Renewal

Funny how things seemed to revolve back to where they started, Kadrian mused as she leaned on her palms, elbows propped on the scarred table. The place was deserted.  Ajay wasn’t even at the bar, and Narissa worked the back room with a hurried manner, to the point that Kadrian had long given up attempting to signal that she wanted a refill and and contented herself to stare into the muddy dregs at the bottom of the mug.  Through the slatted walls, streams of light streaming through old chinks of moldy mortar, she could hear the excited voices of passerby, sloshing through the puddles of sewer water as they made their way from the Undercity into the light.  KAdrian couldn’t help but snicker at the symbolism.  Tirion himself was in the city, leading a promenade of many of those individuals integral to the fall of Arthas and the Citadel. Into the light, indeed.  She rolled her eyes and rubbed a finger around the rim of the mug. Although she’d been involved with Taslor’s hire for nearly three months, off and on as she was needed and could make it, it seemed now only a brief moment of fresh air compared to where she now found herself. Kadrian smiled as she recalled the happy moments of working with that group: Boaz and Wrynna constantly sniping at each other behind gazes of sincere affection, Monagan’s quips and easy laughter: Even Taslor’s stern countenance, and the moments when the lines on his face eased into a grin at the antics of others: such things made the horrific atmosphere of the citadel bearable. She would miss them all: the complete trust between friends that she’d missed all her life: and that she would always be too afraid to have.  Kadrian scratched at an inch on her temple, and gazed at the white scar across her right forearm.  She could have asked the priest to heal it completely, removing the blemish altogether.  But it represented a lesson she’d learned: one she’d learned years ago, forgotten, and had to be re-taught. She traced a finger down the white diagonal line, and sighed.

“What, not joining in with the party?”  A voice called from behind.

“You have to even ask?”  She replied easily without turning. “I should think it was obvious.”

“You are such a…well, you’re boring,” Wrynna said, hopping up onto the bench across the table, leaning her staff against it. “Its not so bad: you know most everyone who is there-“ she winkled her nose. “And sweet Muradin’s trousers, its stinks down here.  I mean, wow…” She waved a hand bfore her wrinkled nose.  Kadrian acquiesced with a grin.

“Point taken.  But then again, that smell keeps most poeple away: and I like a little privacy. Only place in Dalaran I can get some quiet.  Can I get you a drink?”  She made to wave Narissa over, but the mage shook her head.

“No, no thank you.  If it smells like this, I can only imagine what things taste like.”  She shuddered.

“Oh, come on, it’s not as bad as you make it out to be.  Ajay keeps the bar clean; the atmosphere is strictly ambiance.”  She waved her hand around the empty room: its stained walls, the broken chair against the corner.

“All the same, I’m fine. Boaz spiked the goldensloe wine at the guildhouse with some spiced rum without telling me, and I already had two glasses.  Any more and I might end up dancing on the table.”

“Well, if you feel so inclined, give me a moment to find him so I can make sure you’ve an appreciative audience,” Kadrian teased.

“You’re as bad as he is,” Wrynna said, slapping her elbow playfully.  “So what about it?  I promise, you can blend into the wall while Galinal flirts with Taslor–you know, he actually blushes!”  Kadrian laughed aloud.

“Oh, you play a tempting tune.   But no, I’m fine.  I’ll be leaving in a few hours:  I’ve got a boat to catch back to Stormwind so I’ve got to make it to Valiance keep before Thursday.”

“Thursday?”  Wrynna’s eyebrows disappeared into her hair: dyed a brilliant blue today, and curled under her ears. “You’d better have a fast ride: the gryphons they hire out at the Landing can’t make that trip in under a week.”

“You’re met Omadius, right?”  Kadrian smiled.  Wryann frowned, and then recalled with a smile.

“Oh, yes.  The netherdrake, right?  He’s beautiful.”

“He is.  Doesn’t care much for the cold so I have to take him out often, but of all the drakes I could have bought in Shatttrath, he really stuck out.”

“He could make that trip in two days.  Why are you really avoiding all this, Kadrian?” Wrynna finally asked, belaying the casual chat.  Usually Kadrian avoided that sort of honest chatter as much as everyone else seemed to enjoy it, but faced now with the frontal query and the awkwardness of her eventual answer, she rather wished Wrynna had kept it going and avoided the topic altogether.  Kadrian sighed and leaned back from the table, resting her arms on the lintel.

