Thursday, October 4, 2007
“She’s a beauty, ain’t she?”
I stood ankle-deep in snow, next to the fearsome metal beast called the steam tank. The pilot, an enthusiastic dwarf named Halgrim, was more than happy to show off his vehicle.
“It is,” I said.
The tank was mostly utilitarian in design though the expertly forged eagle’s head at the front added a fierce elegance.
“Steam tanks were first used at the end of the Second War, correct?” I asked.
“Aye. They weren’t much compared to these, but they still blasted through orcish fortifications like you wouldn’t believe.”
“So these were the result of a combined work force of dwarves and gnomes?”
“Not at all. The tanks were made by dwarves. The gnomes tinkered away with those odd flying machines, but the tanks are ours! The old models were all engine, gears, and gun. Nowadays the gnomes put in some magical boosts, and I’m not complaining.”
“With these tanks and flying machines I’m a little surprised we haven’t beaten the Horde yet.”
“Heh, a lot of that’s just because we aren’t officially at war, or some such nonsense. Now I’m not going to talk bad about my girl here,” he said, pointing to the tank, “but modern battle is a little more complex. I fought in the Second Battle of Angor. We held our own but tanks alone can’t win a fight.”
“Could you explain?”
“Certainly. A tank can blow up a building just fine but they aren’t really designed to take on soldiers. If we can’t get close to the enemy fort, we aren’t of much use.”
“Have there been developments to make more effective against enemy troops?”
“Oh yes, definitely. But nothing changes the fact that these tanks are big and bulky. So are the gyrocopters. And magic can do a nasty job on the tanks. I’ve never been there myself, but I heard that the orc shamans in Alterac Valley wiped out a bunch of tankers by calling down lightning. The gnomes say that shamanism isn’t really magic, but you get the idea. I guess you could say that tanks are really like mobile cannons. Still, the Mark IVs are going to roll out, and I’m sure they’ll pile through the greenskins with nary a problem!”
Halgrim’s eyes suddenly narrowed and he whipped a rag out from his pocket. He had spotted some mud on the front of the tank, and quickly rubbed it clean.
The tunnel through the mountain terminates in the army base of South Gate Outpost. South Gate, and its northern twin (imaginatively named North Gate Outpost) are the favored testing areas for new weapons. The rugged and snowy terrain provides a challenging arena.
I only spent a day in South Gate Outpost before going deeper into Dun Morogh. Another tunnel winds up through the solid rock. Enchanted braziers maintain surprising warmth within the confines. If the tunnels were not so aesthetically grim they could almost be cozy.
A steady snowfall drifted down from gray skies when I returned to the open air. Dun Morogh is actually a very high mountain valley. Storms often rip through the surrounding mountains and loose their fury on the dwarven homeland. Summer brings a brief thaw, lasting just long enough to melt away some of the excess snow, and sparing Dun Morogh from burial.
Both the gnomes and the humans claim credit for discovering that the world orbits the sun rather than vice versa. Regardless of who first realized that, the mages of Dalaran were particularly keen on studying it, hoping to uncover secrets of the arcane in the celestial rotations. The most commonly held theory is that the seasons only exist because the world is not on a level plane with the sun; instead, it is tilted. The tilt is exceedingly slight, which is why the seasons only occasion a relatively mild change in climate.
Seasonal change can still be dramatic on rare occasions. The Scourge’s invasion of Lordaeron took place in one of the most savage winters in recorded history. Those who escaped the legions of the dead often succumbed to cold and hunger. I remember the biting cold in those months, Plague-tainted snow falling endlessly from the sky. A white blanket hid the horror littering the fields and streets of my old home.
It is unfortunate that the snow in Dun Morogh reminded me of the dark days of the Third War (many historians refer to it instead as the War of the Dead, as it was a different situation from the previous two wars). Not wishing to dwell on it, I recalled another mystery about Dun Morogh. How is the land able to support such dense forest when the earth is nearly frozen?
No one has ever conclusively answered this question. A similar condition, I learned, exists in the land of Winterspring in Kalimdor. However the forests there can be explained by their proximity of the old World Tree, which had a stimulating effect on nearby flora.
The only answer anyone can come up with is some sort of elemental activity. This is a vague answer at best, and to this day researchers (often gnomes) attempt to uncover the mystery of Dun Morogh’s forests.
Travelers are a common sight on the road leading through the dwarven realm. Mountaineer patrols ensure the safety of these wanderers, contributing to dwarven prosperity. I mentally contrasted it with the perpetually chaotic ruins of Lordaeron. Observing the peaceful land around me, I reminded myself that appearances can deceive and that the main road was only a very small part of Dun Morogh.
