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The Locket

One

Morticai sits on the highest claw, just above the entrance to the Cleft. No sunlight reaches him here, and is the primary reason for his coming to this spot. The second reason is that the denizens of this city, those who mill about making noise and kicking up dust all day and all night, are far below him, and rarely, if ever, take notice of him up here alone.

....for he prefers to be alone. Most of the time.

The tiny silver locket is clasped in his hand, although he has never trusted the jeweler who sold it to him that it actually is silver. His thumb rubs across the now dented surface, the repaired clasp, broken in her attack, and he sighs.

Gazing down at the dent, he remembers the dagger, moving faster than he could stop it, driven by a hand stronger than his own; her aim true and deadly, her target his heart.

...her target has ever been his heart.

Frustrated, he grasps the locket tighter and tighter, as if to squeeze it into nothingness, but he lacks the strength. now - his power lying in other areas. Eventually, he gives up, cradling it in his hand again, carressing it.

"I can give you nothing." she said to him, and meant it. She had her own customs, foreign to him. Her feelings meant little in the face of her customs and beliefs.

He fought against it, of course. he has never been one to give up easily, and his own feelings and their intensity had surprised even him. For a time, he thought that he loved another, but to find himself so thoroughly besotted with 'her' was, to say the least, disconcerting.

She being mated to another for life, after all.

It didn't matter to her that she had not mated for love. It didn't matter that she might have found love now, after so much time had passed - all that mattered was that her people mated for life, no matter what.

Or did they?

Staring at the locket, her words come back to haunt him, "I wish you were a Male Troll." Why? If they mated for life, why would it matter were he a Troll, an Orc - an Undead Mage - it shouldn't matter, yet she had wished it. Why?

Would it make it easier for her to break the mating bond? Could she break that bond, were he a Troll? So many questions, and so few answers - especially from her.

His thumb rubs across the dent again, the one she had put there with her dagger, not realizing he had the locket. What luck, that? The very locket he keeps next to his heart, reminding him of her, saves his life as she tries to take it?

The new clasp gives as he applies pressure, revealing the long strand of red hair curled inside, kept ever close to his heart. "I can give you nothing." she said, and so, he took this from her when her back was turned, kept it secret, kept it close, and, eventually, placed it around his neck inside the locket.

A single strand of hair.

....it had saved his ife.

Her face showed her shock as the dagger bounced away from his heart, and the locket fell away, the clasp broken, the contents revealed. She had taken it, snarling at him, recognizing it for what it was, and meant to destroy it. He had taken her wrist though, pleading that he be allowed to keep it.

She smmirked and made to throw it away - so he pleaded again. "..please. You said i could have nothing, so i took this..... please."

In that moment, as in others before, her face softened, and she dropped it. He scrambled to scoop it back up, cradle it against him, and when he looked up again, she had mounted her lizard and was riding away as fast as she could, leaving him alone again, but alive.

So he sits here above the Cleft, cast in shadows as is his wont to be, closing the locket and replacing it around his neck, slipping it inside his robes, to it's place above his heart.

* * *

Rizarah

She lies in a bed, recovering from a grave injury sustained in a fight to rid the Wardens of a group of assassins.

The sunlight pours a narrow stream of gold across her face; it is the only natural light she has seen in days.

Strangely, she finds her thoughts wandering to a certain undead mage she had once known. Had fought with, and against. Her mind soared through dark forests and through the trees to a Tauren ; feelings she hadn't really been aware of until she had spoken them. After that, everything had changed.

Troll customs forbade any breaking of a mating bond, or so Raszkazhir had always told her.

But Raszkazhir was gone.

But did that really change anything?

Riz'arah continued to sit in the dark, half-way brooding, and half-way basking in the sun.

Her thoughts jumped to Bishmi, Kurimatsu, Cyragorm; so many males, and all good friends.

But Morticai wasn't just a friend.

What in all of hell's deep depths am I going to do?

* * *

"You are hereby ordered to write Rizarah a letter."

"I beg your pardon?!"

Morticai stared at Hardishane as he issued this order, his face half covered by a white silk mask, hiding the ruined parts. As leaders go, Hardi rarely issued orders of any kind to the members of his guild, and so Morticai found himself at a loss for words.

"My life depends upon it," Hardishane smiled beneath the mask.

"What?!"

"She made it quite clear that I was to order you to write her a letter, and that my continued existence was predicated upon your compliance."

"... What could she want?"

"I think it's pretty apparent what it is she wants."

"What do you mean?"

"She is in heat."

"....what?"

"Having said that, I don't think you should actually write her."

"What?! Why not?! You just said..."

"No good will come of it. You will only get hurt again."

"You don't know that. You -can't- know that."

"I am only saying-"

"it could be different this time."

"It won't be."

"You're enjoying this aren't you?"

"Yes, a little."

"It doesn't have to end the way you think it will. It could be different this time."

"You know it won't be."

Morticai spins away, leaving Hardishane chuckling behind him, and moves off to find a quiet spot to think, to write, his mind spinning.

The letter is hard to write, but he manages it, sealing it with wax and dropping it into the closest mailbox.

Now, he must wait.

* * *

Rizarah

Rizarah reads the letter in her hand, the door of her ward room closing behind Loksoral as she leaves. Rizarah looks up in time to catch the undead woman's eyeless gaze on her, her expression almost indicating warmth. Almost.

She rereads the letter. Should she respond? It mentioned nothing about what she had said to Hardishane. Maybe that meant he was indicating disinterest!

Immediately, her mind raced through new possibilities; a world where a free choice extended itself to her; an easy way out, free of guilt. He didn't want her!

Suddenly, her mind sprang into a dialogue, part of her apparently rebelling.

Troll:"The letter is clear. He doesn't want you."

"Joo be knowin' nothin' abou' men. Dey be needin' yah tah lead 'em by da nose all de tahme."

Troll: "So? The indications are still clear."

"All dis be indicatin' be dat 'ee be wantin' peace o' mind."

Troll: "Peace of mind and not you."

"Ah do'an believe dat."

Troll: "Suit yourself."

So what WAS she going to do? She shrugged, and settled back against her bunk. Time would show her the way.

