jack_of_none: (World of Lolcraft)
Jack of None ([personal profile] jack_of_none) wrote in [community profile] hardmode2010-09-30 05:35 am

"Northrend on Thirty Silvers a Day", World of Warcraft

Title: Northrend on Thirty Silvers a Day
~or~ Love and Loathing (Mostly Loathing) In A Zombie-Infested Frozen Wasteland
Author: [profile] jackofnone
Media Creator: [personal profile] subtext
Word Count: 20273
Fandom: World of Warcraft
Characters/Pairing(s): Asric/Jadaar, with cameo appearances by various NPCs and OCs.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None. Not even spoilers, really.
Summary: When Asric finds himself somewhat unexpected reunited with Jadaar, he's not sure if his life is about to get better or worse. Regardless, they need to get out of the middle of this frozen war zone and into somewhere civilized. The only thing standing between them and Dalaran are angry vrykul, inclement weather, scheming Forsaken, local wildlife, past mistakes, and each other. What could possibly go wrong?
Note: This turned out pretty Horde-centric, which I suppose reflects my gameplay biases. Apologies.

Next time he went on a mission into vrykul territory, Asric promised himself, he was going to go in too drunk to notice the smell.

From a distance it hadn't looked so bad -- rough-hewn dragon heads, crackling bonfires so large they were visible from a mile away, and a burnt-out spawning pit just outside the village for those snaggletoothed beasts they used as mounts. A quick in-and-out job on the way to New Agamand, he'd thought -- one of the expedition higher-ups had put out a price for Vrykul scalps, and the half-giants laid their dead out in convenient rows before burning them on pyres or consigning them to the whims of the Scourge. A bit of footpadding, a bit of quick knife-work, and then trade the lot in for some easy money in New Agamand, where the Forsaken there would use them for who-knows-what. He hadn't expected the place to reek so strongly of festering flesh and sweat that it nearly brought tears to his eyes. Ah, well, he thought. It was probably vain to hope that a village touched by the Scourge should remain untouched by the Scourge's distinctive stench.

Asric ducked behind a stack of ropes as thick as his arm and paused to collect himself. The Vrykul men were stomping to and fro, tramping down the well-worn mud paths and yelling at each other in their harsh language; most of them seemed to be wearing what Asric suspected passed for finery in their barbaric culture. There seemed to be something going on. Good -- that would keep their eyes occupied. After a moment's pause, Asric pulled his hood down over his face and slipped around the corner, sticking close to the wall at his right.

Whatever terrible celebration was brewing, it did seem to keep the Vrykul occupied. The roaring of the fires, the bellowing of captive drakes, and the raised voices of the Vrykul themselves easily drowned out the soft noise of Asric's careful steps, and none of the bearded giants turned to glance at the small shadow that flitted across the thresholds of their huts. Quickly as he dared, Asric crept down towards the grassy clearing where their fallen warriors lay, wrapped in mammoth skins and smeared with funeral oils that could be charitably described as 'aromatic'. He knew how burglars worked, and knew how they were caught -- he was careful to avoid any ground that might take footprints, and to step gingerly over patches of gravel and dry leaves or twigs. All in all, the Vrykul men seemed hardly concerned about potential infiltrators in their midst, especially light-footed elves less than half their size.

The bonfire in the middle distance lit up the night with an orange glow, and the low pounding of drums began to grow more urgent. Asric gritted his teeth, pulled his largest knife from his belt, and began the slow, cautious crawl up the hill to the Vrykul burial pyre.

Careful now, Asric, he told himself. Don’t let them see you. Don’t rush. He was close enough now to make out words in their chanting that he could not understand, and the heat from the bonfire was beginning to penetrate his fur-lined cloak and melt off the light dusting of snow.

They hadn’t even put out a guard on their little funeral arrangement — unless the corpses themselves were going to sit up and throttle him, which was a distinct possibility. For a moment, Asric looked at the enormous bodies laid out on great wooden slats, all of them bearing the marks of battle, and considered scrapping the whole endeavor. That, however, would doom him to weeks of penniless sobriety among the largely heartless and charmless undead, which was not a prospect he fancied overmuch. Besides, even if he died here, his troubles probably wouldn’t be over — from the way that indigo mountain of a draenei had glared at him in the World’s End Tavern, Asric doubted that Oramus would let a little thing like death stand in the way of a good grudge. He could probably drag him back bodily from the netherworld for a good thrashing, Asric thought with a grimace. Nothing to do but go forward. Quickly, so as not to attract attention, Asric ducked down on all fours to scamper underneath the closest bier and come up on the other side, gritting his teeth for the short climb.

He knew he had made a mistake the moment his free hand seized the carved-and-painted wood and a foul-tasting jolt of magical backlash raced through his veins and struck him squarely in the heart like a physical blow. The world spun on its axis and Asric hit the frozen ground with enough force to knock the wind from his lungs. He choked on a breath of air that felt more like ice water, tried to move, and found that the merest effort was excruciating.

He should have known. He should have felt it.

Don’t break circles, don’t touch anything carved with runes, he could almost hear that man saying as the light from the bonfire started to dim. Really, Asric, were you born magic-blind? Well, at least you’re not totally useless...

Then the darkness swarmed over him and took away the pain, the creeping cold, and the unpleasant memories all at once.


Asric had woken up with a crashing headache in a lot of strange places, but this was easily the most miserable. His mouth tasted like blood, his entire body shivered with a chill that had little to do with the climate, and a quick survey of his surroundings quickly showed that he had been tossed unceremoniously into a cage that had previously held an animal whose teeth had left gouges on the bars. Some enterprising vrykul had shoved an enormous rock in front of the cage door; either they were too primitive to understand the concept of locks, or they were specifically trying to neutralize his particular areas of speciality. He would put money on the former, but the end result was the same. He shoved experimentally at the door; the rock refused to budge, and the clanging of the bars against the stone only intensified the agony in his head.

Well, they hadn’t killed him. The obvious question, of course, was ‘why’ — the Scourge ordinarily had little use for captives, only for mountains of corpses — but Asric preferred not to contemplate the myriad of equally terrible alternatives. The vrykul had possessed the presence of mind to take three of his knives, but the fourth…yes, the fourth was still in his boot, for all the good it did him. It was little more than a toothpick compared to the half-giant death-worshippers outside.

This was it, he supposed. He was going to die. Probably in pieces. Asric ran down the list of people who might actually care; it was depressingly short.

Outside the cage, something stirred. Asric crouched down, clutching his knife in his hand.

“You’re awake?” a voice half-whispered, somewhere in the darkness. The words were in Common, heavily accented — if it was Scourge, it was very convincingly alive Scourge. Asric lowered his knife and crept cautiously towards the bars of his cage. “I had feared you would never wake up — ” There was a screech of metal being dragged along stone, and more rustling. Definitely alive — Asric could hear him breathing, at least. The figure seemed to be burdened by something — injury, perhaps, or chains (if the vrykul were indeed capable of figuring out the concept of locks).

“Are you hurt?” Asric’s throat was raw and he didn’t exactly feel like talking or shaking his head, so he stayed silent. The other prisoner pulled himself closer to Asric’s cage, seized the bars with a pair of enormous hands, and lifted himself into the thin torchlight filtering through the trapdoor in the ceiling.

Asric blinked. It seemed a little too early to be hallucinating, unless that blast of runic magic had done more damage than he thought.

“Please, if you understand me, give some—” The draenei’s eyes widened to saucers as he took in the face of his fellow prisoner. “No, that’s not possible. I must be dreaming.”

Wonderful. Even his hallucinations weren’t pleased to see him. “Jadaar?” Asric croaked, his voice dry and disbelieving.

“That’s really you, isn’t it? I haven’t gone mad?”

“Well, I know I’m real,” Asric said. “If we both think we’re hallucinating, chances are we’re both wrong.”

“Oh, naaru preserve us,” the draenei swore, slumping against the bars. “Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse. Must you be present at every single one of my life’s worst moments? Is it some kind of cosmic rule?”

“…I got your letter,” Asric managed, blandly. “The one you left with the Peacekeepers.”

Jadaar sputtered something in his own tongue, regained his composure, and leaned in. “It was not intended to be an invitation.”

“Well, I’m not good at following directions.” Asric squinted into the light to get a better look and found Jadaar a bit worse for the wear — his hair had come free from his customary braid and hung in a ragged mess down his back, and his face had taken on the sharp angles and dark hollows of the perpetually sleepless — but all in all, surprisingly fit for someone at the bottom of a Scourge prison cell. “Besides, your small army of siblings wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace. Is there a single draenei in Shattrath City you aren’t related to?” Jadaar fixed him with a familiar dubious stare that had lost none of its potency. “What are you doing down here, anyway?”

“Rescue mission,” Jadaar said. “They had half of a regiment confined down here. I came in with four men and two Sentinels, and I ended up covering their escape. I was rather hoping for the cavalry to ride in at some point.” Jadaar looked Asric over from head to toe in a way that clearly indicated he felt that Asric was not up to the expected standards.

"Yes, well..." Asric rubbed his temples -- the ache was starting to subside, thankfully, but he could do with a drink of water. "I don't think the cost-benefit figures work out to your advantage there. Well, be thankful you haven't been dismembered for parts or starved yet."

"I had some provisions on me; the giants did not bother to take them," Jadaar said. He shifted his weight to sit more comfortably on his hooves, with another unmistakeable clink of metal -- yes, they'd definitely chained him.

"The Scourge doesn't usually bother with prisoners," Asric said. "I wonder --"

"Food," Jadaar interjected, before Asric could continue that line of thought. "At least that was the theory the Sentinels had. The giants here follow some kind of...some kind of undead creature that feeds on fresh blood. All this --" Jadaar waved his hands pointedly in the direction of up above, "-- this is in preparation for his arrival. He is supposed to have some good news."

Asric thought back to his unpleasant arrival at Vengeance Landing -- little sleep, absolutely no decent food, and an awful lot of hiding inside a hastily-constructed armory while a gaunt elf leading a pack of vrykul demanded to speak with the management. When Asric had been informed that the Scourge emissary had gone and it was safe to come out, he’d found the High Executor frowning over the reigns of his horse at the desiccated corpses of his honor guard. “Keleseth,” Asric breathed, recalling the name that he had heard shouted more than once over the banging of hammers and the hoarse yells of new recruits. “Prince Keleseth, the Darkfallen. We’re going to be some turncoat princeling’s main course.” The fact that the creature had been one of his own folk — a blood elf, even, by all appearances — added the unmistakeable tinge of insult to the impending injury.

“To think, I was so desperate to hear another breathing creature in this Light-forsaken pit…and now I find that not only am I going to die, the last thing I am going to hear will be your prattling.” Jadaar sighed heavily.

“Well, there’s nothing for it. We’ll have to escape, because I absolutely refuse to die with you either.”

“Escape? How do you propose we do that?” Jadaar said, kicking his hoof against the boulder in order to rattle the manacle that chained him to the spot.

“Can you move this rock?”

“Maybe with a bit of effort,” Jadaar said, after testing it with his shoulder. “What about the chain?”

“Let me see the manacle.” Jadaar gave him another dubious look. “I can pick locks,” Asric explained. “Fairly proficient in it, actually.”

“Oh. Of course. I suppose you would be,” Jadaar said. His tone suggested the presence of a follow-up comment about miscreants and lowlifes and Asric’s general kinship with that particular breed, but Jadaar did not say anything further.

“Can you get your foot or whatever it is in here?”

