Another post brought to you by Lorelli, of Exit Reality Studios. (You should pay her to do art for you. Her art is awesome!)
Aely looked across the table at the rogue she’d come to trust so well over the last few years. She didn’t know if Lore had introduced her to Arrens, or the other way around, but regardless, they had a common thread in the missing man, and the latest reports were less than promising.
“Hinote said he almost certainly went ta Outland. An’ Outland is unstable as fuck.”
Lorelli nodded. “There were a whole bunch of places that de Roux said he could have gone though, right? Even Lordaeron?”
“Yeh, but… Hinote has a soulstone she charged up in his summoning circle ay th’ University. She tracked his … resonance? Fel magic is far beyond me… anyroad – she tracked it to th’ Portal in th’ Blasted Lands, but couldna get a read further than that. I … dinna want ta believe he’d try sommat in Outland though. Th’ farther out he goes, th’ more likely this is ta end in ruins.”
“Have you ruled out the demonic summoning areas of Kalimdor?”
“Th’ gryphon rider here says a man wi’ his description flew out south. I’ve na gotten a tail oan anyone at th’ docks sayin’ anyone sailed out, though I suppose he could ha’ hired a portal. In short, I’ve no idea. There’s some powerful areas there though – Demon Fall Canyon comes ta mind. Dinna ken if any ay it is as powerful as th’ altars out in Blasted Lands, but…” Aely shrugged helplessly. “I canna figure any ay this out.”
Lorelli placed a hand on Aely’s shoulder but remained silent. She didn’t want to offer what may end up being hollow words of false hope, as much as she willed that not to be the case. She and Aely were both much more realistic than that.
Finally she said, “I’ve got a list here of supplies purchased by a man matching Arrens’ description around the right time frame. Sadly it’s all a bit mundane and doesn’t really point in any one direction. Except that he had no idea how long he’d be gone. I still can’t believe he’d leave without any sort of…” She trailed off, looking to Aely with the fear she may have said the wrong thing.
“None ay this makes sense. He’s too careful fir this kind ay thing usually. An’ too preoccupied wi’ school. Whate’er wis in tha’ book, it wis strong eno’ ta tempt him out ay teachin’ summer classes. An’ if he thought it would be a quick errand, maybe he dinna think oan leavin’ a note. Or maybe he tried an’ it got lost – ye ken how th’ mail is up in Kun Lai. Likely I’ll get a letter at Christmas. I’ve been stayin’ at th’ Monastery there, an’…” Aely sighed. “An’ tha’ dinna much matter now anyroad. It’s all unlike him, but I’m tryin’ ta keep in good faith about it until I’ve truly reason ta think otherwise.”
“Right. As well you should. I’m free for a few days, how about I head over to Kalimdor and take a look around? With any luck we can then rule out it or Outland.” She raked a hand through her hair, then paused, a thought occurring to her. “I may even be able to enlist some help.”
“May be a bit ay fool’s errand, but it’d make me feel better ta ken fir sure we wir lookin’ ta Outland fir our answers. Ye prob’ly ken th’ big fel centers as well as any, but Sarcanna mentioned Felwood an’ Demon Fall Canyon, though there’s other demonic spots in Ashenvale too.” Aely paused. “Jus’… dinna be too long, an’ dinna worry about it if ye dinna find anythin’. It’s a long shot at this point.”
The rogue nodded again and then was gone as if she had never been there.
Her plan when she left Aely was to meet with Prayce the next day, explain what was going on and ask if he wanted to come with her. Who better to take on a warlock hunt, than a warlock; but the lead was too good and she couldn’t wait. She left Prayce a note instead, apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the Pig and Whistle that evening and went to talk to a boat captain.
“Yeah, I think I recall someone fittin’ that description. Sailed out with us ‘bout six weeks back. Didn’t say much ‘bout where he was headed though.”
Lorelli frowned, “And you dropped him in Rut’theran?”
The captain nodded, “That I did, lass. Sorry I can’t help you much beyond that.”
Yeah, I’d like to see how sorry you’d be if I wasn’t paying you. She bit her tongue and handed the captain his promised ‘fee’. After, she want to hire a portal to Darnassus.
