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Everything posted by Aneerys

  1. [A] Twilight Empire's Lunar Festival Gala

    This has been moved to tonight--Friday, March 2!
  2. Keeping Secrets

    Daerek sat on the arm of the couch in the apartment he shared with Anee, waiting for the woman to be ready to go. He wasn’t impatient at all, flipping through a new book to occupy his time. The young mage looked like he’d actually gotten some decent sleep recently, and he was free of the assorted cuts and bruises he seemed to collect in the course of his work on the Isles. Finally, Anee came out of the bedroom, wearing blue denim pants and a soft pink top. Her hair was held out of her face with a simple ponytail and she looked at Daerek with an apologetic smile. “I’m probably going to burn everything, you know.” Daerek looked up and grinned. “You can’t be as bad as Nomi,” he joked. “And you haven’t burned much yet that I know of, so…” He trailed off with a laugh, pushing off from the couch and setting the book back on the coffee table. “Well, no, but….I only make simple stuff so far. I’m sure they’re ready for fires, right?” She grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder. “I mean, they wouldn’t take a chance and let someone accidentally burn down the whole place, right?” “I’m sure it’ll be just fine,” he said with a smile, hoping to ease her fears about their cooking class. “if you set something on fire, I’ll pretend it was me. All good.” He glanced around a moment, as if judging the space available in the room, and then looked back to her. “Especially since we ah…aren’t taking lessons in Dalaran. Nobody to be mad at us for it later.” Anee tilted her head curiously. “Oh? Where are we going then?” “Woooould you have any problems if I said Pandaria?” “Oh!” She considered a moment before grinning. “They must be used to fires. I think Nomi is from there.” “I’ve heard he used to be a lot better at not burning things.” Daerek grinned goofily, pleased she wasn’t upset about literally going to a different continent for their roomie cooking lessons. He raised his hands to about chest-height and then paused, looking at her again. “…do you trust me?” His words hit him like a brick, and he hurried to add, “F-for a portal, I mean!” She looked at his hands curiously, then blinked and tried not to laugh at his clarification. “Umm…sure.” Back came his goofy grin. That pleased him more than it ought to, but he knew that portal travel could be dangerous if not done correctly. He began moving his hands again, gesturing towards the empty area of the room. Arcane energy coalesced around his hands as an answering nebula began in midair, and soon there was a shimmering portal awaiting their leisure. The Shrine of the Seven Stars was visible through it. Anee had no idea of the possible dangers of portal travel, assuming it was just something all mages could do easily, but she watched with some fascination as the portal was created right there in their living room. “I wish I could do that,” she said with a smile before stepping through the portal. The poor boy looked unduly grateful for her lack of hesitation. He waited a few seconds to give her time to move forward before stepping through as well. The portal was fine. It took them to Pandaria without issue.
  3. Keeping Secrets

    “Still there has been no sign of your dog?” Anee’s companion asked her as they walked home from cooking class together through the Shrine of the Seven Stars. Chi’u, a young Pandaren woman, lived a short way past the room Anee rented at the inn, so they often walked to and from cooking class together. Buster, Anee’s pug, had gone missing a few days ago, and she’d been worried sick about him ever since. If he’d gotten out into the Vale, who knows what could make a meal out of a small dog like that. Every day, she had gone out for a walk to look for him, but every day, she’d come home to an eerily empty room. The anxiousness over the loss of her dog, along with living on the run and in hiding, in constant fear of discovery, was taking its toll on Anee. Dark circles resided under her eyes, her dark red hair, though clean, was limp and unstyled, and her nails were ragged and chipped. Chi’u often told her that she was too skinny, and that she must come to her family’s house for dinner soon. She shook her head in answer to her friend’s question. “No, I haven’t found him yet,” she answered quietly. Chi’u nodded sympathetically, and the two girls walked the remainder of the way in companionable silence. Just as Anee’s door came into sight, she stopped suddenly, her eyes widening. There, looking up at the door, with his tail curled over his back, was a small pug. “Buster,” she breathed in disbelief. With wide eyes, she dropped her cooking class bag and rushed to her pet. Chi’u followed at a more respectable pace. Buster did not turn to Anee as she approached, though he should have heard her and turned to cover her face in puppy kisses as soon as she picked him up. A warning bell rang in Anee’s mind, but she didn’t listen. In her excitement, she bent down and picked up the dog without hesitation. The dog who had always been such a wriggling, wagging mass of puppy muscle and short fur, was oddly stiff in her hands. The warning bell in her mind screamed, but it was too late. She turned the dog around in her arms. Then she screamed. What was once a happy, wriggling, lively beloved companion was now a taxidermist’s monstrosity. Buster’s eyes were missing, and the eyelids were held tightly closed with X’s made of thick black thread. His head was held at an odd angle, as if his neck were broken, and his face was missing patches of skin, creating little windows of decaying muscle and bone. His tongue, thick and dry, hung out the side of his mouth, and his chipped and broken teeth were closed around an equally mutilated tiny orange kitten. Shaking and hyperventilating, Anee held on to the dog, unable to take her eyes off it. Chi’u, after recovering from the shock of the unexpected and hideous discovery, gently pried the stuffed animal from her friend’s hands. The Pandaren girl set the dog down on the doorstep just behind Anee, and then she wrapped her arms around the sobbing girl in a tight embrace. For several minutes, Anee sobbed in Chi’u’s arms. Finally, she realized something and with that realization, she felt the panic rising. “He found me,” she whispered through her sniffling as she lifted her head from her friend’s chest. “I have to leave.” She took a step back and started to disentangle herself from her friend’s hug. Chi’u looked down at her with a sympathetic frown. Suddenly, the Pandaren’s expression took on a look of shock. She stiffened and then slid to the ground as Anee watched, confusion now added to the myriad of distressing emotions she was already experiencing. Chi’u rolled halfway over when she hit the ground, and Anee saw the handle of a knife jutting out from her friend’s back. Anee stared, horrified, but she saw movement from the corner of her eye. Guards, summoned by Anee’s own scream a few moments ago, were on their way to see what the trouble was. Now, as they saw a dead body at Anee’s feet, they drew their weapons as they neared. Anee recognized all too well the accusation in their eyes. Until now, she had barely managed to keep the panic at bay. As one of the guards ordered her to put her hands up, the panic seized her, and she bolted. Ignoring the guards’ shouted orders to stop and halt, Anee raced in the other direction. People stepped out of her way, even as they stopped whatever they were doing to see what all the commotion was about. Anee ran up the ramp to the portals room, planning to escape to Stormwind, but there was another Pandaren guard coming toward her, blocking her path to the Alliance capital portals. This guard looked rougher than the other ones chasing her. Anee changed direction and threw herself through one of the portals on the other side of the room. On the other side of the portal, Anee paused to get her bearings. There were not many people around. She picked a direction and started to run off again. Something hit her in the back, and she felt a sting. She stumbled, and as she got back up, she risked a look behind her. The rougher looking Pandaren was stalking toward her. He carried a bow in his hand, and he seemed in no rush to get to her now. Her legs went numb. Before she took two steps, she had fallen again. She watched in horror as the Pandaren neared, but by the time he got to her, she was no longer conscious. “I have her,” he said gruffly into his wristband. “Shattrath.”
  4. How do you live again, after being dead for so long? My whole life--and unlife, what part of it was mine--I always knew what I was supposed to do. I knew my place and purpose. Now...I don’t. I just wander around, like I'm still a ghost, just trying to make it through the day so I can try to also make it through the next day. And the next. And the next. Until…..what? I die again? From hunger? The cold? Demons? Some crazy murderer? Her? What is the point of it all? The Westfall ladies were nice. They gave me a bath and a soft bed to sleep in and a new dress. And food. As much as I wanted to eat. They said I could stay there as long as I wanted. But I only stayed a few days. I don’t belong there. I don’t belong anywhere. I felt drawn back to the Mage Quarter. He must go there someday. The Blue Recluse is where I met some of his men. With the black and white swirly tabard. But none of these men were his men from the other place. I never saw these few before, but if his men go there, he would go there eventually. Then I could hide and watch him and hear his voice again. But I don’t think I’d let him see me. I wouldn't want to see the disappointment on his face. He said not a living person. Donnabelle wasn’t dead. Not really. But I took her anyway. It was my only choice. I don’t know if he would understand why I had to do it. Or why I have to lie and steal. What if he hates me? It’s hard now. Before, things didn’t matter so much. Food. Warmth. Shelter. Protection from people. Now I need all those things. And sometimes people don’t give them willingly. On my way back to Stormwind, in my nice new dress, I stopped at a leatherworker’s shop in Goldshire. I pretended I had every intention of paying when I had her fit me for a new set of leathers. She said to come back in seven days, and I could pay for it when I picked it up. On the night after the seventh day, I picked the lock on the door of her shop. I found my order waiting for me in the back room. I’ve never had anything that fit me so well. I have to be careful though. The last time I was in the Mage Quarter, I saw the priestess at a Hallow’s End party. She has her hand back. She looked at me funny, like she knows who I am. Maybe not. Maybe. She noticed me. She looks good now. Much better than the last time I saw her. She's pretty. Her hair is red, like mine, but not like mine. Hers looks soft and clean. I bet it smells nice too. The elf said my chi could make Donnabelle’s body look like me. Only a few people saw me as me, when they knew who I was. Who she was. But if the wrong people find out who I am…. if she finds out…. I won’t be safe. I would get dead for real. Or worse.
  5. Thoughts of a Living Shard

    July Pandaria is pretty. I stay mostly in the Shrine, but sometimes I go for a ride around the Vale. It’s peaceful here, mostly. Every now and then a couple or so Horde will attack out on the terrace, but they rarely make it inside. I haven’t seen any sign of Qabian here. I guess I lost him. Sometimes it’s too peaceful. Too quiet. Even with Buster here, our little room in the inn here sometimes feels more like a tomb. I miss the apartment in Dalaran. I hung some crystals in the window here, and got a soft blanket, but it’s still missing something. It’s a hideout, not a home. I guess I don’t have a home anymore. Well, it was nice while it lasted. I miss Daerek. I know I did the right thing though. He’s safer without me, and I don’t want him to get hurt…in any way. If they know I care about him, they’d hurt him just because of that. And I don’t want to hurt him anymore than I already have. The General says he wouldn’t care about my past. Still, I don’t want to think about what he might think of me if he knew the things I’ve done. He was already upset when I fought that demon. That was nothing compared to….. That one couple still fights every week in cooking class. What could anyone have to fight over so much? If they fight that much, maybe they shouldn’t be together. I’ve learned how to make fish cakes and rice pudding. My fish cakes were too dry, but the pudding was good. I got a new cooking partner in class. Her name is Chi’u Driftbrew. Her family brews ales, as many Pandaren do, and she experiments in class by adding it to every recipe. She says the plants the brew is made from held powerful spirits, and distilling them makes their power more concentrated. I don’t know about all that, but I think her ale tastes good. I wonder if they have Pandaren ale at the Recluse or the Shady Lady.
  6. Keeping Secrets

