The Power of Three A collaborative story about how the Grey Tiger Tong regained communicator contact with operatives on the other side of the Dark Portal by Phealea, Krelle, Taijiang, Taai, Kyanali and Talula
"Ok. Explain it to me once more."
The three women had been sitting around the workshop table for hours, the humid Vale air had made at least one brain quite foggy. Phealea sighed patiently and began round four of Portal Theory 101.
"It's like if you were trying to push a piece of string upriver and aiming for a specific rock. The string would need to be strong enough that it wouldn't just flop back on itself and you'd have to take into account all the variables in the current."
Talula absently doodled a river, a piece of string and a rock onto a piece of parchment, looking for an answer. "What if we reduced the amplitude of the signal through the transponder?" Krelle asked, looking at her own notes.
Talula shook her head. "That doesn't make sense. You can't just stretch the wave ou..." She stopped abruptly, looking at her sketch then at Krelle. "Can you?" she asked, leaning over to see the Forsaken's notes. Krelle did some long equasions on her parchment and the two engineers broke out into huge grins.
"We'd need a couple of really big antenna" said Krelle. Talula nodded and said "And for the best signal, we'll want to make sure they're both on bedrock and we don't know what's on the other side of the portal yet. Plus we'd also need to get some kind of magical dampening field around the signal to shield it from the arcane forces." She turned back to the mage who was beginning to look excited. "Can that be done?"
Phealea muttered to herself as she was going over the basics of bending time and space. It was a simple task to move something from one end of Azeroth to the other, but from Azeroth to Outland was a different beast.
She listened to the two engineers go one about their theory as she study the various tomes about her, making notes in her own little book. As she made a few notes something clicked in her head. She made portals through the use of the use of power runes. A grin slowly formed on her face.
It was then Talula asked her about dampening the arcane energies around it. Phealea frowned in thought as she tapped her fingers against the harden surface of the table. After a moment or two a smile formed on her face.
Phealea began to write feverishly, as if it was a matter of life and death. She was making calculations in her head as she continued scribing her newest theory.
As Krelle and Talula looked at Phealea with odd looks, Phealea smiled and turned to the two observers. "I may have an idea here. Though the comm system itself may need a slightly large power supply." She said with a grin. "Nothing too big mind, something that can be concealed in a pocket."
"What do you mean, Miss Phea?" Talula asked, with a curious look on her face.
"Well as for the dampening, that can be done, but it has to be a field. Not allowing outside arcane forces in, or at least not a overwhelming amount. The reason for that is the new power supply will need to have a small rune inside. In theory mind you, it is the rune that could allow the waves from the comm through to our side of the portal. However, the designing of the power supply and the increased range on the comm is on you guys." Phealea explained with her normal cocky smirk about her features.
Talula nodded, comprehension finally dawning. "So it's like putting the signal into a lead sleeve before it ever leaves the comm unit. And with Miss Krelle's longer wavelength, the signal should go far enough to reach Outland and back."
A diagram of the new comm unit began to take shape beneath her quill. They would have to be slightly larger, but not ungainly. The new housing could be Thorium to make them more durable and to help contain the pieces should the whole business explode because their calculations were off.
"We're going to need to get in contact with someone in the Outlands to find out about what's directly on the other side and to set up the antenna." Talula said. "Any ideas how to reach the Tigers in the Outlands?"
Krelle watched with interest as her friend started to brainstorm sketches for the new com unit. She found it endlessly fascinating to watch the gnome work. While it was true that her own mind was quick, and she could easily follow the theoretical discussions, she did not have the years of experience in the field that Lu did.
The quill flew across the paper, leaving trails of half-formed sketches and scratched out ideas in its wake. Occasionally Krelle would chime in with a suggestion or a question that might lead to an alteration, but mostly she just sat and stared, absorbing everything the gnome was babbling about as she drew.
