if that hydrocane actually works. Archimede will likely test the thing immediately.” Ultimar nodded. “I'm sure he'd test it right now, if it were possible. Anyway, I agree that our trip went smoothly enough.” Looking down at the dirt road, he tried to focus on his steps, but couldn't concentrate for long. He hoped that things had gone just as smoothly for the others. The Redridge Mountains had been quiet today, and the journey down from Stormwind had been uneventful. With the sun shining brightly overhead, and bird songs floating out from the nearby trees, the world felt peaceful. Sephirah shook her head slightly, as she walked along the road, and spun her silver wand across her knuckles. The world was anything but peaceful, especially where she was going, but there was nothing she could do about that. At least not today, and not in this place. Up ahead, a dazzling building came into view, at the top of the hill. The Tower of Ilgalar. It was a small tower, with few windows, and a red slate roof that matched the colour of Sephirah's robes. The road led directly to it, running right up to the large wooden doors. This would not be a friendly visit, and as 25
    • the tower grew closer, Sephirah wondered if she should have brought more help for this. She trusted the people she had asked to join her – Dwarr and Senzeicapi were both highly skilled at what they did – but perhaps there would have been no harm in bringing a few extra friends. It was important to keep what she had come here to do as secret as possible, true, but there would have been no harm in bringing someone like Antarus along, or maybe Dulin. She trusted them too, didn't she? Dwarr jogged up beside her, and the young dwarf looked eager. He reached back under his green cloak, and pulled out a long rifle. How had he managed to conceal the thing? He waved the weapon at the tower, and looked up at her. “It's strange that we haven't seen any gnolls running about yet,” he said casually. “The wizard Morganth is said to have built up a large army of them by now, and the hills should be crawling with them.” Sephirah rested her chin on her wand. She had also been surprised by the lack of gnolls. She hadn't wanted to run into roaming packs of the hynena like humanoids, but she had expected to. Could they have gathered together in the tower for some reason? That could be dangerous. If they weren't there, well, that was equally concerning, as wherever they had gone, Sephirah knew it had to be bad news. To her right, Senzeicapi walked up beside her, and reached for the sword strapped to his waist, as if that was his main weapon. The tall man was very dangerous, true, but his prowess with a sword had little to do with it. “We may not have seen any gnolls,” Senzeicapi began, “but that doesn't mean that they didn't see us. Perhaps they are just letting us approach their stronghold, before they spring the trap.” His eyes were searching the trees for signs of movement, although with the hills curving the way they were, a whole army could be camped nearby and be completely out of view. The three of them quickly reached the tower doors, and there were still no signs of anyone being in the area. Sephirah took a deep breath. Well, there was no point in knocking. She gestured to Dwarr, and he slammed into the double doors with his 26
    • shoulder. The left door shattered, and he stumbled forward into the opening. She darted in behind him, with Senzeicapi bringing up the rear, his sword now in his hands. Inside the tower, the main entrance room was dimly lit, with none of the torches burning in their bracers. A small glimmer of sunlight trickled down from the upper levels, though, through some gaps in the central stairwell. It appeared that the ground level was all one large room. Dwarr searched the area through the sight of his gun, but didn't pause to dwell on anything. The place seemed deserted. Dwarr approached the large winding stairs, and leading the way with his weapon, started to climb them. Sephirah followed him, and Senzeicapi turned his back to the stairs, looking out towards the doorway. “I will wait here,” Senzeicapi said, “and let you know if there are any interruptions.” His eyes were hard, and he assumed what looked like a defensive sword stance. As Sephirah started up the stairs behind Dwarr, she knew he was positioning himself for something else. The staircase twisted about three times, but they soon arrived on the upper level. The lighting was better here, as a large stain glass window stretched out along one side of the room. Wooden floors formed a ring around where the central stairway was, and the walls were lined with shelves. They contained books, scrolls, clothing, wands, and plenty of objects that Sephirah did not wish to examine too closely. Morganth had a reputation for conducting some grizzly experiments up here, and while Sephirah was a very curious woman, there were some things that were best left unexplored. A wide desk was positioned on the far side of the room, but there was no one there. This room was just as quiet as the lower level had been. Dwarr took up a position at the top of the staircase, and continued to scan the area behind the muzzle of his weapon. Well, her friends were determined to watch her back, that much was certain. Turning to the nearest set of shelves, Sephirah began to search. It was hard to decide where to begin, as there was no way to know where Morganth would hide the thing. Best to be 27
    • thorough, and hope for some luck. She had barely finished looking through the first set of shelves when she heard a whirring sound from down below. Dwarr leaned over the staircase railing with his rifle, and with a curse, began firing away at something. She heard howling noises, and cries of pain. There were gnolls down there, and the way Dwarr was blasting away, there were a lot of them. She needed to hurry now, and if she had to guess somewhere...Sephirah raced over to the desk, and starting rummaging through the drawers. Almost as soon as she got there, a circular portal flashed into existence next to Dwarr, and a man walked through. He was wearing bright robes, the colour of fire, that turned from red to black around the edges. His belt appeared to be solid gold, and he was holding a green orb in his hand. The portal closed behind him after he stepped through, and his eyes widened in surprise. He spun to face Dwarr – faster than Dwarr spun to face him – and blasted a fireball at the dwarf's head from point blank range. Dwarr attempted to dodge, and while he twisted his head out of the way, the ball of fire slammed into his shoulder. His rifle slipped out of his hands, and flew over the railing, as he slumped to the ground. His leather armour was singed, but not burning. Dwarr's eyes closed as he fell. Dwarr! Sephirah sprung forward into a battle stance, and with a roar, fired a bolt of fire from the end of her wand. The blast struck Morganth directly in the chest, and he staggered, but immediately hurled a large fireball in her direction. Instinct took over, and Sephirah threw her arms and legs into a star formation. The fireball hit its target, but melted away harmlessly, as it had struck a solid block of ice. From inside her protective bubble, Sephirah froze, and not from being encased in ice. The howls from below raged on, as Senzeicapi continued to battle the gnolls – or, at least, that's what it sounded like – but Morganth ignored the sounds. He kicked at Dwarr's motionless body, and then strode up towards her, the surprise on his face quickly turning to rage. “What are you doing here?” He demanded. “Before I kill you, tell me your reasons for having 28
    • entered my territory.” It was hard to speak from inside the ice block, but not impossible, and Sephirah had to quickly compose herself. If she could bring a healer quckly to Dwarr, everything would be alright, and the best way out of this....well, why not try the truth? “I did not come here today to fight you, Morganth, and neither did my companions. We were prepared to do that, if necessary, but that was not our reason for breaking into your tower. We came for a specific object. Something that is very valuable to us.” Morganth laughed, a humourless laugh, and shook his head. “You really thought that I would just leave it around for anyone to find? The book is mine – mine – and I am very close to breaking the seals. You'll never get it from me.” “If you are talking about Ur's Treatise on Shadow Magic,” Sephirah replied, “then you can take that with you to your grave. Which could be very soon.” Morganth's stopped laughing at that, but he did not appear afraid in any way. Well, she would cast aside her protective block soon, and she would give him reason to be afraid. It wasn't time for her to strike yet, though. The dark wizard clutched his green orb close to his chest, and waved his free hand dismissively. “If not for that,” he asked, “then why have you come? Just tell me quickly, so we can both get on with my killing you; and your friend downstairs as well, I suppose.” “We are here because you possess a cipher,” Sephirah answered quickly. “One that you have used, rumour has it, to decode messages from one of your associates. An Orc named Balzamel, I believe.” Morganth's eyes widened at the name. “Well,” he replied, “you seem to have acquired some very rare information, not that it would have helped you. The cipher is not located in this tower, but is kept somewhere especially safe.” He tapped one of his pockets, muttering something to himself as his eyes transitioned into a mixture of anger and utter disdain. They quickly turned back to surprise though, as he gasped, and dropped the green orb. 29
    • It shattered as it struck the floor. A spear point had emerged through his chest. Dwarr was standing behind him, breathing heavily, and holding on to the shaft of the weapon with both hands. “When you kill a dwarf,” Dwarr said savagely, “you better make sure he's actually dead!” Seizing the opportunity, Sephirah let the ice block melt away, and raised her left hand to point at Morganth's head. “So long, and goodnight,” she said softly, as the fireball launched from her hand. The dark wizard barely had time to scream before the fire struck him directly in the face, almost blasting his head clean off. His legs buckled, and the wizard was quickly down on the ground. He had to be dead. No one could survive that. Dwarr pulled his spear clean, as Sephirah walked towards Morganth's body. She avoided looking at his ruined face as she reached down, stuck her hand into the man's pocket, and felt the edges of a small book. She picked the book up, and after quickly skimming through its pages, she felt herself relax slightly. Lines of symbols were neatly arranged in columns, providing the key for a fairly complicated code. This was definitely a cipher. They would find out soon enough whether this was the cipher they actually needed, but for now, their work here was done, and she placed the book securely in a pouch that hung on her belt. The sounds from the first floor had faded almost as soon as Morganth had fallen. Sephirah suspected that the green orb had bound the gnolls to the wizard, and once it had broken, the confused creatures would have no longer felt compelled to remain here. Motioning to Dwarr, she walked down the staircase, with the dwarf following close behind here. Dwarr had genuinely looked dead, but she knew he was skilled at acting, and should have guessed that he was merely lying in wait. In any case, she was glad that he was alright. With any luck, Senzeicapi would also be in one piece. As she neared the bottom of the stairwell, she saw the man sitting casually on the bottom step, leaning slightly on his sword. There was no blood at all on the blade, despite the room being filled with bodies. There were at least twenty gnolls lying in piles 30
    • near the doorway, and an especially dark smoke rose up from most of them. That smoke hadn't been caused by fire. Senzeicapi looked tired, but completely at ease, as she passed him and strode out into the room. “We are finished here,” Sephirah said, her voice sounding a bit more like steel than she had intended. “Thank you both for your help today. I will be heading to Ironforge; just let me know if you would prefer to head somewhere else.” “Ironforge works for me,” Dwarr said, and Senzeicapi merely nodded. Turning to an open space in the room, Sephirah channeled, and a wide portal blinked into existence. She could see the Ironforge mystic ward shimmer into view on the other side, and as she strode through the portal, Sephirah absent mindedly tapped her belt pouch. The road to Ironforge curved upwards through the mountains, the path hugging the rockface tightly. As the road twisted into a particularly narrow section, Toshi leaned forward on his mount, urging the grey ram he was riding to slow its steps. He didn't particularly like heights, and it was always good to walk this road carefully. As the ram slowed down, Toshi looked up, and saw that the sun was beginning to dip below the tall peaks to the west. He had made good time, and although his trip down to Coldridge Valley had been messier than he had intended, he had got results. Results were all that really mattered, and no one would care about his methods; at the very least, no one would ask. He had found what he had been sent to find, and that was what really mattered. After all, results brought rewards, and he was looking forward to claiming one particular reward today. The road widened out, and curved around a final bend. Toshi snapped the reins, and his ram sped up to an impressive speed. Humans were often surprised that mountain rams could run as fast as horses over short distances. Rams also had the advantage of being very good at running things over. It was true that horses could do that as well, but not quite like a ram could. 31
    • Toshi patted his ram on the neck, and whispered encouragement in its ear. He would take his ram over a horse any time. The large stone gates of Ironforge rose into view, and Toshi swelled with pride. The capital city of the dwarves was a world wonder, a magnificent feat of engineering, and an impenetrable fortress. Carved right into the heart of a mountain, a foreign army had never breached its gates, and Toshi couldn't imagine that one ever would. The gates were swung wide open, and as Toshi rode through, a pair of stone faced dwarf guards saluted stiffly. Toshi nodded to each of them and continued on his way. They hadn't asked him any questions; this was him home, and they knew better than to delay him. Toshi continued to ride as he passed through the winding city entrance tunnel, and quickly emerged onto the ring road. The ceiling flew away from him, way up into the sky, with the rocks above difficult to see clearly in the distance. Despite being encased by a mountain, the city was well lit, and large braziers were set in all the main areas. The main source of light, however, came from the lava flows. In this part of the city, the middle of the ring road had a large cleft, and lava bubbled and swelled in its depths. Wide stone bridges crossed the cleft at regular intervals, but he had no need to cross it right now, and kept his distance. The drop down to the lava wasn't that far, but it was still unnerving. Turning his mount to the left, Toshi rode past the auction house, which was currently booming with activity. Humans, dwarves, gnomes, and night elves all traveled freely here, and the dwarven capital was in many ways the capital of the allied races. He rode along the stones past the main inn of the city, weaving his way through the crowds, and continued on past a busy tavern. The lava cleft ended abruptly, and Toshi soon found himself in the mystic ward. In the middle of the area, there was a large fountain, and as he rode towards it, he saw Sephirah sitting on the ledge. Her long brown hair framed her face, and she held a book in her hands. She was reading the book intently, and seemed oblivious to the world around her. Well, she had told him to meet 32
    • her here, but it was a surprise to see her actually waiting for him. Reining in a short distance from her, Toshi leaped off his mount, and threw his arms open. “Hello beautiful,” he said, “are you happy to see me?” Sephirah looked up from her book, and raising an eyebrow, closed the book before lowering it and making it vanish at her side. She smiled warmly at him, and standing up, began walking towards him. “That depends, Toshi.” Her voice sounded calm, but hopeful. “Do you have it?” Toshi grinned, and reaching behind him, retrieved the black box he had found in the mines. The box had a strange skull marking on it, like she had told him to look for, but was otherwise unremarkable. He had no idea what was inside it. Sephirah had told him not to open the thing, and if she didn't want it opened, well, that was no difference to him. “Yes,” Sephirah said, nodding her head. “That is what I hoped you would find. You have done well Toshi.” She reached forward, and he handed her the box. Toshi looked up at her. He raised a gloved hand to his mouth, and coughed softly. “I believe, my dear, that it is now time for my reward.” Sephirah rolled her eyes, then bending down, kissed him on the forehead. Toshi's cheeks began to turn red, despite his best efforts to avoid that. Still, the feeling of her lips touching his brow....it was more wonderful than he had expected. “Is there anything else you'd like me to do today?” He asked hopefully. “I have many talents.” Toshi winked at her with his good eye. “Thank you Toshi,” Sephirah replied, “but that is plenty for today. If you don't mind, I have to examine the contents of this box immediately.” Her eyes examining the black box intently, Sephirah turned, and strode off towards the center of the city. Toshi whistled quietly, and walked over to the fountain, hopping up to sit on the ledge where Sephirah had been. The things he did for that woman. One day she would really learn to appreciate him. For now, though, he took whatever he could get. 33
    • Even if it was one kiss at a time. Smiling to himself, Toshi reached into a pocket, and pulled out a copper coin. He tossed it back over his shoulder and into the fountain. A wish of his had come true just now. What harm could there be in making another? 34
    • Chapter 4 – Light as a Feather The oil lamp flickered, its fuel running low, as it struggled to illuminate the windowless room. The lamp sat on a small, sturdy desk, and Reynalesca squinted as she studied the figure pacing back and forth on the other side of the desk. Magis Sparkmantle was lost in thought, and was turning the purple box over and over in his hands, probing its surface carefully with his fingers. As soon as Reyna had returned with the box, she had been led to Mr. Sparkmantle's “office,” if the room could be called that. She had expected him to be excited with her success, but he had simple taken the box from her, without a word, and had proceeded to wander around the room, occasionally muttering something nonsensical. Well, there was nothing for her to do but wait. Reyna leaned back in her cushioned arm chair, lifting her feet up off the floor as she did so, and closed her eyes. It had been quite the afternoon, and while she had been looking for adventure, she hadn't really been prepared for so much so soon. Learning how to create fireballs was one thing, and it was a wonderful feeling. Running around in the snow, trying to avoid troggs, and actually killing one of the things while backed into a corner, well, that was something else entirely. Not to mention her encounter with Mr. Eyepatch the dwarf. What had his name been? Toshley? Toshiba? Tashkent? She knew it was something like that, in any case. Whoever he was, he hadn't tried stabbing her, and he was probably much more friendly than he looked. Or sounded. Or smelled, for that matter. “Aha!” Magis suddenly shouted, and Reyna opened her eyes to resume squinting at him. “I've found the opening mechansim,” he continued. “The switch isn't actually visible, you see, and is a layer below the surface. Unfortunately, it seems to be, well, stuck at the moment.” Magis proceeded to lift the box high above his head, and he slammed it as hard as he could into 35
    • the ground. Nothing happened. Muttering furiously, Magis walked behind his desk, and opened one of the drawers. He pulled out what appeared to be a small sledgehammer. “You never know when you need tools,” Magis said, smiling to himself. “Now, if I set the box up just like so....yes....just like that.” Magis set the box on the ground, propped up on its side, and pounded his hammer into one of the box's corners. Nothing happened. Reyna yawned. This could take awhile. Magis stopped aiming, and was now beating furiously on the purple box from all angles. It was a tough little thing, and his blows were barely denting it. He continued to smash away for several minutes. Nothing happened. Magis threw down the sledgehammer in disgust, and began twiddling his grey moustache. “Well, it looks like my attempts at finesse are not working very well,” he reluctantly admitted. Finesse? Reyna could only shake her head at the thought. “The locking mechanism is probably broken,” Magis decided, “and I think we're going to need to bring in some muscle.” Magis opened the door, stepped out into the hallway, and waved down a random dwarf that was walking by. “Hello strong fellow,” Magis said, bowing so low that his beard scraped the floor. “Would you like to smash something as hard as you possibly can? I'll pay you.” The dwarf stopped walking, and cocking an eyebrow, looked down at Magis. The stranger was wearing a fairly loose fitting tunic, but did appear to have strong arms. “That depends,” the dwarf said suspiciously. “What am I smashing, and what are you paying?” Magis straightened, and gestured at the purple box. “I'd like you to force open that box, using whatever means necessary. The contents should be very secure in there, and the chance of damage is low; it should be a simple job, I think. Your reward? Let's see. How about we go for a round of ale afterward. I'll buy, and you can drink to your heart's content!” The dwarf smiled at this. “Sounds like easy work, and for 36
    • all I can drink, I'd be happy to help you out.” “Marvelous!” Magis jumped in the air, and clapped his hands together. “Well, while you work on that, I have other matters to attend to.” Magis turned to Reyna. “I believe I made some promises to you, and to start, how about I show you some more techniques? Magic techniques, of course.” Reyna rose from the chair, and walking out to join the others in the hallway, simply nodded. “Well then,” Magis said, clapping his hands again. “Let's all travel to my other office.” Magis started scurrying down the hall, and then looked back at the dwarf. “Do you mind carrying the box?” The dwarf shrugged, went to pick it up, and was soon trailing behind them. Magis rounded a bend at the end of the hallway, and opened a wooden door. After climbing a short staircase, he opened a carved stone hatch, and a cold wind greeted them. As Magis walked out through the hatch, Reyna was surprised to see that he had led them outside, and they were now up on the roof of the outpost. She frowned as the icy wind cut into her robes, covering her with flecks of snow. It would have been nice to stay inside for just a little bit longer. Near the back of the roof, Reyna noticed a line of straw target dummies set up at the edge. The newly recruited dwarf shook his head when he saw the things, and moving off to the other side of the roof, began raining blows on the box. He had also brought the sledgehammer with him. “Now Reyna,” Magis began, as he led her closer to the targets. “I showed you earlier today how to make a ball of fire in your hand. That is often the easiest way to do things, but in fact, it's possible to make fire at a distance. Watch me carefully.” Magis crouched down low, jumped up in the air, spun around, and hollered out “Woot!” as he flung his right hand towards one of the straw figures. Flames instantly engulfed its head, and then vanished. Only a blackened, charred, straw head remained. Magis smiled proudly. “That is how you blast things instantly. 37
    • Want to try?” Reyna looked down at her boots, and shuffled her feet uncomfortably. From behind her, the sound of iron on iron rang out through the air, and she heard a low voice singing merrily. “Beating a box, beating a box, oh how fun it is to randomly smash a box...” That was very distracting, and definitely out of tune. Reyna grabbed her forehead. She needed to concentrate. “I'd like to,” Reyna said tentatively. “but in truth, you moved very quickly there, and I have no idea what you actually did, other than Woot.'” Magis laughed, and threw his hand up in the air, doubling himself over on the way down. “Saying Woot is highly recommended, as it's fun, and makes you sound professional, but it has nothing to do with the actual magic. You may select your own fun sound if you'd like.” Magis finished laughing, and then turned to face the targets. “Watch again,” he said. “The only trick here is that when you push the energy through your hand, don't imagine yourself forming a fireball. Don't imagine yourself holding on to anything, however briefly. Instead, focus on something in the environment – such as part of one of those targets – and imagine it exploding. Make sure you are very focused. If you don't concentrate, you could end up blasting something that you don't intend to. Like your shoes. Or me. So right. Concentration is key!” Magis bent down low again, jumped up, spun around, Wooted, and another target dummy head melted away. Nodding to herself, Reyna bent down low jumped in the air, but didn't attempt to spin. Instead, she simply pointed a hand at the middle of one of the dummies, and reached for the magic well of energy that hovered at the edge of her awareness. Reyna gasped as she landed, and saw the dummy briefly light up in flames, before turning black. “Fantastic!” Magis cheered. “You are a natural, a real natural.” Reyna smiled. Turning to face another target, Reyna paused as she heard a cooing sound. A white bird had landed 38
    • right in front of one of the straw dummies, and it appeared to be a rare white pigeon. The magical blasts didn't seem to have scared it off one bit. “What luck!” Magis said, turning to face the bird. “This provides a great opportunity to show you another very important technique.” Magis pulled his hand back, and Reyna saw his fingers shimmer with white light. He flung his arm forward, and the pigeon turned into a sheep! The confused creature walked about awkwardly, before jumping off the side of the roof, wildly flailing its hooves as it did so. Reyna's mouth flew open, and she ran to the edge. Looking down, she saw the sheep lying in a deep snow bank. Thankfully, it wasn't a far drop, and the poor thing seemed to have landed somewhere soft. As she watched it, the sheep abruptly turned back into a pigeon, and the bird hopped back to its feet, obviously dazed. After a moment, though, it spread out its wings, and started flying rapidly away from their location, towards the setting sun. Magis laughed again, a deep, joyous laugh, as he walked up behind Reyna and patted her on the shoulder. “For that spell,” he said, “you need to do things quite differently. You need to reach back and feel the very soul of your target, and then, well, sheep it. The effect is always temporary, but if you can see the energy of a living creature, however briefly, you can rearrange things for a short time. I find that sheeps are easiest to make, but you could try penguins, or turtles; whatever works for you.” Reyna nodded, but wasn't sure if she really understood. Mastering fire was complicated enough, and now this? Well, she would find something to test that on. She scanned around, looking for another bird, or maybe a rabbit, when she heard a cheer rise up behind her. “Operation smash stuff has been a smashing success!” Their dwarf helper said the words proudly, and as Reyna turned to look, she saw the purple box was lying in pieces. It had been beaten almost beyond recognition. Magis walked over casually, and appeared to be 39
    • unconcerned about the wreckage. He bent down, and tossing the metal fragments about, paused on something. Suddenly moving very slowly, he carefully picked up a tiny object, and held it towards the fading sunlight. It was a feather. “I have been hiding you for awhile,” Magis said to the feather. “Well, time for you to go home.” Reyna struggled to contain her confusion. A single feather? “This feather,” Magis said, walking towards her, “is a very special feather. It was given to me by a colleague for safe keeping. A gnome named Archimede. A few days ago, he sent me a message, and asked to have it back. I believe he is in Ironforge at the moment, or at least, you should be able to track him down from there. Just ask around.” Magis handed Reyna the feather. “That is, if you don't mind giving it to him for me.” Reyna considered the request. Well, why not? She was an apprentice of sorts, after all. “Sure thing Magis,” she said, taking the feather. “Shall I start walking back tonight?” Magis smiled. “No need. You have shown that you have plenty of talent, and I'd say you have earned the right to be called a mage. Officially, that is. As a mage, there is a much better way to travel.” Magis spread his arms out to the sides, and concentrated. After channeling for a few moments, a portal rippled into existence. Reyna looked through, and could see the stone walls of Ironforge on the other side. Somewhere in the mystic ward, by the look of it. Reyna looked down at the feather, then up at Magis, and then through the portal. He had said she was a mage! An official mage! Holding the feather tightly, Reyna gave Magis a deep bow, and began what was now a very short walk back to Ironforge. It was hard to tell time inside the city of Ironforge. There was no sunlight, and the fire was always burning brightly, whether it was the glow of the lava flows, or the firelight from the braziers. The braziers were kept burning steadily at all hours, and the lava – well, it was lava – and there was no turning it off. As Toshi lounged at the side of the large fountain, however, he could 40
    • feel in his bones that the sun was about to set. He could also feel in his stomach that he was growing quite hungry. He had been very busy earlier in the day, and felt like he could eat a horse. Not a whole horse, but maybe an entire leg. Rising to his feet, Toshi began to think about which tavern to visit. The Dancing Pony served surprisingly tasty horse, despite its name. It was down on one of the lower levels of the city, but was probably worth the travel time. Toshi started walking over to his ram, and before he had taken three steps, he stopped. In the crowd, he saw a blob of pink hair darting about. She turned, and smiled widely as she met his eyes. It was the gnome he had met in the Coldridge Valley Mine; what had her name been? Raindrop? Rey Rey? Rayban? Pausing to brush some snow off her sleeves, the little gnome walked towards him, and stopped a few feet away. “Hello Toshiba!” she said happily. “What are the odds that we would meet again like this, twice in the same day?” Toshi bared his teeth. Well, she had almost got his name right, and it didn't really matter. In any case, the gnome had a point; it was strange to see her here in Ironforge, so soon after seeing her in the mine. What was she up to? “Hello to you,” Toshi replied cautiously. “I see you are still in one piece. Can I help you with something?” “That would be great!” The gnome said with a flourish, as she started to spin around on the spot for no apparent reason. Her eyes were scanning the crowd randomly. “I am looking for a gnome named Archimede. I have something to give him.” Reyna stopped her spin, and raised a feather up over her head. Toshi widened his eye in surprise. Archimede? Strange that she would be looking for him, of all people. Well, dinner could wait a little bit longer. “I happen to know Archimede well,” Toshi said. “Too well, actually, and definitely better than I'd like to. Anyway, hand me that feather, and I'll take it to him right away.” Reyna gasped, and clutched the feather close to her chest. “You know Archimede?” she said with surprise. “How 41
    • wonderful! However, I would like to hand him the feather myself. Perhaps you could tell me where he is?” Toshi sighed. It would be better to be rid of this one as soon as possible. After all, she had seen him in the mines, and perhaps that was no accident. Could she have actually been hunting down whatever he had retrieved for Sephirah, and had followed him afterwards, once he had found it first? Then again, she was looking for Archimede, and might even be working for the crazy old gnome. What a tangled mess! In any case, it was best if he controlled the situation as much as possible. “You can trust me, little one,” Toshi said, attempting to put on a friendly smile. He couldn't tell if he was actually smiling, but it felt like he might be. “Oh yes, I do, I trust you Toshiba,” the gnome said cheerfully. “I have a good feeling about you. It's just that, well, I was told to deliver this to Archimede, and I feel like I should be the one to hand it over to him.” Toshi looked down at the ground, and rested his chin on his knuckles. She wasn't an assassin, was she? In any case, there was one obvious way to resolve this issue. An especially fun way, in fact. “How about this?” Toshi began, looking up at the gnome, his eyes sparkling. “Let's have a duel, right here by the fountain. A friendly duel, of course, non-lethal and all. The winner decides what we end up doing about that feather of yours.” The gnome's smile melted away, and her eyes went hard. “Fine!” she said sharply. “If you insist, then let's get this over with.” Toshi grinned, and reached for his daggers. As he did so, his eyes widened in shock, as his daggers didn't seem to be there. In fact, neither did his hands! And why was the floor so close? He looked up at the gnome, who was suddenly taller than him, and definitely smiling again. He opened his mouth to shout something at her, and heard himself make a long baaaaaaa sound. “Good sheepy!” the gnome said, giggling to herself. 42
    • Suddenly, the room started to shrink, and the gnome got slightly smaller. He looked about, and noticed his gloved hands were back in front of his eyes. He needed to move quickly. As he reached down for his weapons, he saw a white light building up in the gnome's hand. His vision blurred, and she was taller again. This was bad. “I suggest you agree to lead me to Archimede,” she said happily, “or this could be a very long evening. Well, for you at least.” His vision spun, and he saw his hands appear back in front of him. He didn't hesitate, and pulling both daggers out from his belt, threw himself towards the mage. Almost instantly, he stopped moving, and the daggers were gone. The gnome hopped backwards, laughing as she increased the distance. “That was the wrong answer,” she said. “Try again!” Toshi muttered some baas under his breath. Well, there was no sense continuing on with this humiliation. At least not this evening. He was far too hungry. As soon as he saw his hands pop into view, holding his daggers tightly, Toshi threw the weapons down on the ground. “Fine!” he growled. “Let's go find Archimede. Follow me.” The gnome clapped her hands together, and jumped in the air. Shaking his head, Toshi gathered his daggers from off the ground, and walked over to his ram. Grabbing it by the reins, Toshi headed off towards the center of the city, the gnome skipping along behind him. As they started walking, Toshi smiled in spite of himself. Oh, Sephirah. What had she gotten him into now? 43
    • Chapter 5 – The Mastermind Archimede held the blue staff out in front of him, watching closely as water ran down its length, the water dripping away steadily in large drops as it fell towards the stone floor. Water dripped down from the sleeves of his robes as well, and he was completely soaked from head to toe. That was only logical, as he had been underwater for several hours, testing the thing in the first suitable location he could find. The small pond in the forlorn cavern was extremely dirty, and was also a busy fishing hole, but it was deep enough water for his purposes. That is all that had mattered. The city of Ironforge simply did not have a lot of deep water lying about, unless you counted the lava flows, so he couldn't afford to be picky. A sub-lava test had intrigued him, but probably would have been a bad idea, despite the potential research benefits. Waving the hydrocane wildly at his side, Archimede started walking away from the water's edge. The hydrocane had worked. Worked perfectly. It had been an amazing experience, being completely submerged, and not needing to breathe. Well, as long as he held on to the staff, at least. He had tried letting go of the thing, just to see what would happen with it merely nearby, and had immediately started drowning. Luckily, that test had been done very close to the shore. His Gnomeregan incursion team had stayed to observe his initial tests, before heading off once it became clear that the thing worked. That had been hours ago, now, but Sparkel had seemed especially interested in the staff. Should he be suspicious of that? Archimede shook his head, as he tracked water along the stone roadway. If he started worrying about her, then he would truly be worried about everyone. Of course, in a way, he did worry about everyone. Archimede closed his eyes, as he often did while lost in 44
    • thought. It was dangerous to do while walking, but he only rarely crashed into things. Walking along with his eyes closed, he tried to think back to when this first started. Back to when he had first learned that Balzamel was alive, and plotting something. It had happened by pure chance, during a visit to an old mutual friend, when he had noticed a letter with a certain marking. The skull marking had seemed so familiar, and yet he hadn't been able to pin down its significance immediately. It had taken some further investigation for him to realize that Balzamel was still out there, reaching out to old contacts, and planning something dire. The orc had been a friend of his once, as unusual as that was, considering that orcs and gnomes were officially enemies. Balzamel, however, had shared Archimede's love of knowledge and its more creative applications. How could he be enemies with a fellow inventor? Their friendship was so long ago now, though, so very long ago. While they were both still young, something had happened to Balzamel. Something very sad, and something irreversible. Archimede had always been suspcious that the orc scholar had somehow survived the incident, and might return someday. What had fueled those suspicions over the years? He searched his memories, and couldn't remember. What else about Balzamel had slipped away over the years, now that he needed to remember? Eyes closed, and feet moving, Archimede tried to remember. Shaking his head, he turned his attention to the present. One thing that he did know – as clear as anything – is that Balzamel had recently mobilized operatives near Ironforge itself. Worse, there was almost certainly an operative moving freely through the city. A human, dwarf, night elf, or gnome was serving Balzamel inside the city, and was preparing to carry out something terrible. Perhaps there were even multiple operatives at work here. Worst of all, Archimede suspected his own friends; he was nearly certain that one of them was Balzamel's chief agent, and point of attack. He trusted his fellow mages beyond all reasonable doubt, but the traitor could be almost anyone. The whole situation had made it hard for Archimede to sleep, at least 45
    • when he was here in the city, right in the thick of the probable danger. There were simply too many things that he was worried about, and too many ideas that he needed to test. This afternoon, some plans of his had been put into action, and groups of his most trusted associates had been sent off throughout the Eastern Kingdoms. The goals were simple; intercept messages from Balzamel, discover a way to decipher the messages, and figure out how to respond. Recovering the legendary hydrocane, while worthwhile for its own sake, was part of the preparations for one possible response. Archimede remembered fondly the fortress that Balzamel had established at the bottom of the ocean, so many years ago. If he had resumed using that location as his seat of power, then it was best to be ready. Even if Archimede would have to go in alone. As his feet continued to carry him along, eyes closed, Archimede could hear the sound of voices, and the distant ring of the forges. That was his cue. Turning left sharply, Archimede felt the ground become smoother, and he opened his eyes. In front of him, there was a large oak door. It had the words “Max Rawr” carved deeply into the wood. He was at the headquarters of the Max Rawr Mages Association, which was his destination this evening. His mage associates should be gathered inside by now, although he wasn't sure exactly what time it was. Who could remember the time, when there was so much to do? “Hello Archimede,” a quiet voice squeaked. He realized that a green haired gnome was standing guard near the doorway, and saw her frown a bit as she leaned on her staff. It was Sparkel's sister Sumtopia, although he wasn't sure how it was possible for them to be sisters. So many mysteries in the world, far too many for him to solve them all. He did like to try, though, when he could. “Hello Sum Sum,” Archimede replied, calling her by her nickname. “Do you know if everyone has gathered here yet, and why are you standing guard for us? This is a mages meeting, you know.” “I don't see why it isn't mages and warlocks,” Sumtopia 46
    • said, pouting slightly. “Besides, Ultimar is inside, and he's definitely a warlock. He asked me to keep an eye on the door, though, so I suppose I'd be out here anyway. I wouldn't want to let down my teacher, if you can call him that. Anyway, I think the mages are all here, although I haven't seen Dulin. I haven't seen Dulin for quite some time, actually, and I don't think he's here today.” At the mention of Dulin, Sumtopia's pout seemed to grow deeper. Archimede nodded. It was very likely that his hydrocane studies had caused him to be late, as he often was. Well, there was no helping that. Important research was always a priority, after all. Walking up to the oak door, Archimede placed a hand over the carved words, and released the magic lock. A simple thing to open, really, but impossible without magic, and knowledge of the code word. The code was KillDulin. That had been Sephirah's idea, and Archimede smiled as he recalled the day they had set this lock. It had been extremely fun to inform Dulin of the situation, and then watch Dulin's face as they asked Dulin himself to open the door for them. There was a short staircase directly beyond the doorway, and after closing the door behind him, Archimede headed down. He heard the voices of his friends below, and as his feet echoed on the stairs, the voices went quiet. Turning into the main room, he could see that everyone was indeed gathered around the long wooden table. Ultimar was sitting in a chair at one end, spinning a soul shard on the surface in front of him. Sephirah was also seated, with a book in front of her, along with what appeared to be a scroll. Vortna was seated across from Sephirah, and with her blonde hair tied back behind her head, the woman looked even more serious than normal today. Standing in a corner of the room, Hova had his back turned to everyone, and the tall man was wearing simple black robes that disappeared into the shadows. He presented a stark contrast to Sedir, who stood in the other corner, and who seemed to be wearing his finest jewels and silks. They were all here now, except for Dulin. Archimede had tried to invite Dulin, but couldn't, as no one seemed to know where he 47
    • was. Hova turned from the shadows, and looked over his shoulder. “Well well, Archimede, it looks like you truly were practicing being a fish today. You even managed to escape from the fisherman, if just barely.” Sedir laughed, and several of the others grinned. Looking down carefully at himself, Archimede noticed that there was a fairly large fishing hook caught in the left arm of his robe. So that was what had tugged him about in the water for awhile; he had been confused by that, and thought it might have been a defect in the hydrocane. He would have to correct his notes. Archimede pulled the hook free from the cloth, with some difficulty, and tossed it up into the air, before incinerating it casually with a burst of fire. “For my part,” Archimede began, “I can tell you that the hydrocane works as hoped, although Ultimar may have already informed you of our success. How did things go with everyone else?” Sedir stepped forward, and took a seat at the table next to Sephirah. “I was unable to find anything in the Tower of Azora,” Sedir began, “and I believe that Hova's search also turned up nothing.” Sedir gestured over to Hova, and the dark skinned man continued to stand in the corner of the room, merely nodding once. Vortna looked up at Archimede, as the gnome took a seat at the near end of the long table. “Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Sephirah and I did manage to find some information.” Vortna's voice was calm, but her eyes were troubled. “Perhaps Sephirah should go first?” With a nod, Sephirah picked up the book that lay on the table, and pointed it at the ceiling. “I managed to find this book in the Tower of Ilgalar, as hoped, but the book hadn't actually been there. It had been in the wizard Morganth's pockets, essentially, and I removed it from him. In a not very friendly way, I should add, but that was always a possibility going in.” Archimede closed his eyes. Yes, he had known that Morganth might be carrying the book, and had been worried 48
    • about Sephirah handling him. Well, it looked like he had been worried for no reason. “So Morganth is dead?” Archimede asked. “Very dead,” Sephirah replied. “Morganth's death may alert Balzamel to our investigation, but perhaps not. Morganth had no shortage of enemies. In any case, this book here is what we needed. As is this scroll, that I had someone trustworthy find for us. It was in a box with the exact markings that you had described in our last meeting.” “So,” Archimede began, his eyes still closed. “The book must be a cipher, and the scroll must be a message to one of Balzamel's people. Have you finished decoding it?” “Yes,” Sephirah said, “and it doesn't look good. The message contains instructions of a particularly grizzly nature. Shall I read it to you?” “Please do,” Archimede replied. “Very well.” Sephirah unrolled the scroll, and started reading, apparently having already memorized either the coding system or the contents of the message. “The special entry point into Ironforge will be clear, when the time comes. There is no need to concern yourself with that. Continue preparing the army, and make sure that our forces are ready. The assault will be launched any day now. Have patience. I will send your final instructions shortly, and when they arrive, I expect that you will execute my orders precisely. Do not disappoint me.” Sephirah rolled the scroll back up, and folded her hands in her lap. Archimede shuddered. That was worse than he had feared. And so soon! The danger was so soon. So much responsibility. His thoughts drifted to his magic workshop; how he longed to be back there, figuring out how to make copies of the hydrocane, or perhaps developing a ray gun that could grant persisting water breathing powers with a single blast. Balzamel. Why did the danger have to come from Balzamel? Vortna leaned forward in her chair, her fingers tapping silently on the table. “My own work in the city,” she said, “has also confirmed your fears. We definitely have a traitor. Someone 49