Hooves, you idiot,” Jadaar said, but he shifted around and stretched his leg out as close at it would go to Asric’s cage, close enough for Asric to just barely reach it through the bars. The manacle was secured around Jadaar’s hoof with a roughly forged iron padlock of obvious dwarven make, probably stolen. Asric hefted the lock in his hand, leaning down to listen to the click of the mechanism; Jadaar bit back a hiss of pain as the rough edge of the metal cuff dug into his already abused ankle. It occurred to Asric, as he unpinned the remains of his winter cloak and worked the pin into the keyhole, that Jadaar was taking this whole situation uncommonly well. Four days of imprisonment in a Scourge dungeon, even if they seemed to be keeping him scrupulously unbloodied for Prince Keleseth’s soiree, was nothing to sneeze at. Most people would probably be reduced to begging by now — Jadaar, on the other hand, was simply complaining as though though all this mortal peril was about the same level of annoyance as a stack of unclean pots in one’s kitchen. Asric, for his part, had long since given up worrying about his own life, but Jadaar…either Jadaar was being enormously brave, or he was feeling as hopeless as Asric himself. The thought was surprisingly bothersome, a bit like returning home to find that someone had removed an exterior wall.

It wasn’t easy, picking a lock under the aggressively watchful eye of a trained Shattrath Peacekeeper, but Asric was soon rewarded with a tell-tale ka-chunk. He tugged on the padlock experimentally, and it popped open. Jadaar let out a breath Asric did not realize he had been holding and leaned down to inspect his raw ankle.

“Not bad,” Jadaar muttered.

“Can you stand?”

“I would be touched by your concern if I wasn’t absolutely certain you only wanted me to get to work on the rock.”

“Yes, escaping being eaten alive is my top priority right now. I’m comfortable with admitting that. Can we get on with it?”

“Already working on it,” Jadaar half-grunted, rising to his feet and setting his shoulder to the rock. He bent his head down and shoved, but the rock only stubbornly wobbled a bit before sliding a few scant inches.

“Is that it?”

“You could try helping.”

Asric tried to arrange himself into a more favorable position for rock-shoving, but the bars proved a mostly insurmountable obstacle. Still, he did the best he could, and within a few minutes of heaving and hauling, they had slid the rock far enough over that Asric could shove open the cage door wide enough for him to contort himself through.

“Now what—”

Asric’s ears twitched.

“Someone’s coming. Actually, make that two someones,” Asric said, crouching down in his cage. Jadaar hastily scuttled back to his original perch by the wall, dragging the chain with him.

“Pretend you’re unconscious,” Asric hissed, palming his knife into his sleeve. “That way you can—”

“—catch them unawares, yes, I spent five years as a Peacekeeper, I am somewhat familiar with the methods employed by the desperate and incarcerated.”

“Good to see we’re on the same page for once,” Asric said. “Don’t screw this up, oaf.”

“Likewise, dandy.”

The trapdoor made an awful, grating noise as it was opened — a shriek of rusted metal and tortured stone that made Asric cringe a little. The thin shaft of torchlight widened to flood the entire store-room with orange light, and Asric could clearly see the mountainous form of a vrykul soldier, his cloak strung with the skulls of smaller creatures, taking his final steps down from a ladder constructed of rope as big around as Asric’s arm. The vrykul was between his cage and Jadaar, who had laid down with his unlocked manacle loosely around his ankle. Asric had a brief glimpse of Jadaar in a pretty convincing swoon before the half-giant cut off his view. Asric slumped in the corner and tried to look defeated and non-threatening.

The vrykul turned his great, bearded head and took in the status of Asric’s cage. He seemed to have noticed that the rock had been moved; at any rate, he barked something in his own language at Asric and threw open the door to the cage.

“Stronger than you look,” the vrykul said in passable Orcish. “No matter.” Asric cringed and pretended not to understand, but the vrykul didn’t seem convinced. He reached out and seized Asric’s left arm, yanking him out of the cage with a forceful jerk that almost wrenched his shoulder out of the socket. Asric yelped, and and lost his grip on thehis knife with his other hand. He scrambled to try and regain his footing, but it was no use — the vrykul half-dragged him across the dirty floor, and all he got for his pains was a sharp twist in his ankle that heralded an unpleasant time walking some hours later.

Asric just barely caught sight of Jadaar, now risen into a crouch. The vrykul seemed to be paying very little attention to the draenei, and there was a blur of movement as Jadaar hopped to his feet when the creature’s head was turned.

The vrykul barely had time to register that his other captive was awake after all; he opened his mouth to say something, but before he could get a word out Jadaar reared back and aimed a swift kick at the vrykul’s shin. Much to Asric’s surprise, it worked. The enormous man howled in pain, and his grip on Asric’s arm loosened enough for him to contort himself out. His knife had falling into a pile of discarded furs nearby; he dove, snatched it up, and was on his feet before the man stopped howling. He jerked his thumb toward the rope ladder and bolted for it — he and Jadaar reached it at the same time.

“Up, up!” Asric urged. Jadaar opened his mouth to argue, but Asric snapped, “look, remember where covering someone’s escape got you last time!” Jadaar shook his head, but placed his hands on the rope ladder and began, unsteadily, to climb.

The vrykul had recovered his faculties at this point, and he bellowed at them wordlessly. “The prince will have your souls,” he added, and charged at Asric with his head down like a bull. He sidestepped the charge with what he thought was a fairly slick dodge, but the vrykul’s flailing arms caught him around the waist and brought him to the ground regardless. The vrykul raised a giant boot to pin Asric to the ground; Asric, with a flash of inspiration backed up by years of fighting dirty, set his tiny knife point-upward and braced himself. The half-giant brought his foot down on the point of the knife, burying it through his boot and into his foot, up to the hilt. He roared, stumbled, and Asric took advantage of the momentary distraction to pull himself away. Jadaar appeared to have vanished, Asric noticed with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. How did he get so far in such a brief span of time, anyway? It wasn’t as if hooves were really made for traversing rope ladders.

The vrykul pulled Asric’s knife from the sole of his foot like a thorn and tossed it away. He rounded on Asric, now unarmed and helpless. Asric took the remaining distance to the ladder in a dive, but there was no escaping the vrykul so easily. The giant closed the distance between them in two strides of his long legs and seized his quarry by both shoulders, jerking Asric around to face the vrykul and lifting him off his feet so that the tips of his ears

“I’ll have your skull for the death god,” the vrykul growled, as though it wasn’t already obvious. Asric, both arms pinned to his sides, feeling the vrykul’s icy breath on his face and the bone-crushing grip of his fingers, closed his eyes and could almost hear his mother’s voice, resigned and disappointed. I’d always known you’d come to a bad end, she said, and sighed.

He waited for the end, praying the vrykul wouldn’t take his time, but the end never came. Instead, there was a a rumble, a whoosh, and what sounded like the noise of a melon hitting the pavement. The vrykul crumpled to the ground on top of Asric, and when he opened his eyes and squirmed free of the unconscious creature’s weight, he saw that the vrykul was in no danger of getting up again any time soon. Nearby, the large piece of iron-bounded beam that had done the deed lay in a bent heap, spattered with the vrykul’s brackish black blood.

Asric looked up through the hole in the rough ceiling. A blue face, breath puffing with the cold, peered down at him.

“Did I hit you too?” Jadaar asked.

“Only with the vrykul,” Asric said.

“Pity. It’s clear up here, though I can’t imagine why. Some commotion over on the other side of the village, or whatever this is.”

“So, what now?” Jadaar asked, as Asric hauled himself up the rope ladder and sat crouched on the edge of the trapdoor, across from Jadaar. They were inside a little house of some kind, if you could call it that. It was clearly in some disrepair, with bits of rough-hewn stone and crude iron bindings strewn about, and it smelled of something that Asric eventually identified as the worst drink and salted meat he had ever smelled, and he’d come to consider himself something of an expert in the subject of bad provisions. There were coils of rope laid around the room, each as thick as his arm, and a few lonely barrels that could have easily hidden Jadaar, tall as he was, from tip to tail. Two torches, hastily shoved into sconces that had seen better days, lit up the room with the attenuated orange light that had drifted into their prison earlier. Outside, Asric could see the harsh light of the fjord sunrise. It had been early in the night when he had laid his hand on the runed bier, and all of their talking and fighting couldn’t have lasted more than an hour at most. “Jadaar,” he hissed, not daring to talk any louder, “how long was I out?”

“They brought you down at least a day ago,” he replied with a shrug. Asric swore and hopped to his feet to tear a torch from its moorings. He waved it in the air experimentally; it sputtered and dripped pitch on the stone floor. “What are you doing?”

“Covering our escape,” Asric said, and tossed the torch onto the broken remains of a barrel. The dry, splintered wood went up in flames as though it were built for the purpose, and sparks spattered out like grease from a pan and lit up the empty barrels and piles of coiled rope. Asric grabbed the second torch and made for the exit, motioning Jadaar to follow.

They trotted out together. The flames must have reached a cask that still bore the traces of wine, because the flames suddenly roared higher and caught the wooden parts of the store-hut’s walls and roof. Asric looked pointedly at the lines of torches driven into the ground against the Northrend night, now growing steadily useless in the dawn. The vrykul, however, seemed to be mostly occupied with something happening, as Jadaar had said, on the opposite side of the settlement, past the funeral arrangements of the vrykul dead and closer to the scorching ruin of a forest where they spawned the foul things that the undead at Vengeance Landing had charitably named ‘drakes’. Asric could hear the clash of weapons, the shouting of fighting men, and more unidentified rumblings somewhere beyond that. As he listened, he thought he could pick out a peal of high, thin laughter that sent a shudder down his spine.

Somewhere a bit closer, there was a crash and a rattle, and the sound of vrykul shouting in their own tongue. Well, maybe they weren’t all occupied after all. Asric set his shoulder to a torch and tipped it over onto a wooden embankment; hot pitch dripped over the wood, smoldered, and burst into flame. Jadaar, who appeared to have gotten the idea, pulled another torch free from its hole in the ground and tossed it onto what looked like a catapult in need of serious repair, which lit up like a stack of kindling. The bellowing grew louder, and they ducked behind the burning building in unison.

“Quite a coincidence that we ended up in the same place,” Jadaar mused. The vrykul, invisible behind the steadily-growing curtain of orange flame, launched a volley of spears in their general direction; Asric was forced to duck behind what appeared to be a mooring for a flying beast, and he scrambled the next few feet in a hurried crouch.

“It really is,” Asric replied, tipping over another torch. This one sputtered and melted a bit of snow next to an embankment before winking out, enough to cause a snowdrift to lose its structural integrity and slosh onto their path.

“One would almost suspect,” Jadaar began, moving close enough to Asric that he could see his eyes were narrowed, as though he were glaring at a refugee caught overturning an apple cart, “that you were looking for me.”

“Ah, there’s the power of perception that made you such an invaluable resource to the Peacekeepers,” Asric snapped. Jadaar frowned and kicked over a torch.“I told you, your mountain of a brother threatened to break my face if I didn’t track you down. I’d kind of want to keep my face as it is, thank you very much. I think it’s one of my good features."

Another spear, this one tipped with what looked like some kind of giant tooth, sailed between Asric and Jadaar, missing the both of them rather soundly. The flame and smoke seemed to be keeping the vrykul at bay for now, but the fact that a squad of Scourge soldiers hadn't rallied to put out the flames and haul them back to the chopping block was a little peculiar. Asric strained to listen to the sounds of battle and screaming at the other end of the encampment -- words he couldn't quite make out, and languages he couldn't quite recognize.

"And I'm suppose to believe a coward like you didn't take the obvious option and stay hidden in enemy territory until prospects improved?" Jadaar scoffed, snapping Asric out of his concentration and making him momentarily very cross. There was another crash as Jadaar polished off the last of the torches. "There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Asric glanced at Jadaar, trying to judge his meaning. His damned eyepatch really did do a good job of hiding his expression from certain angles...well, no matter. He didn't have an answer to that question that properly satisfied himself, let alone one that would probably satisfy the ex-Peacekeeper.

Instead, he broke into a run and motioned for Jadaar to do the same. Jadaar trotted along beside him, hooves crunching in the snow, and cocked his head as though still expecting an answer.

Asric braced himself to dodge the question, but was cut short by a tremendous explosion somewhere in the middle distance that rocked the ground under his feet, followed by a rolling rumble and the splintering crunch of wood. They must be wheels, Asric realized — enormous wheels. The wind turned, and Asric’s nose wrinkled as he detected the stench of rotting meat and an absolute cacophony of sharp chemical scents, like someone had upended an entire alchemical lab on the place.