    Anee was sorting through a bag of herbs on the kitchen counter, identifying each one for Teagan, Daerek’s sister who was visiting for a while, and telling her a few facts about each plant, such as where it could be found and a few uses for it. Wearing just sweat pants and a tank top, and her hair back in a ponytail to keep it out of her way, she seemed quite relaxed as she taught the impromptu herb lesson to her lone student. Buster was laying on the couch, chewing on a bone that he held propped up between his paws. Despite her exuberant nature, Teagan was a solemn student and a quick learner. She was dressed similarly to Anee in terms of comfort, but she had snagged one of her brother's button-downs, rolled up the sleeves, and tied the long shirt ends at her stomach. Every now and then she shared a bit of trivia with Anee about an herb that she’d come across in a history book or some such other place. Daerek had been gone for the morning on some errand or another, but the jangle of keys outside of the apartment door heralded his return. Buster, abandoning a bone he had been chewing, jumped off the couch and ran to the door, barking happily and jumping up at Daerek as the door opened. "Anee?" he called, shifting some packages around in his arms. "You've got a package here!" Anee came from the kitchen and took the package from her roommate with a distracted “Thanks” as she looked at the box, so he could deal with the excited puppy. Daerek laughed at the dog and put the rest of the packages on the desk before squatting down to pet Buster. “You being a good girl, Teagan?” he called out, assuming she was there somewhere. Teagan came out of the kitchen, hands on her tilted hips. "A good girl? What am I, your dog?" "That's my shirt! You're wearing my shirt!" "Hmph. The color brings out our eyes." She tossed her hair with a laugh and returned to the kitchen. Anee set the box down on the coffee table. Buster left Daerek and came to sniff the box, most interested. When Anee opened the box and looked inside, she gasped loudly and stepped backwards. She walked back right into the couch and fell on her butt into the cushions. She didn’t even seem to notice though, still staring at the box with wide eyes. Daerek looked up at the commotion and Teagan popped her head out of the kitchen, a frown on her face. Daerek sprinted to Anee. "Hey hey hey, what's wrong? You alright?" He peered first into her face, resting a hand on her shoulder, before leaning over to peer into the box. Inside the box was a head. It had obviously been dead for a very long time; by now it was mostly just a skull with a few bits of hair and desiccated flesh still clinging to it, with a light spattering of grave dirt. There was a folded piece of paper shoved in the skull’s jaws. Frowning, Anee pulled the paper out and unfolded it. "Not your father. You're a liar." With another gasp and her eyes widening even further, she flung the note back into the box and stared at it as if it might start shooting fire at her. Buster, a lover of bones, jumped up and put his front paws on the coffee table to get a closer look at what was in the box. Although it was mostly too dried out to stink out the humans, his sensitive nose just knew there was something interesting there. Daerek sucked in a breath at the sight, but to his credit he didn’t seem too outwardly phased. He grabbed for Buster to move him away from the box. "What is it? What's going on?" Teagan asked, making to come investigate for herself. Anee put the lid back on the box. Daerek shot her a single stern look. "Don't," he said sharply, uncommon command strengthening his voice. "Do not look. And do not listen." Teagan recoiled with wide eyes. "Okay," she said in a small voice, ducking back into the kitchen without further noise. The mage shifted again to crouch in front of Anee, both hands moving gently for her shoulders. "Anee," he murmured. "Why don't you tell me what's going on?" There was nothing but concern for her in his voice and gaze. Anee looked right at Daerek, not even trying to hide her fear. "He knows where I live......" she murmured, her voice filled with dread as she considered the implications of that. Fear for herself turned into an icy lump in her stomach as she remembered the Grim mage asking about family and friends. "Then we'll go somewhere else for a while," he said softly. "But you need to tell me what's going on so I know what we need to do." He squeezed her shoulders a little bit, hoping to share any kind of comfort and calm. "I should go....away from you.... You'll be safer...." then she frowned. "If it's not already too late for that. I can...go to Stormwind. It might be safer there. Harder for him to get in there....or them.... I don't know if he's working alone. I don't know what he wants with me...." Her voice started to take on a note of desperation at the end, but she managed to not panic, at least not yet. After a moment, she seemed to realize she hadn't offered any explanation. "A few nights ago.... A man asked me some questions. He said I could have his panther cub, who seemed very hungry, if I answered his questions. He asked for my father's name, and I didn't want to tell him, so instead I gave him the name of the man who owned the pub I worked at." Her brow furrows at the box with the head in it. "How could he know I lied about that?" Daerek kept a steady look on her, not relinquishing his grip. "What other kinds of questions did he ask?" "He asked about my family," she said, speaking slowly as she tried to remember everything. "I told him they were all dead. He said he was an orphan too, so we had a lot in common. He asked.... He asked who I live with, and who my friends are. I lied to him. I told him I live just with Buster and have no friends. He got suspicious and asked if I belonged to a guild, so I told him the truth on that one...." She frowned then, biting her bottom lip. "Anee." Daerek brought one of his hands up to cup her face, moreso to keep her focusing on him and keep her grounded than as any kind of an intimate gesture. She looked away from the box and back to him. "No hiding anything, okay? Not from me, not right now." There was still no reproach in his voice, just earnest concern and an intent to get to the bottom of the situation before they make a move. "If he knows where I live, he may know about you....." Her voice was barely a whisper. "Daerek, I'm so sorry... He's Grim." "Okay," he said calmly. "Who?" She hesitated, remembering his words the other night about her knowing so many Horde people. "I...I... He wore their tabard," she said, looking back at the box. "A blood elf. He cast fire spells..... He burned the panther cub." The news about the cub made Daerek wince a little. "I'm sorry," he murmured, before looking at her with a level gaze again. "Do you know this man's name?" He knew what he said the other night too—couldn’t get it out of his head--but he was expecting her to be honest with him. That expectation was evident in his eyes. Still staring at the box, she says quietly, "He didn't say his name..." "But do you know it?" She flinched slightly. "Qabian......I don't know his last name." "Okay. Why would Qabian be asking you these questions? And following up on them in such a way?" "I don't know!" she exclaimed, wondering the same thing. She looked at him earnestly. "He's Grim. Everyone knows they just kill all Alliance, not make conversation with them. I asked him what he wanted, and all he said was he wanted answers to his questions." Then she frowned suddenly. Daerek stayed silent and cocked his head to the side, waiting for Anee to voice whatever thought she suddenly had. She opened her mouth but closed it again on that particular thought, and switched to her main concern. "You're not safe," she whispered, then glanced in the direction of the kitchen. "She's not either. I'm so sorry," "I'm not leaving you," he said flatly. "It's not happening. I'll get Teague somewhere safe, but I'm not leaving you alone." "They'll kill you. Horribly." She said it calmly, but her voice was filled with absolute certainty that it would happen. "Doesn't matter. I'm not leaving you alone." He smiled. "If they wanted me dead, that mage would have set me on fire the other night. But you.... If they're playing with me, they'll hurt you, and kill you, just to hurt me. You're safer without me." Daerek was silent for several moments, green eyes never leaving hers. "Do you want me to leave you?" he asked quietly. "For your own sake? Not mine?" She knew she should tell him yes and insist he let her go away alone. But she was not that selfless, and she was very scared. Slowly, she shook her head no. She knew it was wrong, but she told herself she could run away from him later if it was needed to protect him. Daerek leaned forward and pulled Anee to him in a hug. "Okay," he murmured into her hair. "Okay. Then I'm not. You're stuck with me. We'll figure this out together." The hug surprised her, but she quickly melted into him, nearly clinging to him. She nodded her head against him at his words, but miserably felt like she had just condemned him to a horrible death "We'll be okay, alright? I promise. One way or another." He sounded pretty confident, but Anee couldn’t see his face. There was a flash of fear in his eyes--fear that he had no idea what to do or who to turn to--but if she shifted at all to look at him, that fear would be completely gone. She just nodded again. To her, it wouldn't matter how confident he looked or sounded; she didn't at all believe they would be okay. "Okay." "Okay," he echoed, mindlessly kissing the top of her head. It bought him time to think if nothing else. And then they started working on laying out a plan to keep them all safe.
  7. Keeping Secrets

    A little black panther cub ambled aimlessly through Dalaran. In an ordinary city, that might seem a sad or concerning thing, but given that every time the cub moved something underneath its fur shimmered arcane purple, it seemed likely in this city of mages that it's someone's familiar out on a task, should an observer be in-tune enough with the nature of the city to recognize it. The cub stopped in front of each doorway it passed as though waiting for something, pausing extra long for the moment in front of One More Glass. As Anee walked down the street, seemingly led by a pug puppy on a gem-studded blue leash, she caught sight of the cub. The pup also noticed it, pulling at his leash a bit, and wagging his butt with his tail as he panted excitedly. Anee was not in tune enough with the city to recognize a familiar when she saw one. She saw only a panther cub. At first, she simply followed it without trying to draw its attention, in case it seemed to know where to go, but as it stopped in front of all the doors, she decided he was lost. "Hey, kitty...." she called softly, holding her pup on a shorter leash as she approached the cub. "Are you lost?" The cat looked at her upside down, then walked up to the vendor's table right in front of a plate of cheese and waited. After a few moments, it looked at Anee then back at the cheese, somehow apparently oblivious to the dog's presence. "Oh, hungry, are you?" Little thief that she was, Anee sidled up next to the cheese table and swiped a small piece, and in the same motion, dropped it to the ground right next to the cat. Throughout her swiping, she looked over other cheeses on display, as if considering them. The pup strained to reach the cheese she dropped, but she held him firmly on the side of her opposite the cat. The cub snaps up the cheese in one quick gulp, then trots down the street back the way it came. At a short distance it stops, turns, and sits down, staring at Anee. Anee watched it before moving away from the table. She swiped a few more pieces of cheese, then walked toward the cub. When she got close, she held the pup at her back and squated down, holding her hand out in front of her with the cheese. "Hey, little guy," she crooned, not certain of the animal's gender, but figured it wouldn't matter as much as the sound of her voice as with most animals. "Do you want some more?" The cub got an odd expression on its face, almost a flicker of a cheshire grin. It trotted up to her hand, placed a paw on it, then ate the offered cheese. Again, it trotted away a short distance, then stopped, sat, and waited, staring at her. With her head tilted curiously, she repeated the movements, squatting again with another cube of cheese held in front of her. This time though, when the cub came for the cheese, she reached out to pet it on the head. It graciously allowed the petting to take place, seeming generally unperturbed, content to let her do what she liked, but once it had swallowed the cheese, it dashed off. It ran to the top of the ramp leading down into the Underbelly and sat, waiting, staring pointedly at Anee. "Oh, no, kitty, don't go down there. It's dangerous down there," she objected, stopping again and kneeling down with another bit of cheese. This time, however, she was ready to try to grab the cub to keep him from going any further into the bowels of the city. The cub’s eyes narrowed. It glanced back and forth between the cheese and her face, hesitating, before finally seeming to make a decision and trotting away from her down the ramp. As Anee sighed, watching after the cub as she stood up again, her pup jumped up and down at the end of his leash in that direction. He barked a few times until Anee gave his leash a little jerk and shushed him. She sighed again. "Fine, let's see if we can catch him before he gets hurt." With the pup still on a very short leash, she descended the ramp into the dimly lit tunnel. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she could see the cub not far down the ramp waiting for her to come into view. It turned to move away again when a rat the same size as the cub dashed past and the cub hissed and leapt after it. Hoping to take advantage of the rat as a distraction, Anee tried to sneak up on the cub, still intent on picking it up to take it back above to safety. At first, the cub seemed unaware of Anee’s presence as it furiously chased the rodent. The rat leapt into a portal, not unlike the ones that could be accessed throughout the Underbelly by those in the know. This portal was in an odd place though, not one of the usual. The cub leapt in after the rat, then just a few moments later, emerged again and sat down just outside the portal. It stared around briefly before settling back to lick at one of its haunches. Anee blinked at the cub. "You're a feisty little thing, aren't you?" she murmured as she slowly moved closer to it. "Let's get you out of here, okay? I'll get you some food? Warm milk?" As she started to get closer, she bent down, reaching her free hand towards it, her other hand--the one with the missing pinky--was still behind her back holding the pup's leash. The cub seemed not to notice as she moved, then just as her hand touched its fur, it leapt backward with a yowl, its body twisting in apparent panic as it fell back into the portal. This time, it didn’t re-emerge. The girl gasped and drew her hand back, then stared with wide eyes at the portal. "Kitty?" she called toward the portal. "Kitty come back!" She frowned at the portal, having no idea where it went. It showed no indication where it may lead, only swirling around darkness at its center. She looked down at her pet, as if the pup had any answers. "Maybe he lives in there?" Anee bit gently at her bottom lip, looking indecisively between the portal and her pup for several minutes. "Do you think he went home? Or maybe that goes down to the demons...." She tilted her head from side to side, her curiosity growing as well as concern for the cute little cub. It hadn’t seemed happy about going in the portal that last time. Finally, after several minutes, she picked up the pup, and, holding him close against her, she stepped through the portal, stopping immediately on the other side to look at her new surroundings. As Anee stepped inside the portal, the floor shifted slightly beneath her feet. Wherever she ended up, it was pitch black. There was nothing to see. Just as she considered stepping back the way she came, the cub's violet shimmer appeared in the darkness in front of her, though it was difficult to tell how far away. The portal behind her swirled to a point and disappeared with a sound of sucking air. She turned, blindly reaching out with her free hand as she clutched her pup close to her with the other. “No, wait!” A whimper escaped her as she waved her hand a few more times in search of the portal. She looked back toward where she had seen the panther cub and now saw a pair of glowing green eyes floating in the darkness just above the cub’s shifting violet movements. “Welcome, Anee,” a man’s voice said. Anee clutched the pup tighter against her, ignoring his squirms of protest. “Who….who are you?” she asked in shaky voice. She heard a snapping sound, as of someone’s fingers, and an ornate lamp on a small table suddenly illuminated the entire room. The room looked much like the one that housed the Underbelly’s black market—slats of wood resting on top of water—but there were no crates or barrels or obvious exits, just solid stone walls on every side. Across from Anee, sitting on an out-of-place plush but ragged high backed chair beside the lamp’s small table, was a blood elf with long copper hair dressed in plain robes and a Grim tabard. On his lap, the panther cub was curled up. Qabian absently stroked the cub’s head with one hand, the other raised but relaxed. “Do you recognize me now?” he asked. After looking around and failing to find an exit, Anee turned her frightened gaze to the elf. Her gaze paused on his tabard, and then she slowly looked up at his face, looking at him blankly for a moment before frowning and looking away again. “What do you want with me?” she asked quietly in a shaky voice, ignoring his question. Qabian smiled slightly. It wasn’t quite a smirk, but something about it was off, unpleasant. “Answers to a few questions. You don’t mind, do you?” His Common had an accent, light, lilting, but he showed no discomfort with the words. He glanced down at the floor. “Can you swim?” Anee didn’t bother answering the first question, quite certain he would ask his question whether she minded or not, but at his second question, she looked back at him in alarm then looked at the floor. “Yes…” “Then you’ll be fine,” he said, but somehow the statement didn’t come across as particularly reassuring. The fingers of his free hand moved as though he were flipping a coin over his knuckles, but there was no coin there, only a small flicker of flame, like that of a candle. “Tell me, do you consider yourself an honest person?” Anee watched the flame with growing concern. Was it meant to hypnotize her? Was it a display of power meant to frighten her? She looked away before answering his question. Of course, she was not an honest person, what kind of question was that? “Yes,” she said quietly and caught her bottom lip between her teeth again. The pup was growing heavy in her arms and she shifted him around a bit. Qabian narrowed his eyes, as though suddenly noticing her pet. The panther cub in his lap lifted its head. “You brought a friend. How awkward.” The blood elf’s arm shifted, palm facing outward. The flickering across his fingers encompassed his whole hand in fire, but he lowered his arm and the flame dissipated before anything untoward happened. “Nevermind. Assume I know nothing about you. Tell me about your family.” She blinked and tilted her head at him, surprised by the question. “My family?” she started hesitantly. “I…I don’t have a family. They were killed. By Forsaken.” She stuck to the same story she had so recently told another mage. It was mostly true. “An orphan, hm?” The mage settled back in his chair, flicking fire across the back of his hand again. “Then we have something in common. How long ago? Do you remember them?” “Umm….many years ago… I remember a little about them,” she said in a distracted manner before repeating her earlier question. “Please sir, what do you want with me?” “I already told you. Answers. Are you afraid?” “Yes,” she whispered. “Why?” He steepled his fingers, and one of his elbows ended up on the cub’s head. It didn’t seem to notice or care. She glanced at his tabard, thinking that should be obvious, then looked away quickly again. “Because…I don’t see any way out of here, and I don’t know why you want me here. I mean, I don’t know what answers I could possibly have that would interest someone like you.” “And you don’t trust me when I say you’ll be fine.” He smirked and stroked the cub’s head again. “Why did you come here?” A fleeting glimpse of hope crossed her expression when he said she’ll be fine, but it was gone just as quickly. Hope, she knew, was dangerous. She nodded toward the cub in his lap. “I saw him wandering around the streets. He seemed hungry, and I was worried he was lost. So I followed him.” “Do you want him?” “I….the cub?” She blinked, surprised again as she looked at the cub. “But I thought.. Isn’t he yours? I mean….when I saw him in your lap, I assumed…” “He thinks he’s mine.” Qabian shrugged. “Answer my questions, and he’s yours.” “Okay….” She agreed, but he voice was still heavy with uncertainty. He put a hand back on the cub’s head. The cub kept staring at Anee. “Where were we? Ah, yes. What do you remember about your family?” "Well, umm....". She fidgeted at the topic, but she squinted her eyes a bit as she thought back. "My pa was....a drunk, and my ma was nice and very quiet, and my little sister was....always under foot." She chewed on her bottom lip yet again, watching the cub the whole time. "Lordaeron?" She gave him a startled look, wondering how he knew that, but after a brief consideration, she decided it doesn't matter, and she nodded. "Orphans, we make our own families, hm? Who are your family now?" Anee seemed to stiffen at the question, and tilted her head down, looking at the pup in her arms. Everything inside her warned her not to tell him about her roommate. "I...I....I just have ....Buster now, sir," she stammered, her gaze fixed on the little pug. Qabian raised an eyebrow. "A dog? I don't think so. You live alone?" Without lifting her gaze from the pup’s tawny head, she nodded. "Do you have friends? A guild, perhaps?" "Twilight Empire," she said shakily. "That's the guild I'm in." "Ah. That's better. And I suppose some of them treat you like family, yes?" "I...I don't go to the meetings... I signed up to be an Ambassador, but.....I never got any assignments...." "You have no friends among them? They're all strangers to you?" "I know....some of them....faces and names, friends, no..." Qabian's expression turned to disappointment. "That seems highly unlikely. You have no one you confide in? No one you share secrets with?" "Umm....I talk to....the Cardman.... I mean, Tuuroto sometimes. He's very nice." "Hmm." Qabian tapped his fingers on the panther cub's head as he thinks. The cub finally turned its stare from Anee to the blood elf. "How old are you?" "Twenty." She fidgeted some more at all the questions, her gaze slowly beginning to roam around the room again. Qabian's tone turned suspicious. "And your family died years ago, but you have no friends. What have you been doing all this time? Do you want a family?" "No...." she said in response to the last question, cringing a bit at his tone. "I didn't much care for the family I had. I have no wish for another one." "Well." He continued tapping the panther cub's head. It continued to glare at him. It finally nipped at his fingers and Qabian stopped, though he didn't otherwise acknowledge the creature. "That makes everything much more difficult. It's unusual, don't you think?" Her brow furrowed at his words, strengthening her suspicion that he was asking about her friends and family to look for targets to hurt. She glanced at him briefly before looking away again. "What is unusual?" "Not wanting a family." He gestured as he spoke, talking with his hands. "Most people are obsessed with family, either finding one, or starting one, or protecting one, or avenging one. But not you. You're all alone and planning to stay that way." She said nothing at first, just stood there, nibbling on her lip and expecting fire to come shooting at her any second from those moving hands. Then, somehow, she seemed to find enough courage to look him in the face and ask a question of her own. "Do you have a family, sir?" He grinned wickedly. "No. You and I unfortunately have even more in common than I thought at the start. One more question. Then I'll show you the way out. For now." She felt hope again, still tentative, but harder to push back down this time, even as she caught the hint that they might meet again after this. She nodded slowly to him, as if bracing herself for the final question. Qabian stood up from his ragged old chair, hefting the panther cub under one arm. "Your father's name. In full. If you would." Again, the hope vanished as quickly as it came. Her breath quickened as she took a moment before answering, looking around the area again. "It....his Jonas. Jonas Hughes." So much for being an honest person. Jonas Hughes was not her father, he was her boss at the pub where she worked in Andorhal a long time ago. There was only the slightest of chances that Qabian would have recognized her real last name if she had told the truth, but she wasn’t willing to take even that small chance of him realizing who she was, not unless she thought it could be used to her advantage. Qabian nodded. "All right then." With his free arm, he conjured a portal behind him. A vague city is visible within it, but he stood between her and the portal. "This portal leads back to Dalaran. If you don't trust it, which is understandable, there's a pipe in the water below us that leads back into the Underbelly. Easy enough to swim, but far more dangerous." He held out the panther cub towards her. The creature seemed perfectly calm about its situation now that it was no longer being continually tapped on the head. "You'll need to be careful with him." With uncertainty still clear upon her face, she set the puppy down at her feet, looping the leash over her wrist. As she moved closer to Qabian, she reached tentatively for the cub, glancing between the portal and the elf. Qabian grinned horribly as he dropped the panther cub into her arms. "He's a bit of a fire hazard," he said. With that, he ran his hand over the cub's back and the animal burst into flames. The cub appeared completely unfazed by this, but Anee screamed and jumped back, dropping the burning cat. Qabian himself stepped back through the portal behind him and vanished. Anee looked from the burning cub to the portal, bending down to scoop up the pup again before hurrying through the portal into the image of the city beyond. The cub just sat there. On fire. And watched her leave. The portal went back to Dalaran, just as Qabian said it would, but on the other side, the mage was nowhere to be found.
  8. Keeping Secrets