"We're going to need to get in contact with someone in the Outlands to find out about what's directly on the other side and to set up the antenna." Talula eventually said. "Any ideas how to reach the Tigers in the Outlands?"
"Not really," she said with a shake of her head. "But Nerrok said he'd only be gone a few days, to scout around, and that he'd be back in Orgrimmar - at least briefly - some time at the end of this week. If we could get a few of these new models whipped up by then, he could take them back with him."
"He's definitely going back out, then?" Phelea asked.
Krelle nodded. "He hasn't said as much but... I wouldn't expect to see much of him around Azeroth in the next... while," she said, leaving it vague as to how long he'd be gone.
Nerrok had left a note with Kareth, that fateful night that the portal had opened. "This is the big one, Squirt. Meet me here at the end of the week - I'll come back and tell you all about it. I know you wanted to come with, but it's too dangerous. -N"
At first she had worried a bit about the hunter, but reason told her she was being silly. Nerrok was pretty much invincible, after all. He'd come back. He promised.
Still. It would be nice to talk to him... just to keep in touch.
She bent her head over the notes again, focusing her mind on the task at hand.
The three minds worked all night theorizing, brainstorming, sketching. The sun was beginning to rise over the Bay, casting it's orange glow across the sea of notes and drawings. They had a plan. It was radical, experimental and probably quite dangerous, but all three agreed that it was the best shot they had. Two blueprints rested on the table. One was an enormous schematic for a complicated antenna relay and the other was a design for the new comm units.
Talula smiled. "You know, if you guys had been gnomes, we'd have never lost Gnomeregan. Someone grab a comm and get the others down here. We should see what they think about this."
She hopped down from her chair and put on a fresh pot of coffee. Company was coming.
Tai looked across the table, gauging the look in Taai's eyes as she glanced down at her cards. He smiled to himself. He'd lost his share of hands to Taai but she had a knack for letting her feelings show - and she was feeling that she might have to bluff her way out of a crappy hand. No doubt, she'd try. He'd seen that before. She was not one to fold.
Tai flicked his gaze to Kya, sitting back in her chair, a deep furrow across her brow, apparently deeply considering her hand. Tai bit his lip to contain his laugh. Kya was not to be underestimated. She was keenly aware of others and how they reacted to things. And right now, she was trying to convince the table that she really wasn't sure ... Yeah right, watch her. She must have some pretty little faces looking back at her from her hand.
As he considered this, he glanced over to Ollie, sitting there, seemingly relaxed, the fingers of her free hand rhythmically turning a silver coin over and over, flipping between her fingers. She wasn't paying any attention to the coin, her own eyes instead looking across at Tai. Tai grinned visibly now. The watcher was also the watched. Just like Ollie to be trying to figure him out and use that knowledge to her own advantage.
Kennia came back to the table, two more bottles of port in hand, and smiled with a shake of her head. She enjoyed these times, where the 'family' was together, relaxing. She was so used to being on guard, that a chance like this to just sit and relax with her husband and her friends was a welcome change of pace. She refilled all their glasses, leaning on the back of Tai's chair and looking at his cards, keeping her face neutral ...
Krelle's cheery voice, crackling over the comm, crackled in all their ears, "You all HAVE got to come see this! We're gonna' need a hand getting this done but ... Just come to the store!" Tai snorted a small laugh, and put his cards down on the table, face down, looking around, "This I gotta' see ...'
Phealea walked back into the office with three large cups of tea. It is amazing how fast one can heat water when the know how to harness the essence of fire. She took another sip of tea as she looked over the blue prints and smiled.
"Simply brilliant. We out did ourselves." Phealea mused to herself, as Talula offered her compliment to the other two in the room.
"Nerrok and Tai should be happy on how much progress we made." Krelle said, with a proud smile on her face.
Phea sat back in her chair and smiled. She was a bit tired, but doing research all night was something she was accustom too. More than anything she was smiling as she seems to have her energy back. She had been weak from her last great adventure, but this project seemed to help give her back her spark.
