A Return to Basics

She inhaled deeply of the drying herbs hanging off the rack, and smiled.  Despite how bloody, tired, or angry she returned from her work, sitting here working quietly almost rivaled sitting in a quiet tavern sipping on cider.  She ground the pestle once more into the bowl and set it aside, letting the pigments settle into the oil, and picked up the heavy parchment, laying it before her, scrolling the edges back with weights. Outside the raucous noise of passerby: horses and talbuks whinnying, the growl of Darnassian sabers, the constant chatter of people was muted enough to be a minor annoyance, one she could easily phase out. A shadow lifted above her, and Kadrian glanced up: the Loremaster was pulling another tome off the high shelves, cheating really, Kadrian thought to herself, using her powers to telekinetically draw the heavy book to her rather than use the ladder.  But then again: the magister was surrounded by papers and other open books, so perhaps she was well within her right to do so.  The tome came to a gentle stop in mid-air before the magister, who took it gingerly, flipped it open to a page, read it with narrowed eyes, frowned, and set it open to her side and referred to another.  Kadrian grinned and looked back to her own work.  She took the wide brush and dipped it into the purple ink, and set it against the empty parchment. She loved to inscribe: it was just a relaxing, slow, yet deliberate action, one that appealed to a meticulous nature, yet was not so demanding as something like…oh, engineering.  At least one was not liable to explode when working with inks and quills. Kadrian began to murmur the words, inscribing the power into her brush as she drew it across the parchment, combining the magic of the incantation onto the paper.  The words flowed like a gentle river across her tongue, in the same way her nimble finger twisted the brush, turning the path of ink into wide swaths or thin streams, until she completed the rune with a bit of a flourish. She dropped the brush swiftly back into the bowl before the ink would have time to dry and gently blew across the parchment. Another shadow cast above her work, but she didn’t bother to look up again, merely smiled and ever-so-gently moved the still-wet rune aside to dry. After it did so, she would be able to over-cast it with a second inscription in clear ink.  It would be ready by tomorrow evening, at the latest.

She leaned back into her chair and sighed, grateful that she only paid to use the Saceallum and was not actually employed. This way she was not pressured into making quota of glyphs, but only as much as she felt like making.  In the same way fighting for a living had turned her enjoyment in working with weapons, the subtle dance and movement of a fight into a draining necessity, if she had been forced to do this verses simply enjoying the action…well, she’d have little left in life TO enjoy.

Kadrian sat up in her chair and began to gather her belongings, pouring the half-finished purple ink into a vial, wrapping the herbs gingerly in linen, and putting them all in her pack.  Leaving the bag packed neatly on her desk, she lifted the newly-made glyph carefully and took it across the room, where the drying parchments of other scribes hung, caressed by the air flowing through the open window. She hung hers next to another, unable to compare the artistry, and reveling in the happy feeling that hers looked much better.

She glanced through the window again…and then took a double take.  Her eyes bulged in amazement.  She’d never in a million years believed that troll would evern voluntarily come to Dalaran! And to be mucking around in the arts district…Lu’labre occasionally meddled in alchemy, but would NEVER be caught hanging around the enchanter’s alley. Kadrian hurried back to her place and looped her back across her shoulder. She’d come!

“I’ll come back tomorrow and finish it up, Master Lorella,” she called to the Loremaster up on the dais.  The woman merely waved a casual hand, engrossed into her research. Kadrian practically leapt out of the door, and called happily to her best friend across the way.

“’tchu thinking you be going back witout me, Kat?” the troll began without ado, her unique dialect turning Kadrian’s nickname into a form Kadrian let no one use except for her.  Kadrian grinned and grasped the forearm of the tall female troll, and they hugged, however briefly.  Even though they were confident in their relationship, there had been a number of times both had received harsh repercussions from their representative factions for their friendship.  It was not altogether smart to be openly friendly with each other in the middle of Dalaran.

“I would never,” Kadrian replied teasingly. “You know I’m useless without you to guard my back.”  A barking laugh came from the tall troll.

“ya, you be right.” Lu’labre unconsciously slowed her stride to match Kadrian’s, being almost a foot taller than the human and Kad was thankful she wasn’t forced to jog to keep up with her.

“I know I asked, but you didn’t have to come,” she added after a moment, carefully. “It’s…touchy business, this circumstance.” Kadrian was going back into the frozen Icecrown tundra, voluntarily this time. She hated the freezing cold, the never-ending grey-white expanse and whispers of ghosts, and echoing screams and growls and moans of the restless undead. She hated it: only her resolution in fighting the Scourge kept her from moving back to Azeroth.  Besides, one had to support herself: and this was where the money was. But now… It had seemed her past had returned to haunt her, and despite how long Kadrian had tried to put it aside, or to run from it, it had burnt down her front door (almost literally) and there was no hiding again until it was finished.

“an’ you be dumb thinking I not be comin, mon,” Lu’labre answered swiftly. “I know how much you be needin this. Me brudda’s and sista’s got the scourge unda control fa now.”  Kadrian laughed.  Although her fellow assassin was clever and quite skilled, subtlety in conversation was a lost art. Actually, as far as Lu’labre was concerned, subtlety at all was a lost art. Lu’labre’s work in the south was obviously very important, but the fact that she would drop it all to accompany anyone, let alone a human into what some might call a fool’s errand still sent a rush of gratefulness through Kadrian.  Kadrian thought herself incredibly lucky to have found a friend in her-there was not a more steadfast companion in all her acquaintances.

