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Tuuroto

The Clock and the Ring (Open)

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Chapter 1.

Sir Elmoor Whiteschmidt didn't have time to blink when the dagger penetrated his back and emerged through his ribcage.

It was raining heavily that evening in the Elwynn Forest; the air was dark, damp, and misty, reminiscent of the foulest corners of Duskwood. The Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe didn't expect any customers that day due to the dreary weather. McGrubbins and Templeworth, like the diligent Gnomes they were, had already placed their orders for the Tower of Azora ahead of time and were not scheduled to pick up their goods for another week. Elmoor thought about closing the shop early and maybe even spending some quality time with his children for once in his gods darned busy life. From early retirement in the Stormwind Elite Cavalry to becoming an entrepreneur in "specialty goods", the Northshire born man always gave it his all when it came to his work. Family, on the other hand, was always on the back burner, competing with equally pressing priorities like patching that hole in the old gutter and cleaning out the basement for Murloc eggs.

How old was lil' Mazzy now? Elmoor felt terrible for not knowing, and he knew he could only use the "I'm a single father trying to make ends meet" excuse for so long. He probably hated him, Elmoor thought, as would any rambunctious youth his age would think of his stern, aloof father. Not even his latest gift, a Dwarven Mithril Pocketwatch that had cost him three months' worth of store sales profit, was enough to mend their distancing relationship.

"It's just a phase. All lads go through it," he kept telling himself whenever he started to reassess his life choices during workhour daydreams,"Mazzy shall understand everything, how Azeroth is really like, when he has come of age."

Elmoor changed his mind about closing the shop early that day, a choice that would be his last.

Rigor mortis had set in quickly. Elmoor's corpse was hunched forward and face-planted onto an antique wooden workbench imported from Quel'Thalas. A pair of hands hurriedly patted down his body, pulling out every pocket and pouch in his clothing. Even the poor man's shoes and socks were removed and slung to the other side of the studio, with one stray shoe thrown with such anger and vigor that it shattered the studio's only windowpane.

Break-ins and theft weren't uncommon in Elwynn. The citizens of Goldshire were accustomed to resurgences of the Defias Brotherhood and the countless times that senile old maids attempted to fortell their impending invasion from the farmlands of Westfall. Hogger's wanted poster had literally become a running joke among the locals. Wolf sightings, bear warnings, and even the occasional Blackrock Orc raiding party from the Burning Steppes: they were all part of the known risks of living south from Khaz Modan.

However, Goldshire also was used to having stalwart heroes rushing to its aid, no matter the cause. Whether it was to douse the raging wildfires of the Wickerman or to stop those pesky boars from feeding on Grandma Stonefield's prize winning potatoes yet again, the people of the greater Stormwind area could always count on a healthy array of seasoned adventurers to solve their problems. Fel, all one would need to do was waltz into the Lion's Pride Inn, tack one's request onto the mercenaries' public cork board, and the job was, literally, considered handled.

"... easier said than done."

Drunken banter, sleazy small talk, public acts of Kaldorei debauchery, and the perpetual melody of clinking mugs and pouring ale: it was a typical evening at the Lion's Pride Inn, save for the influx of soldiers who had just returned from their tour of Draenor and were now spending the night in revelry and mirth. The atmosphere was laid back, like any other tavern in the Eastern Kingdoms.

Time, however, was not on his side tonight. He needed some mercenaries to accept the job right then and now with no questions asked. There was no time for pleasantries, for building a rapport, or for selecting the ideal man for the quest. Anyone would have to do.

He had rushed on writing the fliers, and, staring at them once more in a clearer mindset, he began to regret it. His calligraphy was shaky: the lines of text unevenly rising and lowering at various headings. A few of the letters were difficult to read due to sloppy, thick blots of dripping ink. There were no fancy colors in the flier, no heroic titles in Old Common, and not even a picture or an explicit bounty reward in gold. Regardless, the man looked desperate for some takers.

"Time's running out... oh gods, time's running out...” he uttered to himself. He was noticeably thirsty, but, despite being just an arm's length away from the bar, he didn't dare pause from his quest.

The man was of average height, his red hair clean cut and his chin clean shaven: not a hint of facial hair. He was also rather wide-eyed, almost child-esque, such that his baby face made him appear out of place in the bawdy atmosphere of the tavern. His baggy pantaloons stretched down to only his pale, calloused knees, and his white wool tunic had seen better days. The sleeves were rolled up, and the collar drawstring was loose and dangling, revealing a recently polished Malachite Pendant of the Whale and a modest section of the man's shaven upper torso. Most notably, the man was covered in freckles, and his soft eyes were contradicted by the stern furrow of his eyebrows.