That was why they were getting so little response. There was an invasion going on, and their little bonfire and breakout wasn’t worth the manpower. Typical. Lucky, but typical.

Jadaar didn’t ask any more probing questions until they were well clear of the camp and they both collapsed onto the snow, in a copse of portentous-looking evergreens.

“We should head east.”

They had finally stopped walking when the sun was climbing past its zenith and the straggling bits of snow on the ground were starting to trickle through the grass and turn the dirt into mud around Asric’s boots. They’d found a convenient brook and stopped to refill Jadaar’s waterskin and, as it turned out, argue about where to go next.

“What’s east?”

“Valgarde,” Jadaar answered. “Food. Shelter.”

“Night elves?” Asric asked. Jadaar thought for a moment.


“Yeah, how about no.” Asric picked up a pebble and tossed it into the stream. “Last time I got within speaking distance of a night elf, I ended up getting called an amazing variety of nasty names and had a box of whittling tools chucked at my head. I’d rather not risk getting that upgraded to a rain of arrows. We are in a war zone, after all.”

“War against the Scourge,” Jadaar said, leaning over to inspect his hoof. “Not against each other, surely?”

“We’ve always been at war,” Asric said. “Have you never been to Azeroth before?”

“No,” Jadaar answered. Asric picked up another pebble and heaved it over the stream-bank, listening to the sound of it sinking into the water. “It must be an acquired taste.” Jadaar leaned around to inspect his tail. “Where were you headed, anyway?”

“New Agamand. Courier work.”

“New Aga…wait. That’s undead territory. I remember hearing about it in Valgarde.” Jadaar grimaced. “I have had enough of that.”

“Well, it’s not like I’m intending to stay. I’m aiming to get paid as quickly as possible and then moving on.” Asric wondered if Jadaar was going to ask him where, but he seemed to developed a sudden, intense interest in the state of his tail. Good — Asric really hadn’t the faintest clue where to go once he’d gotten his money. ‘Wherever else the Forsaken decided to send him’ seemed like an uninspiring answer, and a potentially fatal one at that.

“Then I suppose we will be going our separate ways,” Jadaar said, finally. Asric shook his head.

“Oh, no you don’t. After all this? I’ll be damned if I’ll let you go anywhere except back to Shattrath.”

“I am not returning to Shattrath.”

“But your family—”

“I trust Oramus and Yura to take care of the rest of them better than I would trust myself.”


“No, Asric, I do not care how much trouble you’ll be in, so give it a rest.” Jadaar stood up, paced around the clearing for a moment, and cocked his head as though listening. “I think we are currently far enough away from the vrykul camp to safely catch a few hours of sleep while the sun is still up. We’ll stand less chance of ambush if we rest now. Besides, there’s a stream here and I categorically refuse to go another step without a bath.”

Asric raised an eyebrow. “And you called me a preening dandy,” he said. Jadaar stripped off his gloves and tossed them onto the grass; Asric drew his cloak tighter around himself.

“I feel like I’m covered in scrapes, and with how foul that place was, I would not be surprised if they all festered. Of course I am taking a bath. Don’t be ludicrous.”

“The vrykul might still be looking for us,” Asric said. Jadaar unlaced his leather jerkin and tossed it aside with a careless flick of his wrist. He had his back to Asric, and it did rather look like the draenei had rolled down a hill of sharp gravel — his shoulders, under his currently tangled mess of hair, were criss-crossed with minor bruises and abrasions. “It’s absolutely freezing out here,” Asric continued. Jadaar kneeled down to unbuckle his greaves, and Asric leaned his head back against his tree and stared up at the sky. “You’re going to die of exposure. Mark my words.” There was the soft ‘thunk’ of a belt buckle hitting the grass, and a splash. “Are you listening to me?”

“No,” Jadaar said. There was another splash, and Asric glanced towards the stream just in time to catch Jadaar shaking the water out of his hair. The little brook was swollen with the midday run-off, and hit at about mid-back on the draenei when he knelt down — as he was, currently, with his hair thrown over his shoulder to wring out the water and pick through some of the worst knots. His back was still turned towards Asric — probably deliberately ignoring him, Asric thought — exposing a curving expanse of sky-blue back, the graceful arc of a tail twitching idly in and out of the water, and taut shoulders and arms that looked strong enough to snap Asric in two without a second thought, but moved with surprising care and delicacy as he ran his fingers through his hair.

Asric could feel the tips of his ears burning. He shook his head, but the flush refused to go away. He drew his knees up to his chest, shivered, and settled on watching an insect crawl laboriously up a nearby pine tree instead. Everything was strangely quiet all of a sudden — the wind in the trees, the screech of birds, and even the running monologue of admonishments and point-counter-point inside his head all sounded strangely faint, as though his ears were suddenly stuffed with wool inside and out. Asric shook his head again, gave up on the beetle’s heroic struggle in the hills and valleys of pine bark, and watched Jadaar gingerly rinse off a fairly sizable scrape just above his elbow. He wondered, with a tinge of bitterness, whether he’d been in Northrend a little too long.

Then, a noise like a cracking twig jolted Asric out of his thoughts. For a brief, flashing moment he was grateful, as the thoughts in question were really rather inconvenient, but almost immediately he remembered where he was and his hand flew to his knife. Jadaar seemed to have heard it too — he ducked down in a low crouch, one fist clenched in readiness, all futilely tense and ready to spring.

Another crunch, this time from another side. Whoever they were, they had them surrounded. If they were Scourge, well, they’d both be dead momentarily; Asric decided to bet that they weren’t.

“Who goes there?” he called, in Orcish. Jadaar glanced up with an expression that communicated I hope you know what you’re doing very clearly.

“I was about to ask you the same question,” said a muffled voice, replying in peculiarly accented Orcish. Jadaar mouthed Not Scourge?, and Asric nodded. Asric knew Jadaar understood Orcish perfectly well — it had been practically a requirement in the cosmopolitan cease-fire atmosphere of Shattrath City — but the draenei gave no outward sign that he comprehended a word of what was being said. Not bad, Asric thought. Downright clever, actually.

They melted out of the shadows of the trees like earthworms churning up out of the dirt after the rains — bent and twisted figures, clad from head to toe in stained leather coats and strange glass-and-rubber masks. Asric counted seven, all told — three in front of him and three behind Jadaar carrying things that looked a bit like dwarvish guns buried underneath a forest of copper tubing and glass vials filled with foul-looking, viscous liquids. Every single one of these odd contraptions were leveled at Asric and Jadaar with obvious intent. The final figure, clad in the same leather and mask, carried no visible weapon, but instead brandished an enormous leather-bound notebook like a club.

“Blood elf, by the looks of it. What’s your name?”

“Asric Redmourn,” he said, truthfully. “I’m on my way to New Agamand on courier business.” Asric dug the letter out of his pack, tucked into a black envelope, and showed it to the assembled faceless mob.

The figure with the notebook pushed back the mask to reveal a face that, at one point, had probably belonged to a human woman. Decay and corrosive chemicals, however, had taken their terrible toll, and there was little left but two piercing yellow eyes, hollow cheeks, and tattered lips that only barely concealed a set of cracked teeth. The three riflemen behind her kept their guns trained just over Asric's shoulder, towards where Jadaar still crouched halfway in the water, barely daring to move.

"Who's the Alliance fellow, and is there any particular reason we shouldn’t shoot him?" the Forsaken said, in a voice like wet gravel.

Asric's ears twitched.

"He’s prisoner I'm transporting to Agmar's Hammer." Asric knew the Forsaken and the orcs held only barely civil relations; he hoped that would delay the inevitable forwarded message long enough for them to dodge any questions.

The woman raised a skeptical eyebrow. "By yourself?"

"Not originally. I...lost two men on the outskirts of Utgarde. Had to leave them behind." The Forsaken nodded approvingly.

"Under whose authority?"

"Magister Hathorel Stormhawk."  Asric unfolded a well-creased piece of vellum that had shared his pack with the Apothecary letter and brandished it at the Forsaken like a weapon.

There was an art to flashing not-entirely-legitimate credentials. One had to call attention to the most accurate and important part of the document -- in this case, the wax seal -- and avoid close scrutiny, usually by feigning impatience. There was also a certain amount of theatrical knowing of one's audience. Show a troll the personal recommendation of a man who was currently recognized as one of the leading minds in the field of thaumaturgical theory and you were likely to get sneers and possibly a boot to the head. Show the same document to a group of rotting career academics, however, and you might have a prayer of convincing them.

The woman blinked with eyelids that did not quite cover the foul glimmering of her eyes. Asric cast around for reasons to hold a prisoner that a Forsaken might understand, and came up with “It’s for his work.”

The Forsaken chuckled sotto voce and her face split into a ghoulish grin that reminded Asric uncomfortably of a cat about to get some last enjoyment out of a doomed mouse. It was not the sort of reaction he had been hoping for -- indeed, he didn't really understand the reaction at all -- but the woman raised up a bony claw and the masked riflemen behind her lowered their guns. Asric let out a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding.

"Come on, then," she said, bowing a bit. "I'm Field Researcher Valla, of the Royal Apothecary Society. At your service," she added, though Asric quietly hoped he never found out what her 'services' consisted of. "Bring your...eredar, or whatever the hell it is," she added, gesturing sinuously over towards the stream. Asric glanced behind him to see Jadaar crouching stock still in the water, glancing back and forth between him and the Forsaken woman with an expression of perplexed loathing. He didn't say anything, even at her dismissive demon comment, for which Asric was very grateful. In fact, he was still doing an extremely convincing impression of someone who didn’t speak a word of Orcish and, indeed, had no idea what was going on.

"Prisoner?" Jadaar hissed, when Asric seized his wrist with what he hoped was convincing roughness.

"Just play along," Asric said. "It's only for one night at the most."

Jadaar shook his head. "No...no, something's not right. She believed you too quickly. I would not trust her."

"Well, good thing I'm not planning on trusting her, then."

"What was that seal you showed them?"

"None of your business. Now, will you stop arguing, get dressed, and at least pretend to be downtrodden and non-threatening and...prisoner-like?"

Jadaar eyed Asric dubiously. "This will end poorly."

"I know, but it's better than being shot."

Jadaar glanced at the Apothecaries’ peculiar weapons and at Valla, who had turned around to growl in her own language at her troops, exposing a brace of wicked-looking syringes slung across her back. “I am not entirely convinced that will be the case.”

“Well, it’s either stay here and die for sure, or trust my judgement here. We blood elves and Forsaken have been working together. Allies of convenience and all that. My—my tutor used to have them around his workshop on occasion. I know how they work much better than you do.”

“I am coming with you,” Jadaar said with his eyes narrowed, “not because I trust your judgement in this or any other matter, but precisely because I do not. Making sure you do not ruin anyone else’s life seems to be my fated penance.”

“Penance for what?”

But Jadaar was already busy getting dressed, his head bowed, ignoring Asric completely.

The sun was poised above the horizon, ready to disappear, by the time they tromped into New Agamand. The Apothecary riflemen kept their guns trained on Jadaar but otherwise marched in silence; Asric wondered privately if they had a set of working vocal cords between them.

Asric spent the majority of the time conferring in low tones with Field Researcher Valla. She had an enormous amount of questions — she seemed to have read every word that Magister Hathorel had published on the subject of arcane energy transfer and seemed unusually interested in his current activities. Asric had heard the mage was in Northrend but had studiously avoided learning anything else, so he lied. He did a lot of lying on the journey, in fact. Yes, he was a student of Magister Hathorel. No, the draenei wasn’t anyone important, just some civilian with few particular skills and certainly no threatening ones. Yes, he had some way of keeping him in line. No, that was confidential.

