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Mavis Audrapel

Fragments of a Fractured Self

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After several weeks since the death of the King the general morose that had descended on Stormwind was slowly beginning to lift, people were getting back to their lives. The bells rang their melody as the hour struck noon, adding another layer to Hansreim’s perpetual headache of limited resources, shorthanded staff and occasional hangover. Privately he wished he had retired years ago, despite what little good it would have done in light of the newest threat to Azeroth. Reaching for his flask the old Captain took a swig to calm the pounding of his skull and walked out to meet the newest petitioner ot the guardhouse. What he was face with was one of the regulars, hassling one of the younger guards playing at bouncer to the barracks.

“Please” The old man was close to begging. “Someone has to have seen him. The portals, he doesn’t like to fly.”

Captain Ollie Hansreim dismissed the guard and waived the old man into his office, he had seen desperate men before and in that regard Lucas was no different than many of the petitioners that came to the barracks but it was harder when you knew the man. Ulrich had remembered the former soldier from the days of the second war and while he was never considered tall Lucas Audrapel had been an imposing figure in battle and no doubt may have been a commander if he’d stayed on. Now, his old comrade had lost most of his muscle and was significantly thinner than what may have been considered healthy, his skin had a sickly pallor to it and though they were both the same age the weariness on the man’s face bespoke of someone much older. It was his concern for his friend’s health that made the old soldier’s eyes soften with sympathy. “Lucas, I know this is difficult but have a look around. I’m working with old men and children, last week a cripple came by and I had him patrolling the mage quarter just because we needed the bodies. Most of our regular guardsmen are either still out at war or died at Broken Shore. Even if I did have the men…I can’t exactly go sending troops out all over the kingdom looking for your boy who for all we know has just gone feral.”

Lucas Audrapel tightened his lips and removed a torn stained letter from his vest, slapping it down in front of his old comrade. The Captain examined the letter’s quick hurried scrawl as Lucas made his argument. “This was sent a month ago, from Duskwood. It’s not his handwriting, but it is his words. He hasn’t gone feral”

It didn’t escape the Captain’s notice that the other man didn’t even try to sit down despite the obvious weariness he possessed. Endless war meant he did not see it often, but prolonged illness was hard to miss on anyone. “This letter says he’s headed to a caravan. Have you checked the Darkmoon Fair?”

“I’m not able to travel out that far to look an Susan can’t leave Jacob alone with the kids, especially with the newborn. I need help.”

To Captain Hansreim it was more surprising to hear the old soldier admit he needed help than it had been to see a giant dragon land on the gates and breathe fire. “I want to help you Lucas but it’s out of jurisdiction. We can’t use city resources to look for someone whose clearly left the city on his own will, former guardsman or not.” He sighed. “What about SI:7? Missing persons and strange letters, seems like something that would be right up their path if you could convince them.”

Lucas shook his head in defeat, finally giving into his weariness and taking the chair opposite the Captain’s desk. “I tried. They don’t investigate missing worgen because it’s a Gilnean matter, the Gilneans won’t look into it because he’s a Stormwind citizen and they don’t have the authority. My son is in a political limbo.”

Ollie sighed. He felt for the man, he really did. “Look, Arthur Huwe owes me a favor, let me see if I can pull a few strings over at SI:7 and have them open a case.  It might flag some agents to keep an eye out but I can’t promise anything, if he doesn’t want to be found there’s not much anyone can do about it.”

The old soldier turned farmer visibly relaxed. “Thank you Ollie.”

“Just get some rest.”

Captain Ollie Hansreim watched closely as Lucas left, waving over one of the guards to make sure to old man got home safely. He had stopped short of openly admitting his concern for the old soldier but his worry remained. The old Captain reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a small pedal device that had been cobbled together by one of the more enterprising  gnomes in the gadget department and pressed down. “Hello babe, I need a favor.”

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There was no easy way to get from Dalaran back to earth so whenever Tuuroto wanted to meet there or he needed a new dose of flea shampoo Mavis bit down and suffered through a flight, trying his best to not grip the griffons too hard. Luckily the Dalaran griffons were used to inexperienced fliers and unlike Margoz, didn’t engage in flips or anything too fancy with their passengers. The Stonedark Grotto was a decent enough distance from Thunder Totem but it was at least good hunting and he needed the break.  What Felonius had said did make sense in a way, but he hadn’t told him the whole story nor the reality of what his nightmares contained. It wasn’t really lying if he just hadn’t chosen to share the truth but no matter how hard he tried to justify the omission of his own past he knew it was more for his own benefit. After all the more everyone knew, the less reason he had for not coming home and that his own fear had more to do with staying away than any concern for the well-being of others.

He shoved the thoughts out of his head and instead focused on the goat ahead, allowing the beast to rise up as it anticipated its strike. All fears and human considerations fled from his mind as he chased the animal down, relishing in the hunt as his muscles sprung forward at the terrified creature, gaining on it with every stride. The goat turned sharply, but that was its final mistake, it took time to turn and the beast was better at it. He seized his moment and leapt onto the creature, claws anchoring to the flesh as he used the full weight of his body to bring it down, twisting it so he could seize the neck with his teeth and tear the throat, pinning it until it twitched one final time before going still.

Mavis knew better than to finish the goat off in the open but he was in no mood to share his habits with the caravan either. Choosing the usual spot he carried the prey into a tiny cave he’d found nearby and ate his fill, leaving the rest for scavengers. His thoughts cleared he abandoned his previously troubled thoughts and headed back to camp.  The damp musty smell of the cave filled his nose and mixed with the lingering smoke of the fires.  The Stonedark were not like anything he’d seen before but they were good hosts and had been welcoming to the Caravan setting up inside the cave, it didn’t exactly feel like home but so far had been leagues above the isolation of Duskwood of which he was coming to realize had exacted a far greater impact on him than he realized. Pushing those thoughts out of his mind he washed up and headed to the main area of the camp, glad to realize he was alone and hoping to get in some reading from the borrowed book of Brogden’s.

His thoughts of a peaceful hour of reading was shattered when he came into view of where the caravan had set up and he gazed on where his rucksack should have been. The old alliance issue bag had been overturned, its contents spilled in chaos among his bed of blankets. Moving into panic mode he scrambled to the bag and tried to gather up his belongings quickly to stuff them inside before drawing them out again for a full inventory. He checked twice before realizing it was gone and helplessly glanced around the camp for the small keepsake box before giving into fury and frustration, throwing the rucksack against the stone wall. It was gone. He roared in anger, frightening himself as the feral cry echoed through the cavern. Helpless and angry he looked back at the now torn rucksack and buried his head.

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Our camp at the Stonedark Grotto had to be abandoned.

The Stonedark Tribe of Drogbar were quite hospitable, allowing us to camp in the safety of the grotto. We would have liked to have made a few sales, but the Drogbar did not seem very interested in our wares.

This raised some concerns when some of our supplies were apparently stolen from the Caravan. The items were mostly goods used as crafting materials... cloth, leather, herbs, etc.

Since the Stonedark did not appear to be interested in our wares, it would not make sense that they would steal them from us... unless they were only opposed to buying the items from us. Cheapskates. They could certainly use the items as trade goods in their usual exchanges with the Highmountain Tauren.

Nonetheless, Tuuroto made the right decision and we moved our camp back to Thunder Totem. Thunder Totem is not very safe, as it is often populated by Horde and Alliance alike. The Tauren there do not take kindly to any aggression and will quickly step in to stop a fight. But it seems like a full-time job policing the ornery Horde. After being attacked several times, we moved the camp again to the outskirts of the village.

There, we were able to settle in to a vacant tent and discuss the stolen merchandise. Since we always have at least one person guarding the camp when others are away, it would seem that either the thief is one of our own members, or that the theft took place when the guard was otherwise occupied.

Tuuroto and Xajdris have been investigating the matter. Xajdris is a Demon Hunter and tells us that his spectral sense indicates that the culprit has a "Fel taint". He interprets this to mean that the thief likely gave or sold the supplies to Legion forces. Xajdris says he has been following the suspect and knows who it is, but will not reveal the name until Tuuroto completes his own investigation and confirms his suspicions.

Valoree became very upset during the discussion of "fel taint" and the accusation that one of our own would be in collusion with the Legion. After much heated discussion, she finally broke her silence and told us of her own personal dealings with a demon. Valoree denied, and Xajdris confirmed, that Valoree's issues were in no way related to the theft of Caravan supplies. We would have never suspected her. She doesn't seem the type who would do such a thing. We were all in shock to learn that she... well, that's personal, so I won't elaborate.

Tuuroto told us that Rupert Coldwater was leading his investigation and that we were awaiting his report. Atticus found this suspicious and accused Coldwater, (who was not present). Discussions became a bit heated again, but Audro calmed everyone down with his voice of reason. We ended the discussion agreeing not to make false accusations and await Coldwater's report before discussing it again.

In the meantime, the Caravan is preparing to move to our next destination in Val'sharah. A new member has joined the Caravan by the name of Calavian. A scribe and maker of Runes.

After the meeting, I was thinking about the geology of this new land. I find it so odd that it only has two types of ores. It would be fantastic if I could locate another source of dark iron. Unfortunately, it can only be found deep in the mountain where the elementals are...   deep in the mountain where the elementals are...

Highmountain has many deep caves, and from what I saw in Stonedark Grotto, there are elementals down there. They are earth elementals, not fire, but maybe... maybe I just haven't looked deep enough!

At first light, the next morning, I was packed and headed back to the Grotto. I spoke with some of the Stonedark tribe about the elementals that I have seen them summon. When I asked where they came from, they would just point deeper into the cave.

I found a passageway that I must have missed before and headed into the depths. I stealthed along, hugging the walls and finally came to a rather large cavern. The place was full of Murlocs! I really hate Murlocs.

Toward the back of the cavern, I could barely make out what looked like a couple of felslate seams. Not what I was hoping to find, but I'll take what I can get.

I tried winding my way through these wretched creatures, but they were so thick they were unavoidable, senselessly running here and there. Just as I thought it might happen, it did. One of them ran into me and alarmed the whole group. Next thing I know, I am being swamped by a dozen of them at once.

I normally try to avoid a fight if I can. But if I can't, then I use every tool at my disposal to dispatch the threat as quickly and efficiently as possible. It took longer than I expected, but I finally downed every last one. Good riddance. Nasty creatures. Did I mention that I hate Murlocs? They are worse than Trolls.

Now, with the cavern all to myself, I could mine the ore and explore a bit before reinforcements arrive. I found the felslate and two other leystone nodes. I was about to head out when I noticed a junk pile.

Murlocs are known thieves, so I figured I would see what they had collected. I didn't expect to find any Caravan supplies there. Xajdris had made it clear that the stolen supplies were being given to the Legion for some reason. As far as I know, Murlocs have no connection to the Legion. They are just mindless kleptomaniacs. They see shiny, they take shiny.

I got to poking around in the pile and really didn't see anything of interest. Old clothing, broken bits of weapons and armor, small scraps of leather, some glass shards that may have been a wine bottle at one time, and a small wooden box.

The box was nothing unusual, just a common keepsake box. It appeared to be hand-made with crude carvings on the top. There were leaves carved at the corners and in the middle were images of beasts. My first thought was that it may have belonged to a child, or maybe someone without much skill had decorated it to make it their own. The lid had a lock on it. One of those decorative locks one finds on diaries or small jewelry boxes. They are not really a security measure, more of a way to keep the lid from falling open unexpectedly.

I was about to pry the lock off to see what the box contained, when I heard the loud mumbles of another batch of Murlocs headed my way. I dropped the box into my backpack and vanished behind the ore node.

I made my way back up to the main level of the Grotto and thanked the Stonedark for their help. They just kind of stared at me like they had no clue what I meant.

Outside, I strapped my pack onto my bike and headed back to Thunder Totem. I think it's about ale-thirty. Time for a drink!

 

Edited by Felonius Gallows
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I've acquired quite a bit of ore over the past few days, so it was time to return to Dalaran where I could use Alard's forge to smelt, and deposit the remaining ore into the bank.

I unloaded the ore from my backpack, along with a bunch of other junk I needed to get rid of. Turns out I didn't have as much ore as I thought, so I just dropped it all in the bank.

I headed over to the Lounge, grabbed a table and ordered up a mug of ale. Then began sorting the junk to decide what should be auctioned and what I'll just unload at a local vendor.

I took out the keepsake box I had found in the Murloc den. The box did not appear to be of high quality, so probably not valuable on its own. I pried the lock off the box rather than spend time picking a worthless lock. Inside the box was pretty much what I expected... just a bunch of mementos:

On top was a fairly new tarot card that had folds and creases in it. Five of Cups showing flowers sticking out of the goblets.

An old quill, a bunch of scrap papers, a letter. I pulled those out and set them aside without looking at them.

A small block of wood that was partially carved into a wolf figure.

A picture of a fierce-looking Gilnean woman with dark hair.

and four soldier's medals.

