File GSB-043: Alignment

Marvin found himself in a dark room. He was sitting on a chair, cold, hard, made of metal. His arms were tied to the armrests. His legs were also fixed in place. He tried to look around him, but even his Gnomish night vision was no match for the complete darkness that surrounded him. There was no sound either, just his own breath, his own heartbeat. He tried moving the chair, but it had been bolted to the floor. Should he shout out? Keep quiet?

He heard something starting to hiss, then a small “pop” as a gas candle burst into life. It quickly burned brighter and brighter, till Marvin blinked, unable to see anything beyond the circle of light on the floor. Someone spoke.

“Good day, Mr. Sprocket. I trust you are comfortable?”

“What?”

“Excellent. Now I assume you know why you are here, but just in case that is not clear yet, we want the operating principles to your water heater. You are going to tell us how it works, and how to build them.”

“Like hell I am! Get me out of here!”

There was a cold laugh.

“Mr. Sprocket, the only way you are coming out of this place is down the chute into the disposal facilities. If you tell us what we want to know, then it will be a quick and painless procedure. If you decide not to tell us, then it will not be quick, neither will it be painless.”

Marvin turned pale, and his teeth started to chatter.

“You’d kill me, for a bloody boiler?”

“Partly, yes. Though in truth, you have brought this upon yourself. You and your associates have unwisely decided to play hard-ball with Mr. Macehandle. As you should realise by now, Mr. Macehandle has been playing that game far longer than you have. I am afraid he is much better at it than you are.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is of no consequence. I am simply one of Mr. Macehandle’s employees, charged with the gathering of information. By any means, Mr. Sprocket.”

There was a slight noise, and someone stepped into the circle of light, though his face was still in the shadows.

“According to my observations, a Gnome shot through the head with a small-calibre handgun dies in three seconds, no more. That will be your reward, should you choose to cooperate fully. If you do not, then this is what will happen.”

The Gnome reached behind him and pushed a small trolley into the light, noiselessly. On it were a number of instruments.

“This pair of tongs, Mr. Sprocket, is easily capable of severing finger joints. If I am not satisfied with your level of cooperation, I will start by removing the first joint of your left hand. I assume you are right-handed? Good. I would not want you to be incapable of signing anything. To avoid you bleeding to death, I will then cauterise the wound with this soldering iron. On your left hand, Mr. Sprocket, you have twelve joints. I have rarely needed to proceed to the other hand to ensure results. I will leave you a while to ponder this. I will return in an hour.”

There was the sound of a door closing. The light went out.

It’s often said that when you are deprived of sight, your other senses sharpen. That is actually a myth. You don’t hear better, you just pay more attention. To Marvin, the small scratches at the door were as loud as explosions. There was a click, and the door opened, silently. A tiny light appeared in the opening and floated towards him. As it drew closer, Marvin could see the pale face of Nix.

“Oh shit. Oh shit. Mr. Sprocket? What have they done to you?”

“N-nothing yet, lad. Please! They’ll be back within the hour.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Sprocket,” said Nix, opening the restraints. “Now I can’t get you out now, because I can’t sneak you past the guards. I just need to hide you somewhere and we’ll bust you out.”

Nix led Marvin up through a long corridor. At the end was another door. Putting a finger on his lips, Nix listened at the door, opened it. he waved Marvin on. A few moments later, they were both in a broom cupboard.

“Right,” said Nix. “This’ll do. I’ll get Mum, Dad and Trixie and we’ll have you out of here in no time. Don’t move, sit tight. I’ll be back.”

Marvin gave Nix a short nod, sat down and pulled some empty bags over him. Nix left.

“Alright, family. We know where Marvin is. There’s about a half dozen guards between him and us, and we’ll need to put them out of action. Not permanently, I hasten to add. Strictly non-lethal methods must be used at all times.”

“Yeah,” said Nix. “Killing the extras is bad form.”

