The Stonefire was almost empty at the midday hour. Fane drummed her fingers on the low, greasy slab of wood that passed for a table in the dwarven city of Ironforge. It wasn’t a place she normally frequented, but she needed new blood–specifically a skilled, key member in the guild who could work with magical energies.
The worgen and the druids were fine and helpful, but they weren’t much for research. She needed a real genius–someone who preferred a workbench instead of a mountain path or a fishing hole. She needed a solid, sensible gnome who didn’t mind getting her fingers dirty.
She’d spoken to a gnome in charge in Tinker Town, and he’d directed her to a bulletin board. She’d posted a notice and waited in the tavern for six hours. She’d endured the odor of the belching Worgen in the corner. She’d sat at an angle to avoid planting her hooves in the sticky patch on the floor.
Fane pushed her cup away. She was done.
A gnome girl was entering the tavern in that moment, but she appeared to be an Ironforge sanitation worker, not a scientist. She was a scraggly thing dragging a backpack that was as big as she was. Fane brushed past, but hesitated when she felt the tug on her skirt.
“You the Draenei?” the gnome girl said. “I’m looking for work.”
Fane sighed. “I need someone with skills and experience.”
“I’ve got experience,” the gnome said, biting her lip kind of sideways. “Try me.”
“Very well.” Fane felt the urge to knee the gnome aside for grabbing her skirt, but she pivoted and retook her place at the table instead, smoothing over her tension with a wave of conscious patience. A rude, crude environment was no excuse to turn rude and crude. The tragedies of Draenor and her warlock-corrupted people had taught her that much.
The dark-haired gnome girl tossed her backpack up onto the table, propped her mage staff against the wall, and climbed into the chair. The backpack was festooned with smaller pouches. It was a typical gnomish storage contraption cobbled together with tin snaps and ratty leather bindings.
“I’m Ghost,” the gnome girl said matter-of-factly. “It’s not my real name. It’s my super-gnome name, because I’m going to be great someday.”
“Wonderful,” Fane said. She tried to smile politely, even as the interview took an immediate turn for the worst. She needed a sensible gnome, not one of those gnomes with delusions of grandeur. “My name is Fane. I’m really looking for someone who is sensible and hard-working to assist me with my research. Do you understand what the Fadeleaf Society does?”
“Not really,” Ghost answered. “Your writing was a bit loopy.”
“We research the magical properties and uses of plants far beyond the realm of mere potions. I myself work with directly with enchantment. My Night Elf partner Portiah is taking an archaeological and alchemical angle, trying to recover wisdom held by the Highborne elves since before the sundering. Both of us use complex distillation apparatuses that you might be interested in. You’re an engineer, I would hope, as well as a mage?”
Ghost fidgeted. “Uh, well–no. Neither. I was born with a wrench in my hand, but right now my engineering card is revoked. I’m trying to get it back.”
Fane blinked. “Why did they revoke your card?”
“Well, I’m doing this research into demons, and–”
“Ok, that’s fine. I think we’re done here.” Fane felt her jaw clench. It was a visceral reaction that she always had when she even heard the word demon. She rose from the table, but the gnome girl threw herself bodily across the scarred wood table and grabbed her hand. The gnome girl’s hand was sweaty, dirty, and peculiarly warm, as if a hidden heat swirled under her skin.
“Please listen to me. Please? No one will listen!”
Fane took a deep breath and eyed the drunk worgen in the corner, who snuffled and looked back at her, his eyes bloodshot. The gnome girl’s eyes were wide and bleary too, wearing a quiet desperation. Fane settled back into her chair. Her spine tingled when the gnome’s hand slipped from hers. “Speak then. I’m listening.”
“I figured out a way to bind demons using electromagnetic coils,” Ghost said, her words falling over each other as she gestured agitatedly. “It happened when an imp got loose in Tinker Town, and no one wanted to touch it, but I had this flux conductor handy and I smacked it, and it started to behave all strange, and I was thinking the big problem with robots is they need fuel cells, and they’re also highly susceptible to heat and cold. Demons are resistant, and they supply their own energy.”
“They are definitely resistant.”
“So being an enterprising engineer, I worked on the imp in secret until I could control it completely just like a robot. But when I revealed my findings to the high tinker, I was banned from practicing engineering ever again! They won’t even train me! I actually started calling myself Ghost because they act like I’m invisible down there now. You know–in T-town.”
“Fascinating,” Fane said. “Maybe you just shouldn’t have been working with demons. You are aware–”
“I have it completely under control,” Ghost blurted. “But no one believes me. This could be a really important discovery, because I think I might be able to influence elementals too with the electro-conductive harnessing I’ve developed. I’m not corrupted. Gnomes don’t get corrupted. We’re resistant to magical energy, which just means it flows through us better without sticking to us. So, I was reading in your note on the T-town bulletin board that your organization is working on fringe research too–”
“It isn’t fringe.” Fane avoided the gnome’s eyes. It was true that many in the Exodar considered her a crackpot, least of all because she was working with a former Death Knight and employing worgen to do her grunt work. Fane took a deep breath. Just thinking about the worgen reminded her of why she’d wanted gnomes in the first place.
The gnome girl would work for almost nothing, and she was no less eccentric than any of the other Fadeleaf Society members, who all valued a low profile. Fane considered the permutations and the dangers of keeping her friends close and her enemies closer. Which was Ghost? Was the gnome unwittingly working for the enemies of Azeroth, or were her claims of demon-control through engineering legitimate?
“I’m good with plants too.” Ghost lifted her hand to her mouth and nibbled on her fingernail. “I grind them to make inks for my schematics, and the demons prefer to communicate with me that way too–in writing. I’m kind of short on plants, actually.”
“Do you have any friends, Ghost?” Fane said. “Anyone close? Anyone you’re working with, perhaps in secret?”
Ghost swallowed and blushed. “I…I have a gnome friend. She’s a mage, but she isn’t serious about research like I am. We’ve been traveling together. We sleep in a folding tent that I sewed together myself.”
Fane nodded and looked once again into Ghost’s blue eyes, past the faint shadow of the grease smudge on the bridge of the gnome’s nose. She thought she understood then where the psychic warmth in Ghost’s hand had come from, and it wasn’t from consorting with demons. Ghost thought she was pretty. That sealed the deal.
“I’d like to extend you a junior member status in the Fadeleaf Society,” Fane said. “Your friend may join too if she wishes. Cali is a druid friend of Portiah’s who supplies us with raw materials. Just let her know what you need. You’ll see her at the meeting next week.”