To many of the tavern patrons' intrigue, there was also a fragile young woman standing directly behind the man, cowering behind him and tugging on the back of his shirt. She was about the same height as him. None of the passerby patrons were able to get a good glimpse of her face, except for her unmistakeably bright auburn, pixie-cut hair. Because of that feature, it was inevitable that some daring, hopelessly inebriated Wildhammer Dwarves would attempt to make passes on the maiden throughout the night, but their efforts were always thwarted by the man with her. The woman's dress was of a traditional gray linen, which helped accentuate the elaborate gold ring on her finger. It looked somewhat like an engagement ring, but the crystal sitting on the ring's band was pulsating overwhelming amounts of raw Arcane energy that would catch the attention of any nearby person who was magically inclined.

Anyone at the Lion's Pride Inn that evening would notice the woman and the man standing near the Hero's Call Board beside the main bar counter. The man's fingers were restless and constantly twitching into odd, yet deliberately precise, positions, but it was probably due to the fact that the man had been spending the whole day holding and passing out fliers. Most adventurers, however, would have taken the flier, scanned it briefly, and then wait until they leave the tavern before tossing the parchment out into the forest as rubbish.

The flier read as follows:

-Looking for Veteran Hero to Investigate Break-in and Murder. -

Location: Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe. West HighwAY, Elwynn Forest.

RewarD: Flexible. Best Offer. Will be shared among all contriBUTING PArties.

Assailant mUST be caught! Please Help!

Anyone brave and social enough would be able to take the flier, talk to the man and woman, inquire more details, and be pointed to the scene of the crime in order to accept the quest.

((Forum-RP plot open to anyone interested and able to comfortably work themselves into the story. Spots are limited. Please contact Tuuroto-TwistingNether beforehand prior to your initial post and when making potential drastic actions; otherwise, please understand if your post is retconned. Varm pleasure smiles! - Tuuro))

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He cursed the relentless rain.

Barnaby Grathier was in a black mood. The past three days of constant downpour threatened his crops and put his current landscaping job on hold. Work was scarce, even for a jack-of-all-tradesman like he, and money was often an issue. He also had some difficulty walking through mud.

He didn't go to Lion's Pride often, on account of money and family commitments (he looked after his nine year old sister and paid for four tutors for her) but he was in no mood to care. He wanted a drink and to get out of the rain. Limping inside, he beelined to the bar and took an extra second to shift weight onto his good knee.

"Oi!" he called to the bartender over the noise and signalled a drinking gesture. "Bourbon, aye?!"

Barnaby rested his cane by the counter, lit a cigarette and waved away a polite local offering his seat to the man with the bad leg. He was aware he probably looked pretty ragged after the rain. He was average height and had a lean, almost wiry build. His wet, windswept hair was light black, faintly flecked with charcoal-grey and came halfway down his neck - short for most, but the longest he had had it for nearly a decade - his jawline lined with stubble and his eyes a darkish sea-green with a hard edge that read 'I damn well know what I'm doing so don't question me'. He was 26, had the lined face of a man past 30 and the shoulders back, chest out, ramrod spined posture of a military man. His clothes were semi-ragged and self made, he wore no jewellery and had the crude hands of a man who used them for a living. Most tellingly was his limp, a war wound he had 'earned' on the fringe of a belch of canister shot.

His bourbon arrived, coin was exchanged and Barnaby set into his drink, immediately feeling a little better. No problem in life couldn't be eased by such an ageless remedy, he thought. There was nobody interesting about him, except perhaps a cute young girl in the company of a ginger-headed man - the kind who probably shouldn't be in contact with sunlight most days. He checked out the bulletin board instead. Not that some bold foray into some distant dungeon was his line of work. He generally checked for calls for handywork within Elwynn.

Among other things, drivers for the logging camp - they always needed those, some tree clearance work near Stormwind - not in this rain, some new wanted posters, a reward for clearing a bandit camp near Jasperlode - tempting, despite the knee - and a flier that preached the glory of the Light. There were other outlandish ones he paid no heed to. He frowned at one in particular.

-Looking for Veteran Hero to Investigate Break-in and Murder. -

Location: Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe. West HighwAY, Elwynn Forest.

RewarD: Flexible. Best Offer. Will be shared among all contriBUTING PArties.

Assailant mUST be caught! Please Help!