The snowfall stopped after the first day and I enjoyed a long stretch of sunny (though still cold) weather. The road is traveled enough that it is rare for too much snow to accumulate. On the rare occasions where it does happen, a mountaineer patrol or civic-minded resident invariably clears it.
Shortly before noon on my fourth day out from South Gate Outpost I came across a procession of fifteen dwarves. Each wore a white cloak. They were a mixed group, men and women, young and old, and talked happily amongst themselves. An elderly dwarf with a white beard tied into two braids led the procession. He waved at me as I approached and I returned the gesture.
“Hello there, traveler!” he greeted in a surprisingly loud voice. “On the road to Ironforge?”
“Yes, and wherever else catches my interest. Is there some special occasion here?”
“Oh, nothing so unusual. We are on our way to Misty Pine Refuge. Have you heard of it?”
“You haven’t? Don’t they teach you about the Light any longer?” he asked, in mock incredulity. Then he smiled. “It’s where Galdacius came down, and brought the Light to us. You’re welcome to come along with us if you wish.”
“I would like to see that. You’re certain you wouldn’t mind?”
“What sort of Light-blessed would I be if I turned you down and out in the cold and the snow? Come on lad. You follow the Light?”
I thought about for a moment.
“I suppose I do.”
“Do or don’t, you’re still welcome to travel with us.”
The other dwarves went to me, extending their hands in greeting. With shouts of joy we were on our way. The Galdacius of whom they spoke had been a human visionary, hailed as a saint among his countrymen in Lordaeron. This was only a few generations after Cassian wrote the Exegesis of the Light. Humans and dwarves were in some contact at the time but tended to keep away from each other. Galdacius surprised and even angered some of his peers when he announced his intent to bring the Light to the dwarves of Khaz Modan. Undeterred by their protests he left, ‘his eyes illuminated with hope’ as contemporaries described it. Beyond that I knew little, other than that he succeeded.
“Could you explain the early days of Galdacius’ mission here?” I asked the leader, whose name was Whulgan Gemsight.
“Where Misty Pine Refuge is now there used to be a little mining village. The mine collapsed a few days before he came down from the mountains. Many dwarves died, and the ones who were rescued were near death. The folk of the village despaired.”
“Galdacius then healed them?”
“Aye. No one knew what to make of this gangly traveler from the north, but folks were amazed when he healed those miners through his will and faith. I know it seems commonplace now, but no dwarf back then had seen anything like it.”
“How quickly did his message spread from the village?”
“Oh, it had its ups and downs, as those things will. Still, no one could argue with results. He healed the sick and hurt faster and more effectively than our healers. Clearly, he was on to something.”
Evangelism through practicality, I thought.
“I remember reading that by his death he’d converted nearly all the dwarves.”
“Most of them. The Wildhammer Clan and their friends weren’t so keen on it, but everyone else embraced the Light. Even the Dark Irons did, though they don’t follow the Light any longer.”
“What do you think of the recent interest in the Titans?”
“Oh, that’s a right fascinating subject it is! I try to keep up on every discovery.”
“Do you think the Titans created the dwarves?”
“I’m inclined to think so. You aren’t one of those who think that the Mystery of the Makers contradicts the Light, do you?”
“No, I’m not. I was simply curious about your position.”
“Some half-mad human from Stormwind was talking about how the Titans are only a distraction from the Light, but it seems most people understand that the two beliefs are perfectly compatible.”
I talked with some of the other pilgrims and learned some interesting facts. Apparently it is forbidden for dwarves of the same clan to go on a pilgrimage together. The rationale is that such a journey should inculcate spiritual development. In the Holy Light, this means creating a metaphysical connection with one’s fellows. As it is assumed that dwarves of the same clan would already be sufficiently close, it is deemed that travelers should all be of clans that are unfamiliar with each other. I also learned that pilgrimages are actually rare in dwarven society, something only undergone by the most pious. They were more common in past eras.
We traveled north for another day and reached Misty Pine Refuge in the late afternoon. It is a beautiful spot where graceful, snow-covered trees overlook a frozen pond. We stood right next to the towering mountain peaks for which Dun Morogh is famed. A small stone house rests in the icy foothills, surrounded by rock, a row of lit candles on the windowsill. Too new to have been Galdacius’ residence, it turned out to be the home of the caretaker, a human priest named Gavin. Gavin was also a member of the Argent Dawn order that I had encountered in the Eastern Plaguelands.