    • in our broader organization, Tempora Heroica, is aiding Balzamel. I don't believe it is anyone in our own Max Rawr Mages Association. Nevertheless, it is one of our friends.” “How did you confirm this?” Archimede asked. “Some things,” Vortna said softly, “I must keep secret from all of you.” Archimede suppressed an urge to throw up his hands in exasperation. Well, they all had their own sources of information that were private, and if Vortna said she confirmed things, then he would just have to trust her. After all, he was the one who had asked her to look for evidence. “So, what do we do?” Ultimar cut in. As the only other gnome in a room full of humans, Archimede felt a bond with him, even though he was a warlock. Archimede had insisted that Ultimar should be apprised of the situation, despite some fierce objections, and so far, that decisions seemed to have been a good one. “Do we have any leads on finding this army?” Ultimar continued. “Or Balzamel himself? If not, maybe we need to consider bringing more people in on this, despite the risks. We're talking about a possible invasion of Ironforge. We can't let history repeat itself.” Ultimar's eyes grew sad, and Archimede knew the warlock was thinking of Gnomeregan. “We have one lead,” Sephirah said. “A very important lead, which I haven't mentioned yet. What do you think this means?” Sephirah produced a black box, with a skull marking on it, and opened it. She looked deep inside, as if reading something. “Take a look.” Sephirah passed the box to Sedir. He nodded, then passed it on to Ultimar. A glimmer of insight flashed across the gnomes eyes, before passing the box along. The box moved around the room, before arriving in Archimede's hands. He looked closely into its depths. In one of the inside corners, scratched into the metal, he could make out some scrambled symbols. Archimede looked around the room. “The next message dropoff location?” Archimede suggested. “We knew that the location shifted, and that we had a very narrow window to intercept this particular 50
    • message, while we still could.” “That's what it looks like to me,” Sephirah said. “Those symbols translate to Gol'Bolar Quarry. Of course, whoever was supposed to receive the message we stole won't know where to go next, but if you're thinking what I'm thinking...” “It's obvious to me,” Vortna interjected. “We setup ambush teams at the Quarry, and try to intercept the next message, along with whoever Balzamel sends to deliver it. Paper can only tell us so much, after all.” Archimede stroked his wet beard. Well, that wasn't the worst idea. “That sounds fine to me,” Hova said, “but there's no way I'm waiting around in the cold for who knows how long, for a messenger that may or may not be coming. Do any of you want to do that?” The room grew quiet. “I will do this,” Sephirah said, after some time. “Or at least, I will make sure that the messenger is captured, if one really comes, and if it is at all possible. I have friends that I can count on. Trustworthy friends.” “I'm happy to leave Sephirah to it, then,” Sedir said, rubbing a thumb against one of his large golden rings. “But what should the rest of us do? Surely not sit around and wait?” “There is a lot for us to do,” Archimede said thoughtfully. “Prepare ourselves with weapons and resources. Continue searching for clues. Perhaps someone could even go find Dulin, or at least learn where he is. He should be here.” From the shadows, Hova laughed. “Why do we need Dulin for anything? Let him continue his worldwide tavern tour, or whatever he's doing.” “I will try to find Dulin,” Vortna said quickly. “I agree with Archimede. He should be here.” Ultimar threw up his hands. “Well, if that's all you guys can come up with, then I guess I better offer up a plan of my own. Archimede, you were friends with Balzamel once, we know that. Why don't we investigate his old stomping grounds? Places he used to live, visit frequently, anything. Surely there's somewhere 51
    • we could search directly for him?” Archimede looked closely at the hydrocane that he was still holding in his hand. “I suppose there is something we could try. Perhaps.” As Archimede tried to decide whether he should bring up his one man army plan, he heard a loud knock from up above. A very distinctive knock. That was Sumtopia, and they had visitors. Friendly visitors. Could it be Dulin? “I'll get that” Archimede said, as he proceeded to bounce up the stairs. Opening the door, Archimede saw that behind Sumtopia, there were exactly two visitors. One was Toshi, and the other was a pink haired gnome that he had never seen before. In her hand was a feather. A very special feather. He had forgot about that. Archimede smiled at the sight of it. He was an inventor, after all, and his options had just expanded considerably. It had been a long and tiring day, and Balzamel stared carefully at the claws on his green hands. These hands were his hands, and it was refreshing to be seeing something with his own eyes. He bent each finger one at a time, and his fingers struggled to move, as they always did after an especially long session. On the table in front of him, white smoke continued to rise from the clear mind control orb that he had been using. The smoke would stop soon, but it already filled the room, and made everything smell like burnt metal. After several months of using the orb, he had stopped noticing that smell. It had worked its way deep into his skin, and had become a part of him. As he rose from his chair, Balzamel's muscles ached. While using the orb, he lost awareness of his own physical state, and always paid the price afterwards. It was a price he paid gladly, in order to move closer to his goals. If things continued to go as planned, he would turn Ironforge into another Gnomeregan. Once that was finished, the human city of Stormwind would be next, and finally, the night elf capital of Darnassus. It was the right thing to do. It was justice. Peering through the dim smoky air, it appeared that the small room he occupied had not been disturbed. On one wall, a 52
    • crystal orb was set in place, filling the room with clean, magical light. It had been difficult to design the thing to be ultra efficient, but now, the orb could glow for years without needing to be recharged. He always turned the light down to very low levels while conducting his daily mind control activities. That made it easier to concentrate, and leave his body, but he didn't particularly enjoy sitting around in the darkness. Walking slowly over to the orb, Balzamel turned a nob, and the light increased its intensity. A thick stone door was the only way into or out of the room, and it was still closed securely. It had no physical lock, but none was needed. As Balzamel moved over to the door, he placed a hand on it, and checked the magic seals. All eight were in place, and there was no evidence that any had been tampered with. Carefully working his way around the circle, Balzamel opened each of the seals in a specific way, avoiding the deadly traps that he had placed on each of them. Once the door was finally unlocked, he simply pulled down a wooden latch, and pushed the door open. He emerged into a narrow hallway, and quickly closed the stone door behind him. A regular wooden door had been installed a few feet ahead of him, and he merely pushed it open. The second door was simply to provide an extra layer of privacy. After all, he wouldn't want one of his servants to accidentally see something forbidden. He liked most of his servants, and it was unfortunate when he had to kill one for seeing too much. Thankfully, he hadn't needed to do that in several years. Balzamel's muscles still ached as he stepped out into a larger circular room. At the far side of the room, Eku sat calmly on a stone bench. The blue skinned troll was leaning on a large, curved bow, and was wearing heavy silver mail. Balzamel couldn't remember ever seeing Eku not wearing his battle gear. He also couldn't remember ever seeing the troll smile. Eku was a fairly one dimensional creature, but he was very good in his chosen dimension, and very reliable. “Hello my friend,” Balzamel said wearily. “What news do you have for me?” 53
    • “This probably isn't news,” the troll replied, “but you really need to get some better furniture for in here. I've been waiting for hours, and the conditions are highly depressing.” “I will consider it,” Balzamel said dismissively. “I assume you haven't been waiting here merely to complain about my furniture?” “A safe assumption,” Eku quickly answered. “My trip to Dun Morogh was uneventful. I left the package where you instructed me to, in the Coldridge mines. Did I ever tell you how much I hate the snow? It seems even more awful every time I see the stuff. Anyway, no one saw me in the area. At least, no one is still alive that saw me.” Eku pulled an arrow out of his quiver, and studied it closely as he bounced it in his free hand. Balzamel nodded thoughtfully. “Your skills are why I insist on sending you personally, Eku. If you are willing, I have another message for you to send. This one is especially crucial for us. Are you willing to return to the snows of Dun Morogh?” Eku caught the arrow he was flipping about, and stared at its steel point. “That depends, Balzamel,” the troll said. “Are you willing to keep paying me? I'll want double this time. I've been to Dun Morogh far too often recently. It gives me a chance to play a bit, but I'd rather do that somewhere else. Anywhere warmer, to be honest.” “I will pay you triple,” Balzamel replied. “The usual amount right now, and then double that when you successfully return. Trust me, I will know how this particular delivery goes.” “I don't doubt it,” Eku said as he put the arrow back in his quiver. “Where is the drop location this time?” “You are to go to the Gol'Bolar Quarry,” Balzamel ordered. “I will give you a map. A highly detailed map. Wait here, and I will go prepare the package.” “Don't forgot to bring my money too,” Eku called after him, as the orc turned back towards his safe room. “I won't forget,” Balazmel said coolly. “You are very valuable to me, Eku, and I like to take care of my friends.” The part about being very valuable was true, at least. Valuable, but 54
    • not irreplaceable, and the troll was starting to know too much. Perhaps he would need to dispose of Eku soon. He didn't really want to do that, but it would be easy enough, and it had been a long time since he eliminated one of his own people. A little fear did help keep things running smoothly, as horrible as it was to resort to such tactics. In any case, Balzamel was not going to be buying new furniture, when he was so close to needing a new chief messenger anyway. 55
    • Chapter 6 – Gnomes versus Planes As soon as she had walked down the staircase, and entered the room, everyone had stared at her suspiciously. Reyna had not been expecting to see so many people here, and were they all mages? It was very startling. The green haired gnome had stayed outside, but the eyepatch dwarf had followed her down the stairs, and he was now leaning against the wall. He winked at a brown haired woman that was sitting at the table, and she gave him a smile, before staring at Reyna along with everyone else. Archimede had entered the room in front of her, and he stood at the head of the long table, holding the feather thoughtfully. That was actually Archimede, right? This was all very confusing. “Well, are you going to introduce her?” The question was asked by a dark man clad in black who was leaning in the corner of the room. Archimede looked up from the feather. “Perhaps I should introduce all of you guys first,” the gnome said. “That's Hova,” he said, gesturing to the man who had just spoken. “Moving around the table, we have Vortna, Ultimar, Sedir, and Sephirah. Oh, and I'm Archimede. We are all members of Tempora Heroica, as is Toshi back there, and most of us here are mages. As for our guest, well, I don't know who she is. She brought me this feather from Magis Sparkmantle, though, so she must be a friendly sort.” Stepping forward, Reyna smiled, before bowing down low. “My name is Reynalesca,” she said, “but you can all call me Reyna. I am a new mage, and I am so excited to meet all of you.” “I'm sure you are,” Hova said flatly. “Well, Archimede, is there any reason why you have brought these two down here with you?” “Yes, yes,” Archimede said absently, his eyes returning to the feather. “As far as I'm concerned, our meeting for the day is 56
    • finished. This gnome – Reyna, is it? – brought me a very special object that I had stashed away. This feather needs testing, and I'd like to start working on that immediately. It could create some new possibilities for us.” “In that case,” Sephirah said, standing up from her spot at the table. “I would like to go get something to eat. Would you join me Toshi? I would like to discuss something with you.” “Of course, my lady,” the dwarf said with a smile. “Follow me. I know just the place.” As Toshi and Sephirah headed up the stairs, Hova followed quickly behing them. “If we are done here, then I see no reason to remain,” Hova said. “Good luck with your....tests.” Hova shook his head as he left the room. “What kind of testing do you have in mind?” Ultimar said casually as he leaned back in his chair. “Anything that you need a warlock to help with?” Reyna's eyes widened at the word warlock. She hadn't talked to one before, and rumours claimed that they were all extremely dangerous. “Perhaps, perhaps,” Archimede replied. “Your skills could be very useful, actually, although if you are low on supplies, a healer would also be good to have around. The tests could be fatal, after all, and I might need to be quickly resurrected.” “In that case, you are on your own, and good luck to you” Sedir said, rising to leave the room. “I also won't be joining you,” Vortna said calmly, “although I do enjoy watching your experiments, some of the time.” “Well then, I guess that makes it me, Ultimar, and Reyna,” Archimede said casually. “Want to see what this feather can do?” The white bearded gnome turned and smiled at her. Reyna looked down at her boots. She had just met these people, but they used magic, and she did want to advance quickly in her training. “Sure thing Archimede,” Reyna said cheerfully. “Where are we going?” “Up to the top of the city!” Archimede pointed straight up to the ceiling. “You'll see why when we get there.” 57
    • “You really want to go there?” Ultimar said with surprise. “In that case, we should definitely bring a priest with us. Let's find Sparkel on our way up, and ask her to come.” “Splendid!” Archimede said. He turned to look at Vortna. “Let me know if you manage to find Dulin.” “Of course,” the golden haired woman replied. “Happy testing.” They all left the room, and Archimede paused a moment to check the magic lock. As he was concentrating on it, Reyna noticed that the green haired gnome was still standing guard outside. “Hello Ultimar,” the bored looking gnome guard said nonchalantly. “Any other important things for me to do tonight?” “Hello Sumtopia,” Ultimar replied. “Mainly go to sleep I'd say. Although I do need to talk to your sister about something. Do you think Sparkel is at home now?” “How would I know? Well, follow me, let's go look.” Sumtopia turned and began marching off towards one of the main city stairwells. Ultimar, Archimede, and Reyna followed close behind. As the group walked through the streets of Ironforge, Reyna felt a surge of amazement at how quickly she had returned to the city. She had left Ironforge early in the morning, and had hoped to return at night, but hadn't really expected to. To be back so quickly, having done so much, was fairly overwhelming. She had even carried out a couple missions, and had delievered a magical object to an actual gnome mage. Looking over at Archimede, she noticed for the first time that he was soaked. It looked as if he had been out in the rain for hours. Perhaps he had been visiting a tropical jungle, and had portalled back recently? In any case, the blue staff he was holding looked very impressive, and she couldn't resist asking him about it. “Is that a magical staff?” Reyna inquired. “I think it's beautiful, and maybe you could tell me about it?” Archimede opened his eyes. Strange how he had been walking with his eyes closed. He turned to look at Reyna, and 58
    • then held the staff out towards her. “This is certainly a magic staff,” he said. “It is called the hydrocane. I tested it earlier today, and confirmed that if you hold on to it tightly, you can breathe underwater. Remarkable thing. Just as remarkable as this feather you brought me, although the two items are very different.” Reyna was impressed. It also made sense now why Archimede was so wet. Her mother had always told her not to walk around in wet clothes, however, as that led to catching colds. “That sounds wonderful, Archimede,” she began. “Perhaps you should dry your clothes, though. They are still very wet, and your beard is as well.” Archimede looked surprised, and glanced down at his robes. “Why you're right!” he said. “I forgot I was wet. I'd hate for ice to form in my beard once we head outside.” They both started to laugh at the thought. Up ahead, Ultimar and Sumtopia looked back at them. “It's too bad you mentioned that Reyna,” Ultimar said with disappointment in his voice. “I had just tried to make a bet with Sumtopia here that Archi wouldn't even notice if icycles started to form on his sleeves, but she wouldn't take it. Anyway, we're at the stairwell now, and Sparkel's house is just one level up if I remember right.” “You mean my house,” Sumtopia said as she glared over at Ultimar. “Sparkel lives there too, but why does that make it her house?” “It just does Sum Sum,” Ultimar said with a smile. “She's older than you, you know.” “Whatever,” Sumtopia replied, as she began to walk up a large winding staircase. The stairs were wide, and cut right out of the original mountain rocks. This particular stairwell connected all eight of Ironforge's main levels, or depths. They were leaving the fifth depth, which was the most heavily trafficked area of the city, containing the auction house, great forge, mystic ward, and tinker town, among other key places. Reyna's house was down on the sixth depth. She lived alone now, but still wouldn't mind sleeping in her own bed tonight. 59
    • The stairwell rounded a corner, and Sumtopia hurried off into the streets of the fourth depth. The group quickly found themselves outside a small stone house, and the green haired gnome held up a hand, indicating they should all wait there. She went inside, and they soon heard voices. Fairly annoyed voices, from the sounds of it. A few minutes later, a human woman appeared in the doorway, with her black hair tied back in a pony tail. She was wearing beautiful white robes, with plenty of blue splashed about around the edges. Reyna thought the woman was very pretty, and immediately began to worry that her own pink hair was a total mess. It often was, after all. “Let's see,” the woman said, her voice sounding tired. “We have Ultimar, Archimede, and a gnome I haven't met before. Do you guys want something?” Sparkel looked over at Reyna. “I'm Sparkel, by the way.” “Reynalesca, but you can call me Reyna,” she replied, bowing down low as she did so. “Archimede here wants to test a magical item,” Ultimar said. “A feather of some kind. He also is worried he might, well, die a bit, and it would be great if you could come help us out.” Sparkel sighed. “Well, if it's to help keep Archimede alive, count me in. Is Sum Sum coming along as well?” Sumtopia walked up behind Sparkel, and shook her head. “I think not,” she said. “Have fun you guys.” Grabbing a long white staff from beside the door, Sparkel stepped outside, and closed the door behind her. “So Archimede,” Sparkel began, as the group headed back to the stairwell. “What do you expect this feather to do? Watching you test the hydrocane earlier today was very interesting.” Archimede smiled. “That's still a surprise. All I'll tell you is that we're going up. To the roof! The kind of testing I have in mind is going to require height, and lots of open space. It's going to be a lot of fun I think, except for the possibly dying a few times aspect.” Sparkel laughed. “Well, I could make some guesses, but I'm willing to wait and see what you're planning to try. It's still 60
    • cold outside though. Shouldn't you have dried yourself off by now?” Despite Reyna's earlier comments, Archimede still hadn't bothered to dry himself off, and seemed surprised to notice he had forgot. Muttering to himself, Archimede pulled out a small black tube from one of his pockets, and flicked what looked like a switch. A fairly loud whirring sound emerged from it, and Reyna felt hot air fly out of the thing, bouncing past Archimede and brushing gently against her robes. Ultimar shook his head. “Really, Archimede, that has to be one of your strangest inventions.” Archimede laughed, and after a little while, turned the thing off. He seemed quite dry now, although his beard had become extremely poofy, and was scattered in all directions. They reached the stairwell soon after that, and began climbing up to the roof. Reyna had never actually been up there. Her mother had always said it was off limits until she was older, and for some reason, Reyna had never gone up to take a look. Well, she would be taking a look soon enough. As they traveled past the third depth, and the second, and finally the first, she could feel the air grow colder. The heat from the lava barely reached up this far, and most of the warmth in the first depth was produced by braziers. Eventually, the stairs ended, and she saw what looked like a thick stone hatch on the wall. Two heavily armoured dwarf guards stood next to the hatch. They looked very serious, and held their axes tightly as they stood by the exit. “We would like to step outside for awhile,” Archimede said cheerfully, as they approached the guards. “Could you please open the hatch for us?” One of the dwarves saluted, and the other one began turning a crank that was installed in the wall. The hatch slowly swung open, and the thick stone moved out of the way. Reyna felt the cold wind rush down towards her, and she immediately started shivering. She wasn't actually cold enough to shiver yet, but she remembered how cold the day had been. With the sun 61
    • having vanished behind the mountains, it should be even colder now. As they stepped outside, Reyna saw that two more dwarf guards were posted here, and one of the dwarves grunted as she walked past. Reyna waved at him, and he grunted again. It was fairly dark by now. The moon was shining brightly in the sky, though, and there was another source of light off to her left. What were those lights? “Welcome, everyone, to the Ironforge airfield!” Archimede's voice was filled with excitement as he gestured at some objects in the distance. “You see those shapes there? Those are planes! And what do planes do?” “When you are piloting them?” Ultimar said, running a gloved hand over his head. “Crash horribly, I'd say, on average.” Spakel laughed at that, and Reyna had to fight back a smile. Archimede was a possible teacher for her, after all. The white bearded gnome slapped a palm to his forehead, and then quickly checked to make sure he hadn't dropped the feather that had been in that hand. “I've only crashed several times, Ultimar,” Archimede said with a hint of exasperation. “It's not like I've crashed most of the time. In any case, would anyone like to tell me what planes are supposed to do?” “Fly!” Reyna chimed in. “Why yes!” Archimede said, raising the feather up into the air. “However, planes are machines, that require fuel, maintenance, a pilot, and so on. They also are quite noisy.” He was staring intently at the feather now. “If I'm right, this feather here can be used to help a mage fly. Well, to be accurate, fall at a controlled speed, like a parachute. But still, that is something that could be very useful to us, in certain conditions, and if I'm right, this feather will work better than a parachute. Much better.” Ultimar whistled loudly. “Falling at a controlled speed! Amazing!” His tone contained a rather large amount of sarcasm. “Now now, Ulti,” Sparkel said, shaking her head at him. “I wouldn't dismiss the uses of this so easily. A small gnome like Archimede here, well, I”m sure he could land places where you 62
    • couldn't land a plane. At least not safely land a plane, in any case.” Sparkel bent down to look into Archimede's eyes. “What kind of testing for this feather do you have in mind?” “I will climb up the side of the peak over there,” Archimede replied. “The landing area for the planes should be an excellent landing area for me. Reyna can help me climb up. I'll then jump down, and hopefully not land with too much velocity. If I do, well...” Archimede motioned to Sparkel. “Don't worry,” Sparkel said with a laugh, “I've got you, little one. I will go wait by the landing strips with Ultimar. See you in a little while, and hopefully you'll be in one piece.” Sparkel and Ultimar started walking off towards the lights. “What are those lights, Archimede?” Reyna asked as she started to walk with Archimede towards the higher part of the mountain. “Those are spotlights!” he replied. “They are massive, and help light the way at night for incoming planes. Hopefully there won't be any issues with incoming planes during our tests. Oh well, no worries. The odds are low.” Archimede flashed a warm smile. “Yes, I'm sure the odds are low,” Reyna said calmly. She really had no idea what the odds were, but it was better to be positive. “Once we climb up to higher ground, how do you plan to use that feather to slow your fall?” “A good question,” Archimede said, as he resumed studying the feather. “I had a theory about this particular object awhile ago. The idea is to channel magic energy through this feather, until the lightness of the feather envelops you, and makes you drift. I believe that it should be possible to drastically reduce the effects of gravity, for a short time, while the power of the feather is active. Enough to make you retain most of your horizontal momentum, while falling through the air, but almost none of your vertical momentum. The result is, well, a very slow fall.” Archimede looked proudly at Reyna. “I guess we'll find out soon if it works,” Reyna said, trying to make her voice sound confident. “We will indeed!” Archimede said confidently. “But 63
    • before we do that, we have some climbing to do. Up we go!” They had reached the snow covered rock walls, and Archimede began to climb. Reyna followed behind him, and they needed to work together to find a decent path. In the end, the climb turned out to be uneventful, and they soon found themselves on a wide ledge, high above the airfield. Down below, Reyna could make out at least eight planes, and two figures standing on the tarmac. That was probably Ultimar and Sparkel, waiting to see Archimede float down towards them. “Well, here goes nothing,” Archimede said. He kissed the feather, and then leaped off the side of the ledge. He fell down in a fairly predictable arc, at an impressive speed. Before long, his legs slammed into the top of a tree, and he disappeared from view below. Reyna started to wildly wave her hands, but it didn't seem necessary, as the two people on the tarmac immediately began running towards where Archimede had landed. They got there quickly, and Reyna saw what appeared to be a pair of white angel wings flash briefly in the night air, before flickering away. All she could do was wait, so she waited up on the ledge, passing the time by leaning back and staring up at the stars. The stars were another thing that she had very rarely seen in her life, and they were remarkable. How many were up there? Reynalesca took a deep breath, and started counting, but her mind soon started to wander. Did that feather really have magical properties? This Archimede guy did seem a bit....off....and it just looked like a regular feather. Maybe she would have to hold it herself to be able to tell the difference. After a few minutes, she saw a very haggard looking Archimede climbing up towards her, and he eventually was back up on the ledge beside her. “I'm glad you're alright!” Reyna said with relief. “That looked quite painful.” “It was!” Archimede said, his eyes widening. “All worth it, though, in the name of science. Unfortunately, I'm still a bit unsure how to work this thing. As you probably saw, on that 64
    • attempt, I failed to activate the feather one bit. Would you like a turn? I could use a rest before I try again.” Reyna looked up at the moon, and tried not to look down at the ground. That had been a horrible fall, and she wasn't eager to experience that. She also had just met these people; should she really risk jumping off the side of a mountain for them? Archimede seemed to be alive, though, and it was an interesting opportunity. “Alright,” Reyna said, “hand me that feather. Let's see what I can do.” Archimede passed the feather to her, and once she had it in her hand, it did feel like just an ordinary feather. Closing her eyes, she tried to focus on it more closely. Reaching for the magical energy inside of her, she tried to probe the inside of the feather with her mind, and had to suppress a gasp. What was that feeling that had just washed over her? Without opening her eyes, Reyna ran forward off the side of the ledge. And started to fall at a very slow speed. Reyna felt the cold air surround her as she fell, but she was mostly moving forward. Forcing herself to open her eyes, she looked down, and saw the ground moving along below her. The side of the snowy rock wall faded away behind her, and below, the tall pine trees drifted along. She kicked her legs about, but nothing happened. Spreading her arms wide, Reyna breathed in the cold night air, and felt exhilarated. Slowly, the pine trees disappeared, and the ground briefly turned into a snowy field. Below she could see Ultimar and Sparkel walking back towards the tarmac, and they both were staring up at her. Reyna waved, and Sparkel started to cheer. Ultimar shook his head in disbelief, and tried to jog along below her, but he couldn't match her speed. What a feeling! She began to worry that she would float right over the landing area, beyond the city of Ironforge itself, and float off over the edge of the mountain range that they were on. Perhaps it would have been better to try this from a smaller hill. Reyna tried to chase away those thoughts, though, and focused on her 65
    • connection to the feather. That was the most important thing. She was still high enough in the air that a normal fall would be very unpleasant. As she continued to soar through the air, she saw that she would definitely overshoot the tarmac, and was actually aimed right at the hatch leading back down into the city. She waved down at the dwarf guards, and one of them saw her. He immediately began gesturing wildly to his partner, who raised his axe up towards her in a panic. “It's just me, a friendly gnome!” Reyna shouted at the pair of guards. “You just saw me leave the city recently, and I've decided to return in a creative way!” “I recognize her!” One of the dwarves yelled, and they both lowered their weapons. “What in heaven's name are you doing?” “I'm not entirely sure!” Reyna called out, as she continued to float towards them. “It's fun, at least! I can't seem to adjust my speed or direction, though, and I'd appreciate it if I didn't land on one of those axe blades.” At the last moment, the dwarves stepped aside, and Reyna slammed directly into the stone hatch. Apparently her forward momentum was still quite significant, and she collapsed to the ground from the impact. As she lay there in a daze, she heard footsteps approaching from behind her. Scrambling up to her feet, she saw that Ultimar and Sparkel were both running now, and were cheering enthusiastically. “That was amazing Reyna!” Sparkel said, reaching her first. “You looked like a bird up there! A strange pink bird, but still a bird.” “It felt amazing too,” Reyna replied, “except for the landing. Anyway, let's go back up to where Archimede is. I suppose I should try to teach him how to do that, and I'd like to go again myself.” “Be careful!” One of the dwarves shouted, as the three of them began to walk off. “Oh, trust me, I will,” Reyna shouted back, meaning every 66
    • word. As their boots crunched through the snow, Sparkel looked up at the sky. “You know who would really love this?” she said thoughtfully. “Our friend Dulin. He's a gnome mage, like you and Archimede. This is exactly his sort of thing. I wonder where he is right now.” “Maybe I'll meet him one day,” Reyna said wistfully. “Perhaps,” Ultimar said, “although we're still meeting you tonight, really. After this, want to go wand bowling? It's a game I made up awhile back.” “I'd love to,” Reyna said immediately. Why not say yes to everything today? So far, that had been working out perfectly for her, and a game called wand bowling? Who could say no to that. Reaching the rock wall, Reyna started to climb, holding the feather tightly in her hand. 67
    • Chapter 7 – Living Legend In the distance, surrounded by the desert sand, the city of Gadgetstan shone brightly in the night air. The goblins that had built this place, so many years ago, had done a brilliant job with something called electricity. The small figure riding towards the gates, however, had never concerned himself with such things. He was traveling alone, through the desert, in the middle of the night, because this was one of the hottest party spots in the whole world. To join in the fun, you had to know the right people, but that was part of what made this place special. Dulin smiled as he patted his black mechanostrider on the neck. His vehicle looked like a giant mechanical chicken, and he had no idea how it worked, but that didn't matter. Most of his fellow gnomes – especially that crazy Archimede – seemed like they had technology in their genes. In Dulin's genetic code, the “scientific brilliance” genes had had been replaced by extreme alcohol tolerance. Or at least, that's something that Ultimar had told him once, right before Dulin had finished drinking him under the table. That wasn't much of an achievement, out drinking a fellow gnome, but the memory of that particular night still made Dulin smile. Reaching into the pocket of his blue silk toga, Dulin pulled out a silver flask, and took a long swig of whiskey. He had already been drinking all night, but it was good to keep his buzz going, as he wanted to make a good impression when he arrived. Gadgetstan was a very special place to him, after all. With the Alliance and the Horde at war, there were few cities where he could mingle with taurens, orcs, and trolls, and just have a great time. A drunk tauren was a fun tauren, in his books, and outside of the few neutral cities that remained out of the war, it just wasn't practical to walk up to a giant talking cow and throw caution to the wind. 68
    • On the road up ahead, a pair of goblin bruisers stepped in front of the city gates, and signaled for Dulin to halt. They were large, for goblins, and well armed, but not much bigger than Dulin himself. “You seem lost, I'm afraid,” one of the goblins began, “or is there a reason that you've come to Gadgestan at such an unusual hour?” “I have come here for one reason,” Dulin said casually, “and that's to have fun. Perhaps when your shift is over, the two of you can join me.” “Fun isn't free,” the other goblin replied. “The best things in life usually are,” Dulin said with a smile, “but I suppose I can make an exception tonight.” Winking at the nearest of the two goblins, Dulin tossed a gold coin to each of them. A large gold coin. After a quick nod, one of the bruisers turned to a nearby watch tower, and motioned that the gates should be opened. “Have fun in there friend,” the goblin said as he turned back to Dulin, “and don't do anything too stupid.” “Do I look like the type?” Dulin asked as he rode through the opening gates, and disappeared into the city. “Yep!” Both guards shouted back. “Well, as long as you don't hold it against me,” Dulin said softly as the gates were quickly slammed shut behind him. It had been a few months since Dulin had last been to this place, but the city was fairly small, and still very familiar. He turned his mechanostrider into the main roadway, and began passing a long stretch of large stone buildings. In the middle of the city, to his right, there was an enormous steel cage, with spectator stands inside. That was the gladiator's arena, but he had very little interest in that type of entertainment tonight. Tonight he was going somewhere even more dangerous. After a minute or so, he spotted the alley he was looking for. Slowing his mount to a halt, he got off near the side of the road, and set his mount to locked mode. With a smile, it occurred to him that it was fairly ridiculous to come to a place like this with no weapons at all. Luckily for him, his magical powers were 69
    • all the weaponry he needed, if tonight's partying happened to turn in that kind of direction. Dulin walked up to a unmarked black door near the back of the alley, and after casually throwing the door wide open, he proceeded to head down a long flight of stairs. They were very steep, and an adventure to navigate when tipsy. As he neared the bottom, he could hear voices, but no music, and things seemed a bit quiet. That would not do at all. With his silver flask in hand, Dulin took a flying leap down to the landing below, and threw his arms open as he faced the people in the room below. “Daddy's here!” Dulin shouted. “Dulin!” Almost the whole room cheered, raising their glasses at the sight of him. He was a bit of a celebrity in this type of environment. There were about twenty people at the X-Factor Party Room tonight, and Dulin was excited by the mix of people. A quck glance suggested that there were about two girls for every guy, and plenty of variety. Humans, dwarves, elves, trolls, and one of his favourite taurens on the planet. Moofatha was sitting alone in a corner, taking a long pull from his mug of ale. Well, that would be as good a place to start as any. “Bartender, give these good people a round of refills, on me!” Dulin said with excitement, as he walked towards Moofatha's table. As expected, the crowd cheered again, and the bartender Grubbly simply nodded. Grubbly the goblin was also the owner of X-Factor, and he was and one of the cooler goblins that Dulin had met in his travels. Grubbly always made sure that there was a wide variety of drinks available, he kept the room buzzing with activity, and most importantly, he had no rules. Yes, it was good to be back at X-Factor tonight. Home away from home. “Pull up a chair little man,” Moofatha said with a straight face as as Dulin approached, “and tell me what a gnome like you is doing in a place like this.” “Oh I think you know,” Dulin replied with a gleam in his eye. “You're right, I do know!” Moofatha admitted. The two 70
    • of them quickly burst into laughter. “It is great to see you cow man,” Dulin said, “it is so great to see you. Did you know that out of everybody in the room tonight, you are my go to guy? It's you Big Moo. Are you ready to help me turn things up to another level around here?” “I just might be,” Moofatha said, “but I'll let you take the lead. After all, if I remember things right, it's your name that everyone says when you walk into this room.” “And let me tell you, it sure feels good!” Dulin announced loudly, smiling widely as he did so. They both laughed again. “We both know that modesty is overrated,” Dulin continued, “and if you're as awesome as either of us, then you've got to celebrate it. Enough of that, though. Before I think of something especially wild for tonight, let's throw back a few drinks together. Speaking of, I think my flask of whiskey is almost empty.” Dulin waved over to Grubbly. “Bring us a bottle of rum my good goblin; anything from Booty Bay would suit my mood tonight.” “You've got it!” Grubbly shouted back. “So, Dulin, I really wasn't expecting to see you here tonight,” Moofatha said casually, “not that I'm complaining. But is there a specific reason you've come all the way out here to the desert?” “I don't need a reason to party, and tonight, I don't have anything particular in mind,” Dulin replied. “I'm just being spontaneous.” “Well, I hope this doesn't ruin the mood at all, then, because something is going down.” Moofatha's eyes turned serious. “Something that I do not want to know about.” “Well then why don't you just forget about whatever it is?” Dulin suggested. “This is a great place for forgetting.” “Perhaps...” Moofatha said reluctantly. A moment later, Grubbly arrived with their bottle of rum, and two glasses, placing everything in the middle of the table. The label on the bottle said X-treme Booty Bay Blaster Rum. “Thanks Grubbly, just my taste!” Dulin said as he tossed the goblin a pouch of coins. “Let me know if that doesn't cover 71
    • things for the evening, but I suspect we're good.” Grubbly shook the pouch, testing the weight, and then nodded as he walked back to the bar. “You know what we could use Big Moo,” Dulin said as he poured out some rum into both of the glasses. “Some...company. Who do you like that's here tonight?” “You don't change much, do you Dulin?” Moofatha said, his expression relaxing slightly. “Perhaps after I tell you what I want to tell you, those two night elf chicks at the bar could be worth talking to. They are both an especially delightful shade of purple.” “I agree!” Dulin said as he glanced over at the two girls. “They are more your size, but that never stopped me before! If you insist, though, then let's hear about...um...what was it you wanted to tell me about?” Moofatha leaned across the table, and his large gold nose ring almost brushed Dulin's ear as he did so. “I was approached by an orc just yesterday,” Moofatha whispered, “about running some big imporant message to Dun Morogh. He mentioned something about a really big job over there, that would be over very soon, but what orcs do you know that do big jobs in the heart of Alliance territory? This was not a Horde operation at all, I could just tell talking to the guy, and this guy looked dangerous. You know how I can throw down, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this guy scared me. He scared me. Think about that, just for one minute. Anyway, I told him I would think about it, and haven't responded, and to be honest, I don't plan to respond. That doesn't matter though. I just wanted to tell you that you guys need to watch your back over on that glacier of yours.” “Thanks for the warning,” Dulin said with annoyance, “but I don't really see how this has anything to do with me. Besides, I'm a citizen of the world, you know that.” “Well, that's why you're Mister Popular in places like this, in any case,” Moofatha conceded. “But I really think that somebody needs to look into this.” 72
    • “I assure you, somebody is,” A deep voice announced from the stairs. The whole room turned to face a pair of vicious looking orcs, and several concealed weapons were quickly drawn. One of the newcomers was clad in long, dark robes, and the other was a wall of black polished steel armour. “Calm down, you rabble,” the armoured figure continued. “There is a cow here that we need to speak to outside. Right now.” The orc pointed a large broadsword straight at Moofatha. “Talk to me here,” Moofatha shouted. “I assume that you don't answer to Thrall, or any other leaders of the Horde, which means that I don't have to listen to you. But I'll humour you anyway.” “Our boss has been waiting to hear from you,” the orc replied, “and from the looks of it, you have decided to make....an unfortunate decision. Whatever information you were given was meant to be kept secret, by the way, and if you are talking to this....this gnome, well then, I believe we must take extra care in dealing with you. I will ask you one last time. Come outside with us. Now.” Dulin heard the click of a gun safety from behind the bar. “At X-Factor Party Room,” Grubbly said coldly, “we are open to all kinds of parties. If you two idiots want to dance with some of my best customers, then bring it fools, let's all dance.” “As you wish,” the orc said, motioning to his robed companion. The robed orc swung his arms to the sides, and leaping into the middle of the room, he began to scream. The strange sound slammed into Dulin, and as it did so, he felt himself lose control of his arms and legs. Before he knew what was happening, he started running around the room randomly, and noticed that everyone around him was in a similar trance. As people scattered about, they were crashing into tables, chairs, and quite frequently each other. Up ahead, Dulin saw Grubbly run straight into a wall, and Dulin ran straight into the same wall right beside him. Only Moofatha seemed immune to the effect, and he shook his head, lifting up a large curved axe as he staggered to his 73
    • feet. “For the Horde!” Moofatha shouted, tossing his table with one hand at the heavily armoured orc that had almost finished closing the distance between them. The orc slammed into the table, his sword leading the way, and he stumbled briefly before engaging his target. Dulin soon regained control of himself, and pulling himself off of the floor, turned to face the chaos. The robed orc was standing right in the middle of the room, with a strange shimmering bubble surrounding him. Grubbly had starting firing bullets in that direction, but they were deflecting off the shield harmlessly, and that just wouldn't do. Dulin concentrated, and in the blink of an eye, the robed orc had turned into a tiny penguin. A penguin in a magic shield of some kind, but still a penguin. One of the night elf girls apparently didn't like penguins much, as the change in forms didn't stop her from charging the creature. Pulling out two daggers, she glided behind the penguin, and proceeded to punch her blades through the shield. The penguin quickly grew back into a full sized orc, which rocked forward briefly, before falling hard to the floor. Across the room, Dulin saw Moofatha with a hoof planted firmly in the chest of the other orc attacker. Moofatha had blood running down his arm, but other than that, seemed to be in one piece. “Two versus twenty,” Moofatha said shaking his head, “that wasn't very sporting of us, now was it? Well, I suppose that in a place like this, no one worries about being fair. Still, why did you attack us, instead of just waiting outside?” “We couldn't risk you slipping away,” the pinned orc gasped, “We had to try while we had a clear shot, and I almost got you. If you hadn't somehow kept control of yourself during our little surprise, then it would be you on the ground right now.” “Well, unfortunately for you, that move doesn't work on minds like mine. Any last words?” Moofatha asked, raising his axe. The orc laughed, and looked over at Dulin. “I just wish I could have been there....when the great city of theirs finally faces 74