Bah! Vendor junk.

The only things that might have some value are the medals. I doubted they would be worth much, except maybe to a collector. Fortunately, I know just the person to ask.

I stuffed everything back into the box and made a trip to Darkmoon Island. I spoke with my old friend, Professor Thaddeus Paleo. He is a collector of many things and would know more about these medals than most people.

He said the medals did not appear to have been worn recently. They were tarnished and probably just kept for sentimental reasons. None of the medals had any marks or engravings to indicate to whom they were awarded.

One of the medals was the Stormwind Shield. A blue shield, outlined in gold, with a raised golden lion's head. This medal is awarded to soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty, showing exemplary bravery in battle.

The Fist of Valor is a small circular medallion with a gold clenched fist at its center. This medal is given to those displaying gallantry in action in the defense of others.

The Allied Star is a six-pointed silver star with gold filigree. This medal is awarded in honor to those who were wounded in battle during an act of heroism.

The Lothar Medal of Sacrifice is a golden flame set against a blue surface and bordered in gold with a velvet strap. This medal was awarded to those who first entered the Dark Portal in combat against the Iron Horde. These soldiers were not expected to return home and this medal was to recognize their valor and sacrifice.

"So what you have here," the Professor stated, "is not a treasure trove. The value of the medals is not measured in gold, but in their story. The four medals tell a story; they provide a glimpse into the military service of the one who received them."

I looked at him, disappointed. "So, what do you think they are worth?"

The Professor gave me that "knowing" look that I have grown accustomed to whenever I ask him that question.

"I would say, maybe a few silver... but that is their value to you. The recipient, or possibly their family, may find them to be irreplaceable. Felonius, instead of thinking about your gold pouch, perhaps you could locate the owner and return them?"

He gave me one of those looks that said... "be a decent human being and do this."

I  dropped the medals back into the box, thanked him for his advice and left my usual tip on his desk.

I returned to Dalaran and rented a room for the night. I prepared for bed, then thought I would look through the box one last time before I tossed it into the trash.

I was going through the scraps of paper, looking for a name or address or something, when I found the letter. It had no postal markings, so did not appear to have been mailed.

The letter read:


Master Cho,

It is my hope this letter finds you well as I am well aware our presence had left an impact which will certainly carry deep scars. I’m sorry

It is my hope this letter finds you well, I cannot say the same

Help me, help me please

It is my hope this letter finds you well, due to the impact left on the Jade Forest I could no longer be certain. The campaign is near to over as both sides begin to gather up the remaining shreds of our lives. There remains one final push against Garrosh Hellscream but this is a duty I had not been chosen for.

I have done my best to find something comparable to the teas you had given me but have been met with failure. Unable to locate other means of peace I sought to repeat the chores from my stay, learning only that father thought me mad for trimming the bushes and one had nearly died from my efforts. Part of me desires a return to the front for a chance to fight again as it has been my discovery that even returning home peace escapes me.  The wolf is far more difficult to control since the days when I had first become infected and it challenges me daily for dominance, sometimes it is all I can do to take it hunting and try to avoid the sheep.

I think the last time I have truly known peace was during my days spent in your home. I think it is only your help that can save me, the only one that can help me silence the screaming.

<signed>

Mavis Audrapel

 

Well, at least now I have a name.
 

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Lucas braced against the table, steadying himself as the wave of dizziness passed over him. He held there until the vertigo subsided, playing off the weakness as if he were lost in thought rather than just trying to hold it together. He’d gotten decent at masking the latter with the former, though he granted that most of that experience had been performed against a five year old and not his daughter or Solomon, both of whom tended to be more discerning.  He looked at the child, forcing a smile when she met his gaze before pushing himself to continue cooking.  If Susan had seen that she’d have insisted him to move and unlike the last several times he didn’t think he’d have been able to dismiss her. Things were getting harder that was certain but while everything was starting to catch up to him he was too proud to leave. The other nagging thought floated continuously through his mind that if he was gone then what happened when his son came back and found nothing?  No, He had to be here.

He finished chopping the carrots and dropped those into the soup before closing the lid and allowing the pot to simmer, now turning his attention to the small child near the hearth who had been amusing herself with a mechanized wooden train set for the last hour. He’d not been able to learn anything from the delivery only that the dress and toy had been sent anonymously with a deliberate effort to make even its location of origin impossible to discern. He’d put word out to locate the maker but Lucas was not a man with connections, the best he could manage being localized to the town and old military contacts of whom most were either dead or long retired.

 Emily didn’t seem to notice anything strange about the gift. To her credit his granddaughter had not exactly been unfamiliar with receiving gifts through post, it was only the first time that Lucas had not been able to consult the military for the sender’s location. The package had renewed hope in the old man that his son had not abandoned his life completely, though it also raised a sense of urgency within him that increased his efforts to find him despite his rapidly failing health.

The door echoed with a light rapping, pulling Lucas away from his granddaughter and sparing a glance at the stew before wiping his hands with a rag and answering the knock.  Lakeshire had never been a complicated town, the people of Redridge had more tangible concerns than local politics and were of the mind that if something wasn’t broken in the first place there was really no need to fix it. This basic reasoning was why Solomon had served as Magistrate to Lakeshire for no less than five terms, himself having only gotten the job because his father was not electable from the grave. Solomon had been more moderate than his father about accepting help from outsiders but had otherwise not moved far from the Redridge tradition of dealing with their own.

Since Mavis had disappeared or failed to return home Solomon had been Lucas’ primary source of information for any news that came his way. Lucas shook the other man’s hand out of courtesy and opened the door wider to allow him in. The Magistrate held up a basket as he entered, tilting it to show Lucas the contents. “Courtesy of the missus.”

Lucas sighed, examining the basket of baked goods. “Solomon you and I both know your wife doesn’t know how to bake.”

Solomon lowered the basket, un-phased  by the comment. “Well alright, she’s no Ellaine but she’s gotten better.” He turned to the five year old, still distracted by her new toy “Hello Emily”  

“Sully!” Solomon set the basket down and lowered himself until he was level with the child, embracing the girl as she jumped over the train set to reach him. “You see? I got trains.”

“I see. They look very nice.” He exchanged a look with Lucas, mouthing the name of his son in a question, when the other man nodded he released the hug and passed the basket to the girl. “See if you can find the right place for these now and you can show me your trains more after dinner.”

“Okay!” The basket was awkwardly large for the child’s small frame but she was able to manage the lift, carrying the basket only inches off the ground as she hurried to the pantry. Once gone, Solomon stood and turned his focus back to Lucas.

“I heard you went to see Captain Hansreim. In Stormwind.”

Lucas didn’t answer at first, instead returning to the stew.  “Had to do it.”

“Okay…no argument there…but Susan thinks…and I agree mind you, that you shouldn’t have gone on your own, your health and all. Did you at least see the physician?”

“Nothing new on that one” He braced himself against the counter, the action was not missed by Solomon despite the subtlety Lucas employed.

“Maybe it’s time you took her daughter up on her offer.”

“I’m not leaving my home Solomon.”

“Okay…well, what about her moving in here?”

Lucas shook his head. “Too small, we’d be sleeping head to foot.”

Solomon rubbed his hand across his face. “By the light, I swear stubborn runs with your family. What you want to do is fine for now, but you need to think about what happens if he doesn’t come back and this keeps getting worse.  You need to make plans for Emily and if you think another mouth is going to be too much for Susan know that Dorianne and I would be happy to make room for both of you. “

“Grandpa! I want bread please!”

Lucas sighed, covering his face as he took in the offer while simultaneously concealing another wave of nausea. “I’ll think about it.”

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When one is in need of locating a person, it is necessary to learn a bit about them... their background, training/education, occupation, habits and hangouts.

All I have to go on is a name... Mavis Audrapel... and an occupation... Stormwind City Guard.

I arrived at Stormwind rather early in the morning. The city was just coming to life as the sun shone warmly upon the cobblestones. A few locals were preparing for Hallow's End celebrations; donning costumes and cooking up festive treats. The air was sweet with the smells of hot candy, pumpkin and apple cider. I headed over to City Hall in Cathedral Square and spoke with my contact in the Census Office, Royal Factor Bathrilor.

He has grown accustomed to my inquiries and no longer asks many questions about what I am looking for or why. We have known each other for years, but it is hardly a friendship. That's my fault. I "forced" him into service by agreeing to remain silent about some of his... "affiliations". I see it as a win-win situation. I get the information I seek and he gets to keep his job.

Knowing only a name and occupation is a difficult search because I don't know a time-frame. Is he a guard now? Was he a guard last year? A decade ago?

Fortunately, Bathrilor is meticulous in his filing system, so locating information, (whether for me, an official, or the King), is quickly and easily accomplished. It was just a matter of scanning the payroll index of each year, then the year previous, and so forth until he found the name I was searching for.

Once we confirmed Mavis Audrapel had been on the payroll at one time, the file provided enough information to cross-reference the corresponding year of the census records.

The census records show that Mavis Audrapel is the son of Lucas and Ellaine Audrapel of Lakeshire. He has a brother, named Gavin, and a sister, named Susan.

I asked Bathrilor, "Do you have any contacts in Lakeshire?"

"You are searching for that missing person, right?"

"Missing person?" I asked.

Bathrilor pointed to the Missing Person flyer posted on the wall not 3 feet from my head.

How did I miss that?  I thought to myself.

"Yes, I am. Can you help?"

Bathrilor shook his head. "Lakeshire is a dead end. Nobody there has seen him either. Not even his family."

"OK, thank you."

Tipping a government official is inappropriate, as it can be perceived as a bribe. This is not good for either party to the transaction. But for some strange reason, I always seem to "accidentally" have gold coins fall out of their pouch onto the counter before I leave. Also equally strange is that Bathrilor doesn't mention that he found it.

Now that Bathrilor had pointed out the Missing Persons flyer, I began to notice that they are posted all over the city. I just never noticed them before. The Missing Person flyer states that no one has seen him, but it is reported that he recently left Duskwood.

I decided to make one more stop and check with my contacts at SI:7 to see what they knew. If that didn't pan out, I'd just go to Lakeshire and give the box of medals to the family. I really don't have time for a wild goose chase, especially one that is not going to result in gold coins in my pocket. Professor Paleo will be happy that I made a valiant effort and my conscience will be clear.

Sloan McCoy and I are old ... uh... friends with benefits. We have done plenty of business together in the poisons trade and her assistance in acquiring supplies has been profitable for both of us. Our business partnership became more intimate, and at one time, we even had plans to open our own shop together. My extensive travels with the Redblade Corsairs put a strain on the relationship, and our relationship eventually returned to a close friendship with business benefits.

We are always happy to see each other and help each other in any way we can. As an operative with access to SI:7 Headquarters, Sloan is one of my favorite go-to people. It doesn't hurt that she is easy on the eyes and that we have a history together.

After exchanging pleasantries, she disappeared into a back room while I chit-chatted with my old trainer, Tony Romano. Sloan returned shortly with a dossier file and guided me to the Reading Room. I scanned the file, making notes as I went.

A very clear picture began to emerge about this person.

He is a male Worgen, born in Redridge (Lakeshire maybe?). The file confirms the census data on his family members.

Extracts from the file:

Occupation: Newly hired bodyguard to Aliss Dusksinger
Group/Guild affiliation:The Dusk Watch

(I scribbled a note under this: Darkshire)

Likes: Current habits indicate a preference toward wood carving, also seems to hold preferences toward blacksmithing.
(Scribbled note: the wolf wood-carving)

Favorite Foods: mutton cooked rare, occasionally enjoys beets, Rutabagas and potatoes. (Scribbled note: a worgen who likes rutabagas)

Known associations with Captain Evellin Raventy, leader of the known criminal organization Redblade Corsairs. Not suspected of any criminal action himself, Raventy submitted in guard files as a potential informant and criminal contact. Received reprimand for interfering with a church investigation involving Evellin Raventy, no further disciplinary action taken.
[ I remember this guy. Didn't know him personally. I had no idea he was worgen, just a human guard. I assumed he was on the take and Captain Evellin was paying him off for information, or maybe protection money. But his file indicates no evidence of his ever taking bribes. ]

Sloan was leaning over my shoulder as I wrote. It was standard practice to be observed when copying official files to prevent someone from altering any information in the documents.

She slapped me on the shoulder. It was a secret signal between us that I am missing something obvious. She is not permitted to openly reveal information to anyone outside of SI:7, but she has her ways of communicating.

"Weren't you and your Caravan in Darkshire awhile back?" she asked.

"Yes, we were. Interviewing new members."

"Perhaps," she said slowly, "there is a worgen member of your caravan that can help you." <wink, wink>

Oh, duh.

One of the new members we interviewed in Darkshire was a worgen blacksmith who introduced himself as "Audro". Nobody ever asked him if that was a first name or last name. I just assumed it was his first name, since that is how we all introduced ourselves.