Darnassus would always remain one of the last places she ever wanted to be. Even just passing through made her tense, watching every shadow and corner as she navigated the streets and trails. There was just too much bad blood and too many unwanted memories. If there had been a faster way to reach Rut’theran, the rogue would have gladly taken it, as there was not, here she was.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” A voice asked in Darnassian.
Lorelli paused and turned to face the young man sitting on the steps of the shop she had been passing. He held a bottle in one hand and had his white hair pulled back in a ponytail. One of his ears was a few inches shorter than the other.
“Probably just look like someone you know. Sorry, I’m in a bit of a hurry…” She said, starting to turn away.
He set the bottle down with a thud and got up. “No, I’m pretty sure I know you.” He made some sort of hand gesture and three other kaldorei men appeared from inside and around the sides of the shop. “Ashond mentioned Teal had been back in town a few months ago. Said she cleared out most of the Lowborne. We’re out of jobs now, you know that?”
Lorelli kept her face neutral and held back a sigh. “Look boys, under normal circumstances, I’d love to hang around and play Show the Lads How I Earned My Reputation but like I said, I’m in a hurry. Why don’t you try actually working in that shop instead of holding the steps down if you’re short on cash?”
A knife landed in the dirt at her feet. There was a blurring of the lines at the edges of her vision and a slithering at the back of her mind. She clamped it down and fixed the first man with a stare.
“Ashond would love to talk to you.” He said.
“M’sure he would but for the last time, I’m in a hurry .” On the last word the flash packet hit the ground. It lit the area for a moment before the smoke spilled out obscuring the lines of the buildings and the shapes of the men. Lorelli turned on her heel and sprinted away before the light had fully faded. She knew they’d recover from the effects quicker than most, but she had enough of a head start she should be able to lose them.
She headed for the raised promenade in the middle of the city and dashed from pillar to pillar. Once she reached the bridge she swung down underneath and flattened herself up against the support, knee deep in water. The rogue held her breath and waited. Eventually she heard their boot falls over head.
“How the fuck could you lose her? She was right there!” There was pause and then, “Alright. You two go that way, I’ll go this way. Call Ashond, tell him Teal’s in town and we need people looking for her now. ”
Lorelli waited a bit longer before slowly moving from her hiding spot and chancing a look over the bridge. Seeing no sign of them she turned and jogged for the portal out of town. She was fairly certain she hadn’t been spotted heading for Rut’theran, but she made it quick just to be safe.
The gryphon master also confirmed a man similar in appearance to Arrens had paid for a ride to Felwood roughly five or six weeks prior. Lorelli thanked him and purchased a ride following the same route.
Felwood was about the time she really started to wish she’d gotten in touch with Prayce before leaving. The whole area felt electric, made her hair stand on end and her skin crawl. Regardless of what he had said about demons becoming like family, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be okay with them. Felwood kind of felt like Outland’s skinny little brother.
The gryphon master in Talonbranch Glade, however, was a dead end. She had no recollection of anyone like Arrens at all. She suggested that perhaps instead of Talonbranch, the Professor had landed in Whisperwind Grove or the Emerald Sanctuary. Neither of them yielded any further clues either. It was getting close to midday now, getting warmer and she couldn’t help but stifle a yawn. The rogue was used to running on little to no sleep when needed, was just the heat and the light were slowing her down. She pulled up her hood but left the mask off and went to speak with the Sanctuary flight master once more.
He was a large dark furred tauren named Gorrim. “You know, you might try Wildheart Point.” He recommended. “They’re a small camp but they see travelers occasionally, too.” His Darnassian was oddly accented but he made his point just fine.
“Can you get me there?” She asked.
Gorrim nodded and pointed out one of the gryphons towards the end of his line.
The flight to Wildheart Point was a short one and the flight master there was a kaldorei named Chyella. Chyella told Lorelli she thought she recalled someone that looked like Arrens about a month or so ago but she couldn’t say for absolutely certain. He’d purchased a gryphon ride to Desolace and so that’s where she went.
