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Everything posted by RiktheRed21

  1. "A killer, a torturer, and an all-around terrorist. When I think of the enemy, her face comes to mind. Her face and that damn rocket of hers..." -Brinnea.
  2. "Hotheaded and thinks he can solve everything himself, from what I heard. My daughter seemed to adore him, so he must come off as...heroic," -Brinnea.
  3. Full Name: Jenivyr Vayne Date of Birth: April 2 Age: 28 Race: Gilnean Human Gender: Female Hair: Blonde, curly and usually tied back in a tail Skin: Pale, decent complexion Eyes: Light green Height: 5'5'' Weight: 125 lbs Place of residence: Greenwarden's Grove, Wetlands Place of Birth: Gilneas City Known Relatives: Lord Walther Vayne (father), Olivia Vayne (mother, deceased) Religion/Philosophy: Church of the Holy Light Occupation: Mistress of Scouts for the Night Vanguard Group/Guild affiliation: Steward of Night Vanguard Enemies: The Horde, House Hunter of Gilneas, Witherbark Trolls of Arathi Likes: Parties and various social gatherings, hunting trips, fishing trips, planning trips and events Favorite Foods: Fish Favorite Drinks: Ale and wine Favorite Colors: Green and Yellow Weapons of Choice: Bow and arrow Dislikes: Quiet places, being alone, discussions about abstract or unnecessary things (foreign politics, ideology, scholarly or artistic things), sudden and poorly-planned adventures, insensitivity, fighting people. Physical Features: Angular features, somewhat sharp nose and chin, prominent cheekbones. Thin lips with bright gloss. Small eyelashes and thin eyebrows. B-cup breasts. Special Abilities: Excellent at planning and tactics, or navigating intrigue and political plots. An excellent shot with a bow and handy with a spear. Spectacular horse rider. Positive Personality Traits: Strong practical skills, has a sense of duty and loyalty, sensitive and warm, always trying to connect people. Negative Personality Traits: Overly concerned about her social status, inflexible and wants things her way, reluctant to usher in change for the sake of change, vulnerable to criticism, very needy, and possessive. Misc. Quirks: Flirts with just about anyone -- male, female, single, married, human or otherwise. History: Born the first and last child of Walther and Olivia Vayne. Her father was lowborn and earned his lordship through his friendship with one Mayes Blackmane. Jenivyr was born the second generation in this new dynasty, and her mother lived not long to carry on the name through a male heir. With this in mind, Walther allowed his daughter great freedom, hoping she would strike her own path. Even so, he nagged her often for her laziness and disregard for social conventions. Jenivyr never fit in with the noble ladies of court, and garnered many insults and taunts for her tomboyishness and general awkwardness. As it turned out, she was awkward in large part because of her interest in women above men. Though, to impress both, she often flirted with just about everyone. Due to the utter rejection by the women, she preferred the company of men and learned to track, ride, and shoot a bow from a string of short-lived boyfriends. When Gilneas fell, she avoided the Worgen using her survival skills, though her father was bitten and she looked after him throughout the ordeal. She even managed to subdue him long enough for the elixir to be finished. She moved with her father to Stormwind for a time, then to Duskwood after Walther purchased a plot of land for them to settle on. Jenivyr hated the area. The people were grim and disliked her as much as those in Gilneas did. The game were mostly mangy or inedible, and in all she grew stir-crazy before too long. Walther was kidnapped while investigating a plot of treason against the crown, so Jenivyr used the chance to take some time away from his nagging. She set into drinking too much ale and wine, until the day the Night Vanguard arrived at her doorstep. Recruiting their aid, she managed to free her father, unveil the conspiracy, and earn herself a position in the Vanguard's base of operations leading the men who formerly worked for the conspirator. She found her true calling leading others, organizing events, and even fell in love with the woman of her dreams -- Justica Anterius. Theme Songs: "Jupiter," by Gustav Holst "England Peace Theme," Sid Meyer's Civilization 5 "I Vow to Thee, My Country," from a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice and the music of Gustav Holst ((Justica and Jenivyr))
  4. Soft leather boots squished against wet cobblestones in the dank, dark depths of the Stormwind City Stockades. Looking around and seeing the agonized faces of prisoners of every race, height, age, and build imaginable, Baron felt the heat in his chest rising at the thought of his father's unjust imprisonment. Locking him up amongst thieves, rapers, and murderers...if I make it out of this dungeon without snapping someone's neck, it'll be a miracle. His own men had learned not to provoke him for any reason. They knew enough to fear his wrath, his sword, and his beasts of war. But these false knights that led him to his father's cell knew not of him. They had never heard of the Bloody Baron. That made this situation all the more dangerous. "Here we are," the portly man in shimmering plate armor announced boredly as he unlocked a simple wooden door. I bet this fat man has never had a scratch put in that armor of his, Baron thought to himself bitterly. It was insulting how easy it would be to free Lord Walden Hunter from his captivity. Clearly these southerners had lost all respect for Gilneas' nobility in their years of isolation. "About damn time," Baron barked, shoving the man out of the way. He entered the cell and the door slammed shut behind him. He heard the two knights snickering and whispering insults as they stood outside. He sniffed angrily and bit back a taunt of his own. "Calm yourself, son," a man in rags and tattered from head to toe said, "Save your rage for the true foes. The living are not worth the effort." Baron almost didn't recognize his father looking to disheveled. His hair was ordinarily well-groomed and a slick light brown color, but now it was a ratty tangle and more the color of dirt or dung. His dark brown eyes were still sharp and skeptical as always, but now they were bloodshot from the gloom. Baron spied a small pile of books in the corner of the cell. "You convinced them to give you reading material," Baron said with no humor in his voice, "With guards as stupid as those, you ought to have just asked them to leave the door unlocked so you could visit a library yourself." "Nonsense, I don't have to ask for anything. I tell them to get me books, and they bring them. Just because Greymane saw fit to strip me of my title, I have not lost my noble blood. Those wretches know how to grovel to a man of power when they hear him call." The man rose to his feet, and Baron felt foolish for having not recognized him. The man held himself in that same self-assured manner as ever, as thought he already knew what the result of the conversation would be and was thinking about some other scheme. If he truly knew what I was about to say, he wouldn't look so pleased with himself. He nearly growled in response, "Can you not escape this prison, then? I did not ask to become the head of the household! Every morning one of your bootlickers comes to me looking for favors or loan repayments. I cannot even return to Stranglethorn to see my wives with all the 'important matters' to deal with in Stormwind!" Walden struck his son. The backhanded slap echoed in the small space, though Baron hardly moved when hit. Its true force was the power to silence him. "You will not complain to me about your duties again. You are my eldest son. It is unbecoming of you to whine like a sullen child. You will appease every last one of the House's allies and you will not leave the capital until Greymane gives you my former position in the army. That is all you must do for now. If I hear a word of ill report about you from those back-country fools outside the door, you will be forced to give up the sword and sit at a desk the rest of your life. Do I make myself clear?" Baron's fists clenched furiously, but he knew he was trapped. "Yes, Father," was all he managed to say from between his teeth. "And if you ever mention those whores you call wives again, I'll send Grant to hang them all." "Yes, Father." Baron had to bite his tongue to keep himself from saying any more. "Now then, tell me what I summoned you here for." Baron took a deep breath and relaxed his body. He would definitely kill someone tonight. "We received word back from the Wetlands. The treasury was looted without a hitch, Grant got it all down into the tunnels before the Vanguard even knew it was being taken. It was all in place down in the cave Creighton picked out, but something happened." Walden's eyebrow rose. "Something happened?" "Walther's brat managed to sniff out the cave through Creighton's traps. Grant wasn't at the rendezvous when our people got there. Our spy says he was toted into the cells by some elf mage named Alcabus or something. They say Creighton's locked up, too." Walden's eyes narrowed only slightly, but it was more than enough to tell Baron he was displeased by the news. "They have your brother and Grant in cells, and all of my money?" A dangerous silence followed. Baron felt no fear, but he was anxious about what new plan his father would cook up now that his first had fallen through. "Have the spy summoned to Stormwind and cut her throat. Throw the body in the canals, but make certain you take any and all valuables off her corpse first. Make it look like a robbery and there won't be any suspicions." Baron risked a question, "Why kill the spy?" "There must have been an information leak. Creighton is too careful to be captured, and the cave would have been concealed too well to find by the time the Vayne girl looked for it. Someone talked, it's the only possibility." "Very well then." Baron was more than happy to clean up the mess. At least he would get to kill someone soon. "But how are we going to carry on without that money? I have your debts to pay and new friends to keep happy, after all." He didn't conceal his resentment well. "Pay them from your own coffers." "You cannot be serious!" Baron stomped madly. "Don't argue, and don't complain. If you do your job well, there will be plenty of reward. You will also need to ransom Creighton and Grant from Greenwarden's Grove. Don't even think of raising your voice at me again. Neither of them will spill any information, I am certain, but we need to smooth over our difficulties with the Night Vanguard sooner rather than later. We cannot hope to get to the girl otherwise." "As long as her Scourge mother is alive, we'll never get close. You could at least let me kill her. It would save us all trouble." He forced himself to say this calmly, though his insides boiled with rage. "No. It is clear now that removing Velmon is not as easy a solution as I once hoped. The child is too attached to her to be separated willingly, and now Gilneas has pardoned her. For now, Brinnea Velmon is off-limits." "Then how are we to take the girl as a ward? The blue-eyed she-devil watches her constantly, and trusts no one she doesn't know." "You've nearly hit the nail on the head, boy. We cannot hope to get close without someone Velmon knows, someone the Vanguard trusts. Someone who hates the undead as much as we, and cares for the child's well-being." Baron huffed quietly. "Who then?" "In due time. For now, focus on winning allies and freeing Creighton and Grant. Make certain that when you ransom them, you send someone who can act with a shred of diplomatic temper. And don't forget about the spy." He sat down and opened a book. The conversation was clearly over. But Baron wasn't finished. "So that's it? No thanks or apologies? Not even so much as a 'goodbye?' Am I not still your son? Am I only a tool for your schemes?" Walden replied without looking up, "All I do is for you and your brother. And for Gilneas. Remember that the hunter does not require praise to catch his prey. Only focus. Now go." Baron went, slamming the door behind him. He ignored the two bumbling guards and their poorly concealed snickers as they locked his father's cell up again. I'll do your dirty work, Father. But once you are free to take back the reins, I will never be slave to your whims again!
  5. Full Name: Nagoda Goldfield, son of Quaran Date of Birth: September 20 Age: 14 Race: Tauren Gender: Male Hair: Brown mane Skin: Brown fur, spotted white Eyes: Brown Height: Short Tauren Weight: Hefty Tauren Place of residence: Ashtotem Village, Thousand Needles Place of Birth: An Oasis in the Barrens Known Relatives: Quaran Sunwalker, (father, deceased), Fasha Sunseer, (mother), Magooma, (maternal grandmother), Kimba [the commander], Rumba [the muscle], and Cassowary [the logistician], (paternal uncles) Religion/Philosophy: An'she and the Earth Mother Occupation: Healer's apprentice at Ashtotem's Healer Hut Group/Guild affiliation: New recruit of Sanctuary Enemies: The White Hawk of Silvermoon, Nakama's pirate crew (presumed dead), Brinnea, the Butcher of Kaur'he Likes: Quiet walks in the wilderness, praying to the sun god in private, reading, singing, watching bugs and critters, tending to plants Favorite Foods: Any veggies or fruits (vegetarian) Favorite Drinks: Shamed to admit he loves firewater (it helps him be more social), more commonly admits to liking kodo milk Favorite Colors: Brown and gold Weapons of Choice: A spear or staff Dislikes: Being cooped up indoors, restraints, (claustrophobic) Physical Features: Chubby, white-faced, brown furred. His horns are small and young, his hooves well-trod upon for his age. Keeps his left hand covered to hide a brand in the shape of a red dragon. Special Abilities: Talented at healing with herbs and medical supplies. Knows how to set snares and traps for game. Positive Personality Traits: Idealistic, seeks value and harmony in all things. Respectful of others' cultures and opinions. Open-minded and flexible, willing to try new things even when afraid of the consequences. Highly creative, passionate, and dedicated. Works hard and complains little. Negative Personality Traits: Too selfless for his own good, lets others take advantage of him. Takes any insult to heart, internalizing them until his self-esteem is at a deep low. Poor at practical skills and unfocused so as to leave him unable to master any trade. Very distant and hard to get to know. Misc. Quirks: Rubs his left hand and bows with his horns to most everyone elder to him Theme Songs: "The Farthest Land," Shadow of the Colossus History: Born to the warrior Quaran and his wife Fasha in the Barrens. Watched his father transform from an implacable warrior with bloodthirst and ravenous thirst for revenge turn to a life of piety and devotion to An'she. Fasha was the first to take to An'she as a Seer, and Quaran followed to become among the first Sunwalkers. This transformation began with a miracle: the Light saved Quaran's life from a mortal wound delivered by Grimtotem axe at Thunder Bluff. Since then, Nagoda has been in love with the sun god, and pious to a fault. Nagoda grew only occasionally in his father's eyes. The elder warrior was normally away at war, a dutiful bull. Nagoda became much like his mother and grandmother because of this, and followed the path of a healer for some time. He was poor at fighting, and did not want to eat meat or even harm wildlife, so he was no huntsman. Since his family had turned to An'she, he did not follow the path of a druid or shaman either. He seemed destined to become a Seer, if not for his uncles' constant insults about his femininity. His father, though he hid his disappointment well, accepted his son's inability to take up the mantle of warrior, which made it sting all the worse for Nagoda. He wanted to make his father proud, and so he would wander from home often to reflect, pray, and try to practice. He could never bring himself to swing a spear or staff at anything alive, or even any practice target he pretended was alive. Quaran Sunwalker died hunting after the Butcher of Kaur'he. The death knight had to die to see justice done, Quaran had been convinced when he left home. Nagoda's heart fluttered nervously the day his father left -- the man had faced the death knight once and still carried a scar on the face where she had smashed him with his own maul. The news came not as a surprise, but it was enough to cast a lasting shadow on the family of the Gold Plain. Nagoda ran from home not long after. His uncles wanted to whisk him away and make a true warrior out of him, but at that moment all the boy wanted was to avenge his father and prove himself at long last. He knew he needed help, so he asked a friend of his father's to hunt the death knight down. The troll was an expert at the hunt, using the elements themselves to bolster his weapons and senses. Yet even he did not return to hunt after the death knight. For a time, Nagoda believed the Butcher was impossible to kill, and that An'she intended for him never to be like his father. But then the sun god sent him a new chance -- the Butcher was imprisoned in Silvermoon, and would soon be sent across the sea to Kalimdor. The boy ran again from his people, this time to total strangers. He approached a pirate captain called Nakama, a trolless with her own ship docked at Ratchet. He paid her with money left behind by Quaran, and arranged for the ship carrying the Butcher to be hijacked at sea. The gold was not all his father had left behind, though. A priceless relic from Northred, a gift from the Wyrmrest dragons themselves, accompanied him on his task. He believed it was a gift from An'she as well -- the instrument of justice. His father had called it a brand once, though Nagoda had been too young to understand what it was for. He knew only that it carried the dragon's fire somehow. Fire that might cleanse the world of the death knight he thought unkillable. The White Hawk, a mysterious elven task force, warned Nagoda not to do what he intended, but he stubbornly ignored them. He had to avenge his father. The Hawk were prepared for this, though, since Brinnea the Butcher was not on the ship as the pirates had been informed. It was set up as a trap, and the pirate ship was surrounded by war vessels to be taken in by the Hawks. Nagoda was stunned, and with the brand in hand, his emotions exploded outward at last. It was enough for the dragon fire to erupt and burn the ship around him. As far as the young tauren knew, no one by he survived the explosion. It left a lasting mark on his left hand, a reminder of his failure. After that, he decided he had shamed himself too much to return home again. He tried to find a new path, and An'she sent him a vision of a golden hawk on a purple sky. Sanctuary. He followed his vision, remembering that it was Kex'ti of Sanctuary who stood against the Butcher and lived. Nagoda sought a chance at redemption and escape from his failure, but he never forgot his duty. One day, he knew, he would have to face the Butcher, and only one of them would walk away alive.
