"Ah, Silandra Silverwood. It is so good to see you again."
Silandra nodded to her former master, Lothios Sunstorm as he turned to face her. Next to him was a Blood Knight who she didn't recognise; however, the tabard he wore was all that she needed; it indicated that he was one of the Elite Blood Knights, a member of Lady Lairdrin's inner circle of loyal officers and, as such, her senior.
"You requested to see me, Magister?" She asked.
"Indeed I did." He replied. "I have... matters that need the help of a Blood Knight. And I felt that you, Silandra, would be the best one for the role."
"I have been researching other sources of power, ones that could not only alleviate our... unfortunate weakness, but could also be used to further our cause and make us... shall we say, enhance our powers." He slowly paced as he explained. "However, one of my apprentices desired to claim my research for her own. She took my notes and the tome I was studying, and mode off with it."
"And You wish me to recover it." She stated.
Lothos nodded. "It is regrettable, but it needs to be done. Not only is there valuable research in there, but my apprentice, Antinette Silverden, had certain... issues of loyalty. I believe that she may have desired to turn her research over to other parties outside of the Horde."
Silandra's eye twitched for a moment. "Traitor", she hissed.
"Indeed." The Blood Knight spoke up. "And, as such, you know what must be done."
"I do." She replied.
"Very well then." He finished. "Go, and do your duty."
Silandra considered those words as she strode through the ruined city. As a Blood Knight, one of her many, many roles was to locate and destroy traitors to the Blood Elf Cause. Even within a society as near-perfect as theirs, there still were those individuals, ones who were clearly not of sound mind, who would stand in the way of Prince Kael'thas and his Golden Dream for their race. it was the duty of the Blood Knights to locate those traitors and destroy them all.
To many others, the idea may seem regrettable. However, to the Blood knights, it was just a part of their job. To Silandra, though, it was something else. She enjoyed the location and elimination of traitors. To her mind, any who would oppose the will of Kael'thas and his people deserved to be destroyed for their insolence.
To her, they were fools and weaklings who deserved to be punished for their mistakes.
She knew that the tome that she had taken was one that had been 'liberated' from the Scourge at Deatholme. Only a few magisters would have had the experience needed to translate its words, and Antinette was not one of them. To use it, she would need to gather information from some other source; one that would be familiar with the Scourge and its magics.
Which was why she had come to the Undercity.
The lift door opened, Silandra stepping out into the twisted, dark corridors of the sinister, subterranean complex that was the Forsaken capital. Around her, it seemed like the whole place was a celebration of death and unlike; skull-shaped relief adorned its walls, while archways were carved into the shapes of gigantic bones. Even when the corridors opened out into the main trade district the city retained its sinister edge, as massive pillars resembling carved bones rose out of a lake of green ichor, supporting buildings shaped to resemble fanged skulls.
Many Orcs, Tauren and even Trolls who visited the Undercity found it to be unnerving at the very least. Silandra didn't care. She had a job to to.
A few questions around the Magic Quarter had yielded the information that she wanted. Antinette had indeed come there and had "borrowed" some scrolls and materials relating to the Scourge and their dark magics. Apparently, she had not done such with the express permission of the mages there either.
The only problem was tracing her steps from there.
"Tell me..." She hissed. "Tell me where she is."
"I don't know!" The Forsaken mage called back, trying very badly not to sound scared. He appeared to have been no older then twenty before he died, but was clearly worse for ware now. Despite the fact that he was an apprentice mage, however, he cowered before her, clutching his broom defensively. "I saw her leave but I didn't give her much notice! I was sweeping the floor at the time!"
"Nobody knows anything here!" Silandra snarled. "How do you expect me to do my duty if you don't tell me anything!"
"I'm sorry!" He called back. "I'm - oh, that still works."
"Useless." She snarled and turned her back. "She is a traitor. Traitors must be punished. She is a traitor. Traitors must be punished." Silandra repeated those words, as if they were a mantra, as she stalked towards the exit to the Undercity. "She is a traitor. Traitors must... be..." her eyes narrowed as she looked to each side.
"Punished!" She yelled, spinning around, her sword drawn. Behind her was a male forsaken, wielding a battered, rusted dagger in each hand. He was even more ragged and worn then the one she had threatened, sporting exposed bones, torn skin, scraggly hair and a mouth full of broken, disjointed teeth. His leathers were in similar condition to the rest of him, looking like they were about to come apart.
