File GSB-044: Destruction

Vernon Sparkmantle looked out of the door to his house. Outside, every bloody alarm was going off. Cut them already, we get the message. Something’s up. The question was, what? Behind him, a tiny voice spoke up.

“Papa?”

“Shush, dear. Have to see what the noise is.”

“Magic?”

“Don’t know. Could be. Probably.”

Vernon looked over his shoulder at his young daughter, Bieslook. He made himself smile. His wife, part of the Light, would have had her in her arms by now, muttering those words that could always put her at ease. He looked out again. His breath stuck in his throat, and he slammed the door shut. Several large, burly individuals were roaming the pathways of Gnomeregan, no doubt intent on killing anything Gnomish in the place. Oh damn. So that’s what all this racket was in honour of. For such a commotion to be made of it, it had to be bad. Vernon winced. He was needed. He should be helping fighting the troggs with his fellow mages. He opened one of his window shutters a crack, and peered out. There were dozens of them. Hundreds! And they were going from house to house. He snapped the window shut again. It was only a matter of time. He didn’t dare look at Bieslook, for fear that she might catch on to his despair. What to do, what to do? Would anything he did make any difference?

Vernon took a deep breath. He walked into his bedroom, and opened his wardrobe. Deep down, in the back, there was the box. In the box were his old cloak, leggings, robes, shoes. All of it crackling with magic gems and enchantments. Back then, it had been the best that money and favours could buy. It was still better than most. Vernon shuddered as he put on the old familiar armour. Then, he put his fingers behind the wardrobe and pulled. Behind the wardrobe, stuck to the wall with duct tape, was his old staff. His fingers trembled as he took it. Looking at Iris’ grave, he had vowed never to take up this staff again in his life. He had been content simply to teach the various spells to wandering mages, but never again to use them himself. Not after what happened. As he looked at the old, dark wood in his hand, he felt the familiar tingle of power course through him. It gave him no comfort. It was not enough to battle this many enemies, but perhaps it would be enough to take Bieslook somewhere safe. Vernon closed his eyes.

“I’m sorry, my love,” he said. “But I have to.”

“What is that? Are the Guards after us?” Lenna’s eyes narrowed as she looked at her husband. “That’s a bit excessive isn’t it?”

Griggin jumped off the cart. “Get out of here. Get Nix and Trixie to safety. Make for Kharanos first, then if I don’t join you there tomorrow, head for Ironforge. I’ll find you.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Find out what this is all about. I’m going to the Warlock Circle.”

“Why? What have they done for you?”

“They kept me alive when I heard the whispers of the Demons for the first time. Trust me, I do not intend to stay here longer than strictly necessary. I simply want to find out what is going on. Now get!”

Lenna looked at her husband with moist eyes. She wrapped her arms round him, then kissed him.

“Just so you know. If you don’t show up in Kharanos, let alone Ironforge, I’m coming to look for you.”

“Understood. Now move before the children catch on.”

Griggin ran down the stairs to the Warlocks’ meeting place. These places were traditionally built underground, “to be closer to the Demon Worlds”, even though their relative positions had as much meaning to each other as the state of Gnomeregan to the state of despair. Still, Warlocks felt least uncomfortable in deep, hidden places. Chief Warlock Sindala was there, poring over maps of Gnomeregan.

“Chief?”

Sindala looked up.

“Ah, Griggin. Good you’re here. We’ve got a bit of a situation. You see, quite a large number of troggs have shown up all at once and we’re having a bit of trouble, well, killing them all. Could you see your way clear to applying yourself to this task?”

Griggin stared blankly.

“Where did they come from, Sir?”

“All over the place. It is a very well thought out attack, really. Started in the habitation area, and oil-slicked from there. Fighting has progressed in the direction of the industrial areas.”

Griggin stared. Oh damn. Marvin would be there. He’d be slaughtered if the troggs found him. Marvin would probably not be overjoyed to see him, but there was an important difference between being angry and being dead. Marvin had saved him from bankruptcy when he needed it most. Griggin owed him. He shook himself.

