To Catch A Tiger
- --by Krelle
It’s funny to me…she’s been warned about this sort of thing before, and eidetic memory or not, she won’t act on it. Creature comfort found in habit is one of the few things that she allows to dull her edge. That’s what’s key. Still, there’s a definite need for caution when having a go at a badger in its den, especially one that has spent the past several weeks with her hackles raised in a constant state of ready.
Fel damn the chatterbox who let slip the fact that she was going to be a target. I mean, any idiot ought to have known that it was only a matter of time, but they didn’t have to make it so fucking obvious. I guess that’s why they needed to take things on with a different approach.
In the gloom, I can still see Hakk’s touch all over the place. Evidently she’s done little to personalize the place since he took a step back into the shadows. It all goes back to the creature comfort thing. She can boast an exterior like adamantite, but at her core, she’s still a child and there’s nothing that’ll ever change that. Not entirely. Symptom of her condition…she’ll never fully grow into what she would have been.
I settle in the ample darkness at the back of the basement and wait, motionless and phased out of view. It’s not a skill in which I’m particularly strong, but the circumstances place things squarely in my favor here. She won’t expect it here. Nobody knows about this place.
I smell the fragrant smoke of her cigarette on the air a full five minutes before she makes her way in, pulling open the trapdoor and plunking down the ladder. She settles on the floor without a sound and looks around briefly, noted only by slight changes in the way she tilts her head. Satisfied, she pulls the drawstring on the cellar door and it closes with the muffled thud of weight against wet wood.
There she stands, this gawky, waif of a child who has had a hand in more bloodshed and dirty deeds than an entire barracks worth of crusted veterans. Had I gotten my claws on her before anyone else, she could’ve proved every bit as useful as any other loyal pet, but there’s nothing to be done about that now.
She stiffens ever so slightly as I watch her, her posture shifting subtly to that of a cat ready to prowl. A new approach was in order. I take a slight step backwards, my form melting back into the shadows, and then I instantly pull forward behind her, right arm cocked with my sap in hand. It comes down across the back of her skull with a muffled thud a little like the slam of the cellar door and she falls prone to the floor. I kneel beside her and rip the earbud out of her ear, pushing the small red button on the side of it and tossing it across the floor. A few seconds later, it explodes, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris. Paying it no mind, I pull her mask from her eyes and slip it in my pocket, wrap her face in a bolt of imbued netherweave cloth and pull the drawstring tightly around her neck, then hogtie her wrists and ankles with another strip of the magically enhanced cloth.
I strip her bare and take every blade, every point and every tool she has from her, piling them off to the side. At this point she’s begun to stir slightly, so I brain her with the sap again and hoist her up, dropping her body in a thick cloth bag that I tie shut with yet another imbued tie. Slipping the straps of the bag over my shoulders, I climb the ladder and push the cellar door open, hoist the two of us out and then close it behind me, scattering some decaying hay over it.
I make my way out into Tirisfal, moving to the outer edge of the mostly peaceful area into the unmanned graveyard between the Scarlet Monastery and the Bulwark. I set the bag down for a moment, move to one of the unassuming embedded tombstones and pull it to the side, revealing a stone-lined pit that rests nearly ten feet deep. I grab the bag and toss it down the hole, then push the tombstone back, covering the opening completely.
I wander back to the Gallows’ End, slipping an envelope containing a cloth mask into the mailbox by the front door, then walk to the Undercity and catch a flight to Tarren Mill.
A burst of static flared over the coms as Krelle's unit detonated. Grumbles from tigers about the noise went unanswered. In the basement of the fishmonger's one of the lights on a long console winked off.
Krassik never did hear from Lucky that night.
The pearls that Mei left in Booty Bay didn't get picked up.
And then the letter arrived.
Tygers! Tygers! burning bright Underneath the pale Moon light, How it would be a dreadful shame To snuff your lovely kitten’s flame.
I return to the graveyard, pushing the tombstone aside ever so slightly for just a moment. I don't want to give the kitten a chance to flash it's claws.
A fist sized pouch of Dream Dust and ground Nightmare Vine is dumped down into the pit, immediately scattering in the air of the chamber as it spills downward. In the Dream Dust's luminescence, I catch a brief glimpse of her hunkered down in the corner of the pit, completely still and poised to strike at anything within reach.
I smirk to myself as I pull the tombstone back once again.
The nightmares begin.
Kayce walked into the office to talk to Krelle about the Krassik case they'd been working on. But she wasn't there. Odd. No one was there.
He spotted a lumpy envelope on the table. Idly he picked it up and opened it. Krelle's mask fell into his hands. It was unmistakable. "Oh Fel." he muttered as he read the note.
Rage and terror filled him. Krelle was his boss but she was also his buddy. She had an easy nonchalant way about her that made him feel comfortable. And now it was clear something very bad had happened to her. But how? And who could it be? He drew a blank. The Tigers had too many enemies right now. Could it have been the Syndicate? Or something unexpected on the Krassik case gone bad? He cursed himself for letting her go meet him alone.
Immediately Kayce got on the comm and spoke urgently. "Tai, are you there?"
"Yeah Kayce, what do you need?" He sounded only slightly annoyed.
"You need to get to the office. Or call an emergency meeting." Ordinarily Kayce would have balked at ordering The Boss around, but this wasn't the time to worry about politeness. "We got a weird letter here, and Krelle's mask was in it. Looks like she's been kidnapped."
Before even waiting for an answer Kayce took off out of the office, leaving the letter there for the others to see. He was on his way to Undercity, the last place he'd seen Krelle yesterday. Guilt washed over him. He would have to find out -- subtly -- who was the last one of their contacts who saw her and where she was going. And if the Krassik case had gone bad, he'd kill him outright.
"Nerrok....", Kareth's voice was calm, and quiet. The older orc's tone was a pleading one, at least as much as the seasoned fighter could make it, like that of a father attempting to convince a son to forego a bad idea. "You don't have to do it this way, you know. You can get the others to help. This...What you're thinking. It's insane."