  6. ((Updates and edits, most likely final version))
  7. Oof, I've been meaning to go back and read everyone's posts at some point.
  8. She was reading by the fire again. He loved watching her do that. She always seemed happy, even for the briefest of moments. Even if there was so much fear in her heart that she spent nights weeping in bed or curled up on their carpet, she could always find solace in a story read by firelight. Parigan didn’t enjoy much. He didn’t enjoy going to the bar his brother used to take him to. He didn’t enjoy attending the galas his sister sent him invitation after invitation for. He didn’t enjoy meeting his father every month to tell him what he had been up to. Parigan was sick to death of his family and seeing their hands in every aspect of life in the city appalled him. He had his forge, and he had his sword. And he had her. Parigan regretted so much that he had pushed her away since the rebellion. It was the last thing he had wanted from the cause. A fair society, free of tyranny and oppression, of course. Freedom from his father’s dictatorship of a family, most definitely. But he never considered it would mean losing her trust. She’ll never look at me the same way. After what the rebels did in the war – terrorism and mass mayhem – she won’t feel safe setting foot outside the door. And she knows I was part of that. How can I ever make her trust me again? But at the very least, she could find freedom in the pages of her books. He admired that about her. With him, he could never set aside his problems, but it was clear he hadn’t the foggiest idea how to fix them. She was in much the same boat, but could manage to set aside her worries to enjoy her passion. Parigan used to take literacy for granted until he’d met some of Brinnea’s relatives. Brinnea Velmon. Parigan had never once questioned why she had kept that last name. Now he wished he had taken it as well. What has being a Blackmane ever gotten me? She didn’t talk much about her father, but he could tell by the way she reacted to any mention of him that she wasn’t sure what to think of him. Parigan thought she was trying to be angry with him, but she came off seeming more worried than mad. He felt such sorrow for her complex array of emotions, but he couldn’t empathize. With Parigan, everything was black and white. Yes or no. Right or wrong. He felt he had chosen wrong. Marrying her didn’t make her life better. It had dragged her into worse shit than she had already been dragged through. But he loved her more than anything, so he selfishly kept her close and never let go. And she never said anything against it. Does she truly love me anymore? Did she ever? He felt the need to comfort her, or maybe he just wanted to be comforted. He picked himself up off the stairs and walked up behind her chair. She was reading something about a knight and his lady, and a witch who had cursed them to fall in love. Parigan had never enjoyed books, at least not the way Brinnea had, but he remembered this story well enough. The two were from rival kingdoms that had an unsteady truce between the two in the face of the Horde invasion. It was a common theme in literature after the Second War. Everyone loved a good story about romance in the face of a calamity that nearly wiped out humanity. The two lovers had been brought together by the orc witch in the hopes of shattering the alliance between the nations, but instead the people saw how beautiful things could be if everyone held love in their hearts. The ending was blissful – the two humans married, the families and kingdoms both united, and the witch was burned for her treachery. Parigan liked the story well enough. Real life is far from a fairy tale, though. Love isn’t so simple or clean, and hatred is never easily set aside. Parigan kissed her on the head, ruffling her hair affectionately. She set down the book on her reading table, which was buried in piles of books she’d bought with his money. Her grey eyes looked up into his brown eyes. She smiled, but it was a bad fake he’d seen too many times to be fooled. She was upset he had interrupted her. She wanted to look up and see a noble knight, not the failure he was. “Hi,” he said quietly. “Hey,” she said back. “I’m sorry.” “For what?” “I don’t know. I’m just sorry. Sorry for everything, I guess.” “And why do you feel like you need to apologize? Have you done something requiring an apology?” “I just…I don’t feel like a very good husband. Or man, even. I don’t know what to say.” She stood up and walked away from him, towards the hearth and fire. She warmed her hands over the flames. He wasn’t providing her any, clearly. “It doesn’t really matter what you say, does it? Everything out there isn’t real. This isn’t real. All that’s real is what lies outside the Wall.” Parigan stood behind the chair, unmoving. His eyes lowered to the tome she had set down. The Tale of Richlid and Theodara. If only life were so simple. “What is outside of the Wall isn’t the world. It’s just a nightmare. We’ll live through it.” “What makes you so sure?” “We have so far, haven’t we? Nightmares always have an end.” “This one hasn’t ended long enough for me to believe it is real.” She hugged her arms and rubbed them roughly. The sleeves on her gown were worn and tattered. He had offered to buy her a new one, but never had. “We will make it together,” he replied. He wanted that to be true. He needed that to be true. “Everyone I’ve made it with so far is dead.” “Your sister…” “Is gone. She left yesterday. She bought a fishing boat and made for Purgation Isle. She’ll never be able to come back. She probably won’t survive long enough to try.” Parigan’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Christa was gone. The last person who could get through to her. Why had she left? It had been a year, nearly, since their mother had passed away. Why choose now to leave? The Scourge had only gotten worse, and no contact from the outside had made it in. That my father is willing to share with me, that is. “Did she say why?” “It doesn’t matter. It hasn’t mattered for years now.” “It’s about your father, isn’t it?” She tightened her grip on her shoulders until her knuckles turned white. He stepped forward and held her tightly. She didn’t resist or pull away, and he took that as a good sign. He hoped it was. “It’s all gone. Why can’t she understand it?” “Some people need something to hold on to.” He held her close, but she didn’t hold him back. “There’s nothing left to hold on to. It’s all ashes and bones now. Gilneas may as well be all that’s left, and there’s nothing for me here.” “I’m still here.” He turned her face gently so she would look at him. Her eyes were dry, but her face was pale. “I am. And I’m not going anywhere.” That night, she disappeared. He awoke to find a note where her head should have rested. She told him not to go looking for her. He crumpled the letter and threw on his coat and boots. *** Shanoris gasped and awoke suddenly, disturbed from her dream. From his dream, she thought silently. Felsoul Hold’s dwindling supply of portals crackled nearby, and she felt the presences of demons approaching her location. That was what had awoken her from the dead man’s dream. She had already searched for evidence of the witch’s revival, and found nothing. The sarcophagus was gone, as well. The Illidari had already seen to its removal, but the last she heard it had yet to be destroyed. That thing is dangerous, but it may have some use as of yet. I’ll check Marduum and the sarcophagus next. She meant to leave, but she felt compelled to stay. Parigan’s grave was marked by a badly rusted sword that had been broken jaggedly in half by a savage blow. She had witnessed it personally, felt every felling of the demon’s hammer in her core as if it were her the beast had slain. His last words echoed in her mind. “Brin, I lo—love you—“ Shanoris may have stood against Brinnea in the past, but what the witch had done to her was beyond cruel. And she took my sister from me. We both have enough reason to want her dead forever. The demons came on her suddenly, emerging from the shadows as if they had the element of surprise. She proved they were wrong. Moving faster than the untrained eye could even see, she sliced her way through felhounds and Felguards like scissors through silk. At the end, her rage and demonic spirit boiled over, bursting through the uncovered crevices of her eye sockets. Nothing remained of the demons save for ashes. The grave marker had fallen over in the scuffle. Shanoris returned it to its rightful position, but then noticed something she hadn’t sensed before lying buried in the dirt. She dug it up with a strong hand and felt its surface, clearing it of dirt as she did. It was a ring. She detected moonstone and silver, badly tarnished. Words were engraved in it, and she could feel the indents enough to read it. Words may leave on wind, but love is forever. A wind licked at Shanoris’ cloak. She felt his presence still writhing in the tainted dirt, too tired and fragmented to be pieced back together or take form. She made a promise to the grave that she would see his remains taken to a proper burial site. But then it dawned on her she had no idea where he would want to be at rest. She would have to ask Brinnea, but there was no way to speak with her now. Sighing, she made another promise. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” she asked the dirt. Parigan’s spirit was silent, but silence speaks volumes to a demon hunter.
  9. This was a mistake, the monk thought as he tugged uncomfortably at the tight sleeves and collar of his dinner jacket. He hadn’t worn it in years, and when last he’d donned the formal attire, he’d been a much smaller man. Sanjay looked around at the ceremonial area and the ornate chairs set along the sides of the fancily-laced carpet and wondered where the person who had invited him was. I should have just run away. There’s no telling what she’ll make me do this time. The monk’s shaved, darkly-toned head barely reached up to the chins of most of the elven guests at this event. He’d have a hard time finding her in the crowd. Without warning, Sanjay was pulled to a seat in the middling section. An elven woman smiled at him knowingly, her pale blue skin lacking any wrinkle or hint of what she was thinking upon its surface. Her brilliant eyes regarded him with recognition and a distinct impression of humor. “Hello, my Redjay,” she said sweetly. “It is good to see you again.” Sanjay’s heart skipped a beat without his permission. “Nyomi,” he muttered, “I got your invitation. I don’t know what compelled me to come.” “I do,” she replied. He felt an itch of discomfort as he took his seat beside her. Nyomi put a hand on Sanjay’s leg. He tensed and tugged at his black, unkempt beard in annoyance, but felt powerless to stop her. His voice was hushed and strained. “Why did you invite me here? Just to torment me?” She laughed quietly. “You know me. I never go anywhere without a strong man to protect me.” Sanjay wished he had one to protect him. Or a woman. I wonder if her charms work on them as well? The wedding party entered. There were no less than ten couples who came down the aisle, with several flower girls and boys sprinkled in between. Once that was done, the music swelled to a crescendo, and a Nightborne man, presumably the groom, announced as Gaspard du Chalons, emerged alone. His wedding suit was as much a statement as he himself was, a mix of armor and military dress with the fur of a Llothien Prowler draped across his shoulder. His hair was cut short in a military style and his face clean shaven. Sanjay had seen a thousand men just like him. A thousand men, and one, he thought bitterly. He tried to drown the unwelcome memories as they flooded back, but only succeeded in annoying himself further. Gaspard swaggered his way down the aisle and took his position at the center of the dais, turning to await the last arrival. The music fell very, very, softly, then swelled even more dramatically, and the bride, Celene Valmont, made her appearance. Her wedding dress was beyond over the top, a shocking construction of arcane material and white lace that somehow managed to leave most of her legs bare. She sashayed down the aisle with a sly, shy smile, very aware of her status as the center of attention. The groom smiled broadly at her. “Do you think the bride is beautiful, my dear Jay?” Nyomi asked the monk, her grip tightening around his thigh. Yes, far more than you, he wanted to say. “Would my answer even matter, Nyomi?” he replied instead. “Either way, you’ll get the answer you want to hear. How can you know if it’s the truth?” “Who cares about truth when you can get exactly what you want?” She smiled at him again, looking as content as could be. Sanjay started to wonder which was worse – thoughts of his past, or of the woman whose clutches he had fallen into. Gaspard took Celene’s hand as she reached the dais. Celene tittered nervously. They turned to the man from the podium, who had emerged to stand before them, holding a great tome. Only, he proved not to be holding it as it kept itself suspended in midair as he flipped through the pages, slowly and deliberately, looking for the right passage to read from. Sanjay noticed many within the crowd shifting about nervously. The monk could have felt the tension hanging in the air even if he had not been sensitive to the spiritual energy around him. Some in the crowd – most of them suspiciously non-Nightbourne – seemed to be about ready to leap out of their seats as if at any minute the bride and groom would exchange knives in the heart instead of vows, rings, and a kiss. The minutes crawled by, and Sanjay’s increasing anxiety – a combination of the crowd around him, the memories plaguing him, and the woman clawing at his inner thigh with a sense of indecent ownership – ascended to as high a crescendo as the music had moments ago. Minutes passed to hours, or so it seemed to the monk. So many amongst the crowd awaited something to happen, and yet, as time crawled by.... nothing did. At long, long last, the bride and groom leaned in, about to kiss. Sanjay thought his heart would stop. If only it were the romance that was getting to me. And then it was over. The crowd burst into applause and strange flashes filled the hall as some contraption that seemed goblin in origin was displayed a few feet from the dais. Sanjay thought he remembered mention of “photographs” being taken as he had entered the area earlier. It was far from something he understood, however. The wedding party began filing out, the bride and groom first, followed by the ten couples, children, and officiator. They took an even longer time exiting than they had entering. Nyomi spoke in Sanjay’s ear as the din in the hall grew less and less reverently hushed. “A sterling ceremony, wouldn’t you agree? I told you when you saved me from those Legion interrogators that your valiant service would be rewarded. If this is unsatisfactory to you, I am more than happy to bring you to more such events.” The monk could feel her burning smile in his back as he shuffled out into the aisle awkwardly, flanked on all sides by tall bluish people. If I had known what sort of reward I would get for saving you, would I have still done it? he wondered to himself in sullen silence. He didn’t bother replying to her question. It was much too loud for him to want to try, and he knew he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter anyway. If she wanted him to go somewhere, all it would take was one puff of her dust. By the time the couple reached the ballroom, many guests were already filing about, talking to one another about gossip, politics, and other ceremonies they had been involved with. “The du Monticlaria wedding had a much better officiary,” one guest said off to Sanjay’s right. Another mentioned a better ballroom at another wedding entirely. Sanjay tried to drown out the voices the way he had been taught in meditation. That didn’t last long. Nyomi turned him to face her, and she drew that infernal dust to blow in his face. A short bout of coughing later, and Sanjay’s mind was altered entirely. Thoughts of his soiled past, odd marriage customs, and goblin technology faded away until all that was left in his mind’s eye was her – Nyomi. His love. “I would love to dance the night away,” she said. And it was all he wanted, as well. “Would you accompany me, my Jay?” “Anything for you, my lady."
