Tuesday, March 20, 2012


She looked up at the shiny new flier, with its gently rendered woodcut from one of their early snaps. She frowned just a moment, wishing the artist had picked one of the snaps that hadn't shown her “levers over cogwheel” due to a failed levitation spell. The etching in the background did add a bit of whimsy to the event. Even Grommet had to admit that the artist had masterfully captured the expression on her face, caught just as she realized she was going into the lake, again.

“No rust no foul,” she chuckled, until a guard knelt next to her and a heavy gauntlet clad hand fell on her shoulder. “Greasy widget!” She swore in Gnomish.

“Miss Cogswaddle, I think you should come with me, please. You know you're not to be hanging around the bulletin boards.”

Grommet sighed, “Yes, Constable.”

The Constable bent down and scooped up Grommet's pile of new fliers, all but hidden by the old one, neatly placed on top. They marched in silence towards the Stockades.

Grommet sat in the too large chair, scooted to the edge so she could dangle her feet over, and as the watch Sargent grunted over the pile of papers dropped on his desk, she began to swing her legs to and fro, keeping time to a traditional Gnomish Reel with the all too appropriate line “Nicked by the patrol and dropped in the hole.”

“Look, I wasn't really taking anything down...”

The Sargent held up his hand, signaling for silence. Grommet shut up. He looked up from the paperwork in front of him, then over to the old, faded fishing excursion announcement. He picked up the aged sheet, looked at it, looked at her, shook his head and put it back on top of the pile of pristine new fliers without even looking at them. He then turned his grizzled attention back to the paper work on his desk.

Grommet fidgeted, trying to swing her right foot two for every three of her left.

He grunted. “Please stop that.”

“What? I'm being quiet.”

Her stomach did a flip. Dealing with Stormwind justice had always been frightening; everything was built to make the giant humans even more imposing. She'd gotten off with a fine, and some volunteer time healing at one of the many orphanage hospitals, neither had been particularly bad, but she'd also been banned from “loitering at bulletin boards or places for the posting of public bills.”

The last restriction had seemed particularly harsh as the delightful things were everywhere in the city. The patrol seemed, lately, to delight in bringing her in, too. Adding to her collection of bills, posters and fliers had become very difficult in Stormwind, until she discovered that most of the children posting the items would happily sell a copy to her for just a few pennies. Some of the children had even taken to bringing her samples first, showing up in the curio shop first thing in the morning, to the annoyance of her landlords.

Grommet began to fidget, again. This time trying to make her feet circle in opposite directions, out of phase.

The sargent squeezed his eyes shut and had just cleared his throat to speak when one of Stormwind's finest stepped into the alcove and handed him a note. In response, the Sargent stood, handed Grommet's stack of papers to the woman and gestured after her. “Follow officer Versham, we're going to let yours deal with you this time.”

Grommet stopped swinging her legs and hopped down off the chair. She really didn't like the sound of that.

The fact that the Sargent broke out laughing as soon as they were out of sight didn't settle her stomach any.

Grommet followed the silent Officer Versham, wishing she could put the old flier on the bottom of the stack. They made their way lower into the labyrinth, then headed down a low ceilinged corridor Grommet had never seen before. She contemplated a quick mind control effort on the guard but just as rapidly discarded the notion, no one had ever stayed friendly after she'd tried that trick on them. The silent treatment was beginning to wear on her.

“Where are we going?” She asked in her cheeriest voice.

“You'll see.” Officer Versham looked back at her. The woman obviously had children of her own, and Grommet's efforts to seem cheery broke upon severe mom-unit face.

“I'm not going to like this, am I?”

“We're really not in the business of getting people to like us here.” Odd, Grommet noticed the severe mom face also include severe “I hope you learn from this,” face.

“Yes, I suppose not.” In Gnomish, Grommet sang, under her breath, “Nicked by the patrol and dumped in the hole.”

They arrived at a branch of the Stockades Grommet had never seen before. The guard had to stoop to go through the door. Soon they were at a small office. A Gnome sat behind a Gnome sized workbench, absorbed in a small stack of folios, field reports, Grommet recognized the color and size of the after action reports. She had filled them in often enough.

Her guard set the stack of fliers on the edge of the workbench, and indicated that Grommet should sit in the chair in the middle of the room, alone in a bright circle of light which illuminated the dust making it appear as though it was a solid pilaster surrounding the chair. Grommet imagined the dust was thick enough to make it difficult to breath as she sat in the Gnome sized chair.

The guard stood near the door, waiting for the Gnome at the workbench to look up from his reports. He glanced over at the pile of fliers, flipped through them. Then waved the guard away. He leaned back in his chair and swiveled it to face Grommet over the workbench. He steepled his thumbs and interlaced the three fingers on each hand. Grommet couldn't help notice that the middle finger on his left hand was a knuckle shorter than the others. For some reason, this detail bothered her more than the closed leather medical case on the end of the workbench, or the brown stains on the floor and chair, or the fact that the chair had build in restraints, and an odd crackling ozone smell about it. The Hooded Gnome looked at her in silence for a time.

“Nicked by the patrol and shoved in a hole.” She sang to herself, none to happily. It was only beginning to occur to her that she was in the hot seat of a GCO interrogation room. She pouted, that seemed a bit unfair for a loitering charge.

“Miss, er, Fulcrum Initiate Grommet Cogswaddle, is it.”

“Yes, uh sir.” Strange Hooded Gnomes addressing one by one's full title was never a good sign. At least he wasn't twirling the ends of his mustache, that would have been a Very Bad Sign. “Who are you?” She blurted out, trying to make the conversation go in a friendlier direction. All she managed to do was sound desperate.

“Gnomish Covert Ops, Internal External Affairs. I go by Agent Seven and a Half.” He used his mangled hand to twirl the end of his mustache.

Grommet's heart sank. She'd heard that name, in whispers. It was said he'd bitten his own fingertip off on a dare. That he could made veteran agents cry. She believed it, Grommet could all ready feel tears welling up in her eyes. “I was just replacing an old flier with a new one, for the Provisioners, for my Uncle Axelpyre.”

Seven and a Half looked over at the pile of fliers, the barest glimpse. “I know that.” He leaned forward to his workbench and opened a rather thick folio, its cover was a color that indicated Grommet wasn't cleared to know what it contained. “Would this be the Uncle who vanished for nearly two decades? The one whose known associates include,” he traced his fingers down a rather long multi-columned list, “an undead Arch Magus and several Tauren Druids and Shamen?”

“Uh,” Grommet's heart hammered in her chest, “He was human once, the Magus, the undead one, a friend of the family. And Mt. Hyjal.... Everyone knows Tauren Druids and Shamen, I hear the place is crawling with them.” She winced, worried that last bit had been a little too flippant.

Seven and a Half opened another folio, much thinner, but bearing the same color coded cover.

“Do you know what nickname the Dwarves of the 76th Rifles have given you.?”

The question caught Grommet completely by surprise. She lifted her toes off the floor and her legs began to swing in short agitated strokes. (Grommet is short, even for a Gnome.) She thought back to her time outside of Skorn.

There'd been whispers. Whispers that stopped the moment she entered a room. That and the fact that they had never called her anything but “Fulcrum Grommet” where she could hear. The behavior had actually bothered her. Everyone else had a nickname, Cookie Harboz, Stinky of Stormwind, Bait-boy Lassiter, Slydog Wolfrider, Fishmonger.... But not Grommet. “Hey there, Fulcrum Grommet!” was as close to what they called her when relaxed, usually it was “Fulcrum Initiate Cogswaddle,” or “Midwife Cogswaddle.” The Dwarves of the 76th had been formal with her from the very start. She'd just assumed that they treated all their medics similarly. It would appear that was an erroneous assumption.

The light was too bright for her to make out what was written in the folio.

“I, uh, I don't really know.” She forced herself to stop fidgeting. “I don't think I had one.”

Seven and a Half cocked one eyebrow at her. “Really?”

“Not that they called me.”

Seven and a Half peered at her, until he was sure she wasn't going to say more. He turned a page in the folio, without glancing down at it.

“What was your assignment there?”

“Field Medic, Prevent and Patch.”

“And when you got to the field.”

“It was all mopping up. Preventing the Scourge from getting the Vrykul .”

“Yes? How?”

“Uh, by dismembering the ones that were killed, before the Scourge necromancers could get them.”

“Were there a lot of deaths.”

Grommet paused, putting the mission in order in her mind. “Not, no, not at first.”

Seven and a Half leaned back in his chair, his face falling into shadow. “Go on.”

Grommet noticed the scratching of a quill on parchment from a dark corner for the first time. It bothered her that she couldn't tell if it was a person or a machine. “The mopping up was going slow.”

She paused, a moment later the scratching stopped, whatever it, or whoever it was, her words were being recorded. She was glad she hadn't succumbed to her Uncle's habit of exaggerating everything. She realized that she desperately wanted to see what was in his file on the edge of the workbench, to own it, to be able to handle the what appeared to be the scores of hand lettered pages.

With a start she brought herself back to her questioner, “Our squad leader, Sargent Basstein, felt we needed to do more, to, to reduce the threat. These Dwarfs are tough, and they really didn't need much protection from me, or patching, for that matter.”

The quill scratched, then came to a halt, Grommet felt like she could hear it poised to continue. Seven and a Half said nothing, he reached out and turned a page of his folio. His mangled hand slipped back into darkness. Grommet still could not make out what was written in the folio through the glare.

“The Vrykul , they really didn't seem to like Gnomes. Or at least not me. So we came up with a plan.”

“We?” Seven and a Half's mangled hand emerged from the darkness, tracing words on a page that Grommet couldn't read.

“Well, me, more so, I suppose.”

They sat in silence as the quill stopped recording Grommet's words. She wondered if this was what all the trouble was about. But it seemed odd, there was nothing she could find in her activities during the mission that was out of place.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time. I ran up to them, and they followed me back to the squad.”