He started falling back on the ‘confidential’ line more and more as the journey wore on — his imagination was being stretched to the breaking point and it was starting to give him a headache. If it made Valla suspicious, she did not show it; instead, it seemed to make her bored enough that she abruptly brought the conversation to an end and drifted off to be with her own obscure thoughts. Asric seized the opportunity to make his way back to the tiny knot of riflemen and see if Jadaar was still in one piece.

Jadaar, for his part, was playing along well enough. Asric sidled up to him, seized his shoulder, and hissed harshly at him in Common, “I think I’ve got their ringleader pacified for now.” Asric had never heard a Forsaken speak Common, though whether it was out of stubbornness or genuine forgetfulness he had never managed to discern. Whatever the case, none of the Apothecary guards gave any sign that they heard or understood what Asric had said.

“You people are supposed to be on the same side, are you not?” Jadaar mumbled, also in Common. “You are acting like mortal enemies.”

“Your presence is complicating things, all right?” Asric shook his head. “Besides, undead are…well, they’re dead. They’re…hard to understand.” Jadaar sighed. “It’s only for one night.”

“You keep saying that. One more night and then we can leave and go our separate ways at last.”

Asric furrowed his brow. “Jadaar?” The draenei raised an eyebrow.


“I…I understand if you hate me—”

“Oh, excellent. I was just waiting for your permission.”

“You didn’t let me finish.”

“And I am not going to. I fear they are starting to get suspicious.” He inclined his head towards the anonymous guards.

“That’s just an excuse —” Asric began, but Jadaar shook his head, snapped something in his native tongue, and refused to utter another word. Asric imagined the scene from the outside for a moment and realized that it probably looked like he’d been interrogating the prisoner in a language they both understood, and he had just now pushed too far and made Jadaar clam up. Asric sighed. Well, he supposed they were both going to have to play along with each other to get through this in one piece. With both his potential conversational partners more interested in their own thoughts than his, Asric walked the rest of the way in silence.

New Agamand was not a particularly pleasant settlement. It squatted like a malevolent toad above what had been, at one point, a tiny body of water barely deserving of the name ‘lake’; not having much use for clean water themselves, the Forsaken had summarily drained it and converted the rocky ditch into a sort of giant outdoor cauldron that simmered unpleasantly in the fading light of the sun. The entire place looked as though it had been erected in a week — every metal crossbar was haphazardly hammered into crooked shapes, bricks had been piled on top of each other in no particular order and cemented together with unpleasant-looking black mortar. The entire place was stuffed to near to bursting with black-robed Apothecaries, bustling about on obscure business. Their work, apparently far too exuberant to be contained by laboratories, spilled out into the streets and made the whole makeshift city reek of chemicals and death.

There were only meager provisions for housing the living here, added as an apparent afterthought. A little wooden barracks had been helpfully stocked with a few dusty cots and a single washbasin, though the majority of the room was given over to housing thirteen racks of assorted scientific equipment that looked like the output of a brain-damaged glassblower. Valla had offered a cage for Jadaar, but Asric declined quite forcefully, invoking the name of Magister Hathorel again. She relented, implied heavily that any escaping would be Asric’s fault, and tossed him a piece of cord. The intent was clear.

“No. You are not tying me up,” Jadaar snapped, in Common, when the Apothecary had turned away for long enough that conversation was possible. “No. Categorically no.”

“I don’t have much choice,” Asric said, with an air of apology that was genuine. “Look, I’m good with knots—”

“You are not helping,” Jadaar hissed through clenched teeth.

“I can tie something you can easily undo.” Asric looped the rope around his own wrists, tied a quick knot, and demonstrated. “See?”

Jadaar did not look impressed, but then Asric doubted whether anything he could do would impress Jadaar. The draenei did, however, sigh heavily and stick out his hands. In a pinch, resigned irritation was much the same thing.

Further conversation proved impossible, as the Apothecary guards descended like upright locusts and escorted Jadaar ungently in the direction of the ramshackle wooden barracks. One of the riflemen, or at least Asric assumed it was one of the riflemen, it was a bit difficult to tell, managed a few guttural sentences that indicated that Field Researcher Valla wanted to see Asric immediately.Asric shot Jadaar an apologetic look and ducked out with a sharp word to the Apothecaries about not touching anything that was his.

The smell of formaldehyde was overpowering in the central laboratory. The room was divided up into several separate rooms by tattered cloth, most of which were unoccupied. The Field Researcher sat bent over a burner and several pieces of glassware, bubbling ominously.

"Let's drop all the nonsense," Field Researcher Valla did not even look up from her beakers to address him. "I'm not an idiot, Asric Redmourn. That blue creature you have with you is probably some sort of spy, or at least your relations are less than antagonistic."

"I wouldn't call it less than antagonis--"

"Oh, please. Credit me with some powers of rational observation. You know each other, clearly. He glares at you and you wither. You bind his hands in cheap escape-artist knots." Finally, she turned, stripping off her gloves to reveal a pair of hands mostly bereft of flesh. Asric bit back a shudder -- this couldn't possibly be going anywhere good.

Asric put on his best indignant face. "Are you accusing me of treason?" Asric snapped. Valla shrugged with a noise of popping bone.

"I'm not accusing you of anything, Mister Redmourn. That would be a waste of my valuable time. I don't care what you and your little horned friend are up to. Mostly I care about that paper you were so carelessly flashing around."

Realization dawned slowly on Asric, like an unpleasant post-binge morning. “You have some business with Magister Hathorel…?” he said, dreading the answer.

“Something like that. Look, if you’re really a pupil of Master Stormhawk, you’re an intelligent sort. You can put two and two together. I want you to do something for me, and in return I’ll do you the the favor of not sending a letter to Agmar’s Hammer regarding you and your friend.”

“He’s not my—”

“Yes, yes, whatever. Regardless, I want your master’s paper on ley-line polarity. I know he’s working on it, and since he seems determined to withhold it from the rest of the scientific community for personal glory, I am forced to resort to underhanded methods. I dislike underhanded methods,” Apothecary Valla continued, in a wistful tone that suggested she was actually quite attached to them, really, “but the need is urgent.”

“Are you…are you blackmailing me?” Asric gaped at the Forsaken.

“Don’t be vulgar. I’m merely applying the data gained from observation in a practical matter.”

Asric began to edge back towards the door. Apothecary Valla threw back her head and laughed. “Please, by all means, go and think it over. I’m patient. But this place is Apothecary territory, Mister Redmourn, and cooperating is the only way out.”

Asric bowed awkwardly and hurried outside as quickly as he could.

“So…let me get this straight. You are being coerced to steal research from one of the greatest scholars of your people…and you have absolutely no access to this person.”

“Something like that, yeah.” Asric lay on one of the dusty cots that lined the barracks. One of the Apothecary guards had apparently noticed Asric’s intentionally shoddy handiwork and re-tied Jadaar’s wrists with a considerably more secure knot, so he sat with his knees drawn up to his chest and his bound hands clasped around his shins.

“And it’s because of that paper you used to gain their trust,” Jadaar said, shaking his head. “It’s plain to see that it’s a false seal. There is an axiom here about lies that might be relevant, but I do not think you would listen to it.” Asric made a small noise of irritation, a half-muttered obscenity in his own language, and shifted his weight. “This scholar…how did you come by his seal?”

“That’s none of your concern.”

“Asric, you have made it my concern with your meddling. At this point I doubt I could remove you from my life with a lever the size of Draenor.”

Asric glance away from Jadaar. The man had clearly been born to the Peacekeeper profession — he had the kind of earnest, searching gaze that made you feel as though he could dig out all your secrets if only he looked at you long enough. “He was my teacher.”

“But you are not a mage.”

“Yes, yes, I know that,” Asric snapped. “Do you think I haven’t had that drilled into my head a thousand times over? Look, right now he's someone who once did me a bad turn. Before I left him, I did him a bad turn back, and I'm going to make the most out of it, all right?"

Jadaar turned and looked at Asric with eyes narrowed, an expression Asric recognized instantly. Jadaar, for all his stubborn obtuseness, had a particularly keen investigative instinct that sometimes came to the fore when he saw something that offended his precious moral sensibilities. He was rather like a wolf in this respect -- once he latched onto the throat of a problem, he would not let go until he had bled the life from it and devoured it whole. Asric had never had Jadaar look at him as a Peacekeeper rather than as a personal enemy, and the experience was rather akin to being visually dissected.

"Whoever this Magister was," Jadaar said slowly, "he really hurt you, didn’t he?" Asric cringed inwardly when he heard a note of what sounded like pity in the draenei's voice, but he wouldn't give Jadaar the satisfaction of seeing him squirm.

"That's the way the world is," Asric said, with a wave of his hand.

"No," Jadaar said, more forcefully than Asric was expecting. The rest of a dismissive comment died on Asric's lips, and Jadaar went on. "That's not the way the world is, Asric! That's...just something people say when they are tired of trying to mend what is broken. That is the difference between you and me, Asric. You are tired of doing the right thing."

"Tired?" Asric snapped. "Of course I'm tired of it! Nobody else bothers!" 

Jadaar shook his head. "Asric..." he said, and his voice was tinged with uncharacteristic sadness.

"You're a pigheaded, idealistic buffoon," Asric said. Jadaar shrugged and turned away -- but before he did, Asric caught another glance that he recognized. 

In the space of one conversation, Asric had turned into a puzzle in need of solving, or possibly a crime scene in need of some serious investigation. 

“Left him,” Jadaar repeated, apparently remembering something from earlier in the conversation. Asric cursed inwardly — Jadaar appeared to be dissecting the precise turn of phrase there. A peculiar look dawned in his single golden eye. “Was he…”

“Not your concern!” Asric snapped. He shoved himself into a sitting position and kept avoiding Jadaar’s eyes. He didn’t want to be going over this. Getting fired by the Scryers, running away to Northrend — this was supposed to have been a fresh start, away from politics and plots. He should have chucked the damn seal over the side of the airship on the way up here and damned the consequences.

“Not my concern? Not my concern?” Jadaar repeated. “Do you think they will just let me walk out of here when that woman discovers you actually haven’t seen this scholar in years? Do you have a plan for getting out of here, or did you seriously not consider the possibility that these undead would see through any aspect of your copious lies?”

“I’ve got a plan!” Asric insisted.

“You had a plan five hours ago. Is this one any better?”

“I already tied you up. Don’t make me gag you.”

Jadaar snorted. “You couldn’t possibly.”

“Want to try me?” Asric raised an eyebrow. For a moment, he considered pouncing on Jadaar. It would make him angry, and probably provoke a few barbs about his parentage, his mental faculties, and his general moral character.

“No. I don’t want to try you. You’re an idiot.”

Asric hadn’t realized how much he missed Shattrath. Not the city, of course, with all the backstabbing and quarreling right under the figurative nose of supposedly heavenly beings who couldn’t be arsed to reign in their charges. Investigating petty crimes, bribing the inconvenient, skulking around the laboratories of the great elven minds of his time without ever once having to speak to the majority of them…and sparring with Jadaar who, while he plainly loathed him, at least bothered to have an opinion on his personal existence rather than a general view of his place as a pawn in some larger game.

It was really much better that way.

Asric sighed. “Fine. Fine. The plan. We need to break into her lab.”

“What? Why?”

“Fight fire with fire. Or, in this case, blackmail with blackmail.”

“Untie me, then.”

Asric weighed the pros and cons of that particular decision long enough for Jadaar to aim a kick at his shins.


Jadaar, as it turns out, had not been languishing uselessly in captivity. In the perhaps an hour or two he had spent in New Agamand, he had taken particular note of the habits of the Apothecaries through the dirty parchment windows of his barracks prison — when the guards changed, where the researchers tended to congregate, and — in particular — the fact that minor chemical emergencies with the plague wagons tended to empty out the main laboratory with alarming frequency. Jadaar had personally witnessed two major plague wagon melt-downs in the scant time he’d been in the encampment, each of which had occupied nearly every scientist for upwards of a quarter of an hour. Clearly Forsaken technology had lacerated itself on its own cutting edge, and it was not difficult to use that to their advantage. The guards, despite all their technology, were not numerous enough to be everywhere at once. It was the work of a moment for Asric to slip inside via one of the makeshift windows, wrap himself in a spare Apothecary coat and mask, and meander back in and out with Jadaar in tow. Once inside, he ditched the garb as quickly as he could. The entire thing smelled like an abattoir cross-pollinated with a battlefield clinic, and Asric was not entirely certain he hadn’t caught some kind of residual rot from it. Ah well. A calculated risk.