The murlocs must have invaded our camp, and taken the box from Audro's stuff, while we were at Stonedark.

But then that raises the question... are the murlocs the ones behind the theft of our Caravan supplies as well?

Xajdris was emphatic that the culprit was supplying the Legion.

Something just doesn't fit.

Audro recently made arrangements for the Caravan to have access to a farm. It will be a great place to spend the winter. The arrangement is that we must fix up the place, plant crops, and work the farm in exchange for rent.

Caravan members have begun fixing up the old farm. Quite a few times I overheard Audro talk about rutabagas. He seems to know a lot about farming for a meat-eater. There are plenty of weeds that need to be cut down to get the farm ready to plow in the Spring. There were no sickles available, so I agreed to make some and bring them back when I returned to the farm.

When I returned to my garrison, I found that my supply of iron was insufficient. But I did have an abundance of thorium. I made six thorium-bladed sickles and I must admit the thorium gives them a unique look. Plus they won't lose their edge as fast as iron would.

I returned to the farm and Audro was there supervising a couple of members repairing a fence. I called him over to the stables under the guise of showing him the new sickles.

We chatted for a bit about the sickles and the work that still needed to be done. When I was certain we were out of ear-shot of the others, I asked him...

"So... is Audro your first name or last name?"

 

 

Edited by Felonius Gallows
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Mavis eyes seemed to dart momentarily, it didn't appear from the look of his face that he had any idea Felonius' question was anything but innocent, though it stll took him half a second longer than he should have to answer the question. "It's a first name." Even a novice could tell that the worgen was a terrible liar.

 

Felonius did not expect that response. This made him pause and think for a moment. From his earliest training as a Rogue, he learned how to read people. It is a skill that is necessary to be a successful con artist. He had developed this skill quite well when it comes to dealing with people with human-like faces: humans, elves, gnomes, goblins, orcs, and trolls. But worgen, pandas and tauren have different faces. Felonius decided it might be time to turn on the charm and gain the worgen's trust. "So, is it short for something? Like Robert becomes Bob, Tuuroto becomes Tuuro." Felonius kept his voice upbeat to make it sound like just casual chit-chat. "I was named Philonius at birth. They wanted me to be a Priest. Can you imagine me as a Priest?" Felonius lets out a laugh. "When I was a teenager, kids would tease me by saying 'What the Phil?' instead of 'What the Fel?'. So I changed my name to Fel-onius."

 

Mavis darted his eyes down again, suspicion rising inside him old SI:7 interrogations which required a guard present when interviewing criminals in custody and though he hadn't been a guard in six years it was impossible to forget the tactics. A brief wave of panic rose in him as he tried to guess what Felonius was looking for, dismissing that this had anything to do with the thefts. He glanced over to the fence, making sure the others were a good distance away and calming himself before looking warily back at Felonius. "What is this about Fel?"

 

Felonius looked at the worgen, he sensed an uneasiness. "Relax, I'm found something in a cave and i am just looking for the rightful owner. My contacts have given me enough information that I thought it might be someone you know." Felonius continued, trying hard to be reassuring. "My point was that everyone has reasons to change their names. I don't judge, and secrets are safe with me. But the person I am looking for appears to be a worgen blacksmith, who enjoys woodcarving and rutabagas. A former city guard named Mavis Audrapel. My ONLY interest is to return the items to their rightful owner."

 

The shift in the atmosphere was palpable, snapping into place by the urgency and surprise, followed by a swift panic at mention of his name. "You found it? Where was it?"

 

Felonius smiled. "In the deepest part of the grotto." Felonius digs into his backpack and retrieves the keepsake box. "It was in a junk pile stash in a murloc den." He hands the box to Audro, then pulls it back. "So... are you Mavis Audrapel? I have to give this to the rightful owner." Felonius gives a teasing smirk.

 

Mavis reached for the box with his claws only to growl instinctively as it was pulled back, he looked defeated, hating the smirk on the other man's face but knowing it wouldn't be of any use to deny it. He sighed. "That's me."

 

"I'm Mavis"

 

"I figured you were, just wanted you to admit it." Felonius hands over the box with a ceremonial bow, as if he were offering his sword to a king. "I'm glad I found it and was able to get it back to you. Sorry about the lock." Felonius pauses for a moment to let the wolf examine the box and its contents. "But do you realize what this means? If murlocs raided our camp and took this, maybe they took the Caravan supplies as well. I found no sign of that. What are the chances that we have a thief giving our supplies to the Legion, and at the same time, murlocs raid our camp? Is it pure coincidence that our security is that flawed... or are they somehow connected?

 

Mavis' ears dropped at Felonius' admission, a reminder that despite being first human, the worgen still possessed reactions that were instinctively animal in their behavior. "The elf looked convinced it was a caravan member. If he's wrong then I would wonder why he's lieing about it." He opened the box, taking an inventory of the contents. Their was a brief exhale of relief displayed by the righting of his ears and a small whuff but beyond that he didn't look concerned, immediately dismissing the box by carelessly setting it onto a bale of hay. It looked like he wanted them but didn't genuinely like the keepsakes contained within.

 

The careless way he treated the box or his possessions seemed to hint why it might have been stolen so easily in the first place.

 

"Xajdris, the Demon Hunter, says he sensed fel taint. We know that murlocs are not tainted. So I am inclined to believe these are separate incidents." Felonius paused for a moment, thinking. "I am beginning to agree with Atticus... something is fishy about Coldwater. He is supposedly in charge of the investigation, yet never seems to be around for questioning. Tuuro himself said that Coldwater's and Xajdris' accounts don't match and that someone is lying. At least Xajdris came forward to meet with us and tell us his side." Felonius pauses for a moment, then nods toward the box on the hay. "Not to pry, but are those medals yours, or a family members maybe?"

 

He allowed a growl to escape as he considered Felonius' reasoning. "Coldwater only cares about Gilneas. He may be lieing but I'm not convinced he'd be helping the legion. Besides, I never smelled any fel taint on him so he's either innocent of that or hiding it behind that perfume he wears." His ears flattened slightly at the second question, he seemed distant, as if it wasn't something he didn't like to remember. "They're mine."

 

Felonius looked down across the field to the other workers. "I'm no expert in military history or medals, but it seems to me that you should be proud of these awards. They are not given lightly." He looked back to Audro. "I also know that they involve great sacrifice. And I suppose they might hold a different meaning to you, because of that sacrifice. But from my point of view, heroes like you fought those battles so that civilians like me didn't have to. I thank you for your service."

 

Mavis' ears flattened further, though this didn't seem to be a response of aggression and he actually looked smaller. "That's what they said when they handed them out." He sighed. "The first one was because the last time I saw my mother alive we were arguing. The second I helped someone turn a canon before he lost his leg. The third I murdered a friend. The fourth I was impaled on an allied sword. My brother told me once that medals were a piece of mind for everyone else, they're not really meant for soldiers." He lowered his head. "No one ever wants to win a prize for 'best in war' "

 

Felonius looked down at the ground. He felt a sadness wash over him. "I am sorry. I understand better now. These are not mementoes of acts of heroism from your viewpoint, they are painful reminders. I didn't mean to open old wounds, Friend. I may not be able to feel your pain, but I do understand. War is hell."

 

Mavis shook his head, sympathetic. "You didn't know"

Felonius gave Audro a pat on the shoulder. "I better put these sickles to work and get these weeds cut down."

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The polished wooden knife bounced back as it came in contact with the linen, the obvious bluntness of the toy failed to pierce the torso but the knife still continued its path until it reached the belly. Stones of varying shapes flowed onto the doll, distributed liberally by the tiny hand.   The small finger pressed the arm of the doll, then pressed harder until she was touching floorboards. She was wrapping a dishrag around the body when the big door opened with a click.  Emily pushed herself to her feet and promptly moved towards the spectacled man in the apron. “Is grandpa sleeping now?”

The doctor leaned down to the child. “Yes, so you have to be very quiet while he rests, otherwise he can’t get better.”

In response Emily shoved the doll towards the physician. “Can you fix Zoe?”

Perplexed Doctor Winthrup took the doll in his hand. “Is Zoe sick?”

Emily nodded. “She’s got stones inside and they’re very bad. You have to take them out for her so she gets better.”

At first Doctor Winthrup looked momentarily concerned then smiled softly, placing his hand gently on her shoulder. “Okay honey. I’ll see what I can do.”

She waved goodbye to the doctor and dutifully shut the door, running back towards the play area to shove the stones against the wall. Crudely carved wooden figures were positioned around the stones to guard them so they wouldn’t get out and once she was satisfied that the stones were confined, Emily moved on to amuse herself with something else.

Grandpa slept a lot lately, to her she didn’t feel it was very fair since everyone always wanted her to get up in the morning and he got to sleep in but everyone looked very worried about it.  A week ago she’d heard auntie talking about a bad year because the vegetables were not getting pulled up when they should and grandpa hadn’t asked for help. It worried her because every time grandpa was too sick to do something they talked about moving and she didn’t want to move, grandpa needed her because he said so. Emily had gone out the next day to pull the plants up and received a scolding followed by a pat on the head for her bruised hands. It made her mad because everyone thought it was funny that she was trying.

Leaving her toys she crept over to the bedroom door, turning the knob slowly so it didn’t make noise. She could see her grandfather sleeping soundly, covered in wrappings that hid his hurts.  Like many times before she slowly crept forward and climbed on the chair, sniffing the flask near the nightstand and turning her nose in disgust at the medicine. She nearly dropped the container when she heard the rattle, afraid that he would wake up and she would be in trouble for sneaking in. Carefully she set the flask back down and watched as the chest rose and fell, satisfied grandpa hadn’t stirred. Lately it was hard to tell, he rattled a lot even in his sleep, much like a frog croaking only longer. She knew he wasn’t supposed to sound like that but no one ever seemed to act like it was bad when they listened because the stones were worse. Everyone said the stones were a very bad thing. Emily listened to the rattle half on the bed and half on the chair as the sounds of sleep continued to echo in the room. Slowly her body rolled onto the bed, the she was inside the covers as her head rested near his chest, trying to take comfort in the rattle as she curled up next to her grandfather.

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The village of Bradensbrook is creepy. Instead of Val'sharah, it could just as easily have been in Darkshire. Just outside of the village is Radcliffe Landing. The Caravan is camped there for the time being.

The only house at the landing is apparently abandoned. Although there are some personal effects still decorating the single room, there is no furniture. A roaring fire in the fireplace took away the damp chill that occasionally blew in through the open doorway.

Caravan members relaxed around the room telling Hallow's End stories. Some were personal anecdotes of things they had witnessed, others were childhood tales of Headless Jack, the Night Child, or The Thing in the Closet that got Reuben Anderson.

The night grew long and the booze kicked in, and before long, members were adjourning for the night. When all had left, Mavis pulled Felonius aside.

"I need to talk to you about something."

Felonius listened intently as Audro explained that Tuuroto was concerned about the Caravan having enough supplies to get through the winter. Audro had secured a farm, but it would be Spring before the fields were ready for planting crops. With the Caravan supplies stolen, food and drink were running low and the trade goods we normally use for barter were what was stolen.

Being this late in the season, most farms have already harvested and sold their crops. The crops that are available are very much overpriced. But Audro had a plan.

In Lakeshire, Audro's hometown, there are still crops available. Most of the local farms were just finishing their harvest, so a window of opportunity was currently open. Audro knows the local Magistrate, a guy named Solomon, and knows how to get him to offer a discount.

"But..." Audro began slowly... "There's a problem. I can't go back there."

"Why not?" Felonius looked at the Wolf curiously.

"I... just... can't. Not yet."

He seemed upset. Felonius wasn't sure if he was upset with himself, or the situation.

"Lakeshire is on my way to Burning Steppes and Searing Gorge whenever I go mining in the mountain. I can stop off and pick up what we need if you can arrange the deal."

Audro shook his head. "I can't do that. I can't even be involved in the deal. I can tell you what you need to know about Solomon to persuade him, you just can't mention my name."

Felonius considered this for a moment. He wasn't sure what was in Lakeshire that Audro couldn't face as yet, but he certainly understood the dilemma. Some materials that Felonius uses frequently in his poisons can only be found in Un'goro Crater... a place solely controlled by the Steamwheadle Cartel. With the Cartel's Kill On Sight order on Felonius, he must rely on contractors to retrieve the supplies he needs. This seems to be a similar situation.

Solomon's Achilles Heel, Audro told him, is he loves to eat and his wife is a terrible cook. Bribing him with delicious food will win big favors from him. Likewise, he is currently having issues with the local gnoll population and could use some help clearing them out. That should make it safe for local farmers to complete their harvests.

Felonius took notes on what supplies would be needed, and jotted down some side-notes on how to manipulate the Magistrate. (You never know when that might come in handy.) Felonius had met the Magistrate years ago, but it was unlikely he would be recognized.