“Right. Heading to the industrial estate.”

Griggin approached the small workshop. It hadn’t been easy to get here, either. Hurzag stood behind him, arms crossed, saying nothing. Hurzag was under orders to slay anything that attacked Griggin. Griggin tried the door to the workshop, and it opened. He walked into the shop and shouted Marvin’s name. No response. He looked round the shop, which looked uncommonly tidy to him. It had been a complete shambles when Griggin first met Marvin, and one of the more useful things he’d done for him was to order things a bit. Griggin immediately spotted that several of the more expensive tools were gone. On the workbench was a large white envelope, with Marvin’s handwriting on it. “To Whom It May Concern”, it said. Griggin reasoned that he was quite concerned, and opened the envelope.

To whom it may concern.

By the time you read this, I will be long gone. I am sick to my stomach of the commercial environment and will pursue happiness elsewhere. Find enclosed the operating principles to the Optimal Prime line of water pumps and heaters, in the possibly vain hope that you will be content with this and leave me alone.

Marvin Sprocket

Griggin leafed through the sheets of paper. They were covered with alchemical formulae, drawings, lists of components, which crystals to use… in characteristic Marvin Sprocket style. It would take even Griggin hours to decrypt this. Any of the Macehandle lot would take years. Griggin sneered. Perhaps, that was the point. Marvin needed his headstart. Griggin sighed, and pocketed the envelope.

“Light speed, Marvin Sprocket. Well Harzug. Nothing more to find here. Let’s go.”

“I obey,” said Harzug.

Vernon Sparkmantle ran from hiding place to hiding place, with Bieslook hidden under his cloak. Her little arms were wrapped tightly round. and her head was on his shoulder. He was making for the exit. Wherever you looked, there were Troggs. They were anthropomorphic, he supposed. Arms, legs, one head each. They slouched, and most of them were sufficiently advanced to wrap their minds around the operation principles of, say, a club made of bone. This must be their big push, and things looked bad. First, get Bieslook safe in either Kharanos, Brewnall or some other such place. Then, he’d turn round and fight. Joining his fellow mages in the Gnomeregan Centre of Magecraft was out of the question. Too many enemies between him and it. He could take on ten, maybe twelve in one go. There were dozens of them.

He ran through a place where Troggs had already been, and pulled his cloak over Bieslook’s head. He didn’t want her to see. Corpses littered the floor, some of them Troggs, most of them Gnomes. He wished he could pull his cloak over his own head as well. One of the creatures was poking at the dead body of a Gnome woman, looking for the Light knew what. Vernon’s jaw set. He pointed his staff forward, and the familiar spells came as easily to him as they ever had. Bright shining arrows of arcane energy sped towards the Trogg. The creature bellowed, died. With tears in his eyes, Vernon ran on. Nothing he could do for the fallen. He looked at Bieslook’s face. Just keep this one safe.

“Papa?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“Are you scared?”

Vernon sighed, sat down and put Bieslook on his knee.

“A little, dear. We’re playing hide and seek with people who cheat.”

“They were poking people while they were asleep.”

“Yes, dear. They’re not nice.”

“Asleep like Mama.”

Vernon closed his eyes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children didn’t understand quite so much?

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to play this game anymore, papa.”

“Once we get to the big elevator, we’re done, sweetheart.”

They reached the Hall of Gears, without attracting too much attention to themselves. Vernon stopped in the hallway. Get through the Hall, up the corridors to the vast dormitories used by the industrial workers, then up, up and out. There was a problem. All through the Hall of Gears, creatures squelched. Vernon watched them in horrid fascination. They were a transparent green, like the dessert that Bieslook enjoyed so much. They slid along the floor, without legs, like monstrous slugs, heads bobbing back and forth. In their jelly-like heads, Vernon could see skulls. He gripped his staff tightly, and clutched his daughter to him.

“Oozes,” said Bieslook, wriggling in his arm.

“Yes,” said Vernon. “Let’s see if we can reach the other hallway.”