He plucked it from the board and read it. It was an open contract for a murder investigation. Barnaby had done some time with the City Guard while his shoulder had healed in the past. Did the idiot who wrote this not think to talk to them instead of throwing 'heroes' at the problem? Barnaby had met 'heroes' before. Those that weren't dead were usually dumb as bricks. Can charge the enemy, can't spell enemy.

Still, Barnaby mused over the bourbon and cigarette both held in the other hand. He had to admit he was restless and craved a break in the monotony. And it was within Elwynn, though he had never heard of Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe before. That may save him the logistical issue of his sister. And he had some first-hand experience in this. It was either this or take on the bandit camp. He scanned the flier again, trying to get the gears ticking.

No means of contact except the shop, so he guessed whoever put it up either lived or worked there. Owner? Probably not. Business owners kept detailed ledgers and whoever wrote this obviously didn't write much. Perhaps a relative of the owner. Perhaps the owner was killed? He took a draw on his cigarette and idly burned a hole in the 'o' of 'hero'.

Break-ins were common since a lot of folk were poor as dirt. He could understand not bothering with the City Guard, but the urgency in the letter suggested it would be important enough to be. The whole thing spelled desperate. Not desperate enough for legal channels? Or perhaps too desperate? He read 'Assailant must be caught' a few times. Perhaps they ought to have written 'Killer stole something of mine I don't want the Guard to know about or trust them with.' For some reason, his first instinct was blackmail material. He folded the parchment up and stuffed it into his pocket. Open contract, after all.

"We'll see what the rain is doing tomorrow," he said to himself, holding his drink up to check how much he had left. "In the meantime..."

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"He's looking at our flyer!"

...

"Alibeth, that sir is looking at our flyer!" the mysterious, red-haired tavern man excitedly whispered to the demure, freckled maiden next to him, practically shaking the young woman by her shoulders. The man's giddiness was overly apparent by the youthful glow of hope in his eyes. "I shall speak to him! By the Titans themselves, I will drop to my knees and plead him to help us if I must!" the man continued in hushed whispers that probably were no longer whispers to those sitting nearby.

In contrast to the man's excitement, the young lady's visage was overcome with bashfulness; all through the night, she had a tendency to twirl between her fingers a loose strand on the hem of her gray linen dress. Anything to keep her mind occupied, she thought, would be better than accidentally making eye contact with some seedy male tavern patron and giving the wrong impression. The Lion's Pride Inn had its reputation for such notorious activity.

"He looks old... and he gives me a fright," the shy lass finally squeaked to her male companion.

"It's just the rainy weather," the man retorted almost instantly, as if ready to bicker.

"Umm... if you put it that way, I reckon he's handsome... aside from that awful cane!" the maiden countered in drawn out, thoughtful remarks. To a bystander, it sounded like the duo were well accustomed to rapid banter between each other.

"Let's not judge a tome by it's cover. Time's a' wasting," the man curtly answered, cutting the conversation short as he began to make long-legged strides towards Barnaby. The young woman stayed behind, leaning against a far corner wall in the tavern, deliberately keeping herself a good distance from the other tavern-goers. Her idle gaze kept to the floor, her attention continually switching between that same stray linen strand on her dress and a fancy, antique golden ring on her finger. One may conclude that the girl was especially attached to, if not obssessed, with that particular piece of jewelry on her finger.

Meanwhile, the young man found himself approaching Barnaby. There was a noteable difference in stature between the two gentlemen despite both of them having similar heights and nearly identical lines of eyesight. The young man couldn't quite master a confident stance or swagger: his legs gangly and too close together as he stood, his toes not pointing forward in unison, and his weight not evenly distributed. He didn't know where to put his hands and was apparently not experienced in maintaing a posture that flattered his biceps or pectorals. The man's lack of body and facial hair also created a stark contrast between Barnaby's weathered and experienced aura. The young man paused to glance over Barnaby's cane, curious of its make; however, not wanting to drag out introductions and awkward silences, the young man took a deep breath and began to introduce himself.

"Well met, good sir. I see that you took one of our flyers. We are in desperate need of forming a party of adventurers to infiltrate the vile murderer's lair. Will you be joining us? We're leaving first thing tomorrow morning, if you are."

Despite having practiced his lines over and over again prior to setting foot in the Lion's Pride Inn, he did not think he would butcher his quest pitch that badly. He said too much information, and he said it too quickly. What if this adventurer was a crook? Or, worse, a bloodlusting barbarian who could take a dagger to his neck simply because he looked like easy enough prey? Even if, for the sake of argument, that the adventurer was legitimate: surely he'd be now doubting the details of this request. And, if he turns it down, who else will accept? The more he over-thought the situation, the more the young man's fingers began to twitch. Shaking off the hesitation, the young man cleared his throat, puffed out his chest, and continued in a more stern tone.