    As it turns out, when Daerek is drunk and trying to be quiet, he isn’t very quiet. He thinks he is, but a few hours later, the jangle of his keys, the this-side-of-not-gentle shutting of the door, and the inevitable drunken swear when he runs into the corner formed by the kitchen all prove otherwise. He sat on the couch and stared blankly at the wall, illuminated by the soft glow of the table lamp on the coffee table. Now, he was actually quiet. The bedroom door opened a few minutes later, and Anee peeked out into the living room. When she saw her roommate just sitting there staring, she came in and perched on the arm of the couch. Her eyes looked sleepy, her hair was tousled, and she was only wearing an oversized shirt as a nightgown. “Are you okay?” It took him a moment to register her presence and her question. If she was a mugger, he’d be well and thoroughly mugged. He was well past the point of stupid drunk, but now he was contemplative drunk. “I’m sorry,” he said thickly, looking up at her finally. “For tonight. I don’t know what happened.” In addition to her mind being foggy from having just been woken from sleep, it had been a long night, from the cooking class to the Legion camp, then dessert and the walk home. What was he sorry for? She replayed the night in her mind. “What…? Oh, the portal?” “Yeah. I don’t know what happened,” he said, looking sad through his glassy eyes. “It’s okay. Magic can be weird like that,” she said, trying to be comforting, even if she didn’t know the first thing about magic and casting spells. Her nose twitched as she caught the scent of wine clinging to him, and she looked at him. “I like your new sweater. Do you want some coffee?” “o-oh… It’s Rhork’s,” he said, blinking down at his sweater. He didn’t think to clarify why he was wearing it. “And no….no, I’ll be okay. Thanks.” He peered a little closer at her, taking in her sleepy face and pajamas for the first time, and smiled again, a little sadder than before. “I’m sorry I woke you. You can go back to bed.” She shrugged dismissively and slid off the couch, heading for the kitchen. “I couldn’t sleep anyway. Black, or cream and sugar?” “Cream and—wait, no, I—“ He broke off and sighed. Some part of him realized that, even sleepy, she’s not the sort to be unintentionally obtuse. He recognized the subtle (or not so subtle) form of manipulation for what it was, or what he thought it might be, and continued. “…cream and sugar, please. Thank you.” The words were quiet and meek and defeated. Buster jumped up on the couch and tried to wiggle his way into Daerek’s lap, little pink tongue lapping towards the young man’s chin. Daerek welcomed the pup’s presence, petting him vigorously and trying to avoid the tongue. He wasn’t as deft as he might normally be though, so he got thoroughly slobberized. He glances up towards the kitchen and frowned a little. “Couldn’t sleep? Are you okay?” he called, leaning his head back on the couch to try to catch a glimpse of her. She came back into the living room, carrying a tray with two mugs of sweetened coffee with milk in them, and a few cherry pastries. “I’m fine,” she said, then with a sheepish smile, she added, “just a bit sore.” The back of one thigh, where the shirt didn’t quite cover, was a dark purple. “Yeah, I bet. Hard fall. You took it well.” He caught a glimpse of the bruise but quickly looked away. Even drunk, he knows it’s impolite to stare—especially at a lady’s legs. “I hope that helps,” he said, motioning to the salve that she had left on the end table earlier. The two spent the next hour or so petting Buster until he fell asleep while they talked about Rhork and their families over pastries and a few cups of coffee. After one particular refill, Anee warned he would burn his throat when he drank immediately. “With as much wine as went down it tonight, I’m pretty sure I won’t feel it anyways.” He meant it as a joke, but it was actually the truth. Anee didn’t laugh. Instead, she looked worried. “Sounds like you drank an awful lot…. Are you sure you’re okay?” She had asked him that several times throughout the evening, and each time he assured her he was fine. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked again, but she still had the feeling something was troubling him. He didn’t look away from her this time, nor did he give an immediate affirmation. Instead, he looked right at her—almost through her—with troubled green eyes. A flashed image of her driving her daggers into the back of the felhunter’s neck made him close them. “No,” he said finally, after she had begun fidgeting under the intense look. “No, I’m not, but…” When he opened his eyes again, there was fear and uncertainty simmering just beneath them. It was hard to say whether it was a result of their demonic encounter or directed at her, and Daerek was struggling to get the words out. “What?” she asked softly. “What is it?” He couldn’t seem to look at her and talk at the same time, so he looked down at his mug instead. “I know—I know that you…hide a lot of who you are. Were. Whatever.” He swallowed, trying to force the halting words out through an inexplicably dry mouth. “And tonight, I just—you’re not an amateur, Anee. You were trained. I know it when I see it, and tonight, I saw it, and it…it makes everything else about you make so much more sense.” He opened his mouth to continue, but the words wouldn’t come just yet. He still couldn’t bring himself to look at her. She looked away from him as well, her face paling. She folded her hands in her lap and just sat there, staring straight ahead. “I….I didn’t think. I just…I saw it going after you, and I just reacted. I’m sorry if I scared you.’s okay now though,” she tried to reassure him, tentatively turning to look at him. “We’re safe now, and nobody got hurt.” Daerek’s jaw worked furiously as he listened to her, gaze still focused down on his coffee. His fingers tightened around the mug before he spoke again, and they didn’t lose their grip. “All the little oddities,” he muttered. “The hesitations. The slip-ups. Blank looks. Ber? And Zanas? Syreena? Miss Lilliana? You know more Horde than you do Alliance, it feels like. And this—tonight—Light, you remind me of her.” That last bit was uttered under his breath, probably not meant for her Anee’s ears. “You’re running. I don’t know from who, or from what, or from when, but what happens when you get hurt again?” Anee's expression went from utterly confused to absolutely horrified as he ran through the list of names. She looked away from him, staring straight ahead and sitting stiffly still. “I…what… You know Horde too… Remind you of who? What are you…I don’t understand….” She barely heard his final question, too overwhelmed by what had already been said. "You know her as the General," he managed, his words thick with shame at the memory of his fear. "That's how I--how I know you're not an amateur. Amateurs don't...she wasn't..." He shook his head hard and turned to look at her finally. "And yeah, Anee, I know some Horde, but not like you do. Not like that. I'm not stupid. Even now, there's something. You understand, I know you do. And--" His jaw worked again, eyes bright, and his words picked up some speed like he was trying to get it all out at once. "You know what? I don' doesn't matter. I've wondered for months if maybe Kat was right about you, but that doesn't matter either. None of it does. I don't know if I'm just convenient or if I'm actually your friend, but I hope like Hell it's the latter and you haven't ever given me a reason to doubt that you're a good person. So I don't care, Anee, I don't--" His words abruptly stopped, and a different kind of horror fills his face. "And I haven't even thanked you for saving my life. Light, I'm an asshole." She didn’t say anything at first. She just sat there, pale and stiff, with tears pooling in her eyes. Of all the people to be suspicious of her for her secrets, she never wanted it to be him. She could almost see her happy life here unraveling with each of Daerek's doubts. She shook her head at his thanks, as if it were no big deal what she did. She glanced at him and opened her mouth, only to close it and look away again. Her gaze darted around the room for a moment, like a trapped animal. Finally, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and looked him again, briefly, unable to maintain any kind of eye contact with him right now. "I don't.... I'm not sure what you're accusing me of," she stammered in a harsh whisper. "In the beginning, you were convenient.... I... had nowhere safe to stay, and you let me stay here,, I don't......" She blinked hard a few times, and looks back at the coffee table. "I'm sorry." "I--I wasn't accusing you of..." He looked more than a little broken that Katrynne was right about Anee all along. But maybe it wasn't all along, because she made it sound like that wasn't the case anymore. Or maybe it was just his wishful thinking. Either way, it worked for him. "Please don't cry," he whispered, reaching a hand out to try and touch her arm. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything." He looked completely out of his depth now and incredibly regretful. "I meant it. I don't care." He was still whispering. "You're my friend. I care about you. I just want you to be okay." At the touch on her arm, she seemed to melt, turning into him, and he held her, laying his head on top of hers. "I didn't know you at first," she blubbered. "You were just someone I met who let me live in his house, and I thought you'd make me pay for it somehow eventually, but then.... after a while.....I realized that you're just really nice.” She sniffled, then whispered even more quietly, her words coming very hesitantly. "I used to be... I used to have to fight, but I don't want to anymore. I want to be the good wolf now. He said I could be......" “Who said that?" he asked, trying to filter through the meaning in her words. "The Professor," she said between sniffles. "And he thought you were bad? Or you did?" Daerek rubbed her back a little bit. She ignored the tenderness of the bruises on her back as he rubbed it. Her breathing evened out a bit, and her sniffling slowed down, as she realized he didn't seem to hate her and probably wasn't going to kick her out. She shook her head at his question. "I....was with bad people. He saved me from them." Daerek stilled briefly, and then squeezed her a little tighter. His eyes focused blankly on the window across from him. The surface parallels to his own life were uncanny. The little voice in his head that told him for months he was being taken advantage of--the little voice that oddly enough sounded like Katrynne--was practically screaming now at how convenient those words were, but he tuned it out. He said he didn't care, and he meant it. "He was right," Daerek said after a moment. "You aren't bad. What we were or what we were forced to do doesn't define us unless we let it." He kept rubbing her back gently, trying to keep calming her while attempting to be mindful of the bruises, but he didn't know where they were and so hoped for the best. "I'm not that person anymore," she said quietly. She bit her lip, suddenly embarrassed for her little meltdown. She fidgeted, before pulling away from him to sit up. As she tried to compose herself, he got her a wet washcloth and assured her everything was okay. "I know it's really awkward right now, but it'll be okay. You could tell me you used to be a serial killer and I'd forgive you if you made me believe you weren't that person anymore." His voice was an uncharacteristic mix of gentleness and supportive steel. He believed every word he was saying right then. "And I already believe that you aren't who you were." She gave him a skeptical look, since serial killer wasn't all too far off from what she actually was, if not even worse. Something in his voice though comforted her a bit, and she smiled at him. "Really?" He didn't see the skeptical look, eyes slowly drifting shut as they were, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "Really." She looked at him, seeing his eyes falling closed so she spoke softly and simply. "Okay." "Hey. Anee?" His voice sleepily lilted up at the end of her name, and he smiled a little bit. "Yes?" "Thanks. For bein' you. Really." It was so mumbled that it was entirely possible it was unintelligible, but it sounds sincere. Anee smiled softly, but she didn't say anything in response. She'd had at least a few hours of sleep during the night, and she knew he was awake all that time. She just watched him as he fell asleep. She debated on trying to stretch his legs out on the couch to make him more comfortable, but decided not to risk waking him. Instead, she covered him with a throw blanket. Buster jumped up on the couch and curled up next to the sleeping mage, and Anee returned to the bedroom.
  9. Keeping Secrets