“A classic ambush strategy, I'm surprised it worked so well.”

“I really think they didn't like Gnomes.”

“And you had another job, in addition to being bait?”

“Yes, they gave me a big machete to dismember the bodies so the necromancers couldn't raise them in one piece.”

“Did you use it?”

“Uh, no, it was unwieldy, too big really. So I used my field surgery. They were very large, it was a great opportunity to study their anatomy.”

“So you vivisected them in the field?”

“No! I would nev... they were all ready dead, or mostly...they would have been, soon. How could you see the movement of the heart or....” Grommet paused. What was practical for a Gnome, she had learned, wasn't always seen that way by other races. “None of them were conscious. I sure, or fairly sure, about that.”

“So you surgically reduced them to useless bits?”

Grommet nodded.

“Please answer out loud for the scribe-o-matic.”

So, it was a machine. At least there was only one person judging her. “Yes.” Grommet replied timidly.

“Slow, but effective. Was there anything else while you were in the field.”

“Wolves, they have huge guard wolves. I thought it would possible to turn them against the Winterskorn, make them think of the Vykrul as food, you understand.” She paused, remembering the suddenness of the insight. Her perceived lack of time. Was that enough to trigger this inquest? “It was an impromptu experiment, and I didn't have everything to do proper controls. But I thought it might help the war effort.”

“Did it work?”

“The Vykrul chops and hocks slowed them down, but they always came after us later. So, no, not really; we kept having to kill the test subjects.” Grommet paused, it had been nothing short of a failure of an experiment. “If we could have started them when they were puppies, maybe?”

“Interesting. I will have to send that suggestion on, there's a kernel of something useful there.”

There was a long pause while Seven and a Half and Grommet waited for the Scribe-o-matic to catch up.

“Did you ever stop to think what the soldiers would think of your activities?”

“No, I mean, it was certainly more civilized than hacking them to bits, and we learned lots of useful information!”

“Yes, yes, we can't argue that, it was a rather inelegant solution. Your after action report was fascinating, with many useful tidbits.” Seven and a Half rolled into the light and opened up a folio turning it to the edge of the workbench nearest Grommet. Grommet recognized her own precise but slightly ornate handwriting. (Her Uncle's influence, she was certain.) There were several other notes in the margins, written in a few different hands. It appeared that she wasn't going to be punished, after all.

“Given what we've seen here, and what your commanders reported, we want to make a recommendation before you go out on your next assignment.”

“Somewhere without Scourge, perhaps?” Grommet didn't know where she got the courage to come out and ask.

“Agent Cogswaddle, this is in addition to your normal field duties, I'm afraid. You need to learn more about how our allies interact... socially.”

Grommet frowned. That didn't really sound like an assignment. Perhaps she was being punished after all.

“I've spoken with Provisioner Axelpyre, and your handler in the GCO Medical Corps. Your manner as a Midwife is exemplary, it needs to inform all of your interactions, even in the field, to some extent, at least when in allied operations. We have convinced your Uncle and the previous leadership to allow you to lead this year's Fishing Excursions, with a eye towards learning how to interact more effectively with our allies. Think of this as a personal growth opportunity.”

“What?” She was being punished!

“Come now, it's only once a week, and you can expense your travel costs to the GCO.”

“Bu- but, I fish to relax, to visit with friends...” She thought to herself, “To forget the undead, the injuries, the death, the sobriety.”

“Exactly, and you have learned what they expect from friends and how to behave with them, yes?”

Grommet thought a moment. That was true, she had learned to modify some behaviors when dealing with human and elf companions. “But to be in charge, that changes the whole thing.”

“Yes, it does. Fulcrum Cogswaddle, you have a great many people expecting a great deal of you. Not just because of what you are, but because of who you are.”

“I'm still Fulcrum Initiate. I can't tell you how many times I had to tell the Dwarfs of the 76th to get that straight.”

Seven and a Half stood up and unrolled one of the black medical cases. Only, the tools were not of the sort any doctor would use in normal practice. Grommet shuddered. From the end of the case, he withdrew a bright silver chain. Dangling from it was a silver wheel on a gold axle. The symbol of the Order of the Infinite Lever, her own order, the jewelry that indicated that one was a full Fulcrum of the order.

“You're Fulcrum Seven and a Half?” Grommet forgot to close her mouth right away, sliding out of the chair and standing unsteadily, she moved closer.

“No, no, not at all, this is yours, Fulcrum Cogswaddle.” In Gnomish he added their short formal blessing, “May your effort balance your load.” Seven and a Half made his way around the workbench and offered a better view of the amulet to Grommet. “Be happy in your work, and for this year, organizing fishing expeditions is part of your work.” It was then that she caught a glimpse of the Gold on Gold emblem dangling at Seven and a Half's neck.

“Y... You're Axle Seven and a Half?” Grommet stuttered, confused. “Bu, But, this place, this...” she looked at the threateningly medical like tools, and frowned, “work.”

“Is vital, I'm afraid. Push or pull, lift or press, we all add momentum to the Great Gear.” He walked behind Grommet and placed the symbol around her neck, then whispered, “Our kind of work needs to be done with balance in mind, or it leads to very dark unbalanced places.”

He walked around to face Grommet. “I'm sorry for the unusual Ordination exam. But since the loss of your parents, and the Servant of the Wheel himself gone missing, we've had to make do.”

Grommet had pictured her Ordination being in front of the Gnomes of Tram Maintenance Hatch 104, her makeshift congregation. Imagined her Uncle Axelpyre placing a ring of flowers atop her head, and then there would be a celebration that lasted late into the evening.

Seven and a Half could see the disappointment on Grommet's face. “Time enough for celebration when the work is done. Come, let's get you out of this place.”

“But my arrest, the charges?”

“Your Uncle has generously agreed to pay your bail, and your fines. It's done, think nothing of it.” He led her through the short hallways, even deeper into the tunnels before heading up a narrow flight of steps. “I'd like to interview him sometime, there is much we'd like to know.” Grommet shuddered, she didn't believe her Uncle would submit willingly to an interview with the GCO, not after the way he was treated at the Hearthglen inquest.

When they stepped out into the night, they were several blocks away from the Stockades. Guards paced, mail jingling, through their rounds in the damp and slightly fish smelling air of night, they gave the pair of Gnomes not a second glance.

She turned to Axle Seven and a Half, “Wait, my nickname, you implied I had a nickname?”

Seven and a Half smiled a crooked knowing smile at Grommet. “You should think about this work, truly. You understand more than you know.”

She nodded, apparently agreeing, but she knew that she could never interrogate another Gnome in a place like that. “Please, what was it?”

Seven and Half held up his finger, showing the angry scar that demarcated its missing length. “Shorn off in a milling accident when I was a journeyman in a team of nine; total losses: eight dead, and one short length of a single digit. I never let them regenerate it because the lesson was too valuable. I had the least of injuries, but of the nine of us, my pain lasted the longest.”

Grommets eyes grew wide.

“Not what you heard, is it.”

Grommet mouthed, “no.”

“Keep that in mind, Butcher of Skorn.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Axel and Cam Return - Snippet

In an ally on the other side of the tower. Axelpyre Cogswaddle stood in the same place he had attempted, without proper training and skill, to teleport to the top of the mage tower in Stormwind over two decades earlier. Now such spells were almost second nature to him, he tried to hold in his mind the errors he'd made. His fingers ducked behind the edge of his Argent Crusade tabard, absently feeling the hidden livery of the Silver Hand sewn into its back. His own faith had changed in half a century, but not in that new ideas supplanted the old, they all added together to form a rather individualistic, and somewhat pragmatic belief system.

Axelpyre prayed. “Every life that supports the light is a light's champion, let the Great Wheel turn to bring Cam home safe and sound.”

And without further hesitation he cast the portal, focused on the young Gnome that had helped him paint seeds and bugs many long years ago, saying the formula incorrectly. Knowing full well that stepping into the portal might doom him to return to whence he'd come. Axelpyre sighed and walked through. His mind wandered as the misshaped portal swallowed him up. The last time he'd been in this ally Gimbol had kissed him. He still tasted her on his lips even though that all happened what seemed like a lifetime ago. Going back might just have its rewards.

Two gnomes tumbled out of the air high in the target room of the Academy Tower, causing the late night students to raise their eyes from their studies and groan about drunks teleporting. The old Gnome laughed and hugged the young Gnome.

“Let's see if this is our Stormwind,” The old Gnome stumbled, he looked too short for his robes.

Camfollower turned to his Uncle, offering an arm to prop him up. “Your hair is completely white, what's left of it.”

“Yes, yes it is. A few more adventures like this and I'm sure it will be all gone. Let's go find out where we are.”

“Definitely drunk,” the students thought and turned back to their books.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Book and the Banshee

“Cogswaddle, come to me.”

Cam woke with a start. He could tell, from the position of the moon over the ruined chimney, he'd only been asleep a few minutes. It had been nearly ten days since he'd been chased out of Stormwind.

The Lieutenant Detective, despite the excitement caused by Grommet's picnic, had stayed, interviewing every Gnome that flew in or out of Sentinel Hill.

Cam had retreated to the ruins of a farmstead, the same one he'd seen the tottering patchwork bag of bones take refuge in. The mage was gone, and that was for the best. Cam didn't think he could have survived a fight with the Forsaken mage.

He'd seen what he could do. The only reason the militia men survived is that the mage had been trying not to kill the humans. Part of Cam wanted desperately to believe with Grommet that this was their “Uncle” but he knew otherwise. The dead stay dead. What comes back, well, Cam was certain he wouldn't come back to such a ruined shell, so doubted anyone else would either.