Nerrok was standing in one of the back rooms of The Slow Blade, with Kareth in front of him. The freakishly muscular orc was shirtless, and the old shopkeeper was hesitantly applying black camoflage paint to his chiseled physique with his fingers, tracing intricate tribal designs all along the hardened green flesh. The younger orc stood upon what looked to be some type of oddly-runed pentagram, drawn into the dirt beneath his feet. A large glass flask filled with some type of black liquid sat on a nearby table, within arms reach. Nothing but flickering torchlight illuminated the room.
Nerrok had just returned from a mission in Outland, having been called away by the Horde Military for the last week or so. After returning to Azeroth, no sooner had he stepped through the door to The Slow Blade when Kareth greeted him with the grim news that Krelle was presumed kidnapped, her mask delivered to Booty Bay with a chilling letter attatched to it. He'd made the decision instantly...Emptying out his own personal armory inside of the machine shop behind the blade merchant's hut, and loading his War Kodo to the neck with every conceivable type of gun, ammunition and explosive. He knew it was The Syndicate that was responsible...It had to be. They were the only ones dumb enough.
His plan was to assault their base of operations located in The Alterac Mountains. He knew he'd be up against hundreds, possibley thousands of armed troops. He also knew that Baron Vardus, who'd put out a hit on Krelle weeks before, was known to stay in the area. That was reason enough for him.
Nerrok was ready. He didn't plan on dying, but he knew that on a mission like this it was a distinct possibility. He was willing to take that chance, for Krelle...his "daughter".
All that was left to do was this...Ceremony.
"Nerrok...", Kareth repeated, as he slowly shook his head. "Are you sure...? You know that you're going to lose a piece of yourself, when you do this. Something you're never going to be able to get back."
Nerrok looked the other orc in the eyes with a placid expression. His voice was icey cold. "These people...The Syndicate. We've tried reasoning. We've tried subtle manipulation. It hasn't worked...And now they've taken my Squirt. There's only one way to deal with them, now. And that's to murder every single last one of them."
Kareth stepped back from Nerrok, looking him over now that he'd finished drawing the runes and symbols along his hulking frame. He nodded with finality, before reaching over toward the aforementioned flask. He hesitated slightly before sliding his fingers around the container. lifting it as delicately as he could as if it would explode if not handled with the most extreme care, he uncorked the flask. He shivered involuntarily and held back the urge to vomit as fel fumes escaped from the opened bottle of demon blood.
Nerrok casually removed his comm unit from his ear along with the transmitter, and tossed it onto the table where the glass used to be. He knew he probably wouldn't be able to identifiy friend from foe in the state he was about to be in, and he didn't want the others to be able to find him...Though if they had the same idea as he did, they'd know he was there anyway. He hastily scribbled onto his hand with a marker the following words: "Alterac. Syndicate. Destroy. Find Krelle." He'd need the reminder when his mind was consumed by the demonic energies he was about to allow himself to be possessed with. He took the flask from Kareth, and nodded a farewell. "I'll see you soon."
Kareth nodded in return, and quickly turned to leave...and get as far away from the other orc as possible. "Not too soon, I hope..."
After Kareth was gone, the orc looked at the glass in his hand. He closed his eyes for a long moment, inhaling and exhaling deeply. He opened them again, before raising the flask and drinking its entirety...the fel liquid sliding thickly out of the glass and slithering its way down his throat. He somehow managed to avoid wretching, as he tossed the glass carelessly to the floor. It shattered at his feet as his vision began to go black.
"I'm comin', Squirt."
Wigcik looked up at the noise from Von's office. Wondering if his boss was alright(and secretly hoping he wasn't), the goblin strode up the stairs. His hand touched the doorknob as Von's desk came through, smashing the door to pieces and almost taking the goblin with it.
Von stood in the doorway, his armor gleaming. Across his back was strapped a massive spear, a long bow, his compound strung crossbow, and rifle. Along his belt were a number of daggers, specialised heads for his arrows, and spare magazines for the gun. The armored elf laid eyes on Wig.
'You there! Contact the others, tell them I'm headed to Alterac. I'll be back with Lucky, or not at all!'
With that, he shoved the goblin aside and sprinted out, towards his stormsaber.
Kayce returned to the office, feeling lost and confused. He'd found no sign of Krelle around Brill or Undercity. The innkeeper said she left and never returned.
Kayce paced the office nervously. Where was everyone? It wasn't like the Tigers to be so un-unified. He went downstairs and turned to Wig. "Where is everyone?!" he demanded harshly of the goblin. Wig looked surprised to see the normally mild-mannered half-elf so upset.
"Master Von said he was going to Alterac to look for Lucky. The rest I don't know."
"Fine. I'm going with Von. He might need some help." Kayce left the Bay and rode swiftly to Alterac. He buzzed Von on the comm as he rode. "Von, you need backup? I'm coming to Alterac."
"I think I might have joined the wrong outfit... no one here seems to have a brain." Mei muttered to herself. She had been hanging around Booty Bay for awhile (It seemed like she spent more time with the annoying greenskins than back home in the Undercity, these days...) when the news came in. Krelle, kidnapped...
"We have to do something... but I can't think of what..." Mei sighed, eying her other self as she nervously smoothed out her dress in the seat across from her. They were in the tavern; despite the crowd, Mei had been unable to dismiss her other half.
"If she was dumb enough to get herself caught, then she deserves whatever happens. Still..." Mei added quickly, cutting off her other's angry retort. "This isn't good. I mean, who's going to pay me? And now that orc, Neffok..."
"Master Nerrok..." Mei corrected her other self, twisting her dress through her fingers.