  10. The elves gave up quickly. Much too quickly. Nagoda had his bundle wrapped carefully about a shoulder so it draped at his side like a waterskin. Only waterskins aren't this fragile...or this dangerous. The elves' weapons hit the deck just as soon as the pirates' feet did. The Sun's Wrath had been rammed and grappled before its crew could prepare the guns. Nagoda had heard the captain mumble something about the storm and visibility. Nagoda thought he understood -- the elves hadn't seen them coming, so they had the element of suprise -- but he was confused as to how they had tracked the Wrath. She hadn't bothered trying to explain that before they started swinging across to the other ship on long ropes, and clambering across on heavy oaken planks. Nagoda had chosen to take the plank rather than the rope. Captain Nakama stepped forth, having just dismounted from the Wrath's railing and released her swinging rope. She looked upon the surrendering crew, bemused. "Alright, you sorry lot," she called out to the elven crew loudly, so they could hear over the storm, "We aren't here to loot and pillage and rape! Nobody gets hurt! Well, nobody except one of your prisoners. We come for Brinnea Velmon." The elves' captain -- a rather squat and plump Sin'dorei with a long, protruding nose, sunken green eyes, and pale blonde sea-stained hair tied back in a long ponytail -- stepped forth and proudly regarded the trolless, proudly puffing out his chest with its emblazoned sun badge. "I am Captain Varmos, cur! You cannot simply pluck a Silvermoon prisoner from a high-security transport and think to get away with it!" Nakama burst out laughing, and her crew followed suit. Nagoda shifted about uncomfortably. He rubbed the haft of his borrowed harpoon and felt the bundle at his side. I'm so close, but a million things can still go wrong. The trolless captain replied loudly, "High-security? A Silvermoon prisoner? Your ship surrendered awfully easily for a high-security vessel, Pinkear. And this--" she gestured around to the stormy sea, which lapped against the two vessels, forcing their tangled embrace ever closer, "--does not look like Silvermoon to me. This is the Great Sea, captain! The only law that applies is the golden rule. The ones who have the gold make the rules, and I have stolen more gold than I could fit in two ships' holds!" Nagoda piped up impatiently, hoping his deep pipes would be enough to be heard over the storm, "Just bring the prisoner, captain. We mean you no harm. No one wants to give their life defending an enemy's life. Especially an enemy bound for execution anyway." The elf puffed up in pride again. "Any one of my men would gladly lay down their lives to defend Silvermoon's honor! You thieves would seek to strip that honor from us!" Nakama buried her face in her hand before interjecting, "This is all rather moot, captain. You and yours surrendered already! Why waste your breath on pointless posturing?" She stepped forward until her lanky figure towered over him, a head taller at least. She drew a pistol and stuck it under his chin. The elf was visibly on edge. "What do you say? Will you cut the crap and give us what we want?" Varmos exhaled nervously. "You make a compelling argument, captain. Follow me." He pulled way from the pistol slowly. Nakama never moved it, forcing him to pull himself off of it slowly, painstakingly. He about-faced stiffly, and as he stepped toward the hatch to the lower decks, Nakama smirked and gestured with her pistol for Nagoda to follow. He did so. Nakama called for Koro to watch the main deck carefully. "No funny business," she said before ducking into the open hatch, following the elf captain. Nagoda followed, ducking low to get his head and horns in. His heart beat faster with each step of his hooves. So close, and yet so many things could go wrong... Varmos led them to the cells on the second-to-last deck. Every level below the first was filled wall-to-wall with cells that seemed too cramped for even an elf to weather. Nagoda shuddered at the thought of being crammed in one and forced to endure a long journey, full of bumps and waves and booming thunder. The thought of it turned Nagoda's stomach. A few prisoners filled a cell or two here and there on each deck. Nagoda didn't quite understand why they were so oddly spaced out, but he didn't dwell on it long. At last they came to the cell he had waited for. A small human-shaped figure squatted in the corner of the cell, huddled so he couldn't see her face through her two pale hands, small knees, and short tufts of auburn-colored hair. Nagoda's rage began to bubble as he stared at her. "Open the cell," he heard himself mutter. "Open it now." The elf captain dug meticulously at each key on the ring at his belt. Nagoda was growing less patient with each key he checked. The sound of the irons clanking together grated on his ears. Nakama seemed to be growing impatient too. "Can we hurry this up? My crew is less patient that me, and they won't like me being gone from them so long." Varmos finally tried a key in the lock, and it clicked open. Nagoda reached into his bundle and pulled out the Brand. It was an orb with a red-hot brand seared into its surface, rendered in the shape of a coiled dragon. As he held it in his hand, he felt all his rage billow in the hand that the orb rested in. Nagoda's regret for how he obtained it, his reluctance to use it, and even his seasickness drained from him at the feeling of all that rage, centered right in the palm of his hand. He held it so the Brand itself pointed at Brinnea. Nakama dragged Varmos away. "Trust me," she said, "You don't want to be near that thing when it goes off." Nagoda thought he smelled a hint of fear in the air, but he put that aside. "Brinnea Velmon," Nagoda said to the woman in the cell. "Show me your face, and I'll make your end quick." She stirred, her short-cropped hair shaking as she lifted her head. Her two brown eyes looked like doe's eyes. Like human's eyes...not a death knight's. The rage began to fade. "You're not..." She drew a pistol and fired at Nakama. The trolless reacted quickly, but not fast enough. The shot pierced her through the groin, sloppily shot too early after drawing, Nagoda could tell. Nakama's shot was expertly placed, and Nagoda saw a hole appear in the false prisoner's head -- just between the eyes -- before she fell over, limp and dead. "SON OF A BITCH!" the trolless shouted, clutching her groin as blood oozed through her fingers. "YOU FUCKING SON OF A BITCH!" This time, her swears were directed at the elf captain, he still stood still and weaponless. He held his hands up in surrender, but Nagoda saw his face alight with glee. "YOU EXPECTED US! YOU SET US UP!" "Of course," he said smugly, "And you had fair warning. The White Hawk told your tauren friend this was a bad idea. Velmon is too important to allow some vigilante to claim her life on the high seas. Who would believe her truly dead? Her ghost would haunt the Horde forever, literal or metaphorical." The trolless glared at Nagoda, but she clearly intended to address him later. "Are more coming?" she asked with great pain. "Do they know where we are?" "Of course. This ship can be tracked by any Silvermoon mage. The Hawks will be upon you soon. They may already be surrounding you." Varmos grinned from ear-to-ear. "There won't be any escape for you, captain." She drew her sword and buried it to the hilt in his heart. "DIE! DIE FOR YOUR PRECIOUS SILVERMOON! YOUR CREW WILL ALL DIE FOR YOUR FUCKING PRIDE!" The elf slumped over, dying fast. Nagoda could only watch in horror. This was all his fault. All of it had gone wrong because he was too stubborn not to fall for the trap. Varmos uttered one last thing before he expired. "They will die...for Silvermoon...happily. I said...so." Blood gushed from his chest and mouth when Nakama yanked her thin blade out of him. She closed in on Nagoda next, raising the bloodstained blade to his throat. "You knew this would be a trap and you didn't tell me!?" She screamed at him. She wasn't interested in hearing his reply, however. She stormed her way back upstairs as the sound of battle filtered in between the plank ceiling. Nagoda stood there for a moment, dumbstruck. Then the deck shifted suddenly below his hooves and the floor rose to meet him. After that, everything suddenly grew hot and bright. He couldn't hear anything but a high-pitched whine, nor see anything but white light for a steady minute. He could feel his left hand pulsing with a burning power before he passed out. He remembered reading somewhere about the dangers of the Brand, of using it for too long. Then all he could think about was his father, staring at him from beyond the grave. *** Brinnea passed through the portal and stepped into a dimly lit cavern filled with the sounds of clinking picks, shovels buried in dirt, and rocks cracking and falling. Brinnea had seen many rock formations in her time serving as a miner for the Scourge, but these formations that surrounded her seemed unfamiliar at first. Her thoughts drifted a moment to her time with the Scourge, to all their tests and trials. They had tried everything to turn her into a force of death. Grol did, at least. The rest were ready to throw me in a soul forge for spare material. The serious guard turned back to her and unlatched her wrist and ankle restraints. Brinnea could tell her runes would not work here. She figured that would be the case, since the guards who escorted her were the Sin'dorei mage-breakers she had encountered in the campaign on The Isle of Thunder years ago. The Sunreaver mages dressed fairly similarly to the common Silvermoon authority mages, she recalled as well. If mage-breakers were those who escorted her, it was clear they did not intend to take her to an unwarded prison. Between that, and the rock formations she was starting to narrow down based on locations she'd investigated in her travels, she had a decent idea where they had taken her. "An orcish prison. My guess would be Azshara, since mining operations are booming there," she guessed aloud, not really expecting the guards to engage her. She was surprised when the serious guard replied, "Good guess. Welcome to the Azshara Crater. This will be your home until the day of your execution. The warden will have you briefed on the rules here, but there aren't many. No one has escaped from this prison as of yet. It is warded better than the Silvermoon cells, impressively enough, from both inside and outside attempts at magical transportation or any other form of spellcasting. The walls of the mine are thick enough down here to keep you lot digging for a hundred years before you made an escape route. The guards routinely check progress, collect mined ore, and remove any corpses. Occasionally they settle disputes and behaviorally challenged prisoners, but I've heard most shifts don't care enough about your lives to bother much." Brinnea took a look around her "new home." She stood above what seemed to be the primary tunnel nexus -- branches of tunnels stretched out in every direction, including directly below the platform she stood on. She saw prisoners of every variety, build, gender, and every race she could think of. A hozen pushed a chunk of ore across to a pile across from her. A yaungol carried several pickaxes down a tunnel before disappearing in the dark. Three identical earthen dwarves played rock-paper-scissors over a pair of shovels -- one fairly new, and the other partially broken. Brin assumed the loser would dig with their hands. She noticed all of their hands were worn and weathered, and they all looked incredibly dirty, tired, and wore tattered rags. She wondered at something, and thought to ask the guards before they left her there. "What keeps them working? They could just stop, and no one would know." The serious guard answered again, before the stupid one could say something fitting to Brin's new name for him. "A quota is kept, incentives are placed. Clothes and medicine, extra rations. If the quota isn't met, everyone is punished. Usually, the punishment is less severe if the slackers are put ousted by their fellow inmates." Brinnea sighed. Sounds just like home, she thought bitterly. The stupid guard pushed her towards the edge of the platform, which she realized had no railing. The fall was far and the rocky wall was steep. The stupid one cackled at her and said, "You only have to fall once, unless you try climbing back up." Brinnea glared at him. "I'll get out of here. You had better hope I don't remember you, elf." The stupid one slashed her across the face with one of his weapon's blades and she fell backwards, tumbling head-over-heels into the cavern below. She lay still a while, staring up at the platform and the ceiling, feeling black blood dribble down the side of her face. That makes three facial scars. I keep this up, and Charlotte won't even recognize me anymore. She looked around as she brought herself to her feet. The other prisoners didn't seem amused or interested in her or her spectacular fall. A tauren or two eyed her angrily. That was to be expected. An orc passed by, and put a pickaxe in her hands. "Freshy, here's a gift," he said with a slobbering smile. He licked his lips too many times for her liking. "No gift is free, Freshy! I own you now! Hehehe!" She smacked him across the face with the pickaxe. He crumpled over on the ground and babbled madly as blood gushed from his cut-open nose. "Consider us even." She stepped over him to find a good hunk of rock to hack away at. She had some rage to get out of her system.
  11. The guards came for Brinnea as the sun started to pour into the small window of her cell. She stood without complaint or delay, and the process repeated. Enchanted irons on her wrists and ankles, then a slow waddle through the twisted labyrinth of a dungeon. Her left hand itched terribly. She eyed the black-toned corruption in her skin angrily, memories of the witch flooding back to her like waves of hot sand, ripping at her skin. “Don’t bother trying to break the cuffs, Death Knight,” one of the guards said with a snort. He batted her on the back of the head with the flat of one of his weapon’s two blades. Her anger flared again, but she forced it down with a will of ice and steel. I was scratching an itch, fool. I know better than to try and escape. "Elven metal is better than whatever shit they clapped you in at Thunder Bluff. Those tauren and their big, clumsy fingers -- it's no wonder they let you run free for so long." Brinnea ignored the elf as he prattled on patriotically about how superior Silvermoon was. She had her mind on other things. The guard in front of her made a left turn, which cut the guard behind her off in the middle of a sentence. "Isn't the way to the docks the other way," he asked his comrade with a confused tone. Brinnea's wayward thoughts straightened. This is intriguing. One guard knows where we're going, and one doesn't. "Fool," the guard in front said sternly, "Orders came in this morning. A change of travel plans. You would know that, if you bothered to listen to the Captain longer than one sentence." Brinnea felt a twinge of disappointment. What was I hoping for? Someone to break me out? I'm a bigger fool than the oaf behind me. The oaf behind her made a sound of pompous annoyance and replied, "Who sent the orders? The Captain was set on the boats yesterday." "The Captain is no longer in charge of her transport," the guard in front said coldly. Too coldly. He's on edge about...something. Sure enough, he told her what that something was. "The White Hawk is." *** Nagoda felt nervous every time he got on board a ship. And today, the sea shook harder than any other time he had been on the deck. Once before was all, and once was more than enough for me, he thought to himself. He had taken ship at Ratchet to come to Silvermoon, and had only disembarked a week ago. He praised his ancestors when he finally set hoof to ground again. The unstable footing on the deck of a ship set poorly with his stomach, and every peel of thunder sent a shiver up his hide. "Enjoying the weather, Plainswalker?" the captain shouted over the din of the storm. Despite the slimness of her trolless' frame, her voice burst as loud as a boom of thunder and with all the sharpness of a whip crack. "The sea puts me ill at ease," he replied queasily. The woman bellowed a laugh in response. Nagoda bristled proudly. "We tauren were not made to walk a ship's deck and sail the sea. Our hooves are made for running the plains." Nakama hooted. "Koro! This here Plains-Boy says tauren can't sail!" Nagoda rolled his eyes in annoyance, but they grew wide when he saw this 'Koro' the captain called to. He's the largest tauren I've ever seen. He must be greater than Old Cairne in his prime! Koro clopped forward, his hooves falling louder than the storm. Louder than the captain's booming laughter. "Old Koro here's been sailing since he was three years old, Grassyfur," Nakama said with a toothy grin. Nagoda looked up at Koro with unease. The old tauren was grey of fur and scarred all across his face from what Nagoda could only guess was half a dozen different weapons. The big greyhorn glared at him silently. "I--I didn't mean to offend you, elder. Forgive me," Nagoda bowed his head. He supposed it was respectful, but mostly he wanted to look away from that scarred, grey face. Koro said nothing. "He doesn't talk much since he got his tongue cut out," the captain said. She took a long swig from her canteen. Nagoda smelled rum in the salty air. "Why did someone take his tongue?" Nagoda asked, though he regretted it as soon as his grey eyes met his. The captain put the stopper back in her canteen. "I couldn't tell you, he wasn't very forthcoming with--" "SHIP HO! BOW 'N' STARBOARD!" a voice cried out from the crow's nest high above. It reminded Nagoda of a hunter's call from a high peak, sounding out the time for the chase to begin. Nagoda girded himself, hoping the seasickness would fade in the face of his rage. Rage makes you blind, Father said. But Father was dead. And so is she. Soon enough. "STEP LIVELY, BILGE RATS!" the captain roared over the storm, "SUN'S WRATH IS JUST AHEAD! LET'S MAKE LIKE THE STORM AND BRING THE SUN TO HEEL!" A cheer took up in the Tusked Storm's crew. Nagoda joined in, wanting to subdue his sick feeling with anything he could. And the captain's voice filled his heart with courage somehow. The Storm came up on the Sun ram-first. And then the battle began. *** Koro
  12. Nagoda Goldfield clutched the bundle close to his chest, nervously eyeing the brightly painted golems that patrolled the streets of Silvermoon. Anything that could tower over a tauren's height was worth watching with care, and Nagoda had never seen anything near the scale of the elves' city. The artificial color -- bright autumnal reds, yellows, and oranges -- hurt his eyes which had grown accustomed to the verdant plains of Mulgore after years of settling the region. The tauren looked over the note and map he had been sent. The inn he was looking for -- aptly named The Silvermoon City Inn -- had an entrance placed in a region of the city called 'Murder Row.' It did not help Nagoda's nerves much. He decided to take the route through the Royal Exchange instead. It took him longer, and he had to watch those green eyes gaze at him curiously all the way there, but he was happy to avoid any place known for the amount of people found dead in the gutters. The inn itself was dimly lit -- only a bit brighter than the caves of Thunder Bluff or the Red Rocks of Mulgore -- which Nagoda was thankful for. He would have said a quiet prayer of thanks, but his thoughts were cut off by the innkeeper's sudden appearance before him. The man's voice -- Nagoda thought it was a man, anyway -- was highly pitched and tinged with a self-assured tone that put the tauren off. "Welcome to the City Inn, welcome patron," he said with a seemingly friendly smile, "May I treat you to a fine Quel'thalas vintage? Or perhaps a reminder of home? We have some Mulgore firewater in the cellar. We also have rooms and hot meals; so long as you have coin, the City Inn has what you need." Nagoda frowned at the short, stiff-eared man. He found the other races of the Horde were rather forward with social graces. A tavern in Thunder Bluff was a quiet place where one could sit a while and think by a warm fire, but this elven tavern was cold and the innkeeper and his attendants often stood by the guests to offer something – anything to glean more coin from their coffers. Nagoda noticed most elves barely offered the servers a glance when accepting what was offered. That was strange to Nagoda too. But his interests were set on one particular occupant – a trolless sitting by her lonesome at a table with two chairs. One was conveniently tauren-sized. “Humble thanks, innkeep,” Nagoda said gruffly. Despite his nerves, he prided himself on always maintaining a strong presence, at least in the company of the smaller races. “I am here to see someone.” Without waiting for the man to try selling him something else, Nagoda stepped passed him and joined the trolless at her table. He placed the bundle carefully on his lap. He forced himself not to look around to see if anyone was watching. “You took your time, Plainswalker.” She was carving a wooden figurine with a knife. Her fingers as deft as any tauren woodworker’s Nagoda had ever seen. “I was starting to wonder if you were truly dedicated to the cause.” Nagoda bristled and snorted despite his usually calm demeanor. “No one wants her dead more than I. Any who say otherwise can duel me for the honor in the traditional way.” The trolless clicked her tongue warningly. “Mind that big tongue of yours, Nagoda,” she said while sliding the sharp knife along the rough surface of her figurine, “It could get you into some trouble if you let it wag just so. Remember that she is currently out of our reach.” Nagoda huffed. His neck hairs were lowering as he regained his composure. “Not for much longer. Is your crew ready? I am anxious that they may move her early. There were many ships arriving today when I stepped off the boat. Some had a…military look about them.” It was the trolless’ turn to snort this time. Her odd hooked nose vibrated as Nagoda watched. The furless folk never ceased to befuddle him. She spoke, eyes still fixed on her woodworking, “You wouldn’t know a real military vessel from a fishing boat, Grasshoof. Had you ever even seen sand before you came into my camp? I could smell the grass on you the minute you walked into my hut!” Nagoda felt the bundle on his lap, as if afraid it might wander off while they talked. A server came by with a tray of various drinks. Nagoda noticed a troll-style wooden cup and a tauren clay mug as well as the blood elf glass. Nagoda’s large nose twitched at the strong alcohol smell. He took a mug of troll palm wine and placed a pair of Orgrimmar silvers in the elf’s hand. He made an effort not look the server in the eye as he did so. Perhaps that will satisfy them that I am just another customer, he thought bitterly as he took a sip of the sour wine. He tried to hide his distaste from the close watch of the trolless. She had taken the firewater mug, to match his show of respect. At least she has a sense of other cultures. “I saw more than my fair share of human ships when they invaded the Barrens,” Nagoda replied after the sour taste started to fade. “I’ll never forget the look of those ships coming in from the horizon. They looked like birds of prey, gliding