The Wrench and the Hammer
By Lyssinna Starfall
Synopsis: As the gnomes enjoy a brief lull in the ongoing battle to reclaim their homeland, High Tinker Gelbin Mekkatorque embarks through a blizzard to pay his respects to his fallen friend. But Ironforge is a far different place under the rule of the Council of Three Hammers…
Historian’s Note: This tale occurs some months after “Cut Short” and shortly before the events in “Charge of the Aspects.”
The comforting clanking of the mechanostriders echoed through the massive entry of Ironforge. High Tinker Gelbin Mekkatorque loosened his travelling cloak and the collected snow from the blizzard fell to the well-trod earth. Beneath the stone pillars along the entry lay miniature mountains of slush, disturbed only by his party’s mechanical mounts.
Where once the High Tinker had seen the warmth of home in Ironforge’s walls, he now saw them with fresh eyes. The sculpted stonework at the base of each pillar was cold and impersonal, lacking any style. There was no architectural flair at the gates of the home of the dwarves. Though he had several ideas, Gelbin doubted that the Council of Three Hammers would welcome gnomish innovation to the entrance any more than Magni had. It was just as well. The gnomes had plenty of work to do on their own homeland.
Beneath the towering statue at the end of the entryway, stood Commander Cragfist. The burly dwarf nodded perfunctorily to Gelbin, his Alliance armor gleaming gold in the cool light of the blizzard outside. When the mechanostriders had climbed the short flight of steps, Cragfist saluted, but the commander didn’t meet Gelbin’s eyes.
“Commander Cragfist,” Gelbin said with a smile. He had to shout slightly over the howling wind echoing from outside. “I haven’t seen you since the elemental invasions.”
“Been busy, sir,” the commander responded. He seemed fascinated with a bit of dust on his gauntlet.
Gelbin studied the stocky dwarf, but didn’t press further. There was no need to antagonize the commander. This likely wasn’t going to be a particularly warm visit in any case.
The High Tinker tried again. “I’m sorry for the short notice, but we haven’t had a lull in the fighting for months. And I’ve been putting this off for too long.”
There was an awkward pause, then Cragfist blurted, “Wit’ respect, High Tinker, this ain’t a good time fer this.”
His assistant, Elgin Clickspring muttered something to Doc Cogspin, but Gelbin ignored them. Instead, he glanced around at the cold rock again. It seemed far colder than it should’ve been. He could’ve sworn there used to be braziers here.
“I promise this won’t take long, Commander.”
“I was instructed tae—“ Cragfist looked uncomfortable. “Ask ye tae come back another time.”
This was not the response Gelbin had expected. In fact, it was the polar opposite of the response he expected. He had his suspicions on who was behind the chilly reception. And after braving the snowstorm outside, he wasn’t about to march back. Not yet, at least.
“I think it would be best if I address this myself, don’t you, Commander?” Gelbin adjusted his glasses and peered down at the dwarf from his electric blue mechanostrider. “After all, a miscommunication among the leaders of the Alliance could cause…complications.”
Gelbin knew Cragfist. The dwarf was utterly single-minded in his duties. However, refusing a direct order from one of the heads of the Alliance was another matter.
At least Gelbin hoped it was. He wondered if he was being petulant, stubborn or a good leader. It was so hard to tell the difference sometimes.
“I’ll escort ye tae the High Seat,” Cragfist muttered in a defeated tone. “Ye can make yer request there.”
Cragfist shouted to a pair of steel-clad Ironforge guards to take his station as he strode down the passage. Gelbin allowed him to get several paces ahead of the gnomish party. The soft purring of their mechanostriders hid the sound of Elgin’s voice to prying ears.
“Gelbin, is this a good idea? You know how tense things are in Ironforge.”
Gelbin waved a hand. “This was our home for almost ten years. I’m not turning back because somebody wants to be a little cog turning the big machine.”
Doc Cogspin piped up to his right. “She sent a single dwarf to tell you the news. She’s trying to get you to do something foolish, sir. By rights, she should’ve been here with an honor guard.”
Gelbin laughed, though there wasn’t much mirth in it. “A bit much to expect from her. That’s the kind of thing Tall Folk expect, not gnomes.”
“It’s only been a few months since the Council was formed, Gelbin. And most of the Alliance is focusing either on cleanup with the Zandalari or the Firelands,” Doc insisted, shaking her head. “This isn’t a good time.”
