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Bronwen

The Blade and The Cat

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On the first day, there is nothing.

Nothing too far out of the ordinary for a dying forest, at least. Silverpine is the same rotting land in ruins it has been for far too many years, and the undead are of absolutely no help to it. The trees are either dying or getting chopped to the ground, as the Forsaken seem it proper to adopt foul orcish custom these days. Abominations still roam the land and belch their putrid gases into the air to mingle with the poisonous fumes wafting from the work of the camp apothecaries, which in turn mixes with the smoke rising from destroyed weapons of failed sieges against straggling insurgents trying to take back their land. Burning trash heaps that were once plague catapults, so trash heaps they remain. 

There is nothing of interest here. Everything is just as expected and that would be much more reassuring were it not for major military movement a continent away. Moving along unseen is simple enough when no one is looking for a lone red-headed human skulking through the shadows of towering trees at a slow and steady foot-pace, and when the air is already tainted with death, chemicals, and soot. Bronwen blends in with the night well enough, being clad in dark leather, heavy hood to shadow her face and a long dark cloak draped across her shoulders and falling down her back. It all doesn't do so much against the greenery clinging futilely to its hold on the land, but standing in a shadow or crouched upon a low bough of a tree shields her from even eyes that may have been looking for her, or someone like her. If they are waiting, they'll have to keep waiting. She has plenty of time to watch, herself, for now. 

 

Late on the second day, a patrol of three guards trudge shoulder to shoulder along the road down the middle of the forest, weapons and shields sheathed and at rest. They speak to each other in something that sounds to be very clearly Common, one might think at first sound, but some alien form of it that damaged throats produce. Sickly, gravely, breathless. They hardly sound like real words when produced airlessly, and all three have (or had) the same malady, it seems. If one discounts the condition of undeath, that is. They're bored, and that much can be told by the way they scan the trees with uninterested gazes. Nothing is out of order. Move along the route, don't waste time, she assumes of their methods.

Nothing is out of order until they come upon a mound of dirt kicked up on the side of the road near one of the barricades set up on the sides. The work of a plagued wolf at best, or moon-crazed beast at worst. An annoying thing to happen across, but one easily remedied to keep wagons and carriages from being slowed. Claw marks that plunged into the dirt where the soil was scooped up and piled haphazardly onto the broken cobblestone by paws searched for something that may or may not have been found. Probably nothing was found, judging by the way the hole is left unfinished, if such a thing could ever be considered finished. The last of the scrapes drag off into the forest itself, leading towards the southeast.

The deathguard in front, the one wearing the heaviest plate and what seemed to be many replacement parts, spouts what could have been a curse at the mess. It follows a noise that sounds as if it could have been the echo of a sigh: a shuddering motion made out of deeply ingrained habit rather than an actual breath. It makes Bronwen's face crinkle, the ghastliness of it, even as she shifts silently from her perch she made just far enough that she can still hear it. The guard swings a foot at the pile to kick it off of the stone of the road, which produces an explosion that is just big enough to send his sword arm flying into one direction and his helmet into another. Bronwen can't tell if it contains his head or not, but she doesn't care to wait and see. With the scrambling of his two fellows, she turns and prowls off through the shadows north into the direction of Tirisfal.

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Early on the third day the agent makes good time reaching the Ruins of Lordaeron, if one could call sneaking past a choke point filled with undead troops in any form 'quick'. Crossing to Fenris Isle, then crossing again to the mainland shore would be much too conspicuous to even the least vigilant peering eyes, so Bronwen pays off a band of rebellious worgen with a good chunk of her supplies to create some trouble on the other side of the road closer to the water to draw the guards' attention. Even if one or a few are ordered to keep watch, the nearby commotion helps her pass through the shadows, and the skirmishers are more than happy to help out, both for the reason to charge in and create trouble and for the small reserve of first aid supplies, dried meat and fruit she leaves with their camp. "At least someone appreciates it," she thinks, but not until she's safely past the redoubt and allows herself the chance to roll her eyes. 