"Right, Nerrok... He's picked the absolute worst time to go out of contact." Mei had been trying to reach someone of authority on her comm for some time now, but had heard nothing. Apparently, no one had any idea where either Master might be. One was confirmed kidnapped, and the other... "Idiots. This is the kind of situation that any enemy would kill to get... we're effectively leaderless, and no one knows what to do." Mei slammed her fist into the table, drawing a few quick glances from the other patrons at the woman who was apparently having a spirited conversation with herself.
"Everyone is just worried... Lady Krelle might be in serious danger..." Mei winced as her other self barked angrily back at her.
"That's no excuse for incompetence. We should be coming up with a plan, mounting a rescue operation... and deciding who should replace Krelle. Don't give me that!" Mei glared at her other self, who had let out a small gasp. "You know that she might not come back from this. And even if she does, she might not be in any condition to lead. An interim leader is the only choice."
"And that should be... you? Is that what you want? To take over?" Mei let go of her dress, staring at her leather clad self with a mixture of horror and disgust.
"Of course not me. I already know that you're an idiot, you don't need to show it." Mei spat on the ground, angered by her other half's words. "I'm a killer, not a leader. And you're too much of a baby to give orders. Besides, why would I want to run things? Just look at what happens to our leaders." Mei frowned, her words turning more serious. "But something has to be done..."
"Tsao... I wish you were here..." Mei sighed, twisting her dress again.
"You don't have time to pine for that meat sack. Come on, we've got work to do." Mei rose to her feet.
"Work? What work?" She looked up at her leather-clad self in confusion.
"What else? We're going to find Krelle. I just hope that everyone else gets their act together while we're gone..."
"I don't....know...!!!! Anything...No, wai....UUUAAAAAAAGGHHH!!!!!"
The human's desperate pleas were cut short by the wet, visceral sound of skin and sinew tearing, followed by the snapping of bone as his head was literally ripped off of his shoulders by a pair of large, red hands. Nerrok gripped the head, it's face eternally contorted in an expression of pain and terror, by the hair as he stalked closer toward the Sydincate encampment.
The orc was...not himself, to say the least. After ingesting the demon blood and making his way to Alterac, he'd undergone a transformation...The ichor of a Terrorfiend by the name of Kalithresh he'd slain during his travels in outland having almost doubled his size, making him stand about as thick and tall as a half-ogre. Jagged ebony spikes of bone erupted from his spine and punctured clear through his armor, and a new set of tusks jutted visciously out of his mouth. His skin had taken on a reddish color, and his eyes were ablaze with fel orange flame. His sense of sight, smell and hearing were heightened, moreso than usual, and the very sight of him would drive even the hardiest of warriors to flee in absolute horror.
Of course, these types of transformations rarely came without drawbacks. He was incapable of forming complete sentences, only able to speak in broken clips and phrases when he wasn't busy devouring flesh and bone. Despite this however, he knew why he was here, and what he was doing. His will was strong enough to maintain rudementary knowledge about tactics and military strategy, which was the basis of how Nerrok fought and survived. Kalithresh allowed this...After all, he knew his stay inside of the Orc's body was only temporary...For now, at least...And it made The Killing Spree that much more effective.
It had taken hours for him to set up the explosive charges around the perimeter of where he planned to attack, along with staging his gear inside of the circle within which there would be no escape. He'd come prepared for death; all manner of weaponry and explosives hung from his frame, their weight paltry thanks to his newfound strength. The most prominent item he carried, strapped across his back next to his rifle, was a massive Warsong Chainsaw, the body modified so that he could slide his hand inside and grip it, like a gun. The circular saw on the other end was half the size as he was, designed to slice through the gigantic trees of Ashenvale in less than 10 seconds. Human flesh was nowhere near as resilient.
He'd also loaded onto his War Kodo the minigun he'd been working on, the plans of which he'd acquired from The Horde's armory. The weapon was initially meant to be mounted on the sides of Airships, though Nerrok had modified it to be soldier-portable, scaling it down enough so that he could carry it and the mass amounts of ammunition such a weapon would require through his own brand of engineering expertise. He'd staged the gun in the woods, nearby, ready to use it once the timing was right.
Unaware of Von and Kayce's presence, nor the new letter that had made it's way to Booty Bay with a piece of Krelle attatched, Nerrok unstrapped an adamantite grenade from the bandolier around his chest, and brutally jammed it into the mouth of the severed head he carried, half of it protruding through what was left of the teeth as he left the pin in place until he reached his destination. The detonator that controlled the aforementioned explosive charges was secured tightly against his outter thigh.
There would be no escape. They would know he was coming. And he would taste their fear, before he destroyed them.
Kalithresh grinned toothily.
Von and Kayce sat in a treetop overlooking one of the mountain passes favoured by the Syndicate. To the west, but still within sight was a small farm with a dock.
'Why are we here, Von?'
'We can keep an eye on their movements from here. That house is where they assemble raiding parties for Southshore and Silverpine. It's also not a bad place to hide someone...'
The icy silence of the night was suddenly shattered by an explosion from the small farm. Von immediately snatched a pair of binoculars.
'Someone's hitting it.'
Von was cut off by a gunshot. Not a normal gunshot, mind. This was more like being on deck when a battleship fires its main cannon.
'Was that artillery? Are they using Artillery, Von?
'No, that'll be Nerrok... Let's see how he's getting on....' Von tapped his comm. 'How many with you, Nerrok?'
Not hearing a response, he nodded at Kayce. 'Let's go make sure he isn't trying this on his own. Plus, there's probably reinforcements making their way down. Let's go back him up.'
The two slipped out of their tree, and headed for the farm.
Creasey shimmied his way through the brush and dense woodlands that made up the brunt of The Syndicate base of Operations deep within the Alterac mountains, his undead face painted in hues of green and brown to further enhance his camoflage. The hike that got him here to this faraway locale had not been easy, and the sight that greeted him as he crested the ridge that seperated him from the perimeter of his Company's Enemy didn't make it any easier.