Cam decided to hole up there amongst the weeds and debris until the heat was off. He hoped that once the engineer had found that all her tools were back in her warehouse, properly cleaned and calibrated, and that a 'thank you' note with a few silver coins had been left behind, the whole incident would blow over. He checked the mechanical squirrel he'd built for Belnak's birthday, before she'd married that lack-wit dwarf. Too little, too late, pretty much like everything else he'd done lately. Perhaps his cousin Vernier would like it.

Camfollower hadn't slept much. The book, “Flora of Azeroth, both Useful and Pretty” by Professor Castpipe Axle-rod Cogswaddle, his uncle, had consumed his attention. The book was damaged by water, and the mold that attended it. The plates had been painted on a very fine vellum, coated with a clear varnish of Gnomish invention and had thus resisted being infused with the mold. The metal based dyes had faded, or rusted, but the vegetable dyes had retained much of their color. Removing the surface mold had been relatively easy, and Cam had spent the last ten days doing just that. The result was that every plate was in viewable condition. All but a handful of the text pages were readable. Barely. The once bleached light background of its pages were now a riot of water and mold stains in competing greens, grays and brows. What was lost was the front matter, (including the dedication which mentioned Cam and Grommet by name) and most of the index. The time he'd spent as a youth restoring old toys and nick-knacks had proved useful.

At first he'd chosen plates that he and his sister had helped paint. He was tempted to cut them out of the book and leave the moldy remains behind. But something stayed his hand even as his knife was poised over the binding. He sat, remembering his and Grommet's youthful chatter, a private language based on Gnomish Binary, as they applied the pigments where their Uncle had indicated. Two thousand and five hundred total plates they had helped paint, and he remembered they were sick of it before they were even half done.

Cam chuckled out loud, wrens nested in the dilapidated chimney took flight, giving away his position. He was so tired that he didn't even try to slink back into the shadows of the ruins.

That now counted amongst the happiest of his memories. He would give nearly anything to be back in that comfortable work room with its high skylights bringing sunlight all the way from the distant surface. Where the great gears of Gnomeregan turned in the hall below, a rumble more felt than heard, smoothly marking the time and the transfer of energy as they had for generations. He missed the range of Gnomish life, from the regimented schedules of the engineering corps to the random comings and goings of the Outside Gnomes, who were sometimes treated worse even than Toy Makers (Gnomes whose mechanical skills never expanded beyond what they learned in their primary education, doomed to never leave the production lines to never become Engineers or Tinkers, their own creations lackluster and....)

Cam stopped himself. Because of his brain injuries, he would never be anything more than a Toy Maker, the medics and tinkers had decided, and that was that.

Cam remembered his dashing, green-haired, wildly excitable Uncle, a veterinarian (“delisted” surgeon one rumor went), hunter, skinner and herbalist who cataloged and collected the materials that the more “productive” citizens needed for their work. His Uncle was an Outside Gnome, what seemed to embarrass his mother and father secretly made Grommet and Cam giddy with excitement. His uncles' lavishly illustrated field guide was well received -- everywhere but Gnomeregan. It wasn't penned and painted by a Tinker, just an Outside Gnome whose professorship was from a Human college, at that.

Submariners and pilots had stopped to chat with his Uncle, leaving maps and samples of seeds and flowers they'd found in their travels. Dwarfs and an occasional Human called for him, but these he made the trip to the surface to meet, so Grommet and Cam had little knowledge of them, save for one human, Fenton Threadneedle. They had met him one summer and the four of them had made a trip all the way down to the Loch where the twins learned to fish and to swim. (Their parents were appalled. “Only Outside Gnomes swim! You're not to go into the water without a proper diving suit!”) By the time the trip was done, a very short fortnight or so, they had taken to calling the human “Uncle” Fenton.

Grommet thought she was meeting with their adopted uncle. Cam was certain that the undead was no more Fenton than that Death Knight was his mother. The undead brought Grommet the book. A book Cam believed was haunted or cursed, he wasn't familiar enough with magic to say which. The Forsaken had not meant his sister well, of that he was also certain.

Early in the restoration process, Cam sneaked into town, and was surprised to see the Detective Lieutenant still hanging about. He sent a letter to a fortune teller whose address he'd gotten from a fancy flier. While he was in town he borrowed some tools and materials to continue his restoration efforts. He'd risked a second trip into town to pick up her response (and to see if the persistent human officer was still about, he was.) Madam Jinn's reply had been less helpful than he'd hoped.

Lack of sleep caused his mind and body to wander. He walked without thinking, right to flight master of Sentinel Hill.

“You, Gnome, are you from Stormwind in the last few days?” The Lieutenant Detective eyed the apparently drunk Gnome with thinly disguised disgust.

“No, I have to see a lady about this book,” Cam held the over sized field guide up in front of his face.

The detective looked at it a moment and, apparently satisfied that this bookish, slovenly drunk dressed in filthy but still bright yellow and green, couldn't be the sneak thief he was looking for. He let Cam climb aboard the griffin without further question.

Cam wondered where his black leathers had gone, and his knives. Happy memories of that childhood fishing expedition played in his head, overriding any more material concerns. Cam nodded off, only to be awakened as Stormwind's great gate hove into view by an eerie female voice calling “Cogswaddle.”

Instead of shaking himself fully awake, in truth he didn't have the energy for it, he simply kept his eyes closed, savoring the rhythm of the griffin's wings and the cool rush of air through his heavily matted hair. He clutched the field guide tighter under his shirt. It was a good thing the griffin handler had tied Cam into the saddle. In his dream he asked, “What do you want from me?”

“Cogswaddle, come to me.”

Cam nodded, then dozed off.

The griffin, as though confused about its flight instructions, veered sharply away from the landing pattern over Stormwind and beat strongly over the still sleepy city, passing low over the warehouse, site of Camfollower's crime, then along the hilly coast and finally out across the sea.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Picnic at Sentinel Hill

Picnic at Sentinel Hill

Meteorus urged his mount up the hill overlooking the settlement of Sentinel Hill, her tack and harness rattled and creaked as though it were about to give way. No matter how much he oiled, nor how much he sewed, hard travel unraveled his work in a matter of days. “You deserve better, Bluebell.”

He touched the most recent patch stitched into his decayed cheek. Instead of some wretched animal's hide, he had applied a patch of mageweave torn from a witch doctor's robe. Oddly, it transmitted, by some necromantic mechanism that he could not explain, the touch of his fingers to his worm-riddled brain. Meteorus wondered idly how long it would last compared to the light leather he normally used. He envisioned himself stitched together entirely of mageweave or runecloth, and smiled.

"Brocade, perhaps," he uttered aloud to the dry dusty air of Westfall, then he chuckled, a deep rolling barking laugh that most could not have described as 'mirthful.'

Bluebell shook as they stopped just below the ridge line. Meteorus dismounted and Bluebell immediately collapsed into a pile of bone and rotted tack that looked like it had lain in the dust of Westfall for a decade or more. "Neat trick, that. Sadly, it seems to be your only one." While it might just have been the wind whipping over the ridge, Meteorus thought he'd heard a faint ghostly nicker.

The bottle of elixir swished in his unsteady hand, only a few doses left. "Let's hope I get something useful right off," Meteorus half prayed, to who or what, he was not certain, then took a drink. The glamor rippled out from his insides, transforming him into a flesh and blood looking human, complete with pirate hat. Meteorus sighed, "This will have to do." He gave a tattered bit of cloth a few shakes and there was a blanket on the top of the ridge. He debated only a moment, and pressed the runes that deployed the umbrella and conjured the picnic basket; making his subterfuge as complete as possible. Perhaps any patrols would think this merely a romantic assignation and would pass him and his eventual guest by. He absently touched the oilskin wrapped book hidden under his robe, even now unsure he wanted to part with it.

He peered over the top of the ridge, looking expectantly at the flight point.

Meteorus's vigil was soon rewarded. A small green-haired gnome hopped off of a griffin and clumsily started up a folded mechanostrider that had been dropped at the edge of the landing area. She rode south out of town, headed for the slope of the hill overlooking the inn.

Meteorus turned to follow her progress, risking what he hoped was a friendly wave. The small figure waved from the back of her mechanostrider, which veered slightly and stumbled over a pile of stones. The town guards turned to look at her and she waved them off, "I'm okay, fences and rocks, you know," she righted herself. The guards chuckled and went back to their rounds, and never once looked up the hill.

"Clumsy or clever?" Meteorus muttered to himself. "I wonder."

Meteorus' attention was drawn to the griffin landing area, another Gnome had hopped off a griffin, this one with a more familiar shape and way of moving. He watched the Gnome, his bright blue eyes visible even at this distance. The Gnome had neatly trimmed facial hair, green. The Gnome was quick, so quick Meteorus lost sight of the Gnome as soon as the Gnome ducked into the sedges along the sides of the road. Meteorus' heart, usually still, fluttered oddly in his chest cavity. He now wondered which Gnome he was supposed to be meeting with. The first was female, which the letters had insisted on being her gender, but the other had looked and moved like his few remaining memories of his old friend, Cogswaddle. He began, for the first time, to think that meeting with the Cogswaddle was a bad idea.

Meteorus tapped the book as he watched the female Gnome pick her way carefully over the rocks, and grinned to himself when she chose a lumpy pile of broken bones and tack to park her mechanostrider next to. She looked up to the ridge at him a moment before dismounting.

“Uncle Fenton?” her voice squeaked.

Meteorus recognized the name, but it pulled at nothing inside, that disturbed him, made him wonder, not for the first time, if the memories that flowed into his rotted brain were really his own. He tapped the book under his robe, a rhythm from an old song in the weavers used while spinning. He nodded at the young Gnome, barely keeping focused on the present.”Meteorus, now, please.”

“Ah, certainly, I'm Grommet, Grommet Cogswaddle.” The young Gnome blushed, muttering, “But you know that, of course what other green haired Gnome would ride out here to meet you?” She struggled through the grasses up to the blanket on the ridge.