Now all she had to do was kick back and wait for Tai to show up. Poking at Tai always made her day a little bit better.
Taai mentally swore! A King, Queen, Ten, three and an Ace. Pfft. That's it.. Ace high. Wriggling the tip of her nose, she darted glances to Tai, Kya and Ollie.
Ever an attentive ear to the comm., listening to that one preferred voice...waiting for him to return from the Portal..
She startled when Krelle's voice drifted all excited. Flashing a grin, she couldn't help but spread her cards out. "Maybe she bae havin' a Jack of Spades over there... Let's go."
"And that pretty much sums it up." Talula concluded her portion of the presentation and waited for questions.
Tai Jiang's face was the serene mask he wore when he was calculating angles. "So what are the dangers?"
The trio exchanged glances and Talula looked down at her feet. "The trouble with this technology is that it's relying on its inner workings and not on innate knowledge" said Phea. "When I'm controling a portal, I can feel the energies and make minor adjustments as necessary."
"We're confident about the calculations based on Phea's data" added Krelle "the trouble is in the power source. We can't be 100% certain if this portal will effect the structure of the crystals or not. We won't know until we've tested it."
"I'm volunteering for the job of testing the transmitter on the other side" Talula said, looking up from her shuffling feet. "If something goes wrong, I should be able to shut the thing down and make adjustments before anything explodes. I'd say the odds of explosion are pretty low. Probably about 30%."
Tai raised an eyebrow at Talula, her eyes hidden under the brim of her hat. The three of them had cooked up quite a plan and one very potentially useful device. They'd also just intimated that it was one fel of a crap shoot.
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and looking at the three of them. He began, in a calm voice, "So, let me see if I've got this straight ..." He paused, glancing around at Kennia, Taai and Ollie, all of whom had paid close attention to the presentation as well. He looked back to the creators and continued, "Relying on inner workings and not 'innate knowledge' sounds a bit to me like none of you are entirely sure just how this works." As Phealea, Krelle and Talula began to protest in a noisy outburst of indignation, Tai put up a hand and smiled. They quieted for a moment, long enough for him to continue.
"Alright, so you know enough to give this a go and make those up", he said, nodding to one of the improvised comms; "But it seems that we're playing with fire with the crystals and the portal, right?" He paused and the silence was answer enough.
"Now I'm a gambling man, and I like to know the odds so I can play them", he said, looking around the table. "And I've learned to be careful about two things - one, how much you're willing to wager...", he said softly, glancing for a moment in Talula's direction. Tai paused, running his tongue over his lips, "... and how to play the cards you're dealt as best you can."
Tai cleared his throat, noticing the worried look on Kennia's face, knowing her affection for Talula. He looked back to the three inventors, and said, "Thirty percent is high risk - and I'm not gambling you on that Talula. No way." The gnome looked up, revealing her wide eyes at Tai's command. He pressed on now, "I'd be hard put to gamble any Tiger with those odds, but if I were going to .... I'd make damn sure it was one with the most field experience."
He could see Talula was hurt, as she cast her eyes down. He saw Phea and Krelle exchange glances. Tai grimaced, and explained, "We can't just worry about the risk of the crystals - there's a whole world beyond the Portal, one that I'm going to assume adds a whole new element of risk. Von's going anyway, hired on with Shame .... He can do it."
Tai ran his hand over his mouth and down his chin, looking around the room, trying to figure out how to best play this 'hand'. He wasn't happy about any of this, but the risks of not being able to communicate with Tigers was even greater. Standing, he added, "Might be wise to add a remote trigger for Von to turn on his comm, eh?" Talula looked up again, nodding, while Krelle smiled one of her small smiles.
"That's fine, as far as it goes, Tai," Krelle said after a moment's pause. "But Von won't know how to fix it after he passes through. There's almost certainly going to have to be adjustments - tuning it, if nothing else - and we won't be able to direct him in how to do it until after the coms are working."