“What ‘tchu find out?” the troll asked as they slipped around the grand staircase of the Violet Citadel and made for the dark hole that was the hidden entrance to the Dalaran sewers. She rarely, if ever, did any business in the busy streets or taverns of the main drag. Maybe she didn’t like the crowds, maybe just a preference for the shadier corner of Dalaran where she was more comfortable.

“Something useful, I hope,” Kadrian answered. She sidestepped a vile portion of feces left by, the looks of it, a worg or wolf of some sort and scrapped her boots against the cobbled, uneven stone anyway.

“The tournament in northern icecrown is pulling everyone from across Northrend. And of course, Ravenholdt has some members up there.”

“Not tossin sticks at each odder, I take it?” Lu’labre said. Kadrian shook her head.  “No. They’ve got, like they always do, their spies keeping an eye out. I’m sure they’ve even got some people working on the citadel, too.”

“Didn’t ‘tchu get a hire for de citadel?” Lu’labre asked. She kicked the limp arm of a drunken patron off the table, paused, then picked the comatose elf completely off the bench and dumped him on the floor.  He didn’t even make a sound.  Kadrian waved Narissa away, not in the mood to drink, and anyway, Lu’labre didn’t even touch alcohol.

“I did. Its…” she paused.  It was hard to cast into words the feel of the place: it’s utter empty halls, the constant feeling of being watched, the shiver between her shoulder blades, and bitter cold that numbed her fingers. She’d done her share of fighting the scourge: undead skeletons, animated by necromantic magic, cultists, massive…rotting, abominations, stitched creatures with too many arms, misshapen faces, their guts steaming behind rotting skin, giants of stretched and stitched flesh. But within the halls of the frozen citadel, those hordes of mindless undead were exchanged for scheming, fully aware monsters, undead 10 feet high who, with one swing of a massive axe, would dismember her before she could think to dodge…shadow magic that reduced her to trembling in agony…

“-it’s disturbing,” she finished lamely. “I could live happily not venturing in there again, but…I can’t help but see Strathholme again. The Crossing. Or Cree. I remember, vaguely, visiting Andorhal, seeing the grand houses.  Visiting the granaries, learning how they worked. And returning years later, seeing them dropping into ruin, haunted by ghosts, banshees…people who used to be alive, and thinking, reduced to mindless, rotting…”

“To think I even knew some of them, too.”

Lu’labre listened silently, her dark eyes solemn. Kadrian forced herself out of that dark place and shook her hair out of her face.

“But anyway. Yes, I believe he has reason to go up there with every other scrub looking for a bit of praise of his ‘holier-than-thou-I wield-the-Ashbringer-and thus am-better-than-you, Tirion Fording.”  The troll snickered. “An…informant implied of Ravenholdt’s presence, and even if it wasn’t him, the opportunity to get to one of the members is a step in the right direction.”

“Additionally, I actually heard his name being referred to, last time I was up there.”

“You did?” Lu’labre looked truly surprised at this.

“Well, not his real name. One of his aliases, when he goes as high-elven: Saren Starkblade.”

“Real original, mon,” Lu’labre laughed. She leaned her chair back against the wall and crossed her large, bare feet atop the table.  Kadrian saw Narissa wince across the room, and gave the troll an exasperated look.  Lu’labre innocently ignored them both.

“When you wanna leave?” Lu’labre asked. “I got all de time in the world, dey not gonna destroy alla Zul’drak before I get back.” Kadrian shoved the troll’s feet off the table with her elbow.

“I need to stay in town until at least tomorrow evening, unfortunately.  I started another glyph today, and the warlock who requested it was rather adamant about getting it as soon as possible.”

“Do dey know what you really do, mon? De customers you make de runes for?”  Kadrian shook her head.  “nah.  I have a rather successful façade built here, and I’ll thank you not to break it.”

“As you wish.” Lu’labre fiddled with her necklace pendant absently. “Still, it be funny to me ya be an assassin an spend ya spare time painting.”

“I’m glad you think so,” Kadrian laid on the sarcasm. Lu smirked, her tusks uneven. They sat in companionable silence for a moment, and Lu’labre unraveled the leather strings on the pendant she was fiddling with.  Kadrian watched her, a small smile on her face.  She had missed Lu, and wished it was under more friendly circumstances that they were together. She looked around the tavern, leaning back into her chair, watching Narissa rebuff a sullen Suneaver Mage Ajay had just ordered out of the tavern. He wasn’t really allied of the Silver Dawn, but the Sunreavers were a pushy bunch, and she couldn’t blame him for ordering the elf out. It seemed all mages were rather arrogant, in their own way. She rolled her eyes and looked away. And then she finally noticed it.  And immediately was furious at how she missed it before.