Felonius bid Audro a good night and headed outside to get his bedroll. Aedrial, the Caravan Chef, was standing near her wagon apparently getting ready to bed down as well. Felonius quickly explained to her about the supplies situation and asked her if she could whip up a nice gourmet meal in the morning. Felonius would take that with him to Lakeshire to barter favor with Magistrate Solomon. Aedrial agreed to start on it first thing in the morning.

When daylight broke, Felonius awakened to the sound of metal on metal. There is no mistaking the sound of swords and shields. It's either Horde or demons, and Felonius grabbed his daggers and jumped to his feet.

As the adrenaline forced away the fog of sleep, he realized it was the sounds of pots and pans being put away.

"Good morning. Happy Hallow's End." Aedrial stood there beaming.

She seemed quite proud of herself. To her left was a long table of all the most delicious breakfast foods you can imagine.

"Come and get it while it's hot."

Other Caravan members began making their way to the table. Some still just waking up, some had been down at the shore fishing.

Atticus looked over the feast. "A meal fit for a king... and here I am!"

Valoree scowled at Atticus as she filled her mug.

"Oh, Felonius. I have your 'currency' over here." Aedrial motioned him over to the wagon.

She had filled a bag with all sorts of wonderful entrees. The bag was heavy and smelled heavenly. Felonius strapped it to his pack, then made his way back to the table to begin his own feast.

After breakfast, everyone was so full that nobody wanted to do anything but take a nap. Aedrial did a fine job and she is truly a great chef. A few of the members pitched in and helped clear the table and put things away. Some of the others began talking about their plans for the day.

Felonius didn't stick around. There was work to be done. He hearthed to Stormwind, then hopped on his chopper and drove straight to Lakeshire.

 

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As he pulled into Redridge, then crossed the bridge into Lakeshire, Felonius saw the small village was bustling with the harvest fully underway; carts packed with crops heading to Stormwind or private markets.

The people of Lakeshire appear as hardy folk and, although there appeared to be none at the time, they seemed fully capable of dealing with the occasional gnoll problem.

Felonius pulled up in front of the Town Hall and headed inside to find the Magistrate. The Hall was full of locals, standing in line, but their voices were anything but orderly. They shouted at the Magistrate who stood at the podium in the front of the Hall. They were angry, afraid, and begging the Magistrate to do SOMETHING.

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Apparently the problem with gnolls in the area had gotten out of hand. People were claiming that they were being attacked in their fields and that loved ones had gone missing. The Magistrate tried desperately to calm the group, but his efforts appeared to be unsuccessful.

Felonius, always looking for an opportunity to exploit a situation, calmly walked up to the front of the room. Magistrate Solomon gave him a curious look, but stepped aside as Felonius stepped up to the podium.

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"Good people of Lakeshire. My name is Felonius Gallows and I have extensive experience in dealing with gnolls. I am prepared to help you, if you can help me in return."

The crowd murmured for a minute, then went silent.

"I travel with the Cup and Blade Caravan. We are merchants who travel about helping good people like you that have been victimized by war."

Felonius paused for a moment, then continued.

"Our Caravan has had its trade goods stolen in a land far from here. We are in need of supplies to get us through the winter. Specifically, we need food... crops that we can put away."

Felonius looked over the crowd.

"I will take care of your gnoll problem. I will eliminate them and make sure that they do not return for quite some time. But I will need you to do TWO things..."

"First, I need you to make sure that you all have enough meat to last you for at least two weeks. Make certain that everyone has enough to last. Hunt if you must for the next three days, but after that... wait two weeks before you hunt again...."

"Second, while I am taking care of the gnolls I will need you to gather supplies for me. I am not asking for you to pay me with gold. I don't need gold, I need supplies. I have a list here of what I need."

Felonius hands the list to Solomon.

A hunter in the back of the line yelled out, "Why do we need to stop hunting?"

Felonius smiled. "Good question!"

"My specialty is in the crafting of exotic poisons. As I clear out the gnoll dens, I will leave a poison bait behind in case any return to the den. The poison can last as long as a week, so it is important that you do not hunt ANY meat for two weeks. That will ensure that whatever you hunt will not be affected by the poison."

A woman called out, "How do we know we can trust YOU? What if you poison all of us?"

"I will return in three days to begin clearing out the gnolls. I was born and raised in Stormwind. Feel free to investigate me if you like. My reputation is solid. When I return, if you are not satisfied, Magistrate Solomon will tell me that you have declined my offer and I will leave empty-handed."

The Magistrate stepped forward, reassuring the crowd that he had things under control.

"I will speak with Mr. Gallows further on this. Mr. Gallows has made us a generous offer and I think we should consider it. Please return to your homes and stock up on meat. Check on your family and neighbors and make sure they have all that they need. If needed we will organize a hunt so we can gather what we need in safety until Mr. Gallows returns."

The crowd began nodding and murmuring to each other as they left the Hall. Felonius and the Magistrate seemed to take it as a good sign that they understood and were willing.

When the Hall had cleared, the Magistrate looked at Felonius. The Bailiff shifted a bit uneasily with just the assassin and the Magistrate alone together.

"Can you handle the gnoll problem yourself, or do you plan to bring in the rest of your... caravan?" The Magistrate looked a bit concerned.

Felonius smiled. "I will take care of it. I'll get in, get it done, and be one my way before you know it."

"I hope you do... for all our sake."

Felonius reached into his bag, and the Bailiff gripped his sword. Felonius began removing the food Aedrial had prepared and set the dishes on the table.

"A gift of goodwill from the Cup and Blade Caravan. Please enjoy, and I will see you in three days."

Felonius excused himself and stepped out of the Hall, then stealthed back in and hid behind some chairs. He listened as the Magistrate spoke to the Bailiff.

"Contact Stormwind and see what they know about this Gallows guy. I don't care about his past, I want to know if he can get the job done."

The Magistrate sniffed the food dishes one by one. The expression on his face was one of pure ecstasy.

"Also, speak to the Joran brothers. See if they can help Lucas Audrapel get his harvest ready. Lucas has what we will need for Mr. Gallows, but his crops are still in the field. If the Jorans can help, I'll talk to Lucas about making a deal."

The Bailiff nodded and gave a salute before leaving the Hall. Felonius followed him outside, then headed up the hill to visit his old "shady dealer" contact.

It was late by the time Felonius got back to Stormwind. He checked his inventory sheets to make sure he had enough of the right poison to take out the gnolls, then rented a room at the Inn near the auction house.

 

Edited by Felonius Gallows
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After the Bailiff had left Solomon ducked back into the office and selected one of the dishes that had been the most attractive, discretely shoving his wife’s packed lunch into a drawer and turning over her picture before opening it to reveal the contents. The odors smelled like heaven to a man that had grown accustomed to tasting bland or burnt offerings for close to thirty five years. Somewhere in the back of his mind he had thought the gift to be remarkably prescient, but those thoughts had been eroded to nothing on the first bite. For the next hour there was nothing but the magistrate in his lunch, followed by quiet tears when he realized that he would not be able to get away with bringing the rest of the food home without having to sleep outside. Coming to terms with his fate he packed up the remaining dishes and resolved to make the heartbreaking decision of giving good food away.

Lakeshire was a town where neighbors came together to help one who was down on his luck, the  entire town new that Lucas Audrapel was down in his health but with the harvest in full swing not even the old farmer’s daughter had time to come around and make sure the man was still getting by. This was made worse by Lucas’ one and only grandaughter’s future thrown into uncertainty if the man should finally succumb to his illness, sure there were attempts to reach the father but everyone save for Lucas himself now believed the boy to be irredeemably feral now and savaging somewhere in Duskwood if not further out. The reality was that Mavis’ pension had stopped being processed the day he disappeared and with any remaining income going towards keeping Lucas alive and the farm afloat The Audrapel farm was barely hanging on. Solomon was also aware of Jacob Werner’s attempts to keep up with his family’s legacy and he doubted the budding new family would be capable of taking on a new mouth even if it was Susan’s own niece.  Lucas for all his good intentions was criminally stubborn and hadn’t prepared for any outcome save for the one he wanted. Rather than risk seeing the child face a dice roll or be shipped off to Stormwind,  Solomon had taken steps to position himself as an option should no others present itself and one of those steps had been to make sure both Lucas and Emily were well fed.

The Magistrate knocked on the door as a mere courtesy before allowing himself in, grateful that he had brought the food by when he had. Lucas was sitting at the table, hand over his mouth as he prepared to dish out a bowl of soup that he recognized as being from much earlier in the week. Emily looked like she was in the midst of a dress-up, wearing a mismatch of ill-fitting clothing that either came from when the girl had been a size smaller or were a part of Susan’s own hand-me-downs that she didn’t quite fit into yet. Parts of the house looked clean, but only in areas that could have been reachable by someone no more than three feet tall and comically unthorough.

Solomon allowed himself to ignore these details in favor of the family’s well-being as he held up the newly received gifts as currency. “Was hoping you could take these off my hands, someone made me a few good meals but you know the town ordinance against bribary.”

Lucas muttered, pushing himself up as he stood to greet his visitor, using the table as support. “You forgot to mention what your wife would say.”

The Magistrate smiled. “We both know she’d have my head, think you can give me a hand and make it disappear?”

Lucas nodded as he gestured to an open seat. “If you don’t mind joining us for lunch.”

Solomon kept up the mask as he set aside the dishes and took a seat, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of what he knew was going to be week old soup. In Lakeshire you didn’t draw attention to someone’s hardships.

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After a few days, Felonius returned to Lakeshire. The air about the town seemed different somehow... hopeful maybe? The townspeople that he passed on the road nodded to him with a friendly smile, as if they had known him all along. To them, he was no longer a stranger, but an ally in a common cause.

Felonius made his way to the Town Hall where a small group of people were just leaving. He met the Magistrate at the door, who quickly summoned him inside.

Solomon informed Felonius that he had just held a town meeting where they discussed the arrangements from their previous meeting. The town was satisfied that Felonius could handle the job of eliminating the gnoll problem, and they had stockpiled sufficient meat for everyone to last for the next two weeks. The Magistrate has issued a ban on all hunting until further notice.

Felonius smiled at the Magistrate, "Then I suppose I should get to work and earn those supplies."

Solomon forced a smile, "Uh, about that..."

"There is a farm that has not sold all of its crops yet. It appears to have all of what you need. But the owner of the farm has been quite ill lately, and will need help harvesting the crops. He is willing to negotiate a low price, but only if the buyer is willing to help with the harvest and a few chores."

Felonius looked at Solomon, somewhat confused.

"Well, I am no farmer and I wouldn't know the first thing about harvesting. I thought our agreement was that I take care of the gnolls and you provide the supplies... regardless of their source."

Solomon scowled for a moment, appearing to be searching for a diplomatic response.

"Mr. Gallows, that was indeed the offer that you made. However, the owner of the farm relies upon the sales of his crops for income. I cannot ask one citizen to donate his source of income to settle an agreement that benefits the entire town. Did I mention that he is quite ill?"

Felonius nods, "Yes, you did. Perhaps... since my efforts will benefit the entire town... the entire town would be willing to compensate this farmer for his crops? If not in payment of gold, but in providing the labor needed to help their fellow citizen."

"Mr. Gallows, this poor farmer will need more than just labor. The crops you require for supplies are goods that he would normally sell for gold. Surely we can reach a compromise here."

This time it was Felonius who scowled as he scratched the back of his neck.

"So, it sounds to me like you are asking me to rid you of your gnoll problem AND pay for goods that I can buy somewhere else."

"But here, you would get them at a much lower price." Solomon interjected.

"What's to entice me to not just walk away from this deal right now? Yes, I need the supplies. But I don't need to buy them here."

Felonius paused to let his last statement sink in. Solomon remained silent.

Felonius broke the silence. "Here is what I think would be a fair compromise...

"My offer was that I would take care of the gnolls. In exchange, the town provides me with the supplies I require. Since the town benefits from my efforts, the town can supply the labor. Since the ill farmer is a citizen of the town, who will also benefit... the town can pay him for the goods out of the town treasury... isn't that what their taxes are for? To benefit the citizens of Lakeshire? Everyone benefits. And, Mr. Magistrate, it would then be in the town's best interest for you to negotiate the very best price."

Solomon paused thoughtfully. "You drive a hard bargain, but I think we have reached our best possible solution. Come with me and I'll introduce you to your supplier."

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Solomon and Felonius seemed to be in agreement.

The two men made the short trip to a farm at the edge of town. As they traveled, Solomon mentioned that the farmer's health was failing and that he seemed a bit concerned about next year's crop. He said the farmer's son went missing awhile ago, and the old farmer has been a bit stressed over that as well. Felonius remained silent and listened. He wondered if Solomon was telling him a sad story to get him to give in a bit more on the deal they had just made.

Before long, they arrived at their destination. The farm was not nearly as dilapidated as Felonius had expected. It was obvious that the farm was still being maintained, but things did appear to be falling behind a bit.