Hinkles Fastblast came up behind them and added in his two cents in his usual blunt manner. “High Tinker, this isn’t our home anymore.”
That was one comment too many. Gelbin stopped as they turned the corner into the Commons. He turned in his seat and stared at Hinkles over his glasses. “Thank you. I’m aware of that.”
Hinkles’ face flushed to match the color of his mustache and beard. Without a word, piloted his mount back to where Captain Tread Sparknozzle and Corporal Fizzwhistle brought up the rear.
Gelbin took a long, steady breath then moved to follow Cragfist.
As they passed into the Commons, the bustle of the Dwarven city washed over the gnomes. The cries from the auction house echoed across the cavernous space, mixed with the calls of fruit and bread vendors. The heat was stifling in comparison to the cold entryway. He had once grown used to the heat of the chasm beneath the Commons, but his time on the surface had reminded him how much he disliked the oppressive heat. He ran a finger along the edge of his collar.
I should adjust my cloak again; maybe add a cooling elemental dispersion network, Gelbin thought as they passed over the bridge into the enormous square before the Ironforge Vault. Depending on how this goes, I could ask a few of those Wildhammer shamans for some help. They’re good with air and frost elementals.
As they marched through the busy Commons toward the Military Ward, some dwarves stopped to watch them. A few of them smiled or even waved, but most ignored the party and continued on their business. A group of six gnomes on turbo-charged mechanostriders should always command attention. The High Tinker rubbed his chin. If the population of Ironforge was this distracted, there may be something to his friends’ warnings.
After Ironforge had lost its king, the sudden appearance of Moria Thaurissan had thrown the city into chaos. While the gnomes had struggled to take back their homeland, Moria had put the entire city in lockdown, harassing its people, including several prominent members of the gnomish community. Until Stormwind’s King Varian Wrynn had stepped in and forced the creation of the Council from the three clans.
They turned left at the mass of glowing coals into the adjacent corridor. Gelbin’s eyes caught sight of the massive turning gears of Tinker Town at the end of the Ward. The great glorious cog spinning around the entrance to their former home. Now that was gnomish architecture at its finest.
When they passed under the fluttering red banners into the next corridor, his mind stayed in Tinker Town. He found he almost missed his perch atop the great double cogs that fed one of the tri-lobed pneumatic cores powering the Deeprun Tram.
A trio of Ironforge gryphon riders swooped over their heads as they passed into the Great Forge. Gelbin had seen the vast expanse of forges, furnaces and bellows hundreds of times before, but they still impressed him. Vast streams of molten iron flowed from the cauldrons above. His mockups of the pulley systems had more articulation with the bonus of a steam-powered delivery system that could blast molten metal to any part of Ironforge.
However, Magni had wanted something that didn’t require a gnome to operate it. He was also leery of a system that theoretically had the potential to blow up the mountain.
Elgin and Doc were whispering to one another just as they entered the area around the Great Forge. Before they could move further, an Ironforge guard rushed up to Cragfist and whispered something into his ear. Cragfist stopped and hissed back to him in dwarven.
“Is there a problem, Commander?” Gelbin asked, raising his voice above his purring mechanostrider.
The guard rushed back toward the blazing heat of the forge, leaving Cragfist alone to face the High Tinker. The dwarf turned stiffly and appeared even more awkward than he had at the Gates of Ironforge.
“I’ve been instructed tae request ye come back another time. The Council canna see ye now.”
The High Tinker paused for a moment, forcing himself to count prime numbers for ten seconds. At 593, Gelbin leapt off his mechanostrider and landed before the dwarf. Without a word, the rest of the gnomes dismounted.
“Commander, I’d appreciate it if you’d see to our mechanostriders,” Gelbin said, assuming his most authoritative voice. “We lived here for almost ten years and I think an escort is a bit silly. I know the way to the High Seat. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this.”
The commander’s expression froze between concern over his orders and the relief of being given a way out. But he didn’t move, which bothered the High Tinker more than he liked to admit.
Among gnomish society constructive criticism, debate and disagreements were normal. All of it was done without malice, though rarely without ego. But in the end, all gnomes were on the same side. If only Tall Folk were so simple. Even the dwarves fought among each other. At present, he needed to be the leader of his people, especially in what was now a foreign city.
“You are dismissed, Commander.”
For a moment, the only sound was the ringing of the anvils ahead of them, the soft purring of the mechanostriders and the faint whirring of his shield on his back.
“Of course, High Tinker.” Cragfist bowed.