"We're going to get killed,” Jadaar said, unhelpfully.

"We're going to get killed anyway." Asric pulled open a drawer gingerly, being careful not to disturb its contents.

"Why did you bring me along?" Jadaar's face had been locked into a permanent expression of disgust since the moment he stepped into the laboratory -- whether it was the smell or the skullduggery, Asric had no idea. Jadaar seemed to regard both as equally repugnant, and reacted to moral outrage with distinctly physical repulsion.

"I brought you along for your keen investigative eye, of course."

"And my amazing ability to take the fall for your idiocy."

Asric felt a twinge of something that felt remarkably like guilt.

“I never intended you to lose your job…” he began. Jadaar laughed bitterly, a sound Asric never expected to hear from the draenei. It sounded remarkably out of place.

“Never intended? All that matters is the result, Asric. Intention is the greater part of the deed,” Jadaar intoned.
“Some kind of proverb?”

“Something my wife used to say,”

Asric was quiet for a long moment that was only partially due to the cyphered manuscript he had pulled out of the drawer.

“You’re married?”

“I used to be.”

“I…didn’t know that.”

“There is quite a bit you don’t know about me,” Jadaar said tersely. Asric busied himself with the cypher, which proved insurmountably impenetrable for the time allotted. He placed it carefully back in the drawer, piled the scalpels back over it, and shut the drawer with disgust. They both worked shuffled around the room for a moment or two, and silence that stretched out between them was long and awkward.

Eventually, Jadaar spoke, sparing Asric the trouble. “What are we looking for, anyway?”

“Incriminating things. You’re a Peacekeeper, aren’t you?” Jadaar winced like he’d stepped on a thorn. “Here’s a chance to do your old job again.”

Another silence. “Once we are out of here,” Jadaar said, his voice deliberately even and his face tight-lipped, “I am going to walk in whatever direction you are not going and, naaru willing, I will never see you again.”

“Suit yourself.” Asric leaned down to crack a cheap lock on a strong box, but was stopped by a firm grip on his shoulder.

“Wait.” Asric whirled around to face Jadaar, who had caught him by the shoulder — or at least face him as much as he could, since he was always looking up at the draenei. It had never really struck him how awfully tall Jadaar was. After a moment that seemed much longer than it was, Jadaar pointed down at the lock. “Poison needle. I can see it from this angle, in the lamp-light.” Asric knelt down to take a closer look and saw that he was quite correct.

“I thought you were trying to get rid of me,” Asric muttered, pulling a thin wire from some abortive mess of machinery and going to work on the lock, studiously avoiding the needle.

“Poison is foul business,” Jadaar said. “Not even you deserve such a bad end.”

They spent the next twenty minutes in silence, scouring Field Researcher Valla’s laboratory clean with the combined force of two ex-investigators who very much wish to be distracted.


When Apothecary Valla returned to her lab, she found Asric sitting on a stool near her dissection table and theatrically reading a letter that was halfway out of a black envelope. Jadaar, unbound and actually looking fairly smug, as far as Jadaar’s generally understated expressions went, leaned against her desk and rifled through a stack of papers.

For her part, Apothecary Valla did not seem surprised. “I would assume you’re not here to accept my offer,” Apothecary Valla said, raising what was left of her eyebrow and looking pointedly at the letter in Asic’s hand. “That’s confidential correspondence, you know. If word gets out you’ll never work as a courier again.”

“Oh, I’ve weathered that storm before,” Asric said breezily. “Besides, it’s not really my reputation you should be worrying about.”

“What do you mean?” The woman narrowed her eyes to menacing, fungal-yellow slits.

“This letter here…it’s a reply from the High Executor to your request for more materials, isn’t it?”

“Yes. You’ve discovered my dark secret — I use chemicals in my research. What on earth are you driving at?”

“What he is driving at,” Jadaar said, thumbing to a particular page in his stack of papers and holding it up, “is that your request for pure cobalt far exceeds your records for how much you actually used. And there’s also the matter of this letter regarding a…how do you say it, under-the-table sale of several measures of pure cobalt to someone with a goblin name and no stated political affiliation,” he said, holding up a heavily dog-eared piece of cheap parchment with crude stamp emblazoned on the back in lieu of a signature. “We found it in the bottom of a strong-box, behind a needle covered in venom. By the way, you should update your cyphers. I would suggest using the one from the second drawer.”

“Ah,” she said, sounding only mildly peeved. “Well, you’ve got me on the money, but don’t even try to sweeten the deal by mentioning the poison needle. That’s standard Apothecary practice and, as far as I’m concerned, just good sense. Nobody is going to care.”

Asric blinked, and for once Jadaar seemed as surprised as he was. “You aren’t…?”

“—Angry? Oh, not really. Turnabout is fair play, so let’s just get this transaction over with. I assume you want something. And don’t ask for any relatives re-animated, that’s just a rumor. Relatives you want dead, well…that might be a little more doable.”

“Money would be nice,” Asric spouted off the first thing that came to mind.

“Do you think I’d be running this petty scam if I had any money?” Valla snapped. “Use logic.”

“Then we want immediate transport from this encampment to the nearest neutral trade point, a portion of your provisions, and for you to forget all about us,” Jadaar added. He appeared to have thought about this somewhat.

“And Magister Hathorel Stormhawk,” Asric added. “On the presumably small chance you ever meet him in person, not a word to him. Ever.”

Field Researcher Valla shrugged. “Very well. I’ll arrange you a bat. Your silence certainly comes cheap.”

“A bat?” Jadaar said, once Valla was safely out of earshot.

“You’ll get used to it.”

Jadaar did not, in fact, get used to it. He complained bitterly about the creature’s complete lack of anything resembling an even glide, the high-pitched squarks it frequently emitted that seemed to bother Jadaar far more than they bothered Asric, and the generally precarious state of its riding tack. Despite the draenei’s apparently strenuous dislike of the bat — in many ways justified, though the crashing headache from the squeaking might have been exaggerated — when the creature took a sudden lurch through the tree canopy and gotten itself hopelessly tangled in a mess of tree branches and saddle straps and bridle, Jadaar was awfully quick to pull out the knife that had ended up in their provisions from Valla (more of a bonesaw, really, but he didn’t want to dwell on that) and chop laboriously through the bat’s barding. The bat had lapsed into a low, mournful keening and hung mostly still while Jadaar cut it free, and Asric was too busy being dumped unceremoniously to the ground and attempting to scrabble back up the tree to object. By the time he found himself back on the branch with Jadaar, the riding tack lay in a heap on the snow below and the bat was busy flapping around on the ground and blowing up tiny snowdrifts. Riding it without equipment was out of the question, and there was really no fixing the severed straps, so Asric watched the bat drag itself slowly out of the shade of the trees and leap into the air with another screech and a rush of wings. In lieu of passengers, it seemed to be turning itself toward home.

“Wonderful.” Asric sighed and leaned against the tree trunk. “Just wonderful. Now we’ll be walking the rest of the way.”

“It was strangling itself,” Jadaar said. “It was either act immediately or the bat would die.”

“Well, we lost it either way.” The tree branch was wide enough for Asric to pull his knees up to his chest and lean back into the trunk of the tree, so he did so. Jadaar, who had been sitting astride the branch for better balance, swung one leg over to sit on the bough and let his hooves dangle. “Besides, I thought you were going to strangle the thing anyway when we got to Moa’ki Harbor.”

Jadaar shot him a venomous look. “I did not like it. That does not mean I wanted it to die.”

“Oh, come on. You threatened to throw me out of the saddle at least once on the way here.”

“The bat,” Jadaar said, “cannot help being what it is. You, on the other hand, have apparently practiced all your life at being a loathsome little worm.”

“Harsh words,” Asric said, clucking his tongue.

“I am stuck with you for at least another night. Of course I have harsh words. It’s a wonder you can stand your own company.”

“You could leave, you know. Like you were saying back in New Agamand.”

“You are the only one who knows the way.”

“It’s not that far of a walk. Just keep the sun on your left —”

“I am not going to go wandering around an unfamiliar planet, Asric. Despite your utter lack of redeeming qualities, you are a native at least.”

“Suit yourself,” Asric said. There was a long silence, filled up by the rustling of the leaves in the freezing wind and the cry of unpleasant crepuscular creatures dragging themselves out of their hideaways. Asric looked down at the ground, then at Jadaar, then back at the ground. “You can’t climb down, can you.”

“I’m actually at the planning stage,” Jadaar said. He tested the bark with his hoof, nearly slipped off, and steadied himself again.

“You managed the rope ladder just fine.”

“I will call your attention to the fundamental difference between rope ladders and trees, namely that one is specifically made for climbing and the other is not.”

“Oh, fine. I’ll go down ahead and see if there’s something I can do about it.” Asric slid down the trunk to put his foot on a lower branch, then swung down to the ground and landed heavily on both feet. “See, nothing to it. You could probably jump it if you had a mind to.”

“I’m not risking that,” Jadaar said, “especially since…what’s that?”

Asric whirled on his heels, which turned out to be a poor decision. Across the way, a massive creature had stopped snuffling through the undergrowth and turned to regard Asric with beady eyes that suggested his presence was unwelcome. Asric froze, a cry of warning strangled in his throat.

“It’s a bear,” Asric hissed.

“I’ve never seen a bear before.”

“Well, that’s one.” The creature lumbered forward, nostrils flaring. Asric tried to remember how he’d been taught to get away form bears, and then realized that no one had ever bothered to impart this important life skill to him. In retrospect, this seemed like a major oversight in his schooling.

It made a sort of odd barking noise. Asric backed up and bumped into the tree. No escape that way.

“Jadaar,” Asric said, trying to keep his voice as even as possible. They could smell your fear. Or was that geists? It might have been both. “Jadaar, reach your hand down. Slowly. Please.” Could you make a bear-geist? That would be terrifying.

The bear came forward, and Asric could see that each of its paws must have been bigger than his head. “On the count of three,” Asric said, keeping his eyes on the bear and praying it wasn’t hungry, “I will turn around. I want you to pull me up to your branch as fast as possible. This might make it angry.”

“Isn’t that bad?”

“Of course it’s bad, but it’s not going to climb after us. One…two…three.” The bear opened its mouth, yawned, and Asric whirled around. The bear lunged forward, but too late; its claws made gouges in the bark and it bayed in frustration.

Asric found himself half-hauled, half climbing up the tree, finally coming to roost on Jadaar’s branch. The bear sniffed around the roots, and for a moment Asric was afraid it was going to knock the entire thing over. He took a deep breath to try and calm himself, but calm was difficult when the wildlife was on the verge of making you its next meal.

Ten minutes later, the bear showed no sign of leaving. In fact, it had fallen asleep temporarily around the trunk of the tree.

“Jadaar,” Asric said. “We may have to spend the night in the tree.”


“It’ll give you some time to plan your descent.”

“Yes, very funny.”

Asric was quiet for a long time, watching the bear wake up, shake its head, and go back to sleep.



“About, well…about our recent altercations in Shattrath—”

“Altercations? Hah. That’s hardly the term. Besides, is this really the time to be talking about this? There’s a ravenous animal below us and it could wake up at any moment. You would think this would be the perfect time to shut up for once.”

“Dammit, Jadaar,” Asric said, through clenched teeth. “Would you be quiet and let me apologize before you run off to who-knows-where?”