Gavin’s home is a bit south of the actual site, which has reverted to a state of wilderness. It is there the dwarves went, as Gavin’s modest home could not hope to accommodate them. Nothing really remains of the village where Galdacius performed his healing. According to Whulgan, an avalanche utterly destroyed the town seven years before the First War.
It is a very peaceful site. I could easily picture industrious dwarves digging into the mountains, exploring a land not yet completely familiar to them.
The pilgrims stayed there only for a day, which they spent largely in prayer and meditation. While interesting to watch, I began to feel rather disconnected and isolated. I kept wondering how they would react if they knew I was Forsaken. The next morning we departed from Misty Pine Refuge. I went ahead of them, exploiting my nearly inexhaustible stamina to see a new horizon.
It began snowing again after I left the pilgrims. By the time I reached the town of Kharanos a few days later it was nearly a storm. Flurries of white precipitation made it hard to see where I was going. I was again grateful for no longer being alive. I don’t know how I would have fared if I were still human. Dun Morogh is a secure land, but scores of people die from exposure and cold every year.
Much like Thelsamar, Kharanos had once been a much larger town. Named after the great king of old it became a major population center. The inhabitants were thankfully evacuated before the Horde laid waste to the town. Though Kharanos was soon rebuilt, it is now little more than a small town. Pre-war texts speak of Kharanos as a vast city of a thousand warrens, filled with the din of hammers striking anvils. I could scarcely imagine Kharanos ever being like that. The town is spread out amongst the forests, on the whole not far removed from wilderness.
The snow abruptly slackened when I arrived in the town’s main plaza. A group of four stout dwarves sat beneath an overhang, talking, drinking ale, and indifferent to the weather. A fierce-looking gray wolfhound lay at the feet of one of the dwarves, gnawing at a bone. The owner looked at me and nodded in greeting before turning back to his companions.
I got a room at the inn, a spacious building with a parlor room lit up by a roaring hearth. Mounted animal heads line the walls, with plaques memorializing the hunters who’d made them. I talked a bit with the bartender and he explained that Kharanos is a town for hunters, from which they sell the finest meats and furs in all of Azeroth. A number of engineers who worked in the nearby Steelgrill Depot also make their homes there.
The next day dawned with a cheerful commotion outside of the smithy, located opposite of the inn. A family of dwarves stood outside, all of them dressed in fine clothing. The center of attention was a young redheaded woman in a blacksmith’s leather apron, who looked flushed and a bit anxious.
I went over to inquire as to the occasion. Apparently the woman was Reddina Steelstep, who was going to take the test to become an official member of the Royal Blacksmiths' League. Tognus Flintfire, the resident League representative “and a damn fine smith to boot!” would oversee her efforts.
A hush fell over the crowd when a burly dwarf whom I took to be Tognus stepped out of the smithy, his face solemn. Then he began to speak in Dwarvish. The sound of his voice was slow and sonorous, like a priest’s chant. At certain intervals, Reddina would respond. She followed Tognus into the smithy after a few of these exchanges.
There was a cheer from the crowd and they parted to make way for Reddina. None of them followed her inside, as it was a private test. Reddina’s clan and friends moved away from the smithy though they did not retire to the inn. The mood became more serious. A group of younger dwarves, mostly women, stood chatting in their own circle, casting expectant looks towards the smithy.
“My daughter has worked long and hard for this,” stated a gray-haired dwarven woman. She was Ennia Steelstep, Reddina’s mother.
“Do you know what she’s forging?” I asked.
“I should say not! That’s part of the surprise. All the Steelsteps are here and so are many of our brother-clans.”
“Oh I forget, you’re not from here. A brother-clan is a clan related by marriage to another. My eldest son, a doughty blacksmith himself, married a fine young lass from the Rockgrip clan. Reddina’s husband, who’s away at the Kalimdor front right now, Light preserve him, is of the Goldbrow clan. So the Goldbrows are also a brother-clan.”
“I see. Is it cumulative throughout your history? That is to say, in cases where both partners in a marriage have passed away long ago, does the brother- clan bond still hold?”
“No. If either the wife or husband is still alive, the bond remains until they die or remarry. When that happens two clans in question are no longer brother-clans. If the two clans liked each other, they might still keep in touch, but there is no longer any familial obligation betwixt the two. It would be a sin and a shame to ask a clan that is no longer a brother-clan for help.”
Reddina did not emerge from the smithy until a little before noon. She came out with her face bright and glowing, looking amazed at everything. She held an elaborate dagger in her gloved hands, probably designed for ceremonial purposes. Tognus followed close behind her.
