Sunday, September 20, 2009

DRAFT: Terror on the Tram

Grommet Cogswaddle
Terror on the Tram

              Grommet Cogswaddle had managed to make enough profit on the skins she'd taken while running errands across the wilderness of Dun Morough to afford a room in Ironforge for a few days. She wanted to spend some time studying before making the trip to Stormwind to apply at the Arcane Acadamy.
              Unknown to Grommet, the Scourge had all ready arrived, eager to disrupt her classes.
              Grommet cut through the center of the central forge, she loved the sound of hammers ringing against the great anvil, the business of blacksmiths and engineers chatting as they worked, democratically sharing what they knew, offering improvements and suggestions. Despite being ruled by a king, the Great Forge was a meeting place that provided not only for technological development, but for political development as well. It was because of the community links forged here centuries before that the Dwarven Kings found themselves bound to a sometimes fractious and always raucous Senate.
              Finding herself amongst the history tomes in the Explorer's Library, Grommet mused that Dwarves would have a full on republic if they weren't so stubborn about their traditions, and having a king was certainly a dear tradition. She wondered when her own people would begin to demand a say in Dwarvish governance, as their own institutions had all but broken down in the collapse of Gnomeragan. Gnomes had adapted to their new alliance societies with mixed results. In the case of Ironforge, the society was republic enough to absorb the Gnomish political pressure and make it part of its own. In human lands, being small like human children was likely all that prevented a full crackdown by members of either the clergy or the sovereign's government. Human towns had counsels, whose job it was to provide requested resources to the crown, and, so it seemed, to beg for some return on those resources. That seemed to be about as far as democracy stretched in Stormwind. Grommet could not imagine how humans had put up with such unfairness for so long. (She did freely admit that central rule did have certain undeniable efficiencies that her own political system had lacked, particularly when it came to dealing with unexpected conflict.)
              Grommet's reverie was disturbed by coughing and hacking from a nearby table. A reader had collapsed, enveloped in a foul sick cloud. Grommet instinctively moved away. The reader rose, altered, a feral look in his eye. Guards arrived, but not in time to save a poor library clerk who'd been too absorbed in her own work to notice the change.
              Grommet left the library and looked around her. There were signs of illness everywhere, insects crawled about that she'd never remembered seeing before. Suspicious looking piles of crates oozed a miasma of diseased energy so thick that she could see it. She was startled to realize that not everyone saw the danger as people walked up to the crates, out of curiosity or stubbornness, she couldn't tell.
              “Stay away from those crates, there's something wrong with them!”
              “Mind yer own buisness, squirt!”
              “Just want to see where they're from and who they're going to. Sure are a lot of them.”
              Grommet could see that the writing on the crates was magical in nature, but nonsensical in reality.
              “This here crate belongs over in the War Quarter, I'll just take it there m'self, I'm gong that way any how.” A burly Dwarf hefted one of the crates and began carrying it, the miasma flowing out of the crate and into his mouth, ears and nose, un-noticed, as he made his way through the Great Forge to the War Quarter.
              “This is bad,” Grommet spoke aloud, though no one was listening to her. “I think I'll head to Stormwind early.” Grommet reasoned that the open architecture would be healthier. Another coughing fit broke out in the Library, this time, one of the guards. “I'd better hurry.”
              The griffin shot into the air, seeming glad to be leaving the place. Grommet clutched the saddle, grabbing hand fulls of neck feathers. The tighter she gripped, the steeper the griffin banked. Grommet realized that her tight grip was signaling the griffin that she wanted to go faster, so forced herself to ease up. The griffin's flight immediately smoothed out. She glanced down. Though many of the high places in Gnomeragan had no hand rails, none had been to be so high as this. Then she realized that rather than a solidly engineered craft with multiple safety systems, this was a living breathing being. She had no parachute.
              Grommet forced herself to look out to the horizon. She took to counting her coins to distract her from the flight. With a start, she realized that she shouldn't have taken the flight, she would barely have enough for her classes, especially if she wanted a tutor (and that seemed to be the fastest way for her to learn.) She would have to try to find a room other than an Inn.
              The griffin hovered over the landing area, unsure. Grommet had closed her eyes on their final approach, remembering that some of the griffins liked to weave through the guard towers before landing. She wondered only a moment why they weren't down yet; the landing platform was awash in combat.
              Grommet tumbled backwards off the griffin, and stayed low in the pile of straw until the scuffling moved away from where she hid. Grommet raced out of the landing area and across to the Mage Park and it's tower full of classes, tutors and tomes. The trade district was not as lively and open as usual. People were huddled in small groups, some even with every person's weapons ready and pointing outward. They eyed Grommet with suspicion as she ran to the Mages' Tower.
              Grommet studied well into the night, and one of the tutors mentioned the Blue Recluse being open for dinner. Several of the tutors and students wanted to take a break, Grommet wanted to go, but the fare there was far more than the dozen copper coins left in her purse would allow.
              “I have rooms in Ironforge, so I will just take the tram back.”
              “Be careful, things have gotten strange out there.”