Meteorus pondered her question, not realizing its rhetorical nature. “I saw another Cogswaddle come in on a griffin behind yours.”

“What?” The Gnome rushed past him to look over the ridge into the town below. She stared out at the town searching, and Meteorus noted, trembling.

'Tasty,' he thought, catching the scent of her fear. Then quickly shook his head to clear it.

“Just another militia member, I'm sure, many of us serve in human militias these days.”

“Just so,” Meteorus offered his vial of Nogginfogger to the young Gnome, “A glamor, just in case?” In case of what, he wasn't certain, but he would not be able to meet comfortably with the Gnome if she didn't settle down. The Gnome eyed the container uncertainly. Meteorus realized the container wasn't particularly clean, and remembered; sanitation was a concern for the living. He wiped the mouth of the vial with the white trim of his crimson robe. Unaware that all the gnome saw was a pirate wiping a vial on his dirty shirt sleeve.

“Uh, no thank you, Meteorus, Uncle Meteorus, Uncle Met....”

Meteorus stoppered the vial. While the Gnome rambled on trying to find a comfortable way to say his name he checked his pockets and found a wand with a charge or two left from All Hallows. Before the Gnome could squeak out her protest she stood before him in the form of a black clad ninja, long auburn hair pulled in a pony tail, face hidden behind a black mask. “That will have to do.” Meteorus pocketed the wand as the Ninja sputtered a half formed argument against it. “Even your mother wouldn't recognize you.”

The glamor did nothing to hide the Gnome's squeaky voice, or the enticing smell of her fear. Meteorus moved to the other side of the picnic basket and sat down, placing the breeze at his back.
Grommet held her hands out in front of her. She looked at her hands, spread them wide and wiggled her fingers. She seemed fascinated by her pinkie. “I can't make it move on its own.”

“It's just a glamor of sorts, half polymorph, half illusion,” Meteorus reached into his robe to remove the book.

Grommet looked down at her body, studying herself, “There's so much of you! It seems highly impractical, clothing wise, food wise, you know?” As if to punctuate the thought her stomach growled.

Meteorus smiled at the Gnome, “The Cogswaddle never seemed to lack for an appetite, either for food, drink, clothing or women.”

The Ninja flushed crimson over her mask and sat down on the other side of the picnic basket.

“Eat, Cogswaddle, the food in the basket is conjured, so I am sure it is safe.” Grommet opened up the picnic basket and set out plates of food for the both of them. She dashed down to her mechanostrider and returned with a bottle of wine. As she did so she cast a worried look down slope.

“I thought I saw someone down there,” Grommet pointed to a rocky pile halfway down the slope.

Meteorus wondered if it was the other Gnome, the one that actually looked like the Cogswaddle. He stood up to look.

“Sit down, they'll know we know they're there,” Grommet hissed under her breath.

Meteorus shrugged, fairly certain her high pitched voice could be heard halfway down the valley, “I'm pretty sure they know that you know, so what if they know that I know, too?” Meteorus' attention shifted to the base of the hill, where a Guard in Stormwind Uniform patrolled. For the second time that day his dead heart performed painful gymnastics inside his chest. Just what was a Stormwind guard doing way out here? Meteorus began to wonder if he'd been set up.

“If we both know then they know that we know...” Grommet stopped, watching the Stormwind Guard step cautiously through the brush, stooping to look at tracks. “Maybe they aren't interested in us at all. That guard is tracking someone.”

“Indeed.” Meteorus hadn't been concerned when he'd cut across the prairie, Bluebell's tracks were certain to lead right to the collapsed pile of bone and tack with the weeds growing through it.

Either the Gnome was a consummate actress, or she really had no connection to the guard. Meteorus decided the hillside was becoming a bit too crowded, and sat down. He pushed the oil skin wrapped package over to the Gnome. ”I found a copy,” he just wanted to get this business over with.

Grommet set the wine down and pulled the book to her, excited. While she unwrapped the book Meteorus opened the wine and poured a couple of glasses, in case the guard should be watching.

She eagerly but gently pulled back the dried and partly decayed protective cover. She gently opened the book itself, and her shoulders hunched, her smile faded. “Oh, rust,” she muttered in Gnomish. “It's a mess, isn't it?”

Meteorus had thought the book, oversized and well bound, was in remarkably good condition, particularly considering how long it might have been in the pile outside the town hall of Tarren Mills. It's external leather cover had been well oiled at one point. Not surprising, as it had been meant, despite its size, to be a field guide. The banshee guardian of the town had tossed him a quizzical look when he pulled the volume triumphantly from the pile.

"I know the author," Meteorus had said lamely.

The banshee had taken the book, looked at it, barely curious, hesitated, assessing him, and then pressed it back into his hands.

"Kor'kran have been through the pile, and the Apothecaries before them, take it." She looked at him, knowing that he wasn't the first, nor the last Forsaken who would take some moldy reminder of a past he would never recapture.

Meteorus shook off the memory and looked at the book, upside down to him, now. Indeed, the pages were water damaged and he couldn't make out what she was looking at from the various colored mold stains. It hadn't looked like that, he was sure. He reached out and turned the book to face him. There, the page looked clean, the sketch crisp. Meteorus turned the book back to the Gnome, preparing to tell her it was fine, but as the book turned away, he could suddenly see the damage. Meteorus' shoulders slumped. Whatever mechanism allowed him to see without physical eyes, had betrayed him. He saw the book from memory, not as it was in the present. “I wonder what else I'm not seeing... accurately.” He looked at the Ninja glamor, trying to pierce its secrets to really see the Gnome inside.

Meteorus sat, looking into the eyes of Grommet's ninja illusion, seeing them grow sadder at each turn of the page. He shifted, preparing to stand and leave.

The Gnome reached out and placed her hand on his boney arm. “Stay a bit, it's okay, the paper is sound, mostly, it can be restored, I bet.” She closed the book gently.

That sat that way for a time, looking at one another's illusions trying to figure out what else to say.


The pair jumped and turned to find the Stormwind Guard standing at the edge of their picnic blanket.

“Sorry to interrupt, lovebirds, but I was wondering if either of you have seen a short green-haired gnome, neatly trimmed beard, bright blue eyes, all in dark leathers? Or if one of you is, perhaps, said person?”

The Guard looked at Meteorus, who resisted the urge to throw off Grommet's restraining hand, her grip tightened to a surprising level of strength. He shook his head. “No,” he said, doing his best to control the decayed rattle that normally attended most Forsaken voices.

“Oh, certainly not,” squeaked Grommet, and in turning to face the guard squarely, tipped over the half full bottle of port, splashing its contents on the guard's shiny metal boots. “Sorry, sorry, it's this costume, I'm not used to being big...” She grabbed a napkin and leaned over towards the guard, who took a couple of steps back.

“Clever,” Meteorus thought, which meant Grommet *was* a good actress.

“Show yourself, child,” the guard unsheathed his sword slightly, indicating that Meteorus should stay seated.

“No, it's not what you think,” Grommet started. She stood up, making a production of dispelling the glamor.

Meteorus would have rolled his eyes, if he had any, he really needed to learn to trust his feelings. In his mind he sought out the flow of nether energies that would define the bolt of arcane material for a spell to stitch around the guard.

Grommet's disguise dropped, surprising the guard.

“Ah, oh, I see,” he cleared his throat and stepped back. Grommet's scowl made him want to laugh, but he'd all ready had to sit through the Captain's lecture on the proper treatment of their smallest allies. “I suppose you are of the age of majority?”


The guard was now four paces away from Meteorus, and the tiny Gnome had managed to place herself directly between them, delicately stepping out of the puddle of wine. It was obvious that the guard felt he needed to reestablish his control of the situation.

“So is your friend also a Gnome?”

Grommet blushed. Meteorus held his hands out, standing and gesturing at the same time. His disguise dropped.

“Ah, I see not, well...” The guard's eyes grew wide, he drew his blade, sunlight flashing off its high polish.

Whatever the guard had planned to say, he never got to finish it. A sheep bleated softly where the guard had been standing.

Grommet spun to face Meteorus, cursing in Gnomish, quite likely the only Gnomish he understood, “Rusty sprockets! Have you gone out of alignment!” Then in Common, “What were you thinking!”

“We have been here long enough.”

“Hey, Lieutenant, we found some hoof prints over by this mechanostrider.”

“What now?” Meteorus glanced down the hill to where Bluebell and the mechanostrider waited. Two of Sentinel Hill's Militia guards were walking up the hill.

“He's seen me! He's seen us! Together!”

“I can fix that.”

Grommet raised her hands, “No!” Meteorus stepped out from the umbrella, and then she saw him, the patches, the puckered lines of stitching holding them together, a partial tattoo on a forearm patch, still recognizable as the Anchor of Kul'Tirus but at an angle no human would have chosen. She swallowed hard. He really was undead. The familiar fear swept over her, more effective than if he'd frost novaed her in place.

The two Militia members were not so frozen, however, they had seen plenty of Forsaken amongst the frequent Horde raiding parties. They were excited at the opportunity to face one alone. So excited that they advanced several steps up the hill before remembering that they had rifles.

Meteorus advanced on the cowering Gnome, hearing his old friend's voice admonishing him.

“You never, ever pick up a Gnome!” The Cogswaddle had quite thoroughly smacked him around for picking him up. The Gnome had the element of surprise, granted, but the Gnome had been far stronger, and far faster than the young man who was now Meteorus had anticipated. “No one picks up this Gnome, unless she's buxom, wide-hipped and auburn-haired,” The Cogswaddle had delivered the last while bouncing on the prone tailor's back at each point. They had gotten drunker together after.

