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Twilight's Hammer

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The sands of Silithus howled across the dunes of the insect-ridden desert, scouring rocks clean of their sturdy inhabitants and polishing the facets of the yard-high floating crystals that littered the landscape. Near the base of one of the many jagged mountains that ringed the area, a shadowy figure crept closer to the front of a small cave that looked bored by one of the many serpentine creatures that inhabited the wasteland.

Two orcs stood outside the cave entrance, dressed in the colors of Twilight Cultists, hammers in hand and peering as warily and intently as the sandstorm would allow. Still, they did not spy the approaching shadow until it struck the first guard with the pommel of its sword, pitching him face-first into the sand.

The second orc turned with a roar, but the shadow moved like lightning, blades moving in a flurry of activity. Razor-thin cuts appeared on the guard’s arms and chest, and the guard’s hammers never seemed to connect with the evasive intruder. Eventually, the shadow drove its “dagger,” a broken bottle glowing with an eerie flame, into the guard’s stomach, and he collapsed. The second guard was similarly dispatched, and the sandstorm covered all the sound.

Ashagga rifled through the guards’ pockets, tucking a few silver coins and a roasted quail into her bags. Blythe was inside this cave, somewhere. She’d followed her dreams, followed the gibbering insanities spewed by Brog’s severed head, until she’d tracked Blythe to this cave in Silithus. Even if he wasn’t here, if he’d somehow slipped her noose yet again, some more of his cronies were inside.

She wasn’t entirely sure if Blythe was working for the Twilight’s Hammer, or if they were working for him, or if the two just happened to be working together, but the last three times she’d trailed him, she’d found his stench on the whole operation. Now, she’d found yet another base of operations.

Ashagga adjusted her eyepatch and slipped into the cave. The monotonous drone of the sandstorm swallowed everything.

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Two hours later...

The sandstorm hadn't died down. If anything, it had intensified its fury, howling and screaming across Silithis strongly enough to keep Horde and Alliance alike cooped up together in Cenarion Hold. The scorpid and spiders that roamed the landscape had burrowed into the sand or been buried by the storm. Only the massive sandworms, uncaring, still roamed.

Ashagga staggered from the cave, her clothing torn and singed, blood pouring freely from a number of wounds hastily wrapped with runecloth. Her sword hung at her hip, her dagger clutched in a trembling hand. She was covered in blood, much of it her own, and her eye stared vacantly.

She had to escape. That was all she knew. She didn't remember the events of even a few moments ago. All she knew was blind panic and the need to escape. Blythe. She had to escape. She had to get away.

The full force of the sandstorm hit her like a fist, staggering her and knocking her to one knee. Had to escape. She forced herself to her feet, stumbling away from the cave. Escape. She didn't think about her hearthstone, or calling Omen. She just limped away from the cave. Escape.

A hundred feet from the cave mouth, she fell to her knees. She got back up. Fifty feet further, she fell again. She did not rise. In moments, she was almost utterly buried by the storm, with only a few scraps of clothing or patches of skin showing.

She felt herself losing consciousness. In the last moments before awareness fled entirely, she saw a strange, slender figure, pale as the dawn, bending down over her. A lyrical voice spoke in a language she did not recognize. She saw shining hair and green eyes, and then she saw nothing at all.

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Ashagga swam through murky dreams, dreams of being surrounded by strange, chanting figures. She saw faces rise and sink in the fog of her nightmares, some familiar some not. Forsaken, humans, elves... all appeared and vanished, sometimes speaking words and phrases that left her memory instantly. She tried, struggled to rise out of the bog, tried to wake up, remembering half-glimpsed images of terror and horror.

She sat bolt upright, clutching for her dagger. Darkness surrounded her. She tried to stand, but pain shot through her leg, and she couldn't rise. Panic. She had to get away.

She lay down, closing her eye. Her ears strained for the slightest sound. Nothing. Silence. She was laying on stone. Cold. Dark. Underground? Carved stone. A building. She was inside somewhere civilized.

As her ears strained, she could pick up faint, distant chatter. Gutterspeak. She couldn't make out the words, but she knew the language. Undercity. She was in Undercity... a continent away from Blythe.

How had she gotten here? Glimpses of pale flesh, platinum hair, green eyes. A human? No, too fair. An elf, then, and a blood elf to boot. Ashagga shuddered. Blood elves. All the visions of the Bringer returned tenfold. The Blood Elves would destroy us all.

She slowly stood, gingerly testing her right leg. It was sore and weak, but it had been healed. There was no splint, no scarring. Magic. Someone had healed her with magic. A priest?