As Solomon knocked on the door, Felonius noted the front yard had a few wooden toys lying about. They appeared to be the toys of a young child, certainly no older than seven or eight years old. His attention returned to the door when he heard it click open.

Their greeter was a small girl, about five years old, with long black hair. She recognized Solomon instantly and her brown eyes lit up.

"Sully!"

"Hello Emily. This is Mr. Gallows. He is here to help us. Is your grandfather here?"

The child seemed full of energy and curiosity. She ignored Solomon's question, and forgetting her "inside voice", yelled up to Felonius "Why do you have an eye-patch?"

Felonius knelt down so he was face to face with the girl. He smiled so as not to frighten her.

"I don't remember... maybe... maybe I was running with scissors in my hand."

He did a tongue-in-cheek funny face to make her laugh.

Just then a figure appeared in the doorway and Felonius stood up. The old farmer looked rather weak. Felonius could imagine him in his younger days as healthy and strong. He definitely looked like a farmer, but could just as easily have been a soldier. He had an air about him... like a person of strong will. But physically, the old man was but a shadow of this former self.

"Hello Solomon, good to see you." The old man wheezed a bit, then asked Emily to go play so the men could talk. The child hugged the old man's leg briefly, then scampered off.

Solomon began the introductions, "Felonius Gallows, this is Lucas Audrapel. Lucas, Felonius Gallows."

Felonius recognized the old man's name, but didn't let on. He shook the man's hand, noting that he had the calloused hands of a worker and a firm grip. Not strong, but firm.

"Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise."

Lucas motioned for them to come inside.

The old man led the way, his gait was slow and deliberate. He casually put his hands on furniture as he passed by, in case he needed them for support.

Lucas led them through the main room toward the kitchen. The main sitting room was covered with toys, one of the most prominent being a wooden train set. Felonius recognized the workmanship and design of the train as one made by fellow Caravan member, Atticus Scatlocke.

Felonius glanced around the room as they walked through. He noticed a case of military medals on the wall with a photo of a young man in what appears to be a memorial. Next to that is a photograph of two grown boys, one with a resemblance to Emily and the other appearing to be the older brother from the memorial, a younger girl around 16 or 17 is with them. There’s also a framed grapho of a woman with long black hair.

As they entered the kitchen, Lucas grabbed the nearest chair and took a seat. He began to cough, seeming a bit exhausted from the walk. He quickly pulled out a handkerchief and tried to disguise the cough. He waved his hand, motioning for the other two men to join him at the table. As he wiped his mouth and put away the handkerchief, he mumbled something about all the harvesting creating dust in the air.

Before taking a seat, Solomon put his hand on the old man's shoulder.

"We won't take up much of your time, but I wanted to tell you what we discussed at the Town Meeting today."

Solomon took a seat closest to Lucas. Felonius heard Emily in the other room making choo-choo sounds, apparently playing with the train.

"Mr. Gallows here is a traveler. He and his caravan are in need of supplies for the winter. He has offered to get rid of the gnolls that are attacking our farms in exchange for supplies."

The old farmer appeared to get dizzy for a moment, but played it off as though he was adjusting his seat to better listen to the Magistrate.

"We can get some people over here to help you with harvesting and repairs. But obviously, that doesn't put any money in your pocket for your own needs. We can purchase your crops out of the town treasury, but our funds are not unlimited so we would need a really fair price from you."

Felonius observed Lucas to see what his reaction would be. The old man's eyes were almost closed and his breathing was slow and steady with a slight rattle in his chest. He didn't move, and Felonius wondered if he had fallen asleep.

Lucas began nodding his head, then slowly opened his eyes.

"Yes. I think we can come to an arrangement."

Felonius leaned forward as if he was about to speak. His arms were beginning to itch again. He leaned far enough so he could scratch under the table unseen. He felt sorry for the old man.

"Sir, I am not farmer. I am a blacksmith. So if you need any hardware... tools, nails... or if you have tools you need repaired. Just let me know and I'll see what I can do."

Lucas looked at Felonius and nodded.

"Much appreciated."

Solomon and Lucas began discussing the details of current prices of crops in the area. Felonius was becoming distracted by the itch and finally excused himself to "use the outhouse".

As soon as he was outside he glanced around to be sure Emily hadn't followed him and there was no one else around. He stealthed around the corner and ducked into the outhouse.

By now the itching was becoming severe. Felonius rolled up his sleeves and reached into his pocket for the vial. The rash had returned, almost bleeding where he had been scratching.

He poured the last of the dark iron residue into his palm and rubbed it into his arms. The cool gray powder stained his skin, but soothed the rash quickly.

Felonius looked at the empty vial. "Note to self: Refill this vial very, very soon."

He rolled down his sleeves and returned to the house.

When he entered the front door, Felonius noticed the two men standing in the main sitting room. Lucas was leaning heavily on the back of a chair and the two seemed to be exchanging small-talk. Apparently waiting for Felonius to return.

Felonius pointed at the pictures on the wall as he moved in to get a closer look.

"That your family, Lucas?"

"Yes, it is. That's my wife and children. That's Gavin, Mavis and Susan. We lost Gavin at Icecrown."

Sensing a delicate subject, Solomon interrupts, "Well, we better get going. It was good to see you again Lucas."

The men said their goodbyes and headed outside. Emily was outside in the yard and saw them leaving.

"Bye Sully!" she yelled.

"Goodbye Emily." He smiled at the child.

"Goodbye Mr. Scissors!" She giggled and ran like she thought Felonius was chasing her.

When they were on the road Felonius asked Solomon, "You mentioned earlier that one of Lucas' sons went missing. He said he lost Gavin at Icecrown and I saw the medals. Gavin was Missing In Action during that battle?"

Solomon shook his head, "No. Gavin is dead. Mavis is missing."

"And Emily?"

"Mavis' daughter. Lucas is taking care of her until Mavis returns."

Felonius shook his head. "That has got to be tough. Being ill, raising a child, running a farm... and no family around to help?"

Solomon looked at the ground. "Sadly."

Back in town, Felonius bid the Magistrate farewell with a reassurance that he would start on eliminating gnolls first thing in the morning. He made his way to the Inn, rented a room and ordered a flask be sent up.

He was just getting settled in when the ale arrived. He tipped the bartender then locked the door, opened his backpack and took out paper and quill.

Felonius drew the logo of the Cup and Blade Caravan on the back of the paper, as is customary to signify member-to-member communications within a guild. Under the logo he wrote:  URGENT  IMPORTANT.

Then turned the paper over and began the letter...

Audro,

 

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Audro,

I normally do not interfere with other people's business, especially friends, but I think the situation here is worthy of your immediate attention.

I have met with Solomon and made arrangements for supplies if I take care of some errands for him. He introduced me to Lucas and Emily. I did not indicate that I knew you, nor did I discuss you in any way, as you requested.

But Lucas is quite ill and honestly I don't know him well enough to know how ill he really is. He is clearly trying to appear strong. I spoke with Solomon briefly and it appears that Lucas is having a difficult time between running a farm, taking care of Emily, and his health... your absence also weighs on him heavily. I think he could really use some help from family and friends.

Solomon has agreed to get friends and neighbors to help with the harvest and get us the supplies we need. I will not be there, as I have other obligations to attend to. The supplies should be ready for me to pick up in about a week.

I know you said you felt you couldn't go back there yet, and it is not my place to tell you what to do. I am only relaying first-hand information to you. But, I also think you should reconsider. Your family needs you.

~~Felonius

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Though Mavis didn’t let on he did actually miss his family. For reasons that he could not allow himself to abandon his own blood completely and turn to the wilds was why he had never until recently gone any further than Duskwood, the proximity allowing him to visit from a distance every time he became homesick. His father had never been aware, too afraid to take the next step forward that would require him to bring all his flaws home again. He’d been honest with Felonius when he had told him he could not go to Lakeshire but their discussion had left him homesick and a few days later he had left the Broken Isles to follow the Poison Master home to Redridge.  The fastest route required a simple portal jump from Dalaran to Stormwind but not willing to broadcast his presence Mavis was forced to take the second fastest route through Ironforge, which required a longer run and use of the courtesy griffons that while tamed better, did nothing to ease his nerves when taking to the air. The journey had bothered him enough to put the beast on edge and by the time he reached Redridge it was clawing its way up with an irritable snarl.

Thinking it was better to satisfy the wolf first he turned away from the town in a slight detour through the mountains. Gnoll territory hadn’t shifted since the last time he had wandered through the area but their population had increased significantly.  Gnolls had always been a re-occuring problem for the people of Redridge but the town council often kept their numbers down by hiring the odd adventurer to cull the population in exchange for a few silver.  With the war in the Broken Isles and all other resources going to the harvest he suspected Solomon hadn’t been able to scrape up enough volunteers as he had previously, resulting in a population explosion with the pests. Felonius was likely going to have his work cut out for him if he’d offered to help with the problem, but it couldn’t hurt to lend a hand with the secondary effect of calming the beast which was still itching for a good hunt.

Most of the cackle seemed to be preoccupied with their food so it wasn’t difficult to move in closer among the rocks as he stalked the outer edge, picking out his targets one by one. Moving quickly was a non-issue for the worgen among the group of fat and feasting hyenas but he still needed to make sure he was out of sight of the others, even an apex predator could be overwhelmed if enough prey got the notion to defend themselves. It took a little extra time but he found his starting point, a small outcrop of rocks with an area that was not easily seen by a passing glance. He sniffed the meat as he moved around the area, counting five easily that were more pre-occupied with fighting over food than keeping an eye out for danger, Gnolls weren’t used to being prey.

He snarled, releasing his control to the beast and announcing his presence, growling as he stood to his full height and flexing his claws as he faced the Gnolls. The group froze, stunned by something clearly bigger and stronger than them who had just interrupted their meal as their primitive minds struggled between fight or flight. He locked eyes with the smaller as it twitched and chose flight, trying to escape the danger. Mavis was on the gnoll in half a second, picking it up by his claws  and squeezing the neck until he heard a snap, then he turned with a snarl to the others. The effect caused chaos, the gnolls no longer in a fight response as they all chose to flee. The beast drank in the fear as it maneuvered to block escape, bringing another down upon a rock and gutting another before moving to cut off escape again, herding the last two into a corner and allowing his teeth to handle the first as the last appeared to drop dead from fright.

He sniffed at the corpses and picked out one of the younger gnolls, sitting back and allowing the wolf to satisfy his hunger with the spoils of the hunt. The human side of him found the practice distastefull but he’d learned years ago that it bothered him more when he didn’t eat his prey, leaving both him and the beast dissatisfied and out of sync. He finished off the gnoll and licked his claws free of blood, moving out of the rocks as he headed towards the paremeter of the town and fought an oncoming headache. In order to not be seen he’d need to circle around the outer farms and around the lake, it wasn’t difficult but it took focus.

He snarled as the headache insisted itself on him and his vision blurred, causing him to stumble slightly from his path.  Something wasn’t right, his legs felt heavy as he walked and he was forced to drop down to all fours as he tried to gain surer footing. A whimper escaped his breath as his chest seized in pain, his breath becoming more labored as he struggled to force his lungs open. No longer able to hold up his own weight he dropped from the effort, forcing one last breath out as his vision dimmed and he fell into oblivion.

Hunting had been declared off limits, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t look, after all it was supposed to be safe now. Roger had been the one to suggest it and he had cajoled Jamin, then they both convinced Nathan to go to the mountains and then convinced themselves they were being brave. They found the worgen in the mountains just past the first three bodies and barely breathing. A salvaged stick was pressed into the worgen’s  fur before being slapped away by Nathan. “Quit it!”

Jamin barely registered, staring down at the eight foot half wolf creature. “Guys I think its dead.”

“Genius. “ Roger snapped.  “Of course its dead, I don’t see it moving.”

“So what do we bury it? They’re supposed to be allies right? My mom said…”

“How do you know its not wild?”

“Well its got pants on.”

“That don’t mean nothing, Gnolls got pants too.”

Nathan leaned in, boldened as he started to examine the creature more closely. “Guys, it’s still breathing”

Roger yanked the other boy back. “Idiot, what if it bites you?”

Nathan sniffed. “Well then maybe Kenneth Jaenson thinks twice about stealing my lunch.”

“Guys. We could get a reward.” Both boys turned to Jamin. “Remember all those posters up, they’re looking for a worgen. Got a reward and everything.”

Roger looked from the worgen to his friend. “you mean like bounty? Do we have to cut off its head or something?”

“I’m not cutting off no heads!”

“No one asked you!  Look, how about you and me stand guard and Jamin, you go get the Bailiff. We don’t gotta take its head if it ain’t going anywhere anyway”

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Felonius greeted the Magistrate as he entered the Lakeshire Town Hall.

The Magistrate appeared busy with stacks of papers across his desk. He looked up, surprised to see Felonius.

