Talula played with her teacup a long moment before speaking. There were times when the gnome felt there were too much in her head. When a machine built up too much pressure, a release valve was added. She decided that Kya would become her pressure valve.
"How old are you?" Talula asked, looking up at the human. "What did you do during the last war?"
Kya shifted in her chair, aware of a certain change in her best friend. She smoothed over a hangnail on her thumb while answering, "Twenty seven. And I was tending to my sensei who had just taken ill during the last war."
Passing over Kya's face was pride and a small amount of shame. If she'd been entirely free, she would have been as deep into the war as she could be. Kya was a person of action, and to sit on the sidelines was too hard for her. Yet, Verner had needed her. That's all that mattered.
Kya watched Lu closely and waited with imminent patience. She wondered briefly about the old saying, when one door closes, another opens.
"Twenty seven. I forget sometimes that humans age much faster than gnomes." She chuckled. "That explains why Miss Tori thinks she's grown now that she's twenty four."
Talula finished her biscuit and picked up another. Kya watched as the gnome seemed to be struggling with something.
"You know that we didn't join you because of the Troggs? Because they tunneled up through the earth and attacked us. We didn't... I don't know if the humans were ever told, but we didn't just abandon you when the Burning Legion came. There were just too many troggs and the High Tinker was advised to vent the city's radioactive waste tanks. All that did was make us sick and make the troggs more deadly. That's when most of us left for the surface."
She paused, taking a slow sip from her tea. "There were a few of us who chose to stay behind. To reclaim the city. There were several groups that formed. The... the one I joined was called the Gnomish Resistance Force." Talula turned and pulled down the left side of her shirt, revealing a tattoo of a crossed dagger and wrench over a old, thick scar that ran around her shoulder.
"We kept fighting the Troggs, long after most of the gnomes left. And we... we fought against..." The gnomes voice trailed off, lost in memory.
Kya watched her friend, who seemed to have drifted away. "Lu? Who were you fighting?"
Talula snapped back to the present. "I've told you about my Aunts Beatrice and my Uncle Ezra, right? After my parents died, they did their best to raise me to be a proper gnome. Family used to mean everything to the gnomes. Uncle Ezra got sick first. He just slipped out into the night after the leprosy finally took him. One by one it took my aunts too until there was just me.
"I loved Gnomeregan. I wanted it to be like it was. To get gnomes back who could find a cure for the leprosy. I stayed and joined up. They taught me a lot of things. About poisons, sneaky tactics, how to hide, to make the kill quick. We started with the troggs, but eventually, we had to take out the leper gnomes. There was no cure in sight and they had started working with Thermaplugg. They were in constant torment and we sought to bring them peace.
"One by one, I found my family and I put an end to their suffering. Each one remembered who I was and cursed my name. Uncle Ezra was the last one I found.
"You know by now that I'm not a magical creature. Well, that was always a sore spot for my mother and aunts. They were all gifted when it came to the arcane. They thought engineering was for common gnomes. We didn't care. We were the engineers, my dad, Uncle Ezra and me. Ezra was the youngest of my mother's family. After my father died, he became my mentor and best friend. So when the day came that I found what was left of him, I couldn't bring myself to finish the job. He bit my partner Hugo and... "
Talula closed her eyes and shook her head. "And he got away. I couldn't do it and Hugo suffered.
"The day I found my Aunt Beatrice Talula, she gave me the worst of the curses of all of my Aunts. She said I'd be doomed to watch my loved ones die for the rest of my life. That I'd never have a family again. Hugo was more than a friend. I loved him so very much. So when he lay there, feverish, knowing what he was going to become, he begged me to end it quickly. And I did.
"I left Gnomeregan after that. I came to the surface to find work. I did some tinkering in Ironforge for a couple of years then came to Stormwind. I swore that I would never kill another living thing. I've brought enough death for one lifetime."
Kya smiled softly and said "But, Lu, I've been hunting with you. I've see you kill things." The gnome shook her head. "Go back to the last place we hunted together. You'll see some familiar faces walking around. I use paralytic poisons, shallow slices. They look dead but I know they'll get up and walk away later. They may be evil, but they are someone's family. Someone cared enough to see that they had the chance to grow up."
Talula picked at the table edge with her fingernail. "You're right though, I did break that vow. A few nights before I went through the portal with Master Nerrok. I... I didn't know what to expect. We had anticipated the rift and I knew there were demons... I had to be sure. I had to know that I remembered where to strike for maximum damage, that I wouldn't freeze up when the moment of truth came. Let's just say that there are some troll villages in the Vale that will need repopulating."