As ragged as he seemed, however, he was not intimidated by the blade pointed at his face. "What do you want?"
"Same thing as you, Seniorita." He slurred back. "I want to stabbity that feeelthy criminal who dare stole stuff from us."
"And why? You're no mage."
"No..." he shook his head, then beamed. "I are Deathstalker! I got a card and everything!"
Silandra knew of the Deathstalkers; elite agents of the Banshee Queen, they had similar responsibilities to the Blood Knights. However, whereas the members of Silandra's order policed through being visible and an obvious threat, the Deathstalkers lurked in the shadows, preferring subtle menace to blatant intimidation. It meant that, like her, he was a professional soldier, one who would know his duty and his orders. "And so you have been charged with dealing with her as well." She lowered her sword.
"Si." He grinned. "She stole stuffs from us. Nobody does that."
"Very well then." Silandra nodded. "We shall work together to destroy this filthy traitor who would dare defy us." As she spoke, she clenched the hilt of her sword tightly.
"Destruction is fun." The Deathstalker added.
"Very well." She turned to look over the city. "Where is she?"
"Silly person got on a Zeppelin." He explained. "She's going to the Ogg!"
The Zeppelin to Oggrimar had been but another step along the trail. From there, discrete enquiries (For limited values of "discrete"; there had been a fair deal of shouting involved) had revealed that their prey had left the Orcish capitol, heading into the Barrens. It was a place that Silandra had been to before, and that she wasn't entirely fond of. However, she had her orders, and she would fulfill them to the best of her ability.
Their first stop had been the Crossroads. It was the hub of Horde activity in the Barrens, a place where pretty much everything came through. Of course, it was also the second largest settlement ion the entire Barrens (Quillboars aside) which didn't help matters. It seemed like a logical place to start the next step of their investigations.
It was a hot, dry, still day when they arrived. The oppressive, summer heat beat down upon the Barrens, rendering the normally dry and inhospitable land even more so then usual. It lay an oppressive, heavy hand all around, stilling activity as sensible beings sort refuge from it, leaving matters undone until such a time that it was less painful to step outside. The Horde's soldiers remained at their posts, but didn't try to venture out any further then they needed to. In response, the usual Centaur and Quillboar raids came to a standstill as they sought refuge wherever available. Even Ratchet, party town that it was said to be, was quiet as its inhabitants either sought refuge at the docks, or merely retreated indoors to escape the omnipresent heat.
The crossroads were similarly still; very few people were outdoors, and most of those that were did anything to seek shade. Only the guards on duty remained outside and unprotected, ever-vigilant against the seemingly inevitable Alliance raid. The pair of new arrivals aroused some interest, simply for the fact that they would be venturing out on a day like this. That interest waned, however, as they went about their work.
Silandra found it irritating that nobody around seemed to know anything about what had happened. To her mind, people should recongise her office and her position, and how vital her work was, and, as such, go out of their way to aid her in any way that they could. That was the simple and irrefutable truth of it; what she did was vital to the Blood Elf people and thus vital to the Horde as a whole. It was to their benefit that she did what she did.
"Well?" She hissed at the Innkeeper. "Where did she go from there?"
"I do not know." The female Tauren replied. Despite being the better part of two feet taller then Silandra, she still seemed intimidated by the Blood Knight's glare. "She came through here, bought some food and left. She didn't say anything beyond that."
"Useless." Silandra snarled as she turned to walk out. She's deliberately hiding something, I know it. Silandra thought. I will have to apply more pressure and force her to talk. That is vital information that she's concealing there. Definitely.
"Hey, over here!" her Deathstalker companion called out. "I think I found something!"
She ventured to find him standing next to a large chair that was situated under an awning. An elderly Forsaken mage was reclining in the chair, reading a book and blatantly not acknowledging them. However, she could tell from the look on his lack of a face that he knew something.
"Well?" She asked.
"Oh, I know him. He very useful." The Deathstalker replied enthusiastically. He turned towards the mage and grinned a manic grin. "Hola!"
The mage slowly looked up from his book. "Oh, its you." He began in a tone that suggested that he wasn't happy to see him. "What do you want now?"