“You told me you were worried about Ravenholdt,” the mage continued. “But I know you can move around without being seen. Which gives me several great ideas for practical jokes, now that I think about it-“

“No, that’s not it,” she interrupted, with a small laugh. Her fingers fiddled with the small cloth emblem for Ravenholdt: stolen off Patroak’s clothing when they’d killed him two weeks ago.  “But there’s a bit of a diffrence between moving silent like that and trying to live normally when you feel like there’s a target painted on your back.”

“Have you been attacked?”  Wrynna’s eyebrows furrowed into concern..and a little anger. Kadrian paused…ever so briefly, her fingers still fiddling with the emblem beneath the table, and shook her head. “No, not yet.” She hated lying.  Especially to Wrynna.

“So you think they’re perhaps biding their time?”  Wrynna pressed. “If that was the case, Stormwind is probably not the best place to go.” The gnome’s hair and bright party clothing contrasted sharply with the dark concern on her face and wide eyes.  Kadrian picked at her lip anxiously.

“Last time my cover slipped, the moment word reached Ravenholdt that I was alive…I—“ she paused.  This was harder than she thought.  “Some poeple were killed.  Poeple who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And I can’t bear to have that happen again. They are biding their time,” she borrowed Wrynna’s succinct turn of phrase. “Waiting for me.  For me to do something, but I’m not sure what. I should be dead already.”

Kadrian-“ Wrynna eyes were wide, but Kadrian pushed on, knowing if she didn’t get it all out now she never would. “I’m going to Stormwind because they will be there. And I’ll figure out what he wants.”

“What if you get killed?”  Wrynna looked horrorstruck.  Kadrian’s stomach felt like it was twisting itself into knots, fear at the very real possibility making her want to crawl into a hole and pull it in over her head. Instead and folded her arms on the table and clenched the Ravenholdt emblem tight in her fist. “I’m an assassin, Wrynna.”

“Was,” the mage corrected with a firm frown and upheld finger.  Kadrian’s mouth twisted up into a grin.

“Ok, was.” Her smile faded. “But sometimes I feel as though I’m living on borrowed time anyway. I guess this is jsut a chance to bring things ’round to full circle.”

“But-“

Kadrian stood, shoving the bench away with a loud scrape, drowning out Wrynn’a protest.

“I’d better go.”

“And you’re just going to leave then, without telling any of us?  Skulk out, in the middle of the night-“

“Its midday,” Kadrian interrupted, fishing out Omadius’ whistle from inside her tunic. Wrynna flushed angrily and drew herself up to her full height: which, unfortunately, wasn’t as impressive as she meant it to be.

“You know what I mean! I may be half your size, but I’m not some two-year child that needs protection, and if you think-“

“I’m sorry I didn’t come to the party, Wrynna,” Kadrian said without looking at her. Instead she set the bench back against the table as Wrynna slid off her own seat. “I need to do this. They’re waiting for me, and I’m tired of living with this stupid fear.  Better get it over with.”  She flashed the gnome a quick half-smile. “I’ll see you later.”

“If you survive,” Wrynna snapped, following Kadrian out of the back room, as she twisted her way through the trash-filled hallway to Ajay’s back exit.

“If I survive,” Kadrian amended, grinning despite herself as she heard Wrynna’s annoyed huff behind her. She turned back to the gnome.

“I’m sorry. Really, I am.”  Wrynna’s face softened a bit and she sighed heavily, finally easing into a rueful grin.

“You’re like a sister to me, Kadrian.” she said.  “I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea of you just waltzing to what could be your death.  But if you insist, I won’t tell the others. I’ll make something up.”

Warmth spread through Kadrian’s chest at her words.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I appreciate it.  All the same though, you can tell Boaz.  I doubt there isn’t much you two keep from each other.” Wrynna’s cheek’s caught a tinge of pink.  “I’ll find you, if things turn out alright.”

“You’d better,” The mage warned. But then she held out her hand. “You be careful.” Kadrian saluted instead.  If she reached out and took hold of WRynna’s hand, felt that warmth and strength and family: she might never regain the courage to leave.

“Yes, ma’am. See you later.”  She winked, and vaulted over the pile of broken crates and trash that hid the not-so-secret exit drain pipe.  Wrynna watched the assassin disappear into the dark shadows.  “Been a while since I visited Stormwind,” she mused to herself. “Maybe I’ll head that way.”  She smiled to herself, turned around and, arms folded casually behind her head, strolled back towards the parties above.