across the choppy sea. It takes a lot to make a tauren feel like a mouse.” The trolless took a long drink of the firewater. Nagoda half expected her to cough at the amount she drank, but was left half disappointed. She’s more accustomed to other cultures than I am, that’s for certain. “Colorful metaphors aside,” she said, “The vessel we want is called Sun’s Wrath. An appropriate name, wouldn’t you think?” Nagoda took another sip of the palm wine and swished the sour liquid around his mouth thoughtfully. It’s starting to grow on me. “Father would have thought so. I’m having a hard time understanding An’she’s justice lately. His wrath seems to be cast on those who devote themselves to his radiance and the unholy ones who smite the faithful are allowed to escape untouched.” The trolless shrugged. “This unholy one won’t be getting anywhere,” she said offhandedly, “I don’t suppose you saw the Sun’s Wrath in port today?” Nagoda shook his head. “Then stop worrying so much. I’ve done this dozens of times, and never been caught. You see me sweating through my skin? No, so shut your yap and enjoy your drink. And stop fawning over that stupid thing like it’s some goblin explosive.” Nagoda bristled again. “You’re the one who needs to watch your tongue, fool pirate!” he exclaimed through bared teeth. The trolless snorted. “I only said that to watch your hair stand up. I think it’s cute.” Nagoda made a conscious effort to keep his hair from standing on end. The trolless waved a hand dismissively. “These elves don’t recognize anything outside of their tables when they’re in here, Plainswalker. I frequent this place every time I pull into port. You know how many times I’ve been called a pirate in here? They don’t care. And they would hardly notice if you were carrying a bomb, so stop looking like your about to shed the innkeeper a new carpet.” Nagoda stood suddenly, leaving his drink half-finished. He held the bundle against his chest despite the trolless’ words. “Nakama, remind me why I chose you for this job again.” “Because of my reliability, reputation, and discreetness,” she answered simply. “Some sense of discreetness would set my mind at ease and make this whole business easier for all of us.” The trolless inspected her carving critically, looking for any flaw left over from her broader strokes. “Just ease your mind on it, my furry friend. My crew’s watching the port between rounds at Saltheril’s Haven. With enough shifts, the port’s under constant watch. We’ll let you know the moment the target is moved.” Nagoda took a breath of relief. “Good. I’ll be making a camp of my own between Fairbreeze and the Anchorage. At least the nature around here feels enough like home. Your crew will find me, or I’ll find them.” He turned to leave, only to halt as the innkeeper stood before him. Nagoda frowned again. “Thank you for the drink, friend, but I am very busy and must be going…” “There was a message for you, my good man. Didn’t see the courier’s face. She was in a hurry too.” The innkeeper slid an envelope in the tauren’s hand and flashed him an off-putting smile. Nagoda looked at the seal – an albino hawk. It didn’t mean anything to him, but the innkeeper’s reaction made it seem important. He pulled it open and withdrew the letter within. He was vaguely aware of the trolless leaving out the exit behind him as he read. You are making a mistake, sun of the Lightwalker. Justice’s grip tightens around Brinnea Velmon, and your sense of vengeance puts it all at risk. You believe yourself to be justified in your actions, and perhaps you are. But your actions will only deter justice from being carried out. Enough blood has been shed on the death knight’s account. Don’t make the same mistake as your father. We will be watching. -The White Hawk Nagoda crumpled up the letter and stuffed it in his belt angrily. He stormed out, ignoring the smug look on the innkeeper’s face. Whoever this Hawk is will not stand in my way, he thought to himself as he clomped his way through Silvermoon, uncaring if the golems saw his bundle. They had already seen enough, evidently. Justice died with my father. The Light failed to exact it when it had the chance. And there have been enough second chances where Brinnea Velmon is concerned! *** Captain Nakama Nagoda Goldfield
  13. Brinnea tried to cast a rune. She didn't want a large, easily noticed blast of frost, but a small amount of ice. She felt the usual surge of power flow through her body as a rune activated, but then it all vanished as soon as it appeared. The wards on the cell were top-notch, it seemed. She was not particularly surprised. Now I know, she thought to herself, And I had to know. A guard clanged his baton against a bar of her cage to get her attention. Brinnea had been aware of him before he knew she was, though. She turned her head to look at him -- an average-looking blood elf with his verdent green eyes, chiseled jawline, and vaguely smug expression. He spoke to her unpleasantly, clearly thinking very lowly of her, "You have a visitor. Your only visitor." Brinnea pulled herself up and off the small bed and stood before the cell door as the guard unlocked it. She held her hands straight out in front of her, awaiting the shackles that inevitably clasped around her wrists. She had no intentions of breaking the rules. Not here. The guards escorted her to another holding cell, this one twice as large as her own. She was seated at a finely polished wooden table with red and gold enameling across from an empty chair. The guards who had escorted her stood against the wall near her back as another pair of elves strolled in from the door on the far wall, just behind the second chair. One of the elves was dark of skin, a shade of violet with fel-green markings, short black horns, and flowing black hair like ocean waves in the night. Her hair even shimmered in the dull torchlight as though glistening under a full moon. It evoked a pretty picture in Brinnea's mind, though she didn't much care for the open sea. The demon huntress's brightly lit fel sockets simmered slyly in Brinnea's direction as the elf took a seat in the vacant chair. Brinnea kept her shackled hands in her lap and struck all emotion from her face as she had done a thousand times before. One of the guards spoke. "Ten minutes," he said simply. "You hear that, Brinnea?" the demon huntress said with a voice as silken smooth as her hair, "I do hope whatever you asked me here for won't take too long to explain." Brin replied politely, "Not to worry, Shanoris. I know you have much to preoccupy you of late. Hopefully this favor won't require too much of your attention." Shanoris took a deep breath, tapping her fingernail against the table rhythmically. She was just as Brinnea remembered her, though she had not expected an elf as old as Shanoris to have changed much in only a year's time. The huntress never sat still, never kept her hands from moving for longer than half a minute before fidgeting. And she regarded Brinnea with a blind gaze that spoke of distrust and cynicism. Rightly earned, I suppose. Her sister gave her life so that I could keep mine. Shanoris replied, "Yes, I am sure you noticed the massive new satellite Azeroth just received. Have you ever heard that term, Brinnea? 'Satellite?' It's an astronomical term invented by my people after centuries of gazing skyward with wonder and enchantment. It is a celestial body that orbits another. In this case, it refers to Argus. It orbits us now." She smiled ruefully. "How lucky are we to have such a splendid deliverer as Illidan Stormrage?" "If his methods give you such stress, why did you choose to follow in his footsteps?" Brinnea asked simply. She regretted engaging the huntress in a long-winded tangent with so short a time to spare, but she needed Shanoris' interest to get the job she needed done handled. Shanoris exhaled harshly. "He gets things done quickly, one way or another. I may have lived a long time, but much of that time was spent in a dark cell. At least, I think it was dark. Regardless, I don't like wasting what time Elune saw fit to grant me." "I hope you won't blame me for getting to the point, then," Brinnea said, "She has been appearing in my dreams again. I believe you know of whom I speak?" Shanoris's finger ceased its tapping for a brief moment. "The Black Witch. Nightmares of her are common for you, I'm sure." "You're the one who traded me your family's remedy for nightmares, Fargaze." Brinnea noticed with a hint of satisfaction at the huntress's displeasure at her surname being used to address her. She continued, "The remedies worked, even for a death knight like me. My compliments to your esteemed father. Whatever vision I received to see that witch again was no simple nightmare." Shanoris reclined in her chair casually, but Brinnea could see her face twisting in displeasure at this particular topic. She replied after a short pause, "So, you think the witch may yet live. In whatever form the Legion has seen fit to grant her after her failure. What of it? The Dark Titan is not in the habit of rewarding mortals for failure. Immortals even less so." Brinnea's eyes narrowed skeptically. "You want her dead as much as I. Dead, for good and all. If she were to return to our world, she would not rest until she brought her revenge against us. You and I most of all. We were more instrumental in her downfall than any, except perhaps Charlotte." Shanoris chuckles under her breath. "And how is the little one? Still full of fire, I hope?" "If I didn't know better, I would say she really took after you," Brinnea smiled despite herself. "She still asks about you at times. You left an impression." "And if I didn't know any better, I would say she could make for a powerful Illidari someday. But I know you would never allow it." The huntress grinned as if the thought of denying Charlotte anything were a hilarious joke. Brinnea shared that smile. "Indeed. Would you lay our worries to rest, Shanoris? I may not live long enough to make sure myself. I know you have the means to find out. Perhaps moreso than anyone else I know." Shanoris nodded without hesitation. "Consider it done. If that witch still lingers, I will tear her soul into enough pieces that she will never reform, even if the Dark Lord himself were to try and stitch her together." Brinnea nodded gratefully. "That is a load off my mind. If you wish to see the girl again, ask around for one of your countrymen, a Sentinel commander named Sorel Crescentsong. He'll know where she is." Shanoris stood, nodding. "Perhaps I shall seek her out. But only after this matter is resolved. You can rest assured it has my undivided attention. I must attend to my business before the way to Argus is opened, after all." She began towards the exit, and the guard opened the door for her. Shanoris turned back for a moment, saying, "One thing you should know about life in a cell, Brinnea: it isn't the bars that trap you. Not the chains on your body. The prison of the mind is the greatest cell of all." She left the room, and the door was shut behind her. *** Brinnea Velmon Shanoris Fargaze
  14. Brinnea Velmon was a commoner in the human kingdom of Lordaeron in the years leading up to its destruction. She grew up on stories of the kingdom’s brave defenders and their exploits in the Second War, both in Azeroth and in the Draenor Outlands. She craved tales of her father’s magical prowess, and was thrilled at the idea that one day that power would be hers. But that all fell apart when the Scourge came. She lived long enough to get a taste of her own family – a husband and newborn daughter – and then the undead took her away to be reshaped as a death knight. Her choosing was a mistake – she was destined for an afterlife as a mindless ghoul for the Scourge army, but somehow, she ended up in the wrong pile. She was a gentle, kind spirit with dreams and goals. She had few ambitions, but she clung to those few like a fish to a hook. She refused to give up on them even after her transformation. This is not her story. *** Briseidis Val’roya smoothed a strand of her ghostly white hair over a long, pointed ear as she placed the last stitch in a rug she’d spent the past two months working at. She had lost faith a few times that she would ever get it right, but at last it was in a condition she was proud of. Bright blue eyes lighting up with excitement, she sprang up and ran to her master’s station. She leaned over the table, her pale grey sleeves brushing the tapestry the man was busying himself weaving. “Master Thaelos, I finished it!” she announced, “You were right all along, it was the thread, not the material.” Thaelos Silkblood looked up and lowered his half-moon spectacles to look at her. He regarded her with a knowing smile that said to her ‘Of course I was right, silly girl. I’ve been making better rugs than that for hundreds of years.’ “Well done, Apprentice,” he said instead, kindly, “You’ll be replacing me in no time.” Briseidis smiled, pleased at her master’s kind words. He always knew what to say to make her smile. She thought he could weave smiles better than tapestries, at least until she took a look at one of his masterworks. It didn’t take long for her to change her mind. Reani, the other apprentice, burst into the shop suddenly. She carried a roll of fine parchment in her hand and a satisfied smile on her face. She was a pretty girl, Briseidis had to admit. Her short-cropped blonde hair caught the light like goldenweave and bobbed as she ran like a fine, flowing robe. When she spoke, her voice sounded smooth as silk: “Master, the harbormaster has agreed to your request! We’ll be receiving regular shipments of mageweave, just as you wanted.” The master’s kind smile grew at the news, but Briseidis’ excitement wavered. Securing trade was Reani’s domain where Bris handled manufacturing. She mostly stitched together what the master was too busy to concern himself over – menial things such as stockings and undergarments, gloves and cloth linings for boots, sometimes a few simple cloaks and robes. But what the master lacked was a good instinct for requisitions. Reani had that, as Thaelos’ wife once had, before she left him and his business to start a new one with a different man. Bris tried not to feel envious of Reani, but she was an asset. Bris was merely a charity case. “Fine work as usual, Apprentice,” the master said to Reani. “Let me take a look at the agreement. We have much to discuss, my dear, but first we should toast this success. Briseidis, please go downstairs and get me the bottle. No deal is truly complete until it has been concluded with a glass of wine.” He and the other apprentice began discussing business Bris did not entirely understand. The white-haired girl made her way downstairs wordlessly, hoping that silence would mask her disappointment. The brand-new rug was forgotten. *** Briseidis sat at the same table she always did, in the same tavern they had always visited together. She held an undisturbed drink in her hand – the master’s favorite vintage. Her icy blue eyes regarded the deep, wine red color without a hint of emotion. Then the goblin entered the room, looking nervous and fidgeting with a small roll of paper between his stubby green fingers. He took a seat without ever meeting Bris’s cold gaze. “Did anyone follow you?” she asked, staring at him without blinking. The goblin was sweating through his embroidered black robe as if he were running through a desert. He replied, his voice barely above a muttered whisper, “Nobody. I don’t think…I don’t think she suspects.” “I’m not paying you to think, I’m paying you to know. This won’t work without certainties.” Briseidis tapped a finger on the glass she held. Small chips of ice formed on the edge of the transparent surface. The goblin’s fidgeting sped under her unflinching watch. “What can you promise me, Kozlok?” He cleared his throat and handed over the small scroll. She took it under her hand but didn’t pick it up. “She’ll be there, at that time, expecting another shipment from me. It was a good deal, you understand me? I would never think of breaking a contract if you hadn’t made such a…lucrative offer. Where did you get that much coin, anyhow? You running a business?” She smirked at the goblin, and replied simply, “Inheritance.” She stood and placed the drink down on the table, the glass slightly chilled but untouched by her lips. The goblin watched her now that her eyes were cast at the note in her palm. “So, when do I get the money?” he asked nervously, “I expected you to bring it here, or at least give me an I-owe-you statement.” “You’ll get it when I say you will,” she answered curtly, returning to staring at him harshly. “If she gets a hint of what I’ve planned, this whole arrangement is off. You won’t see a single copper.” The goblin smacked his lips, trying to work up the courage to argue. He finally said, “What if you just make a mistake? Then I get nothing and my business is put at risk. I need some kind of assurance or something.” “Your assurance is my word, which I never go back on. As for mistakes, I never make mistakes. Not anymore. You’ve seen me in action.” The goblin nodded, still not meeting her eyes directly. She started to walk out, unwrapping the scroll. He called after her softly. “So, what’s with the wine? You didn’t take a sip.” “A wise man once said that every good deal should be concluded with a glass of wine.” She turned around and walked out, reading the note in her hand. Sunsail Anchorage by the docks Midday Tomorrow Two guards She wears a red sash across her eyes Bris rolled the note up and stored it in her pocket. Just one more day until it was over. *** Reani and Briseidis sat across from each other by a campfire. Theirs was one of many that dotted the dark landscape in the ruins of the city they once called home. Reani spoke first, bitterness prevalent in her voice, “They took our home from us, Bris. You know it has to be done. The Prince is doing what is best for us.” Bris didn’t look at her, hiding away her eyes by looking at the dark, dead ground. “The fel is dangerous, Reani,” she muttered tiredly. “We shouldn’t use it so lightly. It can change us. You’ve seen what it can do to people.” “We aren’t using it lightly, fool girl!” the other apprentice spat back at her, “It’s our only option! Don’t you want to fight back against those mindless freaks that took our home? That took Master Thaelos?” Bris would have wiped the tears from her face, but since losing the Sunwell, she barely had the strength left to do much of anything. She hardly ate or moved all day unless the Prince decided their camp needed to relocate. She knew Reani had already started tapping into the fel magics some of the mages had been showing to the elves. The blonde girl’s normally blue eyes were starting to look greener every day. Bris replied, her mind growing foggy as she did, “I just…don’t want us to…lose who we are. I only want Silvermoon…to remain as beautiful as it is in my dreams.” She started nodding off. Reani sighed and moved to her side of the fire, wrapping a blanket around her friend tightly. “That is all that’s left of that Silvermoon, sweet sister. Only dreams.” *** Briseidis watched Reani and her two Broken guards exit a portal by the docks, just as the note had said they would. The sun shone high overhead, just as she expected. When this was over, the goblin would get his money, and it would all finally be over. She drew her curved saber and stepped out, pale white armor glittering in the sunlight. The first Broken draenei shouted out as he spotted her. His weapon was drawn by the time she death-gripped him off his feet. He slid to a stop before her, lying on his back. Her saber pierced his heart and froze him inside out. Reani gaped at her angrily, a red sash over her eyeless sockets, glowing with a fel green tint. Briseidis yanked her blade from the dead Broken’s chest and pointed the curved tip at the second guard at Reani’s side. White frost splashed across the demon hunter’s side as she sidestepped away from her guard. The Broken gasped desperately, trying in vain to catch a breath. Bris knew it was pointless, that his lungs were frozen straight through. It wasn’t the first time she’d killed that way. Reani’s glaives were in her hands. She lunged forward with a wordless, savage shout on her lips. Bris expected that. Reani always lunged first, and asked questions after cutting the foe to bits. The first glaive glanced off the edge of her saber expertly. The second swung short of her gorget, slicing air like shearing a sheet of cloth. Reani growled, bearing teeth like a wolf’s fangs at the woman who was once her friend. “You thief! Betrayer!” the blonde, horned elf screamed as she slashed and ducked, weaving about Bris like a dancer doing her steps. The blue-eyed knight countered with steady steps, not as graceful or quick, but just as expertly practiced. Saber and glaive met with the clash and shriek of metal on metal. “You stole the money! You plotted against me! Tell me why!” Briseidis said nothing. She was busy watching for her opening. Reani made a wild cut to clear distance. Then, her red sashed face glowed with a deadly fel heat. Green flames erupted from her face, directed at Bris. All the while, the demon hunter shouted at the top of her lungs, “TELL ME WHY!” Briseidis surrounded herself with a shell of green runes. The flames died on contact, but her body’s power grew. Green fire cooled to blue frost. Bris had found her opening. She lunged through Reani’s flames and sliced at the woman’s gut. Her saber sang like a winter breeze, cutting through leather, skin, and guts. When the flames had died out completely, Reani was kneeling, her glaives fallen to the ground as she clutched her glistening red cut desperately. But Bris didn’t stop now. She could see Reani sliding a hand towards a dagger hung on the back of her belt. The blue-eyed elf aimed a cut at the back of the demon hunter’s neck. The impact was held back from full-strength; she didn’t want to kill her too quickly. Instead of snipping off her head, she cracked her vertebrae. She would be alive a little while longer as the frost fever quickly spread across her spine. Reani fell to the ground, paralyzed. Bris kicked her so she would face straight up towards the high noon sun. She looked down at the bleeding woman. White frost stole the color from her neck, and quickly snaked its way across the rest of her body. The green glow was dying out in her eyeless face. The red sash had been burned straight through, revealing empty holes in the blonde woman’s head. “Why?” she managed to croak as frost choked the breath from her throat. Bris wondered how she could explain it all. Explain why she had stolen their master’s inheritance and used it to plot Reani’s demise. Why after her friend had reappeared from years of imprisonment by the Wardens, she had been unable to face her until now. Should she explain that she couldn’t trust the Illidari who claimed to be protectors of Azeroth? Should she explain how she had always felt jealous of Reani for getting the master’s close attention, and all of his inheritance? How after she had fought and bled to protect the blood elves, and Reani had betrayed her and their home both to follow Illidan, an outsider and a betrayer? She said none of those things. She knew not a word of it would make a difference to the dying woman she had once called friend. There was only one thing she could say before she drove her sword down into the demon hunter’s heart and snuffed that green flame out forever. “For Silvermoon.”