As far as the eye could see, everything...Trees, buildings, everything...was destroyed. Blood soaked ground. Charred stumps of what used to be foilage dotted the landscape, painted red in human ichor. Severed limbs and heads peppered the entire scope of his vision, entrails of the fallen hanging from dead tree branches as The Forsaken looked about in a combination of amazement and cold realization. There had to be at least a battallion's worth of dead bodies strewn about the mountainside, corpses ripped, torn and sundered in the most viscious way possible. Skulls were crushed, torsos sawed in half, faces ripped free from their frames. It was like a scene from the most gruesome horror movie imaginable. Smoking rubble that used to be Syndicate Barracks smoldered uselessly in the aftermath.
Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, Creasey tapped his comm. "Von. This is Creasey, reporting as ordered. I'm in Alterac. This place...It's...It's..."
His transmission was cut off. Creasey took his finger off the button as the sound reached his ears. It sounded strangely familiar, although the rogue knew he'd never heard it before. He'd heard stories about what a Devilsaur sounded like, the gigantic dinosaur beasts that roamed The Un'goro Crater, mercilessly devouring anything that came across their path. He imagined it would sound much like what now echoed throughout The Alterac Mountain's, as Nerrok's demonic roar filled the chasms with Hate and Rage, the silence of the night for miles around shattered by his challenge. In the distance, he heard the unmistakable sound of a massive chainsaw growling to life, as the possessed Hunter tracked down his latest victim.
Creasey hesitantly keyed his comm, rather nervous for fear of the beast hearing his faint voice even at this distance. He knew his Boss wouldn't be able to tell friend from foe in his bloodrage, his search for Krelle, and vengeance, driving his being.
"...Destroyed. Von...You gotta get up here. Bring help."
I smile grimly as I read the follow-up letter inked by some stuffed-shirt middle-of-the-road clown from the Syndicate. Evidently, they're getting antsy over a lippy floozy and the ever present threat of real danger.
"Breach in security" ... "Highly compromised" ... "Debating a cease to operations"
They don't know how to play ball worth a damn.
When I visit the pit, she's a gibbering wreck hunched down in the corner, her babble about a garrote and a priest punctuated by whooping sobs. I work quickly, hopping down to her, taking her left hand in mine and quickly pushing the razor edge of my blade through the webbing between her ring and pinky finger, severing the latter with one clean slice. Another blow to the head with the sap and she's down in a heap, giving me time to climb up and out. I push the gravestone back over her (possibly) temporary grave and wrap my newest prize in butcher's paper, tying it off with a long string of twine.
I make my way back into the Undercity, then grab a flight to Arathi and mail the piece of her from there.
Maybe they'll understand now.
The letter arrives in Booty Bay, a scroll of parchment wrapped around a sheet of butcher's paper. Small dabs of blood have soaked onto the parchment itself.
You insist on releasing your hounds, so I've taken it upon myself to throw your dogs a bone. If this doesn't sate their hunger, I'll have no choice but to assume that they want a bigger slice.
"I think I'm going to be sick..." Mei put a hand to her mouth, looking far paler than usual. Her other self, clad as usual in gray leather, glared angrily at her.
"Don't you dare." She snapped. "Don't even think about it..." Despite her words, she too looked somewhat ill. "I guess I underestimated them... sending a piece of her is certainly going to rattle some cages. But... why all this smoke and mirror stuff? A kidnapping without a ransom... either he wants us going crazy with worry before he makes his demands, or his plan is just to keep her as long as possible, and then kill her."
"But why would he do that...?" Mei began twisting her dress.
"If the kidnapping isn't about ransom, then it's about taking us down. Stealing a leader, making us waste resources trying to find her... panic, confusion, general disarray results. And then to end it by delivering her corpse... it'd be like a death blow." She shook her head. "We need to find her, and soon. But... nothing so far, and I'm running out of ideas."
"There must be something!" Mei exclaimed loudly, drawing a few stares from the other bar patrons. She lowered her voice, continuing. "There must be something we've overlooked..." Mei suddenly brightened, an idea occurring to her. "What about the courier? If we can find the one who delivered the message, then we can track down the one who sent it!"
"That probably wouldn't work. The message probably changed hands several times before it ended up here. Still..." Her other self rapped her fingers on the table, considering. "If we could track the message down to its source, then we would at least know where it was sent from. And knowing that might narrow down the areas we need to search..." She nodded, rising to her feet. "It's worth a try, anyway. Come on."
She held her breath, her face pressed against the stone floor, staring vacantly into space. A nightmare of drowning. It had made her hold her breath, the first time. How long had she been down here? The glowing dust had brought visions. She could only hold her breath for ten minutes. Each breath brought a new vision. A new nightmare. She could only hold her breath for ten minutes.
Hands held her down, made of chains. Hakk's voice came from somewhere. "If you're clever with those hands, I'll show you how to open these yourself, eh? Won't get tied up again, will we now?" She wanted to call out to him but she couldn't speak - mustn't speak. Mustn't breathe. He never said that, did he? Why did you leave me, Hakk? Please don't leave me alone..."What are you afraid of?" Nerrok demanded, towering over her. She held her breath. He already knew. "You weaken yourself," Jarven spat at her. "Where's your precious family now? At the mercy of whatever sick soul has you. They should cut their losses. You're not worth saving." The chains pulled at her wrists and ankles, stretching her spread-eagled on the ground. She grit her teeth to keep from crying out as a sharp pain stabbed her in the gut. Mustn't breathe. She struggled to focus. She felt the Pig's greasy hands on her. A blindfold on her face. No - I took it off! She clung to reality, trying to hear the Lady's call through the haze of the nightmares.