Tai frowned slightly and she hurried on. "Of course you're right about there being dangers on the other side of the portal - you guys won't catch me near it any time soon, I'll tell you that much - but one of us is going to have to go through to make the adjustments to the antenna on the other side. Lu's got the most experience with this sorta tech, anyway, so the way I see it, she ought to go through with Von. Or maybe, right after him or something. It won't take her long to make whatever tiny, minor adjustments are necessary, I'm sure - and from what I hear, the other side of the portal is inside a base. So it'd be pretty safe."
Tai had been directing his pensive frown at Talula as Krelle spoke, but now he turned his piercing gaze to her. "What's the worst case scenario?"
Krelle carefully adopted her very best blank expression. "We're pretty sure that the worst that could happen is that it would just blow up."
He arched an eyebrow at her. "Pretty sure?"
She nodded. "Pretty sure. And frankly, there ain't that much power in it - it's only a com device, not a charge. It would just be a minor explosion. Plus we deliberately designed it to disable itself quickly and minimize damage if it does start to um, overheat. That way we can recover data about what went wrong, you see," she said smoothly, glancing from side to side at Talula and Phealea for backup. Phealea nodded, also poker-faced. Talula was still hiding under her hat. Krelle gave Tai and the assembled humans a wry grin.
"Either Von learns the principles of portal transmission technology, or one of us goes through. Otherwise..." she paused, her grin fading. "Otherwise we'll just have to keep guessing how our family's doing over there."
She paused, deliberately letting the emotional weight of the statement sink in. She was secretly glad Kya and Taai were there. They missed their boys too, she was sure. She looked down at her feet, poking one toe into the carpet absently.
"I hope Nerrok's ok," she said softly, almost to herself.
Phealea stepped in smoothly, finishing the move. "We're confident enough to go ahead with it - but it's your call, Tai, of course," she said respectfully.
Krelle had to focus hard on how much she missed Nerrok to avoid smirking.
"Miss Krelle is right. Mr. Von is quite skilled at many things, but I don't think the directions for setting up the antenna are something that we can easily explain. It's a lot of complicated data from both arcane and engineering standpoints. We've been working on it all week. He's been gone all week."
Tai didn't look convinced. Talula didn't have the heart to tell him that 30% was a decent risk for most experimental Gnomish designs on their first go. Instead, she said, "The fact is sir, that we'll only run the risk the first time. Miss Phea and Miss Krelle designed a nifty gadget that will take readings as I go through the portal. Once we plug that information in with the results of our first test run, we'll be able to any necessary adjustments and the whole business as safe as the comms we have now. We only need the one test run and then it's all safe as houses."
She looked up then. Her ice blue eyes locked with Tai's dark green, a gesture the gnome rarely offered. "Just one test, and that is something you can bet the bank on."
Taai glances over to Kya, as they talk about explosions, rolling a pair of dice in her palm. Idly she wondered how 'lucky' Vonn would feel, but knowing the Nightelf, she was more than confident if anything went wrong, he would be able to handle the situation. Nodding towards Talula as she listened, grasping the general gists of risk, she leaned near Krelle, overhearing her miss Nerrok. A soft smile form, as she nudged the growing rogue, whispering. "Tch, He will bae alright.. ya seen him fight, besides he gots Steeltusk with him.. that boar bae more stubborn than any mule." She winks, before waiting to see the arrival of the decision.
Tai paused for a long moment, looking back at Talula. His first instinct swelled up in his chest, to slam his fist on the table and begin barking orders - lessons learned back in the days of running a small gang on the streets of Old Town, before the goblin's agent had tapped him to rebuild the Tong. Now it was Kennia's hand on his shoulder that stopped him.
She'd seen what was developing and come up behind Tai's chair. She gently squeezed his shoulder, and he stopped, looking up to her face. That moment stopped him, and let his better sense take hold. Her timing had been perfect.