Trying to walk as quietly as possible, Vernon walked out into the Hall of Gears. He stuck close to the wall, and reached the other corridor, thankfully, without disturbing any of the oozes. In the corridor were a few sentries, wearing helmets that hid their faces. they were looking out into the Hall, weapons in their hands.

“Morning Sir,” said one of the sentries. “Just move along here. Any news?”

“Troggs,” said Vernon, curtly. “Lots of them. Got to get my daughter to safety, and then I’ll see what I can do.”

The sentry smiled at Bieslook behind the visor of his helm.

“Hello little girl. Out for a stroll with your daddy then?”

“Playing hide and seek,” said Bieslook. “For real. Troggs want to eat us.”

“Well, you just do what your daddy says, and everything will be alright.” The sentry turned to Vernon. “Dormitories should still be clear. At least, we haven’t had any bad news from there.”

Vernon only nodded.

“Light help us all,” he said. “Come along, Bieslook.”

Griggin completed his spell. Fiery stones stopped falling from above on a group of Troggs. Hurzag glided back to his side. A grim expression was on Griggin’s face. It had been a while since he’d expended so much energy. There were things he could do, involving Hurzag’s demonic energy, but he decided to wait a bit. Trading with demons usually involved pain. He shook himself, and ran up the corridor to the Hall of Gears, followed by his Voidwalker.

Griggin was on his way out. He’d managed to make his way back to the meeting place of Warlocks, to find Chief Warlock Sindala gone. The place was mostly empty of the equipment, papers presumably hidden in one of the vaults. Normal service would be restored after this bloody invasion. Griggin didn’t care anymore. All he wanted was to be back with his family. This whole trek back into Gnomeregan had turned out to be a complete waste of time, and a dangerous one at that. He sighed. Something was wrong with the quality of his decisions lately. Marvin was right. He should have notified the authorities as soon as he’d noticed his employer had vanished. The Gnomeregan Guards might not like Warlocks much, but that didn’t mean they would just allow people to be abducted. Though it occurred to him that if he’d waited for the authorities, Marvin might have been dead or wishing he were.

Griggin took a deep breath. There were strange acid smells in the air. Well, stranger than usual for this place. He searched his mind for things that smelled like that, but came up with nothing. He scratched his head, and got himself going again. No use standing here dithering.

When Griggin reached the end of the tunnel, he stopped, staring into the Hall of Gears. The place was one mess of green, squelching ooze. These oozes were normally found just where you wouldn’ find Gnomes. Places with high residual magic energy. Places with high radiation levels. Places that could kill you. Last time he looked, the Hall of Gears was not one of such places. Griggin was low on mana. He swore under his breath. Another stupid mistake. He should have brought potions. What was wrong with him these days? He closed his eyes, and shook his head. Nothing for it. Steeling himself against the pain, he cast a Warlock spell. It drew from his life force, and gave him mana. Normally when you did things like this, you had a healer standing by to repair the damage you did to yourself. Luxury. Here we go.

Hurzag hurled himself against all the gathered oozes, while Griggin blasted them with shadow magic. He staggered into the next hallway that the oozes for some reason were not willing to squelch into. Griggin didn’t care why. He took deep breaths. He’d had one lucky break. One of the oozes had apparently devoured some unlucky soul before he could drink a healing potion. Griggin, glad of whatever opportunity presented itself, had picked it up from the dead puddle of green slime on the floor. He cleaned the top of the square bottle as well as he could, then drank the potion in one long, slow draught. It gave him dizzy spells as his abused body did the healing work of months in one minute. Still, he was able to continue. Healing potions were never meant for subtle work. They got you back in fighting shape, quick. Hurzag, meanwhile, lurked in the shadows, restoring himself using his Demonic abilities.

“Keep moving, Hurzag.”

“Yes.”

Griggin and his Voidwalker ran up the corridor. He grinned. Ah. The tunnel defenders were still holding their ground. Good. He walked up to one of them.

“How are you, Gentlemen?”