Without looking back, Gelbin Mekkatorque brushed past Cragfist and led his party into the heart of the Great Forge.
Gelbin looked out over the blazing forges surrounding the Great Anvil in the heart of Ironforge. His people’s time here had been good for them, as Azeroth now had need of not just the technological brilliance of the gnomes, but the tenacity and courage of the gnomes. Those traits had always been there, but the loss of Gnomeregan had refined the gnomes just like the dwarven blacksmiths refined their ore just a few dozen feet away.
“I should have never waited this long,” Gelbin whispered to himself.
He stepped forward and rounded the corner before the entrance of the High Seat. Two Bronzebeard guards stood to either side of the entrance. Four more stood before the door, a pair of Dark Irons dwarves and a pair of Wildhammers. Gelbin could barely make out the three thrones of the Council behind them, lost in an intricate play of light and shadow from glowing pools on either side of the thrones.
The Bronzebeards looked distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of the High Tinker. The Wildhammers looked bored, but the Dark Irons glared at him, watching Gelbin with undisguised distrust. Almost unconsciously, Gelbin touched Wrenchcalibur at his waist, the weapon offering some small comfort.
“The Council be busy,” one of the Dark Irons rumbled. “Begone, gnome.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from Elgin. Even Doc Cogspin’s stiffened beside him.
Gelbin stroked his beard again, working his mouth as he fought to keep his temper down. Dwarves enjoyed politics far too much and he would be damned if he would let them manipulate him into something foolish.
“You know who I am,” he said. His voice barely carried over the sound of hammers striking anvils. It forced the guards to lean forward slightly. “The High Tinker of the gnomes has made arrangements to be here.”
“I dinna care what arrangements ye made, gnome,” the Dark Iron snapped. “Ye dinna live here anymore. Ironforge be fer the dwarves.”
Before he could respond, Gelbin felt something. It was a sense of power rumbling beneath his feet. Almost like the thrum of a dwarven siege engine ready to fire. He glanced around, but all the gnomes were staring between him and the Dark Iron guard. There was a whisper, a tickle in the back of his mind. Something familiar, something friendly. Beyond that, it was a mystery.
Then it faded, as if it had never been there. Gelbin shook his head distractedly. After a deep breath, he remembered the true issue wasn’t with the guard.
He tapped the right side of his glasses. Instantly, the darkness of the High Seat vanished as the glasses compensated for the poor lighting using a tiny series of mirrors to gather the various light spectrums and process them accordingly. He was rather proud of the new modification, though in this case, it only confirmed what he already knew.
Moria Thaurissan sat on her throne, a tiny crib near her feet. Several servants fussed about her and the child, but there was not another dwarf in the room save for the standard guard compliment. As he watched her, Moria looked up briefly from her child in the crib, a small smile on her face. It lasted only a few seconds before she said something to her servant, who promptly produced a small plate of fruit.
“She’s still playing games, then?” Gelbin muttered sadly.
Both Dark Irons stiffened. The first one’s hand reached toward the double-bladed axe on his back. He just left it there for a moment, glowering at Gelbin.
“Dinna ye think it be time fer ye to move on?” the second Dark Iron guard growled.
“And if I choose not to?” Gelbin asked curiously.
The first guard’s axe was in his hand before Gelbin could blink. Elgin let out a cry of alarm as the High Tinker shoved her back and snapped out Wrenchcalibur. Energy crackled from the weapon as the gnome and the dwarf glared at one another.
Before either could move, one of the Bronzebeards stepped forward and grabbed the other dwarf’s wrist.
“If ye’re even thinkin’ o’ strikin’ the High Tinker, it be better if ye dunked yer head in the forge,” he growled. “Probably be a lot less painful too.”
The Dark Iron threw off the Bronzebeard, but he lowered his hand nonetheless.
“Go back tae yer damn tinker city,” the Dark Iron dwarf snarled at Gelbin. “She don’t want ye down there. So ye ain’t going, unless ye want tae try an’ get past us.”
The surly guard looked like he was aching for Gelbin to try. The bit of dwarf Magni had instilled in him wanted very much to try, but the logical gnome that comprised the vast major of Gelbin refused to be baited by the officious fool.
He turned to the Bronzebeard guard who had intervened. “Where is Muradin? Or Falstad?”
The guard bowed. “Falstad was in the Highlands before this bloody blizzard struck. Muradin, he’s in Kharanos. I hear he’s due back soon.”