  15. Leon approached the village from the north, mounted on his warhorse. They watched him as he rode into the parameter with skeptical eyes and tight grips on their spears and hatchets. The tusked, toothy faces glaring at him as he followed his guides deeper into the village set him ill at ease. Savages, all of them. Not a scrap of silk or even wool. Leather and linen as far as the eye can see. Oh, and the stench! The knight tried his hardest not to react to the smell of rotting fish meat and whatever else polluted the air. Trolls wouldn’t have been my first choice, but thank the Light Lord Walden didn’t send me to the ogres. I would have slit my own throat and be done with it! His guides sprayed some Zandali dialect at him that he obviously didn’t understand. The trolless translator wearing a collar around her neck interpreted the command in the Common tongue: “She asks that you remove yourself from your horse and follow her into the caves.” The caves in question were gloomy and humid. A horrid air flowed from within, setting Leo to sweltering under the summer sun. He hoped it would at least be cooler inside. Better wet and cool than wet and hot. The knight began to dismount, and replied to the translator, “It’s ‘dismount,’ woman. Not ‘remove myself from my horse,’ that sounds ridiculous and takes too long to say. ‘Dismount.’” The translator bowed her head, though it made her no less tall in comparison to the human, who stood a solid head’s length below her. “I apologize, lordship. She asks that you – dismount – and…” “And follow into the caves, yes. I understand,” the knight interjected, waving his hand impatiently. “Please, tell the huntress to take good care of my steed. Feed her well, brush her down, and try not to eat the damn thing, she was expensive.” The translator blinked, trying to think of the words quickly, then she spoke Zandali to the huntress in a polite manner. The huntress laughed boisterously, rousing a hearty chuckle from her spear-wielding posse. She spoke a quick line of her native tongue and a troll split from the group to take the knight’s horse elsewhere. The huntress urged him to follow once more. The caves were even more humid than Leon had anticipated, though fortunately it was cooler than the outside, sunny air. If I sweat any more than I already have, I’ll rust my armor, he thought to himself bitterly. The huntress spoke to the knight, and the translator relayed the message attentively, “In these caves, we train our young from birth to learn the hunt. They receive their markings, spears, and clothes by proving themselves in the wild.” Leon looked around at the scene. The young trolls, no older than ten, were all naked and unmarked as the adult hunters all were. They ran around, fighting one another or mimicking a hunt with sticks instead of spears. The children older than ten were all lightly clothed in small bits of leather or linen loincloths. They carried spears made of wood and stone. The young adults wore the bulk of the armor from what he could gather. Leather covered their vital parts, but left their arms, necks, heads, and of course, their feet all exposed. Among them, some carried stone axes, polished wooden clubs, leather straps fitted with raptor claws or old troll tusks, a few had rudimentary bows, but the vast majority were armed with crude spears. The older trolls, more seasoned in combat by the looks of their scarred bodies and many tattoos, were practicing some strange battle tactics in a patch of dirt by a pool of spring water. They wore cloaks and hoods that covered their whole bodies with grass, and when they lay flat along the ground, they appeared – impressively enough – as ordinary patches of vegetation. They were drilling a crawl that looked almost like ordinary grass moving in the wind. Leon noted that as a potential asset. Many other adults were engaged in other sorts of activities. Out in the open, most by the pools filled from the ceiling streams, unclothed trolls copulated loudly and violently. Leon was intrigued. He had never been with a tolless before. Their bodies were lithe, tall, and strong. Rugged and unkempt, they dominated males just as much as the men dominated them. He also noticed their ornaments, both dressing the environment and the trolls’ own bodies. Most were either carved wood or bones. Many of the older, more battle-hardened trolls wore jewelry with human or orc body parts wreathed together. He noticed several pink and green ears, severed tongues, shriveled eyes and heads, fingers and toes, and one imposing warrior wore enough bones to count for a full suit of armor. The fetishes and totems scattered about or in the hands of shamans carving them were made of wood and bone. All of them had faces shaped into them. Some of them had rotting pieces of corpses scattered around them or attached with wooden stakes or twine. He noticed back at the entrance a pair of totems with two arms and legs each, a human and an orc head dressed with a mask on either of them, and a torso strung up by dark, withered-looking entrails. It repulsed Leon, those corpses strung up like scarecrows, but it also intrigued him. This is what awaits our foes, after all. “Those that do not return from a hunt feed the birds, which in turn are hunted. That way, the spirits of the Witherbark Tribe never fail. The Witherbark may lose many warriors in battle, but they always get their revenge.” The translator’s eyes dropped sadly at the last part. Leon ran his gaze across the collar around her neck. A war slave, is she? She seems to belong more to a jungle tribe than a forest tribe. Leon noticed that they were following a pathway marked by tapestries shaped like spiderwebs. He inquired as to their purpose. In response, the huntress’ words were translated, “The Witherbark bow to the Loa of Shandra, the spider queen. These tapestries mark the tunnels that only those of the chieftain’s family or invited guests may enter. Those who come uninvited will be cursed by the Loa for all time.” Leon forced himself not to scoff disrespectfully. Loa curses? As if this failing tribe could muster up the power to affect me. The group now stood before a dais with a chair crafted out of bones and leather resting atop it. The dais overlooked all of the Witherbark Cave. A pair of pillars made of stone flanked the dais on either side, along with a pair of torches, casting an eerie light on the large troll seated on the throne of bones. The huntress guide fell to her knees and bowed low to the man in the chair. She chanted in Zandali, and her chant was answered by the voices of the other hunters. The translator urged Leon follow their lead and bow. He reluctantly did so, noticing he was now completely surrounded by spear-wielding hunters and watched closely by the chieftain’s guards. The chief barked something in his tongue and the group stood. The translator was urged to move forward and stand beside the dais to speak for the chief. Leon was announced by the huntress, then the chief responded loudly. He must have had the largest pair of lungs of anyone Leon had ever met. The translator spoke like a mouse in comparison, “The Mighty Majin’ba welcomes you to the Witherbark Caves. He wonders why a human would have the courage to face him so directly and ask that he lend the Tribe to his cause, a human cause.” The seated troll scratched his chin pensively at Leon. The troll was huge: if standing he would have been easily over eight feet tall, a full foot taller than any other troll Leon had seen in the tribe. And he was far from lean as many trolls were. His muscles rippled and veins popped in both arm and leg. His body was largely uncovered, though he wore leather armor across his abdomen and a raptor skin across one shoulder with fangs and claws jutting out of the pauldron. He wore a massive necklace across his chest with countless trophies from his hunts. Leon noticed human and orc teeth, raptor and buzzard talons, and a large purple jewel set in the heart of the amulet. That necklace must have been worth more than anything else the tribe owned. But even more impressive was the weapon lying along the man’s lap. It appeared to be a blade of sorts, but shaped large and flat like a club. Along the edges of the wooden “blade,” jagged bits of obsidian were set like razor-sharp teeth. In the wood, a scene depicting hunting, spiders, and skulls crushed under a large foot were carved. Leon replied to the chief’s inquiry respectfully, as the troll seemed the type to be angered easily, “Honorable Chieftain, I humbly thank you for accepting me into your fearsome domain.” The translator spoke his words in Zandali as he went on, “I was also very glad when our messengers returned with word of your interest in our plans. The Knights of the Silver Hand are always open to accepting new allies into the fold. There are many enemies we share in common. However, today I am not here to ask you to pledge yourselves to our order and offer undying loyalty. No, you deserve better than a demand for service. Instead, I come before you to ask of you, oh mighty warrior, to help us help you help us all.” When the slave troll translated the phrase, the chief and many of the gathered hunters gave Leon a confused look on the brink of anger. The chief’s brusque words were translated, “The Great Chieftain demands you cease the flattery and confusing words and get to your point.” Leon took a deep breath, calming his nerves, and cleared his throat. He extended his arms outward and spoke again, “Honorable Chieftain, too long have you and your people been oppressed under the thumb of knights and Horde warriors. Too long have you stood by while the world surpassed you in greatness. Too long have you stalked the shadows only dreaming at achieving the vastness of the once mighty Zandalari Empire. What you have here is mere trash before the greatness of an empire. And that is what I offer you today, Mighty Chief! The chance to claim an empire for yourself!” He paused, waiting for the seated troll to decide the merit of his words. “The Grand Chieftain wonders how you are to grant the Witherbark an empire. He also expresses his distaste at the thought of receiving the power as a gift from a human, let alone a knight of an order long known to oppose his claim to the land. The Witherbark do not trade and do not receive gifts from old enemies. What they earn they earn through right of conquest and strength.” The chief finished his last line by thumping his surprisingly solid throne with a fist. Leon grinned. It was all playing out according to plan. “Honorable, Wise Chieftain. You are right. Conquest is the only true path to glory. Even a pious knight such as myself know it to be true. That is why I extend an invitation to join in a conquest already under way. As we speak, my enemies conspire to oppose me and my Order from their home in the south. Greenwarden’s Grove, a sanctuary for elven cowards, stands defiantly against myself and my allies. I have no use for the Grove itself, but its defenders must be punished for their blasphemy. They conspire with your enemies as well! The Knights of the Ebon Blade butchered your former Chieftess, Ojin’ba, in Stromguarde. Not only did this show a horrendous dishonor by underhanded tactics, it also removed your last foothold in the once great fortress. But, if you ally yourself with us, we will aid in your reconquest of the fallen city, and we will leave you to spread your tribe to the Wetlands, starting with the Grove. You may make use of the land as you see fit. All I ask is you pledge yourself to the right cause. Your own. Do what will make your people strong again!” The chieftain sat in silence a long while. He had stopped scratching his chin and started rubbing the jewel at his chest fondly when the knight had mentioned Ojin’ba. Leon wondered if the jewel might have been a gift from his former mate, who had led the Witherbark’s efforts in Stromguarde earlier that year. The entire cave seemed to have drawn quiet when Leon’s words had been fully translated. At long last, the chief stood from his throne, hefting his brutish weapon from his lap. He walked close to Leon, hunching over to gaze the knight in the face with his dark green eyes. He spoke a word, and Leon tensed, the troll’s weapon close to his face. Then the translator said, “Yes.” The chief tore his gaze away from Leon and spoke to his people. The translator drew closer to Leon to be heard over the Chief’s roar, “To my people, I promised this: we will slay our foes to the south, we will hunt them down like prey, we will impale them on our totems and leave their dismembered corpses to fry under the sun and be eaten by the bugs! We will build an empire to rival the Zandalari! A spear, we shall be, for the Loa to strike at their foes! This Greenwarden’s Grove will fall to us and these Knights of the Silver Hand! It shall be a new home for out tribe, one through which we will extend our reach as we once did from our home, Shandra’alar! Our empire will spread! Our numbers will grow! Our warriors will taste the blood of our foes! And at long last, we will have Stromguarde, the defiant human castle, to do with as we please! Then we shall reap our vengeance as is the way of Shandra! The Knights of the Ebon Blade will fall so that Ojin’ba’s spirit may forever hunt alongside our warriors! This I swear before the Loa! This I swear before you! For I am Majin’ba! I am death itself!” By now the cave was alive with the warcries of the trolls. Spears shook, long limbs waved rhythmically. War dances were employed to honor the vow of the chieftain. From below, drums were beat and the traditional troll flute was played to echo along the walls of the cave. Voices lit up in the midst of the tribe’s music, singing Zandali rhymes to the Loa. The slave translated the chorus the huntress led the people in singing, “We sing this song so that it may be heard in the realm of the spirit. We sing this song so that our enemies may hear it and tremble.” For a brief moment, Leon truly believed that far to the south, the Night Vanguard heard their death singing to them
  16. Christa raced through the dark blue-tinged woods with Charlotte in her arms. Her only thought was to get the girl out of harm’s way. If Brinnea survived the battle that was inevitable, they would find each other later. The girl in her arms wriggled and shouted, making the journey rather difficult. “Let go of me or I’ll burn your face off!” she shouted, little fists pounding at Christa’s breastplate. “Stop that! I’m trying to save you, girl,” the knight replied. “I don’t know you! Mama says never to trust strangers!” “I knew your mother years ago. She’s in for a rough fight back there, and I don’t know if she’ll make it out alright. I have to make sure they don’t hurt you.” “My mother never loses! She’ll come and find us and she’ll hurt you!” With a flash of arcane light, the girl vanished from Christa’s arms. The paladin gasped and began to panic, whirling around trying to spot her in the dark. “Charlotte! Charlotte, wait!” she shouted after the girl. No response. She growled angrily and kicked a tree stump. An arrow landed beside her foot. Jumping backwards, she tore her sword from its sheath and took on a defensive stance. “Don’t be foolish, Knight of the Silver Hand,” a voice echoed all around, its source invisible. “You could never see my arrow coming, much less stop it from penetrating your skull. Put the sword down.” Christa cursed and did as she was bid. “Who are you?” she called out into the dark, “What do you want?” A figure dressed all in black, from his hat to his long overcoat all the way down to his leather boots, appeared to her side with a black arrow drawn on his black bow. All she could see of the man’s face were his grim, unamused blue eyes. He kicked her sword far out of reach. “It’s not about what he wants,” a second voice said, its source appearing just behind the paladin. He was dressed in the outfit of a Gilnean noble, and carried a rifle and a very long knife. “It’s about what’s best for the girl.” The snap of a branch drew Christa’s attention up to the top of a nearby tree. In it sat a man wearing a brown vest partially concealing a pair of pistols. He held a machete in one hand, and Charlotte’s bright red hair in the other. The girl’s throat was threatened by the edge of the long blade, forcing her to stay still. Christa scowled at the nobleman. “Let her go, now!” The nobleman laughed with amusement. “You don’t give commands, girl. I am a lord of Gilneas, and you are just some fat, upstart bitch who tried to steal my new ward. Normally for stealing I would only take a hand, but in this case, you stole a noble lady who is quite valuable to me. I will take your head for that, and leave the rest for the crows.” He snapped his fingers and more men appeared in the shadows from all around. Christa couldn’t count them all, but many of them carried rifles aimed at her. The lord stepped forward and aimed his rifle at her leg. “You make a move and I make your death slow.” He leveled his knife to her throat. A lance flew through the hand that held it. The lord screamed in pain, and his rifle went off. But it was off-target and hit the ground beside Christa’s leg instead. Instinctively, Christa threw a protective shield around her, just as the black-garbed man’s arrow flew at her head. Gunshots rang out in the night, some aimed at her and others elsewhere. She didn’t stop long enough to see where. Christa raced towards her sword, and scooped it up in a swift motion. The man in black was aiming at her again, but before he could take a shot, a death charger screamed its way right over him. He was thrown to the ground violently, and stopped moving. The lord with the spear through his arm was shouting at his men to stop whoever was attacking, but with all the gunfire, Christa couldn’t hear what exactly he said. She formed a hammer of light in her left hand and hurled it at the man in the tree. He took the blow to the chest and slipped off the branch into the foliage below. Charlotte blinked out of existence and reappeared beside Christa. The paladin took the girl around her arm protectively. “Do you believe me now, girl?” “Yes,” the girl replied with a smile. “But I was right too. Mama’s here!” Christa grimaced at the sight across the clearing. Brinnea certainly was here, and she came with a vengeance. She rode through the line of gunmen, her