"You can't possibly have finished the job in one day!"

Felonius smiled at the Magistrate. "I work smarter, not harder. But, no, it isn't done yet."

"I see," said the Magistrate, "How did it go?"

"Well, you do have a gnoll problem here. Worse than I remember. I found dens and camps all around Redridge. From Three Corners in the south, up through the Redridge Canyons, all the way to Render's Camp in the north. They are also all along the south highway going east into the valley."

"That's what I've been told." Solomon looked concerned. "And we just don't have the manpower to to purge them ourselves. Bravo Company left this morning for the front lines, and citizens are busy with the harvest. How long do you think it will take you to clear them out?"

"Well, once I realized how many you have here, it just doesn't make sense to try to hack-and-slay your way through them. I don't know if they are just breeding faster than rabbits, or if they have reinforcements coming in from somewhere else. I've used a different approach that I think will work out much better."

"Oh? How is that?"

"I went into their camps and I left behind chunks of boar and rabbit meat that I had 'seasoned' with a long-lasting poison. Once the poison is exposed to air, it starts to degrade but will still last a week easily. This way, we can kill off entire clans in one shot, even if more are arriving. The secondary benefit is that there is enough of that bait lying around, it will also take out any other meat-eaters like the wolves, hyenas and spiders. If the gnolls eat those, the poison will last long enough to still affect the gnolls that do eat them. So there is the possibility that by tainting their food supply, they may decide to move on to a different area."

Solomon laughed, "It's a nice thought, but gnolls are not that smart."

Felonius laughed, "Well we can hope. So the traps are set. I don't expect payment for a few more days when you start to see them dropping like flies."

Solomon relaxed a bit. "Sounds fair enough."

Felonius' ears picked up the shouts of a guard outside. The guard entered the Hall and whispered something to the Bailiff.

"What is it?" Solomon asked.

"A Nightbane, sir, " the guard replied. "We think he must have crossed the river from Duskwood and was hunting in the mountains. Some kids found him. He is unconscious, but the boys said something about a reward?"

The Bailiff looked at Solomon, "We haven't offered a reward on Nightbane... have we?"

Solomon shook his head, "No. The only reward for any worgen is for one of our missing citizens. Lucas Audrapel's son."

The Bailiff questioned the guard, "Are you sure it is a Nightbane?"

"Uh, no sir. Not sure how to tell them apart" the guard stammered.

The Bailiff raced outside, calling to other guards to retrieve the worgen quickly. Solomon rubbed his face. He looked tired.

"If this is Lucas' son," Solomon looked at Felonius, "it will not be good. Lucas has enough troubles right now. He doesn't need to lose another family member."

Felonius looked at the Magistrate with concern, and thought for a moment. He knew he could reassure the Magistrate... but it would mean revealing a secret.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about," Felonius told him. "I didn't say anything before, and just between you and me... I know Mavis Audrapel."

Solomon looked up. "What?"

"It's true. I can't say how, or give any details, but last I saw him he was in the Broken Isles... a week ago. The guard is probably right, it probably is just a Nightbane that wandered across the river looking for food."

Solomon seemed relieved, but then began to contemplate why Felonius hadn't mentioned anything to Lucas, or even to him when he told Felonius that it was Mavis who was missing and not Gavin.

Felonius stood up "If it is a Nightbane, we had better put it down before it gains consciousness. I'll go give them a hand."

Felonius exited the Hall and fired up his motorcycle. He headed toward the bridge then stopped for directions. A guard on the bridge indicated which way the group had gone and Felonius swung the bike around and headed out.

He quickly found the guards carrying the unconscious worgen, struggling with the dead-weight of the over-sized beast. Following along behind the guards were three boys loudly discussing how they were going to divide the reward money and what they planed to do with their new-found wealth.

Felonius stopped the bike and pulled his daggers. The guards dropped the body, seemingly glad to take a break. The guards, noticing Felonius' weapons drawn, drew their swords... they just didn't know if they were defending against Felonius or the unconscious worgen.

As Felonius got closer, he recognized the wolf. It was his friend Audro! He yelled to the biggest boy, "Get my pack from the bike!" then began to check his friend for wounds.

There was blood on his pants, but no wounds at all. He checked his eyes: non-responsive and slightly rolled back in his head. The Worgen's tongue was dry and hanging out of his mouth. The guards looked at each other, confused. Felonius put his face next to the wolf's mouth, he was breathing, but just barely.

"I know this man," Felonius explained. "This is Mavis Audrapel."

The two boys looked at each other, clearly agitated that this seemed to be a medical emergency, but wrestling with glee at having just qualified for the reward. The third boy brought the pack, setting it next to Felonius.

"Is it really him?" He asked, looking to the other boys for confirmation.

Felonius worked quickly. He reached into his pack and retrieved a vial of a purplish-colored oil. He quickly unscrewed the pommel of his dagger and removed the poison vial. He then replaced it with the vial of the purple oil, and screwed the cap back on.

Knowing Audro's "need" to hunt, he surmised that he probably did not eat the baited meat lying around. He would have gone after a live victim. This meant that he must've hunted a poisoned gnoll. He just hoped his friend did not get a full lethal dose. Otherwise, this antidote might not work.

Felonius tried shaking the wolf and calling his name to see if he could get any response. When there was none, he realized he had no choice. You cannot get an unconscious person to drink a liquid, they will likely just drown.

Felonius armed the dagger to ready it for injection, only instead of poison it would inject the antidote.

Felonius looked at the wolf. He was truly worried.

"I am so sorry my friend. By the Light, may this work."

And with that, he pushed the blade deep into Mavis' thigh.

 

 

 

 

 

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Solomon felt the onset of a headache as he listened to Bailiff Conacher. “You’re sure?”

 

The Bailiff nodded grimly, standing at attention even though the two men had dropped formality years ago, they had both authorized Mr. Gallows to use the poisons and neither enjoyed the idea of burdening the Audrapel family with further hardship. “Looks like him from that Blitz on the town a few years ago and that Felonius looks pretty sure. He ain’t in human form but at this point doubts are wishful thinking. I sent one of my boys out to pull Lucas for a positive…I don’t think its right to contact his sister until we know for sure.”

 

The Magistrate sighed, collapsing into his desk. “I don’t want Lucas feeling he has to bring his granddaughter along for this. See if you can get someone up there to the Werner place, at least he’ll have one less thing to worry about…and have Brianna set up a room at the inn. Tell her I’ll pay the bill.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

Lucas had come down to town with surprising speed considering his health, barely waiting until  his daughter had arrived at the house before moving down the road into town. The man looked worn, shaken as he pushed his way through toward the inn.

 

Felonius looked up from his friend and seeing Lucas, headed him off. "Lucas, it is Mavis. He must've been hunting gnolls and got ahold of one that had been poisoned. I've given him an antidote and bandaged his leg, but only time will tell if it will be strong enough to save him.”

 

The older man paused, face firm as he addressed Felonius. "I need to know it's him"

 

"Yes, sir. Right this way." He helped Lucas to his son's side. "I can't tell you how sorry I am that this happened."

 

Lucas' face seemed to slacken with relief as he confirmed the identity of the worgen, brushing the fur back gently from his head. Weary from the excitement he collapsed into a chair, taking a ragged breath as he stared at the floor, making his face difficult to see. "You didn't know.”

 

Felonius feels deeply for the old man. "I had no idea that he might be in this area. I didn't say anything before, but I know Mavis. I have spoken to him before and he talked about coming home, but I didn't think he was serious. He seemed.... conflicted."

 

"He didn't have to be, by the light why would he ever need to worry about that?" He rubbed his hand down his face and looked up at Felonius, there were no other visible signs, yet the man's eyes were clearly red and swollen. "Was it his idea for you to come here?"

 

Felonius looked down at the ground, unsure of how to answer. "I travel with a group of merchants. Our caravan is in need of supplies. Mavis suggested that there might be crops available here that we could use." "I didn't learn of his connection to you until I met you," Felonius lied. "I recognized your name."

 

"That's...surprising. He's travelling with you?" The man appeared genuinely curious.

 

"He was. I met him in Darkshire. I assume that was when he went missing, but I was not aware that he was missing at that time. It wasn't until much later that we spoke of him going home. I think his time on the battlefield may have affected him more than most people would understand. That's just my impression."

 

Lucas shook his head. "It was long before that, after the war he was supposed to come home but he never did. I tried to keep him from the war, it’s easy to fear these things when you remember the cost. Still, It's good that he's not alone."

 

Felonius nodded. "Looks like his breathing is getting stronger." He looked around for Solomon. "Is there a healer in town that might be able to help?"

 

"We have an herbalist and a midwife. A doctor comes once a week from Northshire"

 

Felonius looked back to Audro. " I'll pay for his room here. Also, we should see if we can get the doctor to come early. I will pay his fee. I caused this, so I will do what I can to help him."

 

Lucas nodded, slowly starting to stand. He paused to regard Felonius quietly, hesitating. "Do you know how many friends Mavis has brought home?"

 

"No, sir. I do not. Just by luck, I was here when they found him."

 

"No one…there was a girl, once but other friends.” Lucas shook his head Mavis and his brother were close, when Gavin died he just started focusing more on work. Then came the curse, It’s not easy to deal with all that and make a go of it. Even if it’s a rounded way it you're just about the first friend he's ever brought home. Straight point is he trusted you, that’s no small thing, you can’t say all that’s just luck. "

 

"If it isn't luck, I sure hope it keeps him safe... whatever it is."

 

"Don’t curse the sky because the lightning struck your apple tree. Some things are beyond your control and it ain’t no one’s fault, no matter how much you want to take the blame.”

 

Felonius looks at Lucas. "I'll leave you two alone. I'll be back to check on him later"

 

Lucas nodded, his eyes focused on the worgen as he watched his son breathe. "Thank you Mr Gallows."

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The Audrapel farm had three rooms set for sleeping, the last of which was saved for guests and closed off from playing in. For the most part this secret forbidden room had gone unused and dusty but then her aunt came to take her to her cousins and when she got to come back the wolf had moved in.  Everyone was so fussy with the wolf, Grandpa was fussy, Aunt Susan was fussy, even the doctor who was fussing, coming in and out of the guest room more times than she had remembered him doing with her grandfather.

Emily tried to stay out of the way as she grew increasingly frustrated by the attention everyone seemed to be giving the monster. Where most days her grandfather found time to play or read to her, he was now occupied with the guest room even missing lunchtimes and making Miss Sully cook even though she wasn’t very good. It was at least better than Aunt Susan’s, she knew that.

The first few days of the wolf she was forced to stay at her cousins, which she hated. There wasn’t enough room at the house so she had to share a room with the baby, who cried most nights until someone came to hold it. On days her cousins were too loud and got all the attention while everyone was too busy to listen to her.  When they had wrecked her train and didn’t fix it that was the last straw and she had screamed until they brought her home and when Aunt Susan couldn’t be around Miss Sully came in and helped watch things.  It was then she learned how much attention the wolf was getting and how jealous she was, it was all his fault and she wasn’t even allowed inside to look.

Emily watched the people come in and out all day, especially grandpa and auntie and she became frustrated. Why should the monster get all the attention? It just wasn’t fair.

Once her grandfather had gone off to his own room she resolved that she was going to find out once and for all why the stupid wolf was so special. Moving her covers aside Emily waited until she could hear the distant rattle of her grandfather’s sleep and carefully touched her feet to the hardwood floor. Grandpa was a deep sleeper since he had gotten sick, if she had crashed he wouldn’t have woken up, but she had to be quiet for the wolf, not knowing how well he slept or how safe the monster really was. Still, she had to see it.

Her feet barely made a sound as she crept to the door of her room and slowly inched it open enough  to move out into the hall. She could hear the rattle of her grandfather soundly sleeping as well as the rhythmic breathing of the wolf as it slept. Steeling her courage the small girl slowly moved toward the door of the forbidden guest room, reaching her hands out to turn the knob. She winced as she heard the door squeak, freezing for fear she had woken someone and knowing that at least to her ears it had sounded so loud.  Waiting what seemed to be almost a full minute she listened as the sounds of sleep continued, assuring herself that no one had woken before carefully moving the door again and slipping inside. She could see the beast now through the dim light, laid out on the bed despite that he barely fit on the mattress and his feet stuck out comically. The monster’s massive arms barely fit under the blankets and stuck out too and through that Emily was able to see the giant claws on each hand.  Her heart began to thump loudly as she approached the wolf, realizing how big a monster the wolf really was. Briefly she considered turning back, looking to the door as she contemplated escape but she swallowed her fears and forced herself to take the next few steps, wandering around the creature’s massive paws as she moved in to get a closer look at the head. Emily covered her mouth as she gasped in surprise, staring at the open mouth of long sharp teeth that were only supposed to exist in stories. The breath stunk and smelled like rancid eggs mixed with old soup that had just about gone bad and Emily covered her nose in attempt to mask the smell, the ears twitched and she was about to step back when she realized that this was part of its normal sleep, nothing to grow alarmed about. She leaned in, now fascinated and terrified all at once as she took in the image of the monster, staring into its yellow glowing eyes as the moonlight reflected off the surface.  It took a half a second before she realized the eyes were open and staring at her drowsily, registering that the beast was awake before she reacted. She shrieked in fright, dropping all pretenses as she dashed for the door, slamming the door closed with a bang before doing the same to hers. The covers were over her head before the rattled snore came to a sudden stop and Emily huddled herself in her bed, holding the broken train engine as she waited for the monster to come back and get her.