Gelbin licked his lips, tapping his fingers along the hilt of Wrenchcalibur. “You know, I haven’t seen Tinker Town in a while. Maybe I should pay our people a visit before I take care of things here.”
Just like a Gnomish Alarm-a-bot with a low power core, the tension drained from the group. The hostile Dark Iron stepped backward, while the Bronzebeard nodded gratefully.
“Thank ye, High Tinker. I’ll send word tae Muradin right away. I’m sure he’ll get this all straightened out.”
Gelbin turned on his heel and nodded to his entourage. The five other gnomes fell into step behind him as they walked back through Great Forge. He glanced back once toward the High Seat. He could just make out Moria laughing.
Gelbin had requested a moment to himself, but as usual, Elgin refused to leave his side. The rest of his group was chatting with the few gnomes that still inhabited Tinker Town. Cheerful greetings mixed with the comforting sound of whirring gears and the smell of grease.
Once everyone but Elgin was out of sight of the small alcove in one of the engineering bays, he slumped into a chair and held his head in his hands.
“Gelbin, what were you expecting?” Elgin asked, shaking her head. “You know how tense things are here. Wrynn may have prevented a civil war with the Council, but we all know you can’t force wood, steel and crystal gears together and expect them to work perfectly.”
“These gears don’t even try,” Gelbin muttered. “I wasn’t there when it happened. I should have been there, dammit!”
Elgin patted him on the shoulder with a little smile. “We were in the middle of a war. And with the demands of the Alliance after the Cataclysm hit, no one thinks any less of you for not being there.”
Gelbin looked up and glared at his assistant. “Elgin, the Horde sent tauren, goblins and blood elves to the meeting. They shipped representatives from all the way from Kalimdor into hostile territory to pay their respects! We were down the street and we couldn’t make it until now?”
“King Bronzebeard endorsed your plan,” she insisted. “He gave you the resources to make it happen.”
“And I couldn’t find time to come to his funeral.”
“There’s no talking to you when you’re like this,” Elgin threw up her hands in disgust. “Gelbin, get your head out of a pipe and take a look around. We’ve retaken the surface of Gnomeregan! You yourself took on Siccio and a gang of troggs! And won!”
Gelbin shrugged, though a small bit of pride did flourish in his despair. It had been enough to get Gelbin moving again like a well-tuned cog in the massive machine of the Alliance. And now that Ragnaros had been defeated, the world had paused just for a moment as rumors abounded about Deathwing’s next move.
Amidst all this, he had finally found the time to journey to his former home in Ironforge to pay respects to the dwarf who he had worked with side-by-side for a decade.
“And now the damn politicians won’t even let me see him,” Gelbin finished aloud, glaring at a spot on the ribbed metal floor.
Elgin removed her monocle and polished it with the edge of her tunic. When she replaced it, he could feel her angry glare burning into his head.
“You’re impossible!” she hissed.
Gelbin looked up at his young assistant. He was shocked to see her blinking back tears. He gaped at her, trying to figure out where this was coming from and why.
“Haven’t you suffered enough already?” Her voice was almost begging. “You’ve been punishing yourself for the loss of Gnomeregan for ten years, Gelbin. I know the wonderful face you’ve put on for everyone else, but you can’t fool me. I’ve been your assistant for too damn long to be fooled.”
She tugged at a tiny gear-like earring. She always did that when she was really ticked off at him.
“And now we’ve finally made some progress, you want to crash back down into depression because you were too busy helping your own people take back their homeland to go to a memorial service?”
Elgin shook her head, brown hair flitting about. “I’m ashamed of you, Gelbin.”
He reeled in shock, trying to figure out what to say. A bit of righteous anger flooded through him. A part of him wanted to ask why his assistant dared to berate him on his own emotions. Before he could open his mouth, another voice broke in.
“She’s right. At least ye always had the good sense tae pick someone who could call ye out when ye needed a good thumpin.’”
Both gnomes looked up to see Muradin Bronzebeard standing in the doorway to the engineering bay, his cloak and beard still dotted with bits of snow. He was dressed for travelling in warm furs. The dwarf’s face was an odd mix of happiness and suppressed rage. If anyone could pull off both emotions at the same time, it was Muradin.
“Represent—“ Elgin sputtered, jumping up and quickly wiping away her own tears.
“Och, nae,” Muradin interrupted instantly. “I canne abide by such titles wit’ friends. It be Muradin tae the both of ye.”