Tognus said a few more words, trying and failing to look stoic. When he was done, a cheer went up from her friends and family, Tognus' louder than anyone else's, and they rushed towards Reddina. Putting her up on their shoulders they headed to the inn to celebrate in the traditional dwarven fashion. I took a quick look inside the smithy, which was a good deal larger than any human equivalent. It is said that the blacksmith’s forge is the heart of a dwarven community. While that is an oversimplification, there is some truth to it.
The road to Gnomeregan is still in good condition even though few people now walk it. The dwarves (and gnomes, for that matter) are too fastidious to let it go to ruin. I knew relatively little of the gnomes, despite the fact that a fair number of them had lived in Dalaran. Unfortunately, such ignorance was and still is common. Though the gnomes probably turned the tide of the Second War with their ingenious designs, few gnomish soldiers actually fought in the Alliance forces. Thus, they remained obscure compared to the dwarves and elves.
Even the origins of the gnomes are a mystery. The first contact between dwarves and gnomes occurred shortly before the War of the Three Hammers. Gnomish records do not go far before that. Irrespective of their origins they get along quite well with the dwarves. Engineering fascinates the people of both societies. The gnomes happily attempt to develop nearly anything they can imagine, while the dwarves keep the results effective and practical. Gnomes are adept at combining magic and technology. The late Archmage Antonidas described their style as being “magic in a bottle.” The gnomes compress the mysteries of the arcane into a form easy for laypeople to use and access. That was how they built Gnomeregan, famed as a city of living machines. A number of their designs found their way into the human cities to the north and south.
I heard about Gnomeregan’s fall not long after I became Forsaken. At the time, I was too consumed with a petty thirst for revenge to care. The accounts were somewhat contradictory though all agreed that some accident destroyed the city. I did not learn about the trogg factor until I reached Stonewrought Dam.
I had no intention of actually entering Gnomeregan. Though capable enough of protecting myself, I doubted I’d be able to learn much from the current inhabitants. A gnome in Kharanos told me that a handful of gnomish operatives lived in the area around Gnomeregan, observing the place. There is a powerful desire in gnome society to retake the city. Troggs and poison are not the only obstacles. Many of the gnomes who in the city at the time of its contamination had not died. Instead, they entered a state not dissimilar to undeath. Those unfortunates, called gnome lepers by some (though most gnomes detest that term, as the condition has nothing in common with actual leprosy) attacked any who came too near. Waxy green skin differentiates them from their unaffected kin. Gnomish researchers keep trying to reverse the process, though none have succeeded.
I noticed a subtle change in the atmosphere five days west of Kharanos. Though still surrounded by miles of snow, the temperature felt a bit warmer. In all likelihood the increased heat was quite significant, and my undead state hampered my ability to detect it.
Warning signs line the road to Gnomeregan. Wooden posts, emblazoned with red hands or skulls, urge travelers to turn back. Some of them have elaborate explanations, graphically describing the results of extensive or long-term exposure to the toxins. Storms sometimes cause greater amounts of the toxin to be released into the air. One placard even warned that unprotected gnomes could fall victim to “gnomish leprosy.” Someone had crossed out the term and replaced it with the words, “cognitive and physical degradation colloquially and inaccurately known as gnomish leprosy.”
The land begins to sicken visibly. Trees, bare of green, reach out of the snowy plains like claws. I soon got my first look at the source of the problem. A sprawling compound of brass and iron sticks its head out of the snow, green smoke belching forth from pits around the partially collapsed main structure. Tiny figures dart like insects through the wreckage, almost certainly the gnome lepers of which I’d heard.
Evil smells wreathe the place, odors reminiscent of blood and electricity. As I watched, snow began to fall from the sky. The world around me darkened; nightfall drew near. I hastened my pace, knowing that storms exacerbated the toxicity in the area. I reasoned that as one of the living dead, I’d have at least some resistance to it. Nonetheless, I kept my eyes open for the gnomish observation posts. Snow fell in flurries and a sudden wind tore at my cloak.
“Hey! Hey, are you insane?” called out a high voice, barely audible over the wind.
I looked around for the speaker.
“Try down here.”
A gnome stood in front of me, waist-deep in snow. He was so short that I’d overlooked him. I couldn’t see much of him; an unwieldy helmet encapsulated his head. A circular portal of green glass enabled him to look out from the metal piece.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“Never mind, follow me. We need to get you out of here. Can you follow me?”
“Good. Call out if you fall behind, I should be able to hear you.”