"Forgive my folly. I imagine you wish to inquire more about this crime, as well as the exact compensation, but our situation is quite grim, and time is not on our side." As he uttered these words, the man dug for something in his trouser pocket but kept his hand there, "I give my word that I shall personally provide anything you desire that is within my power if you assist me and my..." the young man paused as he gestured towards the maiden by herself across the tavern, "...my associate."

Hearing the man's voice, the young maiden's face flushed. She briefly looked towards he and Branaby's direction and meekly bowed her head. She gingerly mouthed from afar what appeared to be a "Well met."

The young man continued, puffing out his chest once, "What says you, good sire?" The young man ended his inquiry by holding his breath.

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There was too much movement over the wooden floorboards for Barnaby to hear or feel the approaching body from behind. All of a sudden a figure was by his side out for his attention.

"Well met, good sir." he said. Barnaby opened his mouth to reply before the rest of it tumbled out. "I see you took one of our fliers. We are in desperate need of forming a party of adventurers to infiltrate the vile murderer's lair. Will you be joining us? We're leaving first thing tomorrow morning, if you are."

The pitch went down with as much elegance as a collapsing scaffold. Barnaby scarcely even registered what he said and instead frowned. His first go-to thought of this man was a painting he once saw in Dalaran; a priest and a young red-haired sinner on his knees pleading forgiveness. Mr Sinner was about his height, narrow-chested and on the gangly side. Ratty clothes like his, but had a nice-looking green pendant of some kind around his neck. The awkward exchange ended when the man tried again.

"Forgive my folly. I imagine you wish to inquire more about this crime, as well as the exact compensation, but our situation is quite grim, and time is not on our side." Mr Sinner put a hand in his pocket, seemingly looking for something. "I give my word that I shall personally provide anything you desire that is within my power if you assist me and my . . . my associate."

Barnaby glanced at where Mr Sinner had gestured and saw the pretty girl he had glanced at on his way in. She dipped her head and mouthed something he didn't catch, which he replied with a wink. The girl had a striking resemblance to a lady he had fraternised with in the army when he was 19. She had been a quartermaster, and it had cost him his corporal's stipe. What was her name, he thought. He couldn't remember.

Mr Sinner spoke again. "What says you, good sire?"

Barnaby glanced at the red-haired man as he slowly took out and unfolded the flier again.

"It says 'Investigate Break-In and Murder' here." he said first. "That's a far cry from infiltrating a lair of some kind."

The man began a reply but Barnaby held his hand up to silence him. Mr Sinner spoke enough, it was his turn.

"It sounds like you're more interested in a lynching party than an investigation." he said, pausing to take a sip of his drink. "So first thing's first, you can hammer out some details so I know exactly just what the hell you're asking me to do is."

He finished his cigarette and crushed the remnants under his thumb on the bar counter. "And be a dear and introduce me to Quarterm- er, your associate, hm?"

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Rain is a burden rather than a pretty phenomenon to look at. The song it plays on his armour gives away his position during bounties, causes rust and creates mud. A heavily armoured knight such as himself couldn't stand it.

Visiting towns were common to him as their notice boards offered many job opportunities. Bounties, escort missions and even the occasional delivery order ensured that his coin purse was always filled. Visiting this town was no exception, though he normally stayed in cold Dwarven lands as delivery jobs there are common due to the harsh weather, sometimes one must visit Stormwind and it's surrounding towns now and again. Approaching the inn, a powerful gust of wind kicked up some debris, causing the rain drenched object to stick on his armored shin. Disgusted, the knight bent down to brush away the flyer, though curiosity got the best of him. Reading it over, the rain had already ruined most of its message, but something... Seemed off about it... He rolled up the flyer the best he could and held it close for safe keeping. Maybe a copy of it was also in the inn?

Upon entering Lions Pride, the knight quickly found a spacious corner to stand in, he didn't want to create a puddle of water in the middle of the inn. Drinks or food didn't interest him, all he needed was a quick dry off... Oh and also to find a copy of that flyer.

Of course a few stray eyes will land upon him, he wasn't exactly dressed to blend in. Tall and slender, clad in silver and brass armour, A two handed sword rested on his back that glowed an eerie arcane blue, he was definitely a knight ready for combat. Wearing no helm or hood, his face could be clearly seen. Rain soaked grey short hair, his eyes, glowing blue, and his face bore glowing runic markings. This was a Death Knight no doubt about it, though his face showed little scaring, the look, the aura of his being told the story of someone who has been though a lot.