“Light-damn it, Lu, did you see where he went?!”  She hissed to the troll.  Lu’labre didn’t abandon her air of casual relaxation, but an edge came into her eyes as she silently surveyed the open-aired tavern behind Kadrian, not even setting her chair back on all four legs, as the human surreptitiously covered behind the troll.

“Ah missed ‘im, too,” Lu said, anger coloring her accent, thickening it. Kadrian scowled. Damn, she’d not been so stupid in months!  She looked past Lu to Ajay Green, who usually minded his own business, behind the bar.  In this area of the city, one had to be, for all intensive purposes, neutral. Or appear to be. He caught her eye; she was a relatively frequent visitor to his place.  And shook his head.

Kadrian usually did not swear.  The way she was brought up, it was bad manners.  Even now, she was almost 30, and she hated using, and even hearing foul language.  Even Lu was surprised when a particularly foul oath left Kad’s mouth.

“de warlock will hafta wait, Ah guess,” the troll said, her long fingers still playing with the pendant at her neck.  Kad nodded.

“If we’re lucky, we might be able to intercept him before he gets there.” the rogue lifted from the table and hurried around the wooden posts to the rear of the building. Past an undead man, wearing…even despite her seriousness of their situation, Kad lifted an eyebrow at his garb. Colorful.

She grabbed a darkly colored whistle from a chain on her neck, carved from a talbuk horn.  Her nether drake, Omadius, would be able to hear the call across seven leagues.  His speed was unparalleled.  And she would need every bit of it. Leaving the bar behind, she and the troll dashed down the circular drainpipe, ignoring the refuse that splashed beneath their boots (Kadrian would later shudder at the fact that the troll went everywhere barefoot), Lulabre crouching in the confining circumference.  Kadrian blew into the whistle with a deep breath, and prayed the drake would be there when she reached the edge of the pipe.

“I connot believe yamakin me wear this, mon,” Lu’labre grumbled. “Ah can barely walk.”

“You’re exaggerating,” Kadrian mumbled out of the side of her mouth. “And you’re sitting down anyway.”

“ah minor point,” the troll complained. “Why do ya get to wear de dress?”

“’cause otherwise I’d never be caught dead in one,” Kadrian whispered.  Which was true. The dress-er, robe, as they called it, was unbearably warm beneath all the under-tunics, even in the frigid cold winds this far north.  Glacial winds scoured the flat expanses down on the front, and she would likely be glad of it then. But the first chance she got, she was putting her leathers back on. A loud crash and scream tore the attention of both rogues, and she looked out onto the jousting field. A young valiant was comatose on the ground, his battle-hardened charger limping off, clearly agitated.  A priest made their way onto the field, accompanied by two soldiers, who took the unconscious man and bundled him back to the hospital. Kadrian shook her head.

“Why do people do this?  I mean, when you think about it, its really is a stupid idea.”

“So is dis,” Lu complained again. Kadrian finally looked at her companion.  The lithe and tall troll was practically doubled in size by the pauldrons and steel armor she was weighted down with. A tall polearm was sheathed on her back, almost as tall as she was.  She had to admit, it was a complete different look for the troll, and Kadrian found she was suddenly glad for her…dress.

“Look: a disguise is always necessary for people of our vocation.  You know that.”

“Mebbe for ya. Trolls needing no disguise.  You try and disguise dese?” she grinned, showcasing her tusks clearly.  Kadrian had to agree with that.  At almost 6 and a half feet, her near-purple skin, bright orange hair cast in a vibrant Mohawk and the tusks, Lu’labre really didn’t do much in the way of disguise.  Maybe that was why she was so successful as an assassin.  She didn’t look a thing like one. Lu took, as she liked to say, refuge in audacity.  She was successful just because no one believed she could be.

“Just go with it, Lu,” she finally snapped.

And immediately regretted it.

She closed her eyes and forced herself to calm down, regulating her breaths, pulling inwards and settling into her quiet mediation…and forced her anger inwards. It was getting harder and harder to do. Kadrian feared she was losing control.

“I’m sorry, Lu,” she said after a moment. Lu’labre was watching the next joust. It was another troll, a strapping male with startling bright blue hair; his tusks branched out the side of his mouth like tree branches.  He was doing well against a champion fromSilvermoonCity.  Another blood elf.

“dat not be him?”  Lu said without recognizing her apology, and thus, accepting it. Kadrian took a closer look at the blood elf perched easily atop the hawkstrider, his tabard clashing vibrantly with the multi-colored bird. He had the same easy posture, even the bit of arrogance, but Kadrian had long been able to associate that with the entire race, verses one example. She shook her head.

“No, that’s not him.”

“It be so easy to tell, mon?” Lu asked, glancing at her out of the corner of her eye.  Kad nodded. “After growing up with him…”

“but ya say he be a master of de disguise.”

“Even so…” Kadrian glanced behind them.

“There’s just something about him.  You know-if you know someone really well, even if they’ve changed so much, you can still find something of their past that transcends all manner of disguise.”

“So….why we be wearing disguises again?  Ya had known ‘im since ya child.”  Kadrian burst out in laughter. Two others sitting in the stands near them gave her a curious side-long look, as both she and Lu had been hiding the fact they’d even been talking.  She shook her hair out of her eyes again and watched the ensuing joust. The troll had won, his adversary left the arena to face his trainer who, Kadrian winced: looked quite upset at his poor performance.