“Sorry, Cogswaddle,” Meteorus Grabbed Grommet under the arms, fully expecting to be kicked and possibly fire blasted or frozen at any moment. The Gnome just yipped and made a sad whimpering noise.

“Hold your fire, he's got a kid!”


Meteorus stepped up to the rocks at the edge of the ridge. He looked into Grommet's eyes, and he would have winked, if he had eyelids.

He whispered two words to her as she started to struggle. He lifted Grommet high over his head. “Cogswaddle, your days of meddling in the affairs of the Horde are over!” Meteorus shouted.

“Monster!” Shouted one militia man, a sudden onslaught of tears ruining his aim.

“Bastard!” Shouted the other, again. The report of his rifle punctuated the thought.

The bullet punctuated Meteorus' right forearm, he heard the ulna snap. “Rat turds, I just patched that.”

Grommet yelped, she'd come around too late. The monster had picked her up, and, to her complete shock, thrown her over the cliff!

Meteorus turned, fire on his fingertips. The wet eyed soldier took careful aim.

“Meteorus, noooo!” he heard Grommet shout from behind him, from the sound he judged she was all ready half way down the cliff.

The fire at Meteorus's fingertips went out. Instead he pulled the nether and stitched it into the shape of a less lethal frosty rain of ice and cold. The men slowed, learned the folly of charging uphill, in a blizzard.

The militiamen were pelted, they slipped, exposing their backs and necks, one dropped to his knees, “Mommy!” and collapsed, but still struggled to line up a shot.

“Bastard!” yelled the other, and ran.

Meteorus instantly stopped, Grommet's “No!” echoing back from the tower on the other side of town.

Grommet focused, and cast, “Slow fall,” Meteorus had whispered while picking her up, she'd almost remembered too late. She heard the report of a rifle just as air resistance slowed her magically altered mass nearly to a halt. Her legs were still like liquid and she collapsed and rolled, handle over spout, under the raised floor of the inn.

The bullet ripped through the robe, nicked his hip flask and tore a large divot out of his left thigh. Meteorus knew he was hurt, but real pain would only come later, with memory. At least nothing was broken this time. Meteorus raced towards Bluebell, almost passed the man who'd called for his mommy, but still hearing Grommet's concern stopped to check him. Still living, blood pumped strongly through his veins. He would be sore, but would live.

The sheep on the crest let out a loud bleat that changed halfway trough to an angry “Stop!”

'Shouldn't have...' Meteorus grabbed the nether and tried to fold it and himself down the hill the last few yards towards the pile of bones that was Bluebell. He found himself up hill, three yards closer to the ridge line, and further away from his loyal mount. He'd missed the roiling Ley line just below the surface of the hill, it had bounced him backwards. “Rat...”

The mass of the plate wearing Lieutenant slammed into Meteorus, rattled his soggy brain, tangled his limbs. Before Meteorus could turn to face his attacker, even before he could straighten out, the large shining sword split the recently repaired robe, sliced through rotted muscle and tendon, shattered both shoulder blades and chipped large chunks from his third thoracic vertebrae.

“Turds.” Meteorus finished as he slumped to the ground, a rag doll in ability as well as looks.

“Get up here, he's dead, I got him.” The Lieutenant kicked Meteorus over, leaned down and stuck his hand in front of his nose and mouth, felt the sunken chest above his dead heart. For good measure he thrust his dagger a few times through the chest cavity. “Help me drag him over to that pile of tack, that looks like it will burn.” The Lieutenant started to drag Meteorus over to the pile next to the mechanostrider. “Never mind, I got it. It doesn't weigh anything.”

“What about the kid?” The rifleman who'd called for his mommy muttered, still prone on the ground.

“Gnome, you mean, see the strider there,” the Lieutenant pointed in the direction he was dragging the desiccated corpse. “I figure she came up here and was snookered by this villain.”

“Bastard,” said the other militiaman, having regained his composure.

“Yeah, he was, almost had us there, too.” He grunted as he tossed Meteorus onto the pile of debris. Take the strider with you. If that Gnome survived she's probably going to want it.” The Lieutenant strode back over to the fallen man, helped him up. “Let's go, no one bleeds to death on my watch.”

“What about that,” the injured man pointed to Meteorus, “we should burn it.”

“Let's get you squared away first, soldier. I'll bring some mill-men back to clear the brush and make a proper bonfire. No need to burn down the whole valley for it.”

The injured man nodded and drifted off into a troubled unconsciousness, only the first of many featuring a pallid, patched, monster. His children would grow up never understanding why he burned all their rag dolls upon his return from the infirmary.

Meteorus felt the banshee long before he faced her. He wasn't certain how she could be behind him, nor how he could turn around, since he was dead. He lay, or stood, or sat, never sure which, looking at the long tunnel. Something told him there was supposed to be someone there to meet him, but no faces peered down the long shaft to where he, existed.

“No!” came the answer to his yet unformed question.

“I am dead.”

“We're all dead,” laughed the banshee, and her voice was joined by others, “or not living, or not dead,” they filled in the tunnel walls with sound that was not sound, but a feminine pressure on his brain.

“It is time to go back,” the loudest voice stated.

Meteorus turned to face her, long elf ears and a small oval face floated above the stretched female form which shimmered and flowed as silk in water.

“As a Tauren Brave?” Meteorus asked hopefully.


“As a clever Troll?”


“Honorable Dwarf?”

There was laughter.


“Gnome,” he didn't even dare hope.

“Soulless Maker's Toys,” one of the quieter voices hissed.


“Human,” he offered in disappointment.

There was much more laughter at this one, but not of a reassuring kind.

“Maybe I can get it right this time.”

“It doesn't work that way, human.”
Meteorus groaned. “Is there ever...”

“No. It is a curse.” The banshee drifted momentarily out of his sight, the returned, a golden glow in her hands.

“Curse,” was repeated, filling the tunnel and dimming the light at the end.

“Curse.” Meteorus repeated.

“Or a gift,” some of the voices offered.

“I don't see how...”

“Go back, human.”

“Go back,” echoed hundreds of voices, as though every banshee was connected to every other.

“I know you,” said a small distant voice. “You tried to save me from a Night Elf attack on Tarren Mill.”

Meteorus remembered being torn into eight pieces and spread across the town and the dead orchard beyond. With the memories came the pain.

“You attempted to deceive the Apothecaries with a Silverpine wolf in place of a dog.”

There was a rippling of laughter that filled the tunnel with darkness. He remembered the burning acid in a pit in the Undercity, and with the memory came the pain.

“That saved you from the Kor'kron inquisition after Wrathgate,” a consoling voice whispered far away.

“You fought bravely to protect The Bloodhoof, yes, Elder Runetotem was impressed.”

Meteorus remembered the burning pillars of light from hands of tentacle faced paladins who ignored is plea for a truce. The most horrible burning of all, and with the memory came the pain, double, it appeared, as he had once been spared.

“We rarely see such intervention. Even with the power of an Elder's prayer this curse can only be delayed.”

He wailed. “Will it always be like this?”

“Yes,” the voice had little sympathy.

“Always,” echoed hundreds of female voices, only a few sympathetic.

“Until your true death.”

“When is that?” Meteorus now had no hope that this was it.

“We will call your name.”

“What name?”

There was laughter.

A voice far away amidst the laughter whispered, “Your true name. Hope you know by then.”

The banshee lifted her hands, thrusting the golden glow into is dull eye sockets. His vision returned, he saw where he was, he remembered, and with the memory came the pain.

Then, while the laughter of hundreds of banshees echoed in his skull, Meteorus sat up. His body quivered, wracked with all the agony of his previous deaths.

Bluebell stirred beneath him, standing in fits and starts. She started down the hill slowly then picked up speed until they raced away from Sentinel Hill, looking for a place to teleport to safety.


A pair of bright blue eyes below a thatch of thick green hair watched the pile of rags and bones become horse and rider. He watched the rickety pair ride off, gaining speed as they headed for a ruined cabin in the distance. He'd stayed, because he'd known his sister was safe, he couldn't have explained how, but their cogs were linked, and he just knew.

Camfollower slipped into the shadows and crept to the top of the ridge. There was nothing left of the days events but some trampled grass, a port wine smell, and a book.

The book was familiar, it's size, its binding, its heft. He'd helped his uncle once, painting the little shadows on the thorns of the Swift Thistle. Drew beetle shadows on the underside of Steelbloom leaves, many other small details. He opened the book exactly to where the plate of the Thistle would be. Barely visible beneath the mold stains was an illustration, the iron based ink had faded from black to rust, but there were the very strokes Cam had applied to the plate as a little cog.

“Oh, Grommie, what are you doing?” he said to the wind. “That's not Uncle Fenton, he's turned, and those turned don't turn back.”

He sat against the rocks in contemplation, clutching the book, thinking of happier times, listening to the wind whisper over the ridge. He started to nod in the afternoon heat. He dreamed he'd been meditating in the hall of gears, he'd thought he'd heard The Call. A sudden chill prevented him from giving the ritual response, “I am ready to follow the plan.”

He woke with a start, then he imagined he heard the wind wailing out “Cam, Camfollower Cogswaddle.” This sounded anything but machine-like. He shivered despite the heat. He was thankful it wasn't dark yet.

Cam slipped into the shadows without responding to the voice, hoping the day's business had taken the Lieutenant Detective back to Stormwind.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meteorus added to Twitter


Will I have any time for that?

Not Certain.

Probably should have started with Grommet first.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Introduction to The Wood Frog

Grommet Cogswaddle made her way down from the attic over the curio shop, across the park-like lawn at the base of the Mage's Tower and up to the mailbox outside the Blue Recluse. The small Gnome pulled a chair over to the magical appliance and climbed up even with it's delivery orifice. Anyone watching would notice a certain apprehension, a hesitation as she allowed the spell to identify her before pulling open the hatch.