Jadaar, who had been mid-sentence when Asric spoke, looked stunned. For once, Asric seems to have caught Jadaar at a loss for words. “I’m going to Dalaran,” Asric said. “They say there’s a lot of work there for anyone willing to do it, and with all the mages around…it might not be hard to go home. If we want. If you want, I mean.” Jadaar looked at him dubiously.

“Dalaran? But I’ve heard it’s crawling with high elves. I was under the impression that they didn’t like your kind. They have a word for you, you know —”

“Yes, yes, I’m well aware. But…mages tend to pay well, and the Kirin Tor is supposed to be neutral.” He didn’t know why he was still arguing with Jadaar about going to Dalaran. Surely it would be much worse for both of them if they ended up stranded in the city of mages together.

“Asric…?” Jadaar began, but he was stopped by glancing down at the ground. The creature had awakened, and was pacing around the trunk of the tree as though it were impatient for them to get on with the falling out and being eaten already. “Can we climb higher?”

Asric sighed, and started to climb up the tree.

Asric had never seen a tuskarr before, but they had been described to him as “walrus-men”. The phrase conjured up a particular mental image, and the tuskarr deviated from it very little — tusked and blubbery, nearly as wide as they were tall, whiskered little creatures with placid expressions that smelled like sea water and fish. They trundled from pier to tent-like house to fishing spot with slow, methodical steps, their breath puffing out their mustache and turning to fog in the chill. The tuskarr spoke little, even the harpoon-wielding guards who stopped Asric and Jadaar on the road and questioned them about their business. Jadaar had tried to answer them truthfully — they were on their way somewhere, and they needed work — and they had trundled off towards their hometown without so much as a ‘follow me’. It was only after a moment of watching them go that Jadaar realized they were being escorted.

And when they said ‘walrus-men’, they weren’t speaking figuratively, either. Asric hadn’t seen a single female since they got here. Either they all flopped out of the sea fully-formed without the need for procreation, or tuskarr women were just as bearded and squat as the tuskarr men. He whispered a comment about it Jadaar, who called him a blithering idiot and pointed out that they were probably cloistered away somewhere far from visitors, just like night elves supposedly once did with their men. Asric thought this was probably the only time anyone had compared a tuskarr and a night elf, and said so, but Jadaar told him, as usual, to stop talking.

The tuskarr seemed quite fond of visitors, or at least as fond as they seemed to be of anything. They nodded serenely at Asric and Jadaar before returning to their work, and did not remark on the strange company either of them was keeping. The harpoon-bearing guards led them to one of the larger houses, where a wizened little creature with a carved walking stick looked them over once or twice, proclaimed them to be under the hospitality of their tribe, and sent them away without ceremony.

The guards escorted them to a little hut, surprisingly well-insulated for such a simple building, that seemed to serve as sleeping quarters for travelers. It wasn’t so much an inn as it was a small room, barely large enough for five people to stand abreast comfortably, with a single raised platform in the center that occupied almost the entire room, covered with a haphazard assemblage of furs and woven cloth blankets, some — like the pillow embroidered with a not-entirely-unpleasant bird motif — clearly left by non-tuskarr travelers who had come before.

“Cozy,” Asric said. Jadaar didn’t seem terribly impressed, but then, he had to stoop nearly double to get into the room in the first place. He sat down on the sleeping platform and inspected the furs dubiously, as if he expected them to hop up and start growling at any moment. Asric took the liberty of setting himself on the opposite side and quietly tried to shift the pillow over to his side of the platform. “At least it’s warm.”

“Relatively speaking,” Jadaar said. He laid back on the furs, pulled up a blanket that was not made of the remains of an animal, and wrapped himself in it. “We should get some sleep,” Jadaar said, punctuating his suggestion by rolling over and pulling the blanket up around his ears in a gesture that Asric found remarkably child-like.

Since Jadaar did no seem to be interested in the pillow, Asric was denied that small victory. He sighed, laid down, and pulled up a fur that seemed to be from some kind of enormous wooly elk. He lay for a little while, listening to the cry of nightbirds outside and the quiet murmur of Jadaar’s breathing, mingling with the distant roar of the sea. An unfamiliar, hazy emotion began to creep up his spine and lodge itself in his heart, and after a moment Asric realized that he was actually feeling contentment. It had been such a long time that he’d almost forgotten what it was like. Here, of all places, far away from the various places he had grudgingly named home, surrounded by all manner of dangers with sharp teeth and cannibalistic tendencies, and sharing a bed with a man who loathed him. It was a rather large bed, to be sure, but still…Jadaar had fallen asleep within minutes without giving Asric’s presence a second thought. Asric had certainly been in bed with men who flattered him more and trusted him less.

Asric sighed, looked up at the ceiling, and fell asleep with astonishing speed.


Asric dreamed of Shattrath City, and he was having a fairly pleasant time skulking around the Aldor's terrace when he rather abruptly fell off an edge that hadn't been there a moment ago and plummeted into the courtyard below.

The impact of hitting the floor woke him up immediately, even if the short fall hadn't. Asric sprang bolt upright, hair in disarray and ears ringing, to see Jadaar already dressed and holding the edge of Asric's fur blanket, which he had apparently just used to lever him unceremoniously out of bed.

"What the hell was that for?" Asric managed, after a moment of sputtering and trying to regain his breath.

“To wake you up.” Jadaar said.

“Can’t you just shake my shoulder like a normal person?”

“Also, you grabbed my tail while I was sleeping.” Asric cursed inwardly. “Do not touch my tail.”

“Uh, I’m…sorry?” He really hoped he’d stopped at the tail. At any rate, Jadaar didn’t elaborate further.

“Get dressed,” he said tersely. “We have a job.”

“A…job?” Asric repeated. He shoved himself upright and rubbed his eyes. “What kind of job?”

“Get your boots on,” Jadaar said, by way of an answer. That was not reassuring.

Ten minutes later, Asric was standing ankle-deep in snow, carrying an enormous leather sack and staring over a collection of scraggly lean-tos. Jadaar, also armed with a leather sack, was hanging back and wrinkling his nose in that peculiar way that indicated he found something distasteful.

“So…what are we doing here?” Asric said. There was yapping in the distance, and the place smelled like a kennel. “You dragged me out here, so you might as well tell me already.”

Jadaar pointed over the hill, towards the little village, if you could dignify it with the name. “We will be…rescuing puppies.”

“Puppies?” Asric looked at the leather sack; it was hardly the right sort of instrument to transport dogs.


“What kind of puppies?”

“Wolvar…puppies.” Jadaar nervously picked at the plaits in his hair. “Apparently they are having a…territory dispute, and the walrus folk do not want to hurt the wolvar children.”

“So they’re sending us to go grab them instead of just watching where they stick their harpoons.”


“Are you sure they’re not going to just eat them?”

“As far as I know, tuskarr only eat fish,” Jadaar said.

“As far as you know,” Asric said. “So we’re going to go kidnap some puppies, possibly for eating. Wonderful.” Asric upended his sack and dumped out several half-filleted fish onto the snow. “Just wonderful. Is this our bait?”

“I have no idea,” Jadaar trudged forward, pulling a fish from his bag. “Can we just get this over with, get our money, and purchase ourselves one-way passage to Dalaran?”

Asric sighed, picked up a fish gingerly with two fingers, and followed.


Apparently the tuskarr had not bothered to inform Jadaar what, precisely, a wolvar was. He seemed to have been expecting something more akin to a one of those tense little dogs that humans bred, or at worst a sort of wolf — a creature he was quite familiar with, and which he spoke of with a sort of disdain. He wasn’t expecting them to have houses, or to be carrying spears, or to have even managed to erect a surprisingly good fence. Any impetus to romanticize the creatures, however, was immediately quashed when they stumbled into a gruesome trio of tuskarr heads impaled on spikes, several days old and buzzing with flies. They had both fallen silent for a while after that.

Truth to tell, Asric had never seen a wolvar either. He could only guess that the little yapping thing in front of him was a wolvar child. It was certainly small enough not to pose a threat to a grown tuskarr, and it was still running on all fours, which suggested youth.

The creature sniffed at a fish carcass, made a noise halfway between a growl and a whimper, and dug its teeth into it.

“Now!” Asric signaled, and they both crashed out of the underbrush, bags at the ready. Asric got there first, and was about to point this out to Jadaar when the comment turned into an incoherent yelp of pain as the wolvar puppy’s teeth slashed effortlessly through the leather and buried themselves into Asric’s wrist. Asric let out a stream of esoteric Thalassian curses and flung the bag to the ground; Jadaar leapt at it, but the wolvar pup was already gone. It ran appallingly fast, scuttling over the snow on all fours, and vanished into the woods. Asric bent over nearly double, cradling his bloodied hand and wondering vaguely why the thing hadn’t run towards the village.

For a moment, Asric could concentrate on very little but his injured hand. It wasn’t deep, he could tell, but it hurt, and he clutched at it with his knuckles white, trying his best to staunch the bleeding with the hem of his cloak. Strong hands closed around his shoulders; he tensed up, ready to spring or panic, but Jadaar hissed in his ear to stop struggling.

Jadaar bent down and lifted Asric like a child as the wolvar hunting party burst out of the thicket, baying war cries. Asric was too stunned to do much but cling to Jadaar with his uninjured hand and watch the creatures rattle their shields and fling stones and spears after them, but Jadaar had the insurmountable advantage of a longer stride and a surprisingly tireless gait.

Asric didn’t know what else to do, so he closed his eyes and listened to Jadaar’s breathing until he finally stopped running and set him down on the snow.


“Oh, stop being such a baby. It’s not that bad.” Jadaar had cannibalized a discarded shirt for bandages and was busily engaged in wrapping Asric’s injured hand. Asric, for his part, was squirming for reasons that had little to do with the pain. Jadaar was actually being rather gentle with him despite his harsh words, which was simply contributing to the problem.

No, no, no, Asric thought. I know you’ve been thinking it, but no. Bad idea. You cost him his job. You ruined his life. It was a nagging voice in the back of his head, one he could not place. He can’t stand you.

But you always know where you stand with him. He’s very honest. When are you ever going to find someone honest in this world, except him?

Asric hissed in pain as Jadaar poured something sharp and alcoholic onto his wound. “Can you stop it?” Asric snapped, dragging his hand away, but Jadaar kept a firm hold on his wrist. There was no use fighting him. “Seriously, brandy? You’re using our brandy for this? Can’t you find anything better to use? Do you really want to be stranded here without—”

“Asric,” Jadaar asked calmly, starting to wrap Asric’s hand with the linen. “If you do not stop talking, I may have to take drastic action.”

“Oh, come on, it’s not you who’s gmmrmph—” The tail end of Asric’s sentence was choked off by Jadaar abruptly shoving a crumpled shirt sleeve into his open mouth. He toppled backwards in surprise, and Jadaar was on top of him, pinning him to the bed and finishing off the bandage with a yank.

“Gack,” Asric managed around the linen in his mouth. Jadaar leaned down, very close — very close indeed — and grinned, showing fangs.

Asric made an undignified choking noise and finally spat out the ball of linen. He glared up at Jadaar, trying to think of something to say.

“Tongue-tied, hm? Well, there are precious few moments in my life lately when you are not babbling,” Jadaar said. “I’m going to savor this one while it lasts.”

“Shut up yourself!” For a man who prided himself on his wit, it was not a good comeback. Asric didn’t care. He reached up, laced his fingers behind Jadaar’s head, and pulled him down until their lips met.

It wasn’t as good as he had been imagining. Jadaar was more surprised than passionate, Asric hadn’t counted on having to negotiate Jadaar’s pointed teeth, and really both of them smelled like fish and hadn’t bathed in days. It didn’t particularly matter — it was the first time he had ever kissed anyone without a single ulterior motive on either side, and even if Jadaar throttled him in ten seconds, it was worth it just for that.

Jadaar pulled away after a moment, leaving Asric gasping.

“What in all ten-thousand hells was that?” Jadaar said. Good — no throttling yet. Maybe that was coming later. Asric wondered how far Jadaar was willing to let this go — which of them would turn back from the edge first.