* * *

Morticai woke to a pounding headache just behind his eyes, the latest in a long history of such. Half a bottle of Conjured Water and the pain becomes manageable. Stretching in the lean to he has built is out of the question, so he scurries out from the hidden campsite and steps blinking into the twilight of Ashenvale. So hard to tell the time of day here, but he judges it to be near sunset.

Splintertree is not far, so he quickly gathers his things, replaces his hat on his head, pulling the brim down low, and mounts his horse. The trip is quick and he is at the inn – still no response.

Grumbling, he takes a seat and orders some food, such as it is.

Weeks pass between her visits, and when he does see her, she either says nothing to him at all, completely ignoring him, or she tries to kill him. Still, he can’t get her out of his mind. She is the only woman he has ever found himself truly –wanting-.

When they were still speaking, still spending time together, he had described his idea of the perfect woman, and she had pointed out that he had just described her. Silence ensued.

Other people saw it, how he felt, and they chided him for it – told him he was a fool, that she could never return his feelings, that he should give up and be sensible. Since when had love ever been ‘sensible’?

Whatever the Tauren has placed before him, he does not touch it and it soon goes cold. He simply stares.

What did she feel? He had told himself a thousand times that she loved him, as he loved her – had accused her of lying to herself, to him, when she denied any such feelings. But she still went back to Raszkazhir each night.

“I wish you were a male Troll.” The words haunted him still, and he could not shake the feeling that he was being stupid, that there was something he was missing.

But she hadn’t responded to his letter. Hardishane said she was in heat – did that mean she was with Raszkazhir right now? Touching him? Holding him?

The Tauren growls at him, “I will not pick that up.”

Blinking, Morticai realizes that he has swept the plate from the table and made a mess on the floor. Standing, he tosses a gold on the table. “Perhaps this will make it easier.”

Leaving his horse hitched to the post, he shuffles around the inn and finds a spot between the rock and the inn where the air is cool and no one would think to look for him. Parchment and pen in hand, he unstoppers the ink and tries to think of a better letter to write, one that is less angry, one that let’s her know, once and for all, how he feels.

He addresses it simply enough, not saying 'Rizarah', or 'Riz', but rather:

“Love,"

From there, the letter seems to write itself.

* * *

Rizarah

If the first letter could be said to have been a confusing array of thoughts, the second later was as precise as an arrow.

It forced her onto a new course; a course the previous letter had let her slip by. The suddenly realization that she did have a problem. There was no clean way to end this.

Someone was going to get hurt.

She read it, over and over again, as she leaned against the mailbox in Thunder Bluff, where she had moved to recover from her various injuries. Just then, a breath of plains-scented wind blew past her nose, blew her eyes closed.

I love you, the letter read. Not nearly as blunt, and not nearly so well spoken as he said it in her mind, but there, on the paper was the ideas, if not the exact wording.

The letter in hand, she moved to sit down on the edge of the highest rise on the Tauren city, and stared out across the beautiful green grasses of Mulgore.

I love you too, she thought sadly. The wind moaned and yawned, but provided her with no condolences.

So what...?

She would have to meet him. With her jaw set, and tears in her eyes, she moved back to the mailbox with the air of a woman going to meet her fate.

* * *

Morticai stared at her response for a long time, a mixture of emotions warring within him. He kept telling himself, 'She has agreed to see you', somewhat of an accomplishment considering their last encounter consisted of her trying to drive a dagger through his heart.

He needed to reply. 'Say when - Say where...', she had left it to him to handle the details. Almost giddy now, he replied, dropping the letter into the mailbox while refolding hers to him reverently, sliding it inside his robes for safe keeping.

Two days he would have to wait, yet it would give him time to calm down, to get straight in his mind the things he must say to her. He felt almost as if he were pleading his case to a Magistrate, rather than trying to express his feelings to the woman he had fallen in love with. It was silly, he knew, but she had that effect, so firece and stubborn - so set in her ways that everything had to be a battle

Two days.....

* * *

They passed quickly enough, those two days, and he kept himself busy helping comrades fight the Scourge in Stratholme, or assault Scholomance and even fight the Scarlet's holding out in their Bastion in Stratholme - all to keep his mind from worrying over what would be said, how it would go, when he saw her again.

It surprised even him how excited he grew as the hours ticked away one by one and the time of their reunion grew closr and closer. He tried his best to keep it all hidden from his friends and allies, lest Hardishane decide to have a talk with him about her again - tell him what a bad idea it was, how she would only hurt him in the end. He wanted none of that. This would be a joyous moment - he would make sure of that.

He had his finest robes cleaned and readied, kept them in the bank rather than wear them so he wouldn't get them dirty. He prowled Orgrimmar, waking early from a restless sleep. She had not responded to his last letter and he tried not to invent reasons why she had been silent, tried not to think that, perhaps, she had changed her mind, was no longer coming to meet him, but those thoughts swirled about just the same.

When the call came to return to Strat once more, to battle the Scourge, half the day had already burned away without any word from her, so he agreed to go. He fought methodically, casting his spells one after the other, taking no joy in the battle or the company of good and excellant comrades. His mind was elsewhere.

He listened for any indication that she had arrived in the city, that she might be looking for him, but no word came. When the battle was done, he cast the spell that sent him to the Undercity in the blink of an eye, a ran for the mailbox there, asking if there were any word. There was none. Another spell and he was in Ogrimmar, searching for any sign she had arrived - again, finding nothing.

Disheartened, he accepted the responsibility of fighting the Scarlet's again, his Guildmate needing his power by her side. Still, his mind was not on the task at hand.

Rizarah had not kept their date.

His mind invented a thousand hateful reasons why she would not show, and all of them pained him deeply. When the day had ended, he curled into his bedroll, choosing to sleep far from the city, out in the desert, and his mind conjured dreams of her finding another to spend her time with.

He slept fitfully.

* * *

The sun was not up.

The sun, for her, was dead. An image had come upon her, during fitful sleep, ridden with guilt over evading Morticai. An image of him, curled up, shaking with suppressed grief in the freezing desert late at night.

Are you not a Troll of your word? A cold voice whispers to her. It sounds like his voice, but devoid of the warmth and mannerisms of him.