sword and knife flashing deadly blue arcs wherever she rode. Blood flew faster than the gunshots, and soon the Gilneans were routed. The lord had been helped onto a horse by two of his men and rode off into the night. The man in black remained unconscious on the ground. Christa checked for the brown-vested man and found he’d disappeared as well. Gone just as quickly as they arrived, she thought sourly. Brinnea rode over to Christa and the girl, her armor, horse, and blades equally stained with blood. She looked no worse for wear: her armor was dented in a few spots where gunshots had ricocheted off, but no hits had landed directly. She was an expert rider, just as Christa remembered. The death knight glowered down at her, blade still in hand. “Release my daughter, Silver Knight, or I’ll cut your arms off and beat you to death with them.” Christa let Charlotte go, and the girl ran to the horse, hugging it happily. “Hey, Sparklehoof! I’m glad you showed up, boy!” The girl stroked the undead horse as if it were a pet dog. Christa gave her a confused look, but said nothing of it. “I didn’t take her to hurt her, Brinnea. I was trying to keep her from harm. The other knights were using her to lure you into a trap, but it seems to have backfired on them. They expected to use those other paladins in the village to bolster their numbers, but you arrived just as the Ebon Blade did, seeking justice for their order.” Brinnea eyed Christa carefully, a hint of recognition and much sternness written across her scarred face. It was difficult to see, but Christa could tell it was the same face as the little girl she had known. It was masked by a stony expression and a scarred exterior, but she could sense the warmth of old lingering within. The death knight replied, “It didn’t matter how many there were. Their fate would have been the same. Pawns for Lord Walden’s game, perhaps, but dead pawns when I was done with them. You are no exception. You took part in my daughter’s kidnapping, did you not?” “I did, but I had no choice,” Christa replied truthfully. She had taken a vow to obey the orders of her superiors, so she did. “Then there isn’t much left to say, is there? You put Charlotte’s life at risk, so yours is forfeit. Take up your sword if you wish, it will not save you.” Brinnea kicked and her death charger trotted forward. Charlotte cried out, “Wait, mama!” and the charger was halted. “She said she was trying to help, mama! Don’t hurt her. She says she knew you, too.” The girl clung to the side of the horse’s saddle, beseeching her mother. Christa drove her sword into the dirt. “The girl speaks truly. You may not recognize me, but I sure as fel recognize you, little sister. I’m the same Christa Velmon who carried you from Andorhal to Gilneas. I’ve been hoping to find you ever since the Wall fell, and now we finally meet.” *** Leon grunted and groaned all the way back to Windrunner Village. He had hidden among the trees until the others had all cleared out, all the while healing and bandaging the wound in his knee. It still stung like a hot poker was jabbed under his kneecap, but he pressed himself to limp forward all the same. Nalysia’s plan had failed spectacularly. All the knights in their party were dead now, except for him. Well, myself and Christa, and the draenei bitch, I suppose. I’ll deal with both of them shortly, though. He had suspected Christa would turn against them from the start, but Nalysia didn’t bother dealing with it. The dumb tauren bitch just wanted to get the whole thing over with, as if it were some chore. She thought the whole thing was beneath her, like it was grunt work. Her pride had blinded her to how dangerous the game was. Leon had seen it all, and that’s why he was still alive, and the rest were all dead. He returned to the camp to find all the squires dead, stuck to the ground with their spears stuck through their backs. Leon cursed. On top of everything he had to deal with today, he also had to make his own dinner. There was no way that tasty-looking deer was anywhere near warm by now. I wonder who killed them? Some cutthroat happening to pass this way? The local militia? But he saw no signs of tacks leading into the camp. Those Blood Knights had never bothered to check the whole village for anyone else before parading themselves back to Silvermoon. Then he noticed bloody prints in the shape of hooves leading around the nearest hut. Something wrapped around Leon’s neck and pulled taut. He choked, yelling with effort to try and pry the garrote off his neck, but it remained fast on him. A voice shouted in his ear, “You are no knight! You are just a brigand in fancy armor! A savage rapist! I’ll tear your Light-damned head off!” Velbina shouted, applying all her strength to strangling the man with what he supposed was an old silk curtain or something. I will not die here, he thought to himself as his vision went blurry. I will not die in some Light forsaken elf ruin strangled by a blue goat woman! He kicked hard, shoving her backwards. They fell onto something, and she screamed. Her grip loosened. He fell forward, coughing raggedly and gasping for air. Slowly, his vision returned and he could take long, but non-ragged breaths again. He looked back at Velbina. The draenei had fallen backwards through one of the spears stuck straight out of a squire’s belly. Her body fell down through the spear slowly, oozing blue blood out of her intestines. She was still alive, and screaming at the top of her lungs. Leon sighed, and drew his sword. “Will…you…shut up!” he shouted between heavy breaths. He shoved his sword through her chest so he would collapse a lung. She continued bleeding to death slowly when he withdrew the blade, but now she couldn’t get enough air to scream. Only enough to gasp and sputter as she drowned in blood spewing from her mouth. “Much better,” he remarked while cleaning his blade casually. Then he sheathed it and trotted off to find himself something to eat. Maybe I will get a decent meal, after all
  17. Sister Freida had been an orphan matron for half of her life now. She had started an orphanage in Ironforge many years ago before she realized her aid was needed elsewhere. After that, she had moved to Lordaeron to safeguard the children made orphans by the Scourge War. Of all the children Freida had ever taken in, Charlotte was by far the most energetic. Now she lived in Thelsamar, watching over the child full-time for Brinnea Velmon. The old dwarf paladin could not keep up with the child’s energy anymore. Somehow, late in the night, Charlotte had collapsed from exhaustion and had gone to sleep in her bed. Freida was just tucking her in when she noticed a pair of yellow eyes staring at her from the corner. She jumped, frightened, but it was just Brinnea’s other child, August. The boy had been raised by worgen during his younger years, so he acted much like a wild dog rather than a normal human boy. He was unnervingly quiet, and could move fast when he wanted. He often spooked Freida in the dark with his unnatural stealth. “August!” she chided quietly, so as not to wake Charlotte, “You nearly gave me a heart attack! Shouldn’t you be in bed?” “I don’t sleep much,” the boy said simply. He had not learned the Common tongue until this year, so he often said little if he said anything at all. “Trouble sleeping, boy?” she asked sweetly. “I could brew you a lemon tea that would help you with nightmares, if that’s the sort of trouble you’re having. I know how much you like my lemon tea!” The scruffy boy smiled and nodded. She ruffled his hair affectionately and set to work on the tea. There was a storm out tonight. Thunder boomed and rainfall echoed on the hilltop the hovel was built into. The weather didn’t bother Freida much, but August seemed frightened of the sounds. He shrunk into a corner away from the fire, shivering each time the thunder pealed outside. Freida waved him over to her side. “Come sit by the fire, August. It’s far too dim over there.” The boy did not budge. The dwarf sighed, set a kettle of water over the fire, and walked over, sitting down beside the boy. “It’s only a storm, boy. Nothing to be scared about.” A loud boom sounded just outside the door. August yelped and shrunk his head into his arms, trembling. Freida regarded the front door with confusion. Am I imagining things, or did someone just bang against the door? Another bolt of lightning let off a loud boom, and she shook off the feeling. “That one was a bit close, huh? Not to worry, child. We’ll be alright.” Another boom broke the door off its hinges. Freida gasped and stood between the dark silhouette at the entrance and the children. August shouted and tried to dig himself further into the dark corner. Charlotte was stirring in bed, rubbing her eyes. She saw Freida grabbing her hammer and muttered sleepily, “Wha—what’s going on? Sissy Freida?” The silhouette at the door entered the house, walking down the dwarven stairs and leaning to avoid hitting its head on the low-cut ceiling. It was a tauren woman, dressed in a Sunwalker’s regalia and armor. Sister Freida took up her hammer warningly. Then another figure entered the hovel. And another. And another. Soon, the room was filled from one wall to the other with paladins baring weapons. Frieda kept up a brave face. She had faced odds such as these and survived, she was sure of it. That was a long time ago, though. She mustered up all her bravery and said, “What do you knights think you’re doing, breaking into a private residence in the middle of the night?” The tauren gestured lazily at the dwarf’s weapon. “Put that down. You’re outnumbered, we could bury you before you ever had a chance to hurt one of us. We’re here for the girl.” The tauren pointed at Charlotte, who was now fully awake, and stood on the bed in her pajamas. “You’re bad people, aren’t you?” the five year-old questioned harshly. “Mama said if bad people ever tried to take me, I should do this!” She cast a fireball that flopped on the floor at the tauren’s hooves. The two men in the group laughed. Frieda gestured for Charlotte to stay behind her. “No, child! Don’t do anything reckless!” “Oh, I like her spunk,” the human knight said with a cocky grin. “Can I have her after we kill the dwarf bitch? I haven’t had one that young in a long time.” “No, Leon, you great big pervert,” the group’s dwarf said with a slap to the man’s back. “We’re not to harm the girl. Orders are orders.” “Indeed. Take the girl, no harming her,” the tauren said, drawing closer to Frieda. The old dwarf was backed up almost to the bedside. “And the dwarf? Surely we don’t need her,” the elf of the group said, clearly bored. “Kill the old woman, but spare the boy. He’ll send the death knight a message for us.” With that, they were on Frieda. Her old instincts kicked in quickly. She threw a shield of light up around her just as two swords aimed at her neck fell low. With both the elf and the human guarding low, she aimed high. Her hammer crumpled the elf’s breastplate like it was made of tin and sent him falling over on his backside. He gasped loudly, his lungs crushed by the weight of the swing. Frieda growled as her shield dropped, and blocked a vicious high swing made by the man, Leon. The human aimed high again and again, forcing her to compensate for her height by blocking high. His strikes led her away from the bed, leaving the dwarf woman and the tauren to seize Charlotte and August, who both struggled to break free, futilely. Leon’s blade fell from up high, and Frieda tried to block again. But her old arms had grown tired and slow. Leon severed her right hand at the wrist. Blood squirted across the room violently, and the old dwarf paladin fell to one knee, her hammer fallen to the ground. She screamed as pain wracked her body from her bloody stump. Leon kicked her hammer away before she could grab it again. Shivering from the pain, Frieda’s last sight of the children as they were taken out into the storm was fuzzy. She saw August’s terrified yellow eyes looking at her with fear, and heard Charlotte’s loud yells as the knights failed to gag her properly. Tears streamed down Frieda’s face, mingling with blood from her spurting fountain of a stump. She wept not because she was about to die, but because she had failed the children she was sworn to protect. For the first, and last time in her life, she had failed them. “Nighty night, old hag,” were the last words Frieda heard before Leon’s sword chopped her head off.
  18. Sagito and Velbina spent the ride south in silence. Sagito rubbed his sore cheek and stared at her as she rode further and further ahead of him. Every time he felt like saying something, he felt the sting in his cheek grow hotter. Plus, his chest seemed to pinched by some errant pain. The only sound to break the silence was his ragged coughing and the sound of water flowing down his gullet. The two draenei met with their fellow knights on the Arathi highroad as the sun began to set. Velbina hurried to throwing the provisions down for the squires to set up for dinner while Sagito embraced his old friend Baladar. “I am glad we found each other before dark, my elven friend!” Baladar smiled cockily. “You doubted my sense of direction? Our whole company would be on the wrong side of the Gap if the tauren was still leading.” Nalysia shook her head. “You easterners and your roads. This whole continent is damned confusing.” Leon winked at Velbina as she set down a sack of potatoes. “You and our boy have a nice night up north, Velby? I almost missed you two lovebirds after you left. The night elves are depressing as all fel.” Velbina glowered at Leon and tossed a kettle at his boot before storming off. Leon yelped and shouted after her, “Bitch! Watch where you toss shit at me!” He turned to Sagito and barked, “What’s her problem?” The draenei man rubbed his bruised cheek again. “We, uh…didn’t have such a great night.” Clea scoffed, undoing her breastplate with a sigh. “I told you, didn’t I? I told you marrying a fellow knight was a stupid, stupid, stupid idea.” Sagito bristled at the dwarf. “I am an impulsive man. I follow my passions. She just…didn’t understand--,” he was cut off by a long string of coughs. Baladar cocked his head at his friend. “You doing alright, Sagito? That cough sounds nasty.” “I’m…I’m fine. It’s just a…a tickle in my throat,” he reassured between loud hacks. He chugged more water from his skin, but he couldn’t hold it down. He threw it all back up, bluer than before. Azure blood poured from his mouth and nose. Baladar’s eyes widened as blue blood leaked from his friend’s eyes and ears as well. “Sagito!” he shouted despairingly. The draenei fell to the ground, and the other knights raced in to stand around him. Christa shoved Baladar out of the way and channeled the Light into Sagito’s chest and throat. She grimaced. “Poison. He’s ingested poison,” she reported with melancholy. “Can you save him? Can I save him? I can heal as well, I could burn the toxins out!” Baladar was nearly hyperventilating as bad as Sagito was drowning in blood. The other knights were silent. Velbina was off away from the others, hands on her mouth in shock. Sagito’s chest stopped moving. The blood stopped flowing. Christa stopped channeling her healing spell and stood. “He’s gone.” She walked off, flicking blue blood off her gauntlets. Baladar stared at his friend’s corpse as the other knights murmured amongst themselves. An uncomfortable quiet settled over the camp. It was broken when Leon glanced over at Velbina, who still stood with her hands over her mouth. Tears were forming in her bright eyes. Leon sucked air through his teeth, nodded to himself and walked over to the draenei women with a smile on his face. “Well, only one proper course of action here.” He punched Velbina in the gut as hard as he could. She doubled over, gasping and clutching at her midsection. Leon didn’t let up. He kicked her with his metal boot again and again, in the chest, arms, abdomen, legs, and face. She screamed and begged for mercy, but he kept kicking. The other knights did nothing. “You poisoned him, huh? You got in a little argument so you slipped poison in his water?! You stupid blue bitch. I’ll show you what the punishment is for killing your man!” He slipped his knife out of its sheath. It was a long, clean, polished blade with a hilt made of solid gold shaped like an elf woman’s body. He grabbed Velbina by the horn and yanked her head up so her throat was shown bare. He held the long blade’s edge against her throat. “Wait!” Baladar shouted, walking towards with his hands raised. “Don’t kill her. Don’t.” Leon looked at him with an unimpressed expression. The blood elf looked at the draenei, his face twisted with grief. “Sagito was my friend. He fought at my side in Shattrath, and came to Azeroth with me when I asked him. He’s always been dedicated and loving. He was the best sort of man who ever lived.” His eyes were downcast and he lowered his hands. He shouted and delivered a punch that broke the draenei’s nose. She yelped and wailed in pain. Leon grinned widely. “You killed my friend! You don’t get to die slow, you harlot! First, I will honor my friend’s memory by having my way with you. Then it’ll be Leon’s turn, then whoever else here wants a go at you before I take you again! Whenever I get bored of you, that’s when you’ll get the death you deserve.” Velbina screamed and begged them not to, but it didn’t deter them. She pleaded for the others to help her, but they all looked the other way, pretending nothing was happening. Christa washed blood off her hands and took up a shovel. While the men defiled the accused woman, Christa dug a grave and buried the dead man. Every scream she heard set her teeth to grinding against one another and her fingers to tense against the wooden shaft of the shovel until her hands turned whiter than fresh snow. The screaming didn’t stop until Sagito was buried, the sun had set, and Christa had eaten and set her bedroll. Then Leon and Baladar returned to camp with the draenei woman in chains. She looked at Christa, and Christa looked back. The girl looked broken and battered. Her eyes showed little life. Christa frowned at her sadly and turned over in her bedroll. She tried to fight the feeling, but no amount of looking away could get the image out of her head. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but no one heard her cry.
