The three women looked around at the mountains of boxes in their new home. Narrow paths wound through piles of belongings. The back wall was completely hidden from view.
“We should have got a bigger house,” said Talula, her voice heavy with growing despair. “No,” said Phea, her practicality showing “We’ll be fine. We just need to get things put away.”
They devised a strategy and each one took a different section of their new home to work on. Kya popped in early to lend a hand and Nerrok and Taai came by just in time for the burly orc to help move an enormous oak worktable up to the second floor. By evening, the kitchen table had been cleared and there was enough room for the three tired roommates to sit and rest. Ollie had been in and out all day and, figuring they would be too tired, dropped off dinner for her new neighbors before heading to a card game at the tavern.
“This is going to work out just fine,” said Krelle. “We won’t need the closet to the Nether realms after all.” Phea smiled at that and Talula nodded in agreement as she looked around at the rest of their unpacked possessions. Her eyes came to rest on an ornate box just inside the door. “That’s pretty,” the gnome said, gesturing at it with her fork. “Who does it belong to?” Krelle and Phea said “Not me” at the same time. Talula got up from her chair and picked it up.
It was made of tropical woods and was engraved with leaves and flowers in the elven style. A small note was tacked onto the back. It read, “For Qal'Tirrin”
“Who’s Qal'Tirrin?” Talula asked. The name didn’t strike an immediate chord with either of her roommates.
Krelle’s keen nose caught the scent first and her smile dropped away. “You smell that?” Phea and Lu leaned closer, inhaling. The coppery odor was unmistakable. “Blood?” asked the mage and Talula nodded grimly. “Smells human,” said the Foresaken woman. The three exchanged a look and Krelle reached forward and lifted the lid.
Inside the box, wrapped in waxed deer hide, lay a fresh heart.
Ollie chewed her apple thoughtfully. She had read the note, looked at the heart and had even poked it with her finger once.
Her detective skills were more or less taxed.
Straightening, she looked down at the gnome, "I don't know, Lu. If I were you three, I'd find out who this Qal'Tirrin is."
Phealea narrowed her eyes at the package and her frown only grew as the blood was identified as human. Her mind started to take in the possibilities as she looked over the box. Was there a simple mix up with boxes? Was this placed intentionally here? Phea did not have the answers and it bothered her greatly
"Qal'Tirrin sounds like a elven name... and the scent of blood could very well mean a organ or two could be inside." She said quietly and with a hint of disgust.
Phealea bit down on her lip as another possibility few into her head. She looked down at her Argent Dawn badge and stared at it idly. What if it was a body part that was to be used as a spell component...
Krelle looked at the heart, irritated. What the fel was up with people giving her mysterious giblets?
It wasn't really for her though, she reflected. It was "for Qal'Tirrin." The thought mollified her somewhat.
"Y'know," she mused,"as tempted as I am to suggest that Qal was the guy who lived here before us, and this is all an easily-explained mistake... I have a feeling that ain't it."
Talula nodded glumly. Phealea was looking speculative, and Ollie had one eyebrow cocked in a mildly intrigued fashion as she munched on an apple.
Krelle pushed the box-lid closed with the tip of her foot. "If someone means for us to make a delivery to this Q-T guy, they'll have to discuss payment first. You guys wanna put this thing in the recoldulator for the night? We can figure it out tomorrow - maybe buddy who dropped it off will show up to see if we're mystified enough. I find that flakey people often do that," she suggested.
Lower City, Shattrath
The air was thick with the kind of grime that comes from too many people living in a cramped area. Talula stopped at a rain barrel, removed her hat and splashed the questionable water onto her face. It didn't make her any cleaner, but it certainly helped cool her down. She sat on the stone terrace, openly watching life pass by. Von and Kya had kept their promise not to tell anyone that she was in Outland. She had barely met Murithi and Sunya and doubted they would recognize her in the sea of faces anyway. The only other Tiger regularly beyond the gate was Nerrok and rumor had it that the orc had ventured into the Caverns of Time. The gnome finally felt she didn't have to hide.
The refugee camp felt oddly familiar to her. When Gnomeregan fell, there had been a lot of displaced families and makeshift shelters. Shattrath had those things, but it also had diversity. She watched as a pair of Saporlings haggled with a human tailor over the price of silk shirts. Draenei shared meals with Night Elf and children of all races played together as though there was no difference between them.
She noticed the three little girls staring at her, whispering. She smiled at them. They approached her and the red-haired blood elf said "Do you want to play with us?"
"I must look like another child to them" Talula thought, amused. "That would be lovely" she said in her high, squeeking voice. Small orc and human hands were extended to help her up. "Come on! Come on!" they called as they made a game of skipping across the large flat stones. Talula skipped along too and the girls cheered as she managed to make it across the whole terrace without touching a single crack. She followed them to where weeds grew out from a crumbling foundation and all four imagined that the dry, spindly plants were colorful lilies and roses.