    • what's coming to it.....” “What are you talking about?” Dulin said, walking across the room. “What city?” “You know,” the orc said, coughing up blood as he continued to laugh. “You know, and you can't stop it.” “What do I know?” Dulin said in an annoyed voice. “If I knew, wouldn't I know it?” Suddenly the armoured orc stopped laughing, and his eyes glazed over. He was gone. “This other one is also dead,” Grubbly announced, as he checked the pulse of the robed figure. “It looks that way, in any case. Oh, and don't worry about the damage, or cleaning up the mess. I'll take care of all that.” “I appreciate that.” Moofatha said, walking over towards the night elf girl with the daggers. “I saw that little dance you did, sweetheart. It was very....impressive. Have a drink with me?” “It would be your pleasure, I assure you,” she replied, “but tonight, why not? If you are buying, of course.” “Drinks are on me, if your friend joins us,” Dulin said. “Now let me find a table that is still standing.....” “I'm surprised that you're still standing,” a stern voice called out from the entryway at the base of the stairs. “It amazes me the kind of fun that you have every night.” Grubbly raised his gun towards the gold haired woman that had entered the room, and most of the customers also pointed weapons in her direction. “Vortna....” Dulin whispered. “Do you know how hard it was to track you to this place?” Vortna said in an annoyed voice. “In any case, if you'd be so kind as to end your search for the ultimate party, or whatever it is that you're doing, then please come with me. We have important matters to discuss.” Well, it looked like his super fun night in Gadgetstan was going to be over before it really got started. If Vortna herself had bothered to chase him down.....well, he would go see what she 75
    • wanted, but why did it have to be before he had even finished his first bottle of rum? “It's alright everyone,” Dulin said, motioning for all of the nearby weapons to be lowered. “This is one of my oldest....friends. I think that I will go see what she wants.” “Later Dulin,” Moofatha said, smiling as he put his right arm around the elf cutie he had been talking to a moment ago. The other night elf girl had begun wrapping a bandage around the wound on his left arm, swaying from side to side and she did so. Dulin sighed as he walked up the stairs behind Vortna, thinking about his bottle of rum with each step. For some reason, he had a feeling that he wouldn't get a chance to do any more partying tonight. 76
    • Chapter 8 – Hidden in Plain View The sun popped up behind the mountains ahead, and Toshi struggled to keep his eye open. He had been awake the whole night, and while he was no stranger to the night air, he liked to sleep as much as the next dwarf. Leaning forward on his ram, he whispered softly in his mount's ear, urging the animal to make haste. It wasn't much use. His poor ram was as tired as he was. On the road beside him, a sleek purple cheetah ran softly, its paws making almost no sound as they raced over the thin layer of snow. Sephirah had asked him to bring help. She said to only seek out friends that he trusted completely, who would be ready to leave with him immediately. Toshi hadn't been sure that he would be able to find anyone, and was willing to go alone, but he decided to check Antarus's house before leaving the city. He was glad he had done that. With two people out on this mission, after all, they could watch in shifts. That meant that they could both find time to sleep, and Toshi intended to close his eyes as soon as they reached their destination. “It should be just around the curve ahead,” Antarus said, his voice sounding strange to Toshi's ears. He always sounded angry when he was transformed into a giant cat. Or hungry. “Good,” Toshi replied quietly. “If I remember right, there is only one entrance, and it shouldn't be hard to find a good position.” Toshi slowed his ram to a walk, and dismounted as they reached the curve in the road. He patted his ram, and the creature nodded, turning as it began the return journey to Ironforge. Stealth was required from here on in, and his mount would only get in the way. The purple cat beside him shimmered, and reverted into a tall night elf man. Antarus spent more time as a cat recently than he did as an elf, and Toshi struggled sometimes to remember what 77
    • his friend actually looked like. After a moment, Antarus threw his hands to the sides, and shimmered again. He was now a large, muscular panther, with wicked fangs. Surprisingly, in this form, he could move almost as silently as Toshi. Almost. As they walked into the deeper snow beside the road, Toshi and Antarus rounded the curve, and looked out towards a large open hole in the ground. This was their destination. Gol'Bolar Quarry. As expected, the place was filled with troggs. This had been a dwarven mining operation only weeks earlier, before the troggs had arrived. While the open pit had been mostly scraped clean of iron ore already, large caverns and tunnels had been carved out below the site. The miners had been searching for gold, it was said, but Toshi didn't really know much about that. What he did know was that there was only one entrance to the caverns below. At least, only one that his people had told him about. “So, it looks like this is the spot,” Antarus purred, “and I see a large entrance of some kind cut into the rock over there. It must lead to the tunnels, and it shouldn't be too difficult to intercept anyone that is headed there. We can keep watch from up on the ridge behind the quarry.” “Yes,” Toshi nodded, “I was thinking the same. Could you take the first shift, once we find a good spot to wait? I would like to get some sleep in soon.” “Oh you would, would you?” Antarus laughed. “If you didn't jump whenever Sephirah said jump, then maybe you'd be sleeping right now.” “I already told you,” Toshi said, “this task was put forward by a group of our mages, not just Sephirah. This is important for all of us.” “Yes, yes, I'm sure you were told that,” Antarus said with a feral smile, looking off towards the ridge. “And if you remember, I only agreed to come with you on the slim chance that watching this place actually is important. But before you fall asleep on me, I would like to scout this entire area. It has been 78
    • said that we only need to watch this one entrance, but in this type of terrain, it is good to be sure that there aren't any surprises. I'll be back soon. Just watch things closely from right here, and we can move to a more permanent location after I have returned.” Toshi sighed. Antarus was right, but that didn't mean he would have to be happy about it. As he watched his friend disappear into the snow drifts that surrounded the quarry, Toshi turned his thoughts to Sephirah. The things he did for that woman. Here he was, out in the snow, watching a pile of rocks for signs of an approaching messenger that may or may not be coming. All because she asked him to. Laughing softly to himself at the thought, Toshi forced his good eye to stay open. In the present, he watched the quarry below, but in the future....what would he see? Sephirah struggled to open her eyes. How long had she been asleep? And whose voice was that? With a groan, Sephirah rolled over, and tried to bury her head beneath a nearby pillow. “Sephirah!” the voice called out, clearly annoyed. It was a woman's voice, and one she recognized. Was that Sayori? Where was she? “Sephirah!” Sayori continued, her voice growing more agitated. “It is already noon. If you don't mind, I would appreciate it if you got out of my bed.” Shaking herself awake, Sephirah slowly rolled to her feet. Looking around, she saw that she had been sleeping in Sayori's bedroom. It was convenient that her friend had a place to stay here in Ironforge, and Sephirah often slept there when necessary. Had she asked this time? She couldn't remember. “Thank you Sayori,” Sephirah said groggily, “I had a very long night last night, and I appreciate that you let me sleep here. I was too tired to portal back to Stormwind, and it's hard to find a human sized bed in this city.” “That's true,” Sayori agreed, “and besides, you still have work to do here today, don't you?” “Well, I am waiting to hear from Toshi I suppose,” 79
    • Sephirah replied. “I sent him on another important....errand.” “You know, I really should have made friends with someone like Toshi myself,” Sayori said ruefully, “rather than people like Dulin. If I need something done, I have to do it myself most days.” “If I could be in enough places at once, then I would actually prefer to do things myself,” Sephirah said quietly, gathering her things from the floor beside the bed. “Unfortunately, as you know too well, time is never something that I have to spare.” “I know it well enough,” Sayori frowned. “When was the last time you joined our gang in a tavern somewhere?” “To be honest,” Sephirah said as she walked towards the door, “I can't really remember. Thanks for the bed! Now if you don't mind, I would like to check up on some things.” “Of course you would,” Sayori said as Sephirah headed out into the streets, “and no worries, my dear Sephi. My home is your home!” Attempting to conjure up her best smile, Sephirah waved, and tried to shake her thoughts into place. Before she had fallen asleep, she had been going over a list of every Tempora Heroica guild member. If someone in her group was a traitor, then they needed to find out who it was, and they needed to know yesterday. As far as she could tell, so far, they didn't even have any suspects. There had been cryptic hints here and there, such as Vortna's mysterious “confirmation” of treachery, and Archimede's long held suspicions. What was the actual evidence, though? Sephirah had no idea. Sayori's house was up on the fourth depth of the city, and Sephirah quickly reached a familiar stairwell, which stretched from the lava flows all the way up to the distant rocky ceiling above. Almost by instinct, she started descending down towards the main depth of the city, her thoughts drifting towards tinker town. One of the gnomes might help her get to the bottom of this today. They often overhead things, and often by accident, and someone might be able to tell her something helpful. If she asked 80
    • the right questions, in any case. One small problem was that she had trouble thinking of what the right questions might even be. If she had to guess at who the traitor was, it would be someone like Hova, even though he was a fellow mage. He was always off by himself, doing who knows what, and didn't seem to have any close friends. None that she knew of, in any case. Still, the main reason she suspected him was that he was mysterious, and some of her own trusted friends were fairly mysterious. How well did she know Senzeicapi, for instance? That man had fought by her side countless times, and she trusted him completely, but how well did anyone really know him? For that matter, how well did anyone know her? No, guessing would get her nowhere. Before long, Sephirah arrived at tinker town, and began scanning the area for familiar faces. To one side of the main ring road, there was a cluster of gnome owned shops and businesses, one of which seemed to be on fire at the moment. Well, that wasn't out of the ordinary for gnomes, and it looked like a large group was already taking care of the situation. On the other side of the road, Sephirah saw the entrance to the tram. This had been one of the most brilliant innovations that the gnomes had brought with them to Ironforge. The tram provided underground train services, deep below the mountains, all the way to the great city of Stormwind. Her home. Sephirah had never used the tram herself, but she was still comforted whenever she saw it. As Sephirah slowed her pace, and began walking over towards the tram, she suddenly noticed a Tempora Heroica guild tabard bounce along through the crowd. From behind, it was hard to tell which gnome she was encountering, but the brisk no nonsense marching provided her answer. “Burrfoot!” Sephirah called out. The gnome stopped in his tracks, and glanced back over his shoulder. Yes, that was Burrfoot. “Why Sephirah!” Burrfoot called back. “This is a surprise. What brings you to tinker town?” His voice was friendly, but his eyes seemed cautious. 81
    • “I'm not sure myself,” Sephirah replied as she walked towards him. “I thought I would roam the city a little bit this afternoon, and see if I could find a friendly face or two.” “Ah, it's too bad you ran into me then!” Burrfoot said, winking as he did so. They both laughed. “Yes, you are quite the scoundrel I suppose,” Sephirah said as she continued to scan the area. “You look like you are in a hurry today, though, and don't let me keep you. Taking the tram, perhaps? I could portal you to Stormwind if you'd like.” “No need,” Burrfoot said, casually waving his hands as he did so. “I actually was just on my way to lunch, here in Ironforge. Are you hungry?” “Actually, yes,” Sephirah replied with surprise. Toshi had invited her to dinner last night, but she hadn't taken him up on the offer, preferring to send him out into the snow immediately. How long had it been since she had eaten? “Follow me my lady!” Burrfoot said confidently, before pointing in an exaggerated fashion towards a nearby building, and marching off like the soldier that he was. Sephirah slid in behind him, and they walked in silence towards what seemed to be a pancake house. For some reason, gnomes absolutely loved pancakes. Sephirah had to duck slightly to pass through the doorway. This establishment was run by gnomes, for gnomes, and it was always a bit awkward for her to eat in what was basically a child sized room. A gnome waitress greeted them, and motioned to a nearby table. Sephirah carefully set the small chair to one side, and sat cross legged on the floor. This wasn't ideal, but worked well enough in places like this. “Make it rain pancakes....the usual style!” Burrfoot called over the waitress, hopping onto a sturdy chair as he did so. Turning to Sephirah, his expression grew serious. “Did you speak with Archimede about the expedition we went on yesterday? To Gnomeregan?” “Actually yes,” Sephirah said with a nod, “although don't ask me what he plans to use that staff he found for.” 82
    • “Probably just research,” Burrfoot said, nodding slightly. “That's his usual reason.” “Probably,” Sephirah agreed, “although we shall see.” “In any case,” Burrfoot continued, “it was a strange mission to be a part of, that's for sure. To be honest, I didn't like to be out of the city for that long. I haven't told anyone about this....but I have been watching someone. I think something bad might be happening.” Sephirah's eyes widened. Burrfoot was a fairly well connected member of Tempora Heroica, and if he was suspicious about someone, then it would be worth listening to him. As Sephirah leaned in closer, two small plates arrived at the table, each steaming hot, and covered in pancakes that had been drowned in a rich chocolate syrup. Gnomes loved pouring syrup on stuff, and pancakes were one primary target. Burrfoot leaned back in his chair, thanked the waitress, and shoved a couple of pancakes in his mouth. He certainly didn't waste any time. His mouth still fairly full, he leaned over towards Sephirah, and began to speak in a mumbled whisper. “Is it true that you are good friends with the dwarf known as....Dwarr?” “Of course,” Sephirah replied, surprised to hear Dwarr's name. “Well, just a few days ago,” Burrfoot whispered, “I saw Dwarr riding through Coldridge Valley. I had been visiting my good friend Magis Sparkmantle at the time, and was returning back to Ironforge. Anyway, I saw him disappear out of sight, and just a minute later, do you know what I saw? A troll riding right back from the very spot that I saw Dwarr ride off to. I asked Dwarr about it, and he denied having met with the troll, but let me tell you, they were off in the exact same area. He's hiding something, and I want to know what.” Sephirah's heart sank, as a horrible possibility snapped together in her mind. “Burrfoot,” Sephirah whispered, “I think I just lost my appetite.” 83
    • A small train car rushed down the tunnel towards them, gliding to a stop right at the edge of the boarding platform. A group of Stormwind guards emerged from the train, escorting a small robed figure towards the tram exit. Reynalesca yawned as she watched them walk past her, raising an eyebrow as she studied the scene. “Is that your friend?” Reyna asked for what seemed like the hundredth time, turning to look at Archimede as she did so. “No, no,” Archimede said, his eyes strangely closed. After insisting that they come to the tram and wait for a special guest to arrive, Archimede did not seem to be paying much attention to any of the actual arrivals. “Well, if you described the person a bit more, perhaps I could help you look?” Reyna asked hopefully, but did not expect much of a response from her new mentor. He had been very quiet all day, or so it had seemed. “We will know when he is here,” Archimede said evenly, his mind clearly elsewhere. Reyna sighed, but simply nodded, and kept watching the tracks for incoming trains. Before too long though, like Archimede, her thoughts began to wander. The last twenty-four hours had been a whirlwind for Reyna, and she was still amazed at how much she had done. Leaving Ironforge, meeting an actual gnome mage off in a strange valley, and learning her first magic. Fireballing a trogg. Meeting a group of new friends back here in Ironforge, many of whom were experienced mages. Mages like Archimede. This morning, after a late night and very little sleep, Archimede had offered to teach here some more basic magic. She had learned how to throw ice at things, protect herself in a giant block of ice, and create her own food out of thin air. It was all a bit overwhelming. After being brought to stand with him in the tram for the last few hours, though, she began to wonder why 84
    • she couldn't have been left alone to sleep in for just a little bit longer. Brushing her left boot back and forth across the stones, Reyna practiced a very basic dance move, and smiled as she decided that the lack of sleep had been worth it. She had stayed up deep into the morning hours with Ultimar, Sparkel, and some dwarf named Barleystout, playing a game called wand bowling. It was as simple as it sounded. They went over to Barleystout's house, lined up a bunch of empty mugs on the floor, and threw wands at them. After each round, whoever had the worst score was in charge of lining up the mugs after each toss. That had ended up being Reyna herself for every single round, but it was still a very fun game! She liked games. In the distance, the steady rumble of an incoming train entered her awareness, and she looked up towards the vehicle. “He's here,” Archimede said quietly. His eyes were still closed. As the open topped train car rolled in towards the boarding platform, Reyna could just barely see the head of a large man. He looked almost ageless, with short brown hair, and a firm jaw. As the train came closer, Reyna noticed that his large, gray eyes were scanning the crowd. His eyes paused when they arrived at Archimede, and he immediately smiled. It was a smile of recognition. Well, at least he seemed to be a friend. Archimede hadn't been clear about that particular point. The train slid to a stop, and the man leaped over the side of the car, before marching straight towards Archimede with long, confident strides. He was wearing thick plates of silver armour, and had a massive sword slung across his back. He also was wearing an embroidered tabard, with the letters “TH” prominently engraved in the center, the letters a deep green against a black background. “Archimede!” He called out as he walked up towards them. “Just the kind of welcoming party I was hoping for.” “I suppose that normally, that would be the case,” Archimede said sadly, opening his eyes. “Unfortunately, today, I 85
    • have grave matters to discuss with you. Ah, but I have forgotten myself. Paumedie, this is my new friend Reynalesca. She is studying with me. Reynalesca, meet Paumedie. The leader of Tempora Heroica.” “It is a pleasure to meet you Reynalesca,” Paumedie said, bowing his head as he did so. “The pleasure is all mine,” Reyna replied, her mouth open in surprise. Archimede certainly hadn't hinted that they would be meeting someone as important as this! Why, if she heard things right, this was Archimede's boss, more or less. To be honest, though, she she still wasn't sure what type of organization this “Tempora Heroica” group really was. “Paumedie,” Archimede said quietly, as the three of them walked off towards the security checkpoint that connected the tram with tinker town. “While you have been away, I believe that we have discovered a terrible plot against Ironforge. I believe that the threat comes from Balzamel. I believe that he isn't dead after all.” “Balzamel,” Paumedie gasped, “I never thought that I would hear that name again, and certainly not from you. If you are mentioning him, then I assure you that this is something that we will all take seriously. What do you know about this threat?” “Not much, I'm afraid,” Archimede replied, “but we have several leads. Some of which are being pursued right now. Unfortunately, we have to be very careful in pursuing these leads, for an especially unfortunate reason. If I am right, part of the threat posed by Balzamel involves us directly.” “What do you mean by that?” Paumedie said, his voice filled with concern. “I mean that we have a traitor. Someone in our group has betrayed the Alliance, and is helping to place the the whole city of Ironforge in grave danger.” Archimede's words sure didn't cut around the issue, and as Reyna looked up at Paumedie, she could tell that he was skeptical. “That's ridiculous Archimede,” the large human replied dismissively. “I have personally approved every member that has 86
    • been let into Tempora Heroica. Everyone is loyal to the Alliance, even our most shady members. I bet that even Dulin would throw himself into the lava pits before selling out this city. You have to have made a mistake.” “Perhaps, perhaps not,” a female voice said sternly. Reyna looked up, and saw Sephirah walk up right beside her. At Sephi's side was a very heavily armed gnome. Reyna had never seen him before. “Hello Sephirah,” Paumedie said, not bothering to hide the annoyance in his voice. “Burrfoot.” Paumedie added, nodding at the warrior gnome. “Didn't anyone tell you two that eavesdropping is impolite?” “If you don't wish to be heard,” Sephirah said, motioning to the crowd around her, “then pick your location better. But never mind that. I was hoping to track down Archimede, and if you'll believe it, this was the first place I looked. I'm happy to find you here as well Paumedie. I have news. I hope that I'm wrong, but if I'm right, we might be ready to dig out that traitor of ours.” “I'll believe this when I see it,” Paumedie said, shaking his head. “But if you have evidence, then please lead the way.” Paumedie motioned for Sephi to walk ahead of the group, and she quickly took the lead. Archimede and Burrfoot fell in line behind the two humans, and began talking together in hushed voices. Reynalesca glanced around the area, and then quickly darted off after them. No one had invited her to come along, but no one had told her to stay behind either. If the choice was up to her....well, she was a mage now, and if her new teacher was going somewhere, then so was she. 87
    • Chapter 9 – Trust is a Funny Thing After a quick march through the city, and a journey up several flights of stairs, Sephirah had led them to a familiar house. Archimede took a deep breath as he faced the thick stone doors. This was a friends house, that was certain. This was Dwarr's house. “Sephirah,” Archimede said with mild annoyance, “we all know that Dwarr is one of your very best friends, but do we really need to bring him along to wherever we are going. Surely the five of us will be able to handle whatever investigating you intend to do in the near future.” “I agree with you Archi, that the five of us will do just fine, but you seem to have made a mistaken assumption,” Sephirah replied sadly. “We are not here to ask Dwarr to join us. We are here to search his house.” “Wait,” Paumedie cut in, “you mean...?” “Let's just search his house,” Sephirah said coolly, as she walked up to knock on the door. “If I'm wrong, then there's no harm done, right? Besides, we don't even know if he's home.” As soon as the words left her mouth, the stone doors swung inwards. Dwarr was standing in the entrance, wearing thick wool pyjamas. “Hello Sephirah!” Dwarr said with excitement. “What a pleasant surprise! And you've brought a lot of friends it seems! Archimede, Burrfoot, Paumedie himself, and who is that? Hello my cute pink haired beauty!” “I'm Reynalesca, but you can call me Reyna,” she replied with a smile. Archimede rolled his eyes at that. It seemed that Reyna had her friendliness switch set to maximum at all times, even in a situation like this. It warmed his heart, but this was going to get him into trouble one day. He was sure of it. “Nice to meet you Reyna!” Dwarr replied 88
    • enthusiastically. “Come in everyone! I slept in late today, because sleep is awesome, but let me make everyone a nice meal. Since there are so many gnomes here, pancakes perhaps?” “I'm sorry Dwarr,” Sephirah said, leaning in towards her friend, “but not this time. Unfortunately, I need to look for something in you house, if you don't mind.” “Wait,” Dwarr said with confusion, his large arms reaching out to block the doorway, “what would I have in my house that you would need to look for?” “I don't know exactly,” Sephirah replied, shaking her head as she did so, “but just trust me, I need to be sure about something.” “Just talk to me then,” Dwarr's responded, his voice full of confusion. “What is it you need to be sure of?” “I think you should just step outside with us,” Paumedie interjected. “If Sephi wants to look around your house a bit, then let her look around your house.” Archimede closed his eyes, and stroked his beard. What could Sephirah be up to? Just yesterday, Sephirah had trusted Dwarr to go search Morganth's tower. If he had got the story right, Dwarr had even played a key role in killing Morganth. Just a day later, Sephirah believed that Dwarr might be the elusive traitor in their own ranks? That didn't add up at all. There had to be another reason why they were here. “Alright,” Dwarr reluctantly agreed, “but only Sephirah goes in. She is a good friend of mine, and while I really like the rest of you, if Sephi wants to look in my house for something, then it's Sephi that looks.” “Thank you Dwarr,” Sephirah said, walking past the dwarf and into the depths of his home. The minutes passed, and Archimede began to wonder if he should ask Dwarr if he knew what Sephirah was doing. However, the way that Paumedie and Burrfoot were standing ominously behind the pyjama wearing dwarf, perhaps it was best to just wait and see how things turned out. Either that, or take a nap. He hadn't noticed earlier, but apparently Reynalesca had lain down 89
    • on the ground and fallen asleep. Eventually, an ashen faced Sephirah emerged from the doorway. “I found this in a hidden compartment,” Sephirah said softly, her voice full of disbelief. “Behind the stove, of all things. It is a small scroll, with a short message, written in the same code that....the same code that was used in the other message. The message from Balzamel.” “Now wait here!” Dwarr said, “what are you implying?” “I think we all know what she is implying,” Archimede said sadly, “although I don't believe it myself. While we go look over this message, I think it would be best if you stay in your house Dwarr.” “Wait, what is going on?” Dwarr said, his voice growing angry. “Why do you have that scroll?” Paumedie countered. “I've never even seen it before!” Dwarr replied, waving his arms wildly. “How would I know why it's in my house?” “Perhaps that's true,” Sephirah said, “but for now, will you just stay here? If we can clear all of this up, the we will, but first, you have to tell me. Tell me honestly. Are you sure that you never saw this scroll before?” “Of course I'm sure!” Dwarr roared. “Then hang in there my friend, and please just do what we ask,” Sephirah said turning towards Burrfoot. “Burrfoot, please stay here with Dwarr for now, until we send up some others to....spend the time with him. Paumedie, Archimede, we have things to discuss.” Archimede nodded. There weren't a lot of ways that a message like that could have ended up in Dwarr's house. Either he was being framed, or Dwarr was the traitor they had been searching for. As ridiculous as it seemed, for now, they would have to act as if Dwarr was Balzamel's contact in Ironforge. Of all people, Dwarr. As Burrfoot firmly led a protesting Dwarr back inside his house, Archimede walked over to the sleeping Reynalesca, and 90
    • poked her awake. Whatever was happening, for some strange reason, Archimede felt that his new friend was one of the few that was beyond suspicion. She slowly opened her eyes, smiling as she did so. Yes, Reyna was beyond suspicion. It was almost time to make a big move, and if Archimede was right, then his new young friend was going to be a part of it. The moon was high in the sky, and it cast pale shadows on the troggs in the quarry below. Most people wouldn't notice these shadows, the very slight extra dark cast into the darkness, but Toshi was an expert on shadows. All too often, he made his home in them. He had been hoping to get some sleep earlier in the day, but had only managed to close his eyes for a few hours. This place felt like danger, and it's hard to turn off your mind when surrounded by danger. Even for a dwarf like Toshi, who ate danger for breakfast, and laughed at danger in his spare time. At least, that was how he saw things, if anyone was to ask him. Few ever did, except for maybe Dulin. Now that he thought of it, where had Dulin been lately? He could use a drink soon, and Dulin was his go to gnome for that type of thing. Along the ridge line, off in the distance, Toshi looked over to check on Antarus. He could just barely make out a pair of yellow glowing eyes, leaning out from behind a large boulder. If a messenger actually was coming to this place, then it was very likely that they would see him. In the unlikely event that Toshi missed him, then there's no way that Antarus would. After all, Toshi was vigilant. “Don't move,” a voice hissed from the trees behind him. Uh oh. He heard soft footsteps as the figure walked up closer, and he heard a bowstring creak as it was pulled back. “Now turn around, slowly,” the voice hissed again. Toshi did so, his hands raised to the sides, and saw a muscular blue skinned troll approaching him. A familiar troll, with his bow drawn, and an arrow pointed straight at Toshi's chest. That was 91
    • Eku of all people. “Ah, Toshi,” the troll continued. “I remember you from our skirmishes in the past. Where was it that I left you for dead? Alterac Valley, perhaps?” Toshi spat into the snow. “And if I remember things right,” Toshi said loudly, “I stabbed you into the dirt no less than three times. I suppose your friends always bothered to bring you back.” “That they did,” Eku said with a quiet laugh. “Isn't it great to make friends with healers?” “Aye, it is,” Toshi replied, “but I have to ask, aren't you far from Horde lands? You won't find many friends in these parts.” “Perhaps not,” the troll agreed, “but I doubt that you will either, at least not here, in the middle of the night. How strange, finding you on this ridge, almost as if you were looking to ambush someone. Curious, no?” “Maybe,” Toshi said, with a twinkle in his good eye, “maybe that's exactly what's happening right now, in fact.” At that very moment, a group of thick vines shot up from the ground around Eku's feet, wrapping around his body completely. His bow and arrow flew out of his hands as the vines quickly reached his arms. From behind him, in elf form, Antarus slowly walked up out of the darkness. “Look what I've caught,” Antarus said with a chuckle. “Just when I began to worry that I was wasting my time out here in the snow.” “Or perhaps more accurately,” Eku replied, “it is the two of you that have been caught, in a web of events that you clearly don't understand. If you knew what was going on, you wouldn't be within miles of this place.” “Is that so,” Antarus said, concentrating as he locked the vines in place. “And do you happen to know what is going on?” “I know enough,” the troll said savagely, “enough to suspect that my employer wants me dead because of what I know. Enough to suspect that no matter how much he's paying me, I'd be better off trying to find a better price...elsewhere.” 92
    • Toshi drew his daggers, and walked up towards Eku. Pointing a dagger straight at Eku's chest, Toshi casually waved the blade from side to side. “Would your life be a high enough price?” Toshi said calmly as he stared into the troll's eyes. “If it's true that your employer wants you dead, then perhaps we could protect you. Or, if you'd prefer, we could just do his job for him, and leave you here to freeze in the snow. Far from friends, I might remind you.” Eku shook his head, but seemed to relax within his vine cocoon. “Yes, my life will do very nicely, it seems. You probably know that I can't stand the cold. I won't need your......protection, though. Let me go, and I'll just hand over this message that I was sent to deliver to this place.” “Sent by who, I might ask?” Antarus inquired. “If you don't already know the answer to that,” Eku replied, “then you wouldn't be here. Or perhaps someone else sent you here to do their work for them? The less you know the better for everyone, am I right?” Toshi ground his teeth. Sephirah had not really told him much, to be honest, but he didn't like to be reminded of that fact by a troll. “It doesn't matter,” Toshi spat. “Antarus is going to search you now. Hands where we can see them. I suggest you don't resist.” Eku rolled his eyes as Antarus allowed most of the vines to fall away, only keeping the trolls legs wrapped in place. Walking up from behind Eku, Antarus patted him down quickly, pulling out several knives, and throwing them to the side. Eventually, Antarus produced an envelope. An envelope with a familiar skull marking as its seal. “Does this look right to you Toshi?” Antarus asked. “That's definitely it,” Toshi replied with a nod. “Well, it is time for us to leave. And I'm sorry Eku, but you're getting our....protection....whether you like it or not.” Toshi glided up behind the troll, and leaping up into the air, clubbed him over the head with his fist. That was a well 93
    • practiced knockout blow, and Eku immediately slumped down towards the ground. “Don't worry,” Toshi whispered into Eku's ear, “you'll be just fine in a few hours. You might not like being our guest in Ironforge, but the city grows on you, believe me.” Nodding towards Antarus, the remaining vines around Eku's legs melted away, and Antarus quickly started shimmering. Where the tall elf had been standing, there was now a large purple bear. A powerful bear. Antarus grabbed Eku with a massive paw, and tossed the unconscious troll onto his back. It was time to return to Ironforge, and if Toshi was right, he had just earned another well deserved present from Sephirah. In the circular room that served as his de facto command center, Balzamel slumped down onto a hard stone bench. The rock suited his mood, firm and unforgiving. Today's mind control session had been especially draining for Balzamel, and it was taking longer than usual for him to shake off the effects. Trying to act like one of those pathetic simple minded fools was becoming tiresome. Still, the sessions were necessary. Events were becoming unpredictable, with Archimede and his friends becoming a problem, but they would be dealt with. In fact, his solution to their meddling was already in motion, if things went as he expected them to. Raising his head from his hands, Balzamel noticed his chief aide, a goblin named Dez, enter the room. Suppressing the urge to crush his servant with a blast of magical energy, Balzamel forced himself to think of the big picture. Now was not the time to act rashly. “Report, please.” Balzamel demanded coldly. “Of course,” Dez replied. “It appears that the assault will be ready to proceed within the week, as scheduled. Eku should be delivering the final timetable to our forces right now, in fact. Do you still wish for Eku to....go on vacation?” “Yes, Dez,” Balzamel answered. “Please let him know that he is retired. Permanently. However you wish, I might add.” 94
    • “I will handle Eku personally,” Dez said with a nod. Balzamel was impressed by the goblin's calm demeanor. Taking out Eku was no small task. The troll was a great warrior, but also clever. Perhaps too clever. Balzamel frowned. “Actually,” Balzamel added, “while you are at it, I would like you to personally deliver another copy of the timetable to our contacts in the Gol'Bolar quarry. Just in case Eku decided that it was no longer in his best interests to work for me.” “A good suggestion,” Dez agreed, “and I will be sure to take care of that for you. If I might ask, would you like me to stay and lead the assault itself? I take it that you will not be joining us until the attack has begun.” “Correct,” Balzamel said evenly, “and I do want you to lead the assault. Once you are at Gol'Bolar, stay in the area, and make sure everything proceeds smoothly. I will take care of things here on my end, and join you all there when the time comes. Justice will be done.” “Justice will be done,” Dez replied, before bowing his head and gliding out of the room. Yes, justice would be done. Ironforge would burn. The Alliance would crumble. Not only that, but as it crumbled, the world would know why. They would know what had been done to him, and that it would never happen again. Not to him, or to any other visionary who wanted to do what was necessary to make the world a better place. A better place for all. His eyes grew hot, but no tears came. He no longer had any tears left. If things went as planned, though, he would make the people of the Alliance weep. Yes, they would weep, and justice would be done. 95
    • Chapter 10 – Tempora Heroica The large assembly hall was almost full, and nearly sixty people were seated on the long wooden benches that were anchored into the stone floor. The announcement had just been made early in the morning, but with some effort, it appeared that most of the Tempora Heroica members had arrived by now. As was customary, the usual groups were sticking together, in fairly arbitrary seating sections that were scattered about the room. From his seat on the raised platform at the front of the assembly hall, Ultimar glanced over at Paumedie, who was seated beside him. Normally, being second in command of TH had very few actual duties, but today, Ultimar had been asked to gather their people. Paumedie had decided that it was time to discuss the Balzamel threat more openly, and once that decision had been made, Ultimar was determined to do his part. The priests were seated near the front of the room, and Ultimar grinned as he noticed Sparkel staring at him with an unimpressed expression. She always teased him that he was just the official TH errand boy, and not really a leader. There were times when he felt that way himself, true, but it was amusing how openly Sparkel shared her feelings about the subject. Sumtopia was sitting a few rows behind her sister, next to Sayori, Senzeicapi, and the other warlocks. She also was staring at Ultimar with an unimpressed expression. Ultimar sighed, and leaned the side of his head against a gloved hand. Sumtopia was supposed to be one of his students, but most days, she didn't act like it at all. Near the back of the room, most of the mages had gathered, although there was no sign of Vortna or Dulin. Along with Sedir, Archimede, and the rest, Ultimar was surprised to see that Reynalesca had also been brought to the meeting. As far as Ultimar could tell, she was not yet a member of TH, and she had 96
    • no right to be here. Still, he liked the cheerful gnome, and didn't feel the need to demand her to leave. Sometimes, there was no harm in bending the rules. As his eyes continued to scan across the room, Ultimar saw that Toshi and the rogues were huddled together closely, whispering about something. Iashon and the hunters appeared to be just lounging about near the back of the room, but they also looked angry. Very angry. The only druid in attendance seemed to be Kiren, and he looked as serious as always, sitting off by himself as he often did. Burrfoot was calmly sharpening one of his swords on a whetstone, as he sat near the other warriors. The last major grouping was the paladins, and Panday appeared to be telling a story to his comrades. He was well known for his stories, even if most of them seemed to be about high level investment banking. Paladins were strange. Leaning back in his chair, Ultimar could sense that in general, the room was getting impatient. It has also been several minutes since the last arrival. Perhaps it was time to start. Ultimar looked over at Paumedie again, and Paumedie nodded. Rising to his feet, Ultimar took a couple of steps forward, and addressed the crowd. “My good friends,” Ultimar began, “for several years our organization has been growing, gaining strength, and taking on new challenges. Most we seek out ourselves, sometimes for their own sake, and more commonly, for great rewards. Unfortunately, right now, we face a grave danger that none of us would have chosen to pursue. Still, it is our responsibility to do something about it. As it was our group of mages that uncovered this threat, I will leave it to them to tell you more.” Ultimar waved towards the mages, and Sephirah rose from her position near the back of the room. As she walked towards a podium that had been set up next to Paumedie, Ultimar heard the rustle of several hushed voices in the audience whispering to one another. Sephirah was tapping one of her deep pockets as she walked along, as she often did. Ultimar wondered what she was about to show them. He knew the basics of today's 97
    • announcement, as he had been part of the inner circle since the beginning, but he didn't know all of the details. As Sephirah reached the podium, she pulled a scroll out of her pocket, and raised it up above her head. “I do not bring good news,” Sephirah said sternly, “but it is time that everyone knows. We will need all the help we can get in the coming days. To start at the beginning, a short time ago, Archimede began to suspect that one of his old....colleagues...was plotting something. An orc named Balzamel. We didn't know what Balzamel was up to, exactly, but Archimede strongly believed that we were all in grave danger. After a heavy investigation, we now think that we know what is about to happen.” Ultimar whistled softly, and ran a gloved hand over his head. So, the mages had found out the details. The Gol'Bolar quarry expedition, perhaps? Well, he would have to pay close attention, in any case, as this could get ugly in a hurry. “I have in my hands two scrolls,” Sephirah continued, producing a second scroll from another one of her pockets, which she raised up in the air along with the first one. “They were both encoded with the same coding system, a system that we only recently were able to crack. The first scroll discusses targets. The second scroll lays out a timetable.” “Well, move along to the good parts then,” Barleystout shouted from the crowd. “What is being attacked by this mysterious orc, and when?” “Regarding the when,” Sephirah replied, “we can thank Toshi and Antarus for retrieving that information. Last night they captured a messenger that was headed to the Gol'Bolar quarry. A troll named Eku, I believe. Antarus?” Off towards the entrance of the assembly hall, a tall night elf shimmered into view, and strode out of the room. Ultimar hadn't seen him there. Night elves were adept at blending into their surroundings, and Antarus was a true master of that particular trick. “While we wait for Antarus, I will read the scroll that Eku 98
    • was carrying.” Sephirah put one of the scrolls back into a pocket, and rolled out the other one. “The assault is to begin at midnight, on the night when the moon turns full. All of our forces are to be massed at the incursion point. The defenses will be weak, but you must strike precisely at midnight. Make sure that the troggs are under control. Once they are inside the city, they are free to do as they wish, but do not allow them to attack before the time is right. To repeat, the full moon is your signal. Wait for it, and do not fail me.” The room grew silent. “When exactly is the next full moon?” Sumtopia squeaked, after summoning the courage to say anything at all. “I believe it is exactly seven days from now,” Archimede replied, his voice distant. “That gives us one week to prepare. One week.” Ultimar nodded. That sounded right to him. So, their time was almost used up, was it? Sephirah's eyes suddenly darted up towards the back of the room. “Ah, our guest is here,” she said, motioning off into the distance as she did so. “Hello everyone,” Antarus's voice floated into the assembly hall, and every head turned towards the entrance. “I present you all with Eku, a well known troll mercenary, and overall scoundrel.” In front of Antarus, a beat up looking blue skinned troll was stumbling forward. His arms were tied behind his back, but his eyes still looked fierce. It was almost as if he believed he could fight his way out of the room, if only he could get his hands on a bow. “What is he doing here,” Barleystout demanded venomously. “Calm yourself, Barley,” his fellow rogue Toshi replied. “Ant and I collared him ourselves last night, and he has something to say to us. Don't you Eku?” “I certainly do Toshi,” Eku replied coldly. “Let me go right now, or you will all die.” Toshi laughed at that, and many other members of TH 99