Ranavos remained still as the rain slowly dripped free from his attire, he watched in silence as a few people mingled around the bar counter.

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A lengthy moment of hesitance filled the space between Barnaby and the younger quest giver, the latter having a look of shock frozen on his freckled face.

...

He caught a glimpse of the wink Barnaby sent across the tavern.

...

More awkward silence.

"Erm..."

That was all that the young man could muster, save for other incoherent stutters. The fingers of his left hand continued to contort into peculiar positions every few seconds, while his other hand remained his pocket. It was not long until the young woman meekly made her way across the tavern towards the duo, her strides like dainty, ballerina-like tip-toeing. Although the young woman's apparel suggested that she was nothing more than your typical peasant girl, she portrayed an air of grace from the way she now held her chin high and at eye level: a noteable contrast from her previously timid, anti-tavern demeanor.

"I am Alibeth Whiteschmidt. Will you be the one to save us, kind s-sir?" The young woman's voice was queaky and high-pitched, like that of a Northshire Abbey schoolgirl who spent more days reading history tomes and singing in the Stormwind Cathedral's choir as opposed to farming and roughhousing in Elwynn Forest. Her eyes gazed upward in attempt to meet Barnaby's, but she lost her nerve by the end of her sentence. Instead, her attention went back to the ring on her finger as she began to idly twist the gold band. Whatever confidence she had prior to intiating the conversation she had now lost. Perhaps it was Barnaby's intimidating visage? Immediately, Alibeth's male companion interjected, harshly whispering in her ear.

"The Fel are you doing? Have you realized what you've done? You just gave your name away!" the young man yelped. His freckled-face was now flushed with frustration.

However, Alibeth paid no attention, "And this haughty dolt is my twin, Mazzonore. He means well; please forgive him." The young man walked a couple of steps away, covering his anger and gaping jaw with both of his palms. By now, the resemblence between the two siblings was apparent: they shared the same fiery hair, pale skin, freckles, and overall youthful presence.

"Our father was the owner of the Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe," Alibeth meekly uttered. Mazzonore was still in panic mode and was pacing around the end of the bar counter as Alibeth continued to debrief the situation, "It's just your run-of-the-mill general store, though we do have customers from the Tower of Azora. Nothing special at all!"

Alibeth brushed a stray stand from her short, aburn hair before continuing.

"Thus, I do not understand why someone would kill.... k-.... kil our father." Alibeth's eyes began to water but not a single tear fell. If one were to look closely enough, one could notice that Alibeth's eyes were genuinelu swollen, presumeably from having cried more than enough tears over the past few days due to the situation. Mazzonore quickly sensed that his sister was getting emotional and rushed to her side. In his hurried state, he almost bumped shoulders with the rain-drenched Death Knight who just entered. Another tall and scary fellow, Mazzonore thought, but there was something different about the Death Knight compared to the man conversing with Alibeth. It wasn't the man's silvery armor or elaborate greatsword that caught Mazzonore's attention; rather, Mazzonore could sense something magical about the man. Was it raw Arcane energy? Runic magic? It was something familiar, something he had encountered during his secret studies.

Mazzonore had a hunch, but he did not have the time observe the man further; he rushed to Alibeth's side in order to console her, but his sibling simply swatted him away.

"I am fine, brother." Alibeth sniffed loudly and looked to the ceiling in an attempt to dry her eyes. She patted down her skirt and began to breath loudly in order to regain her poise, "My brother managed to see the one who attacked our father, and...~"

"...and it retreated to one of the caves around the old Jasperlode Mines."

Mazzonore cut Alibeth off. Even she felt quite taken aback, almost offended, by how quickly and deliberately Mazzonore redirected the conversation.

"I tried telling the Stormwind Guards, but they wouldn't believe us," Mazzonore paused, "Though the gods cannot blame them, I suppose..."

Mazzanore paused again, as if dramatically drawing out the conversation.

"... I mean, who would believe it if a couple of kids said that a Demon from the Twisting Nether broke into their home and killed their father."

Mazzonore attempted to be nonchalant about the words he uttered, but it was without question that the mention of the word 'demon' quickly spread to the eavesdroppers in the room.

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"Hrm?" a nearby patron grunted at the mention of a demon. Barnaby shot him a look that said 'go back to your drink'.

He listened from behind his own drink, signalling for another when it was empty, as the duo spoke. He wasn't the best at reading people, but they - at least Alibeth - seemed sincere. She was at least prepared to introduce herself. Still, they both fidgeted, looked around and Mazzonore - he was tempted to just stick with Mr Sinner - was seemingly trying to script this. No doubt nothing was going according to plan for him thus far.