There was a single package, a brownish stain, now dry, had once been wet enough to wrinkle the wrapping paper at one corner. Grommet sighed. She quickly transferred the wildly off balanced package into her pack. She didn't even have to look at the mailing information to know it was from her mother. Grommet would wait until nightfall to make the trip to the Elwynn Forest cemetary. There she would open the package while hidden in the bushes next to the charnel pit. This made for easy disposal of the little "extras" her mother couldn't be bothered to remove from the boots and gloves she sent for Grommet to practice her enchanting skills on.

Beneath the package was a pair of letters. One popped open, an announcement, really, a fishing gathering, in Southshore. Grommet loved to fish, a few more pieces of driftwood, tangled line and tattered cloth and she would have enough materials to make a lawn chair. She sighed, wondering if she even knew where her fishing pole was these days. "I bet Southshore is lovely this time of year. Murlocs on one shore, Naga on the other, Syndicate on the side road and Undead on the main road."

Three human students of the arcane arts slowed as they entered the Blue Recluse, unsure if the Gnome was speaking to them. Grommet looked up at them and handed them the flyer. It was then she saw the scratchy thin handwriting on the back. "Meet me west of the docks."

The three thanked her and walked into the tavern. Grommet wanted to grab the flyer back, then resolved to just hope they didn't turn the thing over and think... she blushed.

"Oh, rust," She grabbed the last letter in the box, a thick packet of wrapped pages with the single word "Cogswaddle" printed in the same scratchy hand as the line on the back of the flier. Grommet ran into the tavern after the students. "Hey! Ignore that message on the back, that was a note for me!"

The three students laughed, and pointed. They had pinned the flier up on the shelf at the entrance to the tavern for others to see. It was obvious that they hadn't even looked at the back of the attractively printed flier. Grommet would have had to jump, or move furniture to get the flier. Since she was all ready blushing, Grommet decided to make a hasty retreat back to her attic room where she could read her mail in peace.

Cowlflap writes a letter.

Cowlflap Cogswaddle paced the perimeter of her small camp, the small fire positively cool compared to the nearby upwelling of magma. Neither had any success in making Cowlflap feel warm.

She had stashed her bulky black plate in the desert and made the journey into Thesselmar to send a thank you to the rugged dwarf she'd identified as one of her missing son's last contacts.

“Rugged?” A small voice, strangely like her own, and a welcome change from the other voice that had ruled her head a few short months ago started, “ragged more like.” She shrugged it off.

No one had thought twice about the small dirty prospector, and she'd been careful to stay far enough away from anyone who might be bothered by her perpetual chill. She debated sending something like a small gem, but didn't want to seem forward. While she was fairly certain that such a gesture didn't mean the same thing to Dwarves as Gnomes, she didn't want to make the wrong impression, after all, she was still a married woman.

“Should've sent some coins.” She startled herself by speaking out loud. “Yes,” she thought, “he looked as though he might be able to use some coins.”

In Thesselmar, Cowlflap had opened her writing satchel and the Haute Club cards had spilled out. Suddenly the desire to send some sort of “thank you” and her desire to be rid of some of the last few reminders of her time fighting against the Scarlet Crusade blended into a sort of fugue state in which the letter had been composed and sent in a mere few seconds. Even her own children would have been hard pressed to recognize the jagged handwriting and uncharacteristic errors. Cowlflap was not fully back to her normal self until she was stacking up spider limbs to make a small camp fire. How she'd made it back to her armor cache without incident, she didn't know. She absently wiped spider ichor off of her chest-plate.

“You didn't even say thank you or ask if he'd like to help find Camfollower,” she startled herself by speaking aloud again.

Mohr Brassbrain, she'd recognized him from the wanted poster on the back of what was one of her son's last letters. The artist had accurately captured the dwarfs intensity if not his exact likeness. If Cam was right about him, and Cam usually was about people, the Dwarf would be a valuable ally.

“He threatened to shoot your face off!” she shouted at herself, interrupting her pacing to spin oddly in place.

“No, no, I startled him, the whole being dead thing, it unnerves people,” she argued.

“He didn't know that until much later.”

“Well if Cam's in the sort of trouble I think he is, then a tough Dwarf is exactly what we need.”

Cowlflap waited for a counter argument, her spinning done. There was no further outburst; her pacing resumed, for the moment.

The sudden smile that crossed her lips fairly radiated a chill. She spun in place, feeling the warmth of the spider as it had crept near. The pillar of frost, channeled directly from a place deep in her corrupted soul, struck the spider, freezing it in mid crouch, just as its own web glued Cowlflap in place.

They stared at one another across the several meter gap.

Cowlflap's smile widened into a grin as she unlimbered her pickaxe. “Come to Maximom, I have something for you.” The odd timbre in her voice was hardly enticing, even for a lack-brained spider.

“After this we need to go back to town, and write a proper job offer,” the nagging voice returned as the spider struggled against the alien cold to try, in vain, to claim its dirty, green-haired, squeaky morsel.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Wood Frog