    After stepping through the portal back into Dalaran, Anee quickly wiped her daggers off on her leggings and returned them to their hiding places in her boots. Daerek also stepped through the portal and moved away from it, towards Anee--but not too close. "Are you alright?" he asked, looking between her and the portal. He hoped the old man dove through soon. The man walked through the portal a few minutes after Daerek. He looked between the two, composed as if he'd fought demons multiple times and often. "Are you two alright? I am able to heal wounds if need be." "I'm okay," Daerek said, taking his eyes off Anee and looking at the aged man with palpable relief. "She tackled a hound and got thrown, though." "I'm fine," Anee insisted quietly. "Thank you for your help, sir." The young man looked shaken, perhaps for a little more than just having missed chowtime with the two of them as the main course, but he bowed to the older man with a steady frame. Anee looked at Daerek and frowned. "You don't look well. Are you okay?" "I'm fine." If the words were a little sharp, Daerek didn't seem to notice in his spooked state. "Thank you." The kind stranger looked between the two, trying to decide if they were just playing fine. After a moment, he decided it was none of his business. "If you two are sure." For all of his apparent anxiety, Daerek was physically okay. "Yes, sir. Thank you. Are you alright?" The man nodded, "Nothing I couldn't handle." He chuckled softly, as if a thought came to him that amused him. "Though, the portal was a good help." Daerek offered a smile. It was quick, though, and his face soon went back to forced neutrality. His breathing maybe came a bit fast, but nothing that would have been incredibly unusual for the circumstances. "It was the least I could do." The man shook his head with a bemused smile, "You know, you two remind me of my adopted daughter,” he said, maybe catching that Daerek wasn't as good as he pretended. Daerek didn’t know quite how to take that, so he just offered a smile instead. "We should be going. But please find me later if there's anything I can do to repay what you've done for us. My name is Daerek Smythe." The man nodded. "Same goes to you as well lad, I'm Mervic Ducharm. Any of the Silver Hand know how to track me down if it is needed." "I'm Anee," she said simply. She fidgeted, picking up on Daerek's mood. Daerek bowed again. "Thank you, sir. Please be safe." He turned to Anee and offered her a smile. Despite whatever was going on in his head, there was still warmth there. He motioned for her to precede him out of the portal room. She smiled back, then stepped out into the street and turned for their apartment. Daerek kept to her side as they walked, sometimes a pace behind her. Something was still bothering him, but whatever it was, he kept it to himself. "We can still stop by a dessert shop if you'd like," he offered quietly, glancing down at her with a small smile. He was making an effort at appearing fine for her sake, and it showed. She stopped and turned to him, searching his face and trying to read him to predict what answer he wanted. "Um..sure, if you still want to." When Daerek wanted to keep something from his face, he was pretty good at it. This was one of those times—there was no telling what he wanted. "I did offer," he said with a small smile. "But only if you're feeling up to it. You took a hard fall." She nodded. "Okay. Um, I mean, if I look okay for it." She brushed some dirt off her pants and then reached up to smooth her hair. His smile warmed a bit more. "You look just fine. Like an adventurer with a sweet tooth, at worst." The young mage didn’t seem to care what he looked like, and looked around to orient himself. After a moment, he set off towards the nearest dessert vendor. She nodded to him, and followed him to the vendor. "Are you sure you're okay?" "I'm fine," he repeated. It was a little less sharp this time; he was getting himself more under control. "Are you?" She nodded again. "Just some bruises. Probably be sore tomorrow. Nothing serious." "I have some salve for that in the medicine cabinet. You're welcome to as much of it as you need. It's pretty easy to make." "Okay, thanks. Maybe I'll give it a try." He smiled down at her again and led them towards the sweets vendor by the bank. "She has the best cupcakes," he whispered, a hint of his earlier happy boyishness peeking through. "Get anything you want." He greeted the proprietor with a wide, easy (and ultimately forced, not that the vendor knows) smile, immediately perusing her selections. Anee smiled back, relaxing a bit now that he seemed to be in a better mood again. They both ordered strawberry cupcakes, which Daerek paid for. "Thank you," she said with an easy smile for him as she took the cupcake. "They have good cheesecake here too. Want to sit down?" "Sure," he said, already unwrapping the confection. "Good cheesecake, hm? I'll remember that, too. I like the kind with the cherry topping." He settled himself on the bench, leaving plenty of room for Anee to sit down wherever she chooses. She sat next to him, and they talked about desserts as they ate their cupcakes. Daerek still didn’t look at her for long periods of time, but his conversation and even occasional laughter put Anee at ease again with her roommate. "When's your birthday?" Daerek asked when their conversation turned to her favorite kind of cake. Anee blinked a few times. "Umm...," she started uncertainly, then she grinned suddenly. "Why? Are you going to get me a chocolate birthday cake with white icing?" "Why would I get you one when I can make one?" "Ooh, you can make cake? Is it good?" He just laughed. "You'll have to wait and see." She mock pouted, then laughed. "Aw, okay. When is your birthday?" "Hey now, how's that fair? You didn't tell me yours." He glanced down to her with a quick smirk and then looked away again. "Guess you don't want cake." "If I tell you mine, you'll tell me yours?" He grinned, still looking out over the square. What were they, five? But the easy give-and-take comforted him. "Sure." "June 25," she said with only the tiniest hesitation between the month and the date. "When is yours?" "Back in April. The 8th." He seemed more focused on considering the time between now and June 25th than anything. "Hm," she muttered, then frowned. "But that's already past, and I didn't know. I'll get you a present to make up for it." This made him look at her again, faint shock open on his face. "You don't have to do that. I didn't even remember it myself." Now she looked shocked. "You didn't remember your own birthday?" He shrugged. "I was busy." She frowned at him, obviously thinking. Then a mischievous glint came into her eye. She stuck her fingers in the frosting of her cupcake, then reached out to put it on Daerek’s nose. The motion was so utterly unexpected that Daerek didn’t register what had happened until he was bedecked with sweet-smelling icing. He blinked down at his nose, cross-eyed, and then looked back up at Anee with sheer flabbergastment. Maybe it was genuine, maybe it was a ruse, or maybe it was both, because while she was distracted by his confusion, he was swiping some of his own icing with the intent of smearing it on her nose. She was giggling too hard at the look on his face to notice. His aim was off though, and Anee ended up with a frosted cheek, which only makes her laugh harder as she tried to wipe her face clean with her hand. Daerek grinned, and Anee' s laughter proved infectious as he swiped the frosting off his nose and popped it into his mouth. "That's a good look on you," he teased, but the words were broken up through his laughter. Following suit, she licked her own fingers off and grinned at him. "You too! Cupcakes: snack and fashion accessory all in one!" He snickered and ate the remaining bit of his cupcake. "My new favorite trend." "Oh, maybe we will start a trend. We might become famous." "And rich." He grinned. "Lap of luxury." "Ooh, yeah," she agreed with a big dreamy grin. "We could get a diamond collar for Ber, and even get him a girlfriend. Maybe a fancy little fluffy dog." Something subtle in Daerek's expression shifted as she mistakenly called Buster by a different name, but his smile didn't go away. "And all the chocolate cake and peach cobbler we want." "Yeah, and you wouldn't have to tire yourself out with so much work." He snorts. "Me? Not work? Nah. I think I'll still work even if I were as rich as the King himself. I enjoy it." "But you could set your own hours then, and not work for people like that lady in the Stormwind shop who yelled at you." It took Daerek a moment to remember what she was talking about. "Oh! No, no, she's not normally like that!" he hurried to say. "Her shipment was really late and she depends on that to help keep her shop running and her kids fed. She had every right to be angry. She was worried." Even now, the tongue-lashing he got didn't seem to bother him. "Oh." She seems to consider that as she wipes the rest of the frosting off her cheek, using her nail to assist with the parts that were drying there by now. "Well, she still shouldn't have been so mean to you." He shrugged a little, still smiling. "It's not a big deal, really." The turn of topic seemed to make him a bit sheepish, as though he wasn't sure how to take the mild fussing on his behalf. "Even good people get frustrated and need somebody to vent at," he said a moment later. "It doesn't hurt me to be that person if it makes them feel better when they need it." She smiled at him, a small smile, for a moment, then looked out in front of them. "You shouldn't be so nice all the time. People will take advantage of you." He kept watching her for a few moments after she turned away. Something shifted in his expression again before he looked out in front of them too. "I know," he said quietly. The smile lessened a little, but it was still there. "I've heard that before. And I'm sure I'll hear it again." Her head tilted to the side as she looked back at him curiously. "Doesn't that bother you?" He didn't look at her. "Sometimes, I guess." She fidgeted and looked away again, quiet for a brief moment before speaking again. "Then why do you still act so nice to them?" He didn't need to think about this answer at all. "Because what if, someday, somebody actually needs it? What if they aren't just using me? There's too many people who assume the worst of everyone and act on it. That's just...not me." She fidgeted again, considering where she might be right now if he hadn't been so nice to her all those months ago. She looked at him from the corner of her eye, not directly and gently touched his leg. "I'm glad you're nice," she said softly, withdrawing her hand again. Daerek didn’t flinch or tense up when she touched him this time. Instead, he just gave her a little quirked side smile. "Me too," he said quietly. "What do you say we head back? It's been a long night. And I'm sure Buster can smell the turtle from here." "Okay, but first....what do you want for your birthday?" He couldn’t help it. Laughter burst from his throat, and he turned an incredulous look on her. "How about we call it even with those alchemy knives you snagged for me?" He grinned. She blinked at him, looking worried that he might know she actually snagged them rather than bought them properly, but then she smiled as she decided it was just a phrase. "Okay, sure," she said as if she agreed with that. That worried look was another thing that got filed away. "Cool," he said. "So don't worry about it." The mage rose and offered his hand to help her up. It seemed to be out of reflex even though they're just sitting on a bench. Anee smiled at him, placing her hand in his as she stood. She did not let go of his hand; he didn’t seem to notice. "I bet Buster will love your turtle dish." "I'm pretty sure Buster loves basically anything," he joked with a snort. "At least he hasn't learned how to get into the cabinets yet." He glances to Anee with an eyebrow lifted in question. "...has he?" Giggling at his comments about Buster, she shook her head. "No, he's not the smart. If he ever does though, we'll put all the food in the upper cabinets. Then he'll have to learn how to use a step ladder." "I still think we could probably teach him tricks and put on a show. You got to admit, Buster the Flying Bamboozler is a great stage name." He lifted his free hand in the air and mimed the air currents that Buster would theoretically glide upon if they taught him to fly. From there, the two engaged in another day dream of becoming rich and famous, this time from a talented dog. Anee became overtaken by a fit of giggles that left her in tears, creating tracks through the dried frosting on her cheek. Their carrying on drew the unwanted attention of a Kirin Tor Guardian, who Daerek assured they were just joking and were moving along. They talked and laughed all the way back to the apartment building, where Anee apologized for being so silly and unable to stop laughing. "No, don't apologize," he says with a chuckle, lowering their hands. "It's nice to laugh so much.” She smiled at him, still making no move to release his hand. "Yeah, it's been a long time since I laughed like that. Later, I won't know if my sides hurt from falling off a dying demon or from laughing so hard. I think I'll believe it's from laughing." He snorted a laugh, trying to cover the brief flicker of panic at the reminder of the night's events. "That's probably for the best. The salve still stands, though." He started up the stairs to their floor, going slow enough that she could keep up with him and still hold his hand. She gave his hand a little squeeze when she saw his panic. He squeezed hers back. "Thanks. I think I'll probably be okay without it though. It's just a few bruises, nothing serious." Finally letting go of his hand, she opened the door. Buster was right there waiting for them, his tail wiggling his whole butt in his excitement to see them. His nose twitched, and he went to Daerek, sniffing him eagerly. Daerek laughed and croucheed down in front of Buster, running his hands all over the pup with pets and scritches. "Hey, buddy! Who's a good boy? Is it you? Aw, it's totally you! You smell that turtle, don't you? Can you sit?" Buster somehow managed to lower his wiggling bottom to the floor long enough to imitate a sit. "Aww, yes, such a good boy! Okay, hang on, hang on..." Daerek held his hand out to try and keep Buster from jumping him as soon as he pulled out the little wrapped package of turtle. He shook the napkin free of the few morsels and then extended them in his palm to Buster. He was quite taken with the little guy. Anee laughed. "I should probably take him for a walk after he's had his snack." She turned for the kitchen. "Do you want a drink?" "Um...s--" He glanced around the visible space of the apartment, and his expression tightened a bit. His earlier panic flickered in his face again, but he was quick to shove it down with a smile. "No, I--I've got a few things I should take care of before it gets too much later. Th-thank you, though." Anee leaned in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, smiling softly as she watched Buster gobble up the bits of meat from Daerek's hand. The smile faded though when Daerek answered her, and she peered at him. "Okay.... Are you okay?" "Yeah, I'm fine! I just--" He floundered for a moment, still petting Buster but slowing his motions. " I do have some things I need to--and...closed spaces?" he trailed off, indicating the apartment with his free hand. It was best to let some of the truth show, he figured, and hoped that she'd understand that part of it without him having to explain further. "Okay...." She didn't know exactly what he meant by indicating the apartment, but she figured he was still shaken from their encounter with the demons earlier, so she didn’t question him. Instead, she just smiled to him. "I'll see you later then." He smiled back, gratefulness flooding his expression. He roughed up the dog with some more pets before standing. "Yeah. Take it easy, okay?" He shot her another smile and stepped out the door, shutting it softly. On the other side, out of eyesight of anybody--especially Anee--the kid looked like he was about to have a full-blown panic attack right then and there. He walked away as quickly as he could without running.
  10. Keeping Secrets