As the minutes ticked by the potency of the visions faded. Her lungs were burning again. The glow of the dream dust had faded - she could see nothing about her in the tomb's darkness. The blindness and helplessness brought back a dizzying déjà vu that she was familiar with. The drugs made it worse. Her lungs screamed at her. She had to breathe before she passed out or she'd only breathe more of it, unconscious. A silent sob wracked her slender frame. Hakk's voice echoed faintly in her ear. "Clever little girl like you, should pick this up quickly eh? Won't the Lady be proud, hmm?"
I don't remember… He never said that. Not that. She peered about her, uncertain. Was it a ghost? Pick what up? Irrationally, she scrambled at the floor. Her hand closed on the netherweave bandage that had been about her eyes. "What a waste," Hakk muttered. She tied the bandage around her face, fumbling with her injured left hand. There was some dust on the cloth but… She rummaged around for the two that had bound her wrists and ankles and tied those about her face too. Her lungs were heaving in her chest, the darkness turning golden about the edges as she tied the last knot and curled into a ball.
A shed door creaked, and the sound filled her with terror. It'll be over soon, she clung to the thought. Just what's in the… The shed door closed. She heard footsteps.
Krelle curled into a fetal ball and tried to disappear. It wouldn't work though. It never worked.
Resigned and out of habit, Tai pinched the bridge of his nose. He whispered a silent promise to himself to not get any more mail.
The Syndicate - or whomever had Krelle - had all the cards. All they could do now was do what they'd been told and get Nerrok under control. Yeah, get Nerrok under control, he thought. He wasn't much for the Light but said a little prayer for Krelle. More reassuringly, he thought to himself, Krelle was worth more to them alive than dead.
And now Mirela was being handed back to them? Could they trust her? Maybe Falreve had his own plans for Mirela. Fel, maybe she'd cut a deal. And what the nether was this about the son of a bitch warning him about her as a 'danger to us all'?
Tai glanced across the table to Kya and forced himself to take a sip of his coffee. For all that he could do, all the people he owned, the favors he could call in ... for all that, now he waited. Waited for one of his own to be returned at the pleasure of the Bloodsails and waited for some - any - demands from the Syndicate.
Ren stared down in horror at the carnage in the valley below him. The entire training camp... and everyone in it... He looked incredulously at the sheaf of messages he'd been bringing, then let them slide out of his numb fingers. A movement caught his eye and he peered down into the still-smoking ruins of the barraks. There was someone there.
The courier, no fool, ducked down behind a stone and pulled out a longsight, peering carefully into the valley. When he finally found what he'd been looking for he fell back in horror, almost dropping the longsight in fright.
By the Light! How was this even possible? Who had sent... Fel, he wasn't paid nearly enough for this! Ren scrabbled in his pocket for the emergency-only-we're-not-kidding-kid hearthstone and activated it. As a near afterthought he scooped up the snow-wet missives again, staring into the valley in shock as the magic slowly envelopped him.
The world blurred and his ears popped painfully.
Ren looked about him at the surprised and irritated faces. His hands began to shake as the enormity of what he'd seen settled on him. He dropped the papers again.
"Demons!" he managed, and fainted.
Four humans met that night. The woman had delicate features that were devoid of any soft feeling. Those who crossed her often died in their sleep. The first man was large, his pale face flushing easily under a red beard. Those who crossed him generally died on his axe. The second man was slender and dark. He spoke in sarcastic, biting tones and his weapon of choice was poison. The last man was was the oldest. He was of average hieght, average build, with mussed brown hair that was now shot with grey. No one crossed him.
They did not meet in a darkened room, or a shady alley. Such things were for amateurs. They met in the Old Man's study. They had cigars. They had brandy. They sat in comfortable chairs. And they were furious.
"...could set us back ten years," the woman was saying. "The value of the equipment and buildings alone is obscene but when we take into account the slaughter of the novices and trainers? If is is true that so few escaped then we'll have to set up the school again practically from nothing. This will set all of our timetables back, especially those in Stormwind. And Shattrath, obviously. We lost a lot of very promising talent." She did not direct her comments at anyone in particular, but the little man flinched.
"Where the fel did they get an army of demons?" asked the large man with the red beard. He had been the last to hear the reports, and was still incredulous.
"How should I know?" snapped the woman. "Why don't you call up Jiang and ask?"
The large man frowned, then turned to the thin man. "You said it would unbalance them. I think you pushed too hard."
"This was totally unforseeable," protested the little man. "They've never held any truck with fel and barely any with magic. And admit it, none of us has ever heard of them reacting so violently to anything like this. Jiang is supposed to be cool and rational -"
"You didn't know he was out of town when you had her grabbed, did you?" taunted the woman. "Looks like one of his underlings didn't react quite the way you predicted."
"The timing of operations like this is always imprecise," he shot back. "As for the reaction, obviously it's excessive -"
"- but it shows one of two things. Either they don't care about her at all, or else the damage is proportional to how valuable she is."
The woman sneered. "Simplistic. I can think of three other explanations just off the top of my head. But your point is taken, Weasel. Obviously the forsaken is very valuable." She grinned maliciously, leaning forward slightly in her chair. "How very fortunate that we have her - oh, wait. I had forgotten. Silly me. We don't," she nearly spat, her tone full of scorn. "Your hired blade still has her. Oh, very well done, man. Now we've paid for something we still don't have. Do you think the tong would have her on credit from us?"
The man called Weasel shifted uneasily. "He's only awaiting payment to hand her over, I've already said -"
"What are we going to pay him with, idiot?"
"Easy, Vee," the large man murmured.
Vee turned to appeal to the older man who had so far been silent. "Sir," she said. "This venture in Silvermoon has done nothing but cost us so far. The tong is still there. We've lost men and money and time, we've trod on Cel's toes, Dal is furious - and we still never found the casts for the coins. And now this. We can't affford to continue operating in this manner."
The man with the greying hair took a thoughtful pull on his cigar. His face was unnervingly calm. He looked to Weasel, raising an eyebrow as though inviting a statement from the defense.