The relatively clear but still sickly-looking skies of Silverpine become even more clouded and gloomy with every step of the human's creeping advance. It is the same as she expects. Same as it always was, but it makes her frown a little bit more, this time. The dead winds are a little more fetid and the howls of blighted hounds more ominous to her, and that's even without the haze of knowing nothing more than Astranaar has been attacked, at this point. Attacked again, more appropriately. There are elves all over the forest there hiding in the trees, she believes. If the fantastical stories about them are to be believed there is one kaldorei for each tree and they each can fell an orc between the boughs before a human eye can even see them, but that particular conversation has never come up between her and a night elf. 

She tries to think nothing of it, as she has her own tasks before her. The first of which is to find a tree to climb for watch, reporting, and somewhat of a nap while she can manage such a thing. There is one in particular she likes to choose while here that's fairly close to the sewers, but far enough that even the patrols with the widest avenues don't reach. It's tall with plenty of foliage and broad offshoots and it works perfectly as watching the giant disgusting divide in the side of the hills is one great note to check off of the list of things she has to scout. Her eyes stay on it and the sporadic bat-traffic that comes and goes, but her mind wanders just enough so she doesn't zone entirely out. 

She thinks about how she wants to go peek inside, despite orders stating not to do that very thing. She knows better, and she'd not come out until she'd wasted all her time harassing poor merchants and throwing dust into bats' faces as they passed through the arches up high to throw their riders to the ground. At least she'd do that if she wasn't bored and daring enough to throw it into the faces of the mages maintaining the city's portals and interrupt their focus enough to break the connection to the others for a few moments. She wonders if she should have first run off to Kalimdor to get her nightsaber from Darnassus, as she's planned to bring her home and put off for a couple weeks now, instead of reporting to Command for orders that ultimately brought her here. 

There are plenty of other things she thinks on, particularly the more comfortable things that have been left behind for who knows how long. While watching the great lack of activity happening around the sewers for a good while, Bronwen uses a runestone to recount her actions and observations in both Silverpine and Tirisfal up until this point. It amounts to very little, but little change this far gives her more focus for what's to come next. When the day is yet young, she shifts her cloak to wrap it around herself a little better, both for hiding from sight within the shadows of the branches and for a strangely comforting warmth. 

On the fourth day, after activity doesn't pick up, Bronwen makes her way uneventfully to the Bulwark, and gives her report on it and the barren entrance to the ruined city. 

Late on the fifth day, she turns back and makes her way towards Brill again, scooping fine sandy dirt into a pouch or two to stash in a leg pocket near her potions and antidotes. Upon fitting it inside and loosening the strings just enough to be able to reach into it when she needed it, she spies a lone patrolman walking down the road in her direction with a sword strapped across his back, a torch in his hand, and the Icon of Torment on his chest. She crouches in the bushes with a blade drawn and waits for him to pass, and in a quick flurry from behind a clean dagger is sent up through his throat and into his head with precision. She only looks down the road and back towards the other direction with little mind paid to his gurgling and lurching, since she expects and accounts for it in her own bracing movements. She hardly even looks at his face when she pulls her blade free once he falls still and inspects him just enough to be sure that he is in fact entirely dead, now. 

The body is left unpilfered in the middle of the road, and the torch left to burn itself out. Bronwen finds another tree to climb into a great distance away from the scene so she can watch what comes next, and plan accordingly. 

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Nothing happens as she sits and watches until even the smoke from the burnt-out torch no longer rises. Nothing happens quickly, at least, and Bronwen has a lot of ground to cover so she ultimately decides that she shouldn’t be wasting time on this. She had expected maybe someone coming quickly when a regular patrol was delayed, but they don’t come before she begins to get impatient. Perhaps Command was more than correct in assuming much of the bulk of their excess soldiers were on Kalimdor and there was less than imagined to spare on something so mundane on forest patrol. That thought made her uneasy, and in accepting that it might be a great while before someone was to appear and check on the dead, she moves on. This time she plans on going to back west and towards the northern wall of Brill, but not until after she sets up a lure. 