They’d caught up with the elf shortly after fleeing Dalaran.  Both had, stupidly, Kad had berated herself afterwards, assumed him to have passed out from drunkenness, but rather had been a clever post to catch the common double-dealings that were the norm in the underground tavern.  Kadriun hadn’t been totally sure he had been allied with Ravenholdt, but informants like that catered to all who paid, and Ravenholdt was no exception. She would likely be dead now if he’d gotten their conversation to Ravenhold: if the two of them had not caught up with him first.  Both assassins had dealt with the spy with ease and his body now lay somewhere in the scourge infested arena of Scourgeholme, probably being devoured by the nerubians. Kadrian, and not Lu’labre for that matter felt any guilt at having to kill the complete stranger, as for mercenaries (and assassins, when it came down to it), it was just business.  So now the both of them had come, in disguise, to the Argent tournament, in search of one blood elf that had turned his back and betrayed Kadrian when she’d needed and trusted him most.

Lu’labre appeared to all as a warrior, decked out in the golden-edged steel plate armor and looking fearsome.

And bored.

And uncomfortable.

Kad hoped she’d work on that last look: it really didn’t fit the disguise: every warrior she’d known were so at ease with all that plate armor she wouldn’t have been surprised if they slept in it. She herself had donned the garb of a mage: easy enough to fake without being forced to reveal her non-existent powers.

Her short black hair she’d plastered to her head and donned a longer wig, with a slightly lighter shade of brown that brushed the top of her shoulders.  The garb was comfortable enough sitting down, but Kadrian sorely missed her leathers when she was forced to move.  She’d tripped over the hem twice before she remembered to shorten her stride. Lu’labre had laughed fit to burst.  But, for better or worse, the less they appeared to be what they were, the better. The only thing she’d not given up were her daggers: not really the weapons for a mage, so she’d kept them on her leg sheaths, which she could easily grab through slits she’d gashed in the garment.

She slipped her hand through one side and gripped the wrapped hilt of one of them now.

Lu’labre saw the small movement. “What’tchu planning on doing when ya find ‘im?” She asked carefully. Kadrian blinked, and didn’t answer right away.

“I know what I’d LIKE to do,” she said after a moment. “I’d like to slit his treacherous elven throat; I’d like to see him on his knees, begging me to spare his life in the same way I begged him not to do what he did. I’d like to see him suffer the same heartache I went through when he deserted me.”

“But ya won’t.”

Silence.