Moira Steelwing at Thargad’s Camp also recalled someone matching the description Lorelli gave and said that he had departed heading east. A quick consultation of her map and the rogue figured the most likely destination for a warlock would be Mannoroc Coven.
A few hours later, empty handed and smarting from a demon encounter she trudged back into Thargad’s Camp. Moira looked at her in askance but Lorelli offered no reply. She was tired, sore, hungry, and just barely staving off a headache. The thing worrying her most, however, was going back to Aely empty handed. Her friend had said not to worry if she didn’t find anything but that made no difference, she worried anyway.
It was time to take a moment and restock. A drink would certainly help with that and the best drinks, in her opinion were in Gadgetzan.
It was early evening by the time she arrived in Tanaris. The sun was still high overhead and the light made her head swim slightly. Lorelli pulled her hood lower over her eyes trying to cut down more of the light. She had entertained a brief notion that she might make it back to Stormwind in time to join in some drinks at the Pig but there was no way that was going to happen now.
She slipped into the inn, thankful for a break from the brightness of the desert sun but it didn’t offer much in the way of relief from the heat. She grabbed a chair and ordered a drink. A few drinks later she stopped the innkeeper as he passed. On a whim, she inquired about Arrens.
“I’m wondering if you recall seeing a man in the last few weeks?” She proceeded to describe him in as much detail as possible, hesitantly adding the fact that he may have had a demon trailing after him.
“Aint seen no one like that round here, lady. Might try heading north ta Desolace. Warlocks love that place.” The innkeeper replied, replacing her drink.
She handed him her empty glass with a nod, “Thanks.”
There was a goblin at one of the other tables watching her. Lorelli pretended not to notice until he spoke up.
“Your boyfriend up and left ya, huh, sweetheart?”
She took a sip from her drink, eyeing him over the rim of her glass. “He’s a dear friend’s husband. Not that it matters. Point is, he’s missing and we’d really like to find him.”
“Not sure what anyone’d want to marry a demonfucker for.”
She narrowed her eyes even further at him having recently discovered a great distaste for the term.
He leaned forward across the table. “You don’t look like you like demons. Betcha’ like goblins though.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, which caused his ears to also wiggle a tad hilariously.
Lorelli shook her head and leaned back in her chair. “Not particularly.”
“Aw come on, once ya go green ya never go back.” He made smoochy motions with his lips accompanied by an awkward sucking noise.
Lorelli resisted the urge to throw her glass at his head. “S’what they said ‘bout orcs too.”
The goblin scowled. “What? Pretty nigh elf lady too good for us, eh? Ya’ll think yer better than us. S’my money too good for you too?”
“I’d advise you watch your tongue, sir. You’re headed into very treacherous ground.” She’d gone very still, not even her eyes betrayed that she was tracking his every move.
“I ain’t scared of you. Just cuz you’re tall and pretty. Tall folk can’ keep threatening us and putting us down cuz we’re short.”
“Has nothing to do with your stature and everything to do with your approach.” She replied, her voice deadly calm.
“So what? I just didn’t offer you enough?”
“That is now the second time you have implied that I am a whore. I am tired and therefore will allow it to pass. Do not try me again.”
“I got plenty of gold, Money is no object.”
Lorelli set her glass down with a clunk against the table. She rose from her chair and sauntered over to him, slow and steady. He tracked her with his eyes, traced the curves she presented.
“I knew that’s all it was. Ladies like yourself love them some gol…” He was cut off as her fist connected with his nose, a sickening crunch echoing through the inn. She turned, leaving him on the floor clutching his nose to find five more goblins had stood up and were eyeing her.
“Well, so much for my rest. ‘fraid I left my dance card on my table, first come first serve.” She was outnumbered, it was true. At that point she didn’t care, she was annoyed at the goblin’s implications, baseless as they may be and frustrated with the lack of evidence in her search. The black haze slithering at the edges of her vision had nothing to do with it, at least she pretended they didn’t. She left her knives where they were, however, she wanted a good fight, not a slaughter.