Couple weeks later…

Kadrian readjusted her hood over her face, shaking her head to let the long-ish blonde hair fall over her cheek. This wig was a comfortable fit, but having hair long enough to fall into her eyes was something to get used to. Kadrian squeezed back out of the crowd, anyway. She didn’t like to hand around in any place for longer than she needed: and that definitely included the middle of a crowded street in midday.  Moving in and out of the numerous adults, children, and the occasional elf or dwarf, she edged along back the way she’d come to take the long way around and catch the western bridge into Cathedral square.  Another thing she found off about returning to the city: there were so many more people here…of course, she expected the crowds and noise in the Trade District, with the shops and stands, the odd goblin calling out their strange wares or pulling carts.  The ever-present children chasing each other through the cobbled paths, Kadrian knew all these.  But the men and woman standing on street corners, crying out about the end of Azeroth…people speaking in low tones in darker corners…speaking of which…Kadrian bent down and picked up a flattened pamphlet from the street, and pressed it out between her fingers as she walked.

“Don’t be caught unawares-Azeroth will burn, but you can be safe,” she repeated the line across the top. She flipped it over, reading similar phrases on the back. This was new. Naturally, there were always soothsayers of a sort, proclaiming the end of the worth, Kadrian could recall very briefly, mostly as part of human history now, the wars when the orcs came from Draenor, and how her father had scoffed at those who cried those times to be the end-all.  And now this…Kadrian tossed the dirty pamphlet aside and shoved her hands deep in her pockets, fingering the hilt of her dagger through the hole in her ragged robe.  Superstitious nonsense.  There was nothing that she could see that heralded the end of the world.  All in all, given the resolution of the Lich King and the business in Northrend, Kadrian was anticipating things to slow down for a bit.  She walked for almost an hour more, keeping her stride brisk, though her hands stayed in her pockets.  She passed another young man standing on an up-turned crate, actually wearing a painted board with the same ridiculous nonsense on it, and rolled her eyes as she did so. She reached the covered bridge to the western gate of the Cathedral district with no trouble, and even loosened a soft sigh of relief once she saw the bright fountain shooting high into the blue sky in the center of the square.  Not that the Cathedral square was any less crowded than anywhere else in the city: given the death toll in Northrend, the graveyard had exploded with tombstone to commemorate those fallen and it seemed memorial services were held every other hour.  Kadrian knew there was one scheduled at dusk in two days, one, it was rumored that even King Varian would attend to honor those who had died.  No, she felt her back tense with a crawling nervousness: becuase here, of all places in Stormwind, was the place assassins would least likely to be found, and where they would be.  There was something about the quiet peace, the gentle pressure of the Light’s presence that calmed the mind and body: but Kadrian felt nothing but a clining, slimy fear up her spine.  Her legs heavy and tired as she climbed the wide steps to the Cathedral, Kadrian finally let down her hood.

“Welcome to the Cathedral of Light, miss,” A smiling brother in a white robe with golden trim said as she entered the foyer. “Speak to any of the brothers if you need assistance.”  She merely nodded, and he bowed.  The ceiling rose high above, and light filtered down through a circular stained glass window in various shades of pink and yellow, casting colored shadows on the pristine marble floor and pillars that stood like sentinels up the aisle. Kadrian stepped aside, moving into the relative dim of a hidden alcove behind one such pillar and sat down on a low marble bench. It was quiet, seemingly impossibly quiet after the constant noise outside: although not complete silence, she could hear murmured conversations echo against the wide sanctuary, and the soft footsteps of other visitors. A hooded figure, again, in that soft white with gold trim circled around the back of the cathedral, but he merely took the lamplighter and began to re-light extinquished candles on the stands near the pillars.   She shook her blonde hair out of her face and twisted her lip between her teeth again, her eyes slipping from his innocuous figure to gaze out at the arching depths of the church as she thought. She tried to make herself focus on body language of the others in the cathedral. She was sure several of Raenholdt were hidden, but at least one those at the alter had to be one…she picked at her chapped lips anxiously.

“That’s a bad habit, miss,” a voice suddenly spoke from her left. Kadrian was standing and had her dagger half-out of the sheath—and found an iron-firm grip on her wrist before she could pull it completely free.  She looked into the hooded cowl of a brother’s robe—and gasped.

“Your lip will start to bleed,” Jorach Ravenholdt continued conversationally, although he did not let go of her arm. Kadrian jerked away, and only received a burning bruise on her skin instead.  Jorach yanked her backwards.

“Have a seat,” he ordered, his dark grey eyes boring into her face.  Kadrian glanced around: the church still kept its near-silence vigil: two additional patrons had come in and were praying at the alter, watched after by a third brother.

“I said, sit,” Jorach repeated, twisting her back to face him.  Kadrian finally sat down, gingerly, and Jorach released her arm.  Her skin burnt with the rough brush of skin, but she ignored it, her heart beating like a troll drum. Jorach Ravenholdt leaned back against the wall and crossed his ankles before him, adopting a relaxed pose, yet with all the unspoken threat of an assassin underneath.