Gelbin stood quickly, knocking back the chair in his haste. And immediately he cursed himself for being so jumpy. Elgin’s outburst had shaken him more than he wanted to admit.
“I’ve already heard what Moria tried tae pull on ye,” Muradin grunted, shaking off the cloak. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here tae put a stop tae her damn games. She tends tae get a wee bit ornery when she’s alone, trying to assert her dominion and whatnot. But she should know better than tae try that on the likes o’ ye.”
“She’s new to the position,” Gelbin said diplomatically.
“Bah!” Muradin huffed as he strode forward. “That’s puttin’ it mildly. She don’t like anybody but dwarves in Ironforge these days. But that’s no way tae treat guests, especially one who used tae call this place home.”
Gelbin stuck out a hand. “Muradin, I’m sorry I wasn’t here when…”
Muradin grasped Gelbin’s hand even while he shook his head. “I overheard ye talkin’ and I ain’t gonna hear one word o’ apology out o’ ye, Gelbin. Because ye little lass here is damn right. Nobody in their right mind said one word against ye. All o’ Ironforge knew what ye were up against.”
Muradin smiled, slapping him on the back.
“Now, let’s get this all straightened out. I know ye came here fer a purpose, High Tinker. And I aim tae see ye fulfill it.”
Muradin marched out of the room, his boots clanking on the grating beneath his feet. Before Gelbin followed, he turned back to glance at his assistant. She wasn’t looking at him. She was fiddling with the mechanical book she used for her invention ideas. It snapped open and shut a few times in her quick fingers.
She looked up, her monocle glinting in the light. “Yes, Gelbin?”
He didn’t wait for a response, but picked up a small sack at his feet and went to join Muradin.
The Bronzebeard representative was waiting for him beneath the giant spinning gear that separated Tinker Town from the Hall of Explorers, watching the massive teeth of the cog as it whirled.
“I remember when ye first showed the design o’ the Tram tae Magni,” Muradin muttered as Gelbin approached him without the rest of his gnomes. “I thought it were the craziest contraption I’d ever seen. I still think ‘tis madness. But it works.”
Muradin turned to him. “I’ve always liked that about the gnomes. Anyone else would say what ye do every day be impossible. But ye don’t care what others think. Ye just make it happen.”
“I think I forgot that for a moment,” Gelbin responded, shifting his pack.
Muradin chuckled, but this time it was tinged with something darker. “Now that I can understand. With all the chaos in the world, ‘tis easy tae forget who ye are sometimes. Even in yer own home.”
Gelbin nodded quietly, thinking about what Elgin had said. Or more accurately, her face when she had said it.
“That little gnome girl of yers,” Muradin said in an offhand tone. “She be a pretty little thing by gnome standards.”
Gelbin shot Muradin a sharp look, but the dwarf just smirked at him. He hadn’t seen Muradin a lot since his return from Northrend. But he was beginning to remember the dwarf’s sense of humor had always been missing a few cogs.
“She’s young enough to be my daughter,” Gelbin snapped. “Granddaughter, almost.”
But Muradin just smirked and nodded toward the High Seat. “I appreciate what ye did back there. Ye handled yerself like a true diplomat. If memory serves, ye never had much patience fer it.”
“I don’t,” Gelbin muttered. “But you Tall Folk play by strange rules.”
That one got a big laugh out of Muradin. “Don’t ye lump us in with them humans. That’s just cruel. Now, ye ready tae put Moria in her place? Ye dinna really need me fer it, but wit’ Ironforge the way it is these days, a bit o’ dwarf steel tae back ye up canna be bad.”
“I think my head’s on right again. Elgin’s a wizard at getting the gears to align.”
“Ye want tae bring her along?”
“This is between me and Magni,” Gelbin replied. “Elgin knows that, just like everyone else.”
“As it should be, Gelbin. As it should be.”
They strode forward through the Hall of Explorers and then marched through the throng gathered around the Great Anvil. Now when he passed, most of the dwarves bowed or saluted. It took Gelbin a moment to realize they weren’t bowing to Muradin. He caught the murmurs and glances of the various factions. The Bronzebeards and the Wildhammers were watching with interest. The Dark Irons were muttering with annoyance.
Muradin ignored them all as a little smile played across Gelbin’s lips. He started to realize the Bronzebeards knew him almost as well as they had Magni. The dwarves and gnomes were bound together tighter than any of the races on Azeroth. Moria just didn’t understand that quite yet.
