“They should be in here,” said Zelde, as she turned into the Pig and Whistle. Her companion nodded. “Usually are” came the sardonic reply.
They entered the bar and were met by the waitress. She looked them up and down. She started to ask if they were looking for someone when laughter from the upstairs filled the bar.
“This should be interesting if they are already half-drunk,” Zelde said. Her companion shrugged. “And this would be different from normal how?”
They climbed the stairs to the second floor and found Junas and Gimmlette watching a slightly inebriated Skipperdo dancing on the table. He’d been baby spiced and was roughly a foot tall. Junas would, occasionally, invert his empty beer tankard over the gnome. One would then hear the distinct sounds of “shave and a haircut, two bits” rapped on the inside of the tankard. Junas would lift off the tankard and laugh.
“Typical,” said Zelde, folding her arms over her chest. “Starting the party without us.”
Footfalls sounded on the stairs and Superkind trotted onto the landing, passing by the newcomer just as her bat-winged hat opened in his face.
“Nice Season 3 Arena gear, Rin,” he laughed, as he brushed one of the wings aside. “Most of us have graduated from that.”
“Yes, well, most of you have no character. This is my ‘about town’ hat,” sniffed Rineva as she moved toward an empty seat. Zelde followed the warlock and sat down at the table across from her.
Skipperdo, now back to his regular 3’5” height, jumped off the table and raced to the edge of the balcony. “Waitress! We’ll need more beer up here!” He turned to look at Junas, snickered, and then said, “And put it on Junas’ tab.”
From down below a male voice shouted, “You know Junas’ money isn’t any good here!”
Skipperdo pulled a chair next to Rineva and climbed up onto it. “Have you come to drain our souls or to save them?”
“Save them, obviously, all except Gimm. She’s management so she has no soul.”
“Hey now!” said Gimmlette, turning towards Rineva. “I care.”
“No one said you didn’t care. We just said you didn’t have a soul and we only say that because you keep saying that.”
“Only when you threaten to drain everyone’s soul if you aren’t made Empress,” Gimmlette shot back.
“Yeah and how’s my coronation party coming?”
The waitress appeared at this point with frothy mugs of the bar’s best brew. In the tradition of the best barmaids in the business, she had 3 tankards in each hand. Three were set in front of Junas and three were set on the table around which Zelde, Rineva and Skipperdo sat. Junas handed the gal a small sack of gold. “Remember, we have this area privately.” She nodded and headed back downstairs. Junas turned towards the mugs on the table. “I see my drinks are here. What are you and Super going to have?”
Junas handed a mug to Gimmlette and Superkind and motioned Zelde, Skipperdo and Rineva to move their table closer. When they were in close proximity, he took a long draught of the beer and leaned forward, dropping his voice. “Did anyone find out anything, anything that’s useful?”
“It appears,” Zelde began, “that most people have only heard of Hogger’s ‘enhancement’. It seems he has not been actually seen by a lot of people. I couldn’t find anyone in the AH or the town square who had seen him.”
Gimmlette started to choke on her beer. “You didn’t tell them someone had actually been attacked, did you?”
“Hell no,” Zelde said. “Rin brought the ink and acted as my scribe. We said we were collecting anecdotal stories for the Stormwind Gazette, you know, the paper no one reads except Wrynn.”
“Heh,” said Junas. “I wouldn’t use it to gather talbuk shit in Nagrand.”
“I told them we were writing a story for Wrynn’s amusement. If anyone has met enhanced Hogger, they aren’t telling.”
“For my part,” Skipperdo said, standing up on his chair to be seen. “I went to Ironforge and talked to…” he dropped his voice to nearly a whisper, leaning forward, “TdK. If there is one gnome who knows ‘things’, it’s him. He said, to the best of his knowledge, the only people who have seen Hogger as we saw Hogger have been soldiers at Westbrook Garrison. They have been under strict orders NOT to tell people about their encounters. A total of 15 soldiers have been killed by this thing. It’s so bad that Stormwind soldiers posted to Westbrook are given an effects bag when they ship out and their dependent’s assistance papers are filed before they leave. The only thing missing is the date of death. To say morale is low is an understatement.”
“You went to Ironforge?” Junas asked.
“Well, yeah. I’m not going to Stormwind. Gnomes that know things are in Ironforge. After you ported, I ported Gimm and myself to Ironforge and Super to Darnassus. How are things in Darnassus, Super?”
The night elf leaned back in his chair, took a drink of beer and then leaned forward. “There is extreme worry, although you’d never know it outwardly,” he said quietly. “It cost me 148 gold to repair just the chest piece.” Automatically, he rubbed the spot where the armor had been split in two. It gleamed in the bar’s light and looked good or even better than new.