Eventually, late night into early morning, two guards do march down the road with their best attempts at scowls on their faces to search for a stalker that may or may not have taken a break on his route for who knows what reason tonight. Neither of them carry torches themselves, just so they wouldn't ruin their chance to be able to sneak up on the lazy or distracted guard. The one with daggers at his sides watches the road, while the one holding a bow in her hand peers through the trees. Even if she’s *not* watching the road, she spies the corpse laying in the middle of the way and stops the man beside her by swinging her bow in front of him. He's annoyed at first, until he looks ahead and realizes what she sees. His hand moves to his daggers, and her bow is flicked up to smack him in the jaw before being nocked. 

The woman turns her head to tell the man to dash to town and alert the guards there of their findings, but when she turns her head she can see a small fire smoldering within the trees in perfect view of the road. Her words stop short as her eyes narrow, and instead she signals to her fellow. It’s punctuated with a smack to the back of the head, but that is the only sound that’s made between here and creeping upon the small burning pile. No one is there, neither are there footsteps leading to or away from it. No evidence of anyone being around is here, aside from the very deliberate creation of the tiniest bonfire. The woman peers through the woods through hiding, even if she’s sure the two are safe, makes a breathless snorting sound upon seeing another small blaze ahead. 

“What?” 

“Another one.” She points out towards the west. “Signals.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Do you want to keep your head?” He doesn’t answer. She’s about to continue when she sees yet another two flare up in the distance, many meters apart, like they were each just lit. The archer grabs onto the stalker’s head and turns it so he can see them too. 

“Let’s go rally the boys and stomp out some pests,” she says, and tugs on the collar of his armor to quickly drag him back towards town. 

Edited by Bronwen
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Many hours later on the way north towards Brill, Bronwen slowly moves toward the city proper first to peer at the entrance once again. A few guards are there, of course, but still a couple more than she would have expected to have riled up just yet. She frowns and collapses her spyglass between her hands. Of course, she still wants to go inside anyway despite her orders, and it wouldn’t be the first time that she defied that specific instruction in a situation much like this. She's fortunately wise enough to know the difference between merely wanting to go cause problems for the enemy and instinct telling her to diverge from the plan, and this time she again chooses to not be so careless. 

West of Brill, just far enough away that the town itself is obscured by the gloom in the air, she encounters a watch post. It's one she doesn’t remember having seen on this spot before with three guards: one forsaken standing beyond the perimeter and staring north, one sitting on a log and poking at the campfire with a stick, and an orc of all people that appears to be sleeping. By the noise he’s making it sounds as if he's sleeping, too. The rogue curls a lip in mild disgust and adjusts her cowl before she grabs a handful of the sandy dirt she gathered a few days prior. It gets moistened by some of the little bit of water she has left, because she knows very well that plain dirt or sand or powder of any kind has little hold over decaying skin and dry eyes. 

The orc is dispatched as he sleeps with a precise dagger to the throat, since he would have been the more difficult fight by far. The man by the fire gets a face full of sticky mud as he turns and draws his weapons, but instead of backing off like others might until they get their bearings again he swings his swords at her, just as she expects. Bronwen dodges them and barely twists out of the way of a crossbow bolt in time for its point to cut across her forearm. Predicting the armsman’s next move, the human spins around to give a rude gesture towards the bowman, and her form fades into wispy shadows to get cut through, and then blown away over the campfire by the breeze as the other stumbles about in his assault on the air around him. 

The bowman lowers his bow the smallest bit as he glances around, just in time for a foot shoved squarely into his back to knock him into one of the blindly flailing blades wielded by the other. A sword shoved through the chest of an undead man doesn’t kill him. It might not even really hurt, for all Bronwen knows, but it’s been enough to cause some chaos for the moment. She leaves them to escape into the shadows and moves on her way. They would have seen her heading south if they were paying attention. 

After she is sure she has entirely escaped their perception, Bronwen circles north again until she can at worst see the faintest outline of northern border guards in the distance from a dead and hollowed out tree she chooses to rest in. For some time, she watches and listens without much in way of idle thought like before until she finally decides to stitch and bandage herself after she uses her runestone to quickly report what she’s seen and done. 

She’s hardly gotten her armor refixed over her arm when she hears a quiet and muffled noise, just outside of the trunk. Not one to take chances, her daggers are drawn before she even rises to her feet in preparation for a confrontation, but the golden eyes that meet hers through the darkness aren’t lich fire. A night elf, one she definitely recognizes after a second or few and scowls at to express the frustration she can’t quite speak aloud right now. 

“The hell are you doing here?” she demands of him at a barely audible level. She’s prepared to tell him off as quietly as she can, tell him to go find his own work, but she instead pauses when he leans down to slide his arms around her under her own and pull her into a tight embrace. Once she realizes what’s happening, she rolls her eyes. “You did not... just come all this way just to-” 

“Don’t go into the city,” he murmurs into her ear. 

“... okay? I wasn’t going to, they told me not-" 

“Good. Do not go into the city,” he says with more feeling. What feeling exactly she couldn't quite put her finger on. He releases her, a stony yet mournful look on his face. She’s about to question him, her face growing red with her frustration at this whole thing, but like kaldorei often do he disappears into the dead forest without a trace. For a short while, all she can do is stand there in the darkness and wonder what just happened.

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The next victim, or would-be victim, is a woman carrying a bag on each arm, walking from Brill on a road going towards one of farms. When she falls to the ground after getting hit by a more solid person from out of nowhere, neither of the satchels make any harsh noise like clanking metal or ores, or acidic alchemical bottles breaking and hissing as their foul concoctions eat through the cloth holding them. It is a muted and hollow sound, nothing close to even a thud,  and even less substantial than the frail undead woman frozen in fear with a blade poking into her neck.

She wears a dress that looked like it was once white, a threadbare shawl, and nothing more past sandals on her feet. Probably young when she was living, and a civilian obviously, as she has no weapons on her. Nothing that she might have effectively held in a fight. Bronwen could sense no magic on her, nothing aside from the foul plague animating the poor lady, and she this far made no attempt to protect herself in any form whatsoever. She just stared up at this strange human woman crouched over her with wide eyes, much like anyone else that feared for their life might. For the longest time, the two stood still, nearly still as death as they watched one another.

“What are you doing?” Bronwen asked finally. Harshly, but slowly, so the woman could understand her more easily if she was going to understand at all.

The Forsaken woman only moves her eyes to look towards one of the fallen bags. With the blade steady and a knee braced against her shoulder to keep her in place, Bron lifts the bag with the other hand and empties its contents onto the ground. Bread, all sorts of different types, topples in loaves and rolls mostly. The human frowns and quickly reaches for the other to do the same, and out of that one tumbles bundles of morels, button mushrooms, and various other fungi. In her own frustration, she looks at the poor woman like she has the audacity to lie about such a thing.

“You people don’t have to eat!” she says in a growl.

“I... it’s... we still... like.... it's nice to eat,” is her choking reply, in a quiver that would suggest she’d be sobbing if she still had the capacity to make tears fall from her eyes. For what feels like another eternity to each of them, Bronwen stares at her. Entirely apprehensive, but less at the woman's tale and more at the revelation that… undead people eat? because they like to? And bake, it seems? She can't just let herself believe something like that out of nowhere, but now she finds herself stuck in doubt. As if there wasn't already enough in her life for her to doubt.  Normally, she'd end her and be done with it, but now there is something even louder telling her to just stop. It draws her stomach into a painful knot that she ignores best as she can.

“Do not tell anyone you saw me,“ she says, and suddenly picks the poor woman up by her collar to force her to her feet. “Tell them hounds chased you for your bread. I'm going to let let you live. But if you figuratively breathe a single word, I will find you. Do you understand?”

The woman's mouth moves but no sound comes out. Bronwen sighs in annoyance, and after finally drawing the blade away from her throat, she shoves her into the town's direction. That is enough to make her bolt away for her life, thankfully silently and without as much as a glance back over her shoulder. She crouches down and breaks apart the loaves, which are all indeed entirely bread. If it wasn't for her realizing she was still standing in plain sight more or less, she'd have let herself stare at it a while longer. She sheathes her dagger, pulls her cloak a little more tightly around herself, and backs off into the tree line.

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