  19. A knock at a door. The door opens, revealing a lanky, gaunt man with a bruised face and a downtrodden look. “Gunter Merrygrim, I presume?” Leon the Wit asks, already knowing the answer. He held a friendly smile on his face. “Aye, indeed sir,” Gunter replied with a shaky voice, “You must be with the Silver Hand, judging by the look of you. Are you here about…the death knight?” Leon nodded. “Right, you better come in, then. I was hoping someone like you would show up soon. I’m afraid she might come back and kill me!” Leon entered the lanky man’s dreary estate with a musty taste in his mouth. Surwich was by the sea, a colonial town constructed by Gilnean refugees during the Cataclysm. Leon hated the smell of the sea, and the taste of seafood, and people who lived off the sea. He couldn’t understand why Nalysia would want to send him in to question witnesses, but the tauren had been adamant in her position. ‘You’re a friendly human face, not likely to arouse suspicion. Would you rather me send the blind goblin? He’d probably do a better job than you anyway.’ What he thought she should do he kept to himself. Mostly. He had let slip a comment about marrying the goblin since she seemed to like him so much. Why couldn’t she just send Christa? He thought bitterly, still keeping up a genial look as the lanky man allowed him to sit at his tiny table. At least she has experience dealing with…these people. “Mister Merrygrim, I understand based on what the mayor told me that you were recently taken captive by a force of Naga,” Leon began. “And that a group of private militants assaulted the camp and freed you all?” The Gilnean nodded. “Horrid times for us in Surwich. The Naga came out of nowhere! Swooped in during the night and made off with our fishing supplies. A few of us men tracked them down the coast a ways, and they ambushed us, clapped us in irons, and forced us into the mines for weeks! I thought I’d never see home again.” “Gunter, who’s this then? Is he one of them folks what saved you from the fishmen?” A plump woman with greying curls and an aproned dress strolled out from what appeared to be the only other room in the house with a puzzled expression on her face. Leon raised his eyebrows in mock-surprise and pointed between the lady and Gunter. “Is this the misses?” he asked with a false tone of interest, “She is a beauty, my friend. Name’s Leon, I’m with the Silver Hand.” He introduced himself to the woman pleasantly, offering her a kiss on the hand. She seemed perplexed. Gunter fidgeted when Leon spent just a little too long with introductions. “Well, eh, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. I must say, I did not expect to find a knight in my home tonight!” she fussed with her hair, acting stupid and flustered. Leon could feel his distaste growing, but he forced himself to keep smiling. “Right, Margret,” Gunter said suddenly, “You go on to bed. I’m just answering some of the young man’s questions is all. I’ll be in soon, love.” As Margret padded off in her slippers she gave Leon a starry-eyed look as if she were trying to be flirtatious. Leon wanted to roll his eyes. As if a peasant like her deserves the attention of a noble knight! “Returning to the matter at hand,” Leon said, taking a seat, “What happened the day you and the other men were released?” “Oh, it was frightening! A gunshot echoed off the hills, then another and another. A pair of the Naga slithered off to see what was happening and then a pair of warriors in plate, a woman and an elf, charged into the camp and took on the rest. Before I knew what was happening, the snakemen were all dead and some explosion went off in the hills. Then two more of these folks showed up, and a pair of them were wearing blue tabards with a white bird of some sort stitched on.” “A white bird on a blue field, eh? I’ll make a note of that,” Leon interjected with all the politeness he could muster. His interest in the conversation was quickly wavering. “Yes, I’m sure it will be useful to you. Anyways, the woman I recognized quickly. I’d known her once, long time ago back in Gilneas before the fall. Only, she’d been carried off by the Scourge before and no one had seen her for years! But my brother, a soldier type, he wrote letters from the front in the Isles and told me all about how the Lady Commander he worked under had this grudge against a death knight with the same name as this woman!” “A fascinating tale, to be sure.” “Right? Well, here’s where it gets melancholy-like. My brother died in the Isles. His whole camp got overrun the way the letter told it. I found out later from the mayor that she was responsible for it. That death knight woman I knew from way back. She’d gone after Lady Blackmane – the Lady Commander my brother fought for – and ended up getting the rest killed because of it. Damn wench. I knew I recognized her that day, but she denied it. A liar and a murderer, that’s what she is! You gotta bring her down before she does worse! I got my family to think about: my wife in the next room and my kids upstairs. We don’t stand a chance if she comes back!” “Not to worry on that front, Mister Merrygrim,” Leon said with a smile. “My fellow knights and I are working on bringing her down. I just need to know, what was this woman’s name?” Gunter Merrygrim grimaced. “Not right to say the name of a condemned woman in a man’s own house. It’s damned bad luck!” Leon banged his armored fist into the table, losing his patience. “Say the name! Please…I need to find her and I don’t have much time. She could strike any day now with the way the Ebon Blade have been acting lately. You’re my best hope of saving lives, Mister Merrygrim.” His face pale from fright, suddenly seeing a veiled threat behind the knight’s eyes, Gunter replied nervously again, “Brinnea Velmon. That’s her name. She and her mother and sister used to visit my fish stand in Gilneas City. It was years ago, but she was a loyal customer, right up to the day of her wedding.” Leon calmed down some, unclenching his fist and adding some warmth to his callous smile. “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? No bad luck here, paladin’s honor! But before I take off after this ‘Brinnea Velmon,’ was there anything else she might have said or done that stood out to you? The name of a place, perhaps?” “Well, nothing like that, no. But she did say who we should thank for saving us. She said it was the ‘Night Vanguard,’ I think. Yes, that was it! Night Vanguard.” Leon noted the name. Probably a militant guild of some sort. Nalysia would sort it out. Leon wasn’t interested in that sort of work. He stood from the peasant’s table and invited the man to do the same. “Well, it was lovely meeting you, Mister Merrygrim. You have a lovely home and an even lovelier wife.” He took the man’s hand and shook it vigorously. Gunter Merrygrim looked uncomfortable, but forced himself to smile. “Er, likewise. I do hope you get her in time. I’d hate to see more families suffer for that witch’s crimes.” “Oh, no other families have to suffer at all. Tonight, you made sure of that.” Leon smiled the most genuine smile he could. “Because you’re gonna get us the leverage we need to start ourselves a little witch-hunt!” Gunter looked confused. A knife slid from a leather sheath with a light scrape. A squelching noise followed, and with it a gasp as air was forced from Mister Merrygrim’s lungs. The peasant man collapsed onto the ground, choking as blood poured from his mouth. Leon admired the bloody spot in the man’s shirt, right in his asophagus. The man managed to choke out one final word, “Why?” “Why? Because Brinnea Velmon broke into your house and killed you and your family. At least, that’s what the mayor will assume with he eventually finds you. Once the Gilnean royal army hears about this incident, we swoop in and play enforcer on their behalf. Win-win. Well, not for you, but who cares? You’re just a fish merchant.” Merrygrim gurgled, still clinging to life. Leon was undoing his belt. As he walked past the bleeding man, a bloody hand grabbed his boot weakly. “What is it? Oh, you’re hoping I’ll spare your family, of course. No can do, I’m afraid. Just following orders. Oh, but I’ll make sure your wife’s last moments are the greatest of her life!” *** Nalysia scraped dirt with her hoof impatiently, waiting for Leon to return. When he finally did, he carried that same smug look on his face. She hoped he was satisfied enough not to give her any backchat this time. She greeted him simply, “You get what we came for?” “Oh yeah, the Gilneans will hear about this before too long. And I got the name of the one we’re looking for.” Christa was fully attentive now. Leon flashed her a sadistic smile. “Brinnea Velmon. We have a winner, folks! Somebody give me some money!"
  20. July 19 The road away from home was long and arduous. Lordaeron was in a state of panic even then, before it was discovered Andorhal was the source of the misery. Fitting, really, that my place of birth was also the distribution center for the grain that brought a kingdom to its knees. The Cult of the Damned and its undead minions patrolled the wilderness between Andorhal and the capital, preying on any they felt confident enough to handle. One necromancer and his ghouls ambushed my mother, sister, and I in the night. Somehow Mother managed to fend them all off, but the necromancer threatened to end my life with a deadly spell. Mother shielded me with her body, and I thought she was gone then and there. It was the first time I felt the striking pain of true loss. Christa killed the necromancer after that. She barreled into his leg, toppling him onto the ground, then bashed his head with a rock until he stopped twitching. I don't know where she found the strength to protect us that way, and I regret I never got to thank her for it. Mother survived, but the spell had lasting effects. Too much pressure on her heart lead to lightheadedness or fainting. There wasn't much we could do for her, and she still had to look out for us. Christa stepped up to help fend for us after that. She never complained about working again. I think she wanted to make Mother really proud of her, and couldn't stand to see her suffering so much to protect us. All I could do was whimper. I thank the Light every day Charlotte didn't turn out like me. It was a long journey, but we did make it to the capital alive, all of us. I don't know how long it took after that before Prince Arthas returned to murder his own father. All I remember of those times was some church where refugees were cared for. We stayed there for the entire duration from what I can remember. I had a birthday during our stay, I think. Nine years old and I had already seen a man die, and almost lost my mother. It still wasn't enough to harden my heart to the world. I was soft, weak, and a burden on those around me. Just another victim of this sadistic world we live in. I remember seeing the prince walk through the city with Mother and Christa. We felt so uplifted at his return, only to have our hope crushed in one fell swoop. The chaos the city fell into when it was overrun nearly spelled out our end again. Mother saved us. She took us south through Silverpine, but no matter how far we ran, the Scourge still hounded us and other refugees. Gilneas' border was still open to us then, and gave us safe harbor. I remember not being able to sleep at well for a long time after that. I lay in bed every night, thinking they would come for us again. It didn't matter that we were in the city, surrounded by soldiers at all times and that the fighting was far off to the north. I didn't feel safe anymore, not after Lordaeron. After Arthas. Not until I met Parigan.
  21. The muggy air of the Eastern Plaguelands hung heavily around the stalwart defenders of Light’s Hope Chapel. Seven defenders stood at the gates to the chapel grounds, their shining armor glinting dimly in the muted early morning light flittering out of the blighted sky in the east. Spears had been buried in the soft, dead ground and helmets had been set on the ends of the tall polearms as three of the knights bearing silver hand badges on their cloaks sat around a hollow, open box and a cup full of hand-crafted dice. A blood elf man spilled the dice out into the box and groaned as singular dots appears on all five. The other two – a human man and a dwarf woman – burst out laughing at their companion’s misfortune. The elf reluctantly tossed a gold coin into the other half of the hollow box, increasing the size of the pile. Two of their companions sat off to the side leaning against the mossy white-bricked wall and smoking pipes while staring off into the distance. The pair were a male and female draenei. The woman’s head was on her man’s shoulder affectionately. They seemed content with their place in the world, and grinned off at the dead landscape without a care in the world. A female tauren stood overlooking the dice game with an expression of distaste on her face. She wasn’t upset by the lack of attention or professionalism by the guards at her feet, nor the dusk to dawn watch duty they had been saddled with the past fortnight. Her feeling of disgruntled annoyance was so deep-set that her face always looked like that, no matter who she looked at or what was happening. Her arms were crossed and her hooves scraped against the old cobbled road occasionally. The last knight stood with her back against the wall on the other side of the gate from the draenei couple. Her spear remained at her side, but she remained laid-back and showed no intention of picking it up anytime soon. Her build was large for a human woman. She stood a head taller than most other women and a few stones heavier as well. Her body was round overall, not toned like a warrior woman, but weighty like a lavish noble. In any case, she had a strong presence as she stood high and overshadowed others. Her tangled auburn hair was tied back in a sprawling ponytail. The laid-back woman was the first to catch sight of the approaching figure down the road. It was still far-off – the sight lines from the Chapel went out for miles so it was nigh impossible to sneak up on it – so it only appeared as a greenish-yellow splotch on the distant landscape. The woman stood up and grabbed her spear and helm, saying to the others, “Something’s coming.” The blood elf sighed. “So I won’t get a chance to win my money back?” The dwarf woman punched him in the shoulder. “You woulda just lost more anyway, Baladar!” she said as she boxed up the dice, cup, and coin and kicked it all behind her. She and the other three knights gathered around the game took up spears and helms as well. The draenei couple took their time putting out their pipes first. The shape approached slowly, and as it grew closer, more details could be made out. The human woman noticed it was of a smaller humanoid race, possibly a gnome, goblin, or even a short dwarf. It wore a bright lime-colored cloak with yellow patches sewn into it, and carried a walking stick about the height of the average dog, paw to ear. The male human piped up loudly, “Any bets on what that thing is? I’d wager two gold it’s a leper gnome.” The tauren snorted impatiently at the man. “How about you shut up and make sure your helmet is on straight, Leon?” She scraped the ground with a hoof in annoyance. The man begrudgingly checked to see if his helmet was in fact crooked. The figure walked up to the group and raised a green hand in greetings before lifting the hood from his head. He was a goblin with a bald head, sharp yellow teeth, ears with holes bitten out of the edges, and dim green eyes. He seemed to look around the knights rather than directly at any of them. The human woman guessed he was blind. The tauren spoke curtly, “Name and business?” The goblin cackled madly for no particular reason. “Scruggs, that is his name! He is called Scruggs! Scruggs is here with information – knowledge for the brave protectors of the Light! For when poor Scruggs was lost, alone, and nearly mad, the Light saved him! So Scruggs – nice, meek Scrugges! – has gone to the bad knights’ flying house and listened closely for knowledge. He was asked to, yes he was, and so he did!” The tauren woman sighed. “Right, we were expecting your report hours ago, goblin. Did you get lost or something? No, nevermind. I don’t want to hear it. Just tell me what you came to say.” Scruggs smiled, flashing his disgusting teeth at the gathered knights. “Ah, Scruggs has quite the news! He hears that a bad knight who did bad things in the Chapel is all alone, ripe for the Light’s vengeance! A human, she was, and spotted far south by Surwich in the lands blasted by hellfire. Scruggs did good, yes he did! Didn’t he?” The tauren replied, “Yeah, sure. You did good, little guy. Let me just report to my superiors and figure out how to proceed here. Don’t go anywhere.” She stomped off into the Chapel, grumbling on her way about crazy little green men. The human woman bit her lip. Something about what Scruggs had said rubbed her the wrong way. She took off her helmet and spoke to the goblin, “Hey, Scruggs, you said it was a human woman, right? The death knight seen in Surwich? What was her name?” Scruggs cocked his head at her in confusion. “Why does it matter to the noble dame? Scruggs hears it is a bad knight, so she must be punished. Her name does not matter.” “Wait,” the female draenei said suddenly, looking at the human woman, “You don’t think it’s her do you Christa? That would be just awful!” Christa glared off at the desolate landscape, biting her lip angrily. The dwarf woman scoffed. “Why would’t matter? She’s a murderous little bint ain’t she? She’ll get what’s coming to her, Light willing.” “But Clea, it’s someone important to her!” the draenei said to the dwarf, who looked back at her with an expression of amused disbelief. “Family is family, no matter what. My grandfather is one of the Eredar, but I don’t think I could bring myself to kill him if I had to.” The male draenei put a hand around her waist protectively. “It’s alright, Velbina, you won’t have to worry about him as long as I am here.” “I know, my sweet Sagito,” she said, leaning into him. “You are the best man a girl could ask for.” They kissed deeply. Clea put her head in her palm. The other man made a mock gagging noise and pretended to puke as the draenei showed their affection. “You two are disgusting, you know that?” “Leave them be, Leon. Not even a demon invasion could put a stop to their makeout session.” The dwarf waved them off dismissively and turned back to Christa. “Honey, you can’t let that woman get the better of you. If Nalysia comes back with the news that we’ve gotta kill her, we’re gonna do it. End of story. Gotta let this one go, hon.” While the others discussed the matter, Scruggs was drawing religious symbols into the dirt just off the pathway with the end of his stick. He seemed very content as he stood there, muttering some prayer. Nalysia clomped back out of the gates. Her exasperation hadn’t cleared up since she had left. Christa looked at her, asking, “What’s the plan? Are we going after her?” Nalysia eyed her as if searching for something. Christa only seemed interested in receiving orders. “Good news and bad news. Good news is, we’re being relieved from guard duty. Command says to go to Surwich tomorrow morning and gather intelligence, see what we can find out about this woman.” “What’s the bad news?” Leon asked with a smug grin on his face. “The bad news,” Nalysia replied with a twinge of annoyance, “Is that we have to take the goblin.