“I don’t know.”

~~~~~~~~~`

Kadrian kept a tight grip on her blades as she slunk past the two ghouls, mindless they might have been, but the very sight of living flesh would throw both into a frenzy-the likes of which she would not likely survive.  Unscathed.  The shadows encased her like a warm blanket, and she sidled not two feet away against the rotten, near-collapsed wall of the building, barely breathing, hoping, and praying they would not sense her presence. She knelt down slowly, and ducked underneath the leaning rafter, her feet moving soundlessly against the ash-strewn, dead dirt.

A low growl, a guttural mix of groan and gurgle emanated from the rotten mouth of one of the ghouls; it lifted its bloody and cadaverous face to the sky and sniffed.  Kadrian sucked in a breath, and forced herself to remain calm. She was behind them-safe in the overhanging shadows of the wall. Fingers dug hurriedly into a pocket and found two small grey pellets.  She bit her lip cautiously and tossed one off the side.  A flash of smoke and a small crack, both ghouls immediately turned. But not towards the sound, the clever gnomish device that should have distracted both undead from her passage.  They both turned and saw her.  Kadrian abandoned caution and ran.

“MMHGGRRGHMM!!!”  There were no words to the inarticulate groaning of the ghouls, but there didn’t need to be.  Out of nowhere and everywhere at once, skeletons with rotting skin, ghouls with limp and bloody muscles peeking through distended flesh leapt towards her, teeth bared in hungry advance.  Kadrian fumbled for a flask, popped the cork and, having not time to truly drink, merely shoved it against her mouth and prayed she swallowed most of it.

Strength billowed in her limbs: she felt renewed, encouraged, and shot ahead in a burst of speed, leaping and sprinting over the ruins of the forgotten town. She didn’t care glance back. She could hear them pursuing her, hear their hungry cries, like feral cats, baying after her flesh.  She sprung over a low-hanging rafter, landing, and cried out in fear, dark surprise: there was no landing.  She fell through the air, her momentum too great to stop, and landed harshly, heavily on all four of her hands and feet. The fall knocked the breath out of her.

Thus, she had no breath to scream when she looked up.  A skeletal face loomed out of the cellar she’d fallen into, the teeth a macabre grin in the skinless face. Still breathless, her training kicked in before she could think.  She punched out with the pommel of her dagger, knocking it back away from her, and scrambled away, discovering and ignoring the screaming agony in her wrist. A freezing hand seized her ankle.  She kicked out, sending another ghoul flying backwards.

“Get back!!”   She cried, slashing with both daggers this time. The blades sunk into the abdomen of the ghoul in front of her, she felt it strike grate against bone…rip the tattered remains of clothing, her return strike spilt steaming innards that spilled across the floor, making the ground slippery and treacherous. Yet it still stood. She kicked at him again, a heavy heave-kick, and sent him reeling back into the wall, where she distinctly heard his neck crack.  Kadrian leapt for a low rafter, and heaved herself up, barely cognizant now of her broken wrist. Behind her, the mob of undead, somehow twice as large, was nearly upon her. She grabbed another limb, and gasped in horror as her fingers ripped through the rotten limb.  Maggots and termites, sickly and white, spilled onto her hand. Cold hands grabbed again at both her legs.

She couldn’t help herself this time.

She screamed.

Undead fingers grappled at her belt, she was dragged backwards into the cellar.  Kadrian braced her foot against the wall and shoved herself backwards, smashing the skeleton behind her into the wall, reversed her dagger, and slammed it across his neck, severing the spinal column. She pivoted, reversed her weapon again and—teeth sunk into her wrist.  Kadrian shrieked in agony as the ghoul-the one who’s neck she broken, began to gnaw upon her broken wrist.  Waves of agony billowed up and down her arm, she tried to rip her arm away, and crumpled as a heavy bludgeon bloodied the back of her head, knocking her to the ground. Her vision began to blur, as face upon white, ghoulish face grinned in undead glee, and as they began to feast, she screamed and screamed and screamed…

“NO!!”  Kadrian burst upright out of the nightmare, sweat soaking her short hair, beading on her forehead. She sucked in deep breaths of the frigid air, staring into the grey shadows of the simple tent. Slowly her surroundings returned; she licked her dry lips and swallowed, forcing herself to slow her breaths, lessen her racing heart. Kadrian closed her eyes and hugged her bare arms to her chest, taking solace in the fact that her flesh was still whole, free of the plague. She was in Icecrown.  At the argent tournament. Not in Azeroth. Not surrounded by the undead.  She shivered and pulled the heavy frostweave blanket back over her shoulders.

She’d not had a nightmare that bad in years. She kept telling herself it was not a notion of weakness that kept her in sleepless nights sometimes, that perhaps everyone who had seen the remains of thekingdomofLorderaonmight suffer the same.  She reached behind and touched the back of her head, the place, in her dream that, if it were real would be swelling with blood.  Her fingers came back clean, her skull was un-fractured. Kadrian snorted.  It was just a dream.

Just a dream.

Kadrian stood up, ducking in the low ceiling of the draped tent, and let the blanket fall to the floor. She quickly donned her leathers, having not slept in them because she’d wanted to get them clean yesterday.  They were stiff and still damp, but immediately upon clothing them, she felt worlds better.  Safer.  Maybe thick leather wasn’t the best of armor, but it was better than nothing.

She belted her weapons belt on and slipped her knives in their sheathes as well, even though it was likely not an hour past midnight.  Inane as it might have been, she felt much better armed.  Even if it was just a dream.

She stepped out of the tent, and immediately sucked in a sharp breath at the glacial, freezing winds streamed across the plain.  The heavy double-edged frostweave with the (rather expensive) heating enchant tended to make her forget she was camping in the middle of the most forsaken dump of snow and ice on Azeroth.  She reached in and grabbed her second cloak, fur-edged and thick and quickly donned it.  Above her, almost directly, the bright blue-silver moon was full and glimmering, casting an ethereal light upon the seemingly peaceful glacier spread out before her.  She lifted the hood over her mussed hair and pulled the folds close to her skin.