So a demon allegedly killed the siblings' father and fled to a cave. Barnaby frowned and referenced the flier again. The shop was by the west track, towards Westfall and the demon fled - was witnessed fleeing - to a place halfway across Elwynn. More likely it was a bandit hideaway, but Mazzonore couldn't have pursued him that far. The ever-distrusting part of his mind wondered if this was a ruse. Lure someone to a cave, kill him, take his belongings and leave him for the murlocs and kobolds.

"That's... a fairly bold claim." Barnaby said slowly. "Elwynn's far from safe off the beaten path, but demons have never been a part of that.

"So to sum this up: a demon breaks in to your pa's shop, murders him and flees to his hidey-hole. You two are here to find people to peek into said hidey-hole because the Guard won't look themselves. Because if that's the case, then I have more questions."

He sipped on his drink and took a second to filter his questions. "One. Was there anything missing from the shop? Folks rarely walk into a shop, murder somebody and walk out empty-handed. Not for a good reason, at least. If so, what? And if we walked into this cave and found said item, would there be definitive proof that it came from your pa's shop?

"Two. Boy, have you - either of you I suppose - even seen a demon? Because 99 times out of 100, a person wearing a hooded cloak is in fact a person. To that end, you can tell me what the assailant looked like, what he was wearing and you" he pointed at Mazzonore, "can give me a rundown of your witness account.

"Thirdly, and I know you answered this lass, do either of you have any reason why your pa would be targeted? Did he have debts or enemies or a drinking or gambling problem?"

He almost finished there, but another question struck him. "And why do you keep insisting that time is so very short?"

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Like a Bronze Dragonflight's temporal rift, time froze as Mazzonore and Alibeth stared at each other, dumbfounded at Barnaby and how quickly he saw through their ruse. Alibeth's cheeks lost its color, while Mazzonore's finger twitching grew more fervent.

"Tell him the truth, Mazzy," Alibeth began to plead as she hung onto her brother's arm. Letting out a tired sigh, Mazzonore looked square in Barnaby's eyes though his voice trailed.

"You're correct. There is no demon. N-never was a demon. It was a thief, like you said."

The young man paused.

"... Exactly three weeks ago on a dreary evening like this. My sister and I had retired for the evening when we heard commotion in our father's workshop," Mazzonore continued with a frown on his face, "He's always busy restocking goods for the next day and whatnot, but this night was different. The idiot didn't know the meaning of a day off. But, anyways, we heard glass breaking and things being knocked over."

Another pause.

"When I decided to go downstairs to investigate, I saw a cloaked figure, hunched over our father's body as if trying to search for something on his person," Mazzonore was beginning to choke on his words, "...and when he noticed I was there... he escaped through the window. I chased him outside to the yard, but he was too fast. He headed to the northern woods leading to the mines. Those mines have been empty for years, so I am almost positive he's still there."

Mazzonore lowered his head, as if he was about to prostrate himself before Barnaby to beg for his mercy and forgiveness. The other tavern patrons have begun to take notice, for Mazzonore and Alibeth were not particularly discrete about telling their tale at this point. The whispers among the patrons grew louder, though most were still dismissing the children's plea and were simply taking pity on the man who bothered to listen to them. After a few seconds' reprise, Alibeth squeaked to interrupt the silence.

"We've tried reporting to the Stormwind Guards, but we're just kids, and our father's general store isn't quite famous or lucrative. Our report was put on a lower priority queue, that is, until Mazzy made up the Demon part."

Mazzonore nodded in regret, "Seems like everyone and their Murloc mother would accept any opportunity to vanquish a denizen of the Twisting Nether, as opposed to help a couple of Elwynn kids. By the gods, it's been three weeks and the Stormwind Guards haven't done a blasted thing!"

Mazzonore started falling to despair. In hindsight, his appearance looked more boyish rather than manly, which explained for his notable lack of body hair. His finger twitching subsided; instead, he pulled out from his pocket a Mithril Pocketwatch that glistened in the tavern candlelight.

Tick-tock-tick-tock.

The Pocketwatch ticked surprisingly loudly, such that a very attentive person could hear the rhythm of the seconds' hand amidst the clamor of the tavern.

Tick-tock-tick-tock.

Mazzonore closed his eyes and started to relax, though his actions lead to another awkward pause in the conversation. Alibeth spoke up again to break the silence, bringing Mazzonore back to reality.