Coward. Her mind shouted at her, seeming in full agreement with Morticai's lifeless voice. You left him. You left him to despair, to lose his joy and his comfort. You forced him into that desert, and you have inflicted this suffering on him. Because you were too frightened to see him; to talk with him. Frightened of what it might mean.

NO!

She found herself at the top of Spirit Rise in Thunder Bluff, gazing, transfixed, into the grasses so far down.

Jump. A cold voice whispered.

With tears running down her face, she gathered herself to make the leap. But the image came back; it rammed into her face, knocking her backwards. The image of Morticai suffering in the desert on a dark night. How worse would it be if she were dead?

Jump! The voice shouted commandingly.

No.

She gathered herself, and sat, pulling her knees up under her chin. She would have to find him.

Why?

Because he's not the only one suffering.

* * *

Kurmudgeon shivered in the chill night air, wishing that he'd remembered his cloak before going on watch. He was still getting used to the desert nights, so different from his home near Crossroads. So different from his farm, this Razor hill.

Sighing to himself, he rechecked that his sword could come cleanly from it's resting place, slung along his back, his shield he still had in hand. Paranoid, he knew, but this soldiering was all new to him. he had been a farmer all his life.

The thought instantly causes his mood to sink. Less than a year ago, he still worked that farm with his wife and two sons. It wasn't much, but it was his - thiers. Until the Alliance came to attack Crossroads.

His farm had been along their path to the city, his wife and two fine, strong young sons, casualties. It was their deaths that caused him to take up a sword.

But at his age, it wasn't easy.

That was why he stood watch each night while younger men slept. It was also why he stood watch at Razor Hill rather than Crossroads or Orgrimmar- few, if any, attacks came here. Until he had proved himself, he would be spending a lot of time here, protecting boars.

Looking up, he judged that it had been at least an hour, based on the movement of the moons, since he had last walked the perimeter. Calloused hands gripping the hilt, he slides his sword out of it's scabbard and moves away from the little village, making his way out into the desert.

"Watch for anything out of the ordinary," they had told him time and time again, and so, his eyes scanned the shadows for movement, took note of cacti and where they stood, and watched the desert floor for any signs of passage. Mostly, he saw the tracks of boars, snakes and rabbits - endlessly.

So, when he saw the large paw prints there in the sand, he could only stare in bewilderment. Remembering the time he had spent with the Hunter who came through Razor Hill to talk to the new recruits about tracking, he recognized the tracks as being from a large cat. THe only large cat's he knew of, were....the....ones...Night....Elves....rode......

His entire body shifted easily into his Defensive Stance, feet placed evenly apart, shield coming up to protect his body, sword at the ready. The shadows of the desert had taken on a more sinister cast, and he found that the chill had been replaced by a sheen of sweat upon his brow. His eyes followed the tracks in the moonlight as they disappeared in the direction of The Barrens, only he wasnt as concerned about where they were heading, so much as where they had been.... Sen'Jin?

Moving as silently as he could muster in his mail, he backtracked along the path of the tracks, finding a spot where the large cats had remained for a while. He wasn't good enough yet to tell how many there were, but he wanted to say at least three cats had waited here for their riders. Trouble was, they were nowhere near anything. The tracks had led him further out into the desert.

More tracks, booted feet dragging something. He followed them back to something that simply deepened the mystery even further - a camp site.

Relaxing a bit for the first time since finding the tracks, Kurmudgeon scratched his head, trying to puzzle this out. Had they camped here? Why? A quick examination of the site showed that there was no campfire, which would make sense for a group of Night Elves trying to remain hidden, but there was a bedroll left behind....

Taking a closer look, Kurmudgeon finds a torn Tabard and a Charm of some sort. Near the bedroll, there was also a small pool of dark blood. A rock a few feet away also had the dark blood on it.

Bewildered, Kurmudgeon decided this was beyond his ability to puzzle out. Gathering up the Tabard, the Charm and the rock, he headed back to Razor Hill to report on what he'd found.

* * *

"Have you been to Orgrimmmar before?" his commander has asked him. He had, of course, many times. But he never expected to have to come and research a Guild Tabard. The city guards had pointed him in the right direction though, and he had found, he hoped, the man who could help him.

"....ah! here it is!" the other Orc looked up from his records, pointing to a picture someone had drawn. It looked like the one on the Tabard he had found.

"I think that's it," Kurmudgeon confirmed. He tried to make out the name, but he had never been the best when it came to his letters.

"'The Bone Splinter'!", the other announced with a grin. "Guild master is listed as....Jadarn. No - wait, there's a change here.... I'll have to find this other page..." he began thumbing through the book, licking his fingers as he went. "Ah! here we are - a change some time ago. 'Hardishane' is Guild Master now."

"Hardishane?"

"Aye. I suggest you contact him - he may know who these things belonged too," the other Orc said offhand, picking up the Charm and peering at it. "Perhaps send him a letter."

Kurmudgeon blushed. "My letters....." the Orc looked up blankly. As he realized what Kurmudgeon was saying, he nodded, replacing the Charm on the desk. " I will help you, if you would accept it."

Kurmudgeon nodded gratefully. He would wrap these things up, write the letter, mail it and then return to his duties in Razor Hill.

* * *

"To: Hardishane, Guild Master, the Bone Splinter
From: Kurmudgeon, Sentry, Razor Hill

Sir,

I came upon a campsite in the desert near Razor Hill last evening. I had tracked Night Elf mounts to the site, and found therein signs of a struggle, and these two items - a tabard bearing the Bone Splinter's colors, and this Charm.

I regret to inform you that the bearer of these items has either been killed or captured by Night Elves - there was evidence of someone or something being dragged away.

I am sorry for your loss.

Kurmudgeon."

* * *

The masked rider nudged his felsteed on across the swaying rope bridges, empty eyes squeezed shut. He had difficulty seeing mundane bridges, with his Sight; it made his guts sink. He’d learned to spare himself the trauma and simply trust Klevernax to know his footing, and waited for the wind to lessen to know when he’d reached ground again. The warlock often avoided Thunder Bluff just for this reason, but the call of fast gold had brought him here tonight. He rode at a walk to the tent in question, Klevernax’s flaming hooves casting eerie shadows on the pale tent walls, but found no one there. Hardishane had wasted too much of the day fighting in Blackrock, and even without stopping to mend his armor or his body, he was too late to conduct his business tonight.

