Ringo Flinthammer paused on the hill outside the family’s new home in Thelsamar. He closed his eyes and breathed in the warm air and listened to the sounds echoing across the loch: the chirp of songbirds, the grunting of boars, the calls of the waterfowl and the crocolisks.
He opened his eyes to a suffusion of yellow, a blast of golden sunlight filling the small valley that made up the town. It wasn’t the pale light of Northrend, slipping quickly through heavy snow-laden clouds. Ringo was warmer, straight through to the bone, than he’d been since first setting out for Northrend more than a year ago.
His new mountaineer boots weren’t yet broken in, and his uniform was still a bit too new and crisp for his tastes, so Ringo headed down the hill and into town.
Ringo furrowed his brow and followed the gray-haired dwarf into the tavern.
“I just turned around,” Higgleby was telling a gathering crowd, “And there he was, as big as life, and twice as ugly: The great beast himself!”
“Weren’t you scared?” asked a local woman.
“Don’t panic — that’s my motto! Well,” he paused for a long moment, and the crowd laughed with him, “Not so scared as I couldn’t shoot straight anyway. I stood my ground and plugged the beast right between the eyes. He dropped like a stone. So, drinks for everyone! This will be a great tale to tell my friends back in Ironforge!”
“Er,” Ringo said, raising a finger. “Ye say ye killed Ol’ Sooty? That’s a mite peculiar …”
A heavy hand on his shoulder stopped him.
“Mountaineer,” Magistrate Bluntnose growled into Ringo’s ear, “Might I have a word with you — outside?”
Ringo allowed himself to be steered out into the street and the golden light of the day.
“You’re new here,” Bluntnose said, looking Ringo up and down. “Flinthammer, is it?”
“Aye, yer mayorship,” Ringo nodded. “Ah was just pointing out that Ah killed Ol’ Sooty some years back and whatever bear …”
“Flinthammer,” Bluntnose interrupted him. “Do you know what makes Thelsamar run?”
“Tourism, Flinthammer, tourism. Thelsamar isn’t like Kharanos, with its proximity to Ironforge, nor Menethil Harbor, with its seaport. If we’re going to do more than just get by here, Thelsamar needs tourists.”
“So, Ol’ Sooty …”
“Was invented 40 years ago by my late father. The biggest bear in Grizzlepaw Ridge tends to move into the cave if no other bear has claimed it, and we’ve been telling tourists since before the First War that whatever bear lived there was Ol’ Sooty, the deadly man-eater, too clever to be caught, too mighty to be killed. They march up there, plug that bear, and go home and tell their friends what a grand time they had in Thelsamar, Gateway to Loch Modan.”
“But that tenderfoot …”
“If there’s anything more important than his ego around, I want it caught and shot now,” Bluntnose snapped. “Now, not a word about this. A week from now, some other tourist will be boasting about the same thing and Vidra and the rest of them will coo over him just as the same they are that rube.”
“Fair enough, sir,” Ringo nodded. “Ah’ll go congratulate him now.”
Inside, though, the mood had changed. A pair of veterans, their armor showing the signs of having seen much combat against the Horde, had flanked Higgleby and were poking at him.
“He doesn’t look like much,” the night elf sneered. “Come on, mighty hunter: Show us what you’ve got.”
“No, he doesn’t,” a draenei replied, flicking the older dwarf in the ear. “I think he’s going to cry.”
“Here now!” Ringo barked. “There’s enough seats for everyone ‘ere, and plenty of ale and food. Everyone jus’ wants to have a good time. Why don’t ye two just go sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and leave this one alone, then?”
The pair turned on Ringo, grinning unpleasantly.
“You are very fat and stupid and persistently wear a ridiculous hat,” the night elf said, tugging at Ringo’s uniform hood, “which you should be ashamed of.”
“Some factual information for you,” the draenei said, leaning in close to whisper in his ear. “Have you any idea how much damage my friend would suffer if I just let him roll straight over you?”
“How much?” Ringo asked.
“None at all,” said the draenei.
Ringo glanced from one to the other. The Hearthstoves, who ran the inn, were standing behind the rowdy pair, silently pleading with Ringo to do something.
He pivoted on his heel and marched out of the tavern, laughter ringing in his ears.
Ringo could still hear it, even though he was long out of sight, as he marched into his house, where Beli was in the midst of unpacking.
“Daddy!” Bael squealed, giving his legs a quick hug.
“Back so soon?” Beli asked.
“Gettin’ somethin’,” Ringo said, popping the top off a crate and getting lucky on the first try.
The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush.
“Make it evil,” he’d been told. “Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.”
Ringo loaded his rifle up and hung an ammo pouch off his belt, then headed back to the tavern.
“Out,” he said, pointing the gun at the pair, who had moved on to questioning Vidra Hearthstove about her fondness for sausages. “Now.”
“Xavius’s hairy sack,” spat the night elf, “That’s a Scourge weapon.”
“He’s a mountaineer,” sneered the draenei. “He doesn’t know how to use it. GET HIM!”
Ringo winged them both. They were alive when they were carried out and dumped and given a free gryphon ride to Stormwind, where they would be somebody else’s problem.
Ringo stomped back into the tavern, exhausted.
“You look like you need the new drink I’ve been working on, mountaineer,” said Vidra. “I call it the Shrapnel Blaster.”
“Aye? What’s it like?”
“It’s like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”
“Make it a double.”
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