The small mob–pun intended–advanced and everything erupted. By the time they were done, the damage was five busted tables, eight busted chairs, two spilled drinks, three shattered glasses and five unconscious goblins. Not to mention the small garrison of Steemwheedle bruisers that had now arrived. Lorelli winced, one of them had gotten a pretty clear shot to the back of her head and she wouldn’t be surprised to find a cracked rib or two. Also it was getting a little hazy and that made her nervous. So when the bruisers insisted she put her hands up, she did so.
At least the wall of the cell was cool. She felt like she’d been sitting in a steam pool and neglected to get out long after she should have. Her head was pounding and the haze hadn’t lifted. She wanted to sleep but she needed to figure a way out of here. They had taken her daggers, all of her back up knives and her gloves. The last of which being the most problematic as her lock picks were in the right one. Fucking goblins were far too thorough. However, for some reason, they hadn’t taken her buzzbox. Thank… something… for small favors.
She switched it on, with a quick glance at her guards and their positions. It was early in the Eastern Kingdoms, if anyone was awake it’d be a miracle, so ahw just left a message that would show up for anyone with her frequency to retrieve.
My apologies Riders. Ran into some trouble, won’t be back in town until later today. Don’t need bail, may need a healer, certainly need a few hours of sleep. That should at least let folk know she’d be stuck away and not to expect her. Maybe a nap and then she would get back on this escape problem.
When she woke a bit later she had message waiting. It was Prayce saying he’d be waiting for her when she got back to offer any assistance he could. She smiled in spite of the situation, fired off a reply and set about inspecting the cell. She was prodding at the lock when one of the bruisers came over and started shouting at her but he was yelling in goblin and she was only catching one word in five. Really it only served to make her headache worse.
Lorelli put her hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I wasn’t doin’ anything. Just wanted to ask for some water.” She followed that up with the goblin word for water which was extremely similar to the goblin word for gold which was also very similar to the goblin word for life. She really hoped she’d gotten the accent right or this could get pretty awkward. The goblin sneered at her and pointed to the bench at the back of the cell.
“Right, right. I’m goin’.” She dropped back on the seat, waited until he moved away and dropped another message to the buzzbox’s storage, much as she hated to do so. This was that whole playing well with others thing she was supposed to be working on, right? Relying on folk, asking for help? At least she hoped so.
May need bail after all. My goblin isn’t that great. S’either bail or I’m finally being offered a drink…
Almost immediately she received two replies, very similar in nature but extremely different in tone.
Tarquin: Oh for fuck’s sake. Where are you?
Prayce: Where are you?
So the cavalry was coming after all. This should be interesting. She felt bad, She shouldn’t even be in this situation and should certainly be able to get herself out. Headache wasn’t helping, she couldn’t focus. She called the guard over and tried her request for a drink once more. He laughed but seemed to nod and moved off.
She turned her attention back to her box. Gadgetzan . But I think we’re good here? Seems we’ve finally broken the language barrier. Did you know goblins have at least ten words for gold?
Again, an almost instant reply. Was Prayce sitting on his box waiting for messages? She was slightly flattered. I’m headed your way. Knowing goblins, they’ll most likely try to double the bail money.
Or triple. She thought. No, really, it was fine. She could handle it. She started to send another message stating just that. It’s alright, that won’t be necessa…. Her guard returned carrying a mug. She smiled in relief, started to get up and was forced into an immediate ducking maneuver as he pulled back and chucked the mug at her head. It hit the wall with a clang splashing it’s contents across her and the cell.
“You green-skinned little bastard!” She spat, lunging for the bars and trying to get at him through them. He danced just out of reach and laughed at her. The black haze was creeping back and she imagined twisting his head off using his giant sail like ears as handles. She forced herself to pause, take a breath and calm down. At least the water had been cold and served to cool her off somewhat. She trudged back to the bench and sat to finish her message.
Okay. Right. I’ll just sit tight. And as an afterthought she added. Thanks. And meant it.
Lorelli didn’t recall falling asleep and couldn’t have said what time of day it was. There was a commotion from somewhere out front, a raised voice trying to make themselves understood. A moment more of strained listening and she recognized Prayce’s voice trying to negotiate bail with whichever bruiser was on duty. She closed her eyes and silently thanked Elune and the Light and whichever other gods may have given a shit. She was up and leaning against the bars when her rescuer and his goblin escort finally made their way down the back hallway.