              “I will.”
              The cobbled paths were oddly quiet, but the city itself was not. Guards ran past, on their way into the Trade district. Grommet decided it was a nice night for a stroll along the canal. The air was cool, fish jumped, the stars shone brightly over head, at least until she neared the Dwarven district. “Temperature Inversion,” she said to no one in particular, but it made her appreciate the continuous ventilation of Ironforge, powered of course by the heat of the Great Forge itself. “Out doors is highly over-rated.”
              Grommet made her way towards the Tram station, only detouring once to avoid a large conglomeration of people, people who were inspecting boxes and crates and finding that they weren't exactly where they were supposed to be, so they might just move them as a favor to who ever had tried and failed to deliver them properly.
              “Ugh! I think I got some on me!”
              Grommet turned the corner to see a young mage and a hard looking woman shooting disgusted looks at the miasma cloud around a large cockroach.
              “Let me clean that up,” the woman said, and with a few gestures Grommet recognized from her own father's healing skills, cast a spell on her young friend, then on herself. “We need to see if anyone else has been infected, this could be bad. Let's stop for my armor.”
              The young mage looked nervous, “Does this mean our evening is over?”
              “No, just that this will be a working date.”
              The young mage sighed, the sigh of a man who knows he's not getting any.
              Grommet scurried past, a huge grin on her face. Human males had a delightful ability to look imminent disaster in the face, and immediately think of something else, usually women. She liked the woman's practical approach, it was very Gnomelike. The humans didn't acknowledge her as they moved by, all their attention focused on their new mission.
              Grommet looked at the ruined insect from what she hoped was a safe distance. She marveled at it's size, It looked like it had some sort of pale liquid sheen trapped between its body and wings. “It's a good thing they aren't more intelligent.”
              “Oh! I didn't see you there.” Grommet found herself facing a handsome young Gnome with a tall shock of red hair.
              “What's not intelligent?”
              “That,” Grommet pointed to the ruined bug.
              “Of course not, it's a bug.”
              “You're right, of course, but there's still something out of alignment here.”
              “Yes, well, I have a tram to catch.”
              “Me, too, mind if I come along.”
              “If you can keep up.”
              The handsome Gnome sprinted away.
              Grommet was left far behind. Until she stopped, huffing and puffing at the train platform.
              “I missed the Tram by that much,” the young Gnome held his hands barely a whisker apart.
              “You're just like my brother, insanely fast, but poor timing.” Grommet heard brakes squealing in her head as she watched the Gnome's face fall.
              “Did she really just compare me to her brother,” was written all over the handsome young Gnome's face.
              The two Gnomes stood in awkward silence waiting for the Tram. Grommet waited until the last second to board, making sure no one infected got on. As the tram pulled away from the loading station, Grommet moved to the front of the car, and the handsome Gnome stood a respectful distance towards the rear of the car. Grommet gave a little cheer, the tram always made her happy, its smooth and speedy progress inspiring in a deeply spiritual way. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hunched man shape launch itself from the refugee lined walkway onto the tram, and into their car.
              Three beings froze. Grommet struggled to remember a single spell, but before she could un-jumble the spells she knew from the ones she'd just learned, the creature had slammed the handsome Gnome against the back rail, knocking him flat instantly. Grommet squeaked and ran to the front rail of the car. Highly engineered safety systems kicked in, preventing her from leaping over into the next car. She turned, expecting to meet the same fate as her car mate. Frost danced on her fingertips. The creature sprayed a full blast of mucus like bile over her. Then was off the car before she could finish her spell.
              Grommet spent the rest of the trip sitting with the unconscious Gnome. Trying to clean herself off. She was still shaking when the Tram pulled into the station.
              “You need to get to a healer. We'll take care of this one.”
              Grommet looked up, and up at the speaker. An elf, clad in forest greens and her hair tightly contained in long braids pointed out of the Tram Station.
              “Where did the zombie go?” A plate clad warrior of the Argent Dawn asked.
              “He jumped off the train, way back before the lake.”
              The walking output of a steel mill rumbled something under his breath that Grommet didn't catch.
              Grommet felt confined by the large number of tall people who'd gathered around, so excused her self with a curt, “I feel fine, nothing a bath won't fix.”
              Grommet reached the anvil, and realized the anvil was silent, even the smithy's vendor was away, his barrels and crates of flux and coal unattended. Grommet's belly soon felt like loose oil senders rattling against the insides of a crankcase. “I think I should find a healer,” She'd remembered seeing one by the Griffins, and not thinking anything of it at the time, believing it to be a recruiter or some such. A quick glance showed her that post was now empty. Grommet felt her cogs slip. There was no one in the forge, even the guards seemed to be missing.
              Grommet ran, the bank was always full, there would be someone there. “Healer, I need a healer!”
              “On the balcony at Stonefire,” came the response.
              Grommet tossed a wave and a “Thanks,” out to the crowd, who watched her run off, some shaking their heads.
              Just a couple of hundred yards to the tavern, Grommet's sight faltered and she missed the door. Circling back, she raced inside, and up the stairs. Somehow, she was turned around in a crowd, the illness took on a life of its own, a voice seemed to call to her, encouraging her to give up.