"As for our father and his shop, we know of no reason why he would be targeted. The shop was left as a foul mess, but nothing was taken. I guess the thief couldn't find what he was looking for. From what Mazzy saw, the thief was alone, but we couldn't be sure, so we wanted to find as many heroes as possible to help us."

Alibeth looked around, "But I think you're the only one who still has our flyer tonight, except for that fellow over there." The young maiden pointed to the rain-drenched, silver armored Death Knight who had entered earlier.

Alibeth's ring started to glow brightly.

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Barnaby sighed.

He felt triumphant, the reward for questioning everything he guessed, but he sighed. Just a couple of kids who wanted to kill their pa's killer. At least these two *have* a shot. 11-year old Barnaby never had that pleasure. Now it was just one (or more) thieves holed up in a cave somewhere. It sounded like easy money. Time consuming, but easy.

He lit another cigarette and regarded the death knight Alibeth pointed at. He never much like Death Knights. Almost as a rule they were brooding and miserable - comes with being dead he supposed. And while they could fight like any warrior, they also wielded disease and tainted the ground they fought on. It was common that if even one death knight was involved on either side of a battle, the number of soldiers falling badly ill in the proceeding days would skyrocket. Of course you never hear about it - nobody cares about the common footman enough to bother.

Barnaby regarded the twins again. Alibeth was fidgeting with her ring - was it glowing? He dismissed it as a trick of the light. Mazzonore was still trying to puff his chest out and appear fearless. If he was fearless, he'd have gone out and hunted this thief himself. Still kids, almost.

A last thoughtful draw on his cigarette.

"Sounds easy enough." he said at last. "Now the most important question - how much do I stand to make from this?"

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Ranavos listened intently at the children's tale, straining his ears to do so among the tavern chattering. Slaying a demon was indeed interesting, he had the give the kids kudos for making up such a lie in the face of the guards, but now the truth is out and the enemy is but a lowly thief? Bah, no matter, payment was mentioned and that's all that interested him. If the flyer he held came from these two young ones, well, he had found his clients, if not... Well, two missions wouldn't bother him.

The old man they were talking too seemed interested in his mission too, but look at him, could he even pick up a sword in that state? He's brittle! Surely he had seen hell in his days, but now...

... The younger lady pointed at him causing his thoughts to fade away. As a quick response he nodded to the young one, her ring catching his further attention, was it magical?

The old man spoke up again. Payment, ahh yes, a good question indeed. No matter the outcome Ranavos would still lend his aid.

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Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock with a small twitch of his ear with every sound.

Watching the conversation unfold in a chair before the fire in the hearth, Vladamere smirked. These children were obviously quite smart but didn't realize the truth would have worked better. "There is always someone looking for money and glory..." Vladamere thought to himself. He slowly rose from his seat in front of the fire and took a swig from his flask.

Demon or a dirty little thief, the opponent did not matter to Vlad. Every fight was another chance to test his strength and honestly he had nothing better to do. He was supposed to be in Stormwind getting supplies for the Caravan, but the rain had caused the shop to close early. He figured he could use that excuse to take a few days and help a few kids avenge their father. Shifting his faded-yellow, leather armor and strapping his Hammer tightly to his back, Vladamere raises his clawed hand.

"Whether this good man helps you or not, I will lend you my aid. We can discuss my idea of a reward after and I promise it shall benefit both your fathers shop and me." Vladamere gave his confident grin.

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The siblings blankly stared at each other. What was their plan to compensate these heroes, especially after they had saw through their thinly-veiled exaggeration of the theif? After a moment's pause, Alibeth squeaked out a reply in her maiden falsetto,

"Well, I'm afraid we do not have much gold, but we do have all of the inventory in father's shop," she answered with a demure grin.

"Anything you want! Name your reward, and, if it's in our physical power, it's yours. You have our word!" Mazzonore echoed with vigor. Alibeth blushed at Mazzonore's choice of word, the young lass having the common sense that his open-ended promise could become disastrous and more than what they can bargain for.

Still, it was clear that the siblings did not have a clear cut bounty in mind. Most may think that it is the children's naivete in play; however, both Mazzonore and Alibeth had realized from the very beginning that that they were orphans now. There was no longer any need for father's business nor any of the wares he'd been trying to sell for the past decade at the Whiteschmidt Supply Shoppe. The two would probably have to sell the house and store anyways: relocate to a ghetto apartment in one of the more sleezier parts of the Old Town District. There was no way that their lives could go back to the way things were.