    It was hard to tell at first glance where the pair were geographically. The presence of a Legion camp just a few feet away, and a nearby Felhound sniffing about at their sudden arrival, was more or less an immediate danger. If someone were to look, though, they'd see the spires of Suramar City off in the distant west. Confusion clouded Anee’s face as she took a few steps forward and then stopped, looking around. “Daerek?” she asked softly. “I don’t think we’ll find dessert here….” Daerek paled significantly, breath coming in hushed pants and green eyes wide. Wordlessly, he grabbed Anee’s arm and took a few slow steps back towards the portal, hoping to pull them back through it to Pandaria. Too bad the portal destabilized. It was gone. “Make another one?” Even in a whisper, Anee’s voice shook. She pressed close to him, fearfully watching the nearby demons. “We’re too close,” he whispered back. “The Felhound will smell it immediately. They’ll be on us before I can finish casting.” The hand not holding onto her slowly reached for a pouch at his hip. “Eighteen seconds,” he murmured, pressing a small vial of blue-tainted liquid into her hand. “You drink it, and you run. You’ll have eighteen seconds of invisibility. They’ll smell my magic before they smell you. You drink and you run. Deliverance Point is….to the south, I think. Okay?” Shaking her head, she pushed the vial back at him. “Remember I told you I can hide from them? You use this. I’m not leaving you.” She reached down to her boot and pulled out a small dagger. “Too close for hearthstones too?” Daerek looked extremely agitated at her refusal for a moment, but he forced it down. Now was not the time to put up a fuss, and he could always break down in guilt later. “If we get far enough away… There’s magic to hearthstones too.” The Felhound stood, eyestalks swaying this way and that as it searched for the source of the magic it smelled. “It’s going to smell me anyways.” Daerek took the vial reluctantly. “But we can try. But don’t come out from hiding.” Anee eyed the Felhound, suddenly remembering something about the beasts—they like to eat magic. Wordlessly, she nodded at Daerek’s instructions and waited for him to drink the potion. He popped the cork, keeping his eyes pinned on the slowly advancing Felhound. It had their mark, but wasn’t quite sure yet. Daerek murmured a countdown from three and downed the shot of liquid. He bolted, praying that he could trust Anee to act as skillfully as she’d led him to believe she can. Anee took to the shadows as soon as Daerek disappeared, and started running in the same direction. She started counting to eighteen, planning to stop running when she reached it. Hopefully they would be near each other when his potion wore off. The Felhound, however, had finally locked onto the source of magic it smelled. Though it couldn’t see the mage, it sensed the movement. It broke into a run, passing Anee without even slowing down in its eagerness to get to the magic source. With its eyestalk tentacles waving eagerly, the beast closed in on the young mage. Anee saw it and tightened her grip on her dagger, understanding all too well what the beast’s intent was. She grabbed a small rock, about the size of an apple, and threw it at the Felhound, hitting it in the back. It stopped and turned on her, tentacles waving and saliva dripping from its mouth. Throwing the rock had pulled her from the shadows and the beast had no trouble seeing her now. She pulled her second dagger from the other boot and raised both blades in front of her as she stared at the creature. Daerek heard the hound’s eager vocalizations behind him and pushed himself to run harder. He was used to running; the additional effort wasn’t a problem for him, not yet. It was when he didn’t hear the growling beast continuing its advance that he realized something was wrong. The mage chanced a look back over his shoulder, only to see his roommate facing off with the Felhound. He stopped running and spun back around to face them, horror plain on his face. His chemically-induced invisibility wore off a moment later. Any shout he might have made died in his throat, but fire sputtered into being around his hands when he started trying to cast to help her. The Felhound, sending the magic being cast, turned back to the mage, grunting and growling eagerly. “No!” Anee shouted. She charged at the beast, launching herself at its back. Sitting on the Felhound as if it were a horse, she gripped it with her legs as it started twisting and bucking. It growled and slobbered, waving its eyestalk tentacles around wildly. Anee tightened her legs to keep her seat, and she raised both daggers before plunging them into the back of the Felhound’s neck, right at the base of the skull. The Felhound lurched a few times, sending Anee flying through the air to land on the rocky ground, before it finally fell over dead. Something in Anee’s attack shocked the mage so much that his concentration faltered and the fire in his hands disappeared entirely. If possible, he looked even more horrified than he did before—but whatever it was, he shoved It down and ran to her and the dead hound. The young mage knelt protectively over Anee. The tussle had attracted the attention of some larger, bipedal demons on the outskirts of the camp they ran past. Previously preoccupied by the sight of an armored man approaching the camp, two Felguards were pointing and shouting at Daerek and Anee now, lumbering towards them with the same intent the Felhound had. Dazed, Anee sat up slowly as Daerek neared her. Even through the fall, her hands never released their grip on her daggers, and she adjusted her grip on them now as she saw the approaching Felguards. "We need to get out of here,” she murmured. "If I distract them, can you make us a portal?" A flash of light intercepted one of the Felguards, and a few seconds later an older man charged at the demons. The man was surrounded in a pale aura of Light. He raised a shield and shortsword up to block the Felguard attacks. "You kids better run." He huffed out, "These two don't seem happy." Daerek couldn’t seem to believe their good luck at somebody armored and capable. He rose to a standing position, pulling Anee up with him. He wrapped her in his arms and muttered a quick incantation, blinking them away from the fight. Making sure she could stand on her own, he slowly released her and prepared to open a portal. Anee, also looking very relieved, looked between her roommate and the adventurer. "He looks like he can handle himself. Let's get out of here." Daerek didn’t look at her once she was standing, instead focusing on his spellcasting. After what seemed like forever (but wasn't quite even ten seconds), a brilliantly shimmering image of Dalaran appeared within the confines of the portal's swirling outline. "Go," he urged, a hand on her back to push her through the portal. A moment of doubt crossed her mind at the portal, after what happened with the last one, but she was pushed through before having time for second thoughts. Besides, what could be worse than this place? She disappeared through the portal and waited for Daerek on the other side. "Come on!" Daerek shouts over his shoulder to the armored man. He turned and started chanting another spell, this one causing an icy chill to envelope his hands. The spell would freeze the Felguards in place and allow the man to run to them "safely." The old man chanced a moment to look over his shoulder to see the portal. "Look away!" He shouted to Daerek before the Light gathered around him flared and brightened to a painful level. The demons were blinded and confused. The old man then ran towards the portal. Daerek turned his head and lifted his arm to cover his eyes. When the residual lighting from the flare died down, he chanced a peek again--and stepped aside so the armored man could have a clear shot at the portal. The old man was able to get up to the portal, but waited for Daerek to go through first. "If it closes on me, I can take more than a few hits before needing to go to safety." The young mage nodded and went through the portal. The man followed soon after, deciding not to pass up an easy way out of the fight. This portal was fine. It took them back to Dalaran as expected.
  11. Keeping Secrets

    Daerek looked out across the visible part of the Vale. The Sha scarring was still present, but telltale signs of healing were there too—a sapling here, a crop of flowers there. For maybe the first time that Anee has seen, the mage looks at actual peace. “Silly people. If a cooking class is serious enough for them to fight over, they must have a pretty easy life.” She laughed softly, then looked at Daerek. He laughed easily. “Yeah, must be. I wonder what it’s like.” He chuckled again, looking to her with an easy grin before opening up his to-go box. “It’s quiet out here,” she says. “It is. You can tell there was a lot of…well, not quiet, not too long ago. But it’s recovered well, still is. And—“He pointed to the west. “There’s nothing like a sunset over that valley.” Anee narrowed her eyes, thinking. “I remember lots of fighting in this area. Garrosh went crazy, and we had to help save Orgrimmar. But now that everyone’s gone, I like it better here now.” She blinks, and then smiles at him again before starting on her dinner. “Were you a part of that?” he asked, surprised by the familiar use of “we.” “Well, I mean…ummm…. No, not me directly, but um, you know….the Alliance.” She looked out at the valley as she spoke, not looking at him. Then she turned back his direction, looking at his food. “How is it?” Daerek looked at her with an odd expression for a few seconds, looking like he wanted to say something—but instead just smiled and tried some of the braised turtle. He nodded slowly as he chewed with a “not bad” face. “I don’t think I’m gonna die from food poisoning tonight. How’d yours turn out?” Anee giggled at him, glad he took to the change of subject so easily. “That’s good. Mine tastes better than it looks, so I don’t think I’ll get food poisoning tonight either. At least not from this. Maybe I should save some for Buster.” “Maybe. The turtle might be better than the noodles for his stomach.” Daerek cut a little bit off from his own braised turtle and set it aside. “For Buster,” he explained with a laugh. “Think we can manage this on our own again?” “The noodles were pretty easy. I’m not sure about the turtle though. We could always try and find out. I hope we learn a fancy dessert next.” She grinned and licked her lips. I’ll be sure to ask when Miss Jojo teaches the desserts,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll make it a special point ot go on that night.” “Those other people might end up throwing it at each other if they’re fighting again.” She laughed, then tilted her head. "Speaking of food, have you seen Mr. Starseer lately? I don't think I've seen him since...." She holds up her left hand with the pinky stub. "I wonder what he did with my finger anyway." Daerek peered at her in thought before frowning. "No...I haven't seen him since he had that bounty on him, actually. The last we spoke, I think, he was going to go into hiding." "That's a shame. He was nice. I hope he's okay. Maybe he's just traveling with his Caravan," she said, but she sounded doubtful. "I'm sure he's fine. Tuuro seems to have a way about him to walk out of trouble like it's nothing." He laughed a little, trying to put her at ease. "Maybe we'll be able to track someone from the Caravan down and see how things are." "I'm sure you're right. He's pretty clever. And I bet his cards would warn him of any danger." Anee had no clue how his Tarot cards worked and probably gave them credit for more powers than they actually possessed. "Did he ever do a card reading for you?" "Maybe," he says. Daerek was pretty sure the cards don't work like that, but he's a mage, so who's to say they don't? "But no, he didn't. Never got around to it." "Oh, I thought you knew him for a long time." She finished her dinner and stacked up the containers. "Yeah, it''s been a few years now, I guess?" He tried to tally it in his head but gave it up pretty quick. "I guess there was just never really an opportunity. The first time I met him and the Caravan, we were in Dustwallow and I'd just lost my horse." He laughed. "Mostly in the Recluse since then. Once in the Valley of the Four Winds." Daerek finished up as well, collecting what garbage he had and squeezed everything into the largest box and wrapped up the bit of braised turtle in a napkin for Buster later. He jumped down and offered his hand again. "You lost your horse? In the swamp?" She frowned at the thought as she took his hand and jumped down. "Did you ever find him again?" Daerek led them towards a wastebin nearer to the main hall. "Yeah, I did. We were camped in Mudsprocket and something spooked her in the early morning. I had enough time to grab my bag and try to run after her...she jumped a low part of the fence there." He flushed red. "I...maybe didn't have time to put on all of my clothes, either. Don't...don't ever go around the swamp almost naked. It's not fun." He cleared his throat to try and get past the embarrassing memory. "I got lost trying to find her. Met Tuuroto's caravan later that night and joined them back to Mudsprocket. Right after they let us into the camp, I heard her." He grinned. "Bolted off--fully clothed this time, thank the Light--and found her safe and sound. I still don't know what spooked her." She managed, barely, not to laugh at the image of him running around the swamp naked, chasing a horse, but her amusement was obvious. "You're lucky she didn't get eaten. Or you! Or...maybe the bugs ate you, if you had no clothes on....?" She dropped her trash into the bin. "I'm glad you got her back." "I had welts for weeks," he confided. "It took me almost an hour to realize I wasn't wearing anything. I was too panicked. But my clothes had gotten soaked from leading her through the places I couldn't ride her, so..." He trailed off with a shrug, dropping off his own trash. "I think the worst part was having to fess up to the guards at the gate what had happened when I was trying to get back in with the caravan. I'd just met all these people and there was a really intimidating Sin'dorei with us and it was just..." He huffed an amused sigh. It was funny now that some time has passed. "Never again." Her amusement faded quickly as he described the ordeal. "That sounds awful! I guess it could have been much worse, but...." She shuddered. "There was a blood elf in Tuuro's Caravan?" He laughed. "It could have been. I'm glad it wasn't." He led them back to a spacious place, probably with the intent of creating another portal. "And I don't think he was in the Caravan. He just showed up, I think. Said he'd help guide us and help out if anything attacked. He seemed to already know Tuuro." "I don't like them," she said, crinkling her nose. "They're always so pretty and snobby and bossy and looking down their noses at everyone. They often have silly names though," she added, grinning. "What was that one's name? Something with Fire or Dawn in it probably?" "Eh, they don't bother me so much. Lots of people act like that, so I guess I got used to it." Daerek considered her question, wracking his brain for the memory of the elf's name. "No, it wasn't one of those...Z-something. I don't remember his last name, though. Red hair, leathers, so probably a rogue...Zaaaaanas?" Her step faltered, and she blinked a few times. "Zanas....." she muttered quietly. "Autumnvale." She remained still then, just staring at the ground, perhaps distracted by her thoughts. Daerek frowns at her, concerned. " he somebody else you know?" he asked slowly. She lifted her gaze to meet his before answering. "He.... I used to know him. A long time ago." "You knew a lot of people," he said quietly, offering her a small smile in hopes of setting her more at ease. She smiled back, though her smile was a bit sad. There weren't many people she missed from her former life, but there were a few. She shook her head. "Not anymore, not really." Then she looked forward again, to whatever destination they were walking toward. Daerek put his hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. He didn’t say anything else either way. They came to a reasonably open area. A few people were around, but not many. "How about we head back and stop by a dessert shop on the way home?" he asked, already readying a spell for a return portal. She smiled at him at the mention of dessert. "That sounds good." "'kay." He smiled down at her and began channeling the portal spell. Nearby, a duel broke out between two men. One of them was clearly an amateur, or perhaps drunk, because his neon green spell went awry and nearly crashed through the portal. Daerek looked up with a scowl, and the man shouted a 'Sorry!' before going back to his duel. The portal itself seemed unharmed though. Tempted by the promise of dessert, Anee stepped through the portal, considering whether she'd choose pie or cake....or maybe a pudding. By the time Daerek and Anee stepped through it, they couldn’t see that the portal has started shifting. It was no longer keyed to Dalaran, having absorbed contrary magic--and when they arrived on the other side, it certainly wasn't to a kind place.
  12. Keeping Secrets