“Not only is it bad form,” said Griggin, “But they have nothing to do with us per se. We will not allow innocents to be killed on our behalf.”

Trixie snorted. She was checking her sword for imperfections. A shortsword for use in cramped quarters.

“These guys, it’s going to be hard finding something they’re innocent of.”

Griggin frowned. “Nevertheless, I want them all to be breathing after we leave.”

“What if it’s them or me?”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Lenna. For the occasion, she was using her staff. Though she had been trained in staff fighting, it was mainly a focusing device for her magic spells. She had her dark grey robes on, hood pulled up.

They crept closer to the back entrance of Macehandle’s storehouse. Two guards were in front of the door, and two more were patrolling. Griggin pointed.

“Nix, when the patrol moves away, can you distract the guards? Then, with them chasing you, we’ll get in the door.”

Nix looked. “Sure, dad. No problem. How do I get in?”

“Same way as before. We’ll meet up at the end of the hall.”

“Right,” said Nix. He looked round and grabbed a few pebbles for throwing. He grinned at the rest of the family. “Well, see you all inside. Try not to trip over your own feet.”

As they watched, they saw one of the guards suddenly look up, nudge his mate and draw a sword. Keeping about thirty yards apart, they advanced slowly in the direction Nix’ pebbles had fallen. Griggin waited till they had rounded the corner, then held up three fingers, two, one… They all ran forward, opened the door and moved inside.

Trixie’s eyes were shining. “So far, so good,” she said.

“Shh,” whispered Lenna.

Keeping as quiet as they could, they moved to the end of the hall, and found a dark corner to hide in, in one of the offices. After ten minutes or so, Nix joined them.

“They fell for it,” said Nix. “Not sure I can pull the same trick again, though. They’ll call in some of their friends.”

“We’ll deal with that when we have to,” said Griggin “Lead on, Nix.”

They crept on, out of the storehouse office space and into the storehouse proper. Crates of goods were stacked high by cranes. Trixie looked round. For the occasion, she’d borrowed one of Nix’ leather suits of armour, because chainmail was not the best you could get for stealth. It wasn’t very good. It was a bit too large for her, and still it pinched in places.

“If we’re going to do this more, I’ll get some leather armour made for girls,” said Trixie.

Nix glared at Little Sister. Let me explain. We’re sneaking. That means no bloody noise. He said nothing.

Griggin frowned. “Quiet now. Light ahead.”

There was a small wooden structure ahead of them, a canteen for the use of the storehouse workers’ lunch and coffee breaks. Nix drew close to his father, and whispered.

“Two Gnomes. One chain, one plain clothes. I suppose the plain clothes one is going to work on Mr. Sprocket, with help from Chains.”

“Not if we have anything to say about it, said Lenna.” Her usually friendly face was hard as stone as she looked at Griggin. “Does the moratorium against lethal force also apply to torturers?”

Griggin took a deep breath, then pulled his mind back to the here and now.

“It does. We want only to extract Marvin. Other objectives could jeopardise that.”

Nix nodded. “I’ve left him in a side cupboard in the basement. Hatchway is outside the canteen. I’ve oiled the hinges, so it should be quiet.

“Good,” said Griggin. “Move out.”

With Lenna and Trixie standing guard, Griggin and Nix carefully opened the hatch down to the basement. They all slipped in and closed the doors behind them. The lights were off, and Nix pulled out his glowing chip of Un’goro crystal. By its dim light, they could just about make out the corridor. Doors opened left and right. Some of the doors were heavy refrigerator doors, others were normal wooden double doors for goods that needed to be kept safe. Marvin had been in one of the refrigerators, presumably because the refrigerators were also sound proof. Nix pointed at one of the wooden doors.

“Everybody, hide there. Trix, don’t draw your weapon unless you need it. It shines. I’ll go fetch Mr. Sprocket and bring him here. Then, we all move out.”

Nix lifted his crystal so people could see his face.