The gnome began to walk up a hill, going west from the road. The snow and wind intensified though I could still see my rescuer making a path. We soon came within sight of a mushroom-shaped metal house. The gnome walked to a small dial at the side of the door, turned it clockwise, then counterclockwise, then clockwise again. The metal gate slowly slid open and I gratefully stepped inside.
The room I entered was like nothing I had ever seen before. Circular in shape, the walls were lined with desks drowning in stacks of paper. Pipes ran throughout the house though I could not discern their purpose. I heard footsteps above me and noticed a ladder coming down from the ceiling.
“I was getting worried, Flinx, you shouldn’t stay out so long,” came a woman’s voice.
“Sorry love, the storm caught me by surprise.” Flinx took off his helmet, revealing a serious face under well-combed green hair.
“And who is this?” The woman whose voice I heard had come down from the ladder. Also a gnome, she looked at me with curiosity and a bit of concern. She kept her platinum hair in a short and practical cut, though her wide blue eyes gave her a decidedly girlish appearance.
“I don’t know actually. What’s your name? And why are you here? Not trying to free Gnomeregan are you? Since you’ll never be able to do it alone,” warned Flinx.
“I had no intent of going into the city. I’m Talus Corestiam. I’m simply a scholar, trying to learn as much as I can about the world.”
“Well I’m glad you’re interested. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been forgotten out here. This isn’t the healthiest place though, and you don’t want to be out in a storm without protection.”
“Let’s see. You aren’t poisoned!” announced the woman. She waved a crystal wand over me that shined blue when she finished.
“Thank you, Nyllie”, said Flinx. “She was just making sure you weren’t sick; this place has that effect on people.”
I was simply grateful that it did not detect undeath.
“I’m sorry if I’m imposing on you like this,” I said.
“Don’t worry, we have plenty of supplies and it’s nice to see a new face!” said Nyllie.
“That’s very kind of you to offer, though I’ve brought my own food.”
“Ah, all right. What we have here isn’t that good anyway. Keeps you full, but that’s about it.”
“Talus, you should probably stay here until the weather clears up,” suggested Flinx.
“I’ll be more than happy to tell you everything I know. I’m quite tired right now but we can talk more in the morning. We have a spare bed down here but it’s probably too small for you.
“I can sleep pretty much anywhere,” I assured him.
Flinx and Nyllie went to the upper floor. The lights, which came from small, glowing bulbs around the room, went off without warning and plunged the metal house in darkness. Resting on the floor, I went to sleep.
A persistent grinding noise awoke me and I got up to see Flinx turning a crank connected to a large brass cylinder. He continued turning it until illumination filled the room from the glass bulbs.
“There’s a mana battery in here, connected to a kineto-wheel,” explained Flinx. “It’s still snowing outside, but not as badly. It should clear up by noon or so.”
“It uses motion to activate the mana. I’m sure they had those up in Lordaeron. In Dalaran, at least.”
“No, they didn’t. I studied in Dalaran for several years.”
“Really? You’re a mage?”
“Ah, good to know! I’ve never been up there myself but I know that some fine research is done there. Was done there, I guess.”
“Some of the inner chambers—and I was only allowed to enter those a few times—had runic lights. Why don’t you use those?”
“A permanent enchantment like that requires a lot of preparation and magic energy. You’d need leylines for that. Also, a rune always does more than just light up a place, so I’m sure they must have had some other purpose.”
“Several of them were protection runes,” I said.
“That explains it. The high elves were very adept with those, though even they knew it was more for special circumstances.”
“Your light system seems preferable to a fire.”
“I like to think so. We have to have a separate machine to keep us warm though. That one’s built into the house and is on pretty much all the time. A necessity if you’re going to do stay out here. You get smoke from fire, but this machine produces dead mana.”
“I’m familiar with that.” Dead mana is a byproduct of certain magical artifacts. It can have a toxic effect if extremely large quantities are produced at one time, but it poses no danger on a small level. Disposal is a troublesome process. An ounce of dead mana takes over a hundred years to fully decay.
“You know, we installed this sort of thing in the private chambers of the kings of Lordaeron, Kul Tiras and Stormwind, and some of the rich merchants too. The ones in old Stormwind City dated back before the First War!”
“It certainly has its charm.”
Nyllie joined us soon after. For breakfast, each of us had a large mushroom grown in the subterranean farms in Ironforge.
“It’s not as good as the ones grown in Gnomeregan back in the day. Something about the air in Ironforge just doesn’t quite work with them. I’m thinking it’s all the smoke,” said Nyllie.