She couldn’t help but grin when she saw him.
“Are you alright to travel?” Prayce asked, eyeing her and then eyeing the goblin as if imagining what he would do if her answer was anything less than satisfactory. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to find out.
“I’m fine, what are you planning?”
He reached an arm between the bars. “Not to pay the bail, that’s for certain. Grab on to me.”
“I fail to see what good this will do…” As she took hold of his arm she felt a very strong yanking sensation. There was a flash of green and then everything was suddenly far too bright and the sun was beating down on her again. She almost wanted to be back in the cell. Almost.
“Wasn’t sure the portal would take two but I had to risk it. I know you’re in no condition to travel…”
“I’m fine.” She insisted as he paused between breaths.
“…But if we don’t find ourselves scarce we’ll have much bigger problems to deal with.” Prayce started trying to pull her along behind him, but she let go and stopped.
“I can be real scarce, real easy. Get out of here and wait for me outside of town. I’ll just be a moment.” She turned and started sneaking back around to the front of the building. “And thank you.” She shot over her shoulder.
“You’re going back in?”
“My gear’s in there.” And she slid into the shadows before he could protest.
“Alright.” Lorelli said, tugging her gloves back on and checking every blade was safely back where it belonged. She never felt more comfortable then when all her gear was in its proper place.
Prayce jumped and whirled to face her, “Where did…”
“Told you, I can be real scarce, real easy. S’kind of what I do. Now let’s get out of this arid hell hole. I need to make a stop in Ashenvale and I could really use your help.”
“Are you sure you’re well enough to…”
“I said I’m fine. I’ve had enough injuries I can usually tell what bad is. This aint bad.”
What she didn’t tell him was that there was now only a small pile of goblin corpses to man the jail cells in Gadgetzan.
As they flew toward Ashenvale Lorelli filled Prayce in on the situation with Arrens. It took the better part of the trip but finally as they landed she finished. “I’m not much good with magic and fel energy and all that. S’where you come in. Not to mention pleasant company is always a plus.”
Prayce nodded, a fel hound now standing sentry by his feet. “I will do my best. This area is loaded with fel magic but if there is a trail, we will find it.” He turned to the dog-like demon, patting it on it’s scaled head and speaking to it in demonic.
Lorelli turned away, pulling her hood up and checking to make sure her daggers were loose enough for a quick draw. She turned back around and found herself staring straight into a pair of eyes attached to a large pile of fur, claws and a whole lot of teeth wearing Prayce’s clothes. For a brief moment she felt a bit of concern over what she’d gotten herself into with him but she forced a laugh. “Hairball.”
When he spoke his voice was deeper with a hint of ferocity behind it. “Let us find your man.”
They traveled in silence to avoid alerting the roaming demons to their presence. Lorelli trailed slightly behind, watching his back and sticking to the shadows. He seemed extremely focused and she knew better than to interrupt. The canyon was covered in summoning circles, old and new. What had once been part of the lush Ashenvale forest now a dead wasteland of green fire, ash and demons.
The fel hound Prayce called Khii was bounding from circle to circle, sniffing, far too dog like for Lore’s comfort. It’s tendrils flayed too and fro before it was off to the next circle and then the next before coming back around to one of the first ones again, like it couldn’t make up its mind. It paid no heed to the other demons, and if it got too far ahead while Lorelli and Prayce hung back out of sight, they didn’t seem to troubled by Khii either.
“There has been activity here recently, but there’s no way to tell by whom.” Prayce was kneeling by one of the circles tracing the patterns with a claw, seeming almost distant. Lorelli nodded, though he was paying her little attention. She had pretty much resigned herself to make sure he didn’t get jumped by a demon and pretending like she had any clue what was going on here.
“That’s comforting.” She muttered.
Prayce moved around the circle and inhaled the still crackling flames of green fire dancing there. It was hard to watch and added to her growing unease.
“Yes, fresh homage paid here.” He said.