"Sir," Weasel said, and to his great credit, his voice was level. "We all agreed to these plans before they were set in motion. The results have not been what we predicted, obviously, but we can't just bail now or we'll have sacrificed all that for nothing."
The older man nodded slowly. "What do you propose?"
"We carry on with the plan. All we need is the girl. We don't have to pay the hired man," he hurried to say, his tone becoming oily and suggestive. "We know where he's keeping her. I will inform him that his services are no longer required as I send a few good men to retrieve her. That's one major expense out of the way and then we can get down to the business of making the Tong pay for the damages they've caused."
"Bad business, going back on contracts like that," rumbled the bearded man.
Weasel smirked. "I hadn't planned on letting word get around."
"Do it," the old man said softly. Weasel sat up straighter and grinned a bit wider even as Vee protested.
"But sir -"
He silenced her with a look. She sat back stiffly in the leather chair and scowled at Weasel. The older man looked back to the thin, dark-haired man and frowned at him. "Last chance, William." Weasel paled and Vee's scowl turned into a smug look. "Your vendetta in Silvermoon has had precious few rewards for the costs so far," the boss continued. "This is your last chance to go and find some."
There was a pregnant silence in the room, then Weasel stood up and bowed slightly to the boss. Without another word he turned and left. The ironwood door shut softly behind him.
Roh'rik grunted as he handed the reins of the bat to the flightmaster. He hefted the large sacs off the flying mount and headed to the stables. As a soldier, he was used to getting suicide missions. How many officers tried to make a name for themselves by overreaching, putting grunts out on the line? More than he could count, he thought with another grunt.
Still, this was different. This wasn't somebody trying to get ahead. This was doing something that needed to be done - period. In the end, this was his duty. He spoke over the comm, "Roh'rik here. Getting a mount and headed your way, Master VonNacht. I'm bringing those fishing nets you wanted."
"Ah'm t'inking that Master Tai was right ta be sendin' us up 'ere, Natt."
It made sense. They couldn't move against the bloodsails unitl Mirella was back. They couldn't do anything about Krelle because they didn't know where she was. The only thing that anyone could really do was go and get Nerrok back. So why not send everyone?
The tigers were here in part to placate the ones holding Krelle but also because they needed to get Nerrok back safe before some other force took him out. As Shisou had said, the Undercity wouldn't mind a bit of wanton destruction in a human area but if Nerrok seemed to be heading for Tarren Mill? Cesspool or not, the Deathguards would have to take steps.
Ajeera had spent her life training for war but this was the first time she'd really seen a battlefield.
The air was thick with black smoke. Any building larger than a shed had huge, smouldering holes it in, unless it was blown down completely. The barracks - the largest, solidest structure - had been rocked from the inside by a massive detonation. The ceiling had fallen in and was still burning, and stained glass from the windows could be found all over town. The bodies littering the ground also told the story of what had happened. Here there were a circle of guards, fallen in battle. Often there were isolated corpses, or a trail of them, felled from behind while running. Occasionally there would be nothing but a near-unrecognisable bloodied mess. There were also large claw marks gouged out of things... bodies, crates, stone walls...
Nattieto growled. Even through the acrid smoke and stench of blood he could smell the demonic taint in the air.
"He's stopped moving," came Shisou's voice over the com. They had formed a kind of loose circle around the area Nerrok was in and were slowly closing in. Ajeera had told the young elf to stay up as a lookout - she had promised Roh'rik to sort of keep an eye on him, after all.
"What's he doing?" Von asked. The hunter had taken Roh'rik with him and was getting closer than the others, circling through the ruins, but they didn't have a visual yet.
"He's hunched over something - I can't tell what. Something metallic," Shisou answered.
"This is it, then. I need a diversion."
"I can -" Creasey started to volunteer.
Ajeera shook her head as she cut him off. "If annehboddeh else 'ere is able ta grow back a missin leg, let dem do it. Odderwise, let me."
"Ajeera," Von said decisively. "Get in there - before he moves again."
Nattieto shifted into his Tauren form and hung back, ready for his part. His job wasn't to be healing, in this fight. Not healing her, anyway.
Ajeera didn't remove her axe from its sling on her back - she'd been ordered not to hurt Nerrok. Tai had said no one was to be hurt, which was ridiculous, but she figured that the temporary maiming of a troll wouldn't count. She crept out from behind the overturned cart - still tied to two dead horses - and peered down the street. She could make out the hunched, disfigured form of the fel-orc down in the town square. His back was to her, still, and she was downwind. Small advantages, she thought. She wished she could let herself go and just charge him in a natural bloodrage, but she had to keep her wits about her and coordinate with the others...
Ajeera grinned a lunatic grin and set of at a sprint towards the demon, ululating like a maniac.
Nerrok spun about in an instant, dropping something into the red snow at his feet as he growled. The orc's face was hideously distorted and his mad eyes glowed red as he saw the troll. With a speed that belied his hulking frame he snatched a throwing axe from his belt and hurled it end over end down the street towards her before charging after it with a bellow.
Ajeera had to drop to avoid the flying axe and she rolled back to her feet as Nerrok charged her. She caught his claws on her thorium gauntlets but the impact sent her flying backwards. She landed awkwardly on one knee and had to put a hand to the ground to steady herself. As Nerrok moved in, however, there was a loud clang from behind him.
Creasey had charged in as she fell and struck Nerrok across the back with the flat of his blade. Nerrok spun with unnatural speed, lashing out at the forsaken warrior. Creasey caught the blow on his sword but Nerrok twisted his claws, ripping the sword out of his hands and tossing it aside.
Ajeera was back on her feet and leapt at the orc, even as he backhanded Creasey's shield away. She landed on Nerrok's back, screaming a trollish warcry as she grabbed his head and held on.
Creasey stumbled backwards with an oath, clutching his broken hand. "Any time now!" he yelled.