“That,” Asric replied, “was me. Kissing you. What are you going to do about it?”

“Do about it?” Jadaar said, raising an eyebrow. “I am going to do what a Peacekeeper does.”

“And that is…?”


Jadaar spent the rest of the night demonstrating the Peacekeeper’s reputation for thoroughness.

Asric, for once, woke up before Jadaar. After hesitating for a moment, he shook the draenei by the shoulder. His eyes started open, took in Asric’s disheveled-looking state, and he groaned.

“Did we really…?” he started. This was not a promising beginning.

“Yes,” Asric finished for him, avoiding the awkward parts of the question. “I honestly wasn’t expecting that to, er…work.”

“In all honesty, neither was I.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“I don’t know. Why did you?”

Jadaar groaned again and buried his face in the furs.

“Do…do you still hate me?” Asric asked. Jadaar thought for a moment.

“Yes,” he replied. Asric thought he could probably live with that. “Do you still think I’m an oaf?”

“Yes,” Asric answered.

“Ah. I see you are going to keep being a self-absorbed brat.”

There was a long silence while Asric groped around in the blankets for his pants. “So…what now?” Jadaar asked.

“Now? Well, you still hate me and I still think you’re an oaf. It looks like nothing has changed.”

“No.” Jadaar sounded unusually terse.

“Jadaar—,” Asric began, but a blast of cold air sent him scurrying under the furs. The tent flap had opened, and one of the walrus-men was standing in the doorway, looking remarkably unperturbed for someone who had just walked in on two of their guests naked and in bed with one another.

“I have another task for you,” the tuskarr intoned. Asric blinked, glancing over at Jadaar; the draenei had gone a vivid beet red, something Asric had never seen before, and appeared to be trying to vanish into the bed.

“What is it?” Asric managed eventually.

“Our seals need to mate.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Asric managed. The tuskarr tossed at net on the ground.

“We will pay coin,” the tuskarr said, which seemed to be enough for Jadaar to start getting dressed as quickly as he could.

Asric gaped. Well, that was one way to avoid an awkward morning-after conversation.

The job was worse than Asric had been expecting, but at least nothing bit him, and Jadaar stayed absolutely quiet until they had long been paid.

The small caravan of outriders they had bribed into traveling with them with had not been talkative, and the ride was not a pleasant one. They had twice been chased — once by some animal that resembled a deer with a shovel growing out of its face, and once by a drunken orcish scout who seemed to be in the mood to pick fights — and an unexpected wind picked up and scoured their faces with ice. On top of all that, Jadaar was being even more standoffish than usual. At this point he could probably win some kind of medal in standoffishness — he stalked away from conversation like an insulted cat and tended to respond to any necessary queries with as few words as possible. Between the outriders and Jadaar’s mood, Asric spent most of his time staring at the snow going by, silent.

The caravan left them when the purple light of the Kirin Tor’s magic was just beginning to crack the horizon — close enough to walk, but far enough away to drive home the point that their company was unwelcome. Asric had a lot of opinions about the Kirin Tor, none of them flattering, and even Jadaar pointedly ignoring him did not stop him from airing them in sequence. Eventually, they came around to the subject of access to the city, and Asric had suggested Magister Hathorel’s seal.

“Asric,” Jadaar sighed. “You are an idiot. Are you aware of that?”

“I’ve been informed. Do you have a better idea?”


“Then we’re going with mine.”

“I thought you said your Magister was in Dalaran already.”

“He’s not my Magister, and yes, he’s in Dalaran. I’m taking a calculated risk. It’s a big city, I can disappear once we’re there. I promise, I’ll toss it over the side once we’re in.” Jadaar rolled his eyes in a way that indicated he didn’t think much of Asric’s promise, or his intelligence.

In stark contrast with the bleak landscape around them, the area around the single access point to Dalaran was tiled. The place was crawling with mages — human, mostly, all garbed in purple and serious expressions, conferring with each other in low tones or sitting with their fingers bent into arcane signs, directing the pulse of magic through the landscape. On the tiled floor, strangely, they had set up tents — great constructions of royal purple and glittering metal, pennants flapping in the frozen breeze. It had been so long since Asric had been near so much arcane power; blood thrummed in his veins in tune with it, and he shuddered.

Two mages, a human man and woman in wide-brimmed hats, stood between them and the gate to the floating city. It seemed a paltry guard, but if Asric knew anything about mages, the guards would be the least of their worries should they elect to start trouble.

The woman, who seemed to be the senior judging by the lines on her face, stepped forward. She was leaning heavily on a great metal staff, topped with a faceted crystal that caught the light in strange directions — the Kirin Tor was never one for subtlety.

Asric did not even hesitate. He whipped out the letter, unfolded it, and leaned in conspiratorially.

“I have an urgent message for one of the Magisters here. Please, let me and my companion past.”

“Sunreaver business?” the woman asked, raising a greying eyebrow and looking pointedly at Jadaar. Asric had never heard of a ‘sunreaver’ before, but he knew an unsolicited piece of information when he saw it. He nodded. The woman was still looking over at Jadaar, who seemed to sense that something was out of place.

“Shattrath Peacekeeper,” he said, after a moment. Just saying the words seemed to make him wince, but he passed it off as discomfort with the cold.

“Why didn’t you take the portal?” the younger mage asked. Asric swore inwardly. There was a portal?

“We are not coming directly from Shattrath,” Jadaar said, his voice smooth. “We were already in Northrend when the portal opened. And the way here has been…troubled.” He left the last word hang in the air, dripping with implication of bandits, Scourge monsters, and who knows what else. The younger winced sympathetically, then turned his back to confer with his partner.

“You’re not a bad liar after all,” Asric whispered, standing on the tips of his toes to whisper in his ear. The gesture made the draenei shudder down to the tip of his tail, which gave Asric a certain amount of wry satisfaction. Jadaar batted him away as though he were a pesky fly and muttered that he hardly intended to make a habit of it.

“Welcome to Dalaran, Mister…?” the woman eventually said, clearly prompting for a name.

“Asric Redmourn.”

“Jadaar. Er, just Jadaar.”

“Very well, Asric and Jadaar…this way.” She led them along an oddly circuitous route, towards the net of mages who crowded, both standing and kneeling, their bodies pulsing with power. “The crystal, if you please. Lay your hands on it…the journey will only take a moment. It will be…disorienting.”

Asric sighed, laid his hand on the faceted glass. Twenty disorienting seconds later, he found himself on his knees, trying very hard not to vomit onto an expensive-looking ornamental floor mosaic.

“Well, here I am ready to leave, and there you are on the floor and about to vomit. How cozy. Just like our days in the World’s End Tavern,” Jadaar said, somewhere above him. Asric groped for something to help him up, found Jadaar’s waist, and hauled himself upwards. After a moment of steadying himself, he shook his head and waited patiently for the nausea to clear. “Do you not take well to portals?” Jadaar asked. Asric shook his head.

“Some people get seasick,” Asric said, rubbing his temples. “I get portal-sick. It’s not that uncommon.” He staggered to his feet, with almost no active help from Jadaar, and leaned through the archway to get a good look at the city.

Asric blinked.

“It’s changed a bit,” he said. “Aside from the whole floating thing, I mean. Looks like they changed up the whole town center.”

“There are portals to Shattrath City here?”

“Apparently.” There was a tap-tap-tap on the tiles, and Asric turned to find Jadaar looking out an opposite archway. “Wait, where are you going?”

“Out.” Jadaar did not elaborate.

“You can’t just wander off—”

“Oh, really? I will do whatever I wish. I have been praying for a moment alone.”


“I need a reason now, do I?”

Asric recognized this. Jadaar was experiencing…what was that peculiar turn of phrase they used in Common? Buyer’s remorse? No, that wasn’t quite it. After their brief conversation in the Kalu’ak sleeping hut, rudely interrupted by the arrival of a mustachioed busybody hemming and hawing about seals, Jadaar had suddenly turned cold. He had responded to even the slightest brush of Asric’s hand by either seizing up like a rusty Gnomish timepiece or performing evasions worthy of a Farstrider captain. Asric was starting to suspect he had been Jadaar’s spur-of-the-moment bad decision. Which was better, he supposed, than being someone’s calculated risk, but…well, the novelty was starting to wear off, and Asric was starting to miss the old Jadaar.

“I’m going to go have a drink at the nearest tavern. I’ll be getting a room in the nearest inn.” Asric shrugged in what he hoped was a non-chalant manner. “I’m sure a strapping young draenei like you can find me just fine.”

Jadaar nodded brusquely and vanished into the crowd.


Three days later, Asric was running out of coin and Jadaar had not re-appeared.

The sky was starting to darken, and visitors were beginning to stream into the tavern. Asric enjoyed this time of day — it distracted the bartender from trying to make conversation. The bartender here — a chatty high elf whose name Asric had pointedly not bothered to learn — was the kind of person who fancied himself diplomatic, but has really only mastered the art of being equally insufferable to everybody. Asric did not find the company of high elves particularly pleasant, even ones who professed to be magnanimous enough to run a house of universal welcome (though, privately, Asric suspected that the open-door policy of the Legerdemain was due less to genuine fellow-feeling and more to the sort of base greed that takes money from anyone willing to hand it over). High elves tended to remind him of his father, and that tended to remind him of his mother, and fairly soon Asric would be finding himself remembering Quel’dalas and Shattrath and that brief, dreamlike stay in Tempest Keep, and would be forced to order another drink to keep his head quiet.

The patrons of the Legerdemain tended to be transients with loyalties that had come unmoored in the wars. People with more political feeling gravitated towards the Alliance and Horde quarters that had been staked out in Dalaran since Asric had been here as a young elf; the leftovers who had a bit of coin in their pockets went to the Legerdemain to drink and ignore each other. There was, Asric had heard, a boarding-house in the city’s underbelly for those with less, but Asric still felt enough pride to avoid sleeping in an actual sewer for as long as possible.

Almost reflexively, he scanned the crowd. Mostly human, some dwarf, some elf, and a lone gnome sitting alone with his enormous nose buried in a book nearly as big as he was. Near the entrance, a young draenei woman smoothed her skirts and watched the crowd with impassive golden eyes, clearly waiting for someone and growing more anxious by the second. Asric quietly sympathized with the girl.

Well, it was approaching the third night of Jadaar’s absence. Perhaps he had taken the portal to Shattrath and gone back to his family. Perhaps he had found a job that did not require the services of a courier or an investigator of somewhat flexible methodology. Perhaps he’d simply decided Asric’s apology was worthless and his company grating. Perhaps he’d found Asric a lousy lay compared to sinuous draenei women like that girl loitering by the exit.

There was nothing for it. Jadaar was three days late, and Asric determined to give him up for lost. He resolved to spend the majority of the night drinking until it no longer seemed like a problem.

A gloved hand laid on his shoulder, making him jump. Asric turned to find himself looking at a sin’dorei woman with a severe haircut and an expression of barely-veiled contempt, wearing a tabard he dimly recognized as belonging to the Sunreavers.

“Asric Redmourn?” the woman asked. Asric nodded. “You’re under arrest in conjunction with the recent disappearance of Utherin Brightspark.”

Asric was too stunned to protest when the woman steered him out with a firm hand on his elbow.


It wasn’t really a holding cell, per se. It was more of a converted basement — it might have once been slated for a minor bureaucrat’s office, before they decided this squat little windowless room was not a fit environment for even the most minor of bureaucrats. Now, there was a lock on the door, and a little cot, and sin’dorei fellow who was missing half of his ear guarding the door. Asric had paced the cell thirteen times, complained of the cold on three occasions, and politely requested some water without soliciting a single change in expression from the guard. Apparently word got around, because eventually the door opened and a tin cup of water was slid inside, but other than that Asric may as well have been talking directly to the smooth stone wall. Trying to ask the guard what on earth he was being held for did solicit a reaction, but always the same one — a comment that they were sending an official to speak with him about the charges. This was a spectacularly unhelpful response that did nothing to improve Asric’s mood.