With a frustrated sigh, he turned Klevernax and began the circuit, intending to brave the rope bridge back to the other side and buy transport back to Orgrimmar, when a familiar shape came into view. There, kneeling in a pool of moonlight at the edge of the great Rise, was Rizarah.

He pressed Klevernax’s sides with his knees, slowing his pace. The creature was not of this world, and even on polished stone his hoof beats seemed muffled and far away. On the grassy, wind-torn Rise they were almost silent. He approached and listened to her, watched her, and waited for the inevitable signs that, chance against chance, she had seen him. No power on earth or Heaven could prevent the shaman’s all-seeing eyes from noticing him, it had always seemed. It therefore came as a tremendous shock when she acted as if he wasn’t there.

Hardishane cleared his throat. She whipped around. “M-- ….. oh. It’s joo.”

He dismounted, and Klevernax faded to mist before he’d quite reached the ground. “Indeed… just me.”

She turned away from him, shoulders sagging, and kept looking piercingly off the steep rise, out into the night sky and Mulgore sprawled beneath. Hardishane approached, removing his mask. He knew he smelled of blood and char, the unfortunate side effect of his line of work, but she seemed to take no notice of it. He stood behind her and paused, glancing out over Mulgore.

“You seek something out there?”

“He be out dere somewheah, in dat desert.”

Something clicked. Morticai’s leaden tones a night before—”She stood me up. Happy?” “…” “I’m going away for a while…” He’d gone to the desert? No… “Your mate, or….?”

“Or.” She said it hollowly, like a woman in mourning. Coming from the intemperate, venomous shaman he’d met time and again, he found this behavior in her highly disturbing.

“I see.” It seemed the only thing he could say, and he said it to fill the void. “May I sit?” He moved beside her, a few feet away — she liked her space, and he liked room to dodge. He and Rizarah had never seemed to hit it off, to put it lightly. Eventually she nodded, and he took a cross-legged seat beside her. After a pause, he spoke gently, trying to ease her into conversation. “I have never seen you this upset.”

“Ah ain’t nevah been this upset.” She stared out over the rise desperately, as if if she looked hard enough she would be able to find him. He saw this in the tilt of her head, the set of her shoulders. And because the day had been long and fruitless, because his decayed body ached from the abuse and his armor smelled of burnt silks, he snapped at her.

“If you think he will not forgive you for this transgression, atop all of the others, you are an idiot.”

Her eyes seemed to widen — he saw the way her spine straightened, and heard the indignance creep into her voice. “Why da hell joo think that? Wha’ do JOO know?”

“Because if he can get past you lying happily in another man’s arms until now,” and leading him on all the while, he added to himself, “it is hard to believe his pride would prevent him from forgiving simply missing a date.” Hardishane said it roughly, at least if one measured by the courtliness with which he usually spoke.

But to his surprise, she shrank down again, the fire guttering before it could catch. “Dis time be differen’.”

He arched an eyebrow.

“Dis time ah said ah be dere.”

He immediately regretted his tone, and softened. He looked out over Mulgore, sparing her his accusatory gaze. “I see.”

They were both silent, staring ahead — she absently, he to spare her. After a moment, he asked gently, “Then why weren’t you?”

“I jus’… I be afraid.” She said it simply, unarmored for the first time since he’d met her. He was poleaxed.

“You-- ?!” He recovered, cutting the air with the side of a hand, as though to slap away the words as they hung in the air. He settled for another, “I see.” There was silence again—long, heavy pauses in the conversation, stops and starts that showed most clearly of all the distress in the air.

She spoke again, mostly to herself it seemed. “Wha da hell ah be doin’? I be fallen in love with a Fahsaken, a corpse—“ she looked to him, “…no offense.”

“None taken.”

She sighed. “Wha am ah doin’?”

“You can’t help how you feel, all you can help is—“

“Wha do I do ‘bout it, though?”

“….what you do about it.” He blinked. She gave him a look as if he was dense. “You should write him,” he said, and felt a fool. Hadn’t he cautioned Mort against writing her in the first place?

“What am ah goin’ ta say? ‘Ow do ah know he won’ jus spit on anything ah write now, burn anyt’ing I—“

“Snap out of it,” he said coldly.

She bowed her head in response, which disturbed him further.

“This is unlike you, Rizarah. You are hot, fierce, venomous. You’re a preying animal, stalking among men, I have always told him thus—“ Hardishane caught himself. He was taking it out on her again, and it was not his place, no matter what he thought. With some effort, he quieted.

She looked hurt, but not indignant. Not indignant enough.

“…if he spat on your letters, then you were not writing them to the man you thought you were. And if he burns them, then you were mistaken, and you are free.” Why was he justifying it? Why was he bothering?

…Because she looked at him so brokenly, so beautifully, and even though she was a predator and an animal, he wanted this impossible thing to work. She looked encouraged by his words, but he worried it was for the wrong reasons. He looked away again with a sigh, emotions warring.

“Somet’in wrong?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Joo actin’ like joo do’an wan ta be here.”

“I will be honest. I do not like this. You’re going to hurt him, Rizarah.”

“Yeah,” she said, without a trace of remorse. It angered him.

“He is not accustomed to feelings like this, this depth of emotion—he may drown in it. Light, if you break him…”

“—An’ he’ll hurt me. An if ah break him, den a little piece a me breaks too. An’ that’s love,” and she patted his shoulder. Hardishane pushed his hair back roughly, pinning it to the back of his head with one clawed hand.

“It seems sudden,” he quipped, provoking her. She was starting to rise to the occasion.

“It wouldn’ seem sudden if it were happenin’ ta joo,” she remarked back, smiling in a gentle way. He looked away from her. She stared out over the plains thoughtfully, and then her fists clenched. “An’ dat’s it. Ah love ‘im. An’ ah’m goin’ ta DO somethin’ about it.” By the end she was smoldering, turning those solid red eyes on him, chin raised like the woman he’d known before.

Under his mask he muttered, “Thatta girl.” She heard it.

“What joo MURMERIN’ about?” She raised a fist, waving it. “Ah’m gonna go ahead. And if joo do’an like it? FUCK wha joo do’an like.”