“Tell me about it,” Junas said, setting down the mug. “185 gold just to fix the shield. I had to pay a mage 10 gold to port me to Dalaran because the guy who fixes shields like mine was in the shop in Dalaran. He said the last time he saw such damage, Lady Prestor was turning into Onyxia in the keep. I knew if I told him what had happened, it’d be all over Azeroth in 10 minutes. That guy talks.”
Superkind leaned back in his chair and waiting for the paladin to finish. Junas, realizing he’d cut in on the information Superkind had, took a breath and then stopped.
“Go on,” he said. “Go on.”
“Of course I was asked what had happened,” Superkind went on. “I said I’d encountered a rather curious monster, probably enchanted in some way. I stood there and watched as he melted the split edges, reinforced them and removed the split. As he was doing that, he found, under the edge of one of the splits, this.”
From under his chest piece, Superkind produced a vial of vaguely greenish, vaguely fluid material. It was about a quarter of a vial and the vial itself had a wax seal on the end which was covered with a thin film of metal. The material inside the vial swirled on its own, sometimes turning dark forest green, sometimes seeming to glow from within. It seemed to be a liquid akin to maybe syrup or fel orc blood. But then it's color would change and it would seem to be like sand. It almost seemed to be an entity unto itself. They all watched quietly as Super would briefly shake the vial and the material inside would change and move in ways they had never seen before.
“He didn’t know what it was, but I had no doubt it came from Hogger when he sliced my armor and me open. He would have taken this as payment but I got to it first. I thought it was a Nature Resist potion gone bad but decided to take it to Tyrande for analysis.”
“You went to Whisperwind herself?” Gimmlette asked, surprised.
“I couldn’t take it to Fandral. Good lord, he’d have killed me on the spot for it. This is beyond anything Ainethil knows. Tyrande doesn’t like Wrynn. Does anyone really like him? So beyond Bronzebeard and O’ros, who’s she going to talk to?”
Skipperdo stood up on his chair and cleared his throat. “Might I remind you that there are 5, count ‘em, 5 factions to the Alliance.”
Superkind snickered. “Oh yes, the king the horde always kill when they get off the tram.”
“Gelbin Mekkatorque, and don’t you forget it,” Skipperdo said and sat down. He crossed his arms across his chest and muttered, “Harumph. Pretending we don’t exist.”
Rineva patted Skipperdo gently on the head. “There there. Have another drink. You’ll feel better when you can’t remember.”
Skipperdo swatted her hand away. “Hey! Hey! Not the hat. It took the hatter 4 tries and 125 gold to fix it. He wanted to know how I could insult so many tauren.”
“What did Tyrande say, Super?” asked Zelde.
“It was interesting. Almost no one comes to see her so when I said I was very troubled and needed her counsel alone, she dismissed her advisors and guard down the ramps out of sight. I held this up just as I’m holding it to you, although the top was just stopped with a cork. Her eyes got wide and she turned more pale than I think any night elf has a right to be, maybe the color of Beyondlight’s skin.”
Skipperdo say back in his chair. “Hey! He’s that color because he’s, wait for it, dead. You’re expecting him to be peach or taupe colored?”
“She looked at me and said, ‘The story is true then. But how did you get this?’ I said that my friends and I had an ‘encounter’. She actually stepped away from me at that point. ‘And you are alive to tell me this?’” Superkind rubbed his chest. “I told her we were brought back by a priest in our guild not long after we died. I looked at her and said, ‘It was caught in my split open armor. What is it?’ She said it’s Hogger’s blood only it’s not blood. It’s whatever’s inside of him thanks to whatever it is he’s drinking.”
“The potion ingredients are turning his blood to this?” asked Gimmlette, as she watched the movement in the vial.
“Not exactly,” Superkind continued. “Tyrande muttered some words and we were transported to the back of the alchemy store in Dalaran. Linzy Blackbolt came into the back and took a look at the stuff. She mixed up some Lichbloom, some Icethorn, some blueish purplish potion and some black potion. Smelled awful. She put on these heavy gloves and removed the stopper just to pour a drop of this into the container with the other mix. There was a flash of greenish light; that sickly light we all know as evil; a loud pop and this hole appeared. It was like all light was absorbed into it. I swear I could hear a voice chuckling, but it was coming from inside my head. I thought my heart stopped for a couple seconds, too. Linzy looked at Tyrande and said, ‘It is what we feared.’”
Superkind reached for his beer, allowing his word to fall onto the ears of his friends. The balcony air was still, almost as still as death. They said nothing, looking down at the floor, absorbing what he told them.
To be continued...
To be continued...