    • joined him. Ultimar didn't feel like laughing. Not today. “Just tell us what you have to say, Eku,” Sephirah said firmly, “and we'll release you as was promised.” “Fine!” Eku growled. “But pay no attention to the threat I just made. It was out of habit. The truth is, I let these two weaklings capture me last night. I'm not so incompetent that I couldn't have managed to shoot both of them before they even knew I was in the area.” As the words left Eku's mouth, Ultimar noticed Toshi's face turn bright red. Was he angry at the insult, or embarrassed because Eku was telling the truth? “I allowed this,” Eku continued, “because I saw an opportunity. But I am getting ahead of myself. You may already know that I was recently employed by an orc named Balzamel. I was one of his most trusted messengers. I would have killed him as easily as I would have worked for him, but he happened to pay me well enough to make killing him....unwise. Over the last few months, he sent me frequently to alliance territory, relaying messages to his operatives. I never read them, and never really cared what they said. I did hear him hint at some things, however, when we had our little....chats.” “And what did you hear recently, Eku?” Sephirah asked, her voice drained of energy. To Ultimar's ears, she sounded tired, and slightly afraid of what the troll might say. “If you want to hear more, then I want gold,” Eku growled. “A lot of gold.” “Why should we trust anything that you tell us?” Paumedie interjected. “For a very good reason,” Eku replied. “My only loyalty is money, as some of you probably can verify. I will tell you something, and if you can confirm it, then you can start paying me to get anything more. My prices are high, but I'm worth it. If you would rather try taking on this situation without my help, though, then be my guest.” “Fine, fine,” Paumedie said with annoyance. “What is your tidbit of information to get us interested? 100
    • “My offer is worthwhile, is it not?” Eku smiled. “Here it is. I heard from Balzamel that he didn't need me to do any detail work inside Ironforge itself, because he had already arranged for someone to do it. A member of the Alliance, at that.” “Yes, that sounds about right,” Sephirah slowly agreed. “Go on.” “Balzamel's agent isn't just any member of the alliance, my friends,” Eku continued. “In fact, I know that it is a member of Tempora Heroica. I also know who.” “That's ridiculous!” Barleystout shouted, and he was soon joined in by half of the voices in the room. “Quiet everyone!” Sephirah shouted, raising up both her hands. “Quiet! Unfortunately, Eku, your dreams of making money from us were highly delusional. If you named a name, no one would believe you, and I don't expect you to get a single coin from us. However, your offer could very well be based on fact. After all, we already have identified a possible traitor. As I mentioned earlier, I have this second scroll from Balzamel in my hands. It was found here in Ironforge. In the house of one of our very own TH members.” “Whose house?” Panday demanded, leaping up to his feet. “I will get to that,” Sephirah replied. “But let me read what was found there first. As I mentioned earlier, this scroll, which was encoded in Balzamel's very own coding system, describes the target of Balzamel's planned attack. The attack which is apparently coming in seven days.” “Fine, fine, continue,” Panday said reluctantly, as he gathered himself and sat back down. “I will read the exact words,” Sephirah said as she rolled out the second scroll. “Up at the top of the city, there is a hatch that leads to the Ironforge airfield. You are to make sure that the way is clear, when the time comes. You already know when, and now you know where. Do not fail us. Look to the skies, and welcome the end of Ironforge. The beginning of the end of the Alliance.” As the room around him erupted into chaos, Ultimar could 101
    • only shake his head. So, Balzamel intended to invade the city from the top of the mountain. Using an air force of some kind. . It was preposterous. In the center of the commotion, Eku was laughing softly. “Silence!” Paumedie boomed, rising from his chair. “Sephirah, please tell everyone where that scroll was found.” Sephirah looked down at her shoes, and then glanced over at the hunters. “Where did we find it?” Paumedie repeated. “The scroll was in Dwarr's house,” Sephirah said quietly. “It was hidden in his house.” “So what are you saying?” Iashon shouted, rising up with rage in his voice. Lunaelf and Guymakver rose up next to him, reaching for their bows. “It is hard to believe, I know,” Sephirah admitted, “but the evidence suggests that Dwarr has betrayed us. It is likely that he has been working for Balzamel.” “There is no way that Dwarr would betray anybody,” Iashon said, throwing up his hands. “This is why Dwarr has been locked in his house, with actual guards standing by his door? So you found a scroll in his house. So what. Someone could have put it there. Maybe Eku even planted it there as part of his scheme. Let me guess, you were planning to point the finger at Dwarr?” “If you want to know,” Eku growled, “you've got to pay me.” “Perhaps I could just shoot you right now,” Iashon responded, “and save everyone some time.” “Enough everyone!” Sephirah shouted. “Iashon has raised valid concerns. Until we can get to the bottom of what is going on, though, we can't let Dwarr out of our sight. I'm sorry Iashon, I can't really believe it either. Dwarr is one of my good friends, you know that. I just don't see what else we can do in this situation.” “Thank you Sephirah,” Paumedie said suddenly, waving for her to return to her seat. He turned to address the audience, 102
    • and pounded a fist into an open palm. “I don't like the situation at all, but if there is a chance that Dwarr has betrayed us, then Sephirah is right. He goes nowhere, at least not until this threat is over and we can get to the bottom of things. For now, we need to look at the bigger picture. We have work to do. All of us.” “What do you have in mind?” Kiren called out in that steady, logical voice of his. “We make this public,” Paumedie said, looking around the room as he did so. “We bring in the leadership of Ironforge, and prepare to defend the airfield. If a surprise attack is on the way, well, we'll be the ones doing the surprising. I expect that all of you will help with this.” “So, you want us to just sit back,” Iashon bellowed, “and wait to be attacked? We have a week. We should take this fight to Balzamel, whoever that is. Perhaps we can figure out how that scroll ended up in Dwarr's house while we're at it. Whatever we do, I don't plan on just staying in this city for a week.” “Neither do I, even though I just got here,” a familiar voice called out from the entrance to the hall. “Eku! My favourite psychopath is here! Anyway, if a major attack is coming, I believe that we might be able to get some help. From an unlikely source.” Dulin. The gnome mage was strutting his way into the room, with Vortna following behind him. Ultimar's head spun at the sight. This had been a crazy meeting, and if the past was any indication of what was about to happen, things were about to get even worse. As Dulin glanced about the assembly hall, things appeared to be more tense than Vortna had anticipated. The hunters looked like they were ready to start shooting people. Sephirah was staggering back towards the other mages as if she had actually been shot. Kiren looked....well, Kiren looked boring, but he was always boring. And what was Eku doing here? Dulin had plenty of friends that were trolls, and Eku certainly wasn't one of them. “What help do you have in mind?” Paumedie asked from 103
    • his position up at the front of the room. Ah yes, their fearless leader Paumedie. One of these days, Dulin might have to actually follow one of his orders. As long as he was creative enough to make his own orders up, though, and convince everyone to go along with him, then that day wouldn't arrive anytime soon. “While I was off attempting to have an epic party in Tanaris,” Dulin replied, “one of my associates was attacked by a pair of orcs. They are now dead orcs, but they still helped ruin a very promising night for me. Anyway, after talking to Vortna here, there's a good chance that they worked for some orc named Balzamel.” “Is this going somewhere Dulin?” Paumedie said with annoyance. “Yes, yes, don't rush me!” Dulin shot back, glaring at Paumedie as he did so. The nerve of that human. “Anyway, my associate told me that whatever is about to happen in Ironforge, whatever it is, is something that the Horde does not want. I believe him.” “Why wouldn't the Horde want to see the Alliance weakened?” Paumedie asked skeptically. “I will answer that,” Eku broke in. “It is because if the great Alliance cities are destroyed by Balzamel, then Thrall and his precious Horde will be robbed of their glorious victory. The Horde's authority over their subjects would be ruined by the shame of that. Thrall and the other leaders would kill Balzamel themselves before allowing him to destroy the Alliance on his own.” “That makes sense to me,” Dulin quickly agreed. “I wouldn't trust Eku farther than I could pay him, but that sounds like Thrall. This is where my plan comes in. I want to go talk to Thrall, and ask him to bring his armies over here. To help us.” “Are you insane?” Barleystout shouted. “If we let the Horde come anywhere near here, during a great battle, whose to say that they won't start attacking us at any moment?” “Easy,” Dulin replied, shrugging his shoulders as he did so. “We make them send tauren soldiers, with a tauren 104
    • commander. And we make them promise.” “You have got to be kidding.” Barleystout responded, in a tone that suggested that he still thought Dulin was probably insane. “What can I say,” Dulin continued. “Taurens are cool, when it comes down to it. If they make a promise, then we can trust them, even if our peoples are officially at war.” As Dulin looked around the room, it appeared that most of the assembled Tempora Heroica members shared Barleystout's opinion. Most. But not all. “You may try,” Paumedie announced, after a long silence. “But only if you can explain to me how you plan to gain an audience with Thrall himself, and manage to survive.” “That is a difficult part,” Dulin responded, “I agree, but I have some Horde friends that I think will help me. If I ask them nicely enough.” “There is not time for that,” Archimede cut in. “However, Dulin's plan does have merit. We may need help from the Horde, if Ironforge is to be saved. The force that Balzamel launches at this city will likely be overwhelming. If we wait to go through some of Dulin's Horde contacts, however, the armies of the Horde would likely arrive too late. No. We go to Thrall right now.” “How do you plan to do this?” Paumedie asked. “I don't think I should announce it here,” Archimede said cautiously. “Dwarr appears to have been a traitor; is he the only one? Besides, Eku is still here, and he's already heard more than he probably should have.” “If anyone offers one more insult towards Dwarr....” Iashon began “Calm yourself!” Paumedie said firmly, raising up his hand. “Fine, Archimede, I will leave this to you.” “Thank you Paumedie,” Archimede replied. “I will need more than just Dulin for this, however. Would Ultimar, Sparkel, Iashon, and Kiren please come with me?” “Why me?” Iashon growled. “Well, you want to do something,” Archimede answered. 105
    • “This is something. The other three, well, let's just say I trust them to do this. If they are willing.” “I am curious enough to come with you,” Kiren said immediately, “at least to hear you out.” “Someone needs to keep Dulin alive, and it might as well be me,” Sparkel quickly added. “I guess I will go as well,” Ultimar said reluctantly. “Well, then let's all go hear your plan,” Iashon said, rising to leave the room. “And with that, I suppose this meeting is at an end,” Paumedie announced. “For now, everyone just make sure that we can reach you. I will begin working on the city defense arrangements immediately. Oh, and Antarus, make sure that you let Eku go soon. I don't think we're going to have any use for him.” The troll flashed his teeth, and Dulin smiled as Antarus led the troll out of the room. Waving at Vortna, Dulin quickly walked over towards the small group that was forming around Archimede. Archimede was a master of crazy plans, and it looked like he was going to be a part of one. Well, if he wasn't going to control this mission, then at least he could be confident that it would be sufficiently crazy. Just how he liked it. 106
    • Chapter 11 – Departures In the distance, Archimede could see a small plane disappear behind a nearby mountain peak, as it began its landing approach. It was about to arrive at the Ironforge airfield, amidst a clear sky, on a beautiful day. Beautiful, except for the cold, for those that notice such things. Archimede usually had to be reminded of whether he was cold or not. Who had time to pay attention to such trivialities? “So,” Iashon said from behind him, “why are we up at the airfield? Are we taking a plane to Orgrimmar? I didn't know we had any that could fly that far.” “We don't,” Kiren interjected, “and I agree that it is strange that you have brought us up here. Perhaps if we were helping Paumedie prepare to defend this area, but we are leaving, if we actually agree to your plan.” “We are here,” Archimede said slowly, “because of this.” He retrieved a feather from his robes, and held it him above his head. “My assistant Reynalesca is the expert on this particular device. Perhaps a demonstration is warranted right now. Reyna?” “Well, if you want me to,” Reynalesca replied nervously. “I'll see you soon!” She grabbed the feather out of his hand, and bounced off towards the mountain side. The same mountain that they had practiced on a couple of days ago. “If my calculations are correct,” Archimede said, turning to face the group, “then there is a very interesting way into the city of Orgrimmar. One that no one in history, as far as I know, has ever tried.” “I think I know where you are going with this,” Ultimar said. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” “Well, perhaps not,” Archimede conceded, “but in theory, it works perfectly! Iashon, do you know that way to the top of 107
    • Mount Hyjal? The highest peak there?” “Yes.....” Iashon replied slowly. “Well, I have calculated that an object of mass D...D is for Dulin...traveling at a horizontal rate of R...the average run speed of an out of shape gnome...” “Hey!” Dulin shouted. “I'm fit!” “Yes,” Sparkel chuckled, “Your body is quite fierce.” “Thank you!” Dulin said, flexing his biceps. “She was being sarcastic, Dulin.” Ultimar said with a grin. “Your face is being sarcastic!” Dulin shouted back. “Every single day. That nose of yours is an especially good joke.” “Hmm, four out of ten on that one Dulin,” Sparkel said thoughtfully. “Not your best work.” “I blame Toshi,” Dulin said with a shrug of his shoulders. “You know, just in life. Things are usually his fault.” “Um, guys?” Archimede interjected. “Yes?” Dulin asked, his expression turning blank. Archimede rolled his eyes slightly. It was moments like this that made him happy that he very rarely took on students of his own. “As I was saying,” Archimede continued, “an object D, traveling at a speed of R, and falling at the fixed constant of F, will fall in an exact trajectory. If my maps are accurate, we can plot out a precise trajectory that arcs directly from the top of Mount Hyjal to the streets of Orgrimmar themselves!” “Intriguing,” Kiren said, nodding his head. “Although the speed R would be hard to pin down precisely in practice, and would affect the projected path greatly, would it not?” “You are right, of course,” Archimede agreed, “but we can have Dulin practice his run speed until he gets things right.” “Wait....what exactly will I be doing?” Dulin asked. “Watch,” Archimede said with a smile. Up in the sky, a tiny blob of pink started drifting towards them. That wasn't actually a blob of pink though. That was Reynalesca's hair. “Hi guys!” she shouted as she floated over their heads 108
    • towards the airfield tarmac. “You have got to be kidding me,” Dulin said, his mouth open as he watched Reynalesca land softly off in the distance. “So you'll do it?” Archimede said with a grin. “No one else would,” Dulin said, “but you know that I will. That looks awesome.” “Reynalesca will teach you how to use that feather in a moment.” Archimede said, nodding as he did so. Well, that was one part of his plan. The other.... “That might work,” Kiren said skeptically, “if everything is positioned perfectly, but what happens after Dulin lands in Orgrimmar?” “Easy!” Archimede said, excitement entering his voice. “He dies.” “I do, do I?” Dulin said thoughtfully. After a moment, he broke into laughter. “Well, yeah, that sounds about right, and I imagine that's why you asked Ultimar to come. Do I actually know what you're thinking Archimede?” “Now Dulin, your brain does work sometimes after all,” Archimede replied proudly. “Well, I suppose I better go over to that Reynalesca person and start practicing,” Dulin said, his voice growing as excited as Archimede's. “Whatever happens, this is going to be fun.” That woman! Insufferable. Apparently while he had been out in the freezing snow, helping snare a troll who possibly wanted to be caught anyway, Sephirah had been busy locking up one of his best friends. Toshi shook his head as he raced through the streets of Ironforge. Dwarr was a proud dwarf, one of the best he knew, and as loyal as anyone. Dwarr would never betray his fellow dwarves, not for all the gold in the world. Something about this situation wasn't right at all, and he needed to know what. Up ahead, Dwarr's house came into view, and the guard was clearly well established. The tall human warrior Elthor was leaning on an axe with one hand, while throwing back a mug of 109
    • ale with the other hand. Right in front of the door, Anolin the dwarf warrior was sitting like a boulder, while wearing full battle armour. Off to the side, the night elf Thala was leaning against the house while reading a book. Unlike some of the other druids such as Antarus, Thala usually stayed in elf form, as it was easiest to use magic that way. All three were members of Tempora Heroica, and this explained why they hadn't been at the meeting earlier. “I want to speak with Dwarr,” Toshi stated clearly, as he walked up to the house. “Right now, please.” “I don't see why not,” Anolin replied in a gruff voice. “He already has a visitor, and two of his friends shouldn't be a problem. At least, not in the condition that Dwarr's in right now. You'll see.” Anolin rose to his feet and pushed open the door. Toshi entered the house, and wasn't surprised that the visitor was another one of his very best friends. Senzeicapi was sitting with Dwarr at the kitchen table, and both of them appeared to have drained several pitchers of ale already. “Ah, Toshi, welcome to the party,” Senzeicapi said smoothly. “So, I take it that you have come to help figure out what is going on.” “Aye, you are right at that,” Toshi replied, the stone door closing firmly behind him as he entered the house. “Hello Dwarr. How are you holding up?” “I am feeling very prickly, like a cactus,” Dwarr said before hiccuping. “A cactus that was living a simple life, and that was just a friendly cactus, before the other cactus's walked over and dumped a bunch of sand all up in my business. A cactus needs sun Toshi. It needs sun!” Toshi sighed as he adjusted his eyepatch. Dwarr couldn't hold his ale as well as most dwarves, and it was likely that he had been doing most of the drinking. “That's true,” Toshi replied, trying to keep his voice calm as he sat down in a sturdy wooden chair by the table. “Let me join you in a drink.” 110
    • “Bottoms up!” Dwarr called out, before throwing back another mug full of ale, and falling over sideways. Normally when they drank together, Dwarr waited for Toshi's mug to be full, so they could down their drinks together. Dwarr also normally stayed on his chair. Yes, Dwarr had been drinking far too much today. “Senzeicapi,” Toshi asked, turning to the human, “did Dwarr tell you anything....interesting? You know, about recent events.” “Nothing much, I'm afraid,” Senzeicapi said reluctantly. “He doesn't seem to want to talk about anything in detail.” “Details!” Dwarr shouted, as he stumbled back up onto his chair. “I'll tell you details! There was this tall human girl, Sephirazzz, yes, who asked Senzei and me to go look for something. And then I stabbed a guy with my spear! And we found the thing she wanted, yes. But what happened after that? I was framed! Framed, I tells ya! If I find out who did it, I'm going to go angry cactus mode on their whole world.” “Dwarr!” Toshi cut in, his voice sounding rougher than he intended. “Do you know why Sephirah was even searching your house? If someone was framing you, then it would help to know why she came here to begin with.” “I think that,” Dwarr began, before a particularly violent hiccup distracted him. “Um...she didn't say. It was probably racial profiling!” Toshi sighed, and rolled his good eye. Dwarr often felt that he was treated differently by some people just because he was a dwarf. It was ridiculous, really, but Dwarr got defensive at times about the strangest things. If Toshi knew anything about Sephirah, she definitely didn't look down on dwarves at all. Well, maybe literally she did, due to being taller, but she thought dwarves were good people, that were fun to be around, and generally handsome. She did think those things, didn't she? Of course she did. “I don't think it was that,” Toshi said after a long pause. “Well, did you at least ask her why she wanted to search your 111
    • house?” “Probably!” Dwarr said with confidence. “Or something about bees. I might have asked her about bees. I like bees, and when I have guests, I often give them honey on stuff, which gives me a great opportunity to....” “Dwarr!” Toshi shouted. “Yes?” Dwarr replied innocently. “So, as far as you know, no one even asked her why she came to you house?” “Well, um....” Dwarr furrowed his brow. “I guess not.” “That's not that unusual, if true,” Senzeicapi suggested. “I know that a lot of us like to keep our sources of information secret from one another, for various reasons. I have some eyes and ears of my own in various places, and I wouldn't tell anyone who they are.” “That may be true,” Toshi said firmly, “but in this case, I think that I better go talk to Sephirah anyway. We deserve to know every detail. Senzeicapi, will you stay here with Dwarr?” “What was I doing before you got here?” Senzeicapi replied dryly. Toshi nodded, and turned to leave Dwarr's house. He normally didn't question Sephirah, but in this situation, he would have to go out of his comfort zone. After all, Dwarr would have done it for him. Archimede shook his head as he looked through the papers that were scattered across his desk. He didn't actually have the map that he was looking for. Well then, he would make his journey from memory. He sort of knew where to go after all, and precision was only helpful, not essential. He didn't need to be as careful as the group that he had just sent off to Mount Hyjal. Yes, he had much more room for error than that group did. They had been shocked when he had announced that he had other business, and wouldn't be going with them to make sure the calculations worked out precisely. Well, that's what Kiren was for. He had provided Kiren with maps, data charts, and all the 112
    • gadgetry that he would need to correctly position Dulin for his “flight to remember.” Everything would be fine. In any case, it was out of his hands now. Procuring aide from the Horde was up to Dulin, Iashon, Ultimar, Sparkel, and Kiren. He would have gone with them under normal circumstances, but a small voice in the back of his head told him that he couldn't. No. Someone had to search for Balzamel, and try to take down the orc before the assault actually started. Archimede felt the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders every day, getting heavier and heavier. He had one idea of where to search. His one gnome army plan. Walking over to a corner, he retrieved the hydrocane from its hiding place, and raised it up into the air. If he could find the underwater stronghold that he remembered, the hydrocane would allow him to swim down safely. Balzamel would never expect anyone to find that place. If the orc was there, Archimede would have a chance to stop him. Using whatever means necessary. “Well,” Archimede said quietly to himself, “I suppose I might as well leave right away.” “And I'm coming with you,” a voice chimed in from behind him. Reynalesca. “What are you doing here?” Archimede demanded as he turned to face her. “I told you to go find Sephirah and see if she needed any help in the city today.” “I know,” Reyna said quietly, “but you looked worried about something, so I followed you. If you're going somewhere, then I want to go with you.” “Where I am going,” Archimede said patiently, “no one can follow. This staff here, the hydrocane, lets me breathe underwater. I don't have a second one of these things, and I'm going to be underwater for a very long time.” “How does that staff work?” Reyna asked. “Well, I don't really know yet,” Archimede admitted, “but if I hold it, then I can breathe underwater.” “That's easy then,” Reyna said with a nod. “Yep, I'm coming with you.” 113
    • “What do you mean?” Archimede said with surprise in his voice. “Simple, silly,” Reyna laughed. “Aren't you supposed to be a genius or something? We both hold it. That's a big staff, and my hands are small.” Archimede couldn't help but laugh along with her. Well, they could test that out easily enough. If it worked....in theory, a two gnome army was an upgrade, and who was he to turn aside such an enthusiastic helper? Besides, his instincts had told him earlier that Reynalesca was going to be a part of all this. He never would have guessed that this would be how, but even at his age, it was amazing how life continued to be full of surprises. 114
    • Chapter 12 – A Rarely Traveled Route Leaning back against a giant log, Ultimar kicked his feet, and tried to shake the last of the snow off of his boots. They had been out of the snow covered lands of Winterspring for over an hour now, and had entered a barren, scarred landscape. There were no signs of life in any direction; just the brown earth, piles of rock, and the occasional fallen tree. To the south, tall hills rose up towards the sun, blocking their way forward. Iashon had led them here, claiming that he knew a way through those hills, and had temporarily left the group to scout the route ahead. In the far distance, beyond the hills, Ultimar could just barely make out the top of a giant mountain. Their destination. Mount Hyjal. It had been three days since they had left Ironforge, and Ultimar still wasn't sure what to make of their mission. It seemed crazy, likely to fail, and suicidal for Dulin. Still, Dulin had showed no signs of being worried about their plan, and had put forth an unusual amount of effort in preparing for his special flight. The main problem, for the moment, seemed to be getting his “take off” speed correct. He was currently practicing with Kiren, as they often did whenever the group had stopped somewhere. “So...” Sparkel said skeptically, as she sat down next to Ultimar. “What are the odds that Dulin actually learns the approach run before its time for him to actually jump?” “At the moment, I would say low,” Ultimar replied, “but at least we aren't actually there yet.” “Well, that's true,” Sparkel agreed, “and he gets good marks for effort. That's very rare for Dulin, unless he's tricked into thinking that he's not actually doing any work.” Ultimar nodded, and began watching Kiren and Dulin more closely. The night elf druid was holding a stopwatch that Archimede had given him – a strange device, that seemed useless 115
    • for most situations – and was timing how long Dulin took to run between two boulders. The boulders were seperated by about twenty paces, which was the standard distance that they had been practicing with. Dulin lined himself up with the first boulder, and glanced over towards Kiren, smiling wide as he did so. “OK,” Dulin said confidently, “this time I think I'll nail it.” “I'm ready when you are,” Kiren replied calmly. Dulin nodded, bent his knees slightly, and then began jogging fairly slowly towards the second boulder. When he reached his destination, he raised his hand up in the air, and hopped off the ground slightly. He drifted in the air for a few feet before coming back down to the ground, having activated the magic feather that he was holding. Well, the good news so far was that using the feather had become second nature for him. His approach run, however..... “Too slow,” Kiren announced, as Dulin jogged back towards the starting position. “At that speed, you would only fly about as far as you would go if Iashon just punted you off the top of the mountain.” “C'thun lover!” Dulin cursed. “I will get it, let me adjust a bit.” Dulin got in position, bent his knees slightly, and then began jogging more quickly towards his goal. As he ran past the boulder, he hopped up in the air again, Kiren clicking the stopwatch as he left the ground. To Ultimar, it looked like Kiren was being highly precise with working that device, but it was hard to be certain. “Way too fast,” Kiren said immediately. “At that speed, I estimate that you would fly right over the top of Orgrimmar, and eventually land somewhere in the East Kalimdor Sea. Far from the coast, in fact. Do you know how to swim, by any chance?” “Stop messing with me!” Dulin roared. “I counted in my head precisely, just as we practiced.” “Clearly you didn't,” Kiren replied calmly. “Well, let's work on creating a timing mechanism for you again. Don't 116
    • worry, we'll probably come up with something that works, but remember that we have less than half a second of error to work with here.” “Besides,” Sparkel chimed in, “As long as Dulin errs on the side of going too fast, then he can always make an adjustment later....right?” “Exactly!” Dulin said, smiling widely as he did so. “As long as I'm anywhere over Orgrimmar, I can just turn off the feather, and drop like a rock. If the goal is to die a little bit when I get there anyway.....” Ultimar couldn't help but laugh softly. The thought of dying as part of this plan really didn't seem to bother Dulin at all. Well, Ultimar himself had been slightly dead on a few occassions, and it actually hadn't been that bad. As long as Dulin kept his confidence up about the whole situation, then he just might be able to pull everything off. As Kiren walked over to Dulin, and began discussing a new idea he had for the approach run, Ultimar saw a different elf running up towards the area. Iashon was back. “Hello my lazy friends,” Iashon called out as he sprinted up behind Dulin and pretended to drop kick him. “Well, it looks like we'll be able to get through these hills without too much trouble. Unfortunately, we will have to do some climbing, and there's no way that we can take everything with us. Our transportation, and some of our gear will have to stay behind.” Ultimar frowned, and glanced over towards where Sparkel's horse, Iashon's horse, and the two gnome mechanostriders had been set aside. He wasn't a fan of rock climbing, or any climbing, to be honest, but he should have guessed that this might happen. “That sounds good to me,” Dulin said quickly. “Let's get moving.” Iashon walked over to his pet tiger, Kupo, and patted the beast on the head. “You stay here with the other animals, and keep this area clear for us, but do not eat the horses. Besides, they don't taste nearly as good as gnomes anyway.” 117
    • “Hey!” Dulin said with mock anger. “Gnomes are friends, not food!” “Of course they are,” Iashon replied, winking as he did so. Ultimar suppressed a shudder. Maybe one of these days Kupo would get confused, and not realize that Iashon was just teasing everyone. It was best not to think about that. Iashon began walking off back towards the hills, and the group lined up behind him. Dulin had begun talking to Sparkel about something called the great ale marathon, and Kiren was silently watching their rear. Trying to take his mind off of the steep hill that Iashon was walking directly towards, Ultimar checked the large pouch that was tied securely to his belt. Reaching in with his right hand, he began to count the soul shards that it contained by touch. He normally carried at least twenty with him, but he had left most of his supply with his mechanostrider. The eight shards that he had with him should be enough, but he felt a bit uneasy about traveling so light. Suddenly, Iashon turned sharply, and pointed at a steep nearby rock wall. “We start here, and pull ourselves up,” he said decisively. “There are plenty of handholds, but near the top, the path becomes difficult. Sparkel, do you think you can climb this?” “If you can, then I can,” the human woman replied confidently. “Ok, then I guess that means that we'll only need one trip,” Iashon replied. “Kiren and I can each carry one of the gnomes. I guess I'll take Dulin.” “Now wait here!” Dulin protested. “I could climb that in my sleep! I don't need to be carried by a silly elf.” “If your arms were longer,” Iashon said with a grin, “then maybe. Knowing you, though, probably not.” Dulin turned his back to Iashon, and stomped the ground, but didn't say anything further. For Ultimar's part, he was happy to be getting a ride, even if it was a bit embarrassing. “Whenever you're ready Dulin,” Iashon said, still grinning as he walked right up to the rock. 118
    • “Well,” Dulin said reluctantly, “if you insist.” Dulin ran over, jumped up on Iashon's back, and almost knocked him over with the force of the impact. “See!” Dulin laughed. “I'm a natural athlete!” “A natural piece of sports equipment, maybe,” Iashon retorted. “You would make an excellent football for instance, or maybe basketball. Any ball, really.” Dulin began raining tiny punches into Iashon's shoulder blades, but the night elf merely continued to grin as he began pulling himself up the side of the hill. Sparkel jogged up behind the ascending duo, and concentrated as she watched the path they were taking. A gust of wind flung her black pony tail in front of her eyes, and she batted it away with annoyance. As Iashon reached the top of the ascent, Sparkel nodded, and began climbing up herself. “I believe we're next,” Kiren said as he walked up beside Ultimar. Unlike Iashon, Kiren didn't seem to find it very amusing that he had to carry a gnome up the side of what was essentially a steep cliff. Well, as long as Kiren got them up the hill safely, then Ultimar would be happy. He was clearly strong enough to manage the climb safely, right? Closing his eyes, Ultimar pulled himself up onto Kiren's back, and held his breath as the elf began making the ascent on Sparkel's heels. After a few harrowing minutes, Ultimar felt Kiren lurch forward, and he opened his eyes. As he quietly thanked Kiren, Ultimar jumped down to the ground, and took in their new surroundings. The five of them were up on the top of a large hill, and they could see clearly for miles in all directions. All eyes seemed to be focused on one particular direction, however. There it was. The way to Mount Hyjal itself. The tallest mountain in the world. There were no roads in this part of the world, and the lands around Mount Hyjal were said to be uninhabited. Few people had ever actually been to the mountain, and Ultimar knew very little about it, other than that it was very tall. At the base of 119
    • the mountain, thick green forests stretched out for miles, and a broad river cut its way through the unbroken green terrain. The river ran right up to the mountain itself. “Follow me,” Iashon said, as he began to jog down the brown earthen hillside towards the forests below. “This land may look empty, but believe me, there are creatures down here that we don't want to run into. We make for the river, and follow it towards the mountain. We should arrive at the location that Archimede planned out for us before sunset. Well before sunset, in fact. If things go as they should, then Dulin will be at Orgrimmar before the day is through.” “Come on Ultimar!” Dulin called out as he sprinted after Iashon. “Don't give us gnomes a bad name! We're natural runners!” Shaking his head, Ultimar jogged along after him. Unlike Dulin, he had no illusions of being a good athlete. Besides, who needed to be an athlete when you were as powerful as Ultimar? “You are all forgetting something!” Ultimar called out. “Stop for a second!” Iashon and Dulin stopped their descent down the hill, and looked back over their shoulders. Smiling thinly, Ultimar threw his hands wide, holding a soul shard in his right gloved fist. His hands began to glow purple, and the soul shard exploded, vanishing without a trace. On the hillside in front of him, a black horse shimmered out of the nether, and whinnied angrily as it emerged from oblivion. Its eyes were fire, and metal chains were wrapped around the horse's neck. It was an apparition, a demon from beyond the grave, but it was Ultimar's. “Obey me,” Ultimar said coldly. “And you will soon be released.” The horse reared back one final time, before bowing its head in submission to its warlock master. “Normally I ride this creature alone,” Ultimar said, “in times of great need. However, I think that it should be strong enough to carry Sparkel, Dulin, and I. All at the same time. Will that work for you two elves as well?” 120
    • Without saying a word, Kiren's body began to shimmer, and he transformed into a large, powerful cheetah. Iashon simply smiled widely, and began shaking his head. “So, a challenge is it?” Iashon said with amusement. “I suspect that you will all be surprised at how fast I can run. Try to keep up!” Iashon turned, roared ferociously, and began sprinting down the hill. Kiren quickly dashed along behind him. Laughing, Ultimar ran over to the demon horse, and jumped up on its back. Sparkel climbed up behind him, and Ultimar urged his mount to make haste. It began running down the hill, and ran right past the waiting Dulin. “Get back here!” Dulin shouted. “Unless you'd like to try falling all the way to Orgrimmar for me, in which case, I'll see you back in Ironforge!” Sparkel poked Ultimar in the ribs, and he told his mount to turn back. It was fun to tease Dulin like that. After all, he made it so easy. After quickly riding a few strides back up the hill, they reached the waiting gnome mage. Dulin climbed up onto the horse behind Ultimar, wedging himself into the small gap that Sparkel had left. For some reason, Dulin had decided to face Sparkel. “This is a great seat, actually!” Dulin said, as he reached forward to hold on to Sparkel for balance. “If you'd like to keep those arms,” Sparkel said dryly, “then I suggest you find something else to reach for. In fact, just turn around.” “Well, if you insist,” Dulin said with disappointment, before awkwardly spinning around on the back of the horse. Ultimar felt two gnomish arms lock around his waist from behind. “Don't squeeze too hard,” Ultimar joked. “Oh, you know you like it,” Dulin shot back. Ultimar had been hoping that Sparkel would have ended up sitting behind him, but he would just have to make do. Urging his horse to hurry, they quickly caught up to Iashon and Kiren, 121
    • and raced along in silence. Iashon was running surprisingly quickly, and was maintaining an impressive pace. A few minutes later they reached the trees below. Iashon veered off quickly to the side, and steered the group towards the large river. As they neared the water, Ultimar could hear the rush of the river as it sped over some rapids, and he also heard birds calling out in the distance. He liked the sounds of birds singing. Unfortunately, Iashon had just warned them all that there was much more than birds in the area, and that they would have to be careful. What did Iashon actually know of this place? As they began moving over the grassy terrain that lay on the near side of the river, Ultimar heard a wild roar from the forest ahead. Iashon suddenly stopped running, and dropped into a crouch as he reached for his bow. Kiren shimmered, and grew in size as he transformed from a cheetah into a large bear. As Ultimar's horse pulled up closer behind them, Sparkel jumped down to the ground, holding her staff tightly, and was quickly followed by Dulin, and finally Ultimar himself. “We have a problem,” Iashon said grimly. “Who dares enter my lands!” A voice boomed. A large ogre crashed out of the forest, and blocked the way in front of them. His body was dark grey, and his eyes filled with rage. His only clothes were tattered red rags, and he was carrying a large wooden club. The club alone was much larger than Ultimar. “We wish to visit the mountain,” Kiren growled, attempting to be diplomatic. “We will leave before the end of the day, and you will have no trouble from us.” “So,” the ogre snarled, “you are requesting permission to cross my territory?” “Yes,” Kiren replied “Unfortunately, your kind is not allowed in this place. Permission denied!” “So you intend to stop us?” Kiren roared, his voice filled with challenge. “I do,” the ogre said, slamming his club into the ground. 122
    • The earth shook. “You can simply leave, or we can settle this problem the fun way.” Ultimar tried to think of something to say to the creature, but quickly saw that there would be no time. This was because that with a quick glance to his left, Ultimar could see that Dulin had already decided that they were all going to do this the fun way. 123
    • Chapter 13 – Up the Mountain Stupid ogres. They were always so lame, and never any fun at parties. Why did this dumb fool have to come lumbering out of nowhere, just when Dulin was getting comfortable? He usually hated riding horses, but he was enjoying the feel of Sparkel's arms around him. Being squished up behind Ultimar ruined things a bit, but not too badly. Besides, they were going somewhere, and had a fairly strict deadline. Dulin normally didn't worry about getting things done on time, but when his own house was in danger, then that gave him reason to hustle. After all, his liquor cabinet was in his house, and he had some very rare stuff in there! Up ahead, Kiren was actually trying to talk to the ogre, which was pointless. If an ogre was all mad, you couldn't reason with it. You could distract it with a shiny object, maybe, or kick it in the face, but it wasn't going to listen to anything you tried to say. As Dulin glanced around for signs of any other ogres, he noticed that the river was fairly narrow in this section. In fact, it seemed just narrow enough that he could try one of his favourite spells. Yes, it was time to get this situation over with. Running over to the edge of the water, Dulin closed his eyes, and concentrated. A moment later, he arrived safely on the far bank, having teleported over the water. Time to be a shiny object. “Look at me!” Dulin shouted at the top of his voice. “I'm going to the mountain! Catch me if you can!” The ogre turned sharply, and tried to figure out where Dulin's voice was coming from. Just as the ogre seemed to have spotted him, the creature had something else to worry about. Kiren had charged straight towards him, and had slammed into the ogre's chest, paws first. The ogre roared, and flung Kiren into the trees with his left arm. Before Kiren crashed into the 124
    • ground, a protective bubble shone up around him. That was Sparkel's work. Iashon had begun firing arrows at the ogre, and several had already slammed into its legs and shoulders. Ignoring Iashon, the ogre began weaving its way towards Ultimar, who was holding an arm out towards it, but apparently not actually doing anything. Well, sometimes it was hard to actually see what warlocks were doing in scraps like this. From across the river, Dulin began channeling a steady barrage of magic missiles. They flew over the water, before exploding into the ogres sides and back. The creature stumbled, but continued to plod towards Ultimar. It pulled back its massive club, and with unspeakable force, slammed the large wooden object into the gnome warlock. Ultimar went flying, and emitted a strange cry before splashing into the river. That was bad. The ogre turned to take a swing at Sparkel, but it never got the chance. As it pulled back its club, a blast of green energy flew out of the forest, hitting it directly in the face. The club fell out of its hands, and the creature collapsed, slamming into the ground as it landed. A dazed looking Kiren walked out of the trees from where the green blast had originated, in elf form, opening and closing his right hand as he did so. Dulin looked back to where Ultimar had fallen into the river, and was relieved to see the gnome rise up out of the water, as Sparkel pulled him towards her with a beam of holy energy. Well, at least he hadn't been dragged through the nearby rapids, but he certainly didn't look very good as he floated through the air. Shaking his head, Dulin quickly beamed himself back over the river. Sparkel had set Ultimar down beside her, and she was sending a pure white light from her hands into his body. After a few moments, his eyes popped open, and he pushed himself up to his feet. “You didn't die that time,” Sparkel said, apparently amused by what had just happened. “Close though, I must say.” 125
    • Kiren walked over towards the group, his body covered in a strange green glow. Well, he was able to heal his own injuries, and it looked like he was currently taking care of that. “What happened to you Ultimar?” Kiren asked with surprise in his voice. “I thought I was the only one that was going to take a beating there.” “That would have been nice,” Ultimar said roughly, as water dripped off of his robes, “but unfortunately, Dulin here has the tactical skill of a field mouse. What kind of move was that?” “That was a distraction special!” Dulin said as he gave Ultimar his best smile. “I distract the ogre, while you guys take him down with a sneak attack. It's not my fault that you amateurs let him get some shots in.” “Of course it isn't,” Ultimar said, clearly unimpressed. “Well, let's get moving again I suppose, although I wish I had a change of robes with me.” “One moment please,” Dulin requested. He walked over to the ogre's body, and began pulling off some dance moves next to the clearly dead creature. Sexy dance moves, at that. “Ok, that was about a moment,” Ultimar said quickly. Ultimar jumped on his horse, and Sparkel soon followed, before they rode up next to Dulin. “All aboard.” Dulin frowned. They really hadn't let him dance much, and victory dances were an important part of a happy life! Well, they did have to move quickly, and there would probably be plenty of dead ogres in his future to dance over. With a sigh, Dulin jumped up between Ultimar and Sparkel, and the group continued traveling along beside the river. While Dulin had been comfortable on the horse just a few minutes ago, holding on to an extremely wet Ultimar wasn't all that much fun. The hours stretched on, and his mood only grew worse. Perhaps in the future he could learn how to conjure up a magic stretch limo out of thin air, or perhaps even an airplane. Or Archimede could figure that out, and then teach him the spells. Riding a demon horse grew old fairly quickly, and he was starting to get sore. 126