Muradin and Gelbin approached the entrance to the High Seat. A few feet away, Muradin slowed to allow the gnome to get ahead of him.
He has his brother’s wisdom, Gelbin thought.
He felt the gaze of the dwarves behind him and a mad plan fell into place. The story of his confrontation should have swept through the city by now. There were approximately sixty percent more people in the Great Forge at present then there had been at the first encounter. The materials were in place, now he only needed the right catalyst. Politics weren’t often dealt with from an engineering perspective, but perhaps there was potential there.
This time, both Bronzebeard guards saluted. The pair of Wildhammers didn’t look bored anymore but watched with hawk-like interest. The Dark Iron dwarves just glowered. And all of them were focusing squarely on Gelbin.
“Move aside.” Gelbin instructed.
The Dark Irons continued to glower and didn’t move. “We have our orders.”
“Tell me, do you hear that sound?” Gelbin asked, peering up at the dwarf with a curious expression.
“There are several sounds in our vicinity,” Gelbin said, as if he was lecturing on a new prototype to a room of fellow engineers. “There is the sound of the liquid metal being poured into the forges. A system originally designed by gnomish hands. At the edge of hearing, there is the sound of the great gears on either side of Tinker Town that assist in the operation of the Deeprun Tram.”
Gelbin paused just long enough to make sure he had everyone’s attention.
“And finally, there is an absence of sound. An absence caused by every Bronzebeard dwarf around you who knows exactly who I am and what I have done for this city, waiting to see what you do next.”
The belligerent Dark Iron guard looked up with a hint of apprehension to the watching crowd. For the moment, the sound of hammer striking anvil had halted.
“Now, you have two choices,” Gelbin said in the same conversational manner. “You can move aside by your own power. Or I could ask your fellow dwarves what they think of the High Tinker of the Gnomes paying his respects to their fallen king.”
The same sense of power swept into the earth beneath his feet, a rumble that whispered in the back of his mind. It still wasn’t quite words, but Gelbin sensed somehow it was pleased.
The Dark Iron guards said nothing for a long moment. Then with a huff, they stepped away from the entrance of the High Seat.
Gelbin smiled cheerfully as he strode by, with Muradin in tow.
Moria looked up from her throne, the servants gone. She scowled at the both of them.
“Muradin, we have no time for such foolish interruptions. Where have you been? We’ve had petitions from half—“
“Stuff it.” Muradin said. He pointed Gelbin to the massive open door on the gnome’s left.
The High Tinker didn’t even bother looking at Moria.
They left her spluttering and made their way down the sloping passage. As they descended, the sounds of Ironforge faded, save for the occasional sound of a hammer striking an anvil.
Tiny torches flickered in the twisting narrow passages as Gelbin and Muradin walked side by side. The torches sent odd patterns of light flickering through the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.
“This yer first time in Old Ironforge, Gelbin?” Muradin asked quietly.
“Magni brought me down here once after we fled Gnomeregan,” Gelbin replied in the same hushed tone. “I don’t think I appreciated it much then.”
They came to the end of the corridor and passed into the great cavern beneath the city of Ironforge. Instantly, Gelbin stopped and stared in wonder. The firelight from the braziers burning throughout the cavern glinted on the ceiling, a ceiling he remembered as pure diamond. The light shifted and fractured within the diamonds, scattering it into a thousand dancing spotlights on the surrounding cavern walls. The entire cavern looked ancient, unmarred by chisel or hammer, left perfect in its natural beauty save for a few walkways and platforms designed to move with the flowing grace of the cave.
The High Tinker moved to the end of the balcony. He had to stand on his tiptoes to peer over the edge of the platform to see the molten rock flowing between the pillars a hundred feet below. Despite what lay beneath them, the air was oddly pleasant, lacking the stifling heat from above.
Even with its lack of technological elegance, the cavern took Gelbin’s breath away. He’d forgotten just how powerful the sight of the great diamonds was.
“I sent word,” Muradin said. “Belgrum and Dunstad are waiting for us.”
The High Tinker’s heart pounded in his ears as he followed Muradin up the steps. He almost felt as if he was intruding into a sacred place, a cathedral to all dwarves.
Two flights of stairs, then they were at the base of the final platform. A forgotten chair lay on its side beside one of the guards staring straight ahead. Bits of diamond littered the staircase as Gelbin climbed.
And there he was.