He replied automatically, using the polished, flawlessly polite and servile tone he was so known for. He relied on it because only the most polished or intemperate of minds could detect how mocking it was. “Just as you say, my lady.”

Unfortunately, Rizarah belonged to the latter group. With a grunt she’d moved and grabbed him by the ankle, and was hauling him bodily toward the edge of the bluff. Hardishane dug in his claws and pulled back quickly, the magical fel armor making him half-there and greasy with dark energies, and within a few frightening seconds he’d freed his leg and scrambled backwards on his hands.

Rizarah stood at the edge, glaring at him with such a pricelessly enraged expression that his composure broke. He started laughing at her, pulling a claw out of the soil to cover his mouth. She looked ready to try again, and then went pale, looking timidly back over the bluff she was staring at.

Hardishane composed himself again quietly. He was prone to fits of laughter at the worst possible time — the Forsaken tended to have such eccentricities, but if he squashed it quickly enough he could manage. She sank to kneeling at the edge again. “Were you actually going to throw me, just now?”

She nodded. He sat down just where he’d been, risking her ire. She ignored him, face creased with thought. Hardishane knew what those thoughts were, and he waited for their inevitable conclusion.

At last she gathered herself, and stood up. He looked up at her, eyebrow raised, and without a glance back at him she just murmured, “Ah got a note ta be writing.”

“Good night, my lady.”

“Good night.”

And then she rode away. Torn, Hardishane stayed where he sat for a few minutes longer, and instead of finding a place to rest he watched the stars.

* * *

She sat next to the mailbox. A night went by, the moon shining bright and cold, full and white. Once upon a time, the moon would have made her eyes widen in renewed wonder. It didn't. The stars twinkled and shone, spun and danced, and once they would have made her smile. They didn't.

She waited.

The morning found her, wide-eye awake and cross-legged by the mailbox. The goblin postmaster glanced at her before turning his attention to the mailbox. He took a large burlap bag and casually dropped it into the box. He then turned around and leaned back against the box, lighting up a small pipe. He took a few puffs, and glanced down at her.

"Lover?" He asked through teeth clenched around the pipe's stem.

"Wha?" She asked.

"I said, lover?"

"Why fah joo be askin' me tah--" She cut off as the goblin chuckled.

"I mean, troll, are you waiting for word from a lover?"

She paused. Oh.

"... Yeah. No."

There was a sudden ringing noise, and the goblin gave a contented puff.

"Mail's done." And with that, he walked off, seeming to completely forget the whole episode.

She stood quick as a shot and dug through the box to a space that felt like it belonged to her. Nothing. No letters.

So she waited.

For three days and three nights she waited, digging through the mail whenever it showed.

On the third morning, she realized something was wrong. Like a scream in the air, blood fresh in the morning dew. Something had gone terribly wrong.

She looked up into the sun for a long moment, whispering under her breath. In her mind's eye, a purple face with silver eyes stared back, a cowled, golden-eyed figure in the background. The golden-eyed figure seemed to be subdued, beaten.

Her eyes narrowed.

"Hardishane."

She strode off to find the Bone Splinter's guildmaster without a second of waiting.

* * *

Excerpt from Khadiz' Journal:

Last week I decided it had been too long since my last visit home - a decision I came to rather easily, having decided this while battling my fifteenth Scourge Champion that morning. As entrancing as the Plaguelands can be, and as much as the Plague's effect on the region's flora and fauna fascinate me, it's a tiring place to stay. After six days, I was more than ready to leave. I would say that I'm not sure why I chose to return to Thunder Bluff, but that's along the lines of asking yourself why you eat that delicious roast bass when you're famished. Nourishment for the body, nourishment for the soul.

Melor, as usual, greeted me at the windrider tower. He told me he could feel that I was coming home, that he smelled it in the air days early. Canny old cowboy probably could, too - he is the best hunter on Azeroth, after all. I don't know how I would've turned out if it weren't for his teachings and advice. That's neither here nor there, as being in Melor's home. - *my* home - is an intoxicating feeling. It's virtually indistinguishable from the other homes in Thunder Bluff from the outside, but inside... Melor, his lovely wife, and all of my adopted brothers and sisters, from small to massive, make the very building seem alive. When Melor laughs, the earth shakes, and he does it often. He taught me everything I know, so it's to him I attribute my joy, my love of this world and all the things in it - being around him, it's infectious.

Best of all, I got to see my favourite of Melor's children, barely a toddler when I came to live with the family, now grown into the most inquisitive of young women. Shining Leaf Stonehoof is now a bright-eyed shaman of sixteen seasons, and when she's not basking in the idyllic home life I've just described, she's being interminably curious, usually at the machine shop over in Orgrimmar. I swear, she'd sleep there if the goblins would let her. Understandably I was thrilled to see her there, and not off at an engineering seminar in Gadgetzan or some such. She's a very different person from myself, but I can't ever help but be drawn in, and inspired by her curiosity. It's probably why I can never say "no" when she asks me something.

It was later on, and the evening was winding down. The remains of desert lay molested on the long table, candles guttering in their own wax. The ember-rich fire at the far end of the longhouse gave off a warm, and paradoxically dark glow, and I was sitting around chatting with a few of my younger sibs. We'd just reached one of those comfortable lulls in conversation, the sort when everyone is full, and sleepy, and absolutely content after a special evening with the family. Shine was sitting on the floor next to me, leaning into my legs, a preferable alternative to the wood slats of my chair, I suppose. She looked in my direction with those big, dewy blue eyes of hers and asked, "Uncle Khadiz, tell us again about the Island."

I've told this story a hundred times to those kids; hell, I've even started to act out the different voices, but for some reason I don't think I've ever written it down. This journal is supposed to be an archive of my life, and here I am, skipping out on one of the most important experiences in my young life. Well, I suppose I should correct that oversight, so I'll write here what I told little Shine in answer to her request.