Naturally that was a lie; they might be camped miles above the plain, but she knew if they were to get closer to the bombardment, the cacophony of the scourge armies alliance and horde bombers and battle would overwhelm her illusion of silence. The fighting never stopped.

“Lu?” She peeked in the second small tent on the plateau.  “You awake?”

“urgh….nah…” the troll answered, muffled under thick blankets and doubly thickened by her accent.  “go ‘way.”  Kadrian smirked and let the tent flap fall back, and re-tied the knots.  It was to be expected: Lu’labre was from the southern islands of Durotar.  Kadrian had grown used to the constant cold here, she’d spent no small amount of time in northern Azeroth, and snowy winters were nothing new there.  To the tropic-raised Darkspear troll however, it was as close to self-induced torture as one could get.  She buckled her cloak higher on her throat, took up her helm from just inside her own tent and began to make her way down the hill.  It was snowing, but in a gentle fall, the flakes large and fluffy compared to the driving ice-storms that sometimes drew blood in its ferocity.

The ground underfoot was thick with unpacked snow, and Kadrian wished she’d remembered to put on her snowshoes before she was even 10 feet away from their camp. She kicked crusted snow off her knee-high boots and gazed around.  Hundreds of feet below, and argent tournament slept, briefly: horses, sabers, wolves and striders stabled comfortably for the night before the folly began anew the next day.  There was never a shortage of new fools coming to try their own mettle, or old fools who returned to test them. Tirion Fording had returned just yesterday, and apparently was expecting a visit from King Wrynn some time later in the week.  She’d been a witness to the Horde ambassadors, Hellscream and Thrall when they had arrived several days ago.  She smiled absently as she watched the sleeping compound stretched across several miles.  How he hoped to keep the peace between King Wrynn and Garrosh…

And Patroak was sure to be here.  Knowing the tendencies of Ravenholdt, the best of the best would be here, under the payroll of the alliance SI:7 or the horde equivalent (or both), doing their best to prevent or incite war, depending on whoever paid the most…but then again, Jorach was spectacularly insightful when it came to reading politics.  Kadrian was willing to bet he was putting most of his efforts and men into encouraging a little more tension…after all, considering Bloodhoof’s recent “illness” and of course, Sylvanas’s ‘actions’ (or lack thereof), they were likely getting quite a few hires.  Assassins always got more work in war.

She started down the hill again, sliding and slipping more than actually getting a solid foot into the loose snow.  She wasn’t worried about being seen: she’d paid a tailor specifically for this cloak to be enchanted for warmth and stealth against the snow: a fortune, but definitely worth it.  Foot by foot she slid down the slope, until it leveled out again and she rested by the rock wall, glinting with a green-silver sheen: saronite: blood of the old god, as she had heard it referred to. Miners and blacksmiths paid handfuls of gold to get their hands on it, and Kadrian could attest herself to its qualities, having briefly wielded a sword forged from the stuff.  Unfortunately, she did not possess the ability to cut the stuff out of the rock, and let it sit, glimmering in the icy wall.  Just a head of her was the graveyard, a haphazard collection of headstones of those who had died in the tournament.  Another testament to its stupidity.  Of course, there had been a real killer among them, someone who called themselves the Black Knight, but he’d been defeated several weeks ago.  He’d killed three champions and several aspirants before the Justicar’s men had caught up with him: they were buried up here, too.

She walked up to the first stone and brushed off the snow covering the engraved name.

“Michael Cadwaller.”  Probably some farm boy who thought he was some great hero, came up here after killing a few boars in his hometown and got himself killed by biting off more than he could chew. The dirt underneath was fresh, but frozen solid, and she moved out from the front of the grave, respectfully.  She sighed heavily and turned back to watch the silent tourney campground.  There was no use trying to go back to sleep.  Not now. Kadrian backtracked her steps, deep holes in the accumulated snow until she reached a small clearing and fumbled with chilled hands for the whistle around her neck.  No rest in sleep, no rest in waking. Better get to work.  The whistle was inaudible to her ears, but she had only to wait a few moments before Omadius winged overhead, his wings tossing drafts of snow about her head as he back winged and landed with a huff and shake of her head.  Kadrian grinned despite herself and rubbed the crest atop his head, between his shimmering silver-blue eyes.

“You’re amazing, you are, ‘dius,” she told the drake, who was intelligent enough to know he was bring praised.  Not reaching anything close to human intelligence, but more than a match for any cat or dog. He shifted, snow crunching under his weight, and Kadrian moved around to clamber up onto his shoulder, settling in between the ridged blades, wrapping her legs around the thinning of his slender neck.  No saddle tonight, but there was a challenge and a joy to rise barebacked.  Plus, Omadius would never see her fall.

“Jorach must never get tired of gloating about how right he was the day he found you,” a voice floated from behind her. Kadrian’s neck swiveled so quickly it cracked, and she groaned at the sharp pain, clapping a hand to her neck.  The blood elf, barely recognizable through thick furs, though his brilliant green eyes shown through, merely folded his arms, smirking. Had she the moment to consider that he had found her so easily, Kadrian might have cut her losses and taken off with Omadius.  Instead, she rolled off the drake’s neck, slapping him under the shoulder, sending him off with a flurry of snow from which she shielded her face with an upraised arm.  Patroak did the same, but once the shimmering-grey-silver bulk of the netherdrake had disappeared into the grey-white sky, Kadrian lowered her arm. Seeing him again brought billows of stifled memory back: the red plaguelands sky, the stench of blood and decay in a decrepit wind.  He wore the colors of Silvermoon-just like before, but…Kadrian glanced at his collar.  There. It was hidden by an enchant, an illusion that drove the eye past it, but since she knew it would be there, the emblem of Ravenholdt glittered. Her eyes moved up to his face, and upon seeing the smirking grin on his face, her anger billowed within.