  22. July 17 I haven't kept a journal since I was eight years old. I suppose that means there's a lot to write about. When overwhelmed with ideas, it's usually a good idea to go back to the beginning. For the last seventeen years I haven't felt truly at home. The only home I've ever had was in Andorhal, and I saw the state of the city only a few years ago. So that home is gone now. But it was gone long before the Scourge infested it or the Forsaken bombed it or the Alliance burned it down to stop them from spreading. My home was gone the day my mother, my sister, and I ran from it. Ran from him. I loved my father, perhaps even more than I had loved Mother. He saw a spark of something in me that his two other children apparently lacked. I loved his stories of fantasy and heroism, magic and monsters, knights and princesses. I loved seeing where he worked. His magical study was full of little wonders and knowledge. But that was before the hard times. The hard times started when we lost Owen. He was my half-brother, but I remember him only fondly. He was older than my sister and I, so he was the first to head off to war. And of course, he never came back. The good ones never seem to come back, or if they do they aren't the same -- not as good as they were. Father lost a part of himself when Owen's letter came. That piece of paper caused all the grief that has ever befallen my family, or at least that's how it seemed at the time. Father drank to forget. He drank until he couldn't remember the son he lost, or the lover he had lost before. The memory of his first love lived on in my brother, I'm sure of it. But Owen was gone, and so was she. He drank to forget they were gone, but in the process, he forgot about us as well. He lost his position as the Kirin Tor representative in Andorhal, and after that, Mother was put upon to provide for all of us. She had to somehow pull enough love from her heart to keep us all happy, Father included. There was little left for her. I couldn't imagine what kept her heart beating in the midst of it all. I couldn't then, but I can now. Father drank until he forgot us, and once he had forgotten, he had no reason to love us. He had no reason to forgive, not even for the smallest mistakes. A drunken, bitter mage and three helpless girls do not for a healthy, happy household make. He usually just hit us. Sometimes he burned Mother by accident, trying to scare her or let off steam. He never turned his magic against Christa and I. Perhaps that was a small blessing. A sign that he could still come back from where he was. It didn't matter to me then. He wasn't the same father who had tucked me into bed at night and read me happy stories. One night he tried to scare Mother with fire again, and I couldn't take it anymore. Something snapped inside me that I could never piece together again, and I cast my first spell. He was frozen against a wall, passed out in a drunken stupor. We were all gone by the time he came to. I often imagined what he must have felt like to wake up and find himself alone. When I was younger, I imagined anger and bitter rage. I was still afraid of him. As a teenager, I started to imagine sadness and sorrow. I hated and pitied him then. But as I grew, I knew exactly what he must have felt: alone and empty. By that point, I just missed him.
  23. Full Name: Sanjay, Alexander III Redjay Nicknames: Sander, Desert Wind, Doctor Jay Date of Birth: May 21 Age: 36 Race: Burning Steppes Human (Descendant) Gender: Male Sexuality: Heterosexual Hair: Black, shaved head, bushy beard Skin: Dark brown Eyes: Dark Brown Height: 6' Weight: 210 lbs Place of residence: Dalaran Apartment Place of Birth: Lakeshire, Redridge Mountains Known Relatives: Alexander II Redjay (father), Joanna Redjay (mother, deceased) Religion/Philosophy: Pandaren Spirituality Occupation: Monk of the Broken Temple, Licensed Medical Practitioner Group/Guild affiliation: Steward of the Twilight Empire Enemies: The Sha, Mantid, Cultists of the Old Gods and the Black Empire, The Burning Legion, Nyomi of Suramar Likes: Snakes, physical exercise, brewing Favorite Foods: Cinnamon ginger snap cookies Favorite Drinks: Black coffee Favorite Colors: Green Weapons of Choice: Staff, fists Dislikes: War, hypermasculinity, the color red, recruitment of child soldiers Hobbies: Researching medicine, brewing tea, mixing coffee, distilling beer, meditation, exercise Physical Features: Large, muscular build. Dark skin and black hair. Shaved head and thick, bushy beard. Dark brown eyes, thick and bushy eyebrows. Scar over right eyebrow. Multiple surgery scars at the small of his back. Special Abilities: Healing mists channeled through his staff and body. Physical excellence at its peak, as with all Pandaren monks. Spiritually in-tune, and able to commune with spirits and cleanse bodies possessed with dark spirits. Incredibly fast runner, and has high stamina to boot. Positive Personality Traits: Warm, caring, and supported. Loyal and dependable. Hard-working and thinks practically. Patient and always willing to lend a hand for long-term projects. Negative Personality Traits: Humble and shy, unwilling to step in even when he knows he can improve something. Strict sense of duty and a moral code. Easily overloads himself by working too much, and never asks for a lighter load. Won't argue a point unless he has to. Reluctant to change his mind on something; stubborn. Easy to manipulate. History: Born to an illustrious Stormwind military family in Redridge, Alexander III Redjay was destined for a life of military service at the insistence of his father, Alexander II. During the conflict with the orcs of Orgrimmar, the night elves of Ashenvale called on their new Alliance partners, the humans of Stormwind. Alexander served in a battle in Ashenvale against the Warsong Raiders as a combat medic, having already shown an aptitude for medicine. During the battle, a cannonball shattered his spine, leaving him paralyzed and incapable of continuing his military service. Drifting from his disappointed family, Alex pursued his medical degree in Stormwind, often held back by his confinement in a wheelchair. After many years of hardships and isolation, Alex earned his doctorate. Then, he shifted his focus to repairing his body. He investigated hundreds of claims from doctors, surgeons, physicians, magical healers, and spiritualists the world over to try and repair his paralysis, but all of them proved to be unable to repair his broken back. Still dissatisfied with his life, Alex began using his inherited wealth to pursue selfish luxury and pleasure. His father confronted him and warned him to stop wasting his life and his family’s hard-earned wealth, but Alex told the man off angrily and bitterly. His disappointed father departed, cutting his son off from the family and the remainder of his inheritance. After the mists lifted from Pandaria, Alexander half-heartedly travelled there with what was left of his wealth. Upon arriving, he found himself captivated with the beauty of the land, and enamored with the philosophy and lifestyles of the people. He spent the next few years training to repair his broken spirit, and upon lifting his downtrodden haze, he found his body responded, and he slowly regained the use of his legs, and dedicated himself to the preservation of the land that had granted his rejuvenation. He continued his training as a monk until he reached physical perfection and learned the healing arts of the serpent and crane styles. Now imbued with new power, having cleansed his spirit, restoring his body, and reaching new heights as a healer, Alex cast aside the past that had embittered him so he would never be dragged down by it again. He cast aside all he had from his past, his possessions, his wealth, and his name. He took on the name Sanjay, and his new title of Desert Wind. With this new identity, he roamed the world to spread a philosophy of balance, peace, non-aggression, and spiritual purity. (The Chakras, Yin and Yang, and the Caduceus Staff. Represent Sanjay's tangential relationship between spiritual and physical, his balancing of the two, and his engagement in spreading his balance to others through the art of medicine.) (Appearance from Elder Scrolls Online) (Profile)
  24. VII. Brinnea was frankly baffled that they reached the Wall without incident. No Mantid, no ambushes, and most surprisingly, no Mokdeth. Since she’d arrived in Pandaria, her luck hadn’t been this good. In all honesty, her luck had never been this good. Charlotte slept most of the way, unable to stay conscious without talking, it seemed. August kept glancing back at the road in case they were followed. Brinnea tried to keep up a brave face for the kid, but found herself taking a few chance glances herself. Brinnea took in the view of the Serpent’s Spine from a near distance, stirring Charlotte so she could get a good look. It was truly one of the world’s greatest wonders, a testament to Pandaria’s both beautiful and troubled past. During her first visit to Pandaria, the Wall had been besieged near constantly by Mantid raids, but now the massive doors were freshly repaired. They even opened widely as she rode forth and sounded the Shado’pan horn. She felt an odd surge of emotion witnessing something so grand moving at her call. The Ranger Commander Yao met her at the gatehouse, with a grim expression written across his face. Brinnea dismounted, and helped Charlotte and Colin down as well. August hopped down unaided, and took the charger’s reins dutifully. “You alone return from the excursion, Outsider?” Commander Yao questioned, barely containing his grief. Brinnea nodded sadly, and the Pandaren commander’s head drooped. “Captain Furan was among our wisest veterans. Without him, our ranks will suffer. He knew the Wastes as well as any of our number.” Brinnea sighed. “I wish I had better tidings, Commander. The captain died bravely, defending his followers.” “Tell me, Outsider, how did Furan meet his end? Did you get the chance to burn his body, lay his spirit to rest?” “The Mantid ambushed us in the wilds near Set’vess. They were young, from a new spawn. Likely looking for intruders to test their mettle. We tried to flee, but only I escaped with my life.” Brinnea saw Charlotte racing off towards the young Pandaren training with crossbows off to the side of the courtyard. August walked the charger in that direction, keeping the spirited girl within his sight. Yao replied, “Even without a full swarm, the Mantid hound our steps. You nearly completed the route, at least. Come with me, I will need a full report.” He turned and gestured for her to follow him. She did so, speaking to the children as she passed them, “Stay in the courtyard, you two. No wandering off. I’ll be back soon. Deal?” “Deal!” Charlotte cried gleefully while trying to wrestle a crossbow from a training Pandaren twice her height. August gave her an affirmative nod. Then he tugged Charlotte by the collar away from the practice session she was disrupting. Brin sighed, rubbing her head with concern. She sure is a handful. Was I this bad at her age?
  25. VI “What were you thinking? Riding off into the Dread Wastes, not even knowing where I was or what state I was in – you could have gotten hurt, or lost, or worse! And since when do you ride a horse? Let alone a deathcharger!” Brin ceased fuming long enough to glare questioningly at the girl, hands on hips and eyebrows raised expectantly. “Sissy Friede showed me,” Charlotte mumbled, her eyes downtrodden. “And Sparklehoof isn’t that different from a normal horse. He’s just cold and strong, like you, mama.” Brinnea blinked, her stern expression broken. Light, what do I say to that? she wondered to herself frantically. Though Charlotte had been born five and a half years past, Brin was still not used to being a mother. The girl had been taken care of for five years by a dwarf paladin-turned-orphan-matron named Sister Friede. Brinnea was often surprised to hear of the things the dwarf had taught Charlotte, and felt a twinge of envy at missing much of the girl’s upbringing. “Who’s Sparklehoof?” Brin questioned, trying to maintain an air of authority. The façade was slipping. “Your horse! Just look at how sparkly his hooves are; they’re like diamonds!” Charlotte’s cheerfulness returned quickly. It seemed she thought the new name and a charming smile had made Brinnea forget her anger. She was mostly correct. “I never thought to give it a name before,” Brin mused out loud. “Never really seemed alive enough to need a name.” Charlotte patted the undead steed’s leg affectionately. The worgen-spawn August was sitting in a nearby tree, watching out for any more Mantid. Brin had been concerned when taking him in that she would have to protect him as attentively as she did Charlotte, but the boy had proven rather independent, if starved for affection. August was eight years old, so he was more developed than Charlotte in some ways. When he had come along with them, however, he barely knew how to speak the Common tongue. Charlotte explained he had been raised by worgen since his human mother had been taken by the Scourge. Brin made an effort to teach him proper speech. He learned rather quickly, despite the death knight’s amateur teaching skills. The boy took his duties seriously, so Brin was in the habit of letting him help out with things she normally preferred to take care of herself. He helped with cleaning, cooking, (thankfully his nose for food was better than Brin’s – being a death knight meant she didn’t need to eat, after all), and he watched after Charlotte when Brin was busy elsewhere. Resuming her lecture, Brin turned to August first. “And why exactly did you let her come here? I told you to stay at the farm.” The boy’s unnervingly yellow eyes blinked down at her fearfully. He replied in his abrupt and uncertain manner, “Couldn’t stop her. Came along instead. Safer together, Lupa says so.” Lupa was August’s name for Brinnea. He never said why he called her that, and Charlotte had no idea either. He was right about what Brin had said, though. She warned them that if danger ever came, they would be safest together. “I suppose that is acceptable, then,” Brinnea said forgivingly. She turned to Charlotte, who seemed to think the conversation was over, and had begun brushing “Sparklehoof’s” dark fur. “I didn’t say we were done talking, young lady. Put the brush away and look at me. Now, how did you two find me? The Dread Wastes are vast, what made you come this way?” Charlotte showed Brin a red stone she had on a necklace. “We used Colin! He can sniff you out from miles away!” Brin looked skeptical. “No, really! He’s smarter than a normal dog, grandpa always said so. He ran off to find you, and we’ve been following him.” “So where is the rascal now? I haven’t seen him.” Charlotte shrugged. “He ran off earlier, but then we found you with all those bug-people. I can summon him if you want, though!” Brin assented, and the girl gleefully sang an incantation to the red stone, which flashed brightly. When the light faded, a dog apparently made of lava, wearing a sparkling blue collar, romped around in the grass at the girl’s feet. Charlotte immediately tackle-hugged Colin, giggling as the molten corgi lapped at her face affectionately. Brin was thankful at that moment for her father’s specially-made collar. Colin would joyfully melt anyone’s skin off with his fiery tongue without the warding spell it kept on him. “Well that’s one problem solved. Likely ran off chasing a varmint or something. In any case, we ought to get moving. I have to finish my mission, seeing as I’m the last one standing. We should make good time on the horse.” “Sparklehoof!” Charlotte corrected, struggling to pick Colin up off the ground. “Right. Sparklehoof.” Brinnea bent over, helping the girl ease Colin into the saddle-pouch Charlotte had insisted on buying for the dog a few weeks ago. That way, he could stay with them as they rode places. The sight of a deathcharger carrying a dog on fire must certainly look rather peculiar, but Brinnea humored the girl anyway. Colin nestled into his cozy pouch, tongue lolling from his mouth excitedly. After helping Charlotte into the saddle and calling August down from the tree, she mounted up and urged the deathcharger to begin out into the open where they could pick up some speed. “Old Da taught me a few songs for long journeys,” Charlotte said as they picked up the pace. “Want me to sing for a while? Da says I’ve got a good singing voice.” Brinnea agreed with the old farmer, but she shook her head. “Singing is for foot travel. You could bite your tongue while riding.” Charlotte nodded, a little disappointed. The boy was glancing back at the woods with great focus. Too much focus to be simple caution. Brinnea asked, “You see something, August?” “Something…green.” Brinnea swore softly. “Sissy Friede would wash your mouth out with soap for that one, mama!” Charlotte chided playfully. “Don’t talk, you’ll bite your tongue.”