My earliest memories were formed in the south seas. Stormy and tempestuous at times, but by and large, warm, wet, and crystal clear. On a calm day, you could see for miles to the horizon, and it seemed only a little less when you looked underwater. White sand, golden sun, and green jungle. I suppose it's why I can't resist swimming when I get the chance. I grew to a strong young boy of twelve on that island, with my parents and my sister, and the rest of our Diamondshore tribe. It was a small fishing village that sustained us, but we lived an isolated, and for trolls, a considerably peaceful existance. Legend was that our ancestors settled the island long ago, in a fit of sorrow, having just narrowly avoided slaughter by one of the militant Stranglethorn tribes. They abandoned the old ways, the old names, and tried to make a home that could exist without fighting. For a time, it worked.

Those stranglethorn trolls are bloodthirsty though - ruthless, mercenary, and persistant. Apparently - I discovered this a significant amount of time later - there had been a record left of the Diamondshore's departure, or whatever they were called at the time. One particularly zealous Witch Doctor decided that our bloodline was rightfully under his dominion, and sought us out. The Diamondshore, even with their superior knowledge of the land and its hazards, were no match for the Stranglethorn trolls when they came. All the adults were rounded up and killed, my parents among them. The idea was, I learned later, to "voodoo hex" the children, in order to convince us that we were, in fact, part of this maurading tribe, and thus amalgamate the bloodlines. The village was surrounded with channeling totems, and the Witch Doctor set to work, drawing up a spell that would boggle the most cunning of warlocks. But the berserkers and shaman working with the Witch Doctor grew restless - trolls of that sort aren't noted for their patience. As they started to pace, their guard began to break down- now two trolls were watching us, now one, and finally none had their attention turned toward me and the children. As if of one mind, we stood and began to run for the shore, as swiftly and quietly as we could, the surf muffling our footsteps over the packed sand. Eventually, and most likely inevitably, our captors noticed our attempt at escape. Axes came sailing past my head, and some of the children ahead of me fell to the beach, sand streaked over their wounds. As we neared the edge of the Witch Doctor's spell-circle, I plucked one of his totems from the ground. It was an instinct - I don't know if I meant to throw it at a pursuer, keep it as a souvenier, or eat the damned thing, but it saved my life. The shaman following nearest us loosed a shadowy bolt in my direction, and reflexively, I held the totem in front of me. The spell ricocheted back, slicing the shaman messily in two, but not before the totem itself exploded, scarring my hand and my face as pieces of shrapnel sailed away from the point of impact. My next memory was of waking in a small Tauren fishing boat. The children who made it with me said that my "incident" had given them enough time to get to our village's fishing boats and cast off, dragging me along with them. Several boats had launched, so it's possible my sister survived, but I can't be sure. I'll always remember Melor's face as he stood over me on that boat, asking in broken troll if my lasagna was on fire. I'm sure he meant to ask if I was alright, but you'd be surprised just how similar the pronunciation of those two phrases are in Troll. The rest, as they say, is history. To this day, you can find a few Diamondshore survivors living in Thunder Bluff, or Camp Mojache, or any one of a dozen tauren towns, as the children of my tribe were taken in by those gentle, caring folks we came to call parents. It was at that point in my story that I pulled out the fractured remains of my totem, my Lucky Charm, kept with me for so long. I told Shine that I kept it with me because...

And my voice trailed off. I had kept this totem with me all these years in the hopes that it would bring me luck. I looked about, seeing my little sister andthe rest of my young siblings listening to the story, seeing Melor and his wife busy themselves cleaning up after our fantastic meal, seeing Maenas scamper and nip about with the Stonehoof family's pet Plainstriders, seeing my own reflection in Shine's highly polished shield, as it lay propped against the wall, a contented smile splitting my face from ear to ear. I finally realized that, totem or no, I was as lucky as anyone in this world could hope to be. I turned to Shining Leaf and said; "Because someday, somebody else will need the kind of luck I've had all my life."

The next morning, I donned my mask, running my finger along that old scar, and shouldered my pack to walk out the door. A flick of the wrist sent an arrow, a letter to Melor and the family attached, sailing into the oak bar above the mantlepiece - he loves that kind of message, reminds him of exciting times in his youth - and strolled along the path to the windrider tower, Maenas in tow. My crab crackled at me, wondering where we were headed. "To see a friend," I answered, in Troll. "We've been lucky enough, little fella. Maybe there's someone else out there who needs this more than we do." One hand on the totem I'd carried for so many years, I mounted the wyvern and headed for Orgrimmar, Morticai's face emblazoned on my mind.

* * *

Torero was lost.

How anyone could find their way in the city of Orgrimmmar was beyond him. He had overheard someone talking about there being a fruit vendor nearby, and the very thought of fresh fruit had lifted his spirits, so he was trying to find that vendor, and not having much luck.

"Pardon me...." he quietly asked a passing Troll - she didn't even acknowledge him as she disappeared into the crowd. An Affable looking Orc seemed promising, so he tried again, "I was wondering..." the orc walked right past him. A third attempt actually had a Forsaken hissing at him as she backed away.

Confused and dejected, he slid off the road and took a seat on a rock, wiping at his brow with the sleeve of his tunic. It was a warm place, this Orgrimmar, and full of all different kinds of peoples. When the Elder's had told him he must leave Mulgore and enter the wider world, he knew it would be overwhelming, but he didn't expect it to happen so quickly.

He became aware of someone standing in front of him - an Orc. He was smiling at Torero, a warm, happy smile that made the Tauren immediately respond in kind. Sitting as he was, Torero found himself to be eye to eye with the Orc who wore robes of deep red, a patch over his left eye, and a topknot of dark black hair. He had the scent of brimstone on him.

"Greetings, Friend," the Orc said. As he always did, Torero filtered the speech, translating it as best he could in his mind. Smiling, he responded, "Greetings!"

"You look lost..." the Orc said with a smile of his own.

"I am," Torero responded, nodding. "I heard there was a fruit vendor here, but I cannot find it."

"Ah! I know the place." Torero sighed in relief. "You must pass through the Cleft to find it, my Friend," the Orc said, his one eye squinting a bit.

"The Cleft?" Torero asked, testing the word on his tongue.

"Aye. I will show you, if you like..."

"Please!" Torero exclaimed, happy to have some help in this city for a change. Rising as the Orc chuckled, Torero followed him down past the Auction House, and down into a shaded area. At a sign post near the mouth of what looked like a cave, the Orc paused and pointed.