    On the Pandaria side of the portal, Anee stepped through, and Daerek emerged shortly thereafter, turning to dismiss the portal. They’d arrived in the Shrine’s portal hub. People of all sorts milled about, either on their way to or from a portal, but it wasn’t as populated as it was a few short years ago. Nobody paid them any mind. “You could do it, you know,” Daerek said. “You’re smart. Learning magic like that is a lot of theory studying at first, but I think you could pick it up pretty quick.” He flashed her a smile. As per usual, his compliment was simple and genuine. She didn’t believe a word of it, though she didn’t doubt that he did. She knew she wasn’t smart enough for casting spells, but she smiled politely at him, appreciating the compliment nonetheless. “We’re headed towards one of the rooms off the side of the east wing,” Daerek said. “I’ll follow you. I don’t really know my way around here.” “Really? Oh, it’s great.” His enthusiasm was palpable. “I love it here. I came briefly during the Pandaria campaign—not with the militia or anything, but for the herbs—and they’re all so nice.” There was even a little spring in his step as he guided them around a few bends and down the stairwell into the main hall. “Obscenely so. It’s great. They’ll probably yell at us for being too skinny, though,” he said with a laugh. Anee walked close to Daerek, looking around at everything they passed. Without thinking about it, she placed her hand on his arm, so she could look around more without watching where she was going so much. She felt his arm tense briefly, but it relaxed again quickly. “Why are they all so nice? I mean, it’s pretty here, but does that make people nice?” Daerek tried to slow down his bouncing stride so that she could look around more and not miss as much. “It’s just something about the Pandaren culture. Something to do with the Sha, I think? Too many strong negative emotions could attract the Sha creatures—I don’t even know what they are other than physical manifestations of emotional energy—before this place was cleansed, so maybe they just learned to always be nice and happy.” He shrugged a little. Clearly history wasn’t really his forte. “Ohh, right, the big black cloudy monster things,” she said. “I remember them. They make you feel bad.” “Right, those things. I had a run-in with one, once. It us…wasn’t—well, obviously I’m still here and not possessed.” He laughed a little. “I’m glad it’s safer to visit now.” “Me too,” she agreed. “I mean, I haven’t visited here since then, but if it wasn’t safer now, we probably wouldn’t be taking cooking classes here.” “Absolutely not,” Daerek agreed. If he thought it odd she spoke of past visits to Pandaria but claimed to have never been to the Shrine of Seven Stars, he didn’t comment on it. “Here we go—in here.” He motioned for Anee to precede him into the chamber and followed her in. A few workstations were set up in the room. Each was large enough for two or three people to work at with plenty of room. The Pandaren were big on community, after all. A larger workstation was up front, and behind it was a rotund Pandaren woman in a chef’s hat and apron over a vibrant pink dress. She was busy looking over a selection of ingredients and tools. “Oh hello!” the woman greeted, offering a cheerful wave to the pair. “My first students of the night! Others should be coming soon, but make yourself comfortable. My name is Jojo.” She eyed them critically for a moment, the fur around her snout bristling, as Anee led them to the workstation furthest from the door. “I’m glad you are both here. Clearly you need to eat more. What better way to eat more than to cook more!” Anee gave Daerek a small grin. He had said they would be called too thin. She smiled at Jojo and introduced herself. “What are we learning to cook tonight?” “Ooh, I’m glad you asked, Miss Anee. Tonight, we are making Sea Mist Rice Noodles and Braised Turtle!” “That sounds complicated,” Anee said with a worried frown. “Have you ever had turtle?” Daerek whispered to Anee out of the corner of his mouth. She shook her head. “Have you?” “Oh no, dearie, it’s really not difficult at all!” the Pandaren woman favored Anee with a genial smile. “Don’t worry, Jojo will walk you through every step!” Anee nodded at the womand’s reassurances, but she didn’t look at all convinced. “Nope,” Daerek whispered. “But I’ve had the noodles. They’re great.” Each workstation was stocked with an ample supply of everything the student’s might need for the night’s lesson. All utensils looked to be well taken care of, and the knives were freshly sharpened. The produce and meat seemed to be fresh and of high quality. All in all, they were being set up for success rather than failure. Other students began filtering into the room, made up of several Alliance races. Jojo greeted every one of them with the same enthusiasm she did Anee and Daerek. Anee inched around the counter of the workstation without even really realizing it as the others came in. Daerek noticed her subtle movements, but didn’t comment on it. He just took it as Another Quirk About His Roommate and left it at that. Jojo took note of the girl’s movements too, but she’d seen enough adventuring types to know why the poor thing might feel the need to see the doorway. “Alright, students! Now that it looks like we’re all here, let’s begin….” The lesson from start to finish didn’t take more than a couple of hours. Jojo was a patient instructor, explaining how to do each and every thing the dishes required, what each utensil was for and how to use it, etc. At non-crucial moments, she even went into little tangents about other things the assorted ingredients could be used for. If the meals were successful, the students who cooked them were encouraged to take them home (or elsewhere) and enjoy them. If they weren’t, Miss Jojo made plenty to share and offered helpful advice on improving one’s technique. Either way, everyone in that room was going home with food. Anee looked quite pleased with her success. Though her dishes weren’t nearly as pretty as the instructor’s examples, she didn’t set anything on fire, so she was very happy. She looked over at Daerek’s food. “How did you do?” While Daerek was excellent at floral arrangements, he was absolutely awful at plating food in a way that makes it look aesthetically appealing. At her question, he dipped his fingertip into the rice noodle brother and took a taste. “Well, it looks like hell,” he laughed. “But it tastes okay.” His easy smile turned into a grin. “I told you you’d be fine.” “I guess it doesn’t matter if it looks bad, as long as it still tastes good.” She smiled at him, and then she started packing up her food to take home. “I guess we know what we’re having for dinner tonight.” He laughed and packed up his own meal. “Yeah. That’s another thing I like about the Pandaren—you never go hungry.” Miss Jojo scowled at a young couple a few tables over. They’d been bickering the whole time, and now that their plated meal has revealed itself as completely inedible, the bickering as reached a new level. “Stop it now, both of you!” Jojo said, hands on her hips and a glare in her pretty green eyes. “I won’t have this in my kitchen!” Daerek and Anee were both uncomfortable with the bickering and scolding going on in the room. Both avoided looking that direction and pretended not to notice. “The terrace has a nice view of the Vale if you want to eat out there,” Daerek offered. “But we can go back home too. It doesn’t matter.” “Um…okay,” Anee answered, distracted with trying not to notice the bad behavior of the ones arguing. “Wherever you want to eat is fine with me.” “Let’s eat out there, then,” he says quickly, eager to get away from the mounting tension in the room. The bickering couple were quiet and sullen now, but there was no telling if they’d start up again. Daerek waited until Anee was ready to go and then started leading them towards the outside terrace, keeping a leisurely pace in case she wanted to look around some more. “I hope they don’t argue every lesson,” Anee says as she followed him. She set her food down on the wall at the edge of the terrace and looked out at the view. “What were they fighting bout anyway? I didn’t hear what started it. Did you?” Daerek hopped up on the wall and settled himself cross-legged, offering a hand to Anee to help her up to sit beside him. “Sounded like they were fighting over what Miss Jojo meant for some steps,” he explained. “Didn’t look like either one of them were right at the end.”
  13. Thoughts of a Living Shard

    It’s just a finger. I keep telling myself that. I keep telling others that, and they look at me like they’re not sure how to react to my calmness about the whole thing. It could have been so much worse. And the doctor fixed it up as best he could. My date from the auction a while back. He was not at all what I expected. He was nice. “Booze money,” the finger stealer said, and “Be glad it’s just the finger I got paid for.” That was after he made me tell him which of my hands I use more. He cut the finger off the other hand. He wasn’t unnecessarily cruel, and he didn’t seem to take exceptional pleasure in the task. He was huge, and spikey, and so strong. It could have been so, so much worse. But people don’t consider what could have happened, only what did. But it’s only a finger. For now, at least. What did happen, what I did lose, doesn’t frighten me. But what’s next? A hand? My head? Just watching my back all the time, waiting for a next strike? Every time I remember the grip of death’s tendrils around my waist, yanking me into that alley. Every time I envision those frosty blue eyes before me. Every time I catch my breath, remembering that huge plate gauntlet around my neck. Every time the stump of my pinky finger throbs, or an itch settles on a digit that is no longer there, I wonder. Who paid him? At first, I thought of Skylah. She knows who I am, or thinks she does. Would she have paid someone to mutilate my hand as payback for what was done to hers? Then I found out that the Cardman received my finger as a gift. It was even wrapped up in pretty paper. He didn’t seem to have a clue who sent it. But I did. I knew it wasn’t Skylah. She would not have sent it to the Cardman. At least, I don’t think she would. She didn’t seem the type to send grisly presents like that. I know of one who does send such gifts though, and if my suspicions are correction, this won’t be the end of it. But I can’t tell anyone, not without revealing my own identity. So I balance the risk of my safety against the new life I've begun to build for myself. It is not an easy choice, especially without any way of being certain of who's behind the attack. Aside from the sisters, who I never see any more, and Lilly, who I avoid, nobody else has shown any sign of knowing who I really am. Until last night. I tried to play dumb, but he wouldn’t have it. He said we would talk later, somewhere quiet. I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to that meeting, or dreading it. In any case, although he could certainly make things difficult for me if he chose to, I am confident he can't hurt me, not without straining a long-standing trust with someone else.
  14. Thoughts of a Living Shard

    Things are going good for me in Dalaran. Very good. I’m still staying at Daerek’s apartment. He’s rarely here, and when he is here, he sleeps on the couch. He also keeps a tailor on retainer for me, for whenever I want new clothes, and he usually leaves some grocery money for me. I don’t know why he’s been so nice to me. He must want something. Eventually, he’ll ask to be paid back in some way. But for now, my life in Dalaran is comfortable and easy. Hopefully he survived his date. Nobody has recognized me. Well, other than the sisters and Lilly. But I’ve managed to avoid them lately. There are a few other people I thought might recognize me--the cardman, the demon elf, the halfling--but they haven’t. It’s been over a year now. I guess they’ve forgotten. Or maybe I look different enough. I went on a date. It’s just from the date auction, but it was nice. We had a picnic in Stormwind, overlooking the harbor. I was worried, but he was a perfect gentleman. He didn’t even ask any uncomfortable questions like where I’m from, or do I have a family, or anything, even when he noticed I was nervous when the guard yelled at us. It was a very nice evening. I even joined a guild. A peaceful guild, so I won’t have to fight. It’s so different here. You don’t have to be a fighter or act all tough here to fit in. People are nicer than I remember too. Nobody has been mean or threatening to me. Some days, I don’t even think about before. I think I can finally make a life of my own.
  15. Thoughts of a Living Shard

    They want something from me. The Sisters. Especially Skylah. She showed me her arm, her fake hand that replaced the one we cut off. She knows….something. She knows the Professor was involved. What does she want? I’m afraid to find out. She gave me a gold coin and told me to use it to get in touch with her. I won’t. She asked me if I was friend or foe. I told her I am not her enemy. I didn’t tell her I was once. There were lots of people at the Winter Veil party. The card man was there. I don’t think he recognized me. He always seems happy. And mysterious with his magic cards and strange accent. He was talking to a dwarf, who was talking about other people. I recognized some of the names the dwarf said, but I pretended not to. Those people are from before. Those people are people I must never see again. Natherren was there, which is probably the only reason I didn’t bolt from the party when Skylah started talking to me. He’s nice. He’s always quiet, but I don’t think he would let anyone hurt me. When the sisters left, he moved his hand away from his side. I think he was ready to stop them if they tried to hurt me. He lets them question me, but I think he wouldn’t let them hurt me. Not while he’s there. I met another man there. He said I should get a job at the Legerdemain Lounge as a waitress. He’s also in the Empire. Someone told me his name is Gabriel, but he said that was his name when he was alive. Now he’s dead, and he goes by Skaern. Nath told him he still has the dead thing going on, and his armor and weapons didn’t help with that. I didn’t notice. I think he’s nice. There was a strange lady there at the end. She couldn’t talk unless she held someone’s hand, and then she could only talk right into their mind, or anyone’s mind they were touching. She said she is lonely. I told her being lonely isn’t that bad. I am lonely, but I know there are worse things to be. I felt sorry for her, but I also thought she was scary. I don’t want to see the Sisters again. They don’t like me. I have to be careful. Mr. Skaern seems nice, but he’s in the Empire too. Maybe he’s only pretending to be nice to trick me for them. I can’t trust anyone. I will always be lonely, like the lady who can only talk to someone's mind. It's safer that way.
  16. Thoughts of a Living Shard

    Stormwind has been quiet, and the guards were starting to notice me. They hadn’t caught me doing anything, but they watched me more than I liked. The crowds have thinned. There are fewer other people to catch their attention. For a while now, I’ve been hearing people talk about the floating city of Dalaran, so I went there. I didn’t know what to expect, but it isn’t bad. There’s an alchemy shop where I can work on potions. There’s a coffee shop with tasty pastries sitting right out on a display on the counter where anybody can take them. They’re so good! Sweet and flakey and soft. The first time I took a pastry from the stand, a man sitting nearby saw me. He looked at me like he expected me to say something, but I didn't. He didn’t say anything either. He put some money on the counter and went back to talking with his companion. Another time I took a pastry, a lady saw me. She cornered me in a chair and questioned me. She offered to pay for the baked good and buy me another one if I agreed to let her wash my hair. How strange! Why would a well-dressed lady want to wash my dirty hair? I didn’t trust her, especially since she was obviously a warlock, but I was hungry. So she washed my hair and gave me a bed to sleep in for the night. I haven’t seen her since. I often wonder at people’s kindness. It’s not at all as I remember. Back in Stormwind, there was that nervous young man who stuttered. He gave me enough coin to stay at the Recluse for a few nights once. He must be rich. Maybe I should try to find him again. Maybe I'll see him someday as I explore these new lands in search of herbs for my potions. There is a feast planned for Pilgrim’s Bounty for anyone to attend. My mouth waters each time I imagine what kind of foods might be laid out there.
  17. Awakening

    Three months ago.... A battle took place inside the Shadowblade’s mind. Her captor, Professor Marrus Luminus, had invaded with the aid of potions and magic to save the ghostly waitress that resided there, but she had been badly injured by the Shadowblade’s knife during the battle. The mage had mentally overpowered the rogue and took control of the environment, changing the setting to Stormwind where Alliance guards battled Syreena’s conjured Grim warriors. The mage himself was currently nowhere to be seen. The Shadowblade stalked to the waitress, who was lying still on the ground. A small dagger materialized in her hand. She yanked the non-responsive girl’s head back by the hair with her other hand and placed the blade to the waitress’s throat. "Do you think she's still alive, Marrus?" the Shadowblade asked, her tone laced with deadly intent. Suddenly, the entire scene disappeared--the soldiers, the Grim, Stormwind. All gone. All that remained was pure white. "If you hurt her, I'll erase all you hold dear, Sy!” the mage’s voice threatened. “Your memories of the Grim, the fact that you ever were one. Shit, I’ll make you hate them. You'll be the greatest slayer of Grim ever known!" Marrus materialized before her, now fully dressed in his battle garb. Other than his voice, there was no sound, no nothing. Just complete silence and the blankness of their surroundings. The Shadowblade slowly looked up at him from under her brow as a small grin twisted her lips. Aegis means shield, he had told her during the first days of her capture. He cared about the waitress; it was his job to protect helpless little things like her. She laughed softy. She may not be able to win this battle, but neither would he. Shadows swirled around her, a second dagger forming in her other hand, replacing the handful of the waitress’s hair. The unconscious, ghostly girl slid forward along the blade at her neck as she fell to the ground. A red pool collected underneath her still form on the white surface. The rogue held the blades in front of herself in a combat stance, watching Marrus with a challenging look. "You can save her, or you can destroy me. At the rate she’s fading, you won’t have time to do both,” the Shadowblade announced. “Tick-tock, tick-tock." The mage rushed to the little waitress and took her into his arms, looking up at Shadowblade with searing hatred. "You've bought yourself some time, but rest assured... there's nothing stopping me from destroying you now,” Marrus said before glowing golden light consumed him and the waitress. He took the ghostly girl into his mind and disconnected from the Shadowblade’s world. Present Day… For months now, what remained of the waitress had been kept safe within the refuge of Marrus’ own mind and soul. She was once Syreena Breen, and then she was part of the killer known as Syreena Shadowblade. What was once her name now only brought to mind memories of the one who betrayed her and then tried to kill her when she was weak. Now, she was simply the waitress. The first few days after the rescue were rough for both her and Marrus. The waitress was terrified at finding herself in someone other than the Shadowblade, and her panic also affected the Professor’s emotions, making him fearful and jumpy for a short time as well. Eventually, she calmed down, and though he still felt her emotions, he learned to separate them from his own. Occasionally, she peered out at the world as he saw it. In this way, she became familiar with some of the Eternal Aegis members, knew where they were working and fighting to help people in need, and picked up tidbits of news now and then. Most often, she remained completely tucked away in the private world of the Professor’s mind. It was safer there, and prettier, and quieter. Sometimes he would materialize himself in his own mind and visit her. Once he took her to a lake that they walked on top of, and then took her to a luxurious bedroom that was to be her own. He gave her an orange cat and a wild pony that befriended her and let her ride anytime she wanted through the lush landscape of Marrus’ mind. Usually, she was alone, with only Pumpkin, her cat. Artemis, the talking owl, lived there too, but she rarely saw him, which was fine with her; he made her nervous. When she wasn’t riding her pony, she spent most of her time in her room, trying on the dresses and jewelry that filled the closet, or standing on the balcony looking at the stars, or eating as much of whatever food she wanted. She didn’t mind being alone. That simply meant there was nobody to hurt her, or threaten her, or even boss her around. Much of the time, she simply lay in her soft bed, experiencing the feeling of peace and security, and learning how to not be afraid. Sometimes she forgot that this world wasn’t real, or that she would someday have to leave it. She had become mostly comfortable around Marrus and looked forward to his visits, though his possible motives for saving and taking care of her still puzzled her. He was the only person she’d ever met who’d gone to any effort for her sake, and she knew she wasn’t worth the risks he’d taken to save her. The thought of living in the real world, or being near anyone else, simply terrified her. She understood why she would have to leave here eventually, but she also knew firsthand that the world was full of cruel people who liked to hurt others in the vilest of ways. For now and the foreseeable future, she was quite content to stay hidden away from the ugly real world and remain within the confines of the Professor's imaginative mind. Unfortunately, she couldn't stay here forever.....
  18. Awakening

    Over the following weeks, Anee met quite a few people who could see and hear her—some priests, shaman, warlocks. There were many people, it seemed, who could contact ghosts in Azeroth. None, however, were both willing and able to help her get a body of her own. Then she met Kyal’la, a night elf woman, who spoke of something called Chi, which she said was a “life force kinda.” Kyal’la also asked her the usual questions: What’s your name, where are you from, what happened to you, and Anee gave her the usual answers, mentioning the Professor that was helping her to find a body. “Well, if you’d like, I can help find you a body to help look for him,” Kyal’la offered. “Or to at least help you out of this bar. You see, I work with healing people all the time, but sometimes…people cannot be healed of the mind, so their body wastes. I can transfer your Chi into them, giving you the body, and letting them…live on in a sense through you.” “OI,” a nearby dwarf objected when he overheard them. “YOU STOP THA’ THOUGHT RIGH’ THAR MISSY. Ye canna jus’ go aroun’ stealin’ people’s bodies!” “It’s…what?” Kyal’la said. “It’s not stealing! It’s like an organ transplant!” “With a person’s soul lass?!” the dwarf questioned. “Not soul!” Kyal’la argued. “Chi, there’s a difference.” “Oh!” the dwarf said. “Is there, lass? Do tell.” “A person’s Chi is like…a whole of their soul and mind combined with a natural energy. In a sense, it is what makes a person whole. These people’s bodies are wasting away in a vegetative state, so their Chi wanes, as do their souls and bodies.” Anee stared at the floor, wringing her ghostly hands together as she listened to two strangers argue about her possible fate. The dwarf looked at her. “See, lass,” he said to her. “Thar’s a problem with that. Judgin’ by yer whole thing ‘ere, ya died an’ lost yer body already.” Anee shook her head and whispered in her echoing voice. “But I didn’t die.” She had to explain that she was split and pulled out from the other one. They asked about the “other one” but Anee wouldn’t say anything about her. If her other half found out that she still existed, she probably wouldn’t be existing for much longer. The dwarf still objected to Anee moving into someone else’s body, but Kyal’la held out her hand to the little ghost in an invitation that Anee accepted after a moment’s hesitation. Kyal’la led Anee out of the tavern and to a medicinal ward near the Cathedral. The dwarf followed them. Inside the healers’ building, a few people wandered about. Many bore severe head trauma as evidenced by their bandaged or scarred heads. The dwarf paused near an unconscious patient to mumble prayers and calls to the elements. Kyal’la went to one particular patient, a young human woman who lay with her eyes closed, deathly still upon the bed. Her husband, a young dwarf man, sat beside her. His name was Larion, Kyal’la informed them, and the woman’s name was Donnabelle. Through the introductions, Anee learned that Thalstan was the name of the grumpy dwarf who followed them from the Blue Recluse. Donnabelle had been attacked more than two years ago with shadow magic that had wiped her mind clean. Anee looked at Larion. He looked sad as he rubbed his wife’s arm. He also looked weary. Anee wondered if he was still here out of genuine hope or only dedication to Donnabelle. She knew the answer to that, when, after Kyal’la’s sensitively phrased inquiry and following discussion, Larion told them that Donnabelle would have wanted to help someone else as her final act. Kyal’la ushered Anee and Thalstan out of the room with her to give Larion some privacy as he said goodbye to his wife. Thalstan stormed out, resuming his argument that this was wrong, that Anee should find her own body and lay her claim to it. She made no attempt to explain to him why that wouldn’t be possible. Kyal’la managed to calm him down, and he agreed he would not interfere with what was about to happen. “Thank you,” Anee breathed in relief. Thalstan pointed his finger at her sternly. “Dunnae thank me, lass. Thank the bloody man an’ wife ‘oo’s letting yer possessive shite ‘appen. An’ iffin’ I ‘ear about you abusin’ tha’ body or committin’ any crimes, aye’ll hunt ye down an’ end yer bloody life.” Anee blinked at him nervously just as Larion summoned them back to the room. They returned to Donnabelle’s bedside, and Kyal’la began the ritual. She patted Anee’s arm and took hold of Donnabelle’s, breathing deeply as she began concentrating. Bubble-like orbs of natural chi were summoned around them, and the spirit of Anee was soon aglow with energy. She was siphoned into purest energy as what resided in Donnabelle was drawn into it carefully, as though drawing blood. Kyal’la took another deep breath as the two energies intermingled, and soon Anee was slowly absorbed by Donnabelle’s body. The room glowed with emerald energy as the two energies were suffused completely together. Anee gasped suddenly, and tried to sit up. She winced as she found her new body slow and stiff after two years of bedrest. Still, she welcomed feeling anything physical. It had been over a year since she had control of a body of her own. Kyal’la was at her side to help her, spreading the healing mists over the patient, invigorating her muscles after their entropy. The elf woman asked Anee some basic questions to make sure her mind was there—her name, her location, her favorite color. Then she helped her to stand and walk to the door. Larion had watched them quietly through the whole thing, but now he spoke. “I’d makka las’ request, lass,” he began. “I’d….like to feel me wife’s arms one las’ time.” Anee froze. In her experience, a man’s touch was never pleasant. But this man had graciously given her a second chance at a real life, and, so far, he had asked for nothing in return. Except a hug. She nervously looked at Kyal’la, who nodded in encouragement while Larion moved forward with his arms open. Anee stood where she was, looking down at the floor and resisting the urge to run. When the man embraced her, she gingerly lifted her arms to his sides. Larion took a ragged breath as he gulped down his emotion, then, after a few moments of connection, he removed himself from her. “Thank ya, lass,” he said. “Now, live. Live fer ‘er sake.”
  19. The Mood Board Thread

  20. Awakening

    Something had happened. At some point, they must have come to Stormwind. Somehow, she got out and they got separated. She remembered they went to Scholomance together before that. He had hoped to find a book there that contained some spell that would allow her to have a body of her own. She didn’t remember much from that point on until she found herself wandering the Mage Quarter. But she wasn’t concerned with that. She didn’t even realize the trauma of being separated and freed from a physical body had caused a bit of amnesia about that particular event. She was more concerned with the people that were nearby. People were dangerous, unreliable, and untrustworthy. They were cruel and wicked and abusive in various and creative ways. She had learned that throughout her whole life. Those who weren’t mean were victims of the ones who were. There was an exception to this, she knew. The man with the black and silver hair. He was always nice, to her at least, though she had seen him be cruel with someone who had deserved it. He protected her, made her feel safe again, and promised to help her find a body of her own. She should find him. So she wandered the streets and grassy areas of the Mage Quarter, unwilling yet to go too far away in case he was nearby. She avoided people, though she soon realized that they couldn’t see her. In fact, one person walked right through her as if she weren’t even there. She looked down at herself, and then held a hand up near her face. She could see through it. I’m still a ghost, she thought. She couldn’t fly or walk through walls or anything like that. It seemed she was blocked by inanimate, solid objects, but people and any type of moving objects would pass right through her. Nobody could touch her, which meant nobody could hurt her. She also could not hold, move, or otherwise manipulate objects that weren’t already on her own person, like her serving dress, or the tankard she carried on her belt. It wasn’t long after realizing that nobody could see or hear her that she made her home in the Blue Recluse. The tavern atmosphere seemed familiar to her, and with nobody able to see her, she could roam the floors, and dance, and come and go as she pleased, observing the patrons for entertainment. One night, ghostly Anee was roaming around the Blue Recluse like she normally did, confident that the patrons and staff couldn’t see or hear her. She hummed to herself and danced and walked up and down the staircases. Three men and a woman were sitting at one of the tables. Anee recognized the Draenei man as the Cardman. He was doing a reading for one of the other men at the table who seemed to have lost all memory of his past. The other man, who was missing a hand, made comments about the cards and the reading. The woman, a Draenei, observed quietly. Anee stood on the upper level against the railing, watching them with their card reading. She liked listening to Cardman. He always sounded cheerful with his strange accent and his habit of laughing too loudly. Suddenly, the one-handed man looked right at her. He looked at his companions uneasily, then he rose and ascended the stairs. Anee bolted down the other staircase and hovered near the entrance. The Draenei woman rose from the table and joined the human upstairs. Anee couldn’t hear what the two said upstairs, but then a giant spider came skittering toward her, its abdomen quivering with anticipation. With a squeak, Anee darted out the door into the grassy area just past the mage tower. The spider followed her, followed in turn by the Draenei woman and the one-handed man. Then she lost them and paused under a tree near some bushes where, for a few minutes, she was alone to watch fearfully for the spider. “You,” the man said, looking right at her. Still, she looked behind her, hoping he was talking to someone else. If people could see her now, she was no longer safe. There was nobody in the bushes behind her. The man’s expression did not look friendly, and he had a commanding tone in his voice, but no weapons were drawn. “Are you alright? You ran from the pub in a fight it seemed,” he questioned her, his voice seething with suspicion. “You can see me?” Anee whispered. She cringed, her arms wrapping around herself, looking from the man to the approaching woman and her spider. The arachnid clicked its front pair of legs together, wiggling its abdomen playfully. Anee backed up a few steps, but was soon stopped by the bushes behind her. “Of course we can. Why wouldn’t we?” the man said. “Because,” Anee started in a whisper that carried a soft echo. “Because I’m not…real…” “Yeah ya are,” the woman said. “People can’t be unreal…?” “I’m only a little bit….” Anee said, holding up a partially transparent hand. The spider took a step closer, and Anee gasped. “Please don’t let it eat me.” “He’s not gonna,” the woman responded. “He only eats real things.” As if to prove her words, the spider attacked a squirrel that wandered by too closely. Anee blinked, then wrung her hands together. “Gril, send that beast somewhere less terrifying,” the one-handed man said to the woman. He stepped closer to Anee, and lowered himself to her height. His voice was lighter this time when he spoke. “What’s your name miss?” “Anee,” she answered after a hesitation. “Tell me, Anee, where did you used to live?” She frowned, thinking about that question. She couldn’t exactly tell him that she lived in someone’s mind. He already seemed suspicious of her, and if he thought she was crazy, he might lock her up. “A nice place,” she finally answered. It wasn’t a complete lie. “With a big bed and a balcony overlooking a party area. There was a big library there too, with a secret passage that led to a lake.” He and Gil, along with the spider, escorted Anee to the Keep, but when they arrived, the man soon realized that wasn’t her home. Guards ushered them away, looking right at Anee. They could see her too. “You have a surname, Miss Anee?” the man asked her. She realized she still didn’t know his name. It didn’t seem important. “Umm…I don’t know,” she answered. She hadn’t yet thought up a new last name, and she wasn’t going to go back to using Breen. That would make it too easy for anyone to find her. “Do you remember how you died?” the man asked. He seemed to be getting frustrated that he couldn’t figure her out, couldn’t help her. “I remember sick once,” she said, frowning. It wasn’t quite a simple question as it seemed. She had originally died from the plague, but then she became a ghost when the warlock sucked out most of her soul. “And I remember a warlock. But the warlock didn’t get all of me, so I had to hide from the spiders.” That got the man talking about Duskwood and a mass murderer who lived up there a few years ago. Then he asked her to describe the spiders, and she did, though she doubted he ever saw them. They were the guardians of the Spider Gate. As the hour grew late, the Draenei woman and her spider left, much to the relief of the little ghost. The man seemed interested in finding out who Anee was, where she was from, how she died. But Anee’s concern was finding a body for herself. The man seemed doubtful about the possibility though. He said he would try to find a way to help her, but she could tell he didn't have much hope for her. The man left her then with her staring at the ground and gnawing gently on her bottom lip.
  21. Awakening

    In his now half-empty lab, Marrus sat in his old wooden chair behind his desk, trying to focus on his menial academic task such as grading research papers and writing the outlines for his next lecture. The tasks were not difficult, but at this point in his life, even the most trivial of errands became a monumental challenge. He'd lost who he thought was the love of his life. Sidney, now ex-wife, left him after being released from prison. He had tried as much as he could, but he finally gave in and submitted his research to SI:7 in exchange for the release of his wife. When she found out that he'd given SI:7 their research, it broke her. She could not live with the fact that her and her now ex-husband's research was going to be used for more martial purposes and, in line with her principles, left Marrus due to his betrayal, despite the fact that he did so to free her and save his family. Within his mind, the waitress stirred. She was sitting at her vanity, brushing her hair. She set her brush down and turned around as if looking for him, sensing his mood, as she often did. "Professor? Are you all right?" "I'll live, I'm sure,” he said with a heavy sigh. He'd been staring down at the same word for about five minutes, lost in the memories of his former love. She was quiet for a while, feeling as though she should try to cheer him up, but uncertain as to how. Then she asked quietly, "Can I help with anything?" "I...I'm sorry, Anee. All these gloomy thoughts aren't helping your development, I'm sure,” he said out loud with a sad sigh. "I guess someone to chat with would be nice... but I won't hold you to it. Nobody wants to talk to a guy that just got dumped anyhow" he sighs again. She folded her hands in her lap, and tried to smile encouragingly. "I don't mind. You're the only person I have to talk to." " mind if I join you in there?” he asked with a sad smile. He knew he'd neglected her the last few months and felt horrible about it, but knew she was doing alright as she'd been creating new memories and experiences that were beginning to take up increasingly larger parts of his soul. He did not mind however. He also knew that this would lead to her rehabilitation and eventually to her freedom... but how? Another question looming over his already fatigued mind. "I don't mind at all," she answered, eager for the company, and, at the same time, still timid at the thought of being around someone else. She rose from her chair and walked over to the balcony door as she spoke. "I like talking to you. You're always nice to me, even when you're sad." "Thanks, Anee... I'm glad you're here to keep me company as well. It's taking every fiber of my being not to go crawling back to her and beg for forgiveness..." he said as he materialized on the foot of the bed, sitting with his face in his hands. "So... what've you been up to these last two months eh?" he asked, tossing his problems aside to focus his mind on something else for a change. She leaned her back against the doorframe with her hands clasped in front of her. She gave a little shrug at his question. "Just...relaxing, going for walks, riding my horse." An orange cat walked near her, brushing up against her legs. She picked him up. "And playing with Pumpkin." Marrus couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as she mentioned Pumpkin. The little kitten was symbolic to him, a symbol of hope for Aneerys' future. "Well... that's good. I was truly worried my bad mood would ruin yours" he smiled apologetically at the girl. "I think we need to start talking about a way to get you your own body, Anee. It's not that I mind you being here, growing, healing, and keeping me company, but I don't like the idea of you being isolated in here either... so... any ideas?" he sat now leaning back on the bed, his leg crossed over the other in a relaxed manner. She pushed off the doorframe and came to sit on the bed beside him. A worried look claimed her expression at the thought of getting her own body. She was excited by the idea of being alive again with a mind all her own. And at the same time, she was terrified of being on her own. She folded her hands in her lap and stared down at them, and shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, we can't steal one from someone else, right?" "No, Anee... I couldn't steal a body... I mean... I guess I could, but it'd have to be somebody who REALLYYYY deserves it, or maybe even someone who volunteers their body", his words came out unsure. "What are your thoughts on the subject?” he asked, turning to her with a raised eyebrow. Anee continued to look down at her hands, catching her lower lip between her teeth. She wasn’t surprised by his answer. She knew he wasn't the type of person to steal a body from someone else, even for her. A worried frown settled on her lips. Pumpkin jumped up on the bed, and she pulled him into her lap, using the distraction to delay answering Marrus while she tried, unsuccessfully, to come up with a solution. "Maybe I'm not meant to be free," she finally answered quietly, still looking down at the cat as she petted him. “I mean, maybe there’s no way for me to get a body.” "There is no easy way, this is certain, but you'd be surprised what old magics lay forgotten in the old decrepit libraries of Lordaeron. I found a clue to such a spell, a spell long forgotten. A spell that may allow you to experience the REAL world once again, but I will need your help... what do you say? Take a little risk with me?” he turned to her, raising his eyebrow once again. "Come with me to old Scholomance to find this old tome that may give us the first piece of this puzzle we both want to solve?" he continued, hoping her skills as a thief along with his skills with the arcane could help him get through the challenge. “The old wizard school? I don’t know anything about magic or spells. I won’t be much help,” she answered. She trusted him though, and she glanced up at him, meeting his gaze for a brief moment before looking back down at Pumpkin. “But I’ll go wherever you go. I kinda have to,” she added with a little smile. He chuckled then nodded at her comment. "True, but hopefully you'll be moving around on your own volition if we succeed in finding this spell", he smiled. "Now, let's prepare for this journey...” he says simply, dematerializing within his mind to focus back into the real world. As he opened his eyes, his sight began to focus on the papers on his desk, notes and such that pertained to his research on the spell that would bring them one step closer to liberating her soul from his.
  22. Awakening

    One day, a few weeks after Marrus had rescued the shard of the soul that remained of the waitress, she sat with him on the bank of a river that was part of the setting he had conjured for her within his own mind. "There are some good things out there, aren't there?” she asked. “But there's lots of bad things too.” “Lots.... and yes,” Marrus answered. “But I want to be sure you mostly experience the good ones.” “It's nice here too though,” she said mildly. “Eventually you're going to grow,” he said with a long sigh, “and as much as I like your company, you'll eventually start to take over my soul.” "What if you can't find a body for me?" “You'll be safe and sound here until we do,” he said with a smile. “Don't worry... I won't let you get hurt, or disappear.” She nodded slowly. “What do you want to do when you're out?” he asked her. “I...don't know...,” she said. “I only know how to be a waitress.” Of course, she knew how to steal too, but she didn’t think he’d approve of that so she didn’t mention it. “Live in the city? Become a waitress?” he asked. “Where would I stay?” “Hmmmm,” he murmured as he thought. “You could stay in my cabin until you can get on your own two feet.” Again, she simply nodded. “Alrighty then... so just one problem... a body,” Marrus said. “I think I'd want to do this through a Shaman or Druid... I don't think the church would much approve of this.” “And they use nature magic. The Light…,” she said, and then trailed off. “But I wouldn't be Forsaken anymore, would I...?” “Nope,” he assured her. “Warm skin and all.” “How will you find a body? That doesn't already have someone in it, I mean?” “I think there may be an alternative,” he said, “which is why I want to consult a nature magician. The arcane is cold. Calculated. Unforgiving. Nature... well, let's just say I've seen some amazing things.” “What do you have in mind?” “I'm hoping there's a way to get your true body back. That would be best.” “And kick out the Shadowblade?” she asked pensively. “No. Well... I don't know. It has nothing to do with her,” he said. “And I want you to choose a different name. I certainly don't want the Shadowblade to ever find you.” The waitress nodded. “When you say my name, I think of her. I don't want that name anymore. And...I sure don't want her to find me.” Marrus played with a small flower in his hand. “Until we can find a shaman we can trust, I want you to keep experiencing things in here. Grow. Become whole again. You have a very beautiful soul. I want you to be happy. And eventually find a good man... and live out a full life.” The waitress blinked slowly at him. "A man..." “You don't like boys?” he asked, chuckling. She shook her head. “They're mean and cruel.” “Am I?” he asked. “Well, no...” “There are more like me, little one,” he assured her. “A good man. That won't be complete without a good woman. And he’ll treat you like a queen. That’s what I want for you someday.” The waitress nodded just to be polite, and turned to watch the wild ponies nearby. A cold breeze blew across the meadow and Marrus sighed. She guessed he must be thinking about his own wife, who was locked in prison. “How much longer will she be locked up? “Right now, five more years... I've been trying to appeal,” he answered, looking down with a frown. “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay. I still get to see her every day. But I just miss her.” The waitress nodded. “Will the appeals work?” “They haven’t yet,” he said with a frown. “Well...maybe they will.” “Do you want to stay here, little waitress?” he asked. “I need to head out.” She nodded. “I think I'll go for a ride.” “Remember, I won't let anything hurt you here. So have lots of fun.” “Okay.” “Goodnight, little one,” he said as he helped her back up on her pony. “Goodnight, Professor.”