“I miss the long hair, I have to admit,” the blood elf said, as though they were meeting as old friends.  “But the short does make you look quite different.  Were it not for your companion, it might have taken us quite a long time to catch you up here.”

Lu’labre!

“Lu…” Kadrian took a step back…but he was here.  Patroak stood not five feet in front of her. But could she potentially sacrifice her best friend?  If he was able to track her up here, surely he knew Lu’labre slept unawares…

“You’re not alone,” she said flatly.  Patroak shrugged ever so slightly, really a twitch of her head than any movement of his shoulders. Her eyes flickered behind him, the sheer cliffs rising high to her left, the slightly-less vertical rise behind him, where any other might hide under enchanted wool to strike her down.  Her back prickled with tension, any moment imaging a bolt to bury itself into her gut.  And this time, she would freeze to death before any passerby could stop and help her like last time.

“If you’re looking to correct the last time you tried to sever this loose end, you’d better get on with it,” she snapped, hating his unnatural silence. Her breaths were coming quickly.  This was not how she wanted to die, lying in the freezing snow and ice, to have him gloat over her body again.

“Not just yet,” Patroak said instead, cutting into her rising anxiety.  He unfolded his hands, letting them hand against his legs to show them unarmed, but Kadrian wasn’t fooled.  “You’re a curio, Salla.”

“That is not my name,” she growled, gripping one of her daggers. Patroak snorted a small laugh.

“Choosing a different name doesn’t change who you are, Salla,” he argued. “And you seem to have maintained what we did to you quite well.  Making quite a living for yourself.”

“I don’t want your approval, Patroak,” she spat. “You left me to die!”

“You made a mistake,” he argued back, just as ferociously, the green in his eyes seeming to pulse with his words. She didn’t want to argue that.  Because, looking back on the situation now, it was clear that Salla had made a mistake.  Several glaring ones, even.  The largest, apparently, in believing that anyone in Ravenholdt cared for any of their members as anything more than an investment. Not as people. Salla had grown up to see the guild as a feax-family figure.  A place to belong.  At the time of Patroak’s—and by extension the guild’s betrayal, that had been what had hurt most.

The dagger left her hand before she could mentally approve the motion, her fury overcoming whatever sense she was holding onto in discovering his motives for not killing her onsite.  Patroak barely dodged the underhanded throw, bringing his forearm to block it: but the hard obsidian blade punctured the metal greaves he wore, and he stumbled back a couple steps, lifting his arm, raising an aristocratic eyebrow at the dagger sticking out of the metal armor.

“Your throwing arm hasn’t weakened, I see,” he said conversationally, tearing the blade from the greave.  Kadrian tensed: she, unlike him was wearing only her leathers, and if her agility and speed couldn’t save her, she was dead. He balanced the dagger on his palm, and spun it between his fingers.

“And your choice in weapons remains top. Salla, it was a waste to lose you as we did.”

“That is not my name!”  Kadrian shouted, whipping out her garrote, which she had been weaving out from her belt around her wrist.  Flicking a switch on the end of the thickened rope, barbed blade sprouted every inch along the length of the weapon, and she launched it through the air like a lasso, spinning it so swiftly it whispered above her head. Patroak this time fully dove out of the way, as the spinning garrote spun across where his neck had just been.  Kadrian kept the motion, spinning it around her body and again towards the swiftly-ducking elf.  Patroak laughed as he moved, avoiding her blows with ease, even though the garrote was barely visible in the grey early dawn.

“That’s a new one: your invention?  Gnomish design, if my engineering is up to date.” Kadrian flicked her wrist, the garrote snapped in the air with a loud crack: and this time, she caught the dancing blood elf on his shin, neatly cutting the leather armor to the flesh, and drawing blood against the muscle.  She grinned mercilessly as Patroack limped, but slammed his foot down on the garrote before she could whip it into the air again.  She dropped it and drew her other dagger, this one as long as her forearm and spun it underhand.  Patroak drew his, holding her other at the ready, and she went into a crouch, balancing deftly on her soles.

“I’m surprised they didn’t do to you as to me when they found I’d survived,” she said bitterly, waiting.  Still no sound came from her camp above. She hoped Lulabre might have been aware enough with her exit to fight if others came to fight.  “Or was Jorach so enamored with the idea that I survived even you enough to send you here alone and try again?”

“Always assuming,”  Patroak said, kicking a bluff of snow upwards as he spoke, dashing first to the left and then right.  Kadrian anticipated the feint, and though the updraft of snow blocked his movements partly, she raised her dagger and blocked his first thrust, punching out with a clenched fist, catching him directly on the nose before falling to the side and rolling back towards the sheer cliffs.  Patroak lifted a hand to wipe at his face, now dripping blood from his nose.

“That’s a new one for you, too,” he said, his voice muffled. “How un-elegant.” Kadrian glanced at her hand, noting his blood on her gloved knuckles, and smiled.

I’ll take my revenge, even if I have to do it a drop of blood at a time, she told herself standing and moving away from the dangerous cliff edge. The strong wind whipped her cloak behind her, and she toyed with the idea of shrugging it off: but against the glacial freezing gales, any and all agility would be lost without its warmth.  She kept her eyes on Patroak, who stood still, blood markedly red against the snow and ice around them. Then, faster than she could react, he was on her.  She barely got her one blade up as both his daggers cross for her throat, and when she blocked his right thrust, he spun and came around her back with his left hand, catching her blind and without a weapon.  Kadrian grabbed at his cloak, like hers, trailing behind and yanked, but the enveloping garment came off her in hands, and suddenly she was left with two a sharp blade against the connection of her spine to her neck, and the blood elf twisted his wrist, slicing down her hand so she dropped her last dagger to the snow with a soft thump.  Kadrian tried to kick backwards, searching for his groin, but Patroak snapped a foot into the back of her other knee, dropping her to the ground.