Nerrok roared in frustration as Ajeera clung to his armoured back. With a sudden surge of agility he reached over his own shoulders and grabbed her. Ajeera screamed as the demon's claws pierced her armour and dug in to her back, below the shoulder blades. Nerrok ducked his head to try and pull her off but the pain just made her angrier. She roared and tried to bite his neck, between the helmet and breastplate, but his claws were tearing at her muscles. Her right arm gave out and her grip slipped. Nerrok flung her over his head - into Creasey.
If Kayce hadn't charged in, Nerrok probably would have killed them both.
The half-elf leapt between the warriors and the fel-orc, bracing himself behind his shield. Nerrok paused, looking down at the skinny blonde boy, and threw back his head and laughed. Ajeera tried to roll off of Creasey but her arms weren't working right and it was hard to move. With one arm broken, Creasey was having a hard time pushing two hundred pounds of troll off of him. She looked over and saw Von and Roh'rik moving in with the netherweave nets - if Nerrok saw them…
Nerrok looked back at Kayce, the demon inside the orc grinning. Nerrok didn't recognize them but Kalithresh did, and was delighted to be able to harm the orc's friends. The creature roared and lashed out at Kayce. Ajeera half expected to see him go flying right over them but he'd been braced for the impact. Kayce's boots skidded across the cobblestones but he didn't drop his shield and didn't fall.
Creasey finally managed to kick himself out from under her and Ajeera rolled to her knees, growling. The others shouldn't be getting hurt - that was her job! With a roar, she got to her feet, pushing herself up with her left arm, the right hanging uselessly. The blood running down her back was hot. Her vision narrowed as she looked at the possessed orc and she fought to stay in control. Kalithresh grinned from behind Nerrok's twisted face as he looked from Kayce to her, like he was selected which toy to play with next. Von and Roh'rik were getting closer - she had to keep his attention for a bit longer.
She flipped him off, and spat one of the insults her mother had taught her in the demonic tongue, speaking directly to the possessing entity. "You are as a puny imp to me, creature. Flee back to the nether's embrace."
Nerrok roared at her, suddenly infuriated. She ducked his first claw but the second caught her across the face.
Nattieto's heart was in his throat as he saw his troll-friend fall but she'd been very clear before the battle. He would not ever disappoint her. The tall night elf and the old orc ran in as the demon struck, flinging the nets across the creature. The forsaken was back on his feet and grabbed the far end of the net with his ubroken hand. The blonde one had dropped his shield and was also holding on now. His troll was not moving, but the four warriors still on their feet were clinging to the entangled demon, holding him in place, if not still. It would do.
The druid stepped forward, raising his hands in supplication to the Earthmother.
"Blessed Earthmother, hear the prayer of your humble child. There is among us a demonic force. It is unnatural. It is most-hated. Deliver me the power to cleanse this taint from your face! Hear my plea, Mother, and let me banish the spirit from your presence. Look to us who have served you faithfully and let us teach a lesson to the fel creature…"
As he spoke, he felt the Earthmother listen.
Shisou watched, appalled, as Nerrok struggled with the imbued nets and four warriors. He heard the first strands snap over the strange words of the Tauren. He looked back to Nattieto and blinked as the bull's white fur began to glow. Shisou could feel the magic gather, thick in the air - but not the arcane forces he was used to feeling in Silvermoon. This was more like a current.
The eddies swirled from the praying druid, across the blood-spattered snow on the cobblestones, down to the town square where the party was struggling. Nerrok roared in pain as the divine force flowed around him and managed to throw Roh'rik off, but it was too late. The spell had gathered, and had found him. A cloud gathered from the clear air above him, spinning itself out of nothing, hovering like a black mark of doom over the struggling demon. There was a crack as a bolt of lightning split the air. Shisou cried out and covered his eyes, blinded by the flash as a roll of thunder echoed through the valley. He rubbed his eyes and blinked tears away, straining to see what was happening. A sudden silence had fallen. As the spots cleared from his vision he saw Von, Creasey, Kayce and Roh'rik standing around the groaning form of an orc - a large, well muscled orc, but just an orc - trapped under two netherweave nets. Nattieto was running past them, towards the troll.
"Blood and nether," the elf swore. "It worked!"
He hurried down to meet them. He skittered down the tree he'd be in with the practiced agility of the elven race, hitting the ground lightly without a sound. The area was littered with blood, most of it Red's probably, and he could even smell it. Not the first time he'd seen massacre of course, but never a pretty sight.
He sauntered down towards the others, recognizing Nerrok beneath the net as he approached and the others picked themselves up. It'd be a vicious fight. Sort of like watching lynx's fight. He didn't think anyone had died though... well... Red still wasn't moving... but trolls were good at healing up right?
He reached the others and moved to try and find out what Nerrok had be standing over before they'd moved in. He'd thought it looked metallic, but even with elven sight it was hard to tell sometimes.The fight had carried Nerrok several yards away from what he'd been working on and Shisou was able to see the detonator quite clearly. Over twenty wires were already linked to the device, with another three or four on the ground not yet attached. His eyes could follow the wires across the snow and blood-speckled cobblestones for quite some distance before they disappeared between buildings and down the streets. They seemed to spread out in all directions. He looked over the whole scene, blinked, and looked back at the apparent detonator. "well... huh."
With Nerrok safely back to himself, Kayce picked himself up and surveyed his comrades for injuries. His eyes immediately fell on the red-headed troll lady who was lying in a heap. He carefully rolled her onto her stomach and examines the gashes on her back. He bandaged her and then laid his hands over the rapidly staining bandgaes. He spoke a few words in Darnassian, a healing spell. His hands began to glow with green light. He hoped it would be enough to save her.
Nattieto arrived at his troll's side as the blonde one healed her back. The hulking Tauren knelt beside them, peering at the wounds. They were deep, but healing now. They were not what was keeping her down. He frowned, examining the claw-gouges on the side of her helmet. The thick plate of thorium had deflected most of the last blow but any hit to the head was a bad one. The druid ignored the questions of the other pink one with the pointy ears as he laid a hand over his troll's head and closed his eyes, searching for the source of the problem.