Puffing out his chest with bravdo, Mazzonore approached both Ranavos and Vladamere and formally introduced himself. The boy couldn't help but stare in admiration of Vladamere's physique: the way the Gilnean strongman talked about strength and constantly challenging himself would make any young man fawn and want to emulate. In many ways, Mazzonore wanted to look and be as tough as Vlad. Mazzy did his best to not sound too giddy.

Mazzonore, however, didn't overlook Ranavos. Both he and his sister could sense that, out of the three adventurers who had come forward, Ranavos was the one with magical prowess. The siblings were curious to inquire more about Ranavos's history and abilities; unfortunately, they soon realized that they couldn't stand close enough to Ranavos without either Alibeth's ring glowing like a strobe light or Mazzonore's Pocketwatch ticking loudly. Nevertheless, they took the arcane and temporal anomolies from their father-bestowed trinkets as a good enough indication that Ranavos would be a formidable ally.

"Perfect! Here's the location of the mines. Let us rendezvous there," Mazzonore exlciamed as he handed a miniscule hand drawn scrap of a map each to Barnaby, Ranavos, and Vladamere. The map would direct the adventurers to a desolate trail deep within the Elwynn Forest, leading to the stony entrance of a less ventured section of the Jasperlode Mine.

The siblings would chat with the trio in the tavern for a bit longer before pardoning themselves to make further preparations for the quest that lied ahead.

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"Hold it."

Barnaby held up his hand, stopping the pair. "Have you two ever organised anything in your lives? You're going into an dark, dangerous area with no idea what to expect and you just say 'Here's the location, let's RV?'"

He drained his drink and placed it down.

"I'm all for impulsive shit, but no. That's how you die. Worse, it's how the guy next to you dies." he referenced the map again. "Now feel free to speak up if you have a better idea on something.

"First thing's first is the RV. We're not RVing at the mine." he spread his tiny map on the counter for the other four to lean in and see. "Why not? Because there's a good chance that one or more of you will get lost along the way. Instead." he pointed at the main road where the desolate trail began. "We'll RV here, let's say... an hour before first light tomorrow. Bring your horse if you have one.

"It looks about an hours walk. It'll be dark and fairly close terrain so we won't be riding like the wind. If it isn't light yet when we get there, we'll lay up. Otherwise one of us - I'll do it, I guess - will go out at first light and quietly investigate the entrance. Because we don't want to startle anybody now, do we? When we're happy, we'll go in. I recommend leaving a sentry at the entrance to warn us if somebody else wants to visit."

Barnaby finished his cigarette as he thought over the next bit. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance, after all. "Okay, gear. I understand you may not have everything because infinite resources are a pipe dream, but bring what you can and we'll work out the rest.

"First off, a damn weapon. Sword, dagger, pistol, rifle, crossbow, I don't care. Just as long as it isn't unwieldy in narrow spots like that thing." he pointed at the greatsword on Ranavos's back. "I recommend you bring a backup weapon, mate. A shortsword, perhaps.

"Second, a real map. I have one - I even have one of those small compasses ship navigators use - and I'll draw up these directions up for us tonight. If you have your own, by all means bring it.

"Third, two lanterns between the five of us, fuel for said lanterns and something to light said fuel. I have a flint and striker so that's covered. I recommend hitting the traders outside for oil before you go home and prep.

"Four, for the love of all that is holy bring food and water. Seems like a stupid one, but you'd be surprised how many idiots would forget in the army. A day's worth, whatever that is for you.

"Some other stuff. I don't think any of you are priests, so first aid supplies if you have them. Rope is useful in a cave, and a little survival knife is invaluable in any situation. Use common sense to work out if you need something and remember that whatever it is, you may have to lug it around."

He took a deep breath. That was a lot of talking. "Anybody have any input? Anything to add or think can be done better? Because I'd rather not just wing it."

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Ranavos frowned upon realizing that they didn't exactly have gold to pay, but at least they had some trinkets and other shop items, perhaps one was rare and could be sold as a profit? Either way killing a lowly thief would be a easy task... If he was doing it alone, now he has to watch out for a few living ones. The old one started to speak out, talking about plans and equipment and the like, Ranavos couldn't blame him, after all he was living and having extra precaution was the difference between life and death. The old man then commented on his sword, true, using it in tight spaces wouldn't be wise.

Ranavos spoke out, his voice emitting an eerie echo "Don't worry, I have a few backup weapons and skills. As for the plan, everything seems about right, then again I haven't made a plan in a long time. Though I do suggest instead of lanterns, we bring torches. Much more lighter and less noise... Unless you plan to throw said lanterns in a pinch, a direct hit with a good splash of flammable oil would send any henchmen up in flames."

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