She spent an enchanted afternoon being led around the tents and stalls, chasing after the boys who had stopped to tease them, giggling at the twitching rat noses at the bird-like Arakkoa's kebab stand. They never mentioned her leather armor or sharp daggers. They never offered their names nor asked for hers. It was merely enough that the gnome seemed to be just another little girl seeking shelter from the ravages of war.
It was late afternoon by the time the first mother sounded the call for dinner. There were hugs all around, as though they had been best friends forever. Talula went to the Inn to see about her own food and lodging for the night. Her juice had just been served when the Blood Elf girl approached her. She held a familiar box out and said "A lady outside told me to give this to you."
Talula took the box cautiously, suspecting what lay inside. "Aren't you gonna open it?" the girl asked eagerly. The gnome shook her head. "No. This box isn't for me."
Booty Bay, Stranglethorn Vale
Taai stretched in the afternoon sun. She'd had another good day with no sickness and lots of energy. She'd spent the last four hours working on wedding plans and paused when her stomach gave a loud rumble. Humming cheerfully, she went to the kitchen to start dinner. Nerrok wasn't due home for two more days, so she had plans to fix all her favorites. The hunter had left Icestorm to watch over her. Taai was convinced that he did it half as a practical joke, knowing how she felt about cats. The white lion opened one eye lazily to see if Taai was getting food for him, then closed it and went back to sleep. "Tha's right ya big lazeabout. Ya best bae stayin' over there or I'll bae eatin' roast cat tonight!" She brandished her kitchen knife at him from across the room. Icestorm merely rolled over.
She had just finished dicing the potatoes when the lion picked his head up, sniffing. "I've got nun for ya," Taai started to say. She watched as he quickly rose and padded across the room to the front door. Sharp claws raked gouges in the wooden door and the woman rushed over to stop him. "Tai and Kennia are gonna kill me fer tha'," she admonished, pushing the big cat away. Icestorm paced in front of the door impatiently and something in his manner made Taai open it.
There on the step was a wooden box, decorated with carved leaves and flowers. Written in blood across the lid was the words "To Qal'Tirrin, A heart for my love."
Taai's brows furrowed and she carefully stuck her head outside the door, looking both one way and the other. No trace of who or what left the box. She didn't survive growing up on the streets to just go head long, nilly-willy into situations. Crouching carefully before the box she listened, no ticking. Good sign. Icestorm sniffed and licked at a corner, growling deeply, hungry. Bloodscent grew suddenly sharp to Taai. Nostrils flaring, her scent of smell seemed to be heightening these past few days. Some aroma's in the Bay are none to pleasant.....
"Hmphs. Fine.. let's see wot's wot, eh kitty?" She picked up the box, kicking the door shut. Squinting at the lettering she tried to make out what it said. "To.. Q-al....Turnin...Tirrin." Paused nodding. " A heart for my love." Setting the box down, she fiddled with the lid, slicing a lockpick under and around, nothing was locked though. Popping it open, she saw a fresh lump of meat. Her mouth watered, at the same time she groaned. Turning quickly she found a bucket and started dry heaving. Stuff like this never bothered her before!!
A noise made her lift her head slowly, blinking. The white lion was licking his chops clean....the box scattered on the floor, empty. UGH. Back to throwing up, thinking Egads, someone was not in their right mind, giving a real heart for the holidays. Her next thought made her breathe deeply and sit back on her heels. "Wait.. they think this is Tai's and Kennia's place... " She hit her comm fast! "Nerrok?! Krelle? Who bae awake??"
Krelle sat up in bed as Taai's nervous question rang through the com. She dropped "A Brief History of the Sin'Dorei" into the pile with the others and flicked on her transmitter.
"Taai? I'm at the lab, what's wrong?"
Taai shakily explained what had happened. By the time she had finished Krelle had already strapped on her boots and daggers and was walking quickly through the hall of the apartment.
"Stay cool, Taai - something's goin' on. I'll come up and explain." She tried to sound calming, but she wasn't sure what she was going to be able to explain away. "Oh yeah, we got a heart in a box too. Weird hunh?" She shook her head ruefully as she came into the living-room-turned-laboratory. She paused, her eyes lingering on the recoldulator.
If the other tigers were getting boxes too... Krelle frowned, feeling suddenly fiercely protective of her family. The three of them getting a "gift" was one thing, but now the creepy Lover was bothering Taai. That wouldn't do.
She locked the door behind her and hurried up through the maze of ladders and ramps to the apartment where Taai was waiting. She wondered if all the tigers were getting "gifts" like this - if they were, maybe she could wait outside the door of a tiger who hadn't gotten theirs yet, and catch the Lover in the act... Or better, have different stealthy tigers waiting outside of lots of homes that hadn't gotten one yet. Following the Lover away might be quite informative...
Her mind considered the possibilities as her feet padded silently along the wet boards. She would being it up at the next meeting. Time to get the Tong in on this.