“Whatever you do, sit tight unless someone spots you. Become the dark. Don’t move. Don’t speak. Don’t look at people’s faces because your eyes shine. Got that? Good.”

Nix hid away his crystal, and darkness became absolute. With a whisper, he was gone.

Nix opened the door to the cupboard where he had left Marvin Sprocket. In the quiet dark space where Rogues were in their element, his breath was a loud noise, and the small noises he made as he tried to push himself into the wall sounded to Nix’ ears like a cave-in.

“Mr. Sprocket?”

“Nix?”

“Shh. The rest is here. We’re going to get you out of here. We have the muscle to overcome the guards now. I’ll take you to them, and then we’ll…”

Nix looked round. Behind him, a bright blaze came through the cracks in the door, and he could hear voices.

“Still don’t understand why you didn’t let me rough him up a bit. Show him we mean business.”

“I think he already knows that. I don’t think I’ll even have to touch him for the desired result. Please refrain from telling me how to do my job, Mr. Macehandle.”

Nix frowned in the dark. Macehandle? That could only mean… Grog? He sneered. Of course. Only natural that Young Grog would be entering the company’s employ. Next to him, Marvin’s breath became shallow, and shaky. Nix pulled out his crystal, held it up to his face and put his fingers on Mr. Sprocket’s cheek. He looked round to him, and Nix put a finger on his lips. Quiet. He looked back at the door. Within a few seconds now, they would notice that Mr. Sprocket was gone. They would realise he’d had help. They would call in their friends. Unless we stop them.

Griggin put his hand on Trixie’s arm as she grabbed the hilt of her sword.

“Wait,” he whispered.

They could hear voices in the other room, arguing. Then someone came out.

“Well, I’m getting the guards. Do I have to explain to you what will happen if he gets away?”

There was a soft noise, and a thud. Then, Nix’ voice.

“Help me close the door!”

Griggin and Trixie rushed out to find Nix as he threw what of his weight there was against the door. Despite this, it was starting to open Someone’s hand could be seen round it. Quick as lightning, Trixie drew her sword, and rapped on the Gnome’s knuckles with the butt end. There was a yelp from inside and the hand disappeared. They all threw themselves against the door and managed to close it. From inside, faint noises could be heard. Nix grinned.

“Isn’t it nice, how you can’t hear people scream inside that room?”

There was a whimper from the other end of the corridor.

“Easy, Marvin,” said Griggin. “We’re going home.”

Marvin glared, and said nothing.

“I think the time for stealth has passed,” said Griggin. He grabbed one of his soul-shards and summoned Hurzag.

“Hurzag, do not attack, unless I say. Trixie, you’re on point. Nix, stay with Marvin. Lenna, stay with me. Marvin, stay between us. We’re going to run out. Let nothing stand in our way. Non-lethal attacks only. Move!”

Trixie drew her sword, then looked down on the still form on the floor. Her jaw dropped.

“Grog?”

She frowned, and kicked him in the ribs where he lay.

“If it wasn’t for you, you bastard, we wouldn’t be here.”

“Trixie! Stop that. Now move!”

They drew together in a tight formation, Hurzag in front, and pushed their way out of the door. Trixie slammed it behind them, and they ran. Lenna turned round. Raising her staff, she cried out and a large ball of fire engulfed the door.

“That ought to keep them in for a bit,” she said.

Griggin grabbed her arm and pushed her along. “More than one door? Keep moving.”

With inspired speed, the Steambenders, Marvin in their midst, ran.

Lenna had found a kettle and made tea. Since the arrival of the coffee maker, they didn’t often have tea anymore, but Marvin seemed to drink little but, and he was definitely in need of something to calm his nerves.

“Any milk, Mr. Sprocket?”

Marvin looked at her as though she was speaking in tongues. Lenna spotted the cold-box, put milk in Marvin’s tea and pushed the mug into his hands. Marvin looked at it as though he’d never seen a mug of tea before. He hadn’t stopped shaking yet.

“T-they were going to kill me!”