    • The river soon began sloping steeply upwards, and the group started winding their way up the foothills of Mount Hyjal. The peak loomed way up above them, and was covered in snow. Getting all the way up there would be a challenge. In fact, how actually were they going to get up there? Perhaps they should have talked about that before now. “Ultimar,” Dulin said suddenly, “do you know how we're getting up to the top of this mountain?” “Actually, not really,” Ultimar said after a brief pause. “Iashon!” Ultimar called out ahead. “Where exactly are we going?” “Somewhere around here I'm sure,” Iashon called back. “I was just told to lead you guys to Mount Hyjal, and we're at Mount Hyjal. Kiren has the final details, I believe.” “I mostly do,” Kiren replied, his voice purring softly as he raced along in cheetah form. “Archimede described our destination very clearly; weren't you all there with me when he did that?” “Maybe?” Dulin asked, trying to remember. He actually hadn't listened much to Archimede's official briefing before they left Ironforge. “What would you do without me,” Kiren said distantly. “Well, you don't need to jump off the very top of the mountain. Up there, actually, you wouldn't have a good place to make a nice running start. No. We are headed to a secondary summit on the far side of the mountain. There is a nice, flat plateau there that should work perfectly. Just keep leading us upwards Iashon. We'll be there soon enough.” “You got it,” Iashon said with a nod. “Just tell me when we get there.” Before too long, the group had wound their way to the east side of Mount Hyjal, and arrived in a spot where the hillsides shot steeply upwards in all directions. With nowhere obvious left to go, Iashon signaled a halt.. “Is that it over there?” Iashon asked, pointing to a smooth section of rock that rose up in front of them. At the very top of 127
    • the rising mountain edge, Dulin thought he could see the area that Kiren had described. “I believe it is,” Kiren replied with confidence. “The question is, how do we get there?” “Do you see that tree jutting out from the side of the mountain,” Iashon said casually, “up on the edge of that plateau?” “I see it, but what of it?” Kiren's voice was skeptical. “Watch and learn,” Iashon said, grinning widely. Pulling an arrow out of the quiver that was slung across his back, Iashon began uncoiling a very thin rope that he had been carrying on his belt. It looked almost like steel wire. He tied one end of the rope to his arrow. Picking up the loose end, he looked over at Kiren. “Hold this please.” Kiren raised an eyebrow, but held on to the rope. Iashon grabbed hold of his bow, and nocked the arrow. He pulled back the bow as far as he could, and to Dulin's eyes, it looked like the bow might actually snap in half. “Fly straight,” Iashon whispered, before releasing the bowstring. The arrow exploded forward, the thin line of rope flying off into the air behind it. In the distance, the arrow slammed into the middle of the tree trunk that Iashon had pointed to. The arrow was buried to the feathers. “Pull the rope tight,” Iashon ordered. Kiren did so, and the line eventually became taught. There was plenty of extra rope coiled loosely at Kiren's feet. “I will take that, if you don't mind,” Iashon said, before walking over to Kiren and grabbing the rope. “Ok. So, who is climbing over there with Dulin?” Dulin's eyes widened at the idea. That was a fairly long way, and while his arms were strong, he had never tried something like this before. Still, he wouldn't admit that this was too difficult for him! He would climb that rope like he was born to do it! What problem could there be? “I have no need to go,” Sparkel said quickly. “Besides, if anyone falls, I better be around to go bring them back to life.” “I'm not climbing that either,” Ultimar said. “My task can 128
    • be done right now. We are close enough.” Dulin nodded. “Alright Ultimar. Hook me up.” Ultimar reached into his pouch, and pulled out one of his soul shards. From somewhere hidden in his robes, the warlock produced a small crystal orb. Without a word, he handed the orb to Dulin. “Will this hurt at all?” Dulin asked. “It won't right now,” Ultimar replied, “but it might later, depending on how things turn out for you on your trip.” Dulin nodded again, and looked down at the orb. Ultimar had closed his eyes, and was moving his lips slowly. The soul shard in his hands started glowing, before suddenly exploding, and vanishing into the mountain air. Dulin felt a cold wind rush over his body, and suddenly the orb in his hands began to glow. It was now filled with a very dim white light. “I suggest you don't lose that,” Ultimar said, his voice serious. “I have no plans to,” Dulin quickly responded, meaning every word. If this orb didn't work, or he somehow dropped it.....well, he didn't mind taking risks now and then. What was life without them? “I suppose I actually need to go up there as well,” Kiren said after a long silence. “The positioning needs to be exact, after all. Dulin is lighter than me, though, so I suggest he goes up first.” “Off I go then,” Dulin said, forcing a smile. “Perhaps a kiss from Sparkel here would give me good luck?” “I doubt it,” Sparkel replied, in that constantly amused voice of hers. “Besides, if I was to kiss a gnome, it wouldn't be you.” “Have it your way,” Dulin said, winking at her as he walked over to Iashon. “Are you sure that you won't drop me?” “Now Dulin,” Iashon said, his voice filled with mock hurt. “Have I ever joked about killing you, or feeding you to my tiger?” “Not in the last fifteen minutes, maybe, but other than 129
    • that....” Dulin couldn't help but laugh. “Ok, ok,” Iashon laughed, “maybe I have. But don't worry, you'll be safe. Up you go.” Dulin nodded, and grabbed on to the thick silver rope. It was cold to the touch, and felt like metal. Taking a deep breath, Dulin wrapped his legs around the rope, and flipped over upside down. It was time to climb. His arms soon started to ache from the exertion, and he didn't dare to look at anything other than his hands. One hand at a time. Right hand. Left hand. Ankle shimmy. Allowing himself to make a quick glance down towards his friends, he saw that Sparkel and Kiren were also holding the rope below, just in case. One hand at a time. After several heart pounding minutes, Dulin felt his back brush against something cold and hard. It felt like rock. Pulling himself well clear of the edge, Dulin swung his feet down, and stepped onto the secondary summit of Mount Hyjal. This had not been on his list of must do adventures, but now that he was here, it was quite the experience. Walking over to the edge of the plateau, Dulin looked down over the green forests below, and whistled softly. So, this is what the birds saw from up here. Did they ever worry about what would happen if their wings stopped working? Of course they didn't. Nope, there was nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. A short time later, Kiren finished pulling himself up the rope, and joined Dulin on the plateau. “Well, that was a work out,” the elf said, gasping for breath. “I'm surprised you were able to actually make it.” “I keep telling everyone!” Dulin said with a smile. “I'm a natural athlete! I don't need training or experience to be awesome at life.” “So you often say,” Kiren replied, raising an eyebrow. “Ok, final check. Do you have everything?” Dulin checked his pockets one last time. He had very carefully had extra buttons added to the pockets in this particular robe, to make sure nothing important fell out. The orb Ultimar 130
    • had given him was tucked away in an inside pocket near his left hip. He tapped his right chest, and felt that the second important item was still where it was supposed to be. A special banner, rolled tightly away, that would let any guards in Ironforge know that they were to let him pass. The guards had all been instructed to make way for a gnome if they saw him approach the city carrying that golden sun banner, no matter who was following behind him. The final thing that he would need was already in his left hand. Opening his fingers slowly, he stared at the feather. The feather that would carry him safely to Orgrimmar, before he let go of its magic, and fell to his death. Without looking back to where Kiren was standing, Dulin tried to make his voice sound confident. “I'm ready.” “Alright,” Kiren replied, “and I won't try to talk you out of this. It might not be the most sensible thing to do, but if anyone can make this work, it's you. Come. I have worked out the correct vector for you to take.” Kiren had turned his body slightly to the southeast, and had placed a dagger on the ground. The dagger was about 20 gnome sized paces from the edge of the plateau. That was just the distance that they had been using for his practice runs. “Ok, line me up,” Dulin said softly as he walked over to the dagger. Kiren reached down to touch his shoulders, and nudged him slightly over towards the southeast. “That should be correct,” Kiren said calmly. “Ok, now do your best to hit the speed we practiced, but if you are unsure, then make sure you run slightly too fast.” Dulin nodded, and jogged off towards the edge of the mountain. Right before he ran over the side, he hopped up off the ground, and activated the feather that he held firmly in his hand. His weight seemed to melt away, and he began to glide off the plateau. He was falling at a very slow speed, and this could take awhile. Dulin forced himself to concentrate. This would take all of the focus that he could muster, and he couldn't afford to let his mind wander. 131
    • Within seconds, his mind started wandering, but he still kept the feather firmly at the center of his awareness. Other than making sure that he kept floating, all that was left now was to wait and find out where he would end up. He couldn't worry much about whether he was actually on the way to Orgrimmar, or whether he would end up in a volcano or even the ocean. Despite his every effort, Dulin started to laugh wildly as he floated through the air. He probably should have learned how to swim when he was younger, but life was short, and he was only one gnome. 132
    • Chapter 14 – Preparing for the Worst A large stone archway soared up towards the ceiling, with a large hammer carved into the wall on each side. On the other side of the arch was the throne room of Ironforge, which was one of the main centers of power for the entire Alliance. Approximately two dozen heavily armed dwarf guards were standing watch today, and Paumedie was not surprised. Security around the king had been increased dramatically in the last few days, ever since Tempora Heroica had raised the alert about a possible attack. The defense of the city had already been carefully planned out, but if it was true that nothing was going to happen until the next full moon, then they still had a few more days to prepare. Days that they could not afford to waste. From deep inside the throne room, an old dwarf in long ceremonial robes walked up towards Paumedie, leaning on his staff as he moved slowly over the stones. He was one of the king's most trusted officials, and he had personally sent a royal summons to Paumedie only minutes earlier. “The king will see you now,” the old dwarf announced. After quickly bowing his head, Paumedie began following the official into the large chamber. King Magni Bronzebeard was leaning forward from his tall, golden throne, one hand resting on a large warhammer. He carried the weapon with him wherever he went, and was said to be a fierce warrior. Paumedie didn't doubt it, and was often impressed by how the king of the dwarves acted with such fiery determination. The city would need a strong leader in the coming days, and as much as Paumedie would have been willing to lead the defenses himself, it simply wasn't his place to do so. If the battle was to be fought here, then it would be won or lost by the dwarves. With that said, he intended to do everything in his power to make sure that they won. 133
    • The old dwarf official waved for Paumedie to halt at the foot of the ramp leading up to the royal dais, and after stiffly saluted the king, Paumedie bowed down low. “Be at ease, friend,” Magni boomed in the gruff manner that he often did. “I wish to hear news of the messengers that your people sent to the humans and the elves. We need to know if we can count on our Allies.” Paumedie had suspected that this was why the king had wished to see him today. Well, there was nothing to gain from dancing around the truth. “The night elves are not convinced that the threat to Ironforge is credible,” Paumedie said directly. “They intend to send an agent to investigate on his own, but I doubt that he will convince their leaders to do anything pre-emptive. I expect that the best we can get is aid after an attack actually starts. If we have some gnome mages set aside for this duty, they could portal to Darnassus, and send back squadrons of elves at our hour of greatest need.” “Elves,” Magni spat. “I should have expected this from them. I will make sure that the portal in the Mystic Ward is well protected, and that our mages are prepared. Is there better news from Stormwind?” “I went to speak with King Varian Wrynn personally,” Paumedie replied, measuring his words carefully. “Like the elves, however, the leadership in Stormwind was not easily convinced that their armies should be sent to Ironforge.” “Will they also do nothing, then?” Magni said with disdain. “Not nothing, but not as much as we had hoped. They are willing to deploy one hundred human soldiers in Ironforge, under your command, until after the night of the full moon. Other than that, all we can do is ask for aid once we have hard evidence that an attack is happening. Unless we can confirm more strongly that there are armies threatening Ironforge, King Wrynn was adament that his forces continue to man their current posts. It is a fact that we are at war against the Horde, and no one wishes to leave their 134
    • own cities open to attack.” “I see,” Magni said throughtfully, breathing in deeply. “Well, one hundred human soldiers is at least more than what we got from the elves. Besides, if things go as I predict, the dwarven people will never allow our enemies to enter the city, even with no help from our allies. Or help from our enemies, for that matter.” “Are you having second thoughts?” Paumedie asked, raising an eyebrow. “About the request for aid that we sent to Orgrimmar?” “The Horde will never come,” Magni answered dismissively. “Not under a truce banner, and not to risk their lives to defend us. Still, when that gnome friend of yours made his daring proposal, what reason did I have to refuse him? Sadly, though, I do not expect that we will ever see him again.” “Perhaps he will surprise you,” Paumedie replied, trying to keep his voice respectful. “Perhaps, perhaps not,” Magni said, waving over one of his aides. “You are dismissed. I will send for you again, when the soldiers arrive from Stormwind. If you are willing to take on a more active role in defending us, then I will place them under your command. They are humans, after all.” “It would be an honour, your highness.” Paumedie saluted, and turned to march out of the throne room. Ironforge was an enormous city, and while fortifying the airfield was no small task, they still had time. Besides, even if the leaders of the humans and the elves were sending limited aid, that didn't mean that the dwarves and gnomes would have to stand alone. Tempora Heroica was based in Ironforge, and if Paumedie knew anything about his organization, then when the time came, his people would be ready. He had found her. It had taken him days of searching Alliance territory, pestering his friends, and calling in favors, but he had found her. Toshi adjusted his eye patch, tightened his gloves, and began cautiously approaching the large airship that 135
    • had been hidden deep in a mountain valley a few miles away from Ironforge. This was Sedir's luxury merchant trading ship, The Lucky Star, which he had been using for years. It was a pillar of Sedir's commercial ventures, a central part of his considerable fame, and one reason why Sedir was one of the richest men in the world. For some reason, the airship had been pulled off of its regular schedule. For some reason, Sephirah was here. As Toshi moved through the snow towards the large wooden vessel, he could see dozens of small figures moving around the outside of the ship. It looked like they were gnome engineers, and they appeared to be working on some bizarre, long black tubes that were jutting out from inside the ariship. At first glance, they appeared to be enormous cannons, but the ends were covered. Toshi didn't know much about making money, but the devices did not look like they were designed to help make friends at business meetings. Once he had reached the edge of The Lucky Star, Toshi found a rope ladder dangling over the side, and he carefully climbed his way up onto the observation deck. Gliding over the railing, he saw that more gnomes were buzzing around the area. They seemed very focused on their work, and it wasn't difficult for Toshi to slip through them without being seen. The door leading below decks was wide open, and he began working his way into the heart of the ship. Wherever Sephirah was, he was going to have some harsh words for her once he had her in his sights. After descending down two levels, Toshi heard a familiar voice. That was Sedir. Looking carefully through an open doorway that led away from the stairs, his good eye saw that there was a large room, filled with maps. On a thick wooden table, a particularly detailed map had been unrolled. Sedir was standing on one side of the table. Sephirah was on the other. “But why search here?” Sedir said cautiously, as he glanced up at his fellow mage. “Because,” Sephirah replied with impatience, “this particular valley is large enough, and flat enough, that an entire 136
    • air force could be concealed there, only hours away from Ironforge. If they are planning a sneak attack, then they won't want to be in the air long, and they won't want to be seen. Besides, few airships have the range that your beautiful vessel does.” “Then send some of your people to check it out on foot,” Sedir replied. “The terrain is difficult, that's true, but if you think that our enemies can build large vehicles in that location, then surely you know someone who could walk there and take a look. It's a waste of time to fly there. I think we should fly straight to here.” Sedir pointed emphatically to a spot on the map. “Or perhaps you could just fly to Tanaris,” Toshi said sarcastically, stepping into the room. “Maybe what you're looking for is in the desert. Aye, as logical a choice, and only a giant ocean to cross on the way there.” “Toshi!” Sephirah said with shock, as the two humans spun to face the dwarf. “What are you doing here?” “What are you doing here,” Toshi replied. “That line belongs to me! Right after that big meeting we all had a few days ago, you disappear without telling me anything, all while Dwarr is locked away in his house like some petty criminal. I want to know what's going on!” “How did you find my ship?” Sedir demanded angrily. “I'm not talking to you,” Toshi said, pointing a dagger in Sedir's direction. “Don't temp me.” “Sedir,” Sephirah said quickly, “it's fine. I trust Toshi more than anyone. Could you please give me a moment with him?” “Normally I wouldn't, not on my prize airship,” Sedir responded with annoyance. “But for you my dear, I will make an exception. Don't be too long. The ship will be ready to fly soon, and we haven't finished our discussion.” With that, Sedir walked past Toshi, and disappeared down the stairs. “So,” Sephirah said, crossing her arms as she tried to size up Toshi. “You hunted me down to ask about Dwarr, I suppose? Look, he's my friend too, you know that. After what we found in 137
    • his house, though, we have to watch him. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.” “Fine,” Toshi growled, “but why aren't you working on figuring out the Dwarr situation right now? You know there has to be more to it. Why are you here, of all places?” “Look,” Sephirah said firmly, “I had a chance to come help refit this airship. Certain expertise was needed, and Sedir asked me directly to come here, right after the big meeting we all had. This is a merchant ship. Well, we're turning it into a special battle cruiser, and we're doing it in less than a week. We had to get....creative....and we had to work quickly. I'm sorry about Dwarr, but I felt this was more important right now.” “Fine, fine,” Toshi said, shaking his head, “but you should have told me you were leaving the city. How often have I helped you in recent weeks? It would have been nice of you to at least come check, after all that happened, to see if I needed you.” Toshi looked down at his boots, and crossed his arms defensively. He hadn't meant to say something like that, but it just came out. He wasn't just mad about Dwarr, after all. She had never even gone to dinner with him when he had invited her, or thanked him for capturing Eku, or....she hadn't done a lot of things. He couldn't make this about that though. This was about Dwarr. “I get it Toshi,” Sephirah said, her voice soft. “No, really, I get it. I shouldn't have just ran off when you were so worried about your friend. What do you want to ask me?” Well, if she was going to focus on Dwarr, then that made it easier for him. At least for now. “Why did you go to Dwarr's house?” Toshi asked. “And don't tell me it's a secret. I need to know why you went to his house.” “That's no secret,” Sephirah replied. “Did I not tell anyone? Perhaps I didn't, things happened so fast. I was trying to flush out the traitor in our group – Archimede and Vortna were both all but certain that we had one – and I was fishing for information. Well, by pure chance, Burrfoot happened to mention 138
    • that he saw Dwarr in the area around the Coldridge Valley mines. He then saw a troll in the same area, right after that. Now what does that suggest to you?” “You're kidding,” Toshi replied, shaking his head. “You think that Eku met with Dwarr recently to give him a message, from Balzamel, and that this message was found in Dwarr's house days later?” “That's what it looks like,” Sephirah answered, but her voice was far from confident. “Why wouldn't Dwarr have read the message,” Toshi inquired, “and simply destroyed it afterwards? Why leave evidence lying around for people to find?” “I don't know,” Sephirah replied honestly, “but the alternative is that someone put it there to frame him. We have no evidence for that, and very few leads.” “I think Burrfoot framed him,” Toshi spat. “I've never liked him, and it was his idea to go after Dwarr in the first place.” “I considered that,” Sephirah said, “and Burrfoot is being watched as we speak. We put some of Vortna's best eyes on that gnome the moment that we locked down Dwarr in his house. If Burrfoot's the real bad apple, don't worry, we'll be all over him. To be honest, though, I think that he's clean. The story he told me made sense, even if I don't want to believe that Dwarr's a traitor.” “Tell me every detail,” Toshi said after a brief pause. “If there's a hole to be poked in this story, I need to try to find it, and I need to do this myself.” “Alright Toshi,” Sephirah said with a sigh. “I'll let you try.” As Sephirah began relating everything that Burrfoot had said to her, Toshi couldn't help but smile on the inside. He wasn't happy with Sephirah right now, but at least she trusted him completely. For now, that would have to be enough. 139
    • Chapter 15 – Needle in a Haystack The blue ocean water stretched out for miles into the distance, before disappearing over the horizon. Large waves crashed into the white sandy beach, before gliding back out towards the sea. They had been working their way along the coast for days now, but Reynalesca still marveled at the sight. After all, she was used to cities, and had never seen anything like this in her life. She had never even imagined anything like this. On the beach beside her, Archimede had stopped to rest, his eyes closed in thought. He had claimed that he knew a place where Balzamel might be, and had believed he would be able to find it, with some small amount of effort. Well, apparently he had been slightly overconfident. Still, Reynalesca wasn't going to complain about how long this was taking them. They still had a few days left before the full moon came. They would find the underwater base eventually, right? Looking out at the massive ocean, it was hard to stay confident, but she was determined to try. Glancing back over her shoulder at Archimede, Reyna quickly batted her bangs out of her eyes. She had chosen to wear her favourite blue robes on this expedition, and they were now covered in sand. Her brown boots were also covered in sand. It was amazing how sand got everywhere. From a quick glance at Archimede's bright red robes, it appeared that he was having the same problem. “So,” Reynalesca began, “remind me again what landmark we're looking for?” “As I have told you many times,” Archimede replied distantly, “all I remember is that there used to be a large white tree on the beach. A beautiful tree, somewhere here on the coast of the South Kalimdor Sea. Just off the coast, near that tree, Balzamel built an underwater fortress. Down at the bottom of the 140
    • ocean. It's a logical place for him to be right now, if he has been planning his attack for as long as I think he has been.” Reyna nodded. They had seen countless trees on or near the beach, as they had traveled their way across it. Still, the coast was enormous, and they still hadn't found the tree that Archimede remembered. It was strange that Archimede would even know of Balzamel's secret fortress, even if they had once been friends. She had meant to ask him more about that. “This Balzamel guy,” Reyna said cautiously, “you have talked about how you were friends for many years. Why would he build a fortress on the ocean floor?” “There were two reasons,” Archimede replied. “He always liked the ocean, and he used to do a lot of research about the sea. Coral reefs, fish, the tides, ocean currents, that kind of thing. He also liked for his work to remain private, until he was ready to make his ideas public. Balzamel was never as confident as me. He worried about his ideas being wrong, and in need of retraction or major revisions, particularly when it came to his inventions. If he really cared about a project, no one would know about it until he had built the prototypes. It was a minor miracle that he even invited me to his ocean fortress on the few occasions that he did.” “I see,” Reynalesca said, looking off over the horizon. “It must be hard on you.” “The sand?” Archimede asked with surprise. “It's very soft sand.” “No, silly,” Reyna replied. “Balzamel. This situation.” Reyna turned and looked at Archimede with sympathy. “I'm sorry about your friend.” “I am too,” Archimede said quietly. “He's was never a bad orc, and it wasn't his fault. What happened, I mean. It wasn't his fault.” “What do you mean?” Reyna asked. “Some things are best left to history,” Archimede said, his eyes still closed. She had gotten used to how often he liked to close his eyes, and rarely noticed now after spending several days 141
    • with him. “Archimede,” Reyna said, moving over to sit right beside him. “If we actually find him, if we find Balzamel, what are you going to do? What are you really going to do?” “I'm going to stop him,” Archimede said firmly. “I won't lie and tell you that it won't be hard for me. The old Balzamel would want me to stop him, though, I know that. I owe it to the orc that he once was. If I can't reason with him, then, well......” Archimede trailed off, and opened his eyes. His eyes were sad, but quickly started sparkling the way they often did. “Enough of that. Come. We have a fortress to find.” Archimede rose to his feet, and quickly strode over to their mechanostriders. Hopping up on the custom painted orange one that he had brought with him, Archimede starting riding down the beach. After a moment, Reynalesca went over to her smaller green mechanostrider, and climbed up on its back. The engine hummed as she turned on the ignition, and the mechanical chicken started running along after Archimede. The ocean air whipped through her hair, and she began resuming the search for a beautiful white tree. After a few hours of riding through the sand, Reyna saw Archimede stop abruptly. Riding up beside him, Reynalesca quickly saw why. Lying up ahead, on the edge of the beach, near a field of grass, there was a giant log. A bright white log. “Well,” Archimede said, “the years go by, and the world changes. Luckily for us, in this case, it left just enough evidence behind. I believe that we're here.” Reynalesca nodded, and jumped off of her vehicle. “So Archimede, does that mean that it's time to go swimming?” Archimede joined her on the ground, and retrieved a long blue staff from the side of his mechanostrider. The hydrocane. He stared at the staff for a moment, before turning to look at Reynalesca. “It's a big ocean for just two gnomes,” Archimede said cheerfully, “but we have a few days. I'm ready to start looking whenever you are.” 142
    • Reynalesca walked up next to Archimede, and she placed one of her hands on the hydrocane. She looked Archimede in the eye, and attempted to smile her most confident smile. “Let's go.” Together, the two gnome mages started walking towards the water, the hyrdrocane held out horizontally between them. They were each firmly holding on to one of the ends with two hands. In their initial tests, it was easiest to swim together while holding the staff like this. Their initial tests had also revealed that they could both breathe underwater while holding it. Yes, they would search the ocean together, and Reyna knew that eventually they would find Balzamel's fortress. If it was actually down there somewhere. “Last one in is a rotten dwarf!” Archimede shouted suddenly, before running out ahead of Reyna, pulling her forward with the staff. Reyna couldn't help but laugh, and began running with him into the water. A large wave splashed up over her knees, and then rolled back. The next set of waves covered her to the shoulders. By the time the waves approached for a third time, Reyna and Archimede were already waist deep in salty ocean water. Yes, it was time to dive into the ocean, and see what it was like to be a fish. As she dove below the water with Archimede, Reyna was relieved to confirm that they could both still breathe. Being out in the ocean was another first for Reyna, and she intended to make the best of every moment, even if it was a bit scary. It was true that she barely knew how to swim, but if she could learn how to throw magic fire in a few minutes.....how hard could becoming an expert swimmer be? Reyna gripped the hydrocane so tight that her fingers started to hurt, as she started walking with Archimede along the ocean floor. Did this count as swimming? Her mother would probably say no, but if anyone ever asked her in the future, it most certainly did. Almost no one knew he was here. No one that was still alive, in any case. Eku knew, but he wouldn't be alive for long. Other than that troll, only his most trusted servants had ever been 143
    • brought to this place. They were all extremely loyal. Balzamel laughed softly at the thought. Yes, he had made sure of that. Still, he couldn't stop wondering about Archimede. He had shown the foul gnome this place once, back in the days of his naive youth, before he had seen the way the world really was. Did Archimede remember his fortress? If so, did it matter? It was true that he had not seen Archimede in Ironforge recently, and that it was likely that Archimede was coming after him. This place wasn't easy to get to, though. The only way in and out was by using the special magic portal that he had built. Usually, only mages were able to attune themselves to portals like this, and create their own temporary portals from far away that could be used to cross through the space between. The portal here was special. It was powered by soul shards, and only he could activate it, or the people that he had trained to operate it with the special devices that were required. Perhaps another warlock could learn to use the portal, if they studied the technology for long enough, but that would never happen. Not while he was still alive, in any case. There had been another way in once, long ago, but he had long since closed it off. That technology was crude, and outdated. He had once been very proud of it, having carefully designed it himself, but that was when he was young. Archimede had been brought here using the old way. If he tried to enter through that area again, well, he was in for a surprise. A painful surprise. The thought of the security at the old entrance reminded Balzamel of his own secret pain. Or at least, one of the more tangible sources of his agony, that he could feel burning into him with regularity. It was several hours before he planned to return to the mind control orb. It would be a glorious day when he finally stopped needing that thing, and not just because of how on that day, Ironforge would fall. Connecting with that creature's mind was wearing on him. The orbs had never been meant to be used so frequently, and Balzamel was rarely away from the orb in recent days. Walking over towards one of the nearby windows, he looked out through the circular opening, and tried to calm 144
    • himself. Rage was strength, but only if channeled through a disciplined mind. He was never able to see very far out of this window, but he still enjoyed the view. After a few minutes, he was surprised when a large shark swam past. Sharks were rare in this area. He knew the terrain around his fortress well, and he had not seen many sharks here, not even in the days when he spent most of his time out in the ocean. He had always loved the ocean, back when he knew how to love. Balzamel held out both of his large, green hands, and flexed his claws. Love. It was such a foolish thing, but what would life be without it? There was so much that he had loved in the world, but what did that matter now, when what he had really loved, was gone forever? He could have just given up, and faded away from the world himself, but he owed it to his memories to not give up. They deserved justice. He would give it to them, no matter what. The only possible problem, the only loose thread that had been haunting him, was Archimede, and it was time to do away with his concerns. He turned away from the window, and pushed open the wide doors that led into an enormous room. This had once been the submarine docking bay. There were still two old submarines locked in place, their top hatches popping up out of the water. It had been quite difficult to design this part of the fortress, but the principle was ultimately simple. Quite simple, in fact. In the old days, when a submarine approached the fortress, a technician would open a single large gate. The submarine would enter a water filled chamber, and the gate would close. A second large gate would then be opened, and the submarine would be able to travel into the dock. This system kept the amount of water in the docking area constant, and kept his fortress from flooding. There had never been any major accidents at the docks, but if Archimede intended to blast his way through here, then the whole fortress could quickly become inundated. The risk was small, but why leave any risk at all? Why indeed, 145
    • when he had an easy solution. Balzamel walked over to a large maintenance panel that had been installed in the wall. Pulling off the panel, he studied the controls, and quickly saw what he had been hoping to find. When the docks had been designed, he had worried about security threats. Back then, he was mostly concerned that an intruder would try to sneak in and steal some of his top secret documents, but the security system included some especially unfriendly settings. Laughing softly, Balzamel flipped open three red switches. If anything so much as touched the external gate.....yes. He had nothing to fear from Archimede if he tried to force his way in. Nothing to fear at all. 146
    • Chapter 16 – The Death of Dulin He had known that the trip could take several hours, but the time had just melted away. He had floated over the forests around Mount Hyjal, drifting high above a sea of green. He floated over the ring of hills that surrounded Hyjal, which isolated the mountain from the rest of the world. As he drifted over those hills, he passed dangerously close to a a rocky peak that stretched up towards the sun. He felt like he was flying, but he knew that he was actually falling very slowly. All the while wondering where he would land. Dulin glanced up at the feather that he held tightly in his fist, as he continued to fill the device with magic energy. He was not used to concentrating on something for so long. As a mage, he had always been more interested in flashy moves, that got the job done in style without requiring much effort. In fact, it was unlikely that he had ever attempted to keep a spell active for this long. Of course, he didn't remember everything that he had done in his life – a small side effect of his lifestyle – but the odds were good that he was setting a personal record today. After falling beyond the lands that surrounded Mount Hyjal, Dulin had eventually floated over the Southfury River, which looked like a tiny ribbon of blue from so high above it. That was one of the largest rivers in the world. At the sight of that river, he knew that he was getting close. After crossing over the water, he had looked down on the ancient lands of Azshara, the domain of Azuregos the Dragon. He hadn't expected that Azuregos would notice a lone gnome sailing through the sky, but he had been slightly nervous until he had passed over the tall red pine trees that marked the border with Durotar. Durotar, home of the orcs and trolls, and the location of their capital city. A place where few gnomes had gone before. Up ahead, Dulin finally saw it. The massive stone walls 147
    • of Orgimmar rose up out of the rocky desert landscape, and he was headed straight for the city. Large stone towers stretched up towards the sky, and in the distance, he could see wyverns flying in wide arcs through the air. The strange beasts, that had lion like heads, bat like wings, and long furry tails, were often used by the Horde for transportation. They were also used as scouts, but if he was right, they would not think to watch the air above them. As Dulin continued to keep an eye on the wyverns, he realized that his current path was going to take him high over the city. His direction had been perfect, but unfortunately, his takeoff speed had apparently been too fast. Well, Kiren had told him to err on the side of floating too far, and that is what he had done. He would very quickly have to do something about it, though, and it wasn't going to feel very good. With his free hand, Dulin reached down and confirmed that Ultimar's orb was secure in his pocket. Yes, he would definitely need the orb, more than anything he had ever needed in his life. Still, it had been his choice to do this, and he did not intend to turn back now. He quickly found himself drifting directly above the city, and looked down on the large towers, soaring wyverns, winding streets, and tiny shapes moving about on the ground below. There was no use trying to aim. As long as he made it all the way to the ground, then he would be where he intended to be. After taking a deep breath, Dulin closed his eyes, and quickly prayed to nothing in particular. After all, he wasn't a religious gnome. Summoning his courage, Dulin stopped channeling magic energy into the feather, opened his eyes, and dropped like a rock. The ground rushed up towards him, faster and faster, and he heard a strange shout from below. Suddenly, he slammed into his destination, and the world went dark. Everything around him was a sea of grey. Where was he? Dulin looked down at his hands, and was shocked to see right through them to the hard ground beneath his feet. His body was translucent it seemed, and everything around him seemed distant, and almost unreal. Looking around, he quickly knew why. A few 148
    • feet away, a well dressed gnome lay in a heap near a wide roadway, his legs twisted horribly at an impossible angle. That was his actual body. So, this is what it was like to be dead. A thin troll was leaning over his body, tentatively poking him in the chest. The troll's mouth hung open in shock, and seemed to be trying to decide something. Dulin wasn't sure that he wanted to know what, as after all, his entire plan hinged on what would happen next. Had his guess been wrong? Just then, a Horde soldier ran up behind the troll. This large orc appeared to be a city guard, and from his confused expression, he hadn't seen Dulin's special arrival. “Step aside!” The guard's voice boomed, and he stared accusingly at the troll. “What do you think you are doing?” The troll leaped away from Dulin's body, and began waving his hands frantically. “I was doing nothing, honest, nothing at all!” The orc walked over towards the gnome corpse, and kicked the small gnome in the ribs. He wasn't being gentle. Dulin's eyes narrowed as he continued to watch the scene. He might be dead right now, but no one abused him like that without consequences! He had his pride, after all. “Why is there a dead gnome lying here on the street?” the orc demanded. “I have no idea what he was doing,” the troll quickly replied, “but I saw him fall right out of the sky. Out of nowhere. He landed right here, like this, and hasn't moved since.” “Don't lie,” the orc growled., reaching over and angrily grabbing the troll by the throat. He lifted the poor creature up off of the ground, and it started thrashing desperately. “I'm not lying,” the troll gasped. “I saw him land here!” The orc tossed the troll back down onto the ground, and nodded. “Well, if that is what you saw, then I must go inform my superiors. Stand aside, maggot.” The troll crawled away backwards, before jumping up and running away. The orc laughed heartily, then picked up Dulin's body, and roughly tossed the body over his shoulder. After 149
    • walking over to the nearby road, the orc quickly began marching down the street, glancing up frequently towards the sky as he went. Dulin's heart soared at the sight, and he began trailing after the orc. What he saw around him continued to bend and ripple, but he forced himself to focus. Looking up at his dead body, he could make out a strange, faint glow from somewhere up above the orc's shoulder. It was warm, inviting, and calling out to him. So, the orb was still there, and likely undamaged. All he had to do now was wait. The orc guard crossed over a rope bridge, and began descending down a ramp into a large central area of the city. In the crowd below, he saw mainly orcs and trolls, but also several tauren. He also saw several of the vile forsaken, the undead former humans that had lingered on long after they should have left the world behind. He would never had considered asking the forsaken for help, but asking for tauren aid was sensible. It made sense, didn't it? He had to believe that. After all, he had already died for this attempt, and he was fully committed now. Before long, he followed the guard into a large building, through a maze of other guards, and into a large audience chamber. The orc hadn't lied when he had said he was going to take Dulin's body to his superiors. Among the other high ranking Horde officers that filled the room, against the far wall, a large orc shaman was deep in conversation with a troll. If Dulin's instincts were right, then that orc shaman was Thrall, leader of the Horde. “Warchief,” Dulin's orc porter announced, “there has been an intruder. I found this – creature – up in the higher levels of the city.” The orc guard proceeded to toss Dulin's body down on the ground, the gnome's legs somehow looking even more mangled than they did previously. Even in the grey swirling seas that filled Dulin's current awareness, he began to grow uneasy at the sight. Would that damage fix itself when he attempted to make his big entrance? If it didn't, this was going to go much worse than he had hoped. 150
    • Thrall looked over at the orc guard, and then at Dulin's body. “A gnome, here in Orgrimmar?” Thrall asked, his voice clearly surprised. “Do you know how he got here?” The orc guard shifted uncomfortably, but met Thrall's steady gaze. “Warchief, a witness claimed that he saw the gnome fall out of the sky. He apparently died when he hit the ground.” “Did he now.....” Thrall said as he took a few steps closer to the body. “We should send wyvern riders up to watch the skies. There must be something up there somewhere, unless it is gone already. Perhaps a plane. If anything is up there, then we will give it a very warm welcome.” The orc guard flashed his teeth. “I will alert the captain of the guard myself.” He looked back down at Dulin's body. “What should I do with the remains?” “Whatever you want,” Thrall replied. “Take that out of my sight.” As the orc moved towards his body, Dulin began to panic. Perhaps he had waited too long. Rushing forwards towards himself, Dulin tried to lock his mind onto the glow of the orb that was still in the pocket of his robes. He gasped as his awareness was suddenly filled with a white light, and the world went dark yet again. “What trick is this!” a voice shouted out. Was that Thrall's voice? He wasn't sure. Dulin shook his head roughly, and forced his eyes open. Why did his body ache like that, and what was the strange pressure against his legs? After a quick moment, he remembered. He had to move quickly. “Stop!” Dulin shouted. The orc guard, shocked, dropped him like he was a bomb. Slamming into the ground did not make him feel any better. The good news is that he actually could use his legs after all, and scrambling to his feet, he held his hands high up over his head. “I surrender!” Dulin said immediately, looking over towards Thrall. “I'm sorry to barge in like this, but the Alliance needed to talk to you, and we didn't have time for diplomacy.” 151
    • “A big risk you just took for your Alliance,” Thrall said, his voice still angry, but controlled. “If you were willing to risk death, just to talk to me, then I will at least humour you before making your death more permanent. What is your name, foolish one?” Dulin swallowed heavily. That was not a good start. What had he planned to say? He had spent several days planning out his words, but now that he was here, he couldn't remember what he had come up with. “I am Dulin, gnome mage extraordinaire, and friend of all people. I may be a member of the Alliance, but I hope for a world in which our war against the Horde ends in peace. Enough of that, though, as that is not why I have come here. Have you heard of an orc named Balzamel?” Dulin asked, deciding to go with the direct approach. After all, Thrall did not appear like he was in the mood for subtlety. “Yes, I knew him,” Thrall replied, “and he is not a member of the Horde. He died many years ago, and the world is better for it. What of him?” “We believe that Balzamel is alive,” Dulin said, trying to keep his voice calm. “We believe he is alive, insane, and the architect of his own personal army. A very powerful army. We also believe that he plans to unleash it on Ironforge any day now. We do not know whether the Alliance will be able to withstand his assault. It could be the end of us.” Around the room, several trolls began laughing, and a particularly large troll walked up beside Thrall. “I do not know what you think to gain by telling us this,” the troll said as he looked down towards Dulin,“but if this is true, then it is an opportunity. Perhaps we should prepare our own armies, and send them to help this Balzamel.” “Silence Vol'jin!” Thrall's voice boomed throughout the large room. “We will do no such thing! I will not have any hand in helping Balzamel do anything, if he is actually alive. I will not easily believe the words of this gnome, but if it is true that Balzamel managed to cheat death, then that old orc is on his own. 152