"We want to know some stuff!" He enthusiastically stated.
"Stuff, eh?" The mage slowly replied. "Well it appears that 'stuff' is all that I am good for these days. Those irresponsible, empty-headed fools in the Apothecary Society use my knowledge of 'stuff' to justify whatever codswallop they're cooking up today. So by all means, if it is 'stuff' that you want, then it is 'stuff' that you will get."
"Is he being difficult on purpose?" Silandra hissed.
"Naw, he always like this."
"Anyway, I suppose that I will not get a moment's peace until I answer your inane query, correct?" The mage continued.
"Yeahyeahyeahyeahyeah." The Deathstalker enthusiastically replied.
"Very well then. Ask away."
Silandra stepped past her partner to address him directly. "A renegade Sin'dorei mage came this way. We are hunting her. Tell us what you know about her."
"My, you are polite." He grumbled. "However, I'll let it pass so I can get some kip around here." He shook his head. "I'll assume that the woman you are searching for is Antinette Silverden, as she was the only person to come through here in this past week that seemed to be even remotely interesting."
"That is her."
"Good. Then you will be doubtless pleased to know that she did a particularly poor job of hiding her intentions, making a lot of noise about heading north and explicitly asking where she would be likely to encounter Horde patrols. Of course, she did it in such a manner that would make it obvious to all but the most mindless of observers that she wanted to avoid said patrols, which would only be done by someone with something to hide."
Silandra's eyes narrowed as she considered matters. It made sense that she would want to avoid Horde patrols, but why would she head north. Unless...
The filthy traitor was going to sell out her own people to the Alliance, and the loathsome Night Elves in particular. The thought of it made her blood boil in anger, the very idea that a Sin'dorei would turn to their feral, treacherous cousins for aid in preference to their own kind. Spinning around, she turned to her ally. "We must go now. We cannot delay any further."
"Oh good." The mage commented. "Maybe at last I can get some peace."
Skazz Coldsploogie was not a happy Goblin. Not happy at all.
A few months ago, he'd had a fantastic business idea. He had decided to set up an Ice Cream stand in the Barrens, situated along the Gold Road, north of the Crossroads. The idea was simple; passing traffic on the Crossroads-Ashenvale axis would get all hot and sweaty as they were running to and fro. Then, they would see his well-advertised stand and then stop for a nice, cool, refreshing treat before going on his way. His thirty-two flavors of creamy goodness would fill their bellies, while their coins would fill his pockets.
Hours of research had revealed the size of the typical Alliance raiding force that went towards Crossroads. This had enabled him to figure exactly how much Ice Cream he needed to produce and keep in stock. Even allowing for his elaborate cooling system, he knew that he would be rolling in profit by the end of the week.
Except then the Alliance had set up a Griffon Master in Ratchet, only days after his grand opening, while the Horde had set up a Wind Rider right next to them. Instantly, the flood of potential customers he had planned on had despaired, flying straight over him rather then spending endless hours of running or riding. Instead of crowds, he had the odd lost Orc or Night Elf and a few Warlocks, but that was the limit of it.
(That his long time rival, Liv Sprinkletopp had set up an ice cream stand within spitting distance of the Ratchet Griffin roost was a constant source of irritation, In fact, he was certain that Liv had insider information.)
Besides the lack of profit (and how much it would cost to disassemble everything and move it elsewhere), the singe biggest problem he had was simple loneliness. He'd started out with two hired hands, which meant that he could take breaks form the store, as well as at the very least, giving him someone to talk to.
One of them had run off to Ratchet to become a pirate. The other had been carried off by Centaurs during a raid. (A raid where they didn't even buy any Ice Cream! The indignity of it all!) He'd decided not to hire anyone else, as paying them would cut into his already meager revenue. So instead he stayed out here in the Barrens, day after day, all on his own, waiting for a customer to come along.
And waiting. And waiting.
There had been a single person by today. One. And even then, they hadn't bothered to stop. In fact, they'd deliberately swerved out of the way of the stand, going out of their way not to buy anything from him. That really cheesed him off; it was a baking hot day and they were walking - walking, could you believe it - through the barrens. Why wouldn't they want ice-cream? The only reason was that somebody had told them explicitly not to go near him; probably Liv, he figured.