Trixie grinned. “Not with us on the job, they aren’t! Go us!”

Marvin slowly, carefully took a few sips of tea. Griggin stood in front of him, looking at his bearded face, worried.

“Are you alright, Marvin?”

Marvin took a few deep breaths, and his face turned red. With a sudden motion,he threw the mug of tea across the room. It shattered on the wall, tea dripping down.

“No, I’m not bloody alright! What the hell do you think?”

“Marvin, you’re safe now. We got you out.”

“Safe, am I? What if the bloody Macehandles try to grab me again?”

Griggin put his hand on Marvin’s arm. “We won’t let them.”

Marvin slapped away Griggin’s arm.

“Stay away from me! What the hell is wrong with you people? Don’t you bloody stop to think ever?”

“Eh… what?”

Marvin’s eyes blazed at Griggin.

“Before I met you, I had exactly two worries in the world. Not to blow up any of my contraptions and try to keep my partner mostly sane. Now this evening I spent with some horrible bastard who wanted to, wanted to, cut my bloody fingers off and then shoot me in the head after I’d told him how to build a bloody kettle!”

“Well, we got you out,” said Nix. “You’re welcome.”

Marvin slowly looked round at Nix.

“May I remind you, Nix Steambender, that it was you people who got me in this trouble in the first place?” He looked round. “Own up. Which one of you bloody geniuses thought it would be a good idea to play, as they call it, ‘hard-ball’ with Gorren Macehandle? Well?”

Lenna gave Marvin one of her cold stares.

“Gorren Macehandle sent his thugs here to steal your designs. He threatened my son, Mr. Sprocket. Nobody threatens my family and gets away with it.”

“No they don’t, do they? One of them is in the sodding graveyard, and the other is in the House for the Bewildered. Did it ever, in all these… adventures, occur to you borderline criminals to notify the authorities?”

Nix sneered.

“Yeah that would have been easy. The people guarding the storehouse were city guards. Macehandle owns them.”

Marvin stared at Nix, and his face turned pale.

“We were fighting the bloody city guards?”

Marvin put his head in his hands, stared at his feet.

“Oh by the thundering Titans. How am I ever going to work in this town again? How am I going to live here?”

Griggin closed his eyes a moment.

“Marvin. We will help you in any way we can. We will sort this out, I promise.”

Marvin looked up.

“No you bloody won’t. Get out of my shop, the lot of you. I don’t want to see any of your faces in here again. Do I make myself clear?”

Nobody spoke for a long, long moment.

“Get out!”

Griggin sighed, as he tied off the cover of the cart he’d bought. Inside was all that would fit of his house. A second-hand mechanostrider was in front of it. He’d bought it as a salvage job, and had managed to get it going again with many an hour of fiddly work. It would not collapse again, or if it did, it wouldn’t unfold again, but it would pull. The authorities had not been at their doors yet, presumably because they were busy elsewhere. It couldn’t last forever, though. Better to be someplace else. He opened the door and went inside. The house already looked like a foreign place to him. Empty spots where pictures had been, appliances removed, leaving connections sticking out for steam and gas. Lenna had made sandwiches, as their crocks and plates were already on the cart. They ate in silence. Griggin closed the door for the last time and dropped the keys in the mailbox.

“Too late now if you’ve forgotten anything people.”

“Pff,” said Nix. “I can open it if you want.”

Griggin shook his head. “No, you can’t. Let’s go.”

They got on the cart, and set off. It was a little way from their house to the exit. They were going to make for the Dwarf town of Ironforge. Presumably, Dwarfs would like hot water as much as Gnomes, and there was always something to do there for a competent engineer. Or at least Griggin hoped so.

They could see tunnel that led to the great elevator lying in the distance. It would take them up to the surface, and out. None of them had been on the Outside for a long time. Well. Nothing for it.

Just as they drew up to the entrance to the elevator tunnel, every siren in the whole of Gnomeregan went off at the same time.
Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: