For The Horde. Part Four. World of Warcraft Fan Fiction
For the Horde. Part Four
Girin’s mind was an empty place, one of peace and voices. Girin Morogh had been born a full-grown dwarf, which, in as far as the company he kept was concerned, was not so terribly strange. The Darkmoon Faire took in all kinds.
At night, when his adoptive father Trk’hsk had taken his customary cup of honeymint tea and nodded off in his favorite armchair beside the glowing fire, Girin would look at himself in the old standing mirror Trk’hsk used in his potion stall.
How old am I, he would wonder? The healthy tone of skin bronzed under suns he’d never known suggested a dwarf in his twenties. His hair was fine and black as a raven’s wing, a dwarf’s traditional beard and mustache not even long enough to braid yet. But if he were still just a beardling, then his previous existence had been a hard one. Calloused, worn fingers traced scars he didn’t remember receiving. They criss-crossed the broad expanses of his chest and back. A curious patch of puffy skin on his left arm with the characteristic shine of a burn scar obscured what might once have been a tattoo. He knew it was just another clue to a life begun long before Trk’hsk had found him wandering the wilds of TerrokarForest, half-naked, suffering from a nasty head wound.
That was over a year ago, and the wound had long since healed into a white, knotted crow’s foot just above his left eye. That selfsame wound had earned the pity of the faire folk, who whispered that it had made Girin a simpleton when they thought he was out of earshot. “Always smiling, eager to please, only able to get out a few words at a time.” He knew that’s what they said.
Likewise, Girin knew the truth, if he could just voice it. Voices were the very problem. Too many voices, whispering nonsense in his head day and night. He could rarely get a word in edgewise.
Take heart in that you are not alone was the first thing to bounce through his skull when he awoke to the day’s business.
“Wish I was,” he grumbled, kicking off the hides of his field bed, and then went very still.
A slimy chill radiated from his chest. He cautiously raised his head. A sizable frog regarded him, vacant, goggling eyes meeting his. Both where they shouldn’t be, both existing for reasons they didn’t know; there was kinship there, of a sort. But the sounds of the faire already well underway could not be ignored.
Girin carefully set the frog aside, slipped into his breeches, jerkin, and hand-me-down boots, and left the tent with amphibious companion in hand.
Share your pain.
Trk’hsk had already risen. The old orc puttered around his stall, trying to interest a pot-bellied gnome with a tragic lack of chin and overabundance of nose in a tray of Underbelly Elixirs. As always, Girin took a moment to admire his father’s craft. Not his skill with potions; he didn’t actually know alchemy. With regular shipments from all over, he didn’t need to. His skill with customers with another matter entirely.
Trk’hsk walked with the aid of a giant’s femur scrimshawed in the Zandalar troll tribal fashion, powder-white hair hanging in an unkempt spray. Totems, runestones, and finger bones rattled with each trembling step from the ragged hem of his fake shaman’s robe, a crude copper amulet at his throat the only accoutrement he was never truly without.
It was genius. “Part of the experience,” Trk’hsk would say.
No one who saw him in costume would ever think him able to coldcock an orc warrior such as he had when the tax collectors came calling the week before. Now that Girin thought on it, there could be a link between the incident and the faire’s hasty relocation to their most recent clearing in TerrokarForest, just south of ShattrathCity.
“The spirits smile on our fortunate meeting, friend,” Trk’hsk was saying to the gnome, who looked around the stall’s hanging skulls (soapstone), deadly roots (turnips), bottles containing preserved specimens (pickled pork), and other decorative knickknacks with eyes the size of saucers. “It just so happens I came across a shipment of rare underbelly whelp scales from the distant RedridgeMountains yesterday.”
Trk’hsk produced a flask containing the dregs of whatever potions had been flushed down Dalaran’s sewers last week and flourished it before the entranced gnome’s face. A few drops of ink gave it the appropriate blue glow that was expected.
“And I pondered to myself, ‘who would have need of Underbelly Elixirs? Surely patrons of such refined taste and good humor don’t appear daily?’ And then you should grace my humble threshold!”
Your covers have all been established.
Glowing vial still in hand, Trk’hsk paused when he caught Girin waiting patiently out of the corner of his eye. He straightened, remembered he was in character, and hobbled over, begging the customer’s pardon.
Before greeting could be given, Girin held up the wayward frog, an unspoken question in his eyes.
“Oh,” Trk’hsk said. “Seems one of Flik’s stock got away from him again. Let me see.”
Scarred, strong hands took up the frog with surprising tenderness. He gave it a calculating look, then a good, long lick. The gnome customer paled as Trk’hsk smacked his lips.
He held still for a moment, then shook his head. “Nope. Not one of Flik’s; I can still feel my legs. Must be that damned pet of Morja’s she’s always pestering people after.”
Without family, clan, or ally.
“Jubjub,” Girin said.
The old orc’s deepset eyes and craggy brow widened slightly. He gave Girin an affectionate pat on the head.
“Good, boy. You remembered! Well done!”
He turned to rummage through the dubious contents beneath the stall’s counter, came up with a worn satchel, and started picking bottles from the dusty racks. Had the waiting customer known Trk’hsk covered them with dust daily “to add to the mystique,” he might not have watched in such awe.
“Now make sure to drop by Morja on your rounds first,” he said, handing over Jubjub and the satchel. “She’s helping Maxima with the cannon ride, and I know she drained the better part of a keg by herself last night. And go see Silas once you’re done. He thinks it’s time to entrust you with greater responsibilities.”
And with that, Trk’hsk was back to being the wizened old mystic, ushering his customer to the mirror to seal the sale.
“Now, friend,” he was saying while Girin started off. “Just take one sip and—”
The gnome let out a panicked scream.
“No, no, no!” Trk’hsk said quickly. “It’s just an illusion; you haven’t really turned into a human, see…? Damn, guess it’s not an illusion…”
Girin ambled down the colorfully bunted glade, giving milling fairegoers cheery smiles in passing. The susurrus of voices was calming. If he closed his eyes, he could believe the voices in his head were just a part of the crowd.
Morja was just setting down a keg of gunpowder when Girin managed to work through the sea of onlookers’ legs. The muscular orc woman was looking even greener than usual, if that were possible, wincing with every move she made.
A clockwork-inlaid sign obscuring the body of a silver- and gold-striped barrel proclaimed Maxima Blastenheimer’s Patented Cannon Ride! Just 2 silver a ride. Now completely safe! to passersby.
She handed the newest rider a pair of goggles, cocked the flintlock hammer, and backed away as far as the pullcord would allow.
“Ready?” she asked, and covered her mouth to hold back a sudden bubble of gas from her roiling stomach.
“Ready,” echoed a voice from the confines of the barrel.
The onlookers let out a collective, “Oooooh,” building in pitch as the dwarf spiraled past the hundred-yard mark down the glade on a tongue of flame. They craned their necks. Shield their eyes though they tried, he was lost at the apex of his arc, swallowed by the sun.
Suddenly, the dwarven bullet arrowed down from on high and smashed into the hay bales positioned beside the ticket vendor’s hut. A hopeful silence overtook the crowd. And when the soot-stained dwarf wobbled to his feet and gave a big thumbs-up before collapsing, they broke into spontaneous applause.
Wounded you badly.
“Another happy customer! And at 350 yards, his is the distance to beat to win today’s prize!” Morja announced, and while the crowd was still roaring, in a much quieter voice, said, “Oh, gods. My head.”
She looked down when Girin tugged her sleeve, and broke into a wide, tusky grin at the offered frog.
“Jubjub!” she said, and hugged him close. “You naughty little thing. Mommy was getting worried!”
We who drank.
She made sure he was warm and secure in the cleft down the front of her jerkin and took the offered flagon gratefully, though Girin had trouble looking away from the amphibian eyes staring at him over the top of her cleavage. One sniff and she threw back the contents in a gulp, and vented an appreciative belch. “Dark Iron ale,” she said. “Best hangover cure short of a mallet between the eyes.”
“Maxima?” Girin asked.
“Huh? Oh, she’s working in her tent. Some sort of portable cannon design. It’ll ‘revolutionize the cannoneering profession through the high-energy, low-weight propensities of nether-space!’ Whatever that means.
“Meantimes, she’s got me doing her job. Wish I could talk the nonsense she does. Seems anyone with an ounce of sense around here is stuck doing all the heavy lifting…”
As it has us.
Morja blanched, realizing who she was talking to, but Girin only smiled and trundled off, amiable as ever. It was just more voices to him.
He left the waiting line of would-be living projectiles for Maxima’s tent, safely separated by a wagon of machine parts and high explosives. By the patches and soot encrusting the asbestos fabric, who was being kept safe from what was anyone’s guess.
The petite female gnome wore a pair of scorched overalls, hunched over a low workbench. It was the only surface not covered in machine oil, tools, and mechanical chickens cannibalized for parts. Quicksilver down and iron feathers everywhere.