Skazz was on the verge of dozing off when a pair of shadows fell across his counter. Looking up, he could see two figures standing over him. Both were taller then he was and slim; one almost skeletal in form. Their eyes seemed to shine, one bright green, the second a strange, unearthly yellow.
He didn't let it phase him, instead leaping straight into action.
"How can I help you?" He began. "Care to trey one of my thirty-two fantastic flavors?"
And then they both grinned, broad, toothy and above all else, insane-looking grins.
"Was that really necessary?" Silandra growled as her Warhorse raced across the barrens. "It cost us precious time!"
"It was!" The Deathstalker called back, his Skeletal steed matching pace with her horse. The two couldn't have looked too much different; her horse being a massive, muscular beast clad in red and gold armour with dark fur and glowing red eyes, while his was a skeleton that showed considerable signs of wear and damage, like it had been dead some time before being re-animated.
"And why?" She asked. "He didn't tell us anything that we didn't already know. All we did was get Ice-cream."
"But I like ice-cream!"
Silandra considered this. His logic was flawless, she had to admit.
"Very well. But I expect you to share it when we're done here."
In the distance, Antinette could see trees.
it was a rare sight, here n the barrens. Usually there was just a single tree in the middle of the landscape, or maybe a small clump. But ahead, she could see clusters of trees, the beginning of what she had no doubt was the forests of Ashenvale, the goal of this venture. The thought of entering it was strange; the place was alien and foreign to her, a realm that she had never visited. At the same time, the forests seemed far more comforting and inviting to her then the desolate wastes of the Barrens.
But there was more to it then just that. Once she entered Ashenvale, there would be no turning back. She would sever the last ties to her people and her nation, forsaking the Sin'dorei for those she knew would view her with suspicion and hatred. But she had no choice. The information that she carried, as well as the books in her pack had made that decision for her. She could never go back, not after learning what she had.
Maybe they'll let me settle in Theramore, she thought. I could join the Quel'dorei there, if they would have me... to be amongst my own people, no matter whom would be a comfort.
She knew that there was a single obstacle ahead, the Mosh'arn rampart. In order to enter Ashenvale, she would have to somehow bypass the Horde guards there, which would not be easy. Once in the forest, she figured, she could easily loose them and make her way towards an Alliance settlement to surrender. Not surrender, defect.
This last stage of the journey had been unbearable for numerous reasons. The hot, dry air of the Barrens had relentlessly beat down on her, leaving her parched and weak. More pressingly, she had been refusing to tap available Mana, refusing to go down what she now knew was a doomed path. The hunger tore her up inside, working with the heat to make each step as hard as possible. But she had to go on. it was vital.
Not long now. Almost... almost...
There was a crack of a rifle, followed by a sudden, searing pain in her shoulder. Her body twisted as the round ripped into it, shattering bone and ripping apart soft flesh. As she tried to collect herself, she was struck by a second blow, a brilliant blast of light that stunned her, slamming her to the ground.
Rolling over, she saw two figures approaching, silhouetted against the setting sun behind them. She couldn't quite make out their features, but she could see what they were. One was clearly a Forsaken, bones visible in places where skin and clothing had torn. The other was a female Sin'dorei, her green eyes blazing in anger.
"Antinette Silverden." The female spoke. "You have betrayed your people. You have stolen vital resources. You have tried to seek shelter in the arms of the Alliance."
She realised what was happening. Sunstorm had discovered what she had done and what she had taken, and had decided to do something about it. The last thing that he wanted was the truth. "I only wanted to make things right!" She exclaimed. "You have to believe me. What Sunstorm - what all the magisters are doing is wrong! They've lied to us all! I have the proof here in the book I took and Sunstorm's own research notes!"
The Sin'dorei seemed to pause for a moment, then raised her sword. "Your crime is treason. Your punishment is death."
Silandra looked down at the body of the fallen mage, watching impassively as her blood seeped out into the soil of the Barrens. Then, she picked up the fallen woman's pack, checking its contents. Satisfied that everything that she expected to find was in there, she closed it and turned to her companion.
"We done?" He asked.
"Yes." She replied slowly, considering matters. "Today's events have opened my eyes. I know now what I must do."
"Let's get some ice cream." She finished.
- This story was co-written