He took a deep breath, and looked back around the table. These weren't the old days - and honestly he was better off for it. These Tigers were skilled, well-trained, and smart. If, as had just happened now, they teamed up on him and out-maneuvered him ... well, all the better for the Tong. Though his teeth were clenched, he smiled and nodded, "Alright, alright ... Talula, you go with Von, and no talking me out of that. If you can find Nerrok and Sunya there, all the better."
Tai glanced at Krelle - smart. Smart enough to be either dangerous or very, very valuable, he thought. He smirked at his own line of thought and then cast a grateful look to Kennia. He gave her a slight nod, and she smiled back, understanding what he was saying.
Krelle, Phealea and Talula shared a look between themselves. After only a week of teamwork, it seemed the three were able to communicate in glances. The corner of Phea's mouth turned up in the confident smirk that had become so familiar and although she kept her composure, the gnome could see the obvious delight Krelle had in the thought of speaking to Nerrok. Her partners were pleased and excited. "And they should be" Talula thought. "This is good work. Breakthrough work."
She stole glances at Kya and Taai and Oleander. They were excited too at the prospect of being in closer touch with friends and loved ones in the world beyond the Dark Portal. "We can bring them this. We've got it figured out. I know it."
Beneath the confident thoughts, however, there was only one thing. Fear.
"So, when do we do this?" asked Tai, still sounding displeased at how trio had manuvered the situation.
"Sunday" said Phea. "After the meeting" added Krelle. "If that's alright with you, sir?" Talula asked.
The dark portal crackled and hissed with Fel magics. Nerrok stood at the top of the ramp with Steeltusk, waiting for her.
"It's going to be fine" said Kya Nali with confidence. Her eyes betrayed her though. Worry was there and that made the knots in the gnome's stomach tighten more. Phealea mushed the gnomes hat around her head, said "You'll be fine" and gave her a hug. The mage used the opportunity to whisper "Don't forget, signs of a secondary portal will be air crackling, foul smells or small electrical bursts."
Talula nodded and headed to where Nerrok was waiting. "Love you, Lu!" Kya called to the gnomes back. Talula smiled and said in a low voice they could not hear "I love you guys too."
Nerrok looked down at her as she approached. The huge boar shuffled impatiently at his side. "Ready?" he rumbled. Talula nodded and together they stepped through the gate.
Cannon fire and clashing steel greeted them on the other side. "Get started" the orc yelled, "I'm going ahead about 50 feet to help keep the area clear."
Talula nodded as he sprinted off. Looking around, she was pleased to see all the exposed rock. The antenna would set up easily. She scurried off the gate platform and climbed a small hill and got to work.
With the last of the antenna bolts in place, there was nothing left but to test the unit. She scanned the area for signs of her protector. His gleaming armor was just visible and heading towards her through a sea of fighting bodies.
She switched on the antenna and the comm. Static. Playing with the tuners, she picked up on a familiar voice. "ssshhhhzzzzzzzz....ear me? Tal....ssshhhzzz" She made some further adjustments and then the reception was clear. "Miss Phea? I hear you just fine! I'm transmitting the portal data to you now, but it looks like it works."
The gnome felt a strange heat behind her as she worked. She glanced casually over her shoulder and saw a swirling black mist starting to take shape. Cursing she said into the comm "Miss Phea! Shut it down! A secondary portal has opened." Talula watched as the portal swirled and formed and an abomination stepped out. "SHUT IT DOWN NOW!" she yelled. The comm had gone dead.
The beast was nine feet tall and covered in thick plates and spines that oozed a putrid ichor. One head was a snarling rat's snout, eyes blazing and forked tongue lashing out at her. The other head looked like a giant baby's except for the dark black eyes and the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth.