    • If Balzamel actually is so rash as to attempt to seize Ironforge, then he'll have to do it by himself.” “Yes, my warchief,” Vol'jin said coldly, before backing away from his leader. “If what you say is true,” Thrall said, turning back to look at Dulin, “then why tell us? Why risk so much to bring me this message as fast as you could?” “Because,” Dulin said firmly, “the Alliance wishes to ask for aid. We humbly request that the Horde joins us in the defense of Ironforge.” The room burst into laughter, and not just the trolls this time, as many orcs also joined in. The pair of forsaken diplomats in a far corner of the room also began laughing eerily. Thrall, however, simply nodded, and his eyes grew even more fiery. Well, Thrall was the only person that needed to be convinced, and Dulin held on firmly to his hopes. “You can't be serious,” Vol'jin said derisively, after he stopped laughing. “My good friend Vol'jin,” Thrall said softly. “He clearly is serious. Serious, and a little bit desperate, I would say. If we help send aid, we will need to discuss our terms very carefully, but I am willing to consider it. I do not like the thought of Balzamel defeating the Alliance, and stealing the glory from the Horde. That is our victory.” “What?!” Vol'jin shouted out in surprise. “Do you question my judgement?” Thrall roared in response. “Of course not warchief,” Vol'jin stammered, before bowing his head. “You see these things more clearly than I, and the troll people will respect your decision in this matter.” “Now, Dulin was it?” Thrall walked up and leaned down to level with Dulin's gaze. “What sort of aid do you wish from us?” “With respect,” Dulin said carefully, “I would like permission to ask for tauren soldiers. If they promise to honour a truce with us, then the Alliance is willing to trust them to enter the 153
    • city of Ironforge.” Thrall laughed at those words, and the fire drained out of his eyes. “You certainly have no fear, as that request contains a thinly veiled insult to many of the people gathered in this room. Still, if you wish to ask the taurens, then I will allow it.” Thrall looked over to a robed troll standing in the nearby shadows. “Open a portal to Thunder Bluff immediately. Come along, brave gnome. We will see what Cairne Bloodhoof has to say about your request.” Dulin nodded, and followed Thrall through the portal that opened up against the wall. He had managed to pull off the hardest part of his plan, but the second part would not just be another night at the tavern. His people were counting on him, though, and he would be there when they needed him. With or without the tauren army that he had promised. 154
    • Chapter 17 – Slippery as a Fish Today was the day. The sun had just popped up over the horizon, pulling Reynalesca out of her restless sleep, and even as she rose groggily out of a dream, she knew that today was the day. In her dream, she had been lost on the bottom of the ocean, walking endlessly through a maze of seashells, seaweed, and startled sea creatures. That dream had fairly closely resembled the last few days. She had searched and searched with Archimede, determined to find the fortress that he remembered, and they still had seen no sign of it. Now, as Reyna rubbed her eyes, and looked off towards the orange sunrise, she struggled to fight off how exhausted she felt. Today was the day, and they were running out of time. Glancing over to her right, Reyna pushed herself up into a sitting position, and studied the gnome that was snoring loudly beside her. Archimede was lying on his back in the sand, his limbs spread out like a star, and his mouth was wide open as he breathed in and out. He had the steady breathing of a gnome that was nowhere close to being awake. She always woke up before Archimede, and it usually required quite an effort to get him to open his eyes. Well, she might as well get right to it. As Archimede had reminded her over and over again, the moon would be full the next time it rose up in the sky, and tonight was when they were expecting Balzamel's plans to unfold. If they were going to find what they were looking for in the ocean, then it had to be today. After today, it wouldn't really matter. Reynalesca brushed some sand out of her robes as she sprung to her feet, stretching out her arms and yawning as she did so. She looked over in the sand behind her, and was relieved to see that the hydrocane was lying right where they had left it. She quickly picked up the long blue staff, and aimed it at Archimede. Where was the best place to poke him this morning? Reyna 155
    • smiled, and decided to go for the full body treatment. “Archimede!” Reynalesca squeaked, struggling to find her voice as she did so. She poked him rather briskly in the knee with the hydrocane. He kept snoring. “Archimede!” Reyna called out more loudly, tapping him with the end of the staff in the chest and stomach. The snoring continued. “Archi, Archi, Archi, Archi....” she began repeating slowly, knocking the end of his white beard back and forth with the hydrocane as she continued to say his name. His arms flopped about wildly for amount, and he mumbled something that sounded like “molybdenum batteries please,” but he still seemed to be asleep. This was taking longer than usual. “Wow, look!” Reyna shouted as loud as she could, deciding to get creative. “A giant penguin robot is shooting lasers from its eyes!” “Lasers?” Archimede asked sleepily, as his eyes opened a crack. “What kind of lasers?” “You'll have to sit up and take a look!” Reyna said, pointing off towards the ocean with the hydrocane. Archimede propped himself up onto his elbows, and tilted his head forward. He frowned briefly, then chuckled briefly. “Good morning Reyna,” he said slowly, “the sun is up already, is it?” “True!” Reyna replied, as she began thinking about breakfast. “Time to eat. Should I cook today?” “Nothing would make me happier,” Archimede said sincerely, before given her a nod of encouragement. Reynalesca shook her arms a bit to try to loosen up her tired muscles, threw down the hydrocane, and then began to concentrate. The trick to this was seeing very clearly in your mind what you wanted, and more or less willing it into existence. Archimede had taught her that this technique only worked for certain things, such as food and water, but it was still amazing to her that it worked at all. After a moment, a long crystal table appeared before them on the beach. On top of the table was a crystal pitcher, filled with clear fresh water, two crystal mugs, and 156
    • a large crystal platter. On top of the platter was a giant pile of pancakes, with perhaps an excessive amount of chocolate syrup. Archimede laughed as he saw her creation, and raised an eyebrow in her direction. “I see you've decided to go with a balanced meal for today,” he said sarcastically, “but I won't complain. Let's eat quickly. We don't have much time.” The two gnomes walked over to the magic table that sparkled as it stood firmly in the middle of the beach, and began to eat together. They both ate as fast as they could, and ate in silence. Talking would only slow them down after all. Once she had decided that she was ready to go, Reyna walked over to pick up the hydrocane from where she had recently tossed it aside. Far off in the distance, she could just barely make out the large white log that Archimede thought he had recognized. Was this really the remains of the tree that he remembered? Even if it was, the ocean was enormous, and how close was it to their target location? Did he even know? Archimede stood up from the table, apparently having finished eating as well. She concentrated, and pulled the magic table back out of existence. It didn't belong on the beach, after all, and she didn't want to leave behind too much evidence of their activities. Walking towards the ocean, hydrocane in hand, Reyna decided it was time to ask Archimede a few more quesitons. “We need to have a better plan today,” Reyna stated with determination, “as this is going to be our last shot at this.” She looked over at Archimede, who was now walking beside her towards the water. “Archimede, you've told me that you were taken from this beach to Balzamel's fortress, and that you think it's nearby. Well, how were you taken there? You didn't tell me that part yet.” “I haven't?” Archimede asked with surprise. “Yes, you're right, I suppose I haven't. As you know, Balzamel was a genius inventor, and one of his greatest inventions was a special type of boat. This boat could travel great distances underwater, if you can believe it. A boat that travels under the water! Brilliance, 157
    • brilliance it was. Anyway, he called it a submarine. I went to his fortress on this submarine of his.” “I see,” Reynalesca said, nodding thoughtfully. “Did you see anything on your trip that could help us narrow down our search at all?” “Not really,” Archimede replied. “However, it only took us a few minutes to arrive at his fortress. It took almost no time at all. That's why I think it must be close. That's why I wanted us to search near here.” “Well, then grab on Archi,” Reynalesca said, shrugging her shoulders as she lifted the hydrocane up into their standard ocean walking position. “We're a little bit further to the west today, and maybe we'll get lucky.” “With the search grid we've been using,” Archimede said confidently as he grabbed his end of the hyrdrocane, “we don't need luck! We will find it. Hold the staff tightly now! It's show time.” The two gnomes, the hydrocane stretched out between them, soon found themselves in the ocean once more. They walked for hours out along the ocean floor, and Reyna soon began to worry that her legs would give out under her. It was much harder walking underwater than it was on land, and she didn't think of herself as a long distance walker to begin with. Perhaps she should have gone with that strange Dulin character to Orgrimmar instead. Laughing silently at the bottom of the sea, Reyna quickly dismissed that idea, and was glad to know that their were some gnomes doing even crazier things than she was. Suddenly, to her left, she noticed that Archimede had an arm above his head, and that he was waving it frantically. His eyes were wide open, and displayed a mix of excitement and....something else. Was that fear? Whatever reaction he was having, she quickly knew what he was reacting to. Down over the edge of a nearby cliff, there was definitely something unusual. Something that didn't belong there. Something black, large, and not at all natural. That was a building. Archimede pulled her over towards the edge of the 158
    • underwater cliff, and pointed straight at the building. She glanced over at Archimede, and he nodded confidently. Well, that was it then. They had finally found Balzamel's fortress. It was really down there. From the distance, It looked like a large black frisbee, circular and uniform. She couldn't make out any distinguishing features at all, at least not from this far away. Well, it was time to go in for a closer look. She gave Archimede a nod in return, and walked right to the very edge of the cliff. Archimede raised up a finger. He raised up a second finger. He raised up a third finger, and the two gnomes jumped over the edge. Archimede was slightly heavier than her – more physically dense, to be precise – and he began sinking through the water more quickly than she did. As the hydrocane pulled down below her, Reynalesca held on tightly. She was holding on for her life, after all, and also started kicking her legs to help with the descent. Kicking legs was part of swimming, and by now she did consider herself to be an expert. Even if she hadn't been off swimming by herself for even a minute, she was definitely now an expert. As they dropped towards the ground near the fortress below, Reyna began to wonder how Archimede planned to get inside. He had told her repeatedly that he knew a way in, but had refused to say more about it. Did he really know? Well, the place really was here, or so it seemed, and she would have to leave things up to him. He was her teacher, in any case, and this was his plan. Before long, Archimede's feet landed in the silt below, kicking up a shower of fine grainy material as they did so. Reyna arrived a moment after him, her hands tightly locked onto the hydrocane that they both held firmly. After gathering themselves for a moment, Archimede strode forward confidently, straight towards the fortress. They were almost there. As the fortress grew larger in front of her, Reynalesca saw that below the frisbee like top section, there was a thick cylindrical column that anchored the top of the building into the 159
    • ground. The column had several tiny circles – were those windows? – and perhaps more interestingly, a giant rectangle about halfway up. It was surrounded by a bright white line, which seemed to mark it out as a feature of significance. From the way Archimede was moving, they seemed to be aiming straight for it. Once they had arrived underneath the edge of the upper section, Archimede stopped, and closed his eyes. So, he was thinking about something, and thinking so hard that he even stopped walking along? She hadn't seen him do that very often. Well, whatever he was about to do, she knew he had to be careful. Still, she couldn't help but wish that she knew what he was going to do. It was frustrating not being able to talk to him in this situation. It was strange how the hydrocane let them breathe underwater, but didn't help at all when it came to talking. After several minutes, Archimede opened his eyes, and began to take off his loose cloth belt. The belt was purely decorative, but he apparently had figured out a way to use it for something. Lowering the hydrocane carefully down below him, he started to tie the end of the staff directly against the skin of his right leg. Before Reyna could guess what he had in mind, Archimede hopped up off the ground, and started pulling himself upwards with his arms. He was swimming towards the large rectangle. Holding on to the her end of the hydrocane with both of her hands, Reynalesca jumped up after him, and started kicking her legs like a frog. They were moving. Slowly, but they were moving. They were soon right up next to the center of the rectangle, and Archimede started to tread water, motioning for Reyna to swim up next to him. Reaching out with his right hand, Archimede narrowed his eyes, and started to channel. Bright pink missiles flew from Archi's outstretched hand, slamming into his target. The metal began to glow white, before melting away under the heat of the impacts. A small hole opened up, but as it did so, a strange purple beam flew back out towards Archimede. It came from the fortress wall, far off to the side, and 160
    • covered his body in a purple glow. Archimedes eyes flew wide open, and the missiles disappeared, his body starting to spasm uncontrollably. Trying not to panic, Reynalesca looked at the other side of the opening, and remembered a spell that Archimede had taught her. She hoped this worked. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself on the other side of the opening, and made sure her grip on the hydrocane was solid. Reaching for the magic, she felt the energy rush through her, and she opened her eyes. Suddenly, she found herself inside a large square chamber, surrounded by black metal walls. She was through the hole that Archimede had made, the hydrocane still in hand, with Archimede still tied tightly to the far end. The purple glow around him had disappeared, but he seemed dazed and barely conscious. Sinking rapidly down towards the metallic floor, Reyna concentrated, and fired off a series of missiles of her own towards the far wall. Archimede had taught her that spell as well. After a series of impacts, a second hole was created. Concentrating, Reyna closed her eyes, and beamed the two of them through the hole that she had made. Reynalesca looked around frantically, and saw something strange above her. Was that air? Taking one hand off of the hydrocane, Reynalesca tried to swim for the surface, pulling up Archimede as she went. Unfortunately, he was too heavy, and they began sinking again. Yes, he was too heavy, that was why. She definitely knew how to swim, after all. Reaching back for the last ounce of her strength, Reyna breathed deeply, and focused on the surface above. It was just at the edge of her range. Closing her eyes, Reyna reached for the magic one last time, and beamed herself towards the air, pulling the hydrocane and Archimede along with her. The light! Opening her eyes, the world suddenly lost its watery contours, as she appeared up in the air in what appeared to be a large room of some kind. Gasping, gravity suddenly took over, and Reyna, the hydrocane, and Archimede, fell back down into the water, splashing as they landed. 161
    • Letting go of the staff, Reyna reached over and grabbed Archimede directly, and started flailing about in the water. She was pulling the two of them towards the nearby raised floor, and after a few desperate moments, managed to hoist Archimede up out of the water. The hydrocane was still tied to his leg. Pulling herself up behind him, she doubled over from exhaustion, and had to struggle to stand up on the black metal floor. She quickly surveyed the situation. Archimede was still alive, but did not look very good at all. He also was dripping wet, completely drenched from their underwater journey. Water was pouring off of her robes as well, as she was just as soaked as he was. The large room they were in seemed empty, other than two strange boats that were floating in the water nearby. Were those the submarines that Archimede had mentioned? Whatever they were, she had never seen anything like them. In any case, she had no time to worry about that. No, there was something else that demanded her immediate attention. An alarm was ringing out in regular bursts of sound, and had been joined in by a strange, angry voice that filled the room. “Containment breach,” the voice announced. “Evacuate. Containment breach. Evacuate.” Looking down at the nearby water, Reyna quickly saw that they were in trouble, and not just because they had set off an alarm. A few feet away from her, at the edge of the metal floor, the water level was rising. It was rising, and it was rising quickly. 162
    • Chapter 18 – A Reunion Was he dead? Dreaming? And what was that sound? On the edge of his awareness, Archimede heard a familiar voice calling out his name over and over again. Forcing his eyes open, Archimede saw a pair of bright blue eyes staring straight into his. Her pink hair was soaking wet, and looked rather ridiculous as it clung to the sides of her face. Ah, that was Reynalseca. Reyna. He felt terrible, like he had just been beaten within an inch of his life, but Archimede forced himself to sit up. “Archimede!” Reyna cried with relief. “Come, we have to get moving!” Glancing quickly around the area, Archimede immediately saw what Reynalesca was so worked up about. The cold metallic floor beneath him was familiar, as were the pair of submarines that he saw floating in the nearby docking area. They had somehow entered Balzamel's fortress, despite the near disaster of his direct approach, and getting in had supposed to have been the easy part. From the alarm that was ringing in his ears, Archimede realized that nothing was going to be easy today. Forcing himself to stand, Archimede's fought off the pain that threatened to overwhelm him, and felt a strange object tugging at his leg. He almost laughed when he looked down and saw the hydrocane still tied to his leg. It seemed that the years he had spent in his youth studying the history of knots had finally come in handy. Reynalesca carefully reached over and began untying the staff, before pulling it free and handing it to Archimede. Leaning wearily on the hydrocane, Archimede nodded in thanks, and turned away from the nearby rising pool of salty ocean water. There was a single door that lead out of the area, and it was closed tightly. Taking a deep breath, Archimede decided that there was no time to worry about safety. Concentrating, he 163
    • reached out a hand, and launched a barrage of magic missiles straight at the center of the door. The impact of the missiles immediately caused the door to explode into a shower tiny metal fragments. Thankfully, this time, there was no defense mechanism in place to counterattack the assault. Archimede knew that the strange purple beam that had hit him in the ocean had nearly killed him, and likely would have if Reynalesca hadn't intervened. In his current state, it was unlikely that he would survive another trap as strong as that one. Perhaps sensing that Archimede was still barely able to stand, Reynalesca rushed forward through the breach, and quickly signaled for Archimede to follow. His right leg was especially hurting him, and he limped along after her, leaning on the hydrocane as he did so. How long would it be before the fortress was flooded? Looking back towards the water that had yet to rise up over the edge of the submarine dock, Archimede forced himself to hurry. After walking through the shattered doorway, Archimede saw that they were at the end of a long, wide hall. At the nearby end of the hall, he saw a series of circular windows, that looked out into the ocean. The thick plates of glass still held the water out, but would soon have the ocean pressing against both sides of the glass. Nodding towards Reynalesca, she jumped out ahead of him, and started advancing cautiously down the hallway. There was an intersection of some kind up ahead, but at the end of their current route, Archimede could clearly see a staircase leading up. The staircase was not empty. The sound of boots clanging against the metal stairs steadily grew louder, and after only a few moments, a pair of large orcs burst into view. They were each carrying a wickedly curved sword, and wearing jet black robes, with Balzamel's skull marking engraved on the chests. These orcs were clearly not interested in talking. Reynalesca didn't hesitate, and reached back with her right hand, before launching a fireball right at the closest orc. The magic blast slammed into the orc's head, nearly taking it clean off, and Balzamel's servant immediately fell forward, his body 164
    • already having gone limp. The second orc leaped over the body of his comrade, and prepared to take a swing at Reyna. Before he got a chance to do so, Archimede concentrated, and unleashed a blast of magic missiles straight at the skull marking on the orc's chest. The subsequent impacts sent the orc flying backwards, and he slammed into the ground. His arms twitched, but he dropped his weapon, and the life quickly drained out of his eyes. “The stairs,” Archimede gasped, struggling to speak. “We need to go up. Anything of value to us should be on the upper levels of this place. Including....you know who. If he is still here.” Nodding once, Reynalesca ran out in front of him, and looked up the staircase. “I don't hear anything,” Reyna called out. “I think the way is clear. Hurry!” Archimede struggled to limp along after her, and soon found himself at the base of the stairs. These steps had definitely not been designed for gnome legs, but up ahead, Reyna seemed to be having no trouble. She stopped on a landing high up above, glancing around nervously as she waited for Archimede to follow. Well, there was nothing for him to do but move as quickly as he could. Reaching up over his head to grasp a sturdy railing, Archimede forced himself to climb. In the air around him, the fortress alarms continued to blare, along with the voice calling for evacuation. There were multiple floors in the upper levels of the fortress, and Reynalesca was waiting outside the first one. Eventually the water would drown these areas, which suggested that their search should start right here. That was the logical approach, in any case. “Let's start here,” Archimede said as he finally caught up to Reyna, “just try pushing those doors open.” There were two large metal doors on the edge of the landing, leading into this particular level of the fortress, and Reyna leaned down into a crouch. She charged forward, lowered her shoulder, and bounced right off of one of the doors, crying out 165
    • as she rolling backwards along the landing. Looking at the doors more carefully, Archimede noticed that there were handles pointing out towards the stairs. Ah, he had missed that. He was a thinker, but he also often failed to see the obvious. “Hmm...” Archimede said carefully. “Let me try a different tactic.” Archimede walked up towards the door on the right, grabbed the handle, and pulled hard. The door swung open easily, revealing another large, wide hallway. Reynalesca groaned, picked herself up off of the ground, and walked into the hall ahead of him. After only walking a few feet into the hall, Reyna froze. Closing the door as he followed after, Archimede quickly saw why. The hallway curved up ahead, and another orc had just walked around the curve. The orc was wearing dark black robes, but there was no skull marking on the chest. There was a reason for that. Archimede looked closely into the orcs eyes, and felt a flash of recognition. The years had clearly leaned heavily on him, but this orc was his old friend. He had found him. “Hello Balzamel,” Archimede called out, trying to keep his voice calm. This would be his only chance to talk to him, and he didn't have much time. Balzamel's eyes were filled with rage, but it was a cool, controlled rage. The most dangerous kind. “I had expected that you might find me, old friend,” Balzamel growled. “I did not, however, expect you to actually force your way inside this place. Still, destroying this fortress is meaningless. You are already too late.” “It is never too late,” Archimede pleaded. “I know why you think that you have to retaliate, why you have to do what you've been planning. But you're wrong. It won't change what happened. It won't bring them back. You know that.” “It is you who are wrong!” Balzamel shouted, before swinging a hand wildly towards Archimede. A wave of terror rushed over Archimede, and he briefly lost control of his body, before he was able to recover and shake off the mental assault, falling to the ground as he did so. Almost instinctively, 166
    • Reynalesca threw a fireball towards the orc warlock, which Balzamel just barely dodged. With a cry of rage, Balzamel slammed both his hands into the ground. Reynalseca and Archimede both froze in place, unable to move. “Did you really come here to talk?” Balzamel roared. “If so, then you have grown even more foolish that I had thought. Do not think that I have forgotten your views on the world. No, I have not forgotten anything. In fact, I have been spending time with your people almost every day, watching you, studying you, waiting for the right time. Well, tonight it is the right time. The race of gnomes, and the idiotic dwarves that you have allied yourselves with, will face justice! You will all face justice, and you can not escape it.” Balzamel reached back behind his body, and his hand began to fill with a dark, shadowy energy. He was staring straight at Archimede, his eyes filled with that terrifying, cold, heartless rage. Almost in disbelief, Archimede struggled to move, but couldn't find the strength, still frozen in place by Balzamel's magic. This couldn't be it. It couldn't! Just then, a blast of fire slammed into Balzamel's side. The orc screamed, a mix of surprise and fury, before stumbling sideways, the dark energy in his hand flickering and disappearing. Reynalesca. She was breathing heavily and leaning forward, her right hand extended in one of her trademark poses. She looked back up towards the orc warlock, her eyes filled with determination. Balzamel scrambled back up to his feet, clutching his burnt side, and glancing frantically at the two gnome mages. Archimede felt the dark magic fall away from him, and he regained the ability to move. He stood up slowly, and prepared to finish what he had come her to do. If Balzamel was unwilling to talk, then there was only one solution left. “This isn't over!” Balzamel shouted, before pulling a strange device out of his robes, and quickly opening a magic portal between himself and the gnomes. Balzamel dived through the portal. Before Archimede was able to run around to the other 167
    • side of the black oval that hung in the air, and follow the orc warlock, the circular hole in the air flickered, and disappeared. Balzamel was gone. Archimede closed his eyes briefly, then forced himself to open them. There was no time to think deeply about what had just happened. What did Balzamel mean when he said that he had been spending time with Archimede's people? How many traitors were there in Ironforge? Bah, there was no time to think about that. The fortress was flooding quickly, and the ocean would reach this area soon. Balzamel may have escaped them, but that didn't mean that they had nothing left to do in this place. “What just happened?” Reynalesca demanded. “How did he escape like that? I thought only mages could use that kind of magic.” Archimede shrugged his shoulders in response. It was true that only mages could teleport using magic portal technology, but Balzamel was innovative, and had apparently designed an impressive method of his own. “I did tell you that Balzamel was a great inventer,” Archimede replied, “and right now, it looks like he has invented something truly remarkable. It has allowed him to escape. For now. That doesn't mean that he has escaped for good though.” “Do you think he's still in the fortress, then?” Reynalesca asked, her eyes darting nervously around the hallway. “He could be anywhere in the world,” Archimede responded wearily. “Anywhere that he built an actual physical portal for him to travel to. We can't worry about that. Come. Keep your eyes open. We need to search every inch of the upper levels here, before the oceans claim them. Once everything is underwater, it will be a lot harder to find anything.” “Find what, exactly?” Reynalesca asked, her voice clearly uninspired by Archimede's words. “You kept telling me we were going after Balzamel. Well, we found him, but he escaped. So now what?” “I don't know what,” Archimede answered sharply. “But we're here, and Balzamel clearly did a lot of his planning from 168
    • this place. There might be clues about the coming attack, and if there are, then finding them could still make a difference.” The hyrdrocane had flown out of his hands during the brief skirmish, and Archimede bent over to retrieve it from the ground. Leaning on the staff, Archimede began staggering his way down the hall, his eyes wide open. Destroyed. His crown jewel, one of his proudest achievements, and his current home. It would soon be destroyed, filled with salt water, and lost to the ocean. On another day, perhaps he would be able to fight off the water, and repair the damage that had been done. Not today though. Today he had to be strong, and think of the big picture. He was too close to his goals to do anything else. Much too close. Clutching his wounded side, Balzamel raced as quickly as he could through his dying fortress, heading straight for the only thing here that he still needed to save. He had only teleported himself a short distance, back to the portal that he had built up on the top floor of the fortress. There was still a chance that he would run into Archimede again, and even worse, that pink haired demon that his old friend had brought with him. The odds of another encounter were low, though, and he should still be able to escape safely. After all, those gnomes had no idea where he was, or where he was going. Rounding a corner, Balzamel hurried past the stone bench that the fool Eku had recently complained about, and stumbled through a wooden door. He had fully sealed the thick inner door that was waiting beyond, and was relieved to see that it was still closed tightly. So, he had got here before the gnomes. He had expected that, but it was good to actually have made it in time. Concentrating, Balzamel disarmed the magic wards that he had recently activated on the door, and pushed his way into the room behind it. There on the table, right where it was supposed to be, was the mind control orb. Exhaling with relief, Balzamel raced towards it, and picked it up with both hands. It wasn't time to use 169
    • the orb yet, but it would be soon. Time for his final move, and time to be finally rid of the creature that he had been controlling for so long. Forcing himself to relax slightly, Balzamel retrieved the teleportation key from his robes, and prepared to travel to a new destination. In secret, he had built a very special portal that was known only to him. He had only meant to rely on it in the most extreme emergency. Right now he would finally be using it. He raised the key, and a portal appeared in front of him. Holding on to the mind control orb as tightly as he could, Balzamel walked through the portal. Yes, he had escaped Archimede's desperate assault, and the attempt had been far too late. Things had not gone exactly as he had planned, but he had adapted, and his army would not be stopped. Before the next sunrise, Ironforge would be shattered, and the whole world would know his name. 170
    • Chapter 19 – A Bird's Eye View The sun was falling slowly behind the mountains, the nearby clouds turning pink in the twilight. This was the last day that they had to search, and they had still found nothing. How much land had they flown across, desperately looking down for signs of an invasion? Sephirah wasn't sure, but it seemed like they had scoured all of Dun Morogh, all of Loch Modan, and most of the Wetlands. Now, they were out of time. All they could do was fly back to Ironforge, and hope for the best. The wind whipped Sephirah's long brown hair in all directions as she leaned out over the railing of the airship. The Lucky Star had just changed course, and was flying back towards the mountains. Behind her, she could sense Sedir approaching, but Sephirah continued to scan the distant ground below. It was unlikely that she would see anything now, but there was still a chance, and she intended to stay vigilant. “This has been a strange few days,” Sedir said casually, walking up to the railing beside her. “I am not used to actually spending so much time on this ship. I will have to find a way to improve the kitchens. My crew shouldn't have to eat such boring food all of the time.” “You're thinking of food right now?” Sephirah asked, unimpressed with Sedir's comments. The man might be wealthy, but his priorities often seemed very strange. “If we are going to end up fighting for our lives tonight,” Sedir replied calmly, “then I would like to remember why I am doing it. I have grown fond of lamb, and the dwarves produce the finest lamb I've ever eaten. If I am to make sure that the kitchens on this airship are well supplied with lamb, then Ironforge will need to stay in one piece tonight.” “Is that so?” Sephirah said distantly, squinting as she tried to focus on land far beneath her. “So you are going to send this 171
    • airship into battle just to get some of your favourite food on your plate?” “Why yes!” Sedir laughed. “It may sound silly, but in the end, I have one piece of wisdom to share with you. Remember Sephirah, above all other things, your life is defined by the things that you want, even if you don't end up getting them. And right now, I want some lamb for my ship.” “More than you want to help keep a whole bunch of your friends from being horribly killed?” Sephriah asked incredulously, despite her best efforts to make her voice sound serious. “Well, I suppose not,” Sedir said after a long pause. “Still, I find that thinking about big things like that isn't very helpful in life. No, not helpful at all. Besides, if you focus on the little things, then everything else ends up being taken care of, does it not? Almost by magic, one might say.” “Perhaps, oh wise one,” Sephirah said, smiling in spite of herself. “So then, if there's no attack tonight, should I expect to share a nice meal with you back at Ironforge? The finest lamb in the city, perhaps?” “A splendid idea!” Sedir quickly agreed. “In fact, even if there is an attack, dinner is on me. The invaders won't have a hope of ruining my dinner, not if I have anything to say about it.” “I'm sure that they won't,” Sephirah nodded, her smile quickly fading. Despite Sedir's attempt to stay cheerful, if an attack actually did come, she knew that he wouldn't be smiling. The only question was whether The Lucky Star would be in a position to make a difference, and whether or not they would be able to come through when the time came. Leaning a bit further over the side of the railing, Sephirah looked down at the series of long black tubes that jutted out of the side of the ship. She had recently tested those things, and they definitely worked as well as she had hoped. Would they be needed, and if so, would they be enough? There was no way to know. Pushing those thoughts away, Sephirah tried to focus on a wide plain that stretched out at the base of a nearby mountain. 172
    • The moon wouldn't be high in the sky for a few more hours, and maybe they would still learn something. If there was any chance to gain an advantage, then there was no way that she would miss it. She couldn't afford to miss anything, not when there was so much at stake. Toshi cursed as he marched through the snows of the Coldridge Valley. His ram had hurt its leg a mile or so earlier, and he had been forced to leave the animal behind. Nothing was going right for him lately, and this was just one more little thing to add to that list. Grinding his teeth, Toshi reached up to adjust his eye patch, and tried to remember why he had risked riding out to this place on tonight of all nights. He had been determined to prove that Dwarr had not been working for Balzamel, and he still believed that his friend was innocent. Unfortunately, Sephirah had been fairly right about the evidence. It didn't look good. Not only had that letter from Balzamel been found in his house, but Dwarr admitted to having been out hunting for long stretches in recent weeks. In theory, he could have met with Eku, even though Dwarr forcefully denied having done so. Worse than that, Eku was long gone, and there was no way to ask the troll about what had happened. That particular detail irked him to no end. Perhaps his friends were right, and perhaps Eku couldn't be trusted as a source of information. Still, they could have tried buying some information from him anyway, just to see what he would say. If the troll's words ended up being misleading, fine, they could figure that out quickly enough, couldn't they? As it was, they had very little to go on, and Dwarr was still locked away in his house. On a couple of occassions, Toshi had even tried going to Burrfoot directly, to ask him innocently about the situation. The annoying little gnome had basically repeated his original story. Burrfoot had been off visiting Magis Sparkmantle, saw Dwarr riding around in the snow, and soon saw a troll in the same area. Perhaps that was all true, but there was one last detail to check, 173
    • and Toshi planned to check it. He had decided to come talk to Magis. Up ahead, Toshi saw a dwarven outpost at the end of the road ahead, with several dwarf guards standing outside. Raising a hand, Toshi called out to the nearest dwarf. “Do you know if Magis Sparkmantle is here right now?” Toshi asked wearily. “Aye, like he always is,” the dwarf guard replied. “Although I'm surprised you are asking about him. Are you a friend?” “Well, I'm not an enemy,” Toshi replied as he strode through the group of guards. “I won't cause any trouble here.” “See that you don't!” one of the guards called after him. Toshi entered the outpost, and was happy to get out of the cold. The sun had all but set, and the night air was especially chilling. In the room before him, Toshi saw a large furnace, with several dwarves and gnomes buzzing about near the source of heat. Off to the side, leaning against a wall, Toshi saw a peculiar looking gnome. He had a long beard, and seemed to be concentrating on tugging his beard in various directions. Yep, that was probably Magis. “Hello there,” Toshi called out, trying to make his voice sound friendly as he walked up to the gnome. He wasn't used to sounding friendly, at least not when talking to strangers, and he wasn't sure how successful he had been. “Why hi there,” the gnome replied, looking up from his beard. “Who might you be?” “My name is Toshi, and I have come here to talk to someone. A gnome mage named Magis Sparkmantle. Do you know him?” “Oh, I know him well enough,” the gnome replied, with a twinkle in his eye. “I'm sure he is nearby.” “Yes, I'm sure he is,” Toshi said dryly, forcing himself to stay calm. Well, if this gnome wanted to play games, then he would play. “Do you know if Magis is friends with a gnome named Burrfoot?” The question hung in the air for a few 174
    • moments, while the gnome began twiddling his beard. “Absolutely he is!” the gnome answered cheerfully. “Very good friends I must say.” “Did he tell Magis about seeing anyone in the snows around here?” Toshi asked carefully. “Recently, I mean. Something about a dwarf and a troll.” “Maybe, but if he did, then Magis must have been asleep!” the gnome bent over, and started laughing enthusiastically. “After all, Burrfoot hasn't been seen around here at all recently. It's been months in fact, if my memory is working. I do forget things at times, I must say.” “Wait,” Toshi said, struggling to understand what the gnome was saying. “So Burrfoot didn't come to visit Magis at any time in recent weeks?” “Oh no,” the gnome replied confidently. “Burrfoot is a very nice gnome, and a great fellow, but he almost never visits. If you see him soon, tell him to drop by any time!” Toshi nodded, finally having stumbled onto the hole in Burrfoot's story that he had been searching for. If Burrfoot had lied about visiting Magis, what else had he lied about? He wouldn't wait to listen to anything else. He was going to free Dwarr immediately, no matter what his friends wanted, and make sure that Burrfoot got locked down. Sure, Sephirah was having Burrfoot watched, but that little gnome needed to be contained using excessive force. Even if he had to do it himself. Toshi knew that his instincts were sometimes wrong, but he wasn't wrong about this. “Could you open a portal to Ironforge?” Toshi requested. “I suddenly need to take care of something important.” “But you just got here!” the gnome protested. “Oh, fine. Here we go. A one way ticket to Ironforge, just as ordered!” The gnome concentrated, and a circular opening appeared out of nowhere. If the gnome was to be trusted, then that portal would take him home. Summoning his courage, Toshi quickly muttered his thanks, closed his eyes, and took his chances. After all, there 175
    • were only so many people that he could be suspicious of, and right now, a different gnome was at the top of his list. The sun had disappeared over the horizon, and up ahead, he could see their destination rise out of the swamp. Theramore. The great human city was a pillar of strength, and Ultimar was relieved that they would probably get there in time. Still, he couldn't help but feel annoyed that their return journey had taken them this long. Iashon had insisted that this was the safest route to an Alliance city from the lands around Mount Hyjal, but Ultimar suspected that the hunter's judgment might have been wrong. He also suspected that his own judgment, a few days ago, might have been wrong. The situation had grown complicated, but why hadn't he arranged to have Dulin portal their group back to Ironforge? At the time, the terrain would have made that difficult, but they could have figured it out. Looking back, letting Dulin just float away was a silly mistake, at a time when they couldn't afford silly mistakes. Punching the ignition on his mechanostrider, Ultimar urged for speed, and raced out ahead of the group. He glanced over his shoulder, and confirmed that Sparkel and Iashon were riding along behind him on their horses, but where had Kiren gone off to? The night elf had a tendency to disappear on him at the strangest times. Oh well, if he wasn't here right now, then he wasn't here, and Ultimar couldn't worry about that. Riding up to the gates of the city, Ultimar saw two human soliders step out to greet him. Their faces were hidden behind their polished helmets, and they were draped in heavy armour. Would it be possible to talk these soldiers into coming back to Ironforge with him? Bah, there was no time. The moon had already started to rise, after all. There was no time. “Halt!” One of the guards shouted. “Who rides to Theramore at this hour?” “I am Ultimar,” he quickly replied, “a proud member of the Alliance. I am followed closely by my companions. We would like to humbly request passage to Ironforge. The fastest 176
    • possible way, if you understand my meaning.” “What has four legs but only one arm?” one of the guards asked suspiciously. “The king's chef reheats for no one,” Ultimar replied calmly. That was one of the strangest password sequences that he had ever learned, but it did have the advantage of making no sense. If passwords made no sense, then it was far less likely that an enemy agent could correctly guess an answer. The guards stood aside, and signaled for Ultimar to ride into the city, saluting as they did so. Iashon and Sparkle soon followed in after him, but Kiren was still mysteriously missing. Up ahead, in the heart of the city, there was an enormous white tower. It soared up into the sky, and was famous for the battle mages that studied there. Even if this route had not been the most direct one, had Iashon seen an opportunity? Now that they were here, Ultimar decided that he may as well take a shot. Riding up to the base of the tower, Ultimar slowed his mechanostrider to a stop, and quickly dismounted. Walking quickly through the door, he immediately saw a group of three robes figures huddled about near the bottom of a winding staircase. These were some of the human mages he had heard so much about. They had to be. “Hello friends!” Ultimar announced, trying to find the right words for his request. “I am Ultimar, gnome warlock, and I would like to ask a favour.” “What did you say little one?” one of the humans said distractedly, turning to look over at the tiny figure that was standing by the tower's entrance. “My name is Ultimar,” he repeated quickly, “and I would like a portal to Ironforge. For myself and my friends.” Just then, he sensed that Sparkel and Iashon were walking up behind him, and they soon were standing at his sides. “Fine, fine,”the tallest human mage replied, “but let's be quick. Come, I will make the portal outside.” They walked outside in silence, and soon found themselves next to the horses and Ultimar's vehicle. The mage 177