She moved toward the sound, limping, feeling her way around the room. It was familiar. She smelled burnt herbs, old chemicals. Her lab? A chill went through her. No one knew she had a lab here except the few R.A.S. members from whom she rented it. Certainly no elves should have known. Fortunately, she thought, it would be easy to find whomever had done this. How many elves were there in Undercity?

She opened the door onto the caverns Undercity. Her eye widened, and she felt her heart sink. Blood elves wandered freely through the Apothecarium, around the Outer Circle, flew in on giant bats. They mingled with orcs, trolls, tauren, and Forsaken, sometimes jovially, often with disgust and pity. They were everywhere.

She sank back against the doorframe. It was happening, right in front of her. They were infesting the Horde. Inside her, she felt the Bringer cackling and struggling. The end was near.

She glimpsed something white on her lab table. Looking over, she saw a sealed envelope. She quickly broke the wax seal and pulled a sheet of parchment from within. The paper was covered with odd writing, a flowing, spidery language she didn't understand, but recognized as the elven script.

She glanced back out the door at Undercity's crowded tunnels. Well, at least she wouldn't have a hard time finding someone to translate for her.

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In the Shadow Cleft of Orgrimmar, a thousand shady deals transpired every day. In the perpetual half-gloom, only barely lit during the day and almost pitch black at night, thieves, scoundrels, and murderers of all varieties met to conduct their illicit business. Orgrimmar’s guards patrolled here but rarely, and even then, they did so with wary glances cast into the shadowed stands and tents of the Cleft. They were charged by Thrall with keeping the peace in the city, but he hadn’t said anything specifically about less violent problems, so for the most part, they left the Cleft alone.

In one corner, near Ragefire Chasm, a pair of shadowed figures met. Neither bothered to hide their features with cloaks or masks. No one paid attention here in the Cleft, and no one cared if they did. The one figure was tall and lanky, tusks jutting from his face and leathers covering his tightly muscled frame. The other was shorter with green skin and an eye patch.

“T’anks fer comin’, Lemba. Word ‘as it yer damned good at what yer does.”

“No problem, mon. Lemba be glad ta help ja… for da right price, o’ course.”

Ashagga grinned and pulled a folded letter from her pouch and passed it to the troll. “I need this translated.”

Lemba took the letter and unfolded it, squinting at the spidery scrawl. “Ja, mon. Das de elves’ language.” He peered at the orc woman. “Why joo come ta Lemba? Why joo no talk ta one o’ de pointy ears?”

Ashagga pondered for a moment. “I don’ trust ‘em.” She gestured around at the Shadow Cleft, and the recent influx of Blood Elves infesting the orc city. “They come out o’ nowhere like this. Any one of ‘em could be the one what wrote me that letter. I don’ trust ‘em.”

“An’ joo trus’ Lemba?”

She grinned. “No, I trust that yer greedy. Yer’ll find a way ter get this translated, an’ yer’ll keep the contents secret ‘cause I’s payin’ good money.”

Lemba grinned and pocketed the letter. “Joo got Lemba pegged, a’ight. Lemba get what joo need.”

Ashagga tossed the troll a shining gold coin. “Two more if yer gets me the translation.” Lemba bit the coin, nodded, and pocketed it, turning away to begin his task.

“Oh, Lemba?”

The troll turned to look back at Ashagga.

“The letter ‘as ter be kept secret. Only yer, meself, an’ whoever wrote it should know what it says.”

Lemba pondered for a moment, then grinned, patting the sword at his hip. “Ja, mon. Lemba got joo.”

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Ashagga sat in her lab, idly rolling a crystal vial between her fingertips. Her other hand held a note that appeared to have been crumpled and then somewhat hastily smoothed. Her eye did not focus on the page, but rather stared off into space.

She was not amused.

She'd gone through her belongings, after the incident. She'd searched her laboratory three times, seeking any trace of intrusion. She'd been thorough, certain that it was no longer safe. Worst of all, she'd been right.

Not only had someone invaded her home, "rescued" her from the brink of death and deposited her "safe" in her refuge, but they had also meticulously scavenged her lab. Every scrap of information about her enchantments was gone. Her notes, her runestones, even her enchanting rods and materials, every mote of strange dust to the glistening shards she'd been studying. Gone.

Worse, Lemba had returned with the letter, translated, and now she knew. It wasn't over. Someone was watching her. Someone would be back for her. Once more, she read over the letter:

"Dying outside that cave was not for you, orc. We brought you back and now you belong to us. Gratitude will be exacted from you in due time...until then, try not to do anything else as incredibly foolish as trying to go after Blythe again."

It was not signed. Ashagga wanted to cry. With a snarl, she hurled the vial across the room, watched it shatter into a brilliant rainbow of destruction.

First things first. She needed to find a new refuge.

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