              “No,” she said aloud and stepped into the room with the balcony. It was full of elves. White hair, purple hair. The healer was busy with them.
              Grommet saw that he would turn regularly and heal people out on the street below. She yelped, but he still did not see her.
              Grommet's vision faded and she tumbled back out of the room, and down the stairs.
              “I don't feel so well,” she said and clutched her stomach, the pain stopping her before she could reach the street and healing.
              The voice, it was calm, assured, but demanding. Grommet didn't like it. She lurched to her feet. A human and a Gnome were engaged in conversation at a table across the room. They stopped to look at her, they looked like, well Grommet hadn't eaten since she started her tutoring in Stormwind.
              “No!” Grommet shook off the feeling and staggered out into the street. “Balcony, it's not too late...” was what she meant to say, but only a strange gurgling came from her lips.
              A guard rushed at her, an instinct, from some other mind, kicked in and she parried and stuck the guard to the ground in a gooey effluent vomited from somewhere unholy deep in her body. The urge to bite, infect and move on was almost impossible to overcome.
              “I'm tall!” Grommet reveled in it a moment, looking down at the helpless guard.
              “I was going to put her out of her misery,” from a small feminine voice in the tavern.
              That was enough to kick what Gnomish personality was left into high gear and she turned to step out under the balcony, arms raised to the healer in supplication.
              Holy light ripped reality asunder and brought down its healing powers. Grommet didn't remember her father's healing powers burning so awfully, and that fact stuck in her head for some time after she stopped moving.
              How long she was out she could only measure by the continued conversation inside the tavern. Grommet couldn't really follow it, but there were strong arcane energies being tossed about, and that drew her back inside. Grommet crawled, unseen and tried to make it into a chair. She rolled out onto the floor at the feet of the mage, instead.
              “Are you okay?” the same feminine voice asked.
              Grommet wanted to shout “No!” at the reddish pink ponytails, but that was the same voice that had so disappointingly spoken about putting her out of her misery, she stopped herself. “I will be, thanks.” Embarrassed, Grommet stepped back out of the tavern. Baram had allowed her to clean up after one of her messier lessons, so she made her way next door.
              “Actually, you'd probably be safer in the tavern, there's some mighty powerful doings there, and not just from the Argent Dawn priest on the balcony.”
              “But, I almost threw up on them.”
              “Strange times, these, I imagine they've seen worse.”
              Grommet couldn't fault his logic and, after carefully checking the roadway, ducked back into the tavern.
              “Do you mind if I sit here. I'll be very quiet.” Grommet realized that she might have well asked them to protect her, but by now she just didn't care.
              “Please have a seat,” the bouncy pigtails motioned her to a chair.
              “Thank you,” and for some reason she curtsied to the work cloth clad woman. There was something commanding about her.
              Grommet sat quietly, sipping some tasteless conjured water and nibbling on some pumpernickel. Her trainers assured her that there wasn't some poor baker somewhere out of his mind because his goods kept going missing, but their explanations of what was really happening left a lot to the imagination. Whenever Grommet went to a bakery, she always made sure to tip well, just in case.
              “So, what's your story?”
              “I was attacked on the tram, even though I checked before I got on.” Grommet pouted at the memory, both fresh and somehow all ready ancient at the same time. She shuddered.
              “Tram jumping.” The human mage moved closer to the conversation.
              The pigtailed Gnome blinked, as though surprised and perhaps a little delighted to hear something she didn't know. “What's that?”
              “A kind of sport I heard about in my youth,” said the mage, sounding more familiar than just hearing about it, “people would move down the platform and then try to jump onto the moving tram.”
              “Why would they do that?” And though Grommet had the same question, she didn't voice it.
              “The challenge. It's sort of a sport.” The human stopped, realizing that both Gnomes were now ready to bolt down that conversational opening rather than talk about the attack.
              The questioning continued, and Grommet was surprised that the telling was so much longer than the incident itself.
              The two mages decided they must do something about it and prepared to leave. Grommet lost herself in counting her coins again, deciding that it might be worth it to spend the last of them on something stronger to drink.
              “Okay, lets go.”
              Grommet looked at the pigtailed Gnome, not knowing if she'd spoken to her (as her attention had all ready turned inward.) “Me?” she asked with a terrified look on her face. The pink-tailed Gnome shook her head.
              Grommet sat back down with a much relieved sigh. She thought to wave good bye, after they'd walked out the door. “Good luck, be careful,” she said to the nearly empty room.
              “You going to order something?” the bartender asked, but tenderly.
              Grommet shook her head.
              “I don't know what's worse, being attacked by zombies or being grilled by the likes of those,” the bar tender chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.
              Grommet knew. Grommet treasured the older Gnome's command of the interview. Though she felt like her cogs still skipped and slipped, Grommet felt much more aligned. It was good to know that the 'likes of those' were out there patrolling the city.


No comments:

Post a Comment