Greetings Cogswaddle,

              Although I don't remember much of my living, and can remember nothing that would cause it, I do remember that the Darkmoon Faire -- unsettles me. The striped tents, the worn wagons drawn by even more worn beasts, the smell of the confections and the greasy treats, undigested beer mixed with vomit and sawdust, all of it conjures in my soul an uneasy dread. I don't know what possessed me to stop at the base of Thunderbluff.
              Perhaps it was the faded paper tickets that had been thrust into my hand as I collected my supplies for another trip into the wilderness. Perhaps it was to face some deeply buried element of my past before setting out in an attempt to make my way as a mage. Perhaps I was trying to purge an irrational fear and prove my growth in understanding to the Earth Mother and her champions here. Though, really, how would they know if I merely shuddered and rode past?
              Perhaps I needed some diversion from the constant struggle to improve my skills so that I might be strong enough to strike at the Scourge while there are still Scourge left to strike. (I have heard that our champions are daily making progress on their assault of the Lich King's citadel.)
              I suppose it does not matter why, but I stopped. It may seem odd to you that I would spend hard coin on treats and drink when everything tastes like shredded pasteboard and ashes, but due to some quirk in my unmaking, I still retain my sense of smell. I would propose that it is better than when I was living, though that may be just a delusion due to the lack of intensity of my other senses. I cannot, for example, feel "wet" nor "fluffy" and the concept of something being "rough" or "smooth" fades into nothing but a technicality or a memory. I can feel the tug of every single stitch that holds my patchworked flesh together, but can't tell if I am standing on grass, or glass, in fluid or fire.
              The Faire had not really gotten underway, there were few customers and the barkers were not yet into their full fervor. There was still plenty of activity, most provided by a young orc lad who looked to be "wound full up" as The Cogswaddle used to say. He dissipated some of his energy by banging forcibly into my shins.
              "Frog, mister Mage?" he grinned up at me, not the least apologetic, and oddly, for a child of any race, completely unafraid. "They make great familiars, once you get them trained, you know."
              I looked down at his all too earnest face, and realized, I was smiling. I don't think I've smiled in, well, I don't know how long.
              "Let's see these frogs," I muttered before I could stop myself. No living pet, even the gigantic cockroaches favored by some (a word is scratched out here) of my kind, had ever expressed any desire to remain in my company.
              "I have two kinds, but this one is kind of rare, especially around here. I think he's all the way from Felwood."
              "Felwood's not," I stopped myself from pointing out that Felwood was not really all that far away, "a pleasant place for a child such as yourself." With a start I realized that I had sounded like my father. I have little memory of him now, really, just that simple awareness. I think he would have been quite disturbed to know his personality were being carried forward by such as myself.
              "I didn't get him myself. I only get to hunt for the local frogs." He frowned, then looked at me like I might be crazed, and then in the space of a single blink was the solicitous and friendly salesman again.
              I knelt down to look at the frogs in their cages. Both of them, in amphibious synchronization, slipped to the back of their cages.
              "I don't have much luck with animals..."
              "They hop, they swim. They make funny sounds, too. They're easy to take care of, they eat bugs like the ones that always gather around you guys. That makes them pretty loyal."
              I really don't care to think much on my insect entourage. Many Forsaken have one, especially "fresher" ones. I was quite surprised at the number of different insect species that want to use one for a home or nesting ground. The Cogswaddle would have been fascinated.
              I've worked hard to keep my flesh stitched up with fresh supple leather. It keeps my insides in and, more importantly, the outside, out. It took me quite a while to work the bugs out. Well, most of them. I still find brain worms, but I have a theory that they come from another realm entirely. You might not believe how difficult it is to sew patches to some places on your body, try it some time, you'll see.
              Apologies for the digression.
              The frogs were obviously terrified of me, of their tiny prison, probably of the whole faire environment. I pulled out a couple of gold coins and bought them both. There are woods near Stone Bull lake. Freedom is most appreciated by those who've lost and then regained it. You should try it some time.
              I strolled the grounds with my pair of cages. The frogs sat in choreographed motionlessness, silent, terrified, and I imagined, with increasing hunger. By chance I wandered near what I took for a speaking cannon.
              "Down here, Patches," the squeaky voice piped from below the cannon's stand. "Whew! you're a..." I heard her sniff delicately. "A proud owner of stinky frogs. Eww."
              It took a moment to discover the actual source of the voice. A female Gnome. I don't know that I have ever seen one so close who was not festooned with knives, and trying to kill me. I think that may be true even when I lived in Stormwind.
              "They're frightened, I'm going to take them to the lake and let them go."
              "That's a darned site better than being eaten, I suppose. Hop in!"
              I stood, silent as my scaly cargo, eyes probably as wide. Though how one would tell through the necromantic glow of the enchanted fungus that fills my sockets, I can't really say. I hadn't actually thought of eating them up 'till then.
              "It's a carnival ride, aimed right at Stone Bull Lake, sort of, wind willing and you get your timing right." Her voice faded and got much faster, "the Dark Moon Faire is not responsible for injuries acquired while participating in this game, enter at your own risk, your experience may vary, not all participants are winners, or even survivors." She smiled and gestured at the ladder.
              I looked around. Fortunes were being read, games played, winning handfuls of tickets exchanged for prizes. No one spared us more than a cursory look. I can always cast slow fall, I rationalized, and this was bound to be faster than walking all the way there. I climbed the ladder and handed the frog cages to the Gnome. She held them down wind at arm's length while I settled into the cannon, making sure I was solidly footed on the thin pad that separated me from the charge below my feet.
              "I haven't killed anyone yet," the Gnome smiled as she handed me the caged amphibian lumps, "at least during the launch phase. Try to cancel the spell just before you get to the target or you'll overshoot. Go too far and you mightn't even land in the lake. Good luck!"
              "Is 'mightn't' even a real word?" I had the hazy memory that The Cogswaddle had made up his own words, too.
              Before I could ask if all Gnomes did that, she gave an affirmative squeak and then yanked on the firing mechanism.
              My vision blanked momentarily and I found myself spinning through the air, the cages clutched to my chest. I arced up into the sky over Mulgore, and realized that my "wings" were little more than a slow fall spell with a fancy glamor.
              I laughed.
              I held the cages at eye level as we sailed through the air, "Down there will be your new home." They didn't seem too excited about it. Both creatures had their eyes tightly shut. I tripped the latches to their cages and let the little doors fall away.
              It looked like I was headed for some trees, so I decided to use my own spell to make sure I made it over the lake in one piece. Unfortunately, I was too focused on the frogs. The spell triggered, and I enchanted the frogs. (Go ahead, laugh. I do.) The target sped by underneath, it had been hidden by the trees and I had been too distracted to see it. The wings vanished and I found myself dangling from the cages. It tipped the opening up and the cages, as well as myself, slipped away from the all ready too abused frogs. Each of them spread their legs wide, slowing their fall even further. They began to make swimming motions, a spastic but still synchronized aerial amphibian ballet. I admit, I laughed.
              The ground raced at me from far too far away. I entered another stand of trees at much too high a velocity to expect any sort of comfortable landing.
              There was much snapping and crunching, and everything went black for a while. I was wondering if this was it. I'd survived my youth, my apprenticeship, sewing vestments for the Silver Hand, the Plague, death, slavery to the Scourge, the Barrens, the rites of the Earth Mother, to what? Fall to my final death while trying to free a pair of terrified frogs?
              Just as I was beginning to accept the concept of spending an eternity surrounded by the sounds of the forest and the scent of pine sap, my eyesight and my sense of feeling returned.
              "Ouch. That's going to leave a mark." The Cogswaddle's phrase escaped, deadpan, just as he'd always said when receiving some small injury. I smiled again. Save for my inability to move, my awareness of a hundreds of popped stitches, the unnatural, even for me, angle of my legs and arms; I would have said the day was shaping up nicely.
              I felt something land on my chest. A large spotted frog turned to face me. It's large eyes, with their bifurcated pupils blinked once. It was disconcerting that they didn't blink together, the left eye lead the right by a mere fraction of a second. The beast's nostrils flared, and its ping tongue lashed out. If I had eyelids, I'm sure I would have blinked too late. I felt a sticky pull from above my brow, and the tongue recoiled, a fat brainworm stuck, wriggling, on the gluey tip.
              "No, that's mine!" I tried to shout, but it rolled out of my mouth in the same deadpan as earlier. Now I really had to consider eating the damnable frog, if I could catch it.
              I watched as part of my life was swallowed whole by my green spotted assailant. I watched, as the wriggling lump of memory rolled down the amphibian's throat.
              The tree frog inhaled deeply, and froze.
              His pupils swelled, completely crowding out the golden green of his irises, only a thin grey line bifurcated each black orb.
              I groaned. How would I ever know what I lost? I knew only that I had lost... something.
              The frog inhaled again, without, it seemed, exhaling first. His throat swelled into a round ball nearly half his size. I felt the stirring of the Nether, a weaving together of the fabric of reality and will. The Wood frog's eyes locked onto my own and then he began to croak even as my own groan died in my open mouth. The ratcheting call echoed in my own windpipe, amplified, tuned oddly between the frog's extended croak and my own groan. I saw and felt the thick purple miasma of memory flow from the wood frog to me.
              The party had gone on for some time, and little clumps of guests had broken off to carry on their discussions without interruption by others nearby, an interesting combination of courtesy and isolationism at the same time. I looked up to see a pretty young woman and a handsome young man hurrying towards me. It was as looking in a mirror, but not. My twin brother, Benton, was more focused on the young woman than myself, as, to be honest was I. We three had been friends since we were small. Only recently had that friendship taken on a sort of otherness that was both heady and frightening at the same time.
              The woman reached out to take both my hands. My brother's face darkened.
              "Fenton, have you seen Lizzie, we've misplaced the birthday girl."
              "Yes, perhaps you could round her up for us," my brother added, placing his hand on the young woman's shoulder.
              I pointed over to the group of Clerics in their Embroidered Tabards (knowing that we could have done much better,) "She's talking to the priests about their order, though I think she's a bit young to be recruited, she's the only one who seemed to be interested."
              "Thank you," the young woman brought both my hand to her lips and kissed my pinkie, I relished the touch of her dry but soft lips on the back of my fingers. She ducked under my and brother's hands and sped off to round up her sister.
              My brother muttered, "thanks," and turned to race after the young woman, taking her arm when he drew even to her.
              I knew then that our days of carefree youth were just about over. I knew it with a certainty that startled me. I vowed to pull back from their relationship, to let it develop as it would, and it felt right to do so, but still, my heart clenched in my chest and I felt an irrevocable loss. My brother turned at that moment and I raised my glass to him and smiled my widest smile, filling it with every bit of filial love I could muster.
              The woman's younger sister spun briefly out of the crowd wearing one of the priest's shields and wielding a lamb shank like a mace. Meat flopped against the bone and grease flew. The dodging group burst out laughing. My brother turned towards the laughter, his own smile fading even before his face left my view.
              "Lizzie, what are you..."
              "It's my birthday, and I'm learning to be a Palindrome."
              "Paladin," one of the priests laughingly corrected her.
              "She's going to be a powerful one, too," another piped in.
              "Just look at her form."
              "I think she's showed off her form enough for now, it's time for cake." My brother snatched the lamb shank and whispered something in Lizzie's ear.
              I could see the droop in Lizzie's shoulders, but she straightened right up and announced "Time for cake, everyone!" She handed the shield back to one of the clerics.
              My brother headed back to the main table with both sisters on his arms.
              The cleric with the shield stopped in front of me, his companions in echelon behind him. I found the military bearing of these priests comforting, even attractive. I understood why Lizzie was impressed. "We didn't mean to make a disturbance..."
              His young face was earnestly concerned that they had overstepped their bounds. I smiled at him. "Lizzie is Lizzie, always will be. No harm done."
              "Seriously, she's a natural."
              "She's been training," I explained, "But don't mention that to anyone, it's supposed to be a secret." I remembered catching her sparring with a couple of the local militia who'd come to our shop for uniforms and insignia. I'd agreed to help Lizzie out by asking her to run our orders out to the tiny militia outpost a couple of times a month. Those trips took considerably longer than her other deliveries, her sister thought it was because she had a suitor, and I let her think so. I knew that Lizzie's only suitor would be battle, beneath her carefree exterior was a burning desire to set things right, to avenge the deaths of her parents.
              "Ah, I see," The cleric smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. "In time perhaps she'd like to come to Lordaeron to finish that training."
              "She just might." I reached out and lifted his tabard into the light. I looked at the rough embroidery of the silver hand. "Come by our shop later, I have some things to show you that I think you'll like."
              "Thank you, I will." Even in the fading light of the day, his eyes were a shocking light blue, I could almost see the Light spilling out of them.
              "Fenton, get over here! What sort of host are you?" Lizzie shouted from behind the head table. She was almost dancing, up on the curb of the canal, knife in hand, ready to cut. It would be a miracle if she stayed dry the whole evening.
              "Come, friend, there's cake," I clapped the cleric on the shoulder, and we made our way to the table.
              The memory faded, save I know that Lizzie did not, in fact, manage to stay out of the canal that night.
              I heard the echo of the ringing croak fade in the forest. The tree frog's left eye lid lowered slowly, its right eye still focused on my own. The left eyelid opened slowly to reveal a pupil shrunken to normal size. This was followed by the same slow closing of the right eye, and the same slow reveal of a perfectly normal frog's eye. The frog inhaled, but did not move save to relax its front legs and lower its chin to my chest.
              I sat there, a broken patchwork doll, knowing that I have, a twin named Benton, and my own name had been Fenton.
              Fenton Threadneedle.
              Of Stormwind.
              Who, with his brother, owned a fine tailoring and embroidery shop along the rebuilt canal.
              Who watched his brother court and marry their childhood friend (part of the line is scratched or torn out.)
              Who travelled to Lordaeron to make vestments for the Order of the Silver Hand.
              Who is long dead.
              When I could move again, I placed the frog in a protected pocket of my robe and limped back to Thunder Bluff.
              P.S. It has been two days; the frog has not fled. I choose to take this as a hopeful sign. Of course, I have been wrong before.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Paladin