"Travel through here, and up the other side. You will find your fruit vendor."

"Thank you!" Torero said, taking the Orcs hand and shaking it vigorously.

Moving into The Cleft, Torero's pace slowed slightly, his nose postively twitching at something. The further in he went, the worse it became, until he found himself sneezing every few steps. Stepping off the path to blow his nose, he stood just above The Cleft, and a pair of voices caught his ears.

"...Zulab will have killed him." said the first voice.

"...accusation....come?" asked the second.

He moved closer to hear the rest, barely able to make out what was being said.

"Who else would want Morticai dead?"

Morticai?! Someone named 'Zulab' has killed Morticai?!

But, that is Terrible!

Torero moved closer, trying to see who it was that was talking, but he began to slip on the loose dirt. Reaching for anything to keep him from falling, his feet slid out from beneath him and he fell in a cloud of dust and rocks, letting out a yelp that echoed on the cave walls.

By the time he pushed hiimself up again, eyes from all over the Cleft had turned their attention to him. Blushing, he asked, "Can anyone tell me where the fruit vendor is?"

"No fruit here!" shouted someone. "MUSHROOMS!"

A few guffaws met this, and those watching him went back to their business. Scanning the darkness, he tried to find who it was that had been talking before - he saw two robed figures disapearing out the other end. They were covered head to toe. Half running, he tried to catch them, but by the time he came out the other end, they were gone.

Rubbing at his nose, he wondered why this Zulab would want to kill Morticai - the Forsaken had seemed very nice to Torero. he made a note in his journal to remind himself to ask about this the next chance he had.

Closing the book, he realized that he still hadn't found this fruit vendor. There was a city guard passing by, so he tried again, "Excuse me? Do you know...." the guard walked right past him without a word. Sighing, Torero decided to go left - maybe he would find this fruit vendor there....

* * *

Excerpt from Khadiz' Journal:

I pointed to the horizon, trying to get her to look along my extended finger for the speck of white in the distance.

"Every seventh wave," I said, "is bigger than the others. Watch for the spray on number seven, and you can see it."

Colamaya squinted at me, probably thinking I was full of kodo crap, but obliged anyway. She's good like that. Needless to say, I was both amused and gratified when I heard her draw breath in surprise, and turn to smile at me. At least she didn't think I was crazy anymore. I'd been wondering whether that spray in the distance was from an island for months now, since my first visit to Land's End beach. I have to say, I had no end of elation back when I sent my findings to the Institute of Azeroth Cartography - how was I to know that they'd choose the name *I* suggested for this place?! I found it as hard to believe as anyone that for all the years people had known about this place, no one had thought to call it anything. I swear there are PUDDLES in Ashenvale that have long, haughty-sounding elven names.

I hauled out the Ornate Spyglass that a friend crafted for me, so long ago, and checked my hunch. Sure enough, there was something silhouetted in the spray and shine of the midday sea, though I was still at a loss to tell what. Maya and I decided to go for a dip and see what we could see.

The marvels of this place seem to know no bounds! Diving deep, just before the Darkwater line, we found a shark unlike anything I've ever seen - trunks extending from the sides of its head, with the eyes resting at the very edges! What's more, they swim serpentine, such that first one eye, then the other, alternately face forward. What a tremendous view of these clear waters they must have, nearly able to look backwards and forwards at once. I digress, but I must remember to return and observe these creatures at some point. Perhaps their tooth structure can give me a hint as to their methods of hunting.

At any rate, upon reaching the Darkwater, it seemed as if our quarry truly was a solid bit of land, however distant. In fact, with a cast of Eagle Eye (Note to self: thanks Melor *again* for teaching you this, even after you insisted it was useless, you daft little chump) I was able to see the beach itself. I was eccstatic! A new island, as yet untouched, and so far out of that way that I doubted even true blue sailors would know if it. The IAC would have a field day with the Tanaris Coastline Mapping Project. Maya was graceful enough to volunteer for the trip - that handy druid ability to become a Sealion took her to the far coast before the undercurrents of the Darkwater could cause her to become dangerously fatigued, but I was stuck on the mainland side. She suggested that Hukari could come to help, and as much as I don't like the way he eyes Maenas, he seems like a good guy, otherwise.

Thus passed an enjoyable couple of hours, Maya and I lying on our respective beaches, chatting with one another through the enchantment placed so cleverly on our Hearthstones. Much to my chagrin, the island was inhabited, but only by a Bloodsail expeditionary force. Nothing she couldn't handle. Eventually Hukari arrived with, to my surprise, Hardishane. I'm not sure why these people continue to trust him, after what Morticai's told me about this "Society" of his, and Hardishane's recent espousal of it's virtues, but I'm not one to judge another man's friends. It's entirely possible that they know something I don't. If it's the other way around of course, they're in a lot of trouble. Jes'rimon certainly didn't seem to dig the idea of that society, and he's seen it all. Normally I'd remind myself to ask Mort about this all, but... well, I'll just keep writing.

A few Water Walking spells later, Hukari, Hardishane and I were dashing across the water's surface, ushered at superhuman speeds by the Pack aspect - I'll make no bones about that one, it's exhilarating. If you've never run over water with a hunter and a shaman, I recommend it - the only thing closer to flying is having a pair of wings stitched to your back by a disreputable surgeon.

I must admit, once we reached the island, and helped Hardishane summon (in a literal sense, no less - warlocks weird me out, sometimes) some friends of ours, the day became even better than I thought it could. Between exploring the sparsely populated islands, swimming, and mercilessly mocking the few pirates already on the island, I forgot entirely about my trepedation as regards Hardishane's rather sinister past. That is, until he pulled me aside. The man looked worried, which is easy to tell from someone's eyes, even when they aren't there. The strain was evident on his face, more lined even than usual. I was at a loss for what could be causing it, until he handed me a letter, a shredded tabard, and a charm with which I was intimately acquinted. Before he could speak, before I read a word of the letter, I could feel the implications of it in the pit of my knotted stomach.

From there it's pretty much a blur. The charm was the one I had given to Morticai - it would take more more blows to the head than even an Azshara giant can dish out to make me forget that. Which meant that Morticai was either missing or dead, or both. Hardishane's words and those in the letter confirmed as much. We had a conversation of sorts, and at least he seemed genuinely concerned about Mort, which meant that this was the "safe" Hardishane. For whatever that's worth.