Surrounded by a circle of runes, the former King of Ironforge stood frozen in pain. Now a creature of pure diamond, he shimmered with the reflected light, transformed into the very stuff of the earth above him. Enormous ancient tomes surrounded the bizarre statue, filled with pages of mystical rites that were gibberish to Gelbin. A small mechanical device lay upon a table amidst other tomes and a few candles while rickety bookshelves lined two half-walls.
To either side of Magni were Advisor Belgrum and Honor Guard Dunstad. Dunstad nodded curtly to both Muradin and Gelbin, and then resumed his stalwart watch over the king.
Belgrum seemed to have aged centuries since Gelbin had seen him last. His gray beard and hair were almost white, his face weathered and worn. The dwarf’s red robes drooped off him as smiled mirthlessly at the two guests.
Gelbin tried to smile in return, but the Magni’s face distracted him.
“Thank ye fer coming, High Tinker,” Belgrum said. “I know Magni would have been honored.”
Gelbin nodded, but something was lodged in this throat and he was unable to speak.
Muradin patted him gently on the back. “We’ll leave the two of ye alone.”
Dunstad didn’t look happy about leaving his post, but a sharp glance from Muradin got him moving. The other Ironforge guards, all members of the Bronzebeard clan, departed after him. Belgrum shuffled down the steps, followed by Muradin.
“Take all the time ye need.” And then he was gone.
Gelbin didn’t really hear the words. He was alone with Magni Bronzebeard now. With the diamond corpse of one of his closest friends.
The gnome slowly approached the King of Ironforge, allowing the sack on his back to slide to the ground. He realized his glasses were blurry. He reached up and touched his face, only to have the hand come away wet. Tears streamed from his face and he hadn’t realized it. They dripped off his neat beard to fall among the diamond at his feet.
He rested his hand against the chest of the dwarf. All of this to understand the earthquakes that had ravaged the countryside months ago. If he had only waited a bit longer, the cause would have been revealed.
The dwarves were so obsessed with the past. It had been the kind of stupid behavior of digging deep into the past that had produced the damn ritual tables. Gnomes didn’t care about the such rubbish. They cared about the future. What was new and exciting. And they didn’t get petrified into diamond because of a damn scheme to have a chat with the planet!
“You’re a damn fool, Magni!” Gelbin shouted, his voice ringing in the cavern. With a cry of rage, he slammed his fist into the dwarf’s chest.
He yelped and sucked his bloody knuckles.
After the pain had faded and he was done cursing his own stupidity, he hung his head with a sigh and stared at the translucent boots of his friend.
“You didn’t deserve that,” Gelbin said. “I’m sorry, Magni. I should’ve been there, especially after the ritual. We were in the middle of a war, but I should’ve found a way.”
The High Tinker studied the diamond dwarf before him, pondering the possibilities. A theory began to form in his head. In the early days of the Northrend campaign, a gnomish team had encountered a robot calling itself Gearmaster Mechazod. The robot had turned gnomes into mechagnomes, claiming he was returning the gnomes to their true purpose. With the help of a few good Alliance soldiers, the group at Fizzcrank Airstrip had managed to reverse the process. Perhaps the technology could be modified.
But almost immediately, he discarded the thought. Transforming robots back into gnomes was one thing, but transforming diamonds was a completely different process. The only beings that knew of such things were the Earthen themselves and they hadn’t been forthcoming.
Maybe someday, he could find some way to bring Magni back, but not today.
“I wanted to share this victory with you, Magni,” Gelbin murmured. “You took us into your home and treated us like one of your own. I don’t think we could’ve survived without you. And we would’ve have never taken back Gnomeregan.”
Gelbin just shook his head in a mix of frustration, pent-up rage and sadness.
“Everyone else looked down at us in pity, Magni. You were the only one who never pitied us. Never pitied me.”
The words hung there, echoing faintly amidst the bits of diamond. His confession, the words he had never spoken. A few more tears slipped from his nose to the sparkling diamonds. He sniffed, took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.
“You were my friend, Magni Bronzebeard,” Gelbin said, staring up into the petrified face of the king. “And I just came…to say thank you.”
The words echoed again, but there was something different in the sound this time. The gnome cocked his head, listening intently. It was as if the acoustics of the cavern had shifted slightly. Another rumble came from beneath him, though nothing around him moved. Gelbin paused, waiting to see what would happen, but nothing did. After a few seconds, the rumble and the echo faded just as before.
“Just one final matter to attend to.”