Flinx offered to serve me a special gnomish drink called sparkwater. I asked what it was like and he simply smiled and told me there was only one way to find out. I agreed to it and Flinx went to an immensely complicated device that consisted of what looked like a thousand copper tubes.
“It’s morning, so we’ll give you some hot sparkwater,” he said.
Flinx poured water into one of the tubes, and brightly colored powders and fluids into others. He took three small cups and placed them beneath some openings. A bright green drink with strands of phosphorescent blue poured from the shiny nozzles. Flinx then took the three cups to a large metal plate connected to the wall with a pipe. He put them on the plate and pressed a button.
“Just wait for it to heat up,” he said.
In the meanwhile, Nyllie began to question me about Dalaran.
“Did you ever know a gnome woman there named Trydi? Trydi Magnotripper? She has pink hair, blue eyes, always wore green?”
“I’m afraid I can’t remember anyone by that name. Was she a relative of yours?”
“She's my sister! She survived the demon attack and she’s working with the Dalaranese to rebuild the place. I got some mail from her a few months ago. Before that I thought she was dead. I figured since there aren’t as many people there as before, that maybe you’d seen her.”
“No, I was not in Dalaran when it was destroyed and I, uh, moved to Southshore soon after,” I lied.
“Ah. She’s a fantastic mage. A lot of the gnomes with more inclination for direct magic used to go up to Dalaran for study. Here, it’s mostly arcane engineering.”
“May I ask you a sensitive question?”
“Were you in Gnomeregan when it fell?”
“No. Flinx and I had just gotten married and we were visiting my father who lives in Ironforge. We tried to get back to Gnomeregan but the guards up front said they couldn’t let anyone in.”
“So they closed it off to everyone?”
“This was when the Scourge first started making trouble. In fact, just after Lordaeron was taken. We knew that if we told people about what was happening they’d send soldiers to help Gnomeregan. Those soldiers were needed more up north though. Anyone who wasn’t in Gnomeregan when the troggs attacked, wasn’t allowed in.”
“That was very noble.”
“Kind of. The truth was, we were sure we could handle the problem on our own. Anyway, Flinx and I had no idea what was going on but we were scared! With the undead to the north and our home closed off, it felt like the world was about to end! But here we are. After the evacuation people started making plans to retake the city and we volunteered.”
“The sparkwater is ready!” announced Flinx. He enthusiastically marched up to the table and gave me a small cup of sparkwater, steam rising from the surface. It had turned to a deep orange color.
“Sorry about the small size,” he said. “We don’t have any mugs big enough for a human. Try it!”
It raised the cup and swallowed. The initial taste was an overwhelming blend of sweet and sour. The hot drink fizzled in my mouth and left a strangely bitter aftertaste when I swallowed.
“What do you think?”
“It’s certainly the most interesting drink I’ve ever had. Is it alcoholic?”
“No! We’re not going to get drunk in the morning, we aren’t dwarves,” giggled Nyllie.
“Sparkwater’s an acquired taste. Once you get used to it though, it’s the best drink ever. If we get the chance I’ll make a cold one for you.”
Not long after breakfast I looked outside to see that the snowfall had lightened. I asked Flinx if he thought it safe to leave.
“It is. It’s only the storms you have to watch out for. I’m going to deliver some of my observations to Overseer Rizz. I’ll be going near Gnomeregan’s gate if you want to see it.”
“Certainly, thank you.”
Flinx put on the protective suit he had worn the previous night.
“I’d offer you one but we don’t have anything that would fit a human. When the weather’s like this though, there’s no immediate danger. I go out a lot, so I always wear the suit.”
Rizz’s house was a few hours away by foot. The normal sounds of nature were completely absent in the land around Gnomeregan. The only noise (outside of our footsteps) I heard was the clanking of machinery somewhere far beneath the earth.
“Would it be all right if I asked you some questions about Gnomeregan’s fall?”
“Ask away, though keep in mind that I wasn’t there when it happened.”
“Thank you. My understanding is that the poisoning of the city was the result of trying to kill the troggs with chemicals.”
“That in itself is a strange story and I don’t think anyone knows all the details. From what I hear the troggs were simply too numerous. We aren’t the most prolific race, so even in our home city it seemed like they were winning a war of attrition. The idea to irradiate the city was Mekgineer Sicco Thermaplugg’s.”
“I’m not familiar with him.”
“He was one of the top advisors of High Tinker Mekkatorque, who still rules over in Ironforge.”