I vaguely remember tracing my finger over the glyph in my hearthstone as I spoke to Colamaya, telling her that I would need her help in gathering the information I wanted. A druid would be most helpful, as I have my suspicions as to what went on. Or at least, how to find out about it. Then again, maybe I just wanted to have somebody along while I trace the bloodied path of my friend, in case I need someone to lean on. At any rate, I'm going to pay this Kurmudgeon a visit, and hopefully pull some information from the camp in Durotar before it goes stale. Or before something worse still happens to Morticai.

* * *

She moved through the crowd like a vengeful phantom; possessed by need, running on heat and a broken heart. She raged through the Cleft, vaguely hearing a whispered conversation involving Zulab. But any mention of Morticai's name eluded her.

She went through the entire city once or twice, looking for Hardishane, but finding nothing. There weren't even any fresh traces of him. Wherever he was hiding, he wasn't hiding here. Snarling, she mounted Smiler, her orange raptor, and raced out through the front gates into the wastes of Durotar. Morticai's trace wasn't hard to track; she followed it unneringly to the camp site.

She knelt by the blood on the floor, and dug a single claw through the red, dust-like substance. She hissed a few words, and the blood abruptly turned into bright red liquid again. She raised a single claw, wet with his life, to her lips and tasted it.

She closed her eyes.

Suffering.

She felt tears rolling down her cheeks. It was her fault.

A pause in the storm of mental pain. Surprise. Warning. Abrupt fiery anger; she heard his voice shout, "HOW DARE YOU?"

A crackle of fire.

A hiss of frost.

The feel of a night elf dying.

A low howl accompanied the movement of her head as she glanced over at the rock floor a few meters from the camp. Someone had died there.

She closed her eyes again.

Surprise. The cold feeling of steel entering his back. A sudden darkness.

So they had snuck up behind him. Opening her eyes, she looked around, and the clawed tracks; the ones that a day and some of a night in the open desert should have erased, began to glow.

She mounted Smiler and followed the ethereal trail, hoping they would lead her to him.

* * *

Morticai struggled in and out of consciousness, his body on fire. No one source of pain could he identify, it seemingly everywhere all at once. Vaguley, he was aware of a growing pressure behind his eyes, another in his stomach.

He woke once for several moments of lucid thought. He felt upside down, but could see nothing through a hood around his head, the dark thread far too thick to let even the most persistent light through. But scents - those he could catch, and sensations as well.

He was on his stomach, draped over something - a cat by the smell of it, his hands bound behind his back, legs bound as well. In his mouth the distinct flavor of cured leather and cloth - gagged and bound, the only way to keep a Mage from bringing down fire and ice.

Still, his back burned in an odd way, his mind trying to recall why without falling into the panic he felt slowly building, memories of once being bound in a similar fashion, threatening to overwhelm him. Deep breaths..... Concentrate!

As the panic subsides to the edge of his mind, he recalls the night before - his despair, anger and hurt over being left alone. Again. How many times had he said it, that he was meant to be alone? That it was his lot in this life and the one before? Too many, according to Hardishane, yet even as he said it, a part of him thought that maybe, just maybe, he would be prooven wrong.

In the desert... he'd been trying to sleep, when something caught his attention. He rose quickly, already on the defensive when the first attack came. Even in the dark, he could see their eyes, smell their scent - Night Elves. The battle was a blur to him now. He recalled killing one - of that he was sure, but then....? The pain in his back.... A Rogue had stabbed him, most likely with a poisoned blade.

That explained much.

The rest.... Try as he might, he couldn't recall anything else, not even how many there had been. His arms, legs, torso - his entire body, still burned with the poison. Through the haze, he realized that it was still making him slow, groggy - probably meant to keep him under control.

But why capture him in the first place? Why not simply kill him at his camp? It made no sense to him.

With his lucidity precarious at best, he decided to test his restraints, trying to flex his hands, his arms, to no avail. he moved his head, trying to see if there were an angle he might see something, anything, or if the hood might be loose enough to fall free.

A hiss met his effort, and he heard a voice say in a language he despised, yet knew well enough, <"It's awake!">. Night Elves.

Knowing even as he tried to fall from the cat, get out of the way - move, that it was fruitless, he realized that he was not only draped over the mount, he was tied to it. Still, he struggled until the blow came, and darkness swallowed him again....

* * *

She rode slowly, purposefully, deeper and deeper into the night. The glowing tracks could not lead her astray. But time was running out. They would reach their destination before the rise of the sun.

This she knew.

She kicked Smiler in the sides, and his neck curled his head sinuously around to face her. It smiled; six-inch teeth patterning together, drool running along the whole jaw bone, and the glowing blue eyes staring into her own red orbs. It nodded.

Troll: "Go."

Smiler took off down the trail, keeping its head low to keep track of the line.

She rode long; the moon crept across another third of the sky before she caught sight of a group of loping shadows; assumably the cats she was looking for. Throwing her senses forward, she felt her body go limp as she projected her consciousness into the cats so far ahead. They were determined, broken, domescitized. But one of them was unhappy.

It was unhappy because of the lump of unnatural trace slung over its back. She met it with promises that she would relieve it of its load; that she would help it. The cat stopped abruptly, its rider suddenly alert.

Riz'arah drew herself back into her body, to find herself rushing towards the stopped nightsaber. With barely a thought, her hands flashed green. A small blue ball appeared above her hand. Mouthing a short incantation, she thrust it forward with the point of a finger.

The lightning bolt that erupted was like her personal scream for Morticai's vengeance; her loathing of his captors and her vindictiveness to those who had attempted to get in her way.

The night elf was blown, smoking, cooking and flaming, from his mount. Riz'arah leaped off Smiler and landed next to Morticai's head. In a teary fury, she ripped the hood off his head. Abruptly gathering her wits, she calmed, and gently removed the gag.

He was poisoned. Fortuanately...

She drew a small sign of blood on his forehead using a finger she cut on a sharpened tusk. That should take care of the poison.

Wake up. Please. She thought.

However, she was unaware of the other six night elves moving to encircle her.

Part Two

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