Human hands covered gnome as Kya said, "Lu, none of this is anything you have to be ashamed of. We're all warriors - killers - to one degree or another. There's not a Tiger out there that would think the less of you for what you've done. They'll understand about your family. It couldn't be helped."
The gnome looked up, icy blue eyes locking with light green. Then she laughed. Hard, slightly manic laughter shook the gnome until tears leaked from her eyes. "You think I don't want people to know because I'm ashamed? No, no, no. Oh, my dear friend, you misunderstand me. I did what I thought was right. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I would if i had to. It was the right thing at that time. No, I don't want anyone to know because I swore the oath."
"Oath?" Kya asked, confused.
"When I joined the Tong, I swore to treat you all like family. You are all such a wonderful gift that most of it is easy. But when the day comes that someone will need to be... stopped... it will have to be me. There's a special kind of pain that they give to people who have to kill loved ones. I would never let any family member feel that if I could prevent it. And I would never leave any of you to suffer with incurable madness."
"No, no, Lu. There are lots of other Tigers for that kind of thing. Tai would never make you do something you're uncomfortable with."
The gnome smiled. "It doesn't work like that. If Master Tai and Lady Kennia were to find out that I have assassination training, eventually, they'd ask me to do a job." Talula held up her hand to stop the protest. "They've already shown that they would. As soon as they found out I was in the Outlands, they started to link my name with jobs out there. It's to their credit and I don't hold it against them. Master Tai is a business man. He would be doing the Tong a disservice if he didn't take every advantage available to him. He has his sentimental side, but he doesn't look kindly upon those who won't follow orders. I don't want to have to leave you all because I didn't want to take out a target. Ask him about your friend Mr. Domo sometime and watch his face. I've done some digging. He didn't leave because he lost all his money to Miss Taai, did he?
"I need your help, Kya. You are the only Tiger who knows this story. You're an officer, and I know you've sworn oaths as well, but I'm asking as your friend. Help me stay out of Master Tai's sights for the wet jobs. Don't tell them about the poisons. I can do the courier work and I love the engineering."
Talula's voice trailed away and she seemed to be deep in thought again. Kya sensed that the story ran deeper, but she had already heard so much that she needed time to process.
Kya got up slowly, gears turning in her mind as she gathered the cups and plates. She heard Lu's plea and understood the angst it had been causing her. Something more lie under the haunted look Lu was now sporting, but Kya was sensitive to timing and knew when to push and when to ease up.
"Can I get you anything else, Lu? You have to try this cookie I created. It's got a secret ingredient in it. Go on, take a bite." Kya smiled as Lu placed the cookie on a napkin and stared at it with appreciation. Lu glanced up to see Kya's face shining at her realization. The cookie was made with oatmeal. Lu was touched and delayed the first bite for a while, still somewhat distracted. It was hardest for Lu to shift mental gears, Kya noticed, and thought to herself how ironic that was given her profession. "More tea?"
Lu shook her head no and held the cookie up to savor the smell of it before taking a huge bite. Kya's eyes widened at Lu, who appeared far larger than her body would convey, simply given the enormous propensity of her jaw. Kya suddenly thought it might be a horrifying site to see, from the perspective of anything about to be eaten by this deceptively cute gnome - for her teeth took on a snarl for just a few seconds.
Kya shook her head in amazement and sat back down staring at this woman whose life read better than any book Kya had perused. She waited a few minutes, got up to turn on some gentle water music, then sat back down and observed Lu. Sensing a moment of calmness, brought about by the trace of shimmerweed that was in the cookie, Kya smiled and probed a little further.
"Lu, I know it was hard for you to ask me to keep your confidence. Please know that I too, need to treat you as family. To me that means making sure your best interests are always foremost. I really don't see any harm in me keeping what you've told me to myself. That's what trust is built on, right?"
Kya paused as Lu nodded in a very mellow way. Lu swallowed and smiled, saying, "Mmm great cookies, Kya."
Kya grinned at Lu, "Thanks! I made them for the whole family, you know. Seems like we needed a good batch of good calming cookies, hmm?" Kya continued to grin, knowing Lu had not yet caught on to the trace of the secret held within her cookie.
Kya then turned serious again, "Can you imagine a scenario where I would be obliged to betray your trust in me? I mean, the greater good overall is being met with your talents added to the Tong. If anyone even hints for you to step over that line, just request I be included and I will take care of it so you won't have to. Teamwork, right?