              Meteorus crested the small rise overlooking the cave entrance. He rolled the strip of heavy leather from the soft belly of the dragonkin, wondering idly if it would provide an extra level of protection when used to patch his own rotting flesh. The ringing sound of a hammer striking home caused him to turn, a few more stitches in his back popped from the sudden movement. He groaned inwardly, the stitching on the patches on his back were always hours worth of effort to replace.
              The warrior spun to meet a pair of oncoming dragonkin. His noisy attack had attracted the attention of the ordinarily haphazard patrols and soon the lithe spinning figure was surrounded. "Cocky," Meteorus thought as he watched the deadly ballet attract even more participants. The warrior spun out of the crowd and placed his back to a nearby log, red hot and full of ash and embers. His armor was blasted and burnt, smoke trailed from his cloak, the sign of the Light burned bright on his shield. Meteorus' mind snapped back to a raging battle in a field in Tirisifal Glades, he shook off the vision, but the emotion remained.
              One of his knights was in danger! Unlike in the past, where he would have retreated with the rest of the baggage train, Meteorus now had the tools to help. Without thinking of his own safety, Meteorus tugged the folds of the nether into a wide spell, arcane energy twisted the heat from the air and large shards of ice and frost fell in a ring around the Paladin. The dragonkin who weren't able to directly reach the Paladin turned to face their new attacker.
              "Hmmm, should have seen that coming," Meteorus muttered before the freezing and running started in earnest.
              In the ensuing chaos of battle, Meteorus lost track of the paladin, until they found themselves back to back, finishing off their enemies. The Paladin stood, panting, healing himself. Meteorus stepped away and bound his own wounds. It was then that the Paladin began to speak, his words muffled by the faceplate of his helm.
              Meteorus knew he should understand the words, but that part of his brain seemed to be missing. He listened carefully. The tone was appreciative, and polite. The words, however, complete gibberish. The paladin turned to the face the opening of the lair. Meteorus turned to look with him. Meteorus nodded, and taking that as assent, the paladin charged into the cavern with a hearty roar. Meteorus stood a moment. Had, in the heat of the moment the Paladin not realized what Meteorus was? Was he just that focused on his quest?
              Combat was entered. Enemies were slain, a disused side chamber was cleared and both stopped to tend to minor injuries and replenish their mana reserves.
              The Paladin continued to chatter at Meteorus, who pulled his hood further down to cover his face. Meteorus nodded and grunted where it seemed appropriate, frustrated that the language, he was relatively sure, was something he had once understood.
              The closer they were to their goal, the more enemies the Paladin seemed to take on, running past occupied chambers relying on Meteorus' magic to slow and eliminate them. Meteorus felt the depletion of mana and tried to signal the Paladin to wait, but the holy warrior was every bit as berserk as an angry troll. With great regret Meteorus drained the mana from his bolt, and collapsed, weak and drained. He fought against the returning memories that spooled into his mind as the bolt of mana refilled. Not wishing to be lost in the random flotsam and jetsam of his past, he turned in place as the arcane fabric wove itself about him, trying to stay focused on...

              In the distance, on a small makeshift dais, Uther Lightbringer stood delivering a benediction to the knights of the Silver Hand kneeling before him, but not to him. They knelt, as did all of the baggage handlers, herbalists, tailors, blacksmiths and armorers who travelled with them, to honor the Light, to answer the call to fight back the undead hordes that were even now bearing down on the villages of Tirisifal Glades. In the baggage train, there was little hope of actually hearing Uther's words, but just being in the presence of their leader, sharing the same blessings as the Paladins who would face down great horrors wearing their armor and embroidered tabards, carrying their banners, fortified with their potions and meals, was enough. Not Meteorus' hand, a human hand, young but callused at the fingers and thumbs, reached out to urge calm on the jittery green-haired gnome who fidgeted next to him.

              "Seamstress," the Gnome whispered.

              "Garden Gnome," Not Meteorus responded.

              Meteorus groaned. There was no sign of the Paladin, and three hulking dragonkin were bearing down on him. A sense of failure almost overwhelmed him. There was no witty banter, spell and counter spell flew, fire mixed with the ripping and tearing of arcane. Meteorus dodged and shifted, somehow managing to remain standing as his stitches popped and sang, his patched flesh tore from bone. Not knowing exactly how, the skirmish was won, but the Paladin was still nowhere in sight. Meteorus ran down the corridor into an uneven rock filled intersection.
              The Paladin lay unmoving between two guards who seemed to be listening rather intently to the silence now coming from the hole in the rock where Meteorus now stood. They stopped bandaging one another to look up incredulously as Meteorus, not their friends faced them. Meteorus said a few quiet words and obliterated them with a ring of fire before they could move to stop him.
              The halls were quiet, save for the crackle of flames from the black dragonkin. Meteorus walked to the prone figure of the Paladin, unsure of what to expect, but prepared for the worst. He knelt next to the man, reaching out to place his clawed hand on the Paladin's chest. He felt no movement through the battered plate, only the heat of life, or perhaps merely recent battle. Meteorus reached up and opened the visor.
              Meteorus froze. The Paladin was young, his face smooth and unmarred with high cheek bones and a strong brow. A short thin growth of stubble covered his chin. A rapidly drying sheen of sweat gave the peaceful face a beatific glow. The Paladin's lips were full and, as Meteorus watched, slightly parted to release a shallow thin breath. Meteorus sighed. The Paladin was alive. Meteorus watched the Paladin, hoping to see the unconscious Paladin's eyes open. His awareness shifted to the patched and clawed hand that framed the young Paladin's face.
              "No," he whispered. "You should never wake to the sight of such as I." Meteorus gently closed the visor and stood over the Paladin. There was no blood, light fairly poured around the man. Meteorus stepped back into the shadows of the intersection, ready to defend the Paladin until he might stir.
              Two patrols were dispatched and dragged into the darkness, where Meteorus removed choice strips of their skin. While their leather cooled in his pack, the Paladin stirred.
              The Paladin and Meteorus looked at one another across the intersection. Meteorus raised his mug to the Paladin and drank his conjured water, feeling the energies wind back onto the arcane bolt in his soul. There were no memories this time, only the heat and stink of underground and fire and blood. The Paladin lifted his visor to drink. His eyes were a stunning blue, and clear. He spoke quietly while he drank. From the redness on the Paladins wet lips, Meteorus presumed it to be some fruity concoction. He smiled to himself, wistful, wishing he could once again taste such tastes (which he once a mere few years ago dismissed as "girly.")
              The Paladin stood, and slapped his visor home. He turned and pointed down the main corridor. Racing off into battle. Meteorus finished his water, and walked towards the sounds of battle. They progressed, the Paladin taking on the hulking brutes who would block their way, Meteorus taking down the casters and those that would run for aid. Surprisingly, they fought their way all the way into the Ogre's former meeting hall. The Dragonkin were apparently not using the large room. The Paladin rushed in and triumphantly raised the Ogre's tattered battle standard. He gestured at Meteorus and spoke.
              It was maddening to not understand the Paladin. It was like listening to a person talk in a dream. Meteorus knew the words, he was certain of it, but they hung in the air, hitting a barrier in his brain and bouncing off to become the sort of gibberish that if one could wake, one could understand, or so he felt. It was obvious that they had shared the same goal, and Meteorus smiled. The Ogres would have their battle standard, and that was what mattered.
              The Paladin fussed with the standard a bit, finally getting it tied to his pack. The banner waved behind him as he raced out of the caves, barely stopping to attack the dragonkin that followed on his footsteps. Meteorus made sure that none would return deeper into the cave system to call for reinforcements.
              Outside the caves, on a hill, the sun began to break through what Meteorus had assumed to be permanent cloud cover. The Paladin turned to face the sun and called forth his mighty charger. Meteorus walked over to a ragged saddle that looked like it sat on a pile of bones and discarded tack and harness. The Paladin turned to look at him. Meteorus whistled, Bluebell, the pile of bones, tack and harness, stood up under him, she rattled and clacked. Where the Paladin's warhorse shone of the power and purity of light, a purple miasma of leaking necromantic energy surrounded Bluebell. Meteorus noted that their barding, the blankets, was the same plaid of the holy orders of Lordaeron. The Paladin's horse's barding was gleaming as if fresh from the laundry. The same pattern hung limp and tattered and faded from Bluebell. The Paladin's mount nickered and shied a few steps away before the Paladin could bring it under control. The Paladin's gaze never left Meteorus. It was as though, now out of danger, the Paladin had looked at him for the first time.
              Meteorus clicked one clawed hand gently along the exposed spine of Bluebell's neck, and with his other pulled back his hood so as to erase the Paladin's obvious confusion. There was no mistaking the matted hair, the patchwork of flesh stitched to his face, one of the patches dangling to reveal a hole through which one could see molars. And his eyes, a custard gleaming yellow that even in the direct sunlight glowed with a sickly necromantic shimmer that was simultaneously bright and dark.
              Meteorus braced himself, but the Paladin merely sighed heavily and then looked towards the road. The Paladin kicked his mount into motion.
              Meteorus watched they young Paladin lean forward in the saddle, athletic and graceful at the same time. He had a momentary memory of a hundred such Paladins doing the same in unison, a memory, not an arcane bourne vision. Meteorus smiled. Bluebell responded to Meteorus's gentle nudge and raced after the Paladin, unable to keep up, as the power of the Light infused the bright charger's every step.
              "At least we won't get lost following that beacon."
              Meteorus stopped behind the Mudsprocket outpost. Bluebell collapsed into a pile outside the Library/Inn. Meteorus bantered with the Goblins a bit, allowing the Paladin to conduct his business with the Ogre in peace. Once the Paladin had left, Meteorus entered the outpost to pick up his few belongings, and to congratulate the Ogre on getting his banner back.
              The Ogre slapped Meteorus on the back, snapping the last few solid stitches holding his all ready damaged patches together. "Metal man say what great help you are. Now you two go deliver message to rest of dragons!"
              Meteorus pulled his robe taut to keep the oozing from his back to a minimum. "Sure, big guy, but first, do you know where there are a couple of mirrors I could use."
              "Mirror good idea, Little Mage not look so good." The Ogre gestured to his own face, indicated where Meteorus' cheek patch had fallen. "You got something on you."