“I remember hearing that the gnomish people could remove a king, or rather, High Tinker, if they wanted to.”
“We can. You have to understand though, that it wasn’t really Mekkatorque’s fault. The troggs would have won, that’s a fact. Most of us supported Thermaplugg’s idea and the High Council voted 9-1 in its favor. Mekkatorque couldn’t have stopped it even if he wanted to. Anyway, the idea itself wasn’t so bad. It was the execution of the plan that fouled up. Thermaplugg did it far too quickly, even though Mekkatorque told him to wait. More tests needed to be done. If we had done more tests we would have realized that troggs are pretty resistant to the toxins.”
“So the High Tinker maintained his position?”
“I don’t think the High Council will elect him again after this, but they did not vote him out.”
“Does the High Council have exclusive right to determine the holder of the High Tinker position?”
“They do, though we vote for who goes on the High Council. In the old days, my great-great grandfather’s time, the Councilors would represent the fifteen different Schools of Engineering. That was rigid and not very efficient so it was changed. The High Council was reduced to ten members, who represent different areas of Gnomeregan. I know it probably seems a bit crazy to you.”
“Not at all, it’s infinitely more sensible than a monarchy.”
“Heh, I’m glad to hear that from a human. That’s what we’ve been saying all along! Sorry if it seems like I’m straying from the subject. The fall of Gnomeregan isn’t the easiest thing to talk about.”
“Don’t feel obliged to.”
“No, you asked for non-classified information and it would be unethical for me to not deliver. Like I said, Mekkatorque wanted to do some more tests but Thermaplugg argued that the situation was too urgent. Most of the Council agreed with him, and they overrode Mekkatorque.”
“What happened to Thermaplugg?”
“No one knows for sure. He didn’t make it out of Gnomeregan though, so maybe there is some justice. It was, dare I say it, un-gnomish to act so rashly and without research. I know we have a reputation for doing crazy things but we only do them because we have some evidence that it will work. I guess times were tense though. Look, there it is. My old home,” sighed Flinx.
He pointed at a huge metal gate embedded into the mountain. Lights glare around the entrance and noxious gas pours out from vents all around the entrance. A shadowed metal tunnel plunges into the depths. Not that long ago it led to a center of commerce, life, and ingenuity. Gnomeregan was a magnificent place by all accounts.
Flinx stood on the snowy hillside, staring at it and lost in thought. Then he continued walking south. He stayed silent for a long while.
“I appreciate you taking me by the city,” I said, in a weak attempt at consolation.
“I would have probably gone by there anyway. I’m not going to accomplish anything by moping about it. Gnomes are supposed to look forward, not back. I’m sure in a generation or two, maybe less, it’ll be ours again and we can put this behind us. Damn Thermaplugg.”
“What exactly is a mekgineer? You described that as being Thermaplugg’s title?”
“It’s a job. You’ve seen our mechano-striders right? They look like big clockwork chickens?”
“Yes, I’ve seen them.” The mechano-striders are truly marvels of engineering. I had seen one of the earliest models when I was in Dalaran, part of a showcase on new developments in arcane engineering. I remember desperately wanting to ride it even though I was much too big.
“That’s the sort of thing a mekgineer would make. Basically machines that can move on their own power. Thermaplugg developed the first multi-strider. Think of a mechano-strider but more in the form of a spider. It was supposed to be a complement to the steam tank. Ideally it could go places where tanks couldn’t, rough terrain and the like.”
“I’ve never seen any of those.”
“Of course. The multi-striders were very good for certain things. The handful that we had in operation did wonders against the troggs. But it couldn’t really fulfill its intended role. The problem was always with the legs. For one thing, we could never quite get the servos right. If you used a multi-strider in some tight maneuvering the damn legs would bump into each other. The other was that the legs were simply vulnerable to attack.”
“Wouldn’t that also be the case with a mechano-strider?”
“It would but the mechano-striders are used for reconnaissance or personal transport. It was never meant to take much damage in the first place. Multi-striders were, like I said, supposed to be tanks. Now it had enough legs that it could survive losing a few. On the tests though, a direct blast with enough power could tear off most of the legs on one side, making it useless. In addition to all that the things were just too delicate. With all the gizmos and whatnot there wasn’t room for solid armor. Thank you for bringing up a new subject of conversation, by the way.”
“It was the least I could do.”
“Thinking about technology is thinking forward, so it’s fine by me. Anyway, Thermaplugg was pretty upset about the multi-strider. They really weren’t bad, it’s just they weren’t as useful as everyone hoped. He was widely praised for his idea. It was innovative, after all. A lot of mekgineers continued to work on it, trying to fix or alleviate some of the problems. I’m confident we could have gotten the leg servos to behave properly.”