She heard Nerrok's battle cry from behind her and felt the ground shake as Steeltusk charged the demon. An armored tentacle lashed out, deflecting the boar's blow while the wicked hand reached for Talula. She dodged and spun, but claws raked across her back, piercing the leather armor and finding skin. She scrambled away reaching for the dropped comm. From the corner of her eye, she could see ivory tusks gouge at the demon's belly and heard the sound of Nerrok's gun as it fired at close range. The beast screamed and tentacles reached out to grab at the orc's weapon.
Talula fumbled with the comm and switched it off just as the second demon was reaching through the blackness. She turned in time to see the mighty warrior cleave through the tentacle that had his arm. Foul blackness sprayed across his face and he deftly stepped aside as angry teeth snapped close to his chest.
Reaching into her pack, Talula grabbed a bundle of dynamite and lit it. "Nerrok! Incoming!" she yelled and tossed the explosives at the demon's feet. He barked an orcish command at the boar who jumped away from his enemy. Talula could see the orc's grin from behind his helmet as he crouched and shielded himself from the impact.
The demon lost his ballance with the force of the explosion and fell to his back, leaving it's weak underbelly exposed. A last remaining tentacle reached out and grabbed the gnome's arm. She felt the familiar, sickening pop and the world went black for a moment.
She came to her senses in time to see the frenzied orc and boar slashing at the demon's underside. Its screams echoed across the din of the nearby battle and then it lay still.
Talula untangled herself from the demon's remains and reached for the spare comm. As Nerrok approached, she made the last adjustments to the unit and switched it on.
The orc raised an eyebrow and said "Well?" She smiled and raised the comm to him, its volume all the way up. Familiar voices from the other side of the gate could clearly be heard.
Kya knelt watching Phea's hands and fingers spin in a whirlwind of frenzy. Sweat dripped from Phea's forehead as she fought with the time monster to figure out a solution. Kya had never felt so helpless as she did right then. The nasty portal had not only swallowed her love and their Horde Master, but now the most endearing gnome she had ever met, who held a ticking time bomb in her very hands.
This just had to work! It had to! Tai's anxious voice over the comm, awaiting news of the outcome added to the tension. It was no small comfort to know Krelle and Kennia were doing all they could to distract the man who stood to lose three of the best Tigers ever to the dangers beyond that swirling well of evil.
Colors flew into the air surrounding Phealea, as her energies grew in intensity. Phea managed through gritted teeth, "Kya, keep a close watch on me in case I get lost."
What the fel did that mean? "But how will I know?"
Phea could barely reply, "Trust me, you'll know."
Seconds seemed like hours... Phea's fingers flying in a blur... Kya's heart lurching at the thought of never hearing Von's voice again... Tai's insistance on the comm, "We may not have seconds!"
And then contact. Static with clarity that followed... Talula's relieved and weary little scratchy voice. Kya gave Phea a stronger than necessary pat on the back from all the tension she felt released. And out of the corner of her eye, caught Lu's adorable little legs wobble in a slightly weaving path down the ramp from the portal. As she approached them, her weariness took over and Lu's legs went right out from under her. It looked almost as if she meant to lie down for a nap.
Kya scrambled to her feet and closed the distance, grabbing Lu and swirling her around with glee. Poor Lu's limp and tired arms could not even cling to Kya. Gently Kya set her back down on the ground and tried to reign in her exuberance. "Can I rest yet?" Lu asked simply. Phea replied with, "I know how you feel," drenched from the sweat of her efforts.
The comm was functioning again but Von must have turned his off, knowing it was not working. Kya burst forth with the understatement of the year, "Nerrok's invincible, lucky for us, eh?" Kya was going to knock that big guy over in a humongo hug next time she saw him.
She went back to the comfort of her own apartment that night and climbed into her creaky little single bed, pulling Von the Toad close to her heart. Maybe if she kissed him, the real Von would materialize, even if only in her dreams. Kya puckered up her lips and planted a smack on the toad. Sadly, all she got was a wide mouthed grin in return. She fell into a quiet and dark dreamless sleep.