    • concentrated, and after a moment, a shimmering portal burst into existence. “Now if you'll excuse me,” the mage said, nodding quickly before turning to return to the tower. “One moment!” Ultimar called after him. “I have one other request.” “What else could you possibly want at this hour?” the mage replied with annoyance. Ultimar cleared his throat. Well, there was no harm in asking, and the mages that lived in Theramore were supposed to be friends. “We believe that Ironforge may be attacked tonight, by a massive army. If you could come to the city with us, to help with the defenses, then we would all be in your debt.” “That's true, you would,” the mage said quickly. “But what do you mean, an attack? I have heard nothing about this.” “Few have,” Ultimar replied, “but it would mean a lot to us if you would come.” “At the very least,” Sparkel chimed in, “please ask the leaders here. I'm sure they would at least be curious about the situation.” “Fine, fine,” the mage said dismissively. “I will tell them. Perhaps some of us will come check things out in Ironforge tonight. Now, I really must be going.” The mage turned, and walked back up into the tower. “Do you think they will send anyone?” Ultimar asked hopefully, looking up at Sparkel. “No,” Sparkel replied coldly, “but perhaps they will surprise me. Anyway, let's go. That portal here won't stay open forever. It looks like Kiren will have to ask for his own way back, if he ever catches up to us. I wonder where he went.” Ultimar nodded, and jumping up on his mount, rode through the portal. Sparkel was right, of course. They had done what they could, in the time that they had. All they could do now was get back to Ironforge, and hope for the best. 178
    • Chapter 20 – On the Edge of a Knife The Ironforge Airfield. It had been originally been built by the gnomes as a fun experiment, simply because they could. It had quickly become a special way of transporting certain things to the city – individuals, mainly, who wanted to arrive discretely – although mage portals were still superior in most ways. Now, it was to be the scene of a great battle, perhaps the greatest the city had ever faced. If Paumedie understood what was coming, the invaders would be expecting token resistance up here, and a clear path into the city below. Paumedie smiled thinly, as he surveyed the area. That is definitely not what they would find. In the cold night air, Paumedie looked back towards the hatch that led down into the city. Hundreds of dwarf soldiers were deployed in front of that hatch, and the dwarves had been armed with long rifles, which were loaded and ready to use. From his position over near the tarmac, Paumedie was impressed by their disciplined ranks. They dwarves were almost as imposing as the one hundred soldiers that had been sent from Stormwind. The human forces were lined up behind Paumedie, and were draped in their finest battle gear, as they prepared for the worst. The actual soldiers on the mountain top were not the only defenses up here though. No, if things went well, they wouldn't even be needed. All around the area, dozens of large cannons had been installed, each manned by a team of gnome technicians. The cannons were pointed up at the sky, waiting for the first sign of the enemy. The cannons were more deadly than any that Paumedie remembered seeing before. Whatever was coming would never make it here; at least not without heavy losses. Very heavy losses. Looking up at the sky above, Paumedie could see several of the gnome planes that had been sent up into the air. Those 179
    • planes were flying in long circles up over the city, searching for any sign of an approaching airforce. So far, there had been no news, but Paumedie remained ready for anything. After all, it was not yet midnight. There was also something else circling the city that was perhaps even more dangerous than the cannons on the ground. The Lucky Star. Armed, and ready for battle. Sephirah had provided some vague details about Sedir's airship, and from the look of the thing, that ship just might be the edge that they needed tonight. King Magni Bronzebeard had insisted on leading the defenses personally, and had been standing over with the dwarf guards near the hatch. He was now marching straight towards Paumedie, holding a large warhammer in each hand. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” the king called out as he approached Paumedie. “Let them come. Nothing could attack us here and survive.” Paumedie nodded slowly in response, and it was hard to argue with the king's assessment. Still, a small doubt had slowly begun creeping into his thoughts, and he would be remiss to ignore it. While the airfield defenses were strong, there was another way into the city. A much more obvious way. “Are you sure that you shouldn't be at the front gate?” Paumedie asked, a question that he had asked several times in recent days. “Everyone up here knows what to do, but if we have a surprise down below, then it could be difficult to respond in time. It could help if you were already down there.” “Bah, the front gate,” Magni spat derisively. “The front gate is being defended by our regular forces, and it would take far too long for anything to threaten those gates. By the time the enemy got anywhere near actually entering the city, we could easily have the full might of both Darnassus and Stormwind in position to help us bar the way.” Paumedie thought over the king's words carefully, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a flaw in them. Well, Magni was king for a reason, and it was not up to Paumedie to decide where the king should be tonight. 180
    • Off in the distance, the hatch leading down to the city sprung open, and a familiar face emerged from below. Ultimar. So, he had finally returned from the continent of Kalimdor. What had taken his team so long to return? Magni also turned to look over at the gnome warlock, and raised an eyebrow questioningly at Paumedie. “That is one of my most trusted officers,” Paumedie said, “and the second in command of my organization. We will want to hear what news he has for us.” The king nodded, and after a moment, Ultimar arrived before them. The gnome warlock bowed low before the king, before straightening his back, and rubbing a gloved hand over his mostly bald head. That was not usually a good sign. “King Magni,” Ultimar said, bowing again. “I accompanied Dulin on his recent mission. We believe that he may have been able to ask the Horde for aid, but have not heard from him since he left our group.” “May have asked for aid?” Magni replied, clearly unimpressed. “That is not very useful news. Were you with him when he reached Orgrimmar?” “Sadly, no,” Ultimar answered. “Dulin's plan did not call for anyone to go with him into the Horde capital. We think that he did go there, however. So, you have not heard from him either?” “No,” Paumedie replied, his heart sinking in his chest. “We have heard nothing.” Ultimar nodded sadly. “Well, it was a long shot at best.” Yes, it had always been a long shot, and it had been Dulin's choice to try. Besides, he was a resourceful scoundrel, and it was too soon to just give up on him. “Ultimar,” Paumedie said firmly, attempting to use his most commanding voice. “Please report to the Mystic Ward. If we are lucky enough to get any reinforcements tonight, I want you to be there to send help in the right directions. I will make sure that messengers are sent down as needed to let you know what is going on up here.” 181
    • “As you wish,” Ultimar replied. He saluted Paumedie, bowed yet again before the king, and turned to walk back down below the city. “You want to let him take charge of our reinforcements?” Magni asked with surprise. “Well, I will allow it. Besides, who knows if anyone will actually bother to help us. If we actually need help, that is. Look again Paumedie, look at our forces here. Yes, we are ready.” As Paumedie surveyed the airfield yet again, he hoped that King Magni was right. He hoped for a lot of things, but more than anything else, he hoped that the moon would climb up in the sky a little bit more quickly. If Balzamel really wished to destroy them, then yes. Let him try. Let him try. He had never thought of himself as a general. In fact, he didn't even like wars. All he had ever wanted was to be a great inventor, like his idol. Working for Balzamel all of these years, he had learned so much, but would it all be worth it in the end? There was no longer any time to question that. If this is what his master wanted, then who was he to go against him? Dez was just one goblin, and while he would rather be down at the bottom of the ocean, deep in his studies, he would help his master get what he wanted. No matter what it was. It had been hard finding Eku in the mountains near Ironforge, and when Dez had finally located him, he had been a bit disappointed with what he found. While he was no fan of war, Dez loved duels, and had been excited by the prospect of testing his skills against Eku. Despite all the rumours that Eku was a great warrior, it had taken Dez about five seconds to dispatch him. Dez had turned on his invisibility cloak, walked up right behind the lazy troll, and blasted him into oblivion from point blank range. A great warrior would have been able to tell that Dez was approaching, and in the end, Eku had been nothing more than another big mouthed fool. After his work with Eku had been completed, Dez had turned his attention to the less pleasant task that he had 182
    • volunteered for. In the large caverns around him, Dez was somewhat sickened by what he saw, but also impressed. There were thousands of troggs waiting here. Waiting, and ready for battle. The regular troggs were mere insects, though, fodder to be smashed against the city and then cast aside. No, there was a much more dangerous type of creature in these caverns. Much, much more dangerous. There were only about two dozen of them, but that would be enough. The enormous creatures had been troggs once, before they had been infused with Balzamel's special blend of magic and technology. Now, they were monsters, ten times the size of the smaller troggs that cowered at their feet. Their skin glowed with a strange green aura, their muscles bulged, and they were armed with deadly weaponry. The real danger, though, was their minds. These were the megatroggs, and Balzamel had made them smart. Not anywhere near as smart as Dez, of course, but smart enough to destroy the Alliance. One of the large monsters rumbled over towards Dez, fury in its eyes. It leaned its massive head down towards the tiny goblin, the stench of its breath almost causing him to vomit. The megatroggs were powerful, but they certainly weren't pleasant. “Why are we still waiting,” the large creature demanded, its perfect use of language still somewhat of a shock to Dez. “It has been hours, and our army is ready.” “It is almost time,” Dez replied. He glanced down at the watch that Balzamel had given him. Yes, it was almost time. “I will signal the assault very soon. Now go back to your place, and do not bother me again. Balzamel has promised you that Ironforge will be wide open for your armies, and he has not finished his work there. It will be soon, though. Patience.” “My patience is running thin, you puny little fool,” the megatrogg growled. “But I will wait a little longer. A little longer.” The large trogg turned away from Dez, and stormed back to his place near the front of the ranks. Yes, it was almost time. The caverns had been very carefully carved out for many months, 183
    • and the final blasting charge was almost ready to be detonated. Up ahead, the explosives had already been put in place, and Dez himself had the detonater in his pocket. Once that final blast was made, one end of their assault corrider would be open. The only question was what they would find at the other end. If Balzamel did what he had promised, they wouldn't find much at all, and there would be no time for the Alliance to stop them. Dez laughed softly. He did hate war, but this wasn't really going to be much like war. No. It was going to be a slaughter. Up ahead, Dwarr's house stood right where it was supposed to. It was nice that houses stayed in place like that. As Toshi crept up towards the door, he was relieved to see that the guard had been reduced. The only person standing in front of the locked door was Elthor. Of all people, they had left Elthor here. Perhaps this wouldn't be so hard. Toshi decided that he wouldn't need to attack anyone, and allowed himself to approach the house in plain view. Elthor quickly noticed him, and assumed an alert fighting stance, drawing his sword as he did so. “This isn't an ideal night for visitors,” Elthor said sharply. “Besides, aren't you needed elsewhere. Perhaps helping to watch the front gates?” “Trust me,” Toshi replied, “I'm right where I need to be. I just talked to Magis Sparkmantle. Did you ever hear why Dwarr was suspected in the first place? Well, our good friend Burrfoot pointed the finger at him, and he had a great story about the whole thing. Magis Sparkmantle was in that story, and after talking to Magis myself, I think Burrfoot's whole story was a lie.” “So what?” Elthor asked, testing the weight of his sword. “Are you going somewhere with this?” Well, Elthor had never won any awards for his intellect. “Yes,” Toshi said firmly. “I believe Dwarr was framed by Burrfoot, and you know where Burrfoot is right now? He's loose in the city, that's where. Sure, he's being “watched” by who knows who, but this is Burrfoot. He needs to be contained by 184
    • people that can handle him. We need to go take Burrfoot down right now, this very minute, while we still can.” “Ok, go for it,” Elthor said casually. “Why are you even telling me this?” “Because,” Toshi said, grinding his teeth. “I want you to come with me to help. And I want to bring Dwarr with us.” “You do, do you?” Elthor replied, leaning his sword across his shoulder. “Well, I've never really liked following orders, and standing here all night is boring. Alright, let's go find Burrfoot and make sure he isn't causing any trouble. Besides, I've never liked Burrfoot.” Toshi nodded rapidly, relieved to hear those words, and Elthor turned to unlock the door to Dwarr's house. What better way to clear Dwarr's name for good than to have him help take down the real traitor? That made sense, didn't it? Well, it was too late for second thoughts now. Ironforge was a big city, and they had a gnome to hunt. 185
    • Chapter 21 – Checkmate They had been searching the fortress for hours, and other than several very aggressive orcs, they hadn't come across anything of note. Racing down a hallway, Archimede tried not to focus on the water that was slowly rising around his ankles. After all, he still was holding the hydrocane, and if the situation grew desperate, they would still be alright. Yes, they would be alright, but what about their friends back in Ironforge? It would soon be time to return to that city, whether or not they were able to learn anything about Balzamel's plan tonight. It was hard to tell time down here at the bottom of the ocean, but in his bones, Archimede knew that the attack would probably happen very soon. In the hall ahead of him, Reynalesca's stumbled as she tried to hurry, and Archimede almost ran into her from behind. “Just a little while longer,” Archimede said encouragingly. “We will leave soon, whether we find anything here or not.” Reyna nodded, and looked back over her shoulder at him, as she tried to flash him a smile. In practice, she ended up grimacing, and Archimede sympathized with her. They were both banged up, exhausted, and barely able to cast any spells by now. In fact, when it was time to actually create a portal back to Ironforge, would either of them have to strength to open one? Archimede shook his head briskly, trying to shake off such thoughts. However, in the back of the mind, he couldn't help but think that maybe he was too old for all of this. The hallway curved, and the pair of gnomes splashed their way into a fairly large, open room. Along one side of the room, a long stone bench rose up out of the water. On the other side, a wooden door had been flung open, clearing the way into another room. Shrugging her shoulders, Reynalesca pointed, and headed 186
    • through the opening. Archimede followed closely behind her, and raised an eyebrow as they passed a thick stone door that had also been left open. They soon found themselves in a smaller room, a room that seemed strangely familiar. It reminded Archimede of a place that he had been to before – perhaps a private study of Balzamel's – and the room was also filled with a distinctive smell. What was that smell? If he had to describe it, it was something like burnt electrical wires, but it definitely wasn't something so common as that. “Ugh,” Reynalesca gasped, covering her nose with both hands. “Do you think something died in here?” Closing his eyes, Archimede's heart sank all the way down to his knees. Yes, this smell was distinctive, and he knew what it was. He knew exactly what had caused it. “No Reyna,” Archimede whispered direly. “Nothing died here, exactly, but I suppose this room is a place of death, in a way. Something terrible has happened, and I never guessed it. How did I miss this? How could I have missed this?” He pounded a fist against his hip in frustration, and looked up at the ceiling. “What's wrong?” Reynalesca asked with concern. “What happened here?” Archimede looked over at Reyna, his eyes filled with sadness. He had hoped that the eager young gnome wouldn't have to learn of such things for many years. Well, she had been a quick student, and her education would soon be accelerated rapidly. “I will explain as we walk, but we have to leave,” Archimede said firmly, as he forced open a portal to Ironforge. The strain of doing so almost caused him to fall over, but the portal burst into existence, just as it was supposed to. “To start with, it seems that we never had a traitor. No, there was never a traitor at all. Balzamel was with us the whole time, controlling the mind of one of our friends. Not only that, but I think I know who it was.” Without waiting to hear what Reyna had to say in 187
    • response, Archimede walked through the portal, dragging the hydrocane along behind him. Yes, he thought he knew who Balzamel had seized control of, and the only question was whether there was still time to do anything about it. This was Burrfoot's house, or so Elthor had thought, and Toshi also vaguely remembered the small stone building that stood in front of them. Toshi had been here before, a few years ago, but it had been a long time. Still, they were running out of places to look for the gnome warrior, and Toshi was beginning to grow very worried. A quick tour of the main levels of the city hadn't provided any clues about Burrfoot's whereabouts, and the gnome wasn't helping guard the front gate, which is where he had apparently been assigned by the city guard. Well, perhaps he was at home, and searching here was worth a try. Yes, Burrfoot could be at home, perhaps plotting an especially devious form of treachery. If the gnome was here, then there would still be time to stop him. Toshi motioned over to Dwarr, and the dwarf hunter raised his bow, quickly nocking an arrow. Dwarr moved off to cover the window. A gnome could easily try to jump through an opening that size, and it was best to seal off the exits. Nodding quickly to Elthor, the human warrior smiled, and moved to stand near the front door. If Burrfoot slipped by Toshi, then Elthor would surely grab him. Lowering his shoulder, Toshi slammed into the locked door, and grunted at the impact. The wood shattered, and he stumbled into the house. He normally would have preferred a more quiet entrance, but it was practically midnight. There wasn't any time left for sneaking around. The house was dark inside, and he quickly raised the burning torch that he had been holding in his right hand. His eyes widened at the scene around him. A thick layer of dust covered the floor, and he sneezed powerfully, almost dropping his torch from the surprise. Cobwebs stretched out in all directions. Perhaps most tellingly, in a far corner of the house, the bed was also covered in dust. Had 188
    • Toshi chosen the wrong house? Running back into the streets of Ironforge, Toshi looked up at Elthor. “Burrfoot lives here, right?” Toshi asked quickly. “Yes,” Elthor replied, “Or at least he did. He invited me here for pancakes once.” “Well, even if he did, he certainly doesn't live here right now,” Toshi said, struggling to figure out what was going on. “No one does. The place seems deserted.” “Well then,” Dwarr asked, thinking of the obvious question. “We know that Burrfoot has been living in Ironforge. If he hasn't been sleeping here, then where exactly has he been sleeping?” Toshi looked over at Elthor, and then back at Dwarr, but he had no answer. Their hopes of finding Burrfoot were quickly evaporating, and he could be anywhere in the city. Anywhere at all. Lying on his back in the snow, Balzamel looked up at the full moon, which had almost reached its apex. His side ached, but he paid no attention to the pain, much as he paid no attention to the cold. He no longer cared about such minor discomforts. Sitting up slowly, he rubbed his forehead, and looked over at the nearby orb. He had set the mind control orb down on the ground, and had been resting up for the last few hours. Using the thing would take a lot of his strength, and if events went as he expected, he would need plenty of strength once he was finally free of the foul device. Yes, tonight would be the last time he would enter that creature's mind, and he finally would make his last move. Glancing over at the black metallic portal that rose up out of the nearby ground, Balzamel smiled thinly. He had personally constructed this portal on the top of a mountain, in a distant land beyond the reach of either the Horde or the Alliance. It was meant to be a refuge, in a time of great need, a temporary escape from any situation. The mountain he had chosen was virtually 189
    • unclimbable, and the portal had likely been unnoticed by the world, waiting all these years for its builder to return. Now that he had finally had need to use it, he slightly regretted that he hadn't built anything else at this location. A backup fortress, perhaps. The cold rage that filled his mind spiked forward as he remembered what was currently happening to his ocean home. He had promised Ironforge to the troggs, but in the coming days, perhaps he would establish a new base of power in another Alliance jewel. Stormwind, perhaps? That city was filled with the stench of humans, but if he purged it carefully enough with fire, then perhaps the ruins that remained would be suitable for him. He had always liked ruins, and not just for their historical value. Yes, Stormwind would do nicely, and it wouldn't take long for his armies to reach that place. Pushing aside such thoughts, Balzamel forced himself to concentrate. It was time. His few hours of rest would have to be enough. It was now time for action. Moving over towards the mind control orb, Balzamel sat down in front of the thing, and stared deeply into it. Flexing the fingers on his green hands, the orc prepared to connect to the distant mind that waited for him. It was time to take control of that mind, and using every last ounce of talent that the creature possessed, plow open a path for his army. His eyes opened in horror, and he looked down at his tiny hands. Had he been asleep? Dreaming? No, none of this had been a dream. It was all real. It had all been happening. How long had it been? He couldn't remember. Rolling up to sit on his bed, he tried moving each of his fingers, and was relieved to see his body obeying him. Grabbing his head in his hands, he tried to recall the details of what he had done over the last few months. His waking hours were all but lost to him, and he was only able to recall tiny flashes – a face here, a few words there – but he knew that he had been working towards something bad. No, it wasn't Burrfoot that had been doing anything. It had been him. The voice in his head. 190
    • Each day, Burrfoot was only actually awake, and in charge of his own actions, for around an hour at most. The rest of the time he was sleeping, or in a state far worse than sleep. He always found himself in this strange, unfamiliar room. Where was this place? He was a prisoner somewhere, in effect, and he didn't know why. He also didn't even know his jailor, although he suspected that it must be the source of that terrible voice that he sometimes heard. The same voice that he heard every day, before he lost control. The room was very small, even for a gnome, and barely had enough room for the bed. The door was locked from the outside, but he thought there was a trick to opening it from his side. He had been desperately seeking a way to force his way out of the room, so that he could tell his friends what was happening, but escape had eluded him so far. Sadly, he had never been very clever. He was a warrior, a fighter, and not an escape artist. On the ground next to the bed, Burrfoot saw a full suit of battle armour, and a large sword. There usually weren't any weapons in this room. Why was some of his best gear here with him today? In any case, the sword was an opportunity. He was a fighter, after all, and if he couldn't escape the distant voice, then perhaps there was a way for him to fight it. Reaching down, Burrfoot grabbed the sword by the hilt, and raised it up in the air. He stared for a moment into the shining steel. He had smashed this blade with great force into many others, over the years. Perhaps it was time to smash it into himself. Closing his eyes, he tried to think of the best way to do it. If he made a mistake, all he would get would be pain, and not victory over his unknown foe. Taking a deep breath, his thoughts drifted. He thought of his friends, especially Archimede, and a special human named Sparkel. He had always liked Sparkel, even though he had never said anything particularly nice to her. Perhaps he should have. Now, there was only one thing that he could do for his friends. He could die for them. Holding the sword in his hand, Burrfoot hesitated, and 191
    • tried to concentrate on actually going through with this. In his heart, he didn't want to. He wanted to live. Maybe if he tried working over the door one last time, he would find a way to get the thing open. Perhaps he had time to warn everyone, and still end up living at the end of all this. He had no time for such thoughts, though. The sword was in his hand right now, and he might not get another opportunity like this. Not before it was too late, in any case. Yes, he had to go through with it. At that moment, however, his muscles locked up. No! “Ah, what are you doing?” the voice echoed inside of his skull. “Now that just won't do. No. Tonight I have special plans for you.” “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” Burrfoot raged, trying to force his body to obey him. “You will be free soon enough,” the voice laughed mockingly. “Yes, very soon, in fact.” Silently, on the inside, Burrfoot wept, and the world in front of his eyes started to grow cloudy. He had been too slow, and now, it was too late. It was too late. 192
    • Chapter 22 – An Impossible Idea His eyes opened wearily, and he looked down at his tiny hands. Had he been asleep? Dreaming? No, none of this had been a dream. It was all real. It was all happening. How long had it taken to finally get to this point? If he was honest, then he knew that it had taken a lifetime. Both for himself, and for his old orc friend that he might not be able to stop. Looking around the room, he saw that he was back in the Ironforge mystic ward, the heart of magic research in the city, and a place that he knew well. A large portal stretched out behind him, a portal that he had recently walked though. Yes, he had walked through that portal, before passing out from exhaustion. He had actually passed out, when they all had so little time. Sparkel was crouched down beside him, and smiled when she saw Archimede start moving around. “You are a stubborn gnome today,” Sparkel said with a gleam in her eye. “But it looks like I was finally able to get you back to normal. With surprise, Archimede noticed that his leg no longer hurt, and he no longer felt like he had spent the day auditioning to be a punching bag. So, Sparkel had managed to restore his strength. He smiled at the human woman, and nodded his thanks. At his other side, Reyna was also leaning over, concern in her eyes. She also seemed to be back to normal, although she was still dripping wet. Glancing at his robes, he laughed softly as he saw that he was also soaked. “Thank you Sparkel,” Archimede said, standing up as tall as he could. “You have no idea how much I needed your attention just now. We have to hurry, though. Who is in charge here?” “That would be me,” Ultimar called out, as he strode into view. “It's good to see you on your feet, Archimede. The attack hasn't started yet, but it's coming soon. I can feel it.” 193
    • Archimede nodded slowly. That was good news, and he would take every last bit of good news that he could get. Hopefully Ultimar would be able to answer some questions of his, and he started out with perhaps the most important one. “What is the situation with the city defenses?” “Almost everyone is on the roof,” Ultimar replied, “although the front gate is also well guarded. If Balzamel attacks from above, he's going to be in for a big surprise. If not, then we're ready in the other obvious place.” Archimede cursed softly under his breath. The more he had thought about it in recent days, the more he worried that the message about the air attack was some kind of trick. A tiny bit of misinformation could make a big difference, and getting the Ironforge defenses to actually position themselves way up on the roof.....well, it was a long way down from the roof to the main depth of the city, and the stairs were not very wide. Balzamel would also not be attacking the front gate. He would have thought of something else. Looking into Ultimar's eyes, Archimede suddenly had an idea. An idea that he desperately hoped was wrong. “What are all the ways that people can get into Ironforge?” Archimede asked intensely. “Through the main gates,” Ultimar answered, “or through the magic portal here behind us, if you know how to connect to it. Only trusted Alliance mages are ever taught how to link to this portal, though. There's also the airfield, or....well, there's one other way I suppose.” “Do you mean the tram?” Reynalesca chimed in. “Yes, I mean the tram,” Archimede replied, his voice filled with worry. “But that's impossible,” Ultimar said dismissively. “The tram can only be accessed from either here in Ironforge, or at its other end in Stormwind. The tunnels themselves are deep under the mountains.” “Yes....” Archimede said quietly, closing his eyes. Deep under the mountains. Just where Balzamel's shadowy army 194
    • probably had been massing this whole time. All of this time. “Come on everyone,” he said firmly. “We need to go to the tram immediately.” From the shadows, Archimede was surprised to see Iashon appear. Where had the elf been hiding? Well, night elves often did hide in plain view, often where you least expected them to be. “I might as well come with you guys,” Iashon announced. “I will also come,” a voice echoed out from behind Archimede. Turning around, he saw a human mage leaning against the wall. So, Hova had been standing behind him and listening in. Another friendly face, and Archimede wouldn't complain. Right next to Hova, there was Vortna as well, and she ran a hand through her long blond hair, before nodding. “We should all hurry,” Vortna said as she starting walking quickly towards Archimede. The tram was located in tinker town, which wasn't far from the magic portal here in the mystic ward. Waving for his friends to follow along behind him, Archimede left the hydrocane lying on the ground, and started to run. So, he was going to die today after all. His limbs twisted on the ground beside him, he barely had the strength to breathe. If he held on a little longer, would anyone be able to come save him? No, it was too late for that. Burrfoot was beyond saving. He couldn't remember much of what he had just done, but the evidence was all around him. At least a dozen dwarf guards were lying on the ground nearby, and appeared to be dead. The path into the city behind him was clear. And the path in front of him....Burrfoot looked down, and wanted to scream. He tried to yell out a warning, not that anyone would hear him, and couldn't find his voice. There was a wide cleft carved out into the ground beside him, a very familiar cleft. Several feet down into that gap in the floor, there were train tracks. However, there were no train cars in the area. They had been sent away somewhere. He searched his memories, and could recall a brief flash of a bloody gauntlet, 195
    • rising before his eyes. That was his gauntlet, and covered his hand. Some buttons had been pressed, and the train cars had been sent on their way. Sent where, and for what purposes? His eyes started to roll back in his head, and he could no longer fight off the pain. He would never know. Whatever was to happen next, though, would his people blame him? Would they think that he had betrayed them all? If there was a way to make things right, Burrfoot would have done anything, but all he could do now was try to let go. He had always wanted to be a respected gnome, and had tried to live a good life. He had tried, and even if things had turned out like this, he hoped that his people would one day learn the truth. Perhaps, one day, they would even be able to forgive him for not having been stronger. Those thoughts slowly melted away, and in Burrfoot's mind, all that remained was fear. This was the end. Moments later, his eyes froze, and the great warrior's thoughts vanished completely. Up ahead, Reynalesca could see the bright lights of tinker town pop into view, and Iashon disappeared around a corner. The night elf hunter had reached the tram first, and Reyna had fallen behind the others. Even Archimede had ran more quickly than her, moving at a speed that she didn't think he was capable of. Perhaps sensing Reyna's struggles, Sparkel stopped when she reached the tram behind Iashon. Reaching out across the distance, Sparkel concentrated, and a beam of holy light flew straight for Reyna's chest. At the sight, Reyna opened her mouth wide in shock. She soon found herself hurtling through the air, and a moment later, Reynalesca landed softly right next to Sparkel. “Don't worry,” Sparkel said, “that was just a sample of my famous gnome taxi service, free of charge. Besides, it's more fun for me if Ultimar ends up in last place after our little foot race.” The woman smiled, before turning quickly, and running off after Iashon. Reynalesca gasped for breath as she charged through the tram entrance, and immediately saw that something was wrong 196
    • here. Where were the guards? Had they been pulled away to help out somewhere else? No. Reyna quickly saw that the tram guards had been right here, where they were expected to be. They had been right here. On the ground up ahead, at least a dozen dwarves wearing heavy army were lying in awkward positions, and none of them were moving. Neither was the gnome warrior that was sprawled on the ground over on the boarding platform. He was lying right next to where the train cars normally arrived. She had seen that gnome before, she was sure of it. Who was that? Sparkel immediately cursed when she saw the carnage, and ran straight for the gnome. She reached down, and shook her head. “He is too far gone,” she said angrily, her voice filled with frustration. “He has been dead for too long, and even I can't pull him back from the grave now.” “What about the guards here?” Archimede asked quickly. Sparkel simply shook her head, and reached up to bat at her eyes. “Burrfoot,” Archimede said sadly, walking over to lean over the warrior's body. “What did he do to you, all this time. Did you know what was happening? Did you talk to him?” “What are you babbling on about,” Hova said harshly as he gazed out down the train tunnel. They had all gathered around Burrfoot's body by now, and everyone was visibly shaken by the situation. “The attack is going to happen right here,” Archimede replied. “Balzamel was using a mind control orb on Burrfoot for a long time – I can't say exactly how long – but long enough, it seems. We have to move fast. Iashon, you have to leave right now. Go to the roof, and tell them to start sending soldiers to the tram as fast as possible. Vortna, go to the front gates and do the same. Ultimar, get back to the portal, and if any help arrives, make sure they come right here. The rest of us will bar the way for as long as we can. Hopefully it will be long enough.” “Wait a minute,” Hova said suspiciously, “this looks bad, I admit that much, but an army charging into the city through the 197
    • tram? Are you sure?” “In a minute I think we'll see for ourselves,” Iashon interjected. “Do you hear that?” Reynalesca concentrated, and in the distance, she heard something in the tunnel. Was that a train car? The sound grew louder, and soon they all were able to see it. That was definitely a train car, and it was full of passengers. At this distance, it was hard to be sure, but if Reyna's eyes weren't deceiving her....those were troggs. Lots of troggs. The train car wasn't the only thing that was hurtling down the tunnel towards them. While it was still hard to see exactly what was coming, Reyna could just barely make out the shape of something enormous, that was gliding alone behind the train. The thing was likely standing on a flat platform of some kind. Whatever it was, it had a strange green glow, and it had the shape of a trogg. That was all of the evidence that Hova needed, and the mage immediately waved for the others to send for help, before beginning to launch a serious of fireballs down the tunnel. At this distance, they flew wide of their marks, and Hova quickly ceased his barrage, forcing himself to wait. Iashon, Ultimar, and Vortna had started running long before Hova's signal, and had quickly left the area. That meant that only Archimede, Hova, and Sparkel stood in the way of what was about to arrive. Well, those three, and Reynalesca herself. She shuddered, and moved to stand with the others in a line that was roughly parallel to the train tracks. It was up to them to block the way, however they could. Sparkel had closed her eys, and was holding her forehead. “I can sense its thoughts,” she said slowly. “That large thing is not like the other troggs. It has a well developed mind, but it is resisting me. I won't be able to take control of it, not even for a moment.” From his place near the center of their group, Archimede simply nodded. “Take down the little ones first, when they get here,” he said quickly. “We will deal with that big monster once 198
    • we have to, and we will see just how smart it really is.” Hova was standing at the far end of their line, opposite from Reyna, and his hands had started glowing blue. The train car slammed on its brakes as it rolled in front of the boarding platform, and at that moment, a cloud appeared in the air above it. A very deadly cloud. Shards of jagged ice rained down upon the creatures, and they howled in agony as they struggled to pull themselves over the side of their vehicle. Archimede narrowed his eyes, bent down into a crouch, and then leaped into the air. As he did so, a large circle of orange fire covered the boarding platform, and the few troggs that had advanced that far would make it no farther. The foul creatures burst into flame, before stumbling about, and falling over. A few disappeared from view as they toppled down over the edge of the platform, tumbling towards the tracks below. At the center of the inferno, Reyna's saw something startling, as she noticed that Burrfoot's body was still there. It was now melting quickly under Archimede's onslaught. She had no time to dwell on Burrfoot's fate, though. The ferocious looking monster, that was surrounded by a strange green glow, had just arrived. It towered up above them, and smiled wickedly as it jumped up into the station, not waiting for the wide sheet of metal that it had been standing on to roll to a stop. “I will crush you!” the monster shouted, raising a giant hammer from its side. Reyna quickly fired a burst of magic missiles towards the creature, and they slammed into its chest, but seemed to have little effect. The giant trogg raised its hammer, rushed forward, and slammed the thing right where Sparkel had been. At the last moment, Sparkel had managed to dive out of the way, just narrowly evading a devastating blow. They all had scattered away from where the hammer struck, but the force of the impact still knocked Reynalesca off of her feet. As she struggled to stand up, she saw that Hova and Archimede were running circles around the trogg, blasting away at it with bursts of fire. Sparkel was also running around, throwing bubbles of protective holy light around everyone, and 199
    • Reyna soon found herself surrounded by a shell of holy energy. Narrowing her eyes, Reyna forced herself to concentrate, and resumed launching missiles at the massive trogg. Suddenly the trogg roared, and raised up its hammer with both hands. It started spinning in one place, the giant hammer sweeping through the air around its head. From the end of the hammer, bursts of lightning began slamming down into the ground randomly. One of the blasts struck Archimede directly, sending the gnome flying, the protective bubble around him bursting as he sailed through the air. Hova immediately vanished, reappearing far away from the monster. He turned, and joined Reyna in sending waves of missiles straight into the trogg. Well, at least the thing was easy to hit. Reyna continued to fire away, and the trogg stopped spinning. After regaining its balance, the large trogg raised its hammer behind its head, and jumped up into the air. It was headed straight for her. Reynalesca barely had time to react, but she closed her eyes, and quickly beamed herself to where the trogg had just been standing. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw the large hammer slam forcefully into the ground. It made a huge dent in the floor, right where her feet had just been anchored. With annoyance, the trogg raised an arm towards Hova, who was now standing only a few feet away from it. A strange ball of black fire shot out of the creatures hand, and slammed into the human mage, knocking him backwards onto the ground. The holy bubble around him burst, and he crashed down hard as he fell to the ground. Off to the side, Reyna saw Archimede struggling to stand, and Sparkel was frantically trying to divide her attention between the two dazed mages. This was going badly. The trogg looked back over towards Reynalesca, and smiled wickedly. “There's no escape!” the creature roared, as it raised its hammer over its head yet again, preparing to make another leap. Just then, from the entrance to the tram, an volley of arrows hit the trogg in the wrist area. It howled in pain, and the 200
    • hammer fell out of its hands. Reynalesca looked over to where the arrows had come from, and saw a dwarf charging into the area, bow in hand. Dwarr. Two other people were running in behind him. “Now you see me,” she heard Toshi's voice call out, “now you don't!” The dwarf had a dagger in each hand, and raced forward at an impossible speed, before beginning to weave around the legs of the massive trogg. The trogg howled with rage, and attempted to stomp on Toshi's head, but the dwarf was too fast for it. He continued to buzz around the creature's legs, stabbing it in the feet repeatedly as he darted about. A short time after Toshi's entrance, a large human appeared, and ran straight at the trogg. This was another familiar face, although Reyna didn't know his name. The man was wearing gleaming golden armour, and had a giant broadsword in his hands. He suddenly jumped forward, and struck a forceful blow across the trogg's chest, before landing gracefully on the ground behind it. The trogg roared, but now found itself under attack from all sides. Archimede and Hova had resumed blasting the thing with burst of fire, and Reyna joined in. Dwarr was still pounded it with arrows, with Toshi and the human warrior hacking away at its legs. Only a few seconds later, the trogg stumbled forward, before falling on its face. “So, you have some strength in you after all,” the enormous trogg gasped. “But my death doesn't matter. We are coming. You'll never be able to stop all of us.” “Maybe so,” Hova said, walking up next to the troggs giant head. “But I'll settle with you for now.” The human mage reached out with his hand, and the troggs head burst into flame. “We sure are happy you guys joined us,” Archimede said, rubbing his back as they all quickly tried to regroup. “We ran into Iashon a moment ago,” Toshi said, wiping off his daggers on one of the troggs large arms. “He was running through the city screaming out 'we are under attack, to the tram!' 201
    • That was a pretty big hint for Dwarr, Elthor, and me.” “Well then,” Sparkel said, as she concentrating on healing whatever injuries their group had suffered. “Hopefully more help will be here soon.” “Yes,” Archimede added, “and right now would be a good time.” Reyna looked back down the tunnel, and quickly saw that their rest would be a short one. Another train car was quickly approaching, and from the green glow that was trailing along behind it, things weren't about to get any easier. 202
    • Chapter 23 – All In It was midnight. Staring up at the full moon that shone down over the Ironforge airfield, Paumedie knew that it was finally midnight. This was when an attack was expected, but still they had seen nothing. Nothing at all. Perhaps they wouldn't be forced to fight tonight, but if not now, then when? Maybe this Balzamel person was nothing more than a fake, a fraud, a ghost from the past that had got them all worked up over nothing. Perhaps. Paumedie shook his head, and tossed aside such thoughts. It was possible that nothing was going to happen tonight, but for whatever reason, Paumedie didn't believe that. He had been a warrior for just about his entire life, and he could always tell when danger was nearby. Despite how quiet things seemed, he sensed danger right now. Still, where were their enemies? Tapping his foot impatiently, he adjusted his sword in its scabbard, and turned his attention to the gnome pilot that was walking towards him. The pilot bowed quickly, and raised a tiny fist over its heart. “The skies are still clear,” the gnome calmly reported. “I just finished a wide sweep over the city in one of our fastest planes, and saw nothing of note.” Paumedie simply nodded, and the pilot raced off to check in with another nearby officer. He had not expected to hear anything differently just then, but still couldn't shake off the sense that they were all in danger. As Paumedie's eyes followed along after the gnome pilot, he saw that the hatch to the the city had been opened. Another report indicating that nothing was happening at the front gates? They had been receiving those at regular intervals for hours now. The familiar face that emerged through the hatch suggested that this was no regular report. That was Iashon. 203