“So with time, it could have become what it was supposed to be?”
“No, there were some design issues that could not be worked around while maintaining the current schematic. Maybe when some new technological paradigm comes around it will happen. Until then, the basic form is simply too flawed. However, it could have found other roles with time. Actually it still might; we haven’t abandoned the multi-strider concept.”
I then noticed a house at the top of a hill, similar in construction to Flinx’s, standing beneath a tree that somehow remained alive.
“This is the place,” he announced.
We quickened our pace. Then Flinx bolted ahead.
“Something’s wrong!” he yelled. He unfastened a metal rod from his belt and held it as he would a weapon. I hurried behind him and noticed the twisted corpse of a green gnome.
“Rizz! Rizz! Are you all right?”
My longer legs allowed me to catch up to Flinx as soon as he reached the open doorway of Rizz’s house. The body of a gnome hung from a wall, his belly slit open. A malformed gnome crouched in a pile of gore on the ground. He stared at us with intense eyes, making odd clicking noises with a black tongue.
He suddenly took out a jagged knife and charged Flinx. Flinx was ready for him, and raised the rod. It flared to life as it fell in a flash of blue electricity. The gnome leper was violently propelled back several feet, twitching uncontrollably. Flinx ran towards the prone beast and hit him several more times until he was dead.
“They’ve never actually attacked a house before,” Flinx said.
With a chill I noticed the surgical precision with which Rizz was cut. His left leg was severed below the knee. Turning to my right, I saw the missing limb on a table. It too was cut into several small pieces.
“Why did they do this?”
“I don’t know! Oh, Rizz,” he sighed.
Despite the carefulness with which Rizz was cut apart, I could not find any reason for it. A gruesome habit among some of the Forsaken apothecaries is to take body parts of one creature and attach them to another. Abominations are made in such a way, as are other things best left unmentioned. It was different in that house. There was no obvious purpose for the removal. The excised portions were too mutilated to be of use to anybody.
Flinx collected some of the documents in Rizz’s home and we made haste back to Flinx’s house. Nyllie nearly fainted when told the news. When she was well enough to speak, they discussed their next course of action.
“The leper gnomes have never made an attack before this?” I asked.
“They aren’t lepers! The mutant gnomes killed quite a lot of people. They were like wild bears though. Unless you got close to them, they’d leave you alone. Something like this has never happened before. Maybe they didn’t attack. Maybe he was already dead and they just opened the corpse. Still very aggressive of them,” stated Flinx.
“I can’t for the life of me figure out why they did those horrible things to poor Rizz. They killed him before they cut him open, right?” asked Nyllie.
“I think I saw a pretty big head wound on Rizz, so he was probably knocked out. Right, Talus?”
“Yes, there was one,” I lied.
“Poor Rizz. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I know, I know. I can’t either. If the mutants are doing this though, it changes everything. It’s a lot more dangerous for us.”
“We need to get in touch with everyone and decide what to do,” stated Nyllie, looking determined.
“What gets me is that I can’t figure out why they murdered him like that. It doesn’t make any sense!” exclaimed Flinx.
“It’s very strange. They probably aren’t thinking correctly. The toxin caused brain damage in a lot of the mutants,” suggested Nyllie.
“This is more like insanity than feeble-mindedness. I’ll go give the alarm,” offered Flinx. He clambered up the ladder to the second floor.
“The houses are connected with some arcaneo-lines. It will send a magical pulse to each house. This is the prearranged signal to meet at the border of the Toxic Zone,” explained Nyllie.
Flinx came back down.
“It’s done. Let’s get moving. I’m afraid that any explorations of the area will have to wait.”
“Of course, I understand.” Flinx and Nyllie suited up, and we were soon out in the snow.
“Where are you headed now?” asked Nyllie.
“Ironforge I suppose, though I’ll stay if you need help.”
“Don’t worry. This is our job. We’ll probably evacuate anyway, since we aren’t prepared to deal with this.”
“I’m still trying to figure out why they did that to Rizz,” said Nyllie. “We need to capture one of the mutants and do some experiments. Maybe they’re a little smarter than we thought. Smarter than beasts anyway.”
“That’s definitely something we’ll have to do. After the meeting though. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be in Ironforge pretty soon ourselves. We’ll need to report this to High Tinker Mekkatorque.”
Beneath the poisoned skies of western Dun Morogh, we made our way to cleaner lands.