The sentry faced Griggin. The helm he was wearing hid his face. It made his voice sound hollow, as he shouted.

“Incoming! Another one of those filthy Troggs! You have no chance to survive!”

Griggin looked over his shoulder, twisting round, hands raised for shooting. He was knocked over from behind, and sprawled on his face. Hurzag responded immediately. With one blow of his giant blue fist, he knocked the defender back. Griggin leaped to his feet. Hurzag was now fighting several of the Gnomish tunnel defenders. Griggin raised his hands, hesitating. They were clearly delusional. Hallucinating. What had happened to them? They would kill him unless he killed them first. Had he the right? Griggin took a deep breath, and screamed, a wordless cry of misery, anger. Anger at the world. Anger at himself. He raised his arms to the roof of the caverns where he’d lived all his life, and called forth his magic and his anger. Then, he unleashed it on those who would destroy him. He would sort out the morality of it later. His only desire was to return to his wife, his son and daughter. All other things were unimportant. He did not even look at the burnt corpses of the tunnel defenders as he ran along the corridor, up to the workers’ dormitories.

Vernon Sparkmantle slammed the dormitory door behind him, and rammed the bolts home. Then, he turned to the few Troggs that were already in the room with him. He pushed Bieslook behind a table, told her to stay there with a look and rushed out into the middle of the room. Troggs attacked him, but Vernon’s magical armour softened the blows, froze their limbs. He raised his staff, and shouted. A brilliant dome of light formed about him, and the Troggs cried out, then fell lifeless to the ground. Vernon stood in the middle of the room, shaking. Safe for now. The temporary aspect of that was emphasised by the sound of Troggs’ fists banging on the door outside. Vernon watched the door. It was shaking only a little, but it was shaking. He turned to Bieslook.

“Are you alright, sweetheart?”

Bieslook looked up into her father’s eyes.

“Are the Troggs going to win, papa?”

Vernon put his hand on Bieslook’s small head.

“Not while I can stop them.”

The banging on the door was heavier now. Perhaps they had brought a battering ram of some description. They knew he was in here. As Vernon watched the door, he could now clearly see it move. Outside, he could hear the paniced metallic voices of the automated sentries that roamed the place. Occasionally, they detonated, killing or wounding one, maybe two Troggs. They had not been designed for this level of hostility. He looked at the door again. It was only a matter of time. They would come in. They would kill him. They would kill Bieslook. Vernon closed his eyes. He had always known that Bieslook would, one day, follow in his footsteps as a mage. Already she could see the flow of energy that was part and parcel of Magecraft. She thought it was pretty. What he was going to do now, was against everything he believed in, but he had no choice. It was all he could do to give her a chance, however small.

“Bieslook? Close your eyes, dear. Papa is going to teach you something, for when you are afraid.”

He closed his eyes for a second, then planted the deadly knowledge within a child far, far too young to use it properly. If the girl would use it more than perhaps three times in a row, she’d kill herself. If she didn’t use it once, others would kill her. Vernon bit back the tears, and taught young Bieslook another spell, the dome of light he’d just used to clear this room.

“There. Now you must be very careful when you use them, sweetheart. Not use it too often. But when the bad Troggs come to get you, then you use it to blow them away.”

Vernon put his arms round Bieslook, and held her tightly, as if he would never let her go again.

“Now Papa is going to take care of the Troggs outside. When they are gone, go up, up and away. Find other Gnomes.”

“Are you going away, Papa?”

“I have to, Sweetheart. I have to draw the Troggs away from you. Remember, Bieslook. Papa loves you very, very much. Now hide. Don’t let anyone see you.”

Bieslook crawled under one of the beds in the dormitory, and Vernon gathered up his power. All of it. No point holding any back. His skin crackled with it, his hair stood up, and almost he felt his feet weren’t touching the ground anymore. The staff in his right hand hummed. This was a spell that they did not teach to anyone, not even the greatest Mages that visited. They called it Divine Wind. There would never be a more destructive spell in all the world. He walked up to the door, and pointed a finger at the bolts. They glowed first, then melted. The door opened with a bang, tossing Troggs back. Vernon cried out, and blinked. In a splintered second, his body disappeared, then re-appeared in the middle of the dormitory. There were about a hundred Troggs in the room, or maybe a hundred and fifty. Vernon laughed.