    • Perhaps he had news of Dulin's crazy plan? Paumedie motioned for his lines of Stormwind soldiers to hold their positions, and quickly ran over to see what Iashon had to say. From the hunter's frantic shouting, and the commotion around him, it seemed like he was bringing important news. “To the tram!” Iashon's voice rang out in the night air, and Paumedie's eyes widened once he made out the elf's words clearly. “We are under attack!” Iashon continued. “To the tram!” The nearby masses of dwarf soldiers were glancing about in confusion, but none of them had starting running into the city. King Magni was slowly walking over towards Iashon, and pointing one of his hammers at the elf. “What foolishness is this?” Magni demanded. “Did you say the tram?” “I don't know how they got in,” Iashon replied quickly. “But the tram is under attack right now. It is an army of troggs, but nothing like I've ever seen before. If you still want to have a city down there by the morning, then you have to send aid now!” “Is this a trick?” Magni said suspiciously. “It is no trick,” Paumedie said sternly, finally arriving at Iashon's side. “This is a trusted friend of mine, and a member of Tempora Heroica. I believe him. Start sending your soldiers now, and tell them to make haste.” Magni roared, and waved at Paumedie with a hammer. “Stay here with your human soldiers, and make sure the gnomes keep watching the skies. Dwarves! To me! We make for the tram!” A battle cry rang out among the surrounding dwarf soldiers, and with their king leading the way, they began pouring into the hatch, and descending down the stairs towards the main depth of the city. Paumedie cursed softly. The stairs would slow them down, and it would take time for Magni's forces to join the battle. “Who was with you in the tram,” Paumedie asked quickly, trying to gather his thoughts. “When the attack started.” Iashon simply shook his head. “There were very few of us,” the elf said with annoyance. “We sent for help, but only four 204
    • stayed behind to fight the troggs. Archimede and his pink haired friend, along with Sparkel and Hova. I don't know if they were able to contain the invaders.” Four people against an army. Paumedie cursed again under his breath. All of their planning, all of their efforts, and they were still taken by surprise, in one of the worst possible places. The tram was on the main depth of the city, and if an army of troggs broke through in that location, then driving them back out would costly. If it could be done at all. There had to be a way to do something from up here on the roof. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, Paumedie caught a glimpse of The Lucky Star soaring in the sky above. How strong were those weapons Sephirah had helped build? Gathering his thoughts, Paumedie decided that it was time to find out. “The tram tunnel is fairly narrow,” Paumedie said, locking eyes with Iashon. “And much of their army must still be inside of it. If something happened to that tunnel....” “What are you talking about?” Iashon said wearily. “The tunnels are deep under the ground.” “Yes,” Paumedie agreed, “deep under the ground, but perhaps not out of reach. Follow me. Do you have any flares on you? We have an airship up in the sky, and we need to get on that ship immediately.” Iashon nodded, and Paumedie waved for the night elf hunter to follow him. Running out towards the airfield tarmac, all Paumedie could do was pray that this would work. There was no time to think. Only time to dance. Toshi ducked low under a sweeping club, and lunged forward, plunging a dagger into the chest of a trogg. Yet another trogg. How many had he killed so far? Thirty? Forty? He had lost count, and the number didn't really matter. All that mattered was that the invaders had yet to force their way beyond the tram platforms. Pulling his weapon free from his dying foe, Toshi glanced about, and surveyed the carnage. 205
    • There were dead bodies everywhere – mostly troggs – including five of those massive green talking monsters. The troggs were not the only ones of the ground, though, and they were joined by a startling number of dwarf soldiers, clad in the armour of the Ironforge guard. Reinforcements had quickly arrived from the front gate, but Toshi could see that their line near the tram entrance was breaking. They needed more help, and they needed it now. Toshi cursed, and charged towards another trogg, using his shoulder to knock the creature over the edge of the platform to tracks below. Behind his head, a fireball soared across the room, blasting a trogg out of existence as it slammed into its target. Toshi's mage friends had lined up on the far wall of the train station, and had been steadily pounding away at the enemy. Dwarr was over there as well, launching arrow after arrow. Apparently he hadn't run out of ammunition yet, and Toshi shook his head, unable to imagine how the hunter had been carrying so many arrows. Suddenly, from over near the tunnel opening, a human voice rang out over the raging battle. “To me!” Elthor's voice echoed through the room. “He has come!” Toshi heard Elthor scream, and the human warrior was suddenly flying through the air. A holy bubble of protective magic just barely appeared around his body before he slammed into the ground. It was hard to see past the waves of troggs and dwarf guards, but Toshi didn't see Elthor rise back up from where he had landed. Slashing his way through a dense mob of troggs, Toshi quickly was able to see who Elthor had been shouting about. Right next to the edge of where the train tunnel cut its way under the rocks above, someone was standing who definitely wasn't a trogg. The black robed figure was clearly an orc, and from the dark aura that surrounded him, he wasn't just any orc. That was an orc warlock. So, Balzamel himself had entered the battle. If Toshi got his way, then the orc wouldn't be in this fight for long. Grinding his teeth together, Toshi crouched down low, and 206
    • reached back for a burst of speed. With a roar, he surged forward like never before, a dagger in each hand. Within moments, the blades would be planted within the warlocks chest. Warlocks may be good at many things, but getting out of the way was not one of them. Right before Toshi arrived at his target, something slammed into his shoulder. He never saw what it was. As he twisted through the air, he saw a goblin appear at Balzamel's side, appearing out of thin air. Was the goblin smiling at him? He couldn't be sure. As he spun over to look down at the ground, he saw a large green glowing body lying on the train tracks in the gap below him. He bounced off of the dead monster's chest, before rolling down to the ground beneath it. Unable to accept that this dance was over, Toshi struggled to hold on, but the force of the landing was too great. Against his will, his eyes slammed shut, and the world went dark. Looking about the area, Balzamel struggled to control his fury. Why were his trogg legions fighting in the tram? He had personally cleared the way into the city for them, before finally disposing that gnome tool that he had been controlling for so long. He had thought that by the time he arrived on the scene, Ironforge would already be burning. In his mind, that is how he had always pictured it. Yes, he was supposed to have arrived in triumph, striding confidently through the flames, bringing death to the few remaining dwarfs and gnomes that crawled about, begging for their lives. What had gone wrong? His goblin servant, Dez, sprung into view beside him, before blasting an approaching dwarf high into the air. Did that fool dwarf really think that he could face Balzamel himself in battle? When Balzamel had arrived in the area, through the special magic portal that had been carried forward by his army, he really hadn't expected that he would need to help win this battle directly. Well, if he had to, then so be it. A group of dwarf soldiers were blocking the way in front 207
    • of the tram exit, and were being pushed back by a group of troggs. Still, the troggs were clumsy fighters, and had failed so far to win this fight on their own. It was time to help them. Reaching back, Balzamel roared, and raised his hands high in the air. Above the battling troggs and dwarfs, fire starting raining down upon them. The result was chaos. Dwarf guards began dying rapidly, along with the troggs that had been assaulting them, and bodies attempted to flee the area in all directions. Yes. The way was being cleared, on way or another. From the tunnels behind him, two more of the giant megatroggs rumbled up next to the orc. “Go!” Balzamel commanded, looking up at the creatures. “Charge through into the city itself! Stop for no one, and do not fail me!” The megatroggs roared, and bolted off towards the tram exit, crushing troggs and dwarves beneath their feet as they went. Some of the bodies they stepped on were already dead, but some of them were still living. Balzamel smiled. Yes, with just a little bit of help, his forces would be victorious. The night was still young, and there was plenty of time for Ironforge to fall. Just then, a fireball slammed into the wall above Balzamel's head, and the orc turned in surprise. On the ground nearby, Dez had fallen, his body still smoking from a magic impact of some kind. So, there were some more challenging opponents in the area. Narrowing his eyes, Balzamel saw two robed figures running towards him. This was a pair of familiar faces. One of the robed figures was that pink haired demon. Another was Archimede. Balzamel forced himself to stay calm, and raised his clawed hands towards them. Archimede hadn't given up yet, had he? Well, one of them would die today, and it wouldn't be him. No, the gnome people were going to pay a terrible price before the sun rose, and he was determined that Archimede would pay the highest price of all. 208
    • Chapter 24 – Timing is Everything Running a gloved hand over his mostly bald head, Ultimar tried not to panic. Near the fountain in front of him, in the heart of the mystic ward, an enormous trogg was raining down devastation through the massive hammer that it wielded. The trogg army had broken through, and they were in the city. Were any of his friends that had stayed in the tram still alive? Muttering softly, Ultimar couldn't believe that he had left Sparkel there. She could handle herself in a fight, but if anything had happened to her, he didn't think that he would be able to forgive himself. Trying to set aside such thoughts, Ultimar raised his staff high in the air, and ran to join the fighting. A line of Night Elf archers had arrived from Darnassus, and were positioned near the fountain, firing arrows up into the monstrous trogg. So few had come. The night elf leaders hadn't really believed that Ironforge would be attacked, and neither had the humans in Stormwind. Hardly any reinforcements had been sent so far. By the time that the help they needed was ready to arrive, the magic portal itself might not be there anymore. It had to be a target, and if that giant trogg was allowed to get anywhere near it, then its hammer would surely shatter their lifeline to the outside world. Ultimar couldn't allow it. He couldn't allow it. A wide sweep of the trogg's hammer slammed into another elf, and the archer flew up into the air, crashing down hard on the roof of a nearby stone building. Running into range, Ultimar reached behind his body, and hurled a dark blast of shadow energy into the trogg's chest. The blast simply seemed to get the trogg's attention, and it howled angrily, before charging towards Ultimar. His instincts taking over, Ultimar turned and began running back towards the building that housed the magic portal, trying to cast the darkest curses that he knew on the monster as he ran. 209
    • The trogg kicked another elf archer up into the air as it charged past the fountain, and it quickly turned to face the key building that Ultimar needed to defend. Ultimar glanced back towards the portal itself, and suddenly, his hopes surged. A gnome mage had just emerged from the portal, and was strutting his way into the city, holding a banner high above his head. On the banner, against a sea of white, was a large golden sun. This was a very well know, and very unexpected gnome. “It's party time!” Dulin called out, as he raised an eyebrow at the giant trogg. “And I may have invited some very special guests.” Behind Dulin, from the magic portal, two more figures emerged. They were tauren warriors, clad in full battle gear. Two more taurens emerged behind them, and two more after that. An army was on the way. The army Dulin had promised. Ultimar laughed with disbelief, and turned to throw another blast of shadow magic into the large, green trogg. It began charging towards the portal, but didn't make it very far. Dulin himself had started pummeling the creature with blasts of fire, but it was the taurens that took it down. By force of sheer numbers, they slammed into its legs, battering it repeatedly until it fell, before pounding the thing to death once it hit the ground. “So Ultimar,” Dulin said as he walked up casually. “Where should we send our friends?” “The tram,” Ultimar gasped. “Everyone, follow me, to the tram!” He had had enough of being a glorified sign post. A Horde army was actually here in Ironforge, and if they were going to fight off the trogg army, then Ultimar was going to be there. Shaking his head, a single thought crystallized, and caused his legs to fly faster than they ever had in his whole life. Hold on Sparkel. Just hold on. “You have lost your mind,” Sephirah announced, after briefly considering Paumedie's plan. The man was daring, that was for sure, and the situation was desperate. Still, there were 210
    • risks, and there were....well, there was what Paumedie had just suggested. She had not known what to expect when she saw a flare fly up from the ground, almost hitting their airship, signaling for The Lucky Star to land. After Iashon and Paumedie had climbed up on board, and had immediately directed the gnome captain to fly towards Stormwind, she still hadn't known what to expect. It definitely hadn't been this. “I'm telling you,” Paumedie continued, “this will work. We should be above the tunnel line right now. From up here, I think that you can cause those tunnels to collapse.” “And what about Ironforge itself?” Sephirah retorted. “Depending on how much the blasts stress the nearby rock structure, the city might be severely damaged. I doubt it would actually collapse, but I'm not a geologist, and you never know. We don't have detailed maps with us. We can't just fire away and hope for the best.” “Don't get carried away now,” Paumedie replied. “The city of Ironforge is an engineering marvel, and wouldn't collapse if you fired upon the airfield itself. Besides, we are at least a mile up the tunnel line by now.” “If we're actually even over the train tunnel at all.” Sephirah shook her head. She was growing tired of this. When she had helped build those cannons that had been installed in The Lucky Star, she never would have dreamed of using them so recklessly. It was an outrageous proposal, she knew that. The others knew that too, they had to. “You know,” Sedir chimed in, after a long pause. “In business, I can't always see how a deal is going to turn out. Sometimes, I just take a gamble on something, and hope for the best. I lose money from time to time, but in the long run, I've come out ahead. This ship we're all flying on is evidence of that.” “What is your point?” Sephirah asked with exasperation, rubbing her forehead as she looked over at her fellow mage. “My point,” Sedir answered, “is that I think that Paumedie has a good idea. It's a good gamble. We didn't turn The Lucky Star into a battleship for no reason, after all. I say we rain some 211
    • destruction on the rocks below, and see what happens.” “I agree,” Iashon added. “Let's blast some stuff up!” Sephirah sighed. Those cannons were hers, even if this was Sedir's ship, and this decision ought to be her call. Still, if the others really wanted to try, then who was she to dig her heels in? It was true that the weapons probably couldn't harm the city itself, and that the train tunnels were much more vulnerable. Still, why take the risk? Was the situation really that desperate? None of them actually knew what was happening down there right now. And yet. “Fine,” Sephirah said with annoyance, “we will try, and I might as well take the lead on this.” “A good idea,” Sedir quickly agreed, before turning to lead the way to where the line of cannons had been installed in one of the decks below. Sephirah raced after him down some winding wooden stairs, and soon found herself near the powerful weapons she had helped design. There were four of the magic cannons on each side of the ship, and it was probably only practical to use one side right now. Each cannon was manned by a gnome technician, who was standing at the ready. “Starboard battery,” Sephirah ordered. “Concentrate your aim on the ground directly below. Signal for the captain to position the ship accordingly.” One of the gnomes reached over, and whispered something into a strange handheld device, before joining the others in aiming his cannon. In the center of the room, there was a bright blue orb on a pedestal, and Sephirah walked over next to the pedestal. There were eight crystals set around the orb, and Sephirah pushed down the four crystals that corresponded to the starboard weapons. She pushed them down all the way, setting the power to maximum. Grabbing the orb with both hands, she concentrated, and began channeling as much magical energy as she possibly could. A thin wire connected each cannon to the pedestal, and the 212
    • four wires that raced out to the starboard cannons began to glow blue. The long black tubes that poked out the side of the ship also started to glow blue. After a moment, Sephirah nodded, and twisted the orb slightly to the right. The energy was released with unspeakable force, and four blue lines of magic power blasted down towards the ground. They slammed into their target, launching up a shower of ice and rock as they struck. Had those blasts done what they had hoped? Flying high up in the sky, it was impossible to say, but they had certainly hit the ground hard. “Comb the area,” Paumedie announced, surveying the land below through a wide observation window. “If the tunnel is indeed down there somewhere, I want to make sure we do everything possible to give the invaders an unpleasant surprise.” Sephirah nodded, and prepared to launch another volley. Using the cannons was tiring, but with so many of her friends in danger, then she was going to do what she could for them. Even if the idea still seemed ridiculous to her, she was going to try. After all, every one of them would had done the same for her. No. This wasn't happening. It wasn't happening. Balzamel reached into the void, and summoned another winged demon to join the battle. It roared with rage, before charging forward to attack the small group of mages that had pinned Balzamel down in a corner of the train station. The mages were an annoyance, a group of flies that eventually would be swatted, but they weren't the source of his disbelief. No. From inside Ironforge itself, two gnomes had rushed into the battle, followed by an unending wave of tauren warriors. The taurens were fighting on the side of the Alliance. The troggs that had managed to enter Ionforge had been pushed back by the taurens, and it seemed that the megatroggs were failing him as well. If the Horde was here, then perhaps he would have to actually retreat. His trogg army was strong, though, and perhaps there was still time to turn the tide of this catastrophe. Over half of the army had yet to join the battle, after 213
    • all, and most of the megatroggs were still on their way. Suddenly, from deep in the tunnels behind him, he heard a horrible crashing sound. He had been a scientist and inventor for most of his life, and had witnessed the creation of many tunnels similar to this one. He recognized that sound. It was the sound of the tunnel caving in. Howling with rage, Balzamel flung forward his left arm, and draped the area in front of him with dark, shadowy energy. His attackers froze in place, briefly stunned by his spell. He didn't have much time. Balzamel reached into his robes, and retrieved the portal key. He turned to a nearby wall, and opened a gateway back to the mountain top. Where he would go from there, he didn't know, but at least he would still be alive. Alive, and as determined as ever. Even if he had failed today, he would return eventually, and Ironforge would be destroyed. It would be destroyed. Leaping through the portal, the orc felt tears of hot rage begin to flow down his cheeks. Cold rage was best, but as his plans unraveled around him, staying disciplined no longer seemed to matter so much. 214
    • Chapter 25 – What Must Be Done Locked up as still as a statue, his muscles refusing to obey him, Archimede watched helplessly as Balzamel escaped through the glowing circle that had appeared on the wall. There was no way that the orc was really giving up. Even if they had managed to drive off tonight's assault, Balzamel would be back one day, and who knew what would happen next time? After all, they had barely been able to withstand the waves of troggs that had smashed into the city, and the orc warlock had always learned very quickly. He had always learned so quickly, and Balzamel's current defeat would only make him more determined than ever. Archimede had laughed triumphantly when the golden sun banner had surged into the tram, with a tauren army following close behind. Dulin had actually done it, the crazy little guy. Of course, Archimede himself had helped his friend approach the Horde using a genius method, but it was amazing to actually see their plan get results. It was even more amazing when he heard the train tunnels start to cave in, right after the taurens arrived. The nearby troggs that were now fighting for their lives had nowhere to go, and the troggs that had yet to arrive were either crushed, or simply blocked off. Either way, the tide of the battle had turned, and Ironforge had survived. As Archimede struggled to shake off the spell that Balzamel had used to cover his escape, he knew that his friends would be able to finish up whatever there was left to do here in Ironforge. Right now, there was somewhere else that he needed to be, before it was too late. Reaching back for the last ounce of willpower that he could summon, Archimede closed his eyes, and tried to beam himself forward. He suddenly felt his limbs moving again, and opened his eyes as he arrived directly in front of the portal that still shimmered against the wall. Stumbling forward, Archimede fell through the opening, and the portal blinked out of 215
    • existence. For years, he had perfected the art of making an entrance. Was tonight his greatest entrance ever? Fighting off an invading army hardly compared to arriving at a party – showing up at a party was obviously more fun – but he would definitely be telling this story for years. Dulin the Great? Dulin the Magnificent? Dulin the Destructorizer? It would be hard to decide what nickname to give himself. Well, there was time to work out the details later, and for now, he had some smashing to do. Still waving the banner up over his head, Dulin jumped forward into a group of troggs, and pushed an arm out to each side as he landed. A circle of fire blasted out in all directions, knocking his targets to the ground. Some of them stumbled to their feet, and as they began to run away, a group of tauren soldiers charged forward, swinging their large clubs wildly. Wildly, but still precisely enough to finish off the troggs that they were aiming for. “Did you hear that noise in the tunnels?” a voice called out beside him. Dulin glanced over, and saw Ultimar launching bolts of shadow magic into another nearby pack of troggs. “It sounds like something terrible is on the way. Either that, or the tunnels themselves are collapsing.” Dulin nodded, as he began tossing fireballs in the same direction that Ultimar was firing away. He had definitely heard something, but with so much going on around them, it was hard to say exactly what was happening. Still, if those tunnels had caved in, then they simply had some mop up work left to do. That wouldn't take long at all. “Dulin!” another voice called out from behind. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Vortna running up towards him. She quickly joined Dulin and Ultimar in their current attack, her eyes weary, but determined. “Hi Vortna!” Dulin replied. “You must be glad to see us!” “You have no idea,” Vortna said as she launched a burst of pink missiles into the chest of an especially unfortunate trogg. 216
    • “In any case, you're here now. If you ask me, though, you were late.” “I was going for style points!” Dulin shot back at her. “Besides, it wouldn't have been very good to have the taurens show up before the battle had started. That could have got awkward. Dangerously awkward.” “Perhaps you are right,” Vortna conceded, “but the fighting here has been difficult. Balzamel himself was here with his army, until just a minute ago.” “The orc was here?” Dulin said, surprise in his voice. He hadn't expected that the warlock would have put himself in harm's way like that. Well, perhaps Balzamel thought that his army would have already seized the area by now. “Yes, and he somehow just left through a magic portal,” Vortna said venomously. “I don't know how he opened the thing. Anyway, before it closed, one of our mages charged through after him.” “Ah,” Dulin said, already guessing which mage had gone after him. “It was Archimede, wasn't it? That sounds like something he would do.” “The one and only,” Vortna answered, as she began running off, looking for more troggs to destroy. So, Archimede was going after his old friend again. Dulin didn't know how Archimede's earlier attempt to hunt Balzamel had gone, but his instincts told him that this was going to be it. Whatever happened, this was going to be it. Archimede and Balzamel were going to face off one last time, and one of them was going to die. The cold night air washed over Archimede, and he fell forward into a pile of snow. Where was he? Quickly glancing around, he knew that he was somewhere high up above the ground, and the stars above looked strange. He had no time to study the stars, though, as there was something else much more important in front of him. Balzamel. The orc warlock was down on all fours, making a strange sound. Were those tears? “Leave me!” Balzamel roared. “If you do not leave right 217
    • now, I will kill you.” Archimede started to walk forward slowly, his eyes filled with sadness. Is this all that Balzamel had become? A wild eyed murderer, who only thought of death and pain? After what had happened over the last few hours, Archimede should have expected nothing else, but as he heard Balzamel weep, he couldn't help but think that this was still his friend. “I said leave me!” Balzemel rose to his feet, turning around aggressively to face Archimede. “Do you not understand that I want you dead? You should have started attacking as soon as you emerged from the portal behind me. Why are you just standing there?” Archimede struggled to think of anything to say. Balzamel was right, of course. What was there left to say? He should have tried to kill Balzamel as soon as he got here, right on the heels of the warlock. He had even somewhat meant to do that. But no. This was his friend, and he was going to try talking to him. Even if he had to talk about what he himself didn't want to remember. “You have to let go,” Archimede pleaded. “The past can't be changed. Make a new future for yourself. I will help you, even after what you did tonight. You don't have to live the way that you've been living.” “What do you know about it?” Balzamel spat angrily. “What do you know about anything. You weren't even there.” “Well then tell me about it,” Archimede demanded. “The world thinks they know what happened, all those years ago, but why don't you tell me? Before you try to kill me again, tell me why you have become what you have become.” “You really want to know?” Balzamel asked, his eyes growing distant. “Yes,” Archimede said instantly. “I need to know.” “So be it,” Balzamel said, waving an arm angrily, before turning to look up at the moon. “I had come up with a way to cheat death. Or so I had thought. It was a combination of my years of studying the dark magics, and my love of the oceans. Do 218
    • you know how long a sea turtle can live? How do they do it, you might wonder? Well, I thought I knew. I thought I could create a spell that would warp the essence of any living thing, that would fortify their life, strengthen it, make them young again. The ultimate healing spell, in a way. It would have changed the world.” “So that's what you were doing in that city of yours,” Archimede said quietly, “the city that you had built from the ground up, and filled with some of the brightest minds in existence.” “Yes,” Balzamel said. “I wasn't trying to develop a new way of bringing more death to anyone. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I was trying to help people. Not only that, but I was succeeding. I was almost there, my research was in its final stages. But then the soldiers came. They killed everyone. All of us. Including my wife, Archimede. They took her from me. I couldn't save her. My research had always been everything to me, until her. Now that she is gone, I am so....empty. But I still have a purpose. A purpose I believe in. What I tried to do tonight was not wrong.” “I heard the official reason for why your city was razed,” Archimede probed carefully, “and all of the inhabitants killed. It was said that you were doing terrible experiments, twisting the souls of gnomes and dwarves into horrible darkness.” “They were volunteers!” Balzamel shouted. “I told everyone what the risks were. Besides, it wasn't just gnomes and dwarves that were risking their lives for my research, it was anyone that believed in what I was doing. I didn't cause their deaths! It was the Alliance soldiers that sent them to their graves, out of ignorance and stupidity. As long as I still draw breath, I will work to make sure that nothing like that happens again. Ever. No one can talk me out of this. Not even you.” “How does that even make sense?” Archimede shouted back. “Your city was destroyed, and you don't want anything like that to ever happen again, so you dedicate your life to destroying a city? That's madness!” 219
    • “It is perfectly sane,” Balzamel said, his voice becoming calm. “If the Alliance crumbles, then they would not have the strength to attack anyone. Once I am done with the Alliance, of course, I would then have to wipe the Horde out of existence. Yes. I see that now. In any case, the structures of power that exist right now must be wiped clean. I will direct the affairs of the world myself, for a time, but only until the chaos that I must unleash has subsided. After that, I will fade away, remove the strings forever, and ensure that people are just left alone. Everyone should be left alone, to live, to die, to love and hate however they want. Perhaps after all these years, I am lost to hate, and my current methods are harsh. They have a purpose, though. I am bringing freedom to the world. I am bringing freedom, Archimede, you must see that.” Archimede closed his eyes, and tried to let go of whatever hope he had clung on to. If that is what Balzamel really believed, then there was only one thing left to do. The thing that he had meant to do in the first place. “All I see,” Archimede said with sadness, “is that my old friend must have truly died that day. Along with the city he built. You are not Balzamel, not the Balzamel that I knew, and there is nothing left for us to say to each other. If you are going to kill me, then you better be faster than me, because I no longer intend to talk!” Balzamel's eyes widened in surprised, and he roared with fury. The orc warlock launched a blast of shadow energy towards Archimede's feet, hoping to stun the mage. By the time the blast landed, however, Archimede was no longer there. Archimede quickly reappeared behind Balzamel, and launched a blast of fire into the warlocks back. The blow struck squarely, and Balzamel lurched forward, his chest slamming into the ground. His eyes hard, Archimede reached forward, and began launching a burst of magic missiles straight at his old friend. As the pink projectiles pounded the orc in the back, Balzamel struggled to hang on, and began to chant softly. 220
    • Suddenly, the air above Archimede started to ripple. Something was coming. Cursing softly, Archimede broke off his attack, and dove for cover behind a nearby boulder. From the depths of the void, a demon of living rock had been summoned by Balzamel, and it landed with tremendous force. It's stone feet slammed down right where Archimede had been standing. Cold yellow flames surrounded the demon, and it was enormous, with thick stone legs and arms. This type of demon was known only as an infernal. It had no head, but could clearly sense its target. The infernal slammed an arm down into the boulder, and as the boulder shattered, tiny fragments of rock peppering Archimede's body. Archimede ran as fast as he could to gain some distance on the demon, but quickly ran into a problem. Sliding to a stop on the icy ground, he nearly went flying over the edge, as he reached the side of the mountain top that they were on. Well, the bigger they are..... “Come get me!” Archimede taunted, jumping up and down at the edge of the mountain, his hands up above his head. The infernal emitted a strange battlecry, and charged straight towards him. At the last possible moment, Archimede, turned to the side, and closed his eyes. A moment later, he reappeared on far more solid ground, evading the demons attempt to knock him backwards. Narrowing his eyes, Archimede concentrated on the center of the demons rocky body, and launched a barrage of magic missiles. The missiles stuck the infernal with tremendous force, causing it to lose its balance slightly. Unfortunately for the demon, when it attempted to regain its balance, one of its large stone legs stepped down on thin air. The rest of its rocky body was pulled along behind that leg, as the demon fell over sidewards, beginning a rather painful descent down the mountain. Whatever the infernals fate, it was out of this fight. Archimede spun to face Balzamel again, but as he did so, a blast of dark shadow struck him in the chest. Crying out in pain and surprise, Archimede flew backwards, sliding through the snow when he 221
    • landed. Dazed, Archimede looked up, and saw Balzamel limping towards him. Smoke was rising up from the warlocks back, the missile barrage clearly having done great damage to the orc. It hadn't been enough to keep Balzamel down, however, and the orc now had the advantage. Balzamel reached his hand back, preparing to launch a killing blast. In desperation, Archimede threw up his hands, and projected out three mirror images of himself. The copies were mostly harmless, but four Archimedes would be harder to kill than just one. One of the images appeared right in front of him, and exploded when a ball of shadow magic slammed into it. This was his opening. Archimede jumped forward, pulled back his hand, and extended it out in front of him. Balzamel's eyes widened, but he didn't have time to scream. A blast of fire struck the orc directly in the face, and Balzamel grabbed his head, staggering about before crashing to the ground. There was no way that the warlock could have survived that blast. He was dead. Balzamel was actually dead. Or so it seemed. Racing forward, Archimede quickly searched the charred robes of his foe, before he finally found it. An orb, glowing with a strange white glow. Well, Balzamel wouldn't have a chance to come back from beyond the grave. Not again. Raising the orb high above his head, Archimede slammed it down onto a nearby stone. The orb shattered, glass flying in all directions, and a few shards jabbed into his arms. The white light went out though, diffusing itself into a thin mist, before disappearing alltogether. Yes. Balzamel was gone. He was gone. Archimede knew that he should feel victorious. Ironforge would be saved, Balzamel's armies would be destroyed, and the orc himself....well, Archimede had saved him as well, in a way. Still, as he looked down at the mangled body of his old friend, Archimede did not feel like there was anything to celebrate. On the top of the distant mountain peak, far away from the world he knew, Archimede put his head in his hands. And started to weep. 222
    • Chapter 26 – Out of the Ashes The battle in the tram had died out, and all the troggs were now dead, or dying. As the thick ranks of tauren soldiers searched the area, clubbing a trogg here, carrying off a wounded dwarf there, Reynalesca nearly fell over from exhaustion. How long had she been fighting? She had lost all sense of time. Looking towards the entrance to the tram, all she could do was hope that the battle was actually over. A dwarf had just rushed into the area, carrying a battlehammer in each hand. At his heels, a large group of dwarves charged in behind him, scanning the devastation that lay before them through the sights of their guns. She had seen that dwarf before. That was King Magni himself, ruler of Ironforge. “Stand down!” the king shouted, motioning for the dwarves behind him to lower their weapons. “It seems that we arrived here too late. The taurens appear to have already won this battle for us.” “We certainly did,” a tauren replied, walking forward to face King Magni. “The Horde did not wish to see these foul troggs claim a victory here. That victory will belong to us one day.” “It will, will it?” Magni answered with a grin. “Those are bold words from you, my good friend. I take it you are Cairne Bloodhoof? Well, that day is not today.” “You are right,” the tauren smiled. “I am Cairne Bloodhoof, and my people promised that we would come here as friends. For now. We were also promised a great reward for our help. The finest food and drink in your city, and as much as we could stomach. I believe that those were the terms.” King Magni laughed. “A price we will gladly pay,” the king said. “Tonight we will eat together as friends, if only for tonight. So, this was the deal that was offered to you?” 223
    • “A great offer,” Dulin suddenly cut in, running up beside Cairne. “Clearly made by a highly skilled negotiator.” “So you returned in one piece, did you?” the king asked rhetorically, smiling as he did so. “Come, my brave young gnome. You will eat at my table tonight, along with some of my officers, and the tauren leaders. We may as well get started.” Dulin smiled, and a large delegation began to exit the tram. The battle having all but ended, Reyna almost collapsed in relief. She couldn't leave the area quite yet, however. No. There was still something for her to do here. Bodies were lying everywhere, but not all of them were dead. She had lost sight of several people during the battle, including Toshi. If that strange dwarf was still alive somewhere, then Reynalesca was determined to find him, before it was too late. Hurrying down the stairs, Sephirah raced to reach the scene of where the fighting had taken place. A few steps behind her, Sedir, Paumedie, and Iashon were also moving quickly. No one had said anything for several minutes. A guard up on the airfield tarmac had told them that the battle was over, but he also said that there had been casualties. Many casualties. Once they finally reached the main depth of the city, Sephirah raced towards tinker town. They passed many clearly injured dwarfs, many of whom lay waiting for help in the streets. They passed by a group of crying gnomes, and a stone faced night elf archer, who still seemed to be looking for danger. As they got closer to the tram entrance, the crowd grew thicker, until eventually she saw the carnage. Tinker town was full of death. Full of death and destruction. An absolutely enormous creature lay dead on the ground nearby, its skin glowing green. It was surrounded by scores of smaller troggs, also dead, but the troggs were not the only bodies that weren't moving. Dwarves, gnomes, a few elves and humans, and even some taurens were scattered about. Trying to focus on the people up ahead that were still alive, Sephirah scanned the 224
    • area for a familiar face. She quickly saw not one, but two. Ultimar was standing over near Sparkel, and the human priest had his head in her hands. She seemed to be checking him over very carefully for injuries. Unusually carefully, in fact. Is that what she was actually doing? Quickly shaking off such thoughts, Sephirah ran towards them. “Sparkel!” Sephirah called out. “Ultimar!” Her two friends looked over towards her, and their eyes looked strangely happy. It must be hard to feel happy, after what had just happened. Perhaps they were relieved that Sephirah and the others arriving on her heels were all right? “So, was it you guys?” Sparkel asked quickly. “That caused those tunnels to cave in?” “Probably!” Sephirah replied honestly. “We were blasting away at the ground for quite a long time, and if the tunnels actually caved in, I'm glad to hear that.” “We were glad to hear it too!” Ultimar said, glancing about the nearby crowds. “It was music to my ears, in fact. You have no idea what it was like in there. I thought I might really die.” Sephirah's heart sank. “Who else was with you?” she asked. “Is everyone alright?” “Let's see,” Sparkel said, scanning throug her memory. “Reyna, Archimede, and Hova were there the longest. Reyna and Hova are fine, but Archimede....he left. He chased after Balzamel, apparently, and we don't know what happened to him.” Sephirah simply nodded at that. “Go on,” she said, after a brief pause. “Then there was Vortna,” Sparkel continued, “Burrfoot was there, but he was long dead before any of us arrived. Oh, and he was apparently the traitor. Although not really a traitor. It was all quite confusing.” “So...” Sephirah replied, “it was him all along, and not Dwarr?” “Definitely not Dwarr,” Sparkled said emphatically. “Why, near the beginning of the attack, Dwarr ran in and made a 225
    • big difference. Along with Elthor and Toshi.” So there it was. Toshi had been there, fighting for his life. “Can I go talk to them, by any chance?” Sephirah asked hopefully. “Dwarr is around here somewhere,” Sparkel said, “and Elthor too. Although Elthor did die a little bit. I had to rescue him, and he was almost too far gone by the time I got to him. As for Toshi....well, Toshi is missing as well.” Sephirah felt a rush of panic pass over her. All of her efforts, all of her planning, all of the things that she had asked Toshi to do....and now.....and now..... “I'm not missing!” a voice called out behind her. “Although I did miss what happened at the end there.” Sephirah turned around, and saw Toshi walking slowly towards them, with Reynalesca at his side. “You idiot!” Sephirah shouted, before running over to grab the dwarf in a powerful embrace. “Don't tell me you got yourself knocked out?” “Well,” Toshi stammered, “I was going in for one of my greatest moves, a real battle changer, you see, when suddenly I was hit with a sneak attack! Very sneaky, and …..” “Ok, ok,” Sephirah laughed. “I get it. I'm just glad you're still here.” “Me too!” Toshi agreed, as he started to blush. “I'm still here, and actually quite hungry. Would you like to go get something to eat? You know, actually go eat. Not walk off a few feet and then tell me I need to go guard a volcano, or something like that.” “Yes, yes,” Sephirah replied, nodding her head. “Let's go actually eat. I would love to.” As the words poured out of her, she knew she had been missing something for a long time. Something that was right before her eyes. Smiling with relief, relief for so many things, she reached down, and grasped Toshi's hand in hers. Reynalesca watched quietly as Sephirah and Toshi walked 226
    • off into the distance. She had been a bit scared when she had finally found the dwarf lying awkwardly down on the train tracks, surrounded by dead troggs. After a few steady pokes, though, Toshi's good eye had opened, and she had been so happy that he was alright. Now, there was only one more person that she was worried about. Archimede. Was he still alive? Had he been able to face his old friend, and do what he needed to do? Looking over towards Ultimar and Sparkel, Reyna tried to keep her eyes hopeful. Yes, things would be alright. They had to be. “From the way some of these soldiers are looking over at you,” Paumedie said suddenly, walking up next to Reyna, “I imagine that you were a real terror today. A natural mage, it seems.” “I tried,” Reyna replied quietly. “I did what I could today. That's all anyone could do.” “Yes,” Paumedie agreed, “but still, there's a difference between just trying to do something, and actually doing it well. My guess is that you probably did very well, and I think there just might be a place for you with us. What do you say? Does Tempora Heroica interest you at all?” “It might,” Reyna anwered, but she wasn't in the mood to think about that now. “Perhaps in the future. For now, I'm just worried about Archimede.” “If I know Archimede,” Sedir said confidently, walking up on Reyna's other side, “then that old guy is doing just fine. Or at least, as well as might be expected, given the circumstances.” Yes, Sedir was probably right. She had seen Archimede in action, after all, and if anyone could take down Balzamel, it was him. “For my part,” Ultimar began, as he walked up towards them, Sparkel close at his side. “All I know is that I've had enough of troggs. First they take Gnomeregan away from us, and now they try to take Ironforge? Balzamel may have led them here, but it was still the troggs that did most of the fighting, killing, and dying. I say we've waited long enough. I say we go 227
    • back to Gnomergan, and not just with a small group. I say we go there with an army, and take back our city.” Reynalesca saw Paumedie lean back thoughtfully, as the leader of Tempora Heroica considered the idea. “Perhaps we could do that soon,” Paumedie said carefully. “If we all went, and brought enough gnome soldiers with us, then maybe we could succeed there. Especially if we brought some gnome mages like this pink haired talent standing next to me.” Reynalesca smiled at that. It hadn't been long at all since she had gone out into the world, hoping to bring something back with her. Well, it seemed, she had brought back the ability to fight for her people. She was actually a mage now, she knew that, even if she hadn't been a mage for long. If her new friends wanted to try to take back Gnomergan itself.....? “Count me in,” Reynalesca said. “Although I would prefer if Dulin leads the way.” They all laughed at that, and Paumedie slapped a hand down on her shoulder. Yes, she was a mage, and she had certainly earned the title. Now wasn't the time to worry about more studying, more battles, or even helping out with the aftermath of the battle that had just taken place. No. As Ultimar shared a look with her, she knew that it was now time for something else. “Come on everyone,” Reyna said as she started to walk off away from the tram. “I have some very important unfinished business around here. Meet me at Barleystout's house. It's time to go wand bowling.” 228