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Felonius returned to Redridge after a day in Stormwind gathering his own supplies. He rode east along the southern highway. Bodies of gnolls littered the landscape. He felt a sense of pride that his new toxin worked as it was designed to. But, regretted that the poison had affected an innocent.

Early in his life, Felonius embraced the rogue life. The freedom to do as he saw fit. He bent the laws to suit his own needs. He was very successful in his training as an agent and an assassin. He easily recalled the advice Lord Ravenholdt had given him decades ago: "Know your target." It was advice that served him well.

Although he was not a soldier, and resented being treated like one, Felonius became fond of the Alliance. He always hated the Horde, and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." And "with great power comes great responsibility". He learned to use his skills with surgical precision; to carve out the target that needed to be eliminated without collateral damage. In a land torn by war, there are always civilian casualties, but his skill enabled him to pick and choose. It was a skill that was useful in many covert operations. "Slip in, get the job done, and slip out".

But this...

This was a major screw-up. This was not just some minor casualty of war. His surgical precision had faltered. The slip of the surgeon's scalpel nicked a heart. The patient may not recover because he had lost his focus. His mind wandered.

Felonius swung the motorcycle around and headed back west toward Three Corners, then north towards the Redridge Canyons. More of the same. Dead gnolls scattered everywhere. Some in groups near the camps and dens, some solitary... obviously sentinels who died in their tracks while on patrol. When he got to Render's Camp, he had seen enough to know his plan had worked, and he headed back to Lakeshire.

He stopped outside the Inn and shut off the engine. He sat there, thinking.

What if Mavis didn't make it? What if he did? What will you tell him?

"You seem uneasy my friend. You know what will ease your mind." It was the Mountain voice, the voice in his head.

"NOT NOW." Felonius looked around to see if anyone heard him talking to himself.

He got off the bike and went inside. The Innkeeper greeted him warmly. "Your friend has gone home, Mr. Gallows."

"He.. he is awake?" Felonius questioned with a hopeful look.

"Oh no," said the Innkeeper, "they took him home, to Lucas' place."

"Ah, Okay. What do I owe you for his room." Felonius reached for his gold pouch.

"Already taken care of Mr. Gallows. Nothing owed here."

"Thank you." Felonius exited the Inn and mounted the bike.

He turned the key and the engine roared to life.

"Nothing more for you to do here." It was the voice again. "You have done enough, don't you think? Come back to the Mountain and you will feel better."

Felonius waved his hand the way one swats at a mosquito. "Leave me alone."

He headed up the road to the Audrapel farm and stopped just close enough that he could see the house. He waited and watched. There were people coming and going every now and then. He felt unsure if he should show his face up there. But he said he would. "Never make an agreement you don't intend to keep."

He rode up to the house and knocked on the door. He heard Emily call out from the side of the house, "Hello Mr. Scissors!"

Felonius couldn't help but smile. He left the stoop and walked toward the young girl. "How are you today, Emily?"

"Okay, I guess. Are you here to see the wolf too?" She looked disappointed.

"Well, maybe I came to see you." He gave her a wink.

Emily smiled for a moment, then suspected he was teasing her and frowned. "Everyone wants to see the wolf. I think they forgot about me."

"Well, I can't believe that." Felonius tried to cheer her up. "How could anyone forget the Princess of the Farm?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, "I'm not a princess."

"Uh-oh, " Felonius feigned a look as though he had just let out the Big Secret. "You didn't know? Of course you are the Princess! Look around here. Think about who lives here. Can any of them be the Princess?"

Emily looked as though she was mentally inventorying the residents. "Uh, no. Their all boys."

"Exactly!" Felonius smiled. "Then that must mean that YOU are the Princess."

Emily smiled as the logic finally dawned on her. "I am the Princess? I AM the Princess!"

Felonius cautioned her with a finger to his lips and a wink of his eye. "It's a secret."

Emily laughed, "Okay, Mr. Scissors... uh, I mean... "

"Felonius. Call me Felonius."

"Ok, Felonius."

"And now, Your Highness, if I may, I would like to see your wolf." Felonius made a dramatic bow before the girl.

"Yes, you may." She curtsied then ran off laughing. Felonius could hear her muttering "I AM the Princess of the Farm."

Felonius returned to the stoop. Lucas was standing there, apparently he had been watching. "Mr. Gallows." He nodded.

"How is he, sir?" Felonius inquired.

"No change. We have him in the guest room so he will be comfortable. But that's all we know for now."

Felonius nodded sadly. "I see. I won't trouble you. I'll be out of town for a few days, but I wanted to stop by and see how he was doing. If he wakes up, let him know I was here and he will hear from me soon?"

"I will do that. ... and Mr. Gallows? Go easy on yourself."

Felonius waved to the old man as he mounted the bike. He fired up the engine and Emily came running around the corner of the house. She waved goodbye and Felonius gave her a half bow, then swung the bike out on the road.

He turned north again toward the Burning Steppes.

"That's it," the voice soothed, "come on back to the Mountain. I have something to show you."

 

 

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His ears twitched as he picked up the sound of the raindrops as they fell upon the roof, his intended groan resulted in a growl as he was pulled back into the world of the waking and he became aware of the dull throbbing pain against his skull. He felt weak as the normal strength and energy of his worgen body felt inexplicably absent. The beast hated the helplessness, the panicked response of a trapped animal rising inside him before he forced it down and allowed his rational mind to think. He was in a bed, rather he was in two beds, one pushed against the other to help support the entirety of his form. Someone had tried their best to cover him up but despite their efforts his feet still remained exposed outside the blankets.  The smells were familiar and as his eyes began to adjust to his surroundings he realized that the contents of the room was familiar, his father having made very few changes from when he had last been home.  He moved his head  to look towards  the door and caught the shadow of a figure no more than three feet tall before she disappeared, pounding the floor as she increased her distance from the room. Minutes later the door swung open wider, admitting what must have been his nursemaid by the appearance of the tray she carried with her. Staring at the woman’s braided black hair and the soft determination in her face he thought he recognized his mother, as his eyes sharpened he could see that while he had been wrong his guess had not been far off. “Susan?”

The woman nearly jumped at his question, startled by the sudden awareness. She turned her attention to his face and reflected an awkward discomfort that Mavis guessed was a direct reaction to his appearance, his sister had only once seen him in his worgen form and even then she had not been immediately aware. “Sorry”

His sister shook her head as she turned to carefully set the tray down. His nose picked up the fresh scent of chicken and broth mixing with Peaceblossom tea. “It’s alright, that’s my fault really. I’ve been distracted.”

He tried to sit up before realizing that he didn’t actually have the strength for it. His entire body felt like soggy bread, his sister seemed to know this and with her help managed to get him upright enough to eat. “What happened?”


“You were poisoned.”

His attempts to speak were momentarily stalled as Susan helped a spoonful of broth into his mouth. “Poisioned?”

“Not on purpose but I think your friend felt responsible for it. You almost died.”

“Felonius?”

His sister nodded, continuing to spoon the broth into his mouth between questions. “That’s him. He was helping with the gnoll problem, I guess he didn’t tell you. He was in yesterday to check on you but no one’s seen him since. The physician says that it may take you at least a few days to get your strength back.”

It sounded right, he didn’t even think he could lift his own arms with the weakness he felt in his limbs. “Where’s dad?”

“Resting. Everyone’s been taking turns watching you, but we have to be careful so dad doesn’t overexert himself. He gets tired easily and then tries to force himself to keep up.”

He swallowed the tea as it was held up to his mouth, most of its contents dribbling through his teeth as Susan tried to negotiate the physiology of his canine mouth. Mavis watched as his sister took a dishrag and began to pat dry the moistened fur, trying to ignore the indignity. “That doesn’t sound like dad.”

Susan stopped what she was doing to look into her brother’s eyes, the confusion on  her face was evident. “You know he’s sick right?”

His ears dropped and his brow furrowed as he tried to understand what his sister was saying. “What do you mean? How sick?”

Susan retracted the dishrag, folding it in her hands multiple times until it became a smaller and smaller square, it was a habit his sister had inherited from their mother, a nervous habit when a subject became particularly uncomfortable. “It started six months ago but when we talked to the physician he thought that it must have been going on longer than that. He was having trouble keeping food down and had stomach pains, when he finally agreed to see help they found lumps growing inside of him. The best they’ve been able to do is remove them but we’re running out of money to do that and they keep coming back.” His sister sniffed in an effort to pull back the moisture that had been leaking out of her nose then dabbed her eyes dry with the dishrag that had by then been folded into a thick one inch square. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” He was still to stunned by Susan’s revelation to react, it didn’t exactly feel real enough to accept it so strangely his mood remained level.  In a way that felt even worse as he thought he should be reacting more to the news. “Is someone taking care of him?”

“You know how stubborn dad is. The best anyone can do is drop in now and then.”  She gathered everything back onto the tray. “Do you want to stay sitting up or do you need to lay back down?”

It took a minute before he realized what his sister was asking and that right now he actually needed help with these choices. “It’s fine like this.”

“Okay.” She stood up quickly, clearly in a hurry to leave. “Solomon will come by to check in, after that dad might be awake so...you should talk to him then.”

Susan moved out of the room so quickly  that Mavis was barely able to get in a goodbye. He didn’t blame his sister, doubting he would feel any different if their roles were reversed. He sat in silence with his thoughts, forcing his body to move the barest minimum as he considered the small child that had run from the door and what his sister had told him.

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Mavis flexed his hand slowly, his concentration focused on the movements more than he was used to.  The need for effort bothered him in ways he didn’t like to admit, he may not be too stubborn to accept help but the beast raged at being helpless and strained his nerves even as he resigned himself to recovery. He flexed his hand one more time and earned praise from the physician even as a leather ball was placed into his palm. “Squeeze.”

Mavis closed his paw around the object, enclosing the ball in his palm. He seemed to palpate the leather but any strength or force remained absent from the exercise. The doctor waited for Mavis to release the ball before retrieving it and continuing with his examination. “Good. I’m confident we’re looking forward to a full recovery.”

“Are you sure?” To him it didn’t feel like anything was improving at all.

“Well it doesn’t seem like much but it’s only been a day. Rapid healing won’t help with this so you’re just going to have to give it time. Frankly with the amount of poison you were exposed to it’s luck we haven’t seen any permanent damage.”

Mavis flexed his hand again as he tested the strength. “I guess so. How’s my dad?”

“As a matter of fact he’s my next patient. The stubborn boar insisted I check on you first.”

“But how is he?”

The doctor frowned then, passing the next minute in silence. He seemed to consider his next words carefully before responding. “I think you should speak to him about that.”

Mavis watched the physician leave for the next room while he was left alone with his thoughts. He had slept for most of yesterday so boredom during his convalescence had not been an issue, but now as he was beginning to recover he found it harder to occupy the hours with his limited strength.  Every now and then his thoughts would drift to Felonius and wonder if he was planning to stop over again but as the hour passed and they received no additional visitors his hopes gradually died and he resigned himself to staring at his room. The bedroom had changed little from when two brothers had shared the same space and Mavis caught himself glimpsing small memories from his childhood left in imprints on the walls and furniture.    His gaze fell on the wall hanging across the room, something his mother had done years ago when he and his siblings had still been young. The red clay discs had ben strung together top to bottom with Gavin as the oldest being up top and leading down to his sister’s hand print as the last in line. He stared a hole into the center disc, memorizing every line in the hardened clay and not wanting to admit that while he hated looking at it, it was the one on top that he deliberately avoided looking at.

Growling he turned over and broke contact, sliding a book off the bed stand as he ducked his head into the sheets and tried to block out the distant humming coming from down the hall.

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Felonius had made a make-shift camp deep within Blackrock Mountain.

He had found a small hidden cavern that gave him a safe place to work without needing to avoid the Dark Iron Dwarves that patrolled the area incessantly.

He focused on his work, and when the voices in his head would give him a break, he thought about going to check on Audro. More than a few times, he packed his bag and headed for the entrance. But each time he reached daylight, he could feel the strength drain out of him.

He became weak. He hated that feeling.

Then one morning, the Mountain made good on her promise. "Come, I have something to show you" she had said. He followed her voice as she led him through various twists and turns to a dead-end. There, in a trash pile, he found everything he needed. All of the materials he thought he would have difficulty obtaining to craft the ultimate dagger, The Black Blade.