“Hope you’re happy,” Kadrian muttered, shoving her anxiety to the side. If Jorach was here, in person, she could suddenly feel her back crawling with tension: to be filled with silent arrows, or cut down by a quiet dagger in her side…or the crawling death of a slow-acting venom that took her down hours later…”After years trying to run away, and you still manage to call me back like a wayward dog.”

“If I wanted to treat you like an animal I would have dragged you here on a leash.” Jorach breezed. “You always had the choice on whether to show up.”

“Liar,” Kadrian spat.  Jorach shrugged, acquiescing.

“Well, worth a shot.”

“And Salla is not my name,” she added angrily. Jorach eyed her. “What, you go by your given name, now? Kadrian?”  The sound of her name from his mouth sent a dark shiver down her spine.  “So. Here I have a problem. Or…an intriguing situation,” he continued as Kadrian scoured the church under hooded eyes for other possible threats.  The two at the altar, she was realtively sure.  And there was a shadowed alcove just underneath the nearest buttress that had perfect advantage.  She eyed her wrist, but the skin was unbroken and as of yet there was no sign of poison-no discoloration or discomfort.

“Although I won’t deny you’re not the first to run off, you are the first who’s managed to elude us for so long.  Now, 7 years? Impressive. And you seem to have done well, killing for a living.”

“It’s all I know how to do, thanks to you,” she snapped. “You think after everything you did to me I could return to living normally?” She cast a sidelong look at the older man. Was she faster then he? Could she beat him, if he tried to kill her now? She’d never seen Jorach in battle but once, years ago… Jorach chuckled.

“Don’t waste your time trying to analyze the circumstance, Kadrian. Consider this a place of sanctuary,” he spread his arms out. “Rather poetic, don’t you think?” Kadrian scowled, not even bothering to tell him she didn’t trust his word one bit. There were ways to kill someone quietly, even in a church.  But, if she was at the end of the line, though fear spun within her heart like a whirlwind , she might as well humor him. If she was going to die, at least she could do so as herself.

“So what now?” she asked, adopting his position, arms folded across her chest, although her fingers rested firmly on the hilt of her knife. “You could end all the trouble right now: kill me, cut off the loose end, and be done with it.”

“Oh, stop the rough acting, Kadrian, it doesn’t suit you,” Jorach said, staring out into the aisle. “You’ve never been able to pull off the tough exterior.  That’s what made you so good at your particular brand of business.”

“Complimenting me?  Well, at least I can die with some pride,” Kadrian muttered.

“If I had truly intended to cut this entire thing off at the head, Kadrian, you would have diedhundreds of times between Dalaran and the moment you set foor in Cathedral Sqaure,” Jorach finally said.  She wasn’t sure if hhis admission that his agents had been on her for that long and hand’t killed her was reassuring or downright terrifying.  At least he’d admitted that he wasn’t just gloating while postponing the inevitable. That meant however, that he expected something from her.  Surprisingly, that answer came out next.

“I find however, that I’m loathe to do so.  Maybe I’m growing sentimental in my old age.”  Despite the situation, a grin crossed her face, briefly, at the concept.

“Assassins don’t get old,” she smirked. “What was that, lesson number 23?” Jorach lifted a greying eyebrow. “There is more to our job than just outright murder, Kadrian,” he said firmly. “Politics.”  He gave a long-suffering sigh. “It will end us all, in due time. Never simple.

“It wouldn’t be, would it.”

Jorach held out his hand. “Give it to me.  I know you well enough to follow the basics, even after 7 years.”  Kadrian hesitated, but reached into her pocket and drew out the cloth emblem she’d cut off Patroak’s collar. She dropped it into Jorach’s hand, and he twisted it between two fingers, thoughtfully.

“Given that I am now several members short,” he began after a moment, “and seeing how well you’ve managed to survive these years hiding from us…”  His intention hit her like a bolt of lighting.

“You can’t possibly think that I would re-join the guild! After everything that has happ-after what you did!”

“After what you did,” Jorach corrected, his tone dropping into a dark timbre, a veiled threat.  “Given the circumstance, instead of sitting here you could be dumped into the harbor like two other bodies found a few hours ago.”  Kadrian reigned in her incredulity.