“Is that all? Call your friends! Let them all come!” Then, he closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Iris. I am so sorry.”

All round him, Troggs’ fists began to batter his magical shields. Vernon opened his eyes and glared at them. He took a final deep breath, raised his staff. He cried out in a booming voice.

“For Gnomeregan! Ten Thousand Years!”

The world went white.

Griggin ran. He’d left the bewildered guards behind, and ran through the lower part of the corridor, where normally great carts of equipment rolled to the Hall of Gears. Hurzag followed him close. Only a few more corridors to the Dormitory. He peered ahead.

As he watched, there was a fierce, white light in front of him. Two, three seconds later, the noise hit him. Griggin dropped to his stomach on the floor, put his hands over his head and screwed his eyes shut. Heat burned his back as the blast wave washed over him, then disappeared. He looked up. A few yards further, Hurzag was taking deep breaths of darkness, restoring.

“What in the world was that? Haven’t we had enough yet?”

Hurzag made no reply. Griggin leapt to his feet, nursing his scorched back, then moved forward again, a determined look on his face. He rounded one corner, then another. The corridors were empty, swept clean by… whatever it was. Griggin ran forward. The dormitories were clean. Empty. There wasn’t even any smoke. No bodies. Nothing.

“Anybody here?”

From one of the side-rooms, there was a terrified scream. Griggin didn’t hesitate a moment.

“Hurzag! Get in there! Slay all enemies!”

“I obey,” said Hurzag, and glided to the door, and through it, followed by Griggin. There was another scream, and Griggin’s eyes opened wide. With inspired speed, he jumped to the side of the door, as a monstrous stream of fire poured out of the dormitory, flew all across the hall, and smashed into the opposite wall. Hurzag cried out, shimmered and disappeared. Griggin looked up as the noise abated. The only thing he could hear now were the small sobs of a young girl, crying.

“Uh… hello? Can I come in?”

Making sure that he could leap aside at a moment’s notice, he walked into the dorm room. The quiet sobs could still be heard, coming from under one of the beds. He looked, to find the small form of a very young girl, four years, five at most. Very carefully, Griggin put his hand on the girl’s shoulder. She looked round to him.

“Papa?”

Griggin sighed, shook his head.

“I’m not your papa. Are you hurt?”

“Head hurts. Ow.”

“Come out here. I’m Griggin. What’s your name?”

He half dragged the girl out from under the bed and put her on his knee, gently jigging her up and down, like he’d done with Trixie, so many years ago, making soothing noises. He produced his handkerchief and wiped the girl’s face.

“Papa is gone to sleep,” she said.

Griggin stood waiting for the large elevator to come down, with Bieslook’s little hand in his. She had stopped crying, and was looking ahead with big dark eyes in her pale face. The elevator came down and Griggin and Bieslook stepped on. It reached the top, and they walked out together. Outside, the sky was blue, and they stood for a few moments, looking at the lands of Dun Morogh stretching out in front of them. Griggin knelt in front of the little girl.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes.”

Griggin smiled, pulled a small paper bag from his pocket and rattled it in front of Bieslook. She looked at him.

“Papa says I mustn’t take candy from strangers.”

Griggin nodded. “Your papa is right. So who can you take candy from?”

“Only from Papa, or people I know.”

“Hmm,” said Griggin. “How long before you get to know me well enough?”

Bieslook studied Griggin’s face.

“Don’t know.”

Griggin put the bag of sweeties back in his pocket, and ruffled Bieslook’s hair.

“Let’s go to Brewnall. Get something proper to eat. You can take that, can’t you?”

“Yes. Finish everything on your plate.”

Griggin laughed. He turned round and held out his arms.

“Want a ride?”

Bieslook got on. Griggin set off in the direction of Brewnall Village.
Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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