There was a bonus. He also found a blood-red stone unlike anything he had ever seen. It glowed faintly.

The Mountain Voice told him it was a relic of the Titans, with a secret power. She said it was a gift.

Felonius felt as though the world was just placed at his feet. He wished he could share the news of his good fortune with someone. Audro.

"I need to check on Audro."

"But you have work to do now, don't you?" the Voice asked.

"Yes. Yes, I do."

Felonius waited for the Voice to go silent, then packed his bags for a short trip to Lakeshire. He stuffed the bag quickly and ran toward the entrance.

"Need to get out while she is quiet." he thought to himself.

Up ahead, he could see daylight shining into the entrance to the mountain. His legs burned. His strength draining. He stopped. I can't.

Felonius trudged back to his small camp. The strength in his legs returned.

"Maybe," the Voice said "You can make it after you finish your work."

Felonius looked down at the plans he had drawn.

"Yes, Ma'am."

 

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The hunger pains grew more insistent as Mavis tried to distract himself with the book, he hadn’t thought anything was wrong yet after having heard his father and then Emily wandering through the house but neither had entered. He wasn’t surprised that Emily hadn’t visited as his daughter only looked in when she thought he was sleeping but his father had made regular stops to his room to check in and bring food, something he had failed to do all day. The past several days had left Mavis confined to the bed and while he was making some real progress with his recovery the limited movement he was afforded had made him restless and irritable which was made no better by the fact that his father had forgotten to bring his meals. Unable to take it anymore he snapped the book shut and  forced down a growl as he called towards the crack in his door. “Dad!”

It took several minutes but after a while he was rewarded with the sound of shuffling feet followed by a creak as the door opened inward. The sharp intake of breath that came from the surprise at Lucas’ wasted appearance repeated itself for an encore. It was hard to accept the association between the image that remained in Mavis’ head and the frail looking man before him. The muscles had quickly atrophied out of weakness and he seemed weary inside and out, tired of fighting and barely mustering the strength to keep holding out. Mavis shut his eyes and refocused on his father, remembering his immediate needs and clinging to that instead of the sight of his ailing father. “When are we eating?”

Lucas looked at his son, regarding him calmly. Despite the clearly wolfish appearance of his son he gave the boy an even look of patient authority and didn’t seem the least bothered by it. “I was thinking you could eat out here with us today.”

The suggestion elicited a growl from his son. “I can barely walk.”

The comment earned a piercing look from Lucas, who seemed to be commanding  focus on his own compromised strength and forcing his son to break eye contact and focus instead toward the window. Lucas took a deep rasping breath. “I think you can make it far enough to the table today. There’s hot soup and fresh bread if you can manage it but I’d like for us to eat as a family.”

“Emily isn’t at Susan’s” He mumbled it a little more than he desired to, his father barely seemed surprised.

“I don’t think she needs to be. Do you think I look any better?“

He had a point even if it wasn’t something Mavis was willing to admit. “Look dad, if it’s alright with you I’m just not feeling well. Do you think we can skip the family dinner tonight?”

For a moment it looked as if Lucas was about to say something but instead he held back and lowered his head as he gathered his thoughts. “I’ll leave a plate out in case you feel better later on.”

Mavis winced visibly at the disappointment in his father’s tone and he turned away to try to hide the shame of his fib. They both knew he was lying but Lucas didn’t appear to let on as he backed out of the room and quietly closed the door with an audible click.

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“Get up”

Mavis looked from his book toward the door and stared at his sister. He hadn’t noticed when he had first woken up but Susan had changed in the three years since he’d seen her, she looked more mature and sure of herself that it made sense he had mistaken his younger sibling for his mother. Currently he was regretting that similarity as his sister had adopted the same no-argument look as their parent that was effective even with an infant cradled in her other arm. Mavis closed his book and gave his full attention to Susan, his ears flattening with the intimidating glare. “It’s-”

“Half past noon.  We need you to watch Emily for a few hours.”

He groaned, rubbing his paw over his face. “Where’s dad?”

“Where do you think Mavis? You think I would be asking you if dad was available.”

A cold chill dropped down in his gut as a familiar panic began to set in.  Dad wasn’t in the best of health to begin with but the man still was able to move about from what Mavis could only assume was sheer force of will and because of this it was easy to forget that Lucas was still very ill. Lucas was also the only force left that kept the Audrapel family from fracturing entirely, if something happened it would be devastating to everyone. His sister seemed to notice the panic despite his canine features and took pity. “Relax Mavis, he’s not dead he just collapsed.  Jacob is taking him to Stormwind  for better treatment.”

Mavis nodded, allowing the words to sink in, he still felt weak but he was confident that he’d at least recovered enough to manage on his own. On his own was the key part, the difficulty felt like it would triple if he was forced to supervise a five year old on top, especially one that barely knew him. “Can’t you or Solomon take her for a few days?”

“You’re kidding right? You realize its harvest right? I can’t watch four children on my own while making sure the fields are clear. You realize Solomon has the same problem? Then everyone has their hands full trying to clear out Gnoll corpses before the scavengers come sniffing around.”

He growled, his sister’s lecture setting him off. “That didn’t seem to bother anyone the last three years.”

His sister’s hands clenched into fists as she held back a roiling fury, forcing calm only out of favor for the infant she held, if anything it make her boiling anger look worse. “Well I’m sorry your grand return is such an inconvenience. Once you’re better you can run off and play the lone wolf again and me and dad won’t bother to spend any more time looking for you. We’ll wash our hands write you off and get on with our lives. Maybe while you’re here you can lift at least one little finger and get to know your blood before you run out on us again. I just thought that would be nice.”

Surprise registered on the Worgen’s face as he processed his sister’s words, Susan had always been headstrong but he’d never known her to snap before and even hours after she was gone he remained stunned while he mulled over what he was going to do in the next few days.

Though Mavis had been reluctant to leave his room he’d still managed to move around the house on evenings after everyone else had gone to sleep so he at least knew he was able to make it past the hall.  As he headed to the kitchen his heightened senses detected Emily peeking out of her room and briefly he selfishly thought how much easier it would be if she remained there for the next few days.

He had to duck his head moving around so he didn’t bump against the ceiling but there were still accidents when he forgot and along with the weakness in his muscles he knew the bruises to his head would be added on later. His sister had left such detailed instructions he was starting to think he’d have to actually make an effort to screw something up but it was nice that she’d tried to help and it was at least another weight off his shoulders. 

Emily hadn’t come out of her room since he’d dragged himself to the kitchen but by the time the smells of food began to waft through the house he could see her sneaking around for a glimpse. He pretended not to notice the five year old sneaking around the table, reasoning that it was easier for both of them and trying to fool himself that it was more for his benefit than hers. Regardless he dished out the bowls and set both at opposite ends of the table. The awkwardness of his size and the startlingly fearsome look of his form was ever-present but through the years he’d learned to adjust to the point where it didn’t bother him. Home was different, save for once he’d never brought the worgen inside and until now home had been where he’d felt most human. Now everything seemed alien to him and comically small, the property of a stranger in another life and all he wanted to do was run. His ears twitched to the sounds of movement as Emily drew closer to her meal and he realized that while he had never announced himself to the dark haired child she hadn’t either, opting instead to try to sneak around him and grab her food without making her presence known. Committing fully to the game Mavis allowed himself to look away, pretending to ignore the slide of the bowl from the table and the small quickened steps that broke into a mad dash back to the bedroom.

His focus was brought into full alert when the steps turned into a thump followed by a loud crash and Mavis immediately pushed himself from the table just before the wailing began as instinct directed himself to the screaming child still covered in the backsplash of her now empty bowl. His paws immediately set to right her up even through the wailing as he hurried to inspect her for  injuries while Emily switched her awareness to the stranger and began to push away, her fall soon forgotten as she struggled away from the animal “No!”

The shriek was coupled with one last kick that finalized her demands and no sooner had he released the girl she completed the last length of the run back to her room, shutting the door with as much strength a five year old could muster. Mavis stared at the mess in the hall and covered his face with his paw, not even caring about the dripping stew that was smeared against his muzzle. He just wanted to go home but that was all wrong because he was home but nothing was going right.

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It was surprising the thoughts that entered Mavis’ head as he sat in silence, alone in the hall near Emily’s room with a closed door that could have easily been the Royal Vault. As much as he was aware of his reality as a parent he knew very little about how long a five year old child could conceivably hold out before succumbing to hunger.

Mavis looked at the plate of food that he had strategically positioned in front of the door and wondered when she might get up the courage to come out, that he was unable to coax his child out spoke volumes about just how bad he was at this. After growing uncomfortable from the waiting Mavis pushed himself up and moved closer to the hearth, deliberately avoiding a look at his mother’s hope chest, it hadn’t been moved in three years. He did his best to clean up the toys which had been left strewn over the floor. He frowned a little at the broken train set and marveled at the speed of which it had been broken. He began separating blocks and toys before starting on clearing away the stones that had been pushed in behind the pile. It felt strangely therapeutic to be dealing with the monotony of the chore and he slowly began to forget his vigil at the door even as it creaked open.

The child was surprisingly faster; much more than he expected and he was caught off guard when, first he was grabbed by the leg then small hands grasped his fur and the tiny fists began pounding at him. “Stop it! You’re wrecking it! You can’t move the stones!”

Mavis immediately dropped what he was doing and turned around, instinctively he reached for Emily, who instead ducked away and hurriedly tried to put the blocks back. Stunned, Mavis could only stare at the child and fumbled as he tried to reach out to her while trying to find his words. “I was just cleaning up”

“You can’t! They’ll hurt grandpa again. You’re going to hurt grandpa!”

“I’m not…” He was at a loss for words, just watching as the blocks were returned to the pretend fortress around the stones. “I’m sorry.”

The good news was that Emily was no longer hiding in her room but Mavis hadn’t yet decided if it was better that she had now moved to the hearth to play warden over the stones. At least she was eating, he thought. His nose sniffed at the aroma wafting from the stove, judging the readiness of the yams before grabbing a hot pad and extracting two of them from the chamber. He dropped both of the baked yams on the table and waved his paw in a fanning motion as he attempted to cool them down. He didn’t think his dad had changed his parenting skills much from when he was a child so he’d reasoned that the usual dessert for the Audrapel house was the same, luckily baked yams were easy to make.

When he saw Emily look at the table with interest he knew he had guessed right, a small elation of triumph entered his thoughts over this victory and he moved quickly to follow it up with another. As he approached the five year old with the yams she shied away and the elated feeling sunk immediately as he realized naive idiocy of his thoughts, you don’t win victories with yams. Mavis kept his distance and opted instead to sit down, placing one of the baked yams as close to Emily as he could from his current position before carefully peeling away the wrapping from his own. “It’s hot.” He mumbled the warning as an afterthought, figuring it was best to say something so she wasn’t in danger of accidentally burning herself on the snack.

Still, he watched her carefully to make sureand tried to provide an example, albeit an awkward one to follow. There was an awkward silence as both father and daughter watched each other with wary optimism, Mavis was certain he was going to make another mistake and ruin it. “Are the stones important?”

Shyly the child ducked her head, trying to partially hide her face with the yam. “They’re bad stones”

He wasn’t sure how to respond, to him they looked like normal stones, they even smelled like normal stones. “Does grandpa trip over them?”

Emily shook her head quickly but didn’t offer any further response, forcing Mavis to continue his questioning. “Do they get in grandpa’s way a lot?”

“They sneak in grandpa and make him sick.” Her response was uncertain, likely she suspected the logic was wrong but still clung to it because it made the most sense.

Mavis frowned, his sister Susan had explained their father’s condition, it was likely the stones were just how Emily had interpreted it. “I’m sorry I tried to move the stones.”

“It’s okay.” She kept staring down, drawing imaginary pictures with her finger with one hand while the other still held the yam. “Are you my daddy?”

The answer caught Mavis off guard, he hadn’t known what the girl had been told but somehow the idea that his identity would be revealed to his daughter seemed foreign, Emily didn’t look like she knew herself, as if the suggestion had merely been a way to trick her. She looked like she didn’t believe that they were related at all. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re too hairy, daddies aren’t supposed to be hairy.”

He felt he had to defend this. “Daddies can be hairy.”

“Yeah but you’re doggie hairy, my daddy looks different. I saw pictures.”

“That’s very smart to remember that.” He picked at his yam, debating how far he wanted to carry this conversation. “Sometimes daddies get sick too and then they can look like doggies.”

A look of worry crossed the child’s face. “Are you sick?”

“Yes.” It felt like a lump in his throat as he admitted it, coming to terms with the truth as he related it to his daughter.

“Will you get better?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will grandpa get better?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going to die?”

“No.”

“Is grandpa going to die?”

“Not for a long time.” He didn’t know why he said it, maybe more as a comfort to himself then to Emily, he just couldn’t bring himself to admit his father’s mortality

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