Nattieto concentrated. A warmth filled the air around him and his troll as the Earthmother helped him for a second time that day. The cracked skull was knit, the pool of blood inside was made to go away. He opened his eyes and peered down anxiously. His troll let out a low sigh and her breathing evened out, as though she were sleeping.
Seeing no reason to stay in the inferior shape of a biped, Nattieto returned to his natural form. He leaned over his troll and licked her face once. She opened her eyes and raised her hand to her face as she blinked up at him. She smiled, and his heart sang.
We meet up in an abandoned house in Caer Darrow, as we did the first time. He is seated at the back of the living room behind a makeshift desk and he nods up to me with a superior little smile that I could just as easily do without, but fel. Business is business.
"So glad you could make it, old friend...it's of vital importance that we deal with matters at hand as quickly as possible. Shall we?" He gestures down to the seat opposite him and I oblige, taking in my surroundings with a casual glance.
"As you may know," He begins, either deliberately ignoring the irony or flat out missing it, "We've had some problems recently with the Grey Tiger Tong's reaction to our plan." He looks me over to gauge my reaction as I sit catatonically still and stare unblinking holes through the back of his skull. He grunts uneasily and continues.
"There's no easy way to put this, so I'm just going to come out with it. My associates and I have opted to sever our ties with you. All bets are off, all contracts are null and void. I'm sorry it had to play out this way, really I am." The smirk in his eyes belies the bullshit he's trying to feed me, but how sincere he is matters little at the moment.
"And the girl?" I ask, cocking my head to the side slightly as I stare at him.
The two men skulk past the various Forsaken along the path, hidden in the shadows. Reaching the cemetery, they take a furtive look around and, certain that they've gone undetected thus far, start counting headstones.
" 'Ey Ados! I t'ink I foun' it." The portly one named Knuch calls over to his gaunt companion. The thin man drops the map on the ground and rushes over to his partner’s side, pry bar in hand.
"I t'ink you does, Knuch. Good wark." Ados nods to the larger man, then sets his pry bar into the soft earth beside the tomb marker and begins to work it.
"Keep lookin' out for da dead ones, 'kay? I get da girl, den we go." He calls over his shoulder, mostly focused on the task at hand.
"H'okay." Knuch melds back into the shadows, eyes peeled for any interference. He sees none. Tonight is their night to take things back into their own hands...he can feel it.
"She's being taken off your hands. A chip only counts when it’s in your pile, right?" He nods assertively, leaning forward and tenting his fingers.
"So...since we no longer require your services, and you have nothing to offer us as far as a body goes, I guess this squares us. You're free to leave." He leans back with a frictionless smirk. Weasel is in control. Weasel knows the score.
"Just like that, hm? What if I don't agree to the terms of this arrangement?" I throw my arm forward and grab him by the neck for a split second before I feel something like an ice pick drive itself into the small of my back and into my spine. The poison takes effect almost immediately, blurring my vision and throwing off my sense of balance. I fall forward slightly, loosing my grip on him to help me cling to the desk, barely able to keep myself from hitting the floor. Weasel's face turns in a hard sneer.
"It isn't up for debate. You should've considered yourself lucky to escape with your...life. Now I'm not even leaving you that much." He rises to his feet, unsheathing the blade that rests by his hip. His eyes gleam with malice as he rounds the desk, advancing on me.
" 'Ey Knuch, nobody comin'. Give me a hand wit' dis. It too 'eavy." Ados' face drips sweat, the strain of trying to move the stone quickly proving to be too much for one man. Knuch wanders over, reaching his thick fingers down into the crack opened by the pry bar and pulling with a monstrous groan of effort.
"Al...most..." He continues to pull, wrenching his back as he puts all of his weight into it. The stone begins to give and he pulls it back, his final groan drowning out the faint 'click' noise from the grave below.
The explosion leaves a smoking crater in the ground where the two men stood mere seconds ago. Half of the fat mans torso, pinned underneath a large chunk of tombstone, lays sprawled out thirty feet away. The guards rush over to the wreck, quickly assessing the situation, then shrug uneasily and drag Knuch's remains down into the mausoleum for the freshly risen to feed on.
It isn't every night that Deathknell sees a commotion like this.
As Weasel advances on me, I feel the rush of shadows course through my body, purging it of all toxins. I keep my head down, not tipping my hand until the last moment, when I throw a fistful of blinding powder up into his eyes. He shrieks, staggering backwards and tripping over the fireplace poker as I vanish from plain sight. I watch him claw at his eyes and see as he regains some sense of where he is in the room. His head snaps over to the chair, which I've since abandoned.
"Shit...shit shit shit." He curses under his breath as he backs himself into a corner, dagger at the ready. I meld backwards into the shadows and push my arm outwards from his own, thrusting my blade at an upward angle through the base of his skull and out towards his eyes. He convulses, a gout of blood gushing from his mouth, and then quickly grows still. I draw my blade out of him as I let him fall to the floor, then stomp on his neck with my boot heel over and over again until I hear the telltale snap. I wipe my blade off on his tunic, then settle into his seat, nodding with a grin at the mechanism he'd used to poison me...a simple button by his foot and an injector in the back of my chair. Clever boy.
Hunched over his desk, I quickly pen a note, then leave the abandoned house and make my way to Krelle's grave. With relative ease, I move the tombstone cover and peer down into the hole. Her head snaps upwards, hollow holes peering up at the moonlight above. I notice that the luminescence of the dream dust has faded away as I drop down behind her, coming down on her head with my sap. She collapses in a heap and I gather her, and then climb out of the pit. I dump her in a large sack, drop the note on top of her, then tie it off with a strip of netherweave and make the trek back to Brill. Approaching in the shadows, I drop the sack behind the Gallows' End and disappear back in the woods.