He reached for the small sack and unwrapped the contraption. At first glance, it appeared nothing more than a few cogs, a couple thorium tubes and a few metal whirligigs tacked on. The gnome adjusted a few bits and bobs and made sure the gears still spun.
“I’m sure you remember this one, Magni,” Gelbin said conversationally as he examined it, blowing off a bit of dust. “The home you gave us when we had nowhere to turn to. I thought it would help remind you of what we did together. My original prototype for Tinker Town.”
The diamond king didn’t respond. Gelbin didn’t really mind. He stepped over and placed it neatly onto the old wooden desk, shifting around a few books to make room for it.
“It definitely adds a gnomish flair to the room,” he said with a somewhat forced chuckle.
Gelbin looked from the tiny model to the king. From the angle, it almost looked like Magni was laughing.
He stuffed the sack in a pocket and once again stepped carefully through the diamond runes before Magni. With a smile, he nodded at the king.
“Don’t worry. I promise to be around a lot more.”
Instantly, the rumble returned. This time it was so strong Gelbin fell to his knees. The jagged diamonds drew blood where he landed, but the pain vanished when two words exploded into his mind.
Then it was gone.
Staring up at the dwarf, Gelbin wondered if he had finally lost his mind. Then he remembered the words Magni had spoken in this room, among the last he had ever breathed. Gelbin hadn’t been there, but he had read the reports.
“For behold, we are earthen, o’ the land, and its soul is ours, its pain is ours, its heartbeat is ours…”
A slow grin spread across the gnome’s face as he pushed himself to his feet. He didn’t say a word as he descended the staircase without a backward glance.
At the entrance to the great cavern, Dunstad and Muradin waited for him with the detail of Ironforge guards.
“Thank you,” he said to the dwarves. “Take care of him.”
Dunstad saluted and led the rest of the guards back to their position around the diamond rune circle. Muradin said nothing as they began to climb the sloping passage.
As they approached the entrance to the High Seat, Muradin asked, “Did ye find what ye were lookin’ fer?”
“Oh yes,” Gelbin responded, chuckling to himself.
“I knew ye would,” Muradin responded with a matching laugh.
At the doorway, Gelbin peered at Muradin, as if seeing him for the very first time. Muradin’s expression was as unreadable as rock, save for the eyes, which glittered like diamonds.
This time, Gelbin well and truly laughed. He stepped out of the doorway to see Moria pacing the room as a nursemaid tended to her infant son near her throne.
“If you’re done invading our most sacred—“ Moria began, obviously having well rehearsed her tirade.
“Moria,” Gelbin interrupted. “Your father accepted gnomes as readily as he would any dwarf. While we may have our home back, as High Tinker, I know we will always have a second home here in Ironforge.”
It wasn’t a question or even a statement. It was a declaration of a fundamental law of the universe, as solid and unchanging as pi.
Muradin stepped forward. “And the Council will honor that, no matter what the minority of the Council thinks.”
Moria gaped at both of them for a moment before her mouth snapped shut. Then she narrowed her eyes, lifted her head and sniffed. “I would never dream of denying the will of the people of Ironforge.”
“Then I’ll leave you to your business.” Gelbin nodded graciously. “I’m sure you’re quite busy.”
Just then, her son started fussing.
Gelbin turned on his heel and marched out of the High Seat.
The storm had broken and the sun was setting over Dun Morogh as Gelbin led his mechanostrider out of the open gates of Ironforge. On either side rode Elgin and Doc, while the others brought up the rear. Muradin had accompanied them out into the freshly fallen snow. The wonderful sputtering of the mechanostrider filled Gelbin’s heart with warmth as he shook hands with the dwarf.
“I think Magni would be proud of you, Muradin,” Gelbin said.
Muradin grinned at him. “And I think he’d be proud of ye too.”
Gelbin smiled back.
“Fair journey!” Muradin said. “And I meant what I said. The gnomes will always have a place here in Ironforge. Ye have my word.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us.”
As Muradin walked back through the Gates of Ironforge, Gelbin realized the entry didn’t look so cold after all.
With the twist of a handle, Gelbin’s mechanostrider shot forward through the snow, sending twin sprays of white into the air as he tore down the mountainside. Elgin yelled at him to slow down as she tried to catch up, though he caught a hint of a smile in her voice.
For the first time in a long while, Gelbin laughed like a schoolboy. His laughter rang out over the white expanses amidst the mountains.
And as he turned on the road home to Gnomeregan and New Tinkertown, he could have sworn he heard a deep dwarven laugh echoing his own.