She jumped with a yelp at Girin’s tap on her shoulder, and whipped round. Faced by the bulbous compound eyes of a fly, Girin jumped back and let out a scream of his own.
Maxima yanked off her magnification goggles and clutched at her chest, gasping for air until her racing heart began to slow.
“Girin! You must move like a cat! I didn’t hear you come in.”
“It’s alright. Just try to make some noise next time. I could’ve torn a whole between realities with my latest invention. That or broken it—What are you doing with that?”
Girin’s gaze went to the upraised wrench he didn’t remember grabbing. He looked back to Maxima, shrugged in a way that summed up his cluelessness, and set it back in the wrench-shaped outline of coolant that was presumably its home.
“Was there any particular reason you wanted to see me?” Maxima asked. A tiny vial of swirling red and green was offered. “Is it morning already?”
She paced to the tent flap and poked her head out. “Most perturbatory,” she said. “I distinctly remember setting my alarm so I would know when to go to bed… Oh, that’s right. I needed the parts.
“Sayge will doubtless be by soon to complain about the cannon ride again. I offered him a set of earplugs, but he said he couldn’t hear his customers then. Said the explosions kept ‘disturbing the spirits.’
“‘Spirits?’ I said to him. ‘You’re a gnoll fortune teller. People are dumbstruck simply by meeting a gnoll who can speak Common! Do like the other charlatans do and tell them true love and their fortune is right around the corner.’ So odd how emotion governs action. He took offense and walked off in a huff, but still he threatens to go to Silas, as if I weren’t working day and night on a solution!”
Has been long and arduous.
She came down from her tirade long enough to note Girin inspecting her work, if only because it seemed the polite thing to do. It was a sphere composed of overlapping steel plates, slightly larger than a fist. The plates shifted constantly in ways Girin couldn’t quite track, as if flowing through one another at times.
“Interested?” Maxima asked, thrilled by the hope of a fellow gadget enthusiast.
He turned away; it was starting to give him a headache, but Maxima was already off and running.
“It’s the future of modern cannoneering.” She picked it up, threw it in the air, and set it back down. “Light as a feather, even though I’ve filled it with over three tons of Lhara’s spare stock. Theoretically, there’s no limit to how much it can hold.
“It’s in portable mode now, but with the touch of a button”—Click. The sphere tripled in size. Three stabilizing legs extended from the base, and a port opened in its whirling face, large enough to accept a full grown tauren. Inside, a ball of crackling blue light bobbed, suspended by invisible forces. Girin shied away, but Maxima was oblivious, happy to bask in the cold, harsh glow—“it’s in firing mode. That’s a self-sustaining portal into nether-space, what the uneducated and backward call the spirit world. It’s a realm of pure energy. I haven’t tested it yet on a live rider, but the nether cannon should be able to fire its contents over a distance comparable to gunpowder models, but with no need for explosives. No gunpowder, no noise. Problem solved. All you’ve got to do is touch this glowing red button here—”
For the Horde!
Girin was in motion before the soft click had died, bearing Maxima to the ground. The overpressure of the blast tugged at their eardrums and sucked the air from their lungs.
The nether cannon worked. Three tons of Lhara’s stock, the finest knives, swords, axes, polearms, and clubs that Darkmoon Faire’s weaponsmith could make, deployed in a razored hellstorm, plucking at the back of Girin’s jerkin, deadly silent save for the metallic snip-snip of blurred, threshing blades.
Maxima groaned when Girin rolled off her and managed to hold up a hand, which Girin promptly filled. She poured her daily troll’s blood elixir down her gullet and lay still. The effect hit her so hard she shot upright without touching the ground.
Oblivious to her close brush with death, she surveyed the damage.
One wall of her tent was gone, shredded. In the distance, Sayge’s snarled gnoll curses raged.
The error of turning his back.
“Riiiiight,” Maxima said. “I’ll make a note to come up with a way to control the muzzle velocity.”
She looked between the edge of the glade, weapons embedded deep in a veritable wall of centuries-old trees; and Girin, looking on incredulously.
“I think it’s in your best interest if you kept moving, Girin. I’ll take the blame for this. With your father’s pick-me-up, I should be able to collect Lhara’s stock before nightfall.” She sucked in a sudden breath as a thought struck. A full week of troll’s blood potions in lieu of sleep set her nose twitching uncontrollably, bloodshot, manic eyes lighting up. “This is the perfect opportunity to test my new thermal chainsaw prototype!”
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