“Homage? Dare I ask what exactly that entails? I mean, I get the tribute part, it’s what you pay tribute with that I may or may not be interested in.”
Prayce got to his feet and looked around as he replied. “You would not care to know, my dear. Usually involves sacrifice of some sort or another.”
He continued walking, “The contracts with the fel come in many forms. Depends on the bargain mostly. A crafty warlock will set the contract but many fall victim to the demons’ wit.”
They had reached a large area where many summoning circles were laid out in a pattern even Lorelli – not being versed in fel magic and summons – couldn’t miss. Prayce pointed from one circle to the next.
“Clearly there has been a rather large summoning here.” He said.
“How large is large?”
He was kneeling next to another circle. Once again a claw reached out to follow the lines of the runes inscribed there. “Large enough to be troubling.”
“But we can’t tell exactly what was summoned or how it ended? Like, say the demon ate the summoner and flew away. Or something.”
Prayce beckoned Khii over and spoke to the fel hound in demonic again. At least she assumed before and now that is what it must be. Sounded similar to Arrens’ demonic and the translations of the book Kost, Sarcanna and Hinote had given. There was a strangled yelp and the fel hound collapsed to the ground, lit on fire and burned to a pile of green tinged ash in seconds.
The rogue blinked behind her mask. It was the only betrayal of emotion given but also hidden. She wondered what exactly had just happened and if the fel hound was somehow miraculously okay. Perhaps she had been hanging around Prayce too long if she was concerned for the well being of a demon dog. She tried to read the warlock’s face for any answers. All she was greeted with was a view of what seemed to be yet more teeth and eyes that had gone completely inky black.
Finally he answered her but his voice was not the same. “It was large, yet not large enough, I think.”
“How could it not be large enough?” In her mind, any demon summoning at all was too large.
“You are familiar with gnomish devices?”
“A fair number of them, yes.” She had built a fair few herself.
“At times, they use too harsh a load on the device. Then all of it falters.”
She nodded, “Right. You blow a circuit, or the motor, or something. Okay, engineering metaphors, I can work with that.”
Prayce smiled at her but around all the teeth it was mostly just extremely feral and even more unsettling. “Exactly. I believe the ‘motor’ gave out here and they moved on. I can’t get a scent though. The overload of magic smudges them all.” He waved a great clawed hand, “I would say if your headmaster was here, he left. Demons tend to make trophies of failed masters.”
A vision of a head on a spike and strewn entrails entered her head unbidden. She was very glad she didn’t have to take that explanation back to Aely. “Yeah. that I have heard before and it’s not comforting. Arrens was no half-assed warlock, but he had a habit of getting in over his head.” She paused, “Is.” She corrected herself but it didn’t feel right. “Hells, I don’t know…”
Prayce had turned away and when he faced her again, he was all human.
“That’s going to take a little getting used.” She commented.
“I apologize. Some of what I do it quite unsettling, I know.”
Lorelli shrugged thinking back on the goblins and not feeling the least bit guilty about it. “I’m hardly one to judge, really. Some of what I do is probably unsettling too. I was referring more to the wolf.”
He offered her a smile. “I find that form more fitting for work.”
Lorelli spread her hands with a slight tilt of her head. “Makes sense. Anything stupid enough to mess with that much teeth and claws deserved to be ripped to shreds.”
“Just think of it as donning one’s armor.”
“Right.” The rogue heaved a heavy sigh, “Well, I think we’ve done all we can here. I need to report back to Aely and then sleep for a number of hours.”
He nodded and wordlessly pulled her to him. She stood there a moment, leaning on him, ‘leaning’ on the strength of another soul and grateful for his presence. They had agreed that their situation would remain fluid and that labels were not important. It was another aspect of the game and she could tell Prayce played as well as she did. Though she would never admit it to herself, part of her wasn’t sure she wanted to win.
Her eyes scanned the area one last time, willing some evidence to appear that she could take back to one of her dearest friends and present with any sort of certainty. Aely had said ‘don’t worry if you don’t find anything’ but it wasn’t enough. Not for Lorelli and not for Aely, who deserved to know.