“Ungh!” Kadrian grunted as she hit the ice and snow hard on her knees.  She tried to roll away, but Patroak grabbed her own cloak and spun it around her head.  Beginning to grow frantic, Kadrian raised her arms to prevent him from obscuring her vision completely, and the blood elf kicked her hard in the small of her back. Kadrian’s nose and mouth filled with up-tossed snow, but she grabbed a handful and, rolling to her back, tossed it upwards…into thin air.  She heard his mocking laugh behind her and turned again, this time directly into both blades, one that traveled around to press against the gap between ribs under her arm, the other against her neck just below her chin. Kadrian froze.

“You never fought against me in true battle,” the blood elf said, his voice soft.  “And Jorach would not so easily sever my contract.  I have been Ravenholdt since before that short-lived human was suckling at his mother’s chest. They set contracts out for you, dear Salla, they did: but I came after you, I set up the trail so you would search me out, so I can sever the stain on my honor that was  failing to kill you the first time.  No more.  No Less.”  Kadrian’s fists clenched at the name her called her.  Of course, she could try to wrench one of the blades away, and in that second, the other would drive home. Patroak had her at his mercy: and this time, she knew he wouldn’t leave her to wait and die at the hands of someone else. And this was how it ended. Far away from home, from her friends. A vision of her dead father floated up in front of her eyes, but instead of wishing to see him again, she threw all her fury back at her former mentor.

“I hate you,” she whispered, the words making her throat bob against the knife at her skin, its freezing metal drawing blood: thick and hot in the freezing cold.  Patroak nodded in a sarcastic salute.

“And that’s the first lesson we teach you.  Seems you finally figured it out after all. Goodbye, Salla.  For good, this time.” His eyes blazed into hers, and Kadrian shut them.

The explosion was so close Kadrian felt as though the earth had opened beneath her: a concussive force threw her across the snow and she screamed in terror, her hand coming to her throat , clutching the thin cut Patroak’s blade had made in her flesh.  Her ears rang, sounds muffled and dim inside her head, but she pushed herself up from the snow, scrabbling away from Patroak, from his blade–saw a flash of darkness in the snow through blurred eyes and dived for it– to reach her dagger from where it had fallen…fallen from the blood elf’s hand.  Her eyes followed the arm, up to the torso: where his chest had been torn apart.  Blood, dark crimson spattered across the spotless white, and Patroak’s innards had been reduced to a soup of flesh and shattered meat.  Kadrian out a hand up to her mouth, swallowing bile at the sight, and nearly through up again, tasting that blood on her fingers.  She looked up, and saw Lu’labre striding down the hill calmly, a gun half again her height resting comfortably at her waist.  Her breaths coming hard and fast, Kadrian sighed and slumped on her knees, closing her eyes in utter relief as the troll reached the elf’s dead body.

“Toldja needed ma halp,” Lu’labre said, kneeling down next to her. Kadrian gave her a weak chuckle, and heard a crunch as Lulabre set the huge gun into the snow.

“Messy ding. Never like usin’ it close-range.”

“Can’t say I’m too fond of it, either,” Kadrian said, opening her eyes, and digging a finger into her ear. “I think I’ve gone half-deaf.” Lu was kneeling across from her, so their knees met. At the troll’s concerned look, Kadrian shook her head.

“I’ll be fine.”  Someday, she added inwardly. Someday she’d come to terms with being at the utter mercy of an assassin. A position she’d put hundreds of people in before.  Never one she’d expeienced.  Kadrian looked at the weapon in her hand, and set it in the snow. She’d always seen the shining blades as a comfort.  At this moment, she feared them.

“He nearly hadjoo.”

“He did,” Kadrian disagreed. “And he wasn’t-as he said it, going to let the stain on his honor stand by giving me the chance to make another miraculous recovery.”

“Bastard.”  Lu shot the dead elf a hateful glance.

“Oh, Lu,” Kadrian said, holding onto the taller troll as she stood. “It’s not unheard of, especially in guilds.” She tried to make light of how shaken she was.  Knowing you were hunted, recognizing the possibility of death at any time was one thing: facing it was another. And even so, Kadrian had been in numerous situations where her death seemed inevitable, but a way out had only been a matter of time or clever thinking. She pressed two fingers to the thin slice on her neck, and looked at the blood on her fingers: bright, incandescently crimson against the ice and snow. “You know that, even if you’re working solo.”

“Ah always work alone,” Lu’labre reminded her.  Kadrian glanced her bright orange hair, the grinning tusks, and smiled.

“I know.”  She held the troll’s shoulder for a bit, and squeezed it gently. “Thanks.”  Lu winked and picked up her gun, and Kadrian pulled her cloak, which Patroak had torn off-kilter back over her shoulder and huddled back into it, weaving her frozen fingers into the warmth. After a very brief moment, she made herself retrieve her weapons, carefully cleaning them first in the snow, then against what portions of Patroack’s cloak that weren’t soaked in his blood before sheathing them at her hips. This was who she was, after all.

“Maybe we should spar more often,” Kadrian said as they trudged back up the hill. Lu handed her a spare piece of cloth, which Kadrian wrapped around the shallow cut across her forearm. It had been a lucky hit: the tendons had been spared, and with the aid of a priest could get the arm back into fighting shape within a few days.  She spared Patroak’s body one lingering glance, before turning her back on it, huddling deeper into her warm cloak.  The snow could bury him.  “Apparently I could use the practice.”

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