“So what-you’re offering me the chance to join the guild again: take contracts, live under Ravenholdt’s rule?”  She proposed.  Jorach managed indicate a shrug with a lifted corner of his mouth and a twitched shoulder, still staring straight ahead. Kadrian felt walls suddenly rise up around her, like blocks that lifted to trap her. But—she was only alive right now because he had wanted to give her this chance. She glanced at the emblem on his palm.  If she refused, would she live long enough to walk out of the church? And what of her friends?  Would she ever see them again: Wrynna, Boaz, Majicah…Sonuvalich? The death knight, of all people, his solemn face swam in front of her vision for a moment.

“I…” the words stuck in her throat.  This was unprecedented.  “I can’t.”  She said the words, at the same time terrified at what would happen, yet resolute. Jorach didn’t say anything. “I left…I tried to quit, because I wanted to live my own life. And I have.  I’ve been my own boss, my own conscience on who would live or die.  I can’t go back.”

The silence between them was thick: at any moment, Kadrian expected to feel death at her throat, even in the seemingly peaceful church. She couldn’t imagine Jorach would let her just walk away. Kadrian wanted to keep living, for a long while yet: but not as a guild assassin.  She ahd grown to love her freedom: even the times when she was penniless, with boots worn through and a rumbling stomach: it had still been freedom.  And if her choices were that life or no life at all, well…hopefully they’d be quick about it.  Jorach snatched the Ravenholdt emblem and pressed it into his pocket.

“Well and good then, Kadrian,” he said easily. “And well done on killing Patroak-I’m glad to see my deposit paid off, all those years ago.”  Kadrian stood, and was dimly surprised to see that he let her, keeping his seat with an easy grace.  This would be the hardest thing she’d ever do: to walk out those doors.  Into the midday sun, where an assassin of Ravenholdt waited with a crossbow, or silenced bullet, or blade with her name on it.  Her heart beat heavy against her ribs, and it seemed as though she could feel every pulse through her veins, the rush of blood into her arms and legs and fingers, every muscle moving like miniscule gnomish clockwork.  Her feet were moving of their own accord on the stone floor, the perfect balance of her legs and arms a miracle.

“Kadrian.”  Jorach’s voice called out against the silence of the cathedral, although in her own head, the noise of her thoughts and her heart was a cacophony.

“When you leave, turn right.” Her head spun back to him. Could it be…? She watched him closely, but he merely met her searching gaze with cool detachment.  Hundreds of questions spilled into her mind, but they all coalesced into one-a single word that escaped, begging an answer to what had seemed impossible.

“Why?”

Jorach Ravenholdt smiled crookedly. “Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age.”  He crossed his legs, a finger playing through his gray goatee, but didn’t offer any further explanation, watching her with hooded eyes, his expression unreadable. Kadrian’s shoulders relaxed the smallest bit, and she turned and hurried out: making sure to turn right, and walked calmly down the cathedral steps, the midday sun beating down on her head and shoulders. She wanted to run, to flee as fast as her feet could carry her:  but she kept her face forward, her hands still at her sides, though her fingers twitched nervously, and kept a steady pace.  But as she walked away, Kadrian knew she’d not heard the last of Ravenholdt—and someday she would be called back.  But until then: she was free.

Well, free to a certain point, she amended later, grabbing a low-hanging tree branch and vaulting herself to the brown-shingled roof of the workshop, keeping her momentum as she dashed across the roof on silent feet. Several shouts of alarm echoed below, and she laughed breathlessly as she leapt, bounced off a brick chimney and onto another ledge four feet higher, running this time up a low inclined roof.  The white walls of Stormwind castle shone in the half-moonlight to her left, but she shied away from them, instead heading towards the Deeprun tram, the clinking and machinery a soft accompaniment to the quiet night. Maybe Ravenholdt was clean on her conscience, but there were always others who picked up an extra instrument on the bandwagon. But in a way, it wouldn’t have been the same. To live in perpetual safety, never experiencing the rush of the chase (or, in some cases, the chasee…) she glanced behind her: just one left, a night elf of course, easily capable of keeping up across the roofs and gables with their superior agility.  Her dark purple hair glinted in the moonlight, and Kadrian grinned as she leapt, this time shoving off hard with her feet so she shot several feet up.  She tossed the firecracker into the air ahead of her, smashing it into the brick wall at the same time her feet hit, and it exploded in a flash of bright red, yellow and orange sparks.  She however, had pushed back with her legs, and was rocketing backwards the way she came towards the ground, and at the last moment kicked out, rotated in midair and hit the ground on all fours, rolled, and skidded.  The firecracker had blown with a brilliant, blinding diversion, and it was the simplest of moves to flip her cloak inside-out, whisper the vanishing enchantment and disappear into the night, smiling happily.  Facing death, whether on an ice floe in Icecrown or a cathedral in the middle of the day…it made living that much better.

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