The official in question, however, did not wait long. Asric’s sense of time was less than perfect without the sun, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour when the sound of booted footsteps, muffled by the fine carpet outside, approached Asric’s makeshift cell. Armor clinked as guards bowed their heads, the door opened, and Asric was staring into a face he’d really rather have forgotten.

“Hello,” Magister Hathorel Stormhawk said, as pleasantly as the day Asric had met him. “Long time no see.”

Curse it, Jadaar had been right. He was going to be so smug if he ever heard about this.

“What do you want, Magister?”

Magister? Oh, Asric, my dear, don’t be so impersonal.”

“I don’t think we’re on a first-name basis anymore, Magister.” Asric had been sitting down with his knees drawn up against the chill against the back wall of the room; he did not move as Hathorel swept into the room, his simple red-and-gold scholar’s robe swirling around his ankles. The only bit of ostentation about him was a bright red brocade sash, embroidered with the emblem of the Sunreavers with what appeared to be genuine gold thread. The Sunreavers, Asric had learned, were some kind of partisan group lobbying for the advancement of the blood elf cause within the Kirin Tor; while Asric still had some shredded vestiges of patriotism and agreed with the idea in theory, he found it difficult to trust any organization dedicated to the advance of anything, and this was not improving his opinion.

“We’ll be on any basis I please,” Hathorel pushed his wire-rimmed spectacles back up on his nose. “I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here.”

“Because you’re still a bitter old viper?” Asric said. He knew precisely why he was here.

“Asric, might I remind you that you were the one who bit first.”

“I trusted you,” Asric said, trying to keep his voice even. “I risked my reputation for you, and you lied to me and used me to seize at honors you don’t deserve—”

“Deserve? It’s not a matter of deserving or not, Asric, it’s a matter of having the wit to take what you want. Besides, I wouldn’t be talking about deserving, given the company you tend to keep. First that third-rate Magistrix Illynia, then that consumptive old coot Voren’thal and his Scryers, and in between…well, we all saw how that little experiment turned out, didn’t we?

“Hathorel! I don’t care about your rambling! Tell me what’s going on or leave me here to rot!”

Hathorel broke into one of his deceptively gentle smiles. “Two days ago, Utherin Brightspark disappeared. He was a Sunreaver employee — a minor one, but one of us nonetheless. He left no forwarding address, no notice of where he was going, but the last conversation anyone can remember having with him mentioned the name Redmourn.”

“That’s impossible. Nobody will believe I had anything to do with this. I’ve only been here for three days!”

“Yes, but your suspicious conduct at the gate did not escape notice, my dear. If nothing else, I will enjoy watching you try to explain yourself. Besides, if it comes down to a question of your character, I can provide anonymous-but-reliable confirmation that you are the sort of person who shares confidential messages with bedmates.”

“And I can provide confirmation that you are the sort of magister who seduces couriers to profit from the ideas of better scholars.”

“Oh, Asric, it wasn’t all about politics. I like you — I do — but when opportunity knocks, you answer the damned door.” Hathorel sighed. “Regardless of what you think of my career, you tried to ruin it. Turnabout is, as the humans say, fair play. The only difference between you and me is that I'm much better at it. Good night, my dear Asric,” Hathorel said, bowing a little, and sweeping out of the room ignoring Asric’s growled insults. The door slammed behind him, and Asric was alone.

Jadaar, while fond of drinks in their proper place, was not what you would call a drinking man. Though he couldn’t reasonably claim to have never drowned his troubles in drink, he found overindulgence in general to be an embarrassing display and avoided it whenever possible. He was, therefore, rather annoyed that getting Ajay Green to talk was turning out to involve so many rounds of some sort of throat-searing whiskey that was strong enough to go directly to Jadaar’s head despite his not-insignificant size advantage over most of Azeroth’s brew.

Finding Asric’s former lodgings had not been difficult — there were not that many inns in town, and one of them didn’t even admit draenei. It was simply a question of asking around until someone mentioned a sullen, unpleasant blood elf with long auburn hair and a taste for sour cherry wine. Of course, the patrons of the Legerdemain were also quick to describe Asric as ‘that fellow who’d been dragged off by a uniformed Sunreaver guard’, which made actually tracking him down a bit of a chore. The Sunreavers, he found out, were entirely blood elves; most of them did not wish to speak more than a few words to him. In general they treated him as though he was on the verge of taking blood vengeance for his people, despite continued claims of strict neutrality on the Alliance and Horde conflict and a general belief in not holding every living blood elf accountable for the atrocities of Tempest Keep and the insufferable pettiness of the Scryers. It had taken him the better part of two hours to find a Sunreaver partisan who was willing to talk to him freely; she told him that a blood elf of that description was currently being held on suspicion of being involved in a disappearance. He was a shady character whose name had been bandied about by the victim, shortly before he vanished completely. As far as the Sunreaver herald had been concerned, this made it an open-and-shut case. When Jadaar explained that this particular Redmourn had been in the city for only three days, the herald only shrugged and said that the Magisters had it under control.

Magisters. He knew that title. Well, he did warn Asric this would happen.

So Asric had managed to get himself into trouble in the brief span that Jadaar had been speaking with draenei from the Exodar in the Silver Covenant resting-house, gazing out the window at the shifting violet portal to Shattrath City, and doing a great deal of thinking. He couldn’t go back to Shattrath — not yet, not without something to show from his exodus other than a misspent night and a half-hearted apology from the author of all of his troubles.

Asric. He had, in the days since their stay in the Kalu’ak village, thought about him quite a bit. For someone who prided himself on level-headedness, falling into bed with a man he loathed was a palpable blow to his claims of rationality. Was he really so starved for company, so embarrassingly lonely since leaving Shattrath? Ever since Navaah had devoted herself to a cause that left no room for him, he had hardly given a second glance to anyone, man or woman, draenei or outworlder…and yet, he had tumbled into bed with a long-eared loudmouth who found it, for whatever reason, entertaining to flirt with him. All this despite the fact that Asric had ruined his life through what might have been deliberate incompetence and some definitely deliberate shadiness.

No, it wasn’t that he was lonely — at least, that wasn’t the most of it. Asric, obviously, was an underhanded scoundrel, a gibbering incompetent, a craven dandy who cared very little about anyone but himself…but while all of these things were true of Asric now, Jadaar had slowly come to recognize in Asric the shards of a shattered idealist. Navaah had always teased him about his soft heart.

Of course, Asric was absolutely insufferable, and showed no sign of improving in that area. So, he had left — a few days away from Asric, he had told himself, would clear his head and show him whether or not he really wanted Asric around in the concrete as well as the abstract. He had spent the last three days with a blank void where there used to be insults, and a sea of strangers where there used to be one familiar face. And, when he finally made up his mind to find Asric again, he’d gotten arrested on trumped-up charges. Clearly the elf was incapable of handling himself without someone’s hand on the rudder of his life, and better him than whatever sort of people had been responsible for Asric’s current sourness.

Ajay Green flashed a smile that might have been charming three glasses ago. “So, this Utherin Brightspark. What about him?”

“That was my question, actually. I need to know who he is. I have it on good authority that he had a conversation with you shortly before his disappearance…”

“And when was that?”

“Two days ago.”

“Ah. Right.” The man squinted as though he needed spectacles. “Yes, I remember him. He came down here on occasion — wanted to talk with Suri, he did. I think they might have been having a fling. Not that it’s my position to judge, of course, but seriously —”

“Wait, wait…who’s Suri?”

Ajay Green gestured expansively, as though indicating the entirety of his ramshackle bar. “Usuri Brightcoin. She’s a goblin. Mister Brightspark used to come down here to meet with her. Never got a room, though. Just drank, talked, and left.”

“Did he ever mention the name Redmourn?” Jadaar took another swig of his drink and tried to hide his grimace. He didn’t know much about the drinks on this planet, but he was fairly certain it wasn’t supposed to be gritty. Well, anything for the case — that was the Peacekeeper’s motto. Or something like that, anyway. It was getting difficult to remember, which meant he needed to wrap up this conversation as quickly as possible.”

“Oh, yeah. Once or twice in the past week.”

“What did he say about this Redmourn person?”

“Oh, only that he had sold him something. I think it was a ring or something like that. Mister Brightspark seemed to think the ring was worth more than the person paid for it, and he seemed pretty upset with himself.”

This was a positive development, though not conclusive proof. Asric could have reasonably tried to cheat someone out of a ring in the three days he’d been here. “What did you say his relationship with Usuri Brightcoin was?”

“I think they were screwing.” Jadaar gave him a dubious look. “Uh, failing that, I’d say they were…collaborating? That’s the word, right?”

“On what?”

“She’s a goblin. If it doesn’t involve money or dynamite, they’re not interested.”

“Where does she live?”

“Uh — I’ll draw you a map.” Ajay Green grabbed the corner of a bar tab stub and sketched a crude outline of the under-city with the scrap of charcoal his barmaid used to take down orders. “You can’t miss it.”

“Right. Thank you, sir,” Jadaar said, and left his whiskey unfinished on the table.


Usuri Brightcoin’s house was more of a shop than a dwelling-place. A sign scrawled in three languages declared her to be a moneychanger. Jadaar knocked on the door.

“Coming, coming!” cried a tiny voice behind the door. A slat of wood slid open and a pair of sterling-grey eyes blinked at him. “We’re closed, you know,” the goblin said.

“I know. I’m here on police business. Please, open up.”

“Police business, eh? Well, in that case, go away.” The little peephole slammed shut, and Jadaar swore. He stood in front of the door for a moment, unsure of what to do. He couldn’t exactly force her to open the door — he didn’t have the weight of law behind him here. Besides, there were rules to this sort of thing. You couldn’t go barging into people’s houses at all hours, even if there was a crime to be solved. Down that road was anarchy and chaos.

But if he didn’t do something, then Asric might be punished for something he hadn’t even done. That seemed dreadfully unfair, especially since Asric was guilty of so much already.

Jadaar looked down at the ground. He couldn’t break in — that was beyond contemplation — but a set of small footprints in the mud between the cobbles, leading around behind the money-changer’s shack caught his eye.

Jadaar sighed heavily, and crept around the back of the little shack as quietly as he could manage. There was enough discarded straw to keep his hooves from making too much noise, and after a few moments of sneaking that seemed to much longer than they were, Jadaar was crouching next to a trash heap in the darkness of an alleyway, trying to root through it as quickly as he could.

Twenty minutes later, he had a half-completed bill of sale with a misspelling on it that had been crossed out in grease pencil, and a crude ashtray. It wasn’t technically stealing, as trash didn’t belong to anyone per se, but the thought still nagged at him as he carried his prizes gingerly up the ramp to the main thoroughfares and out into the sunlight.

Rifling through private property without a warrant. If Asric ever found out about this, Jadaar would never hear the end of it.

“There’s some draenei demanding to see the magisters.” Asric heard the guard with the mutilated ear say. Asric, who had been trying to get to sleep, instantly abandoned the project and leaned forward to press his ear to the door.

“What the hell does a draenei want with any of our magisters? Did he say which one?” said another, female voice.

“Magister Hathorel, I think.” Asric pounded on the door until one of the guards decided to open it, mostly to get him to shut up. “What?” the male guard snapped.

“Can I speak to the draenei?”

“Why would we let you do that?”

“What the hell am I going to do, escape? Bring him here.”

He needn’t have argued more. The door down the hallway slammed open, and Asric saw Magister Hathorel storm into the hallway with his hair unbound and his robes in disarray. He appeared to have been dragged directly out of bed, and he was not pleased. At the other end of the hall, a cluster of armed guards stood with their swords out, apparently escorting someone; Asric could see a familiar blue head peering out from behind the wall of swordsmen.

“What is the meaning of this?” Hathorel said, sounding more like a petulant teacher than an angry sorcerer. The guards parted a bit to allow Jadaar to stick out one arm, a tiny piece of paper crushed between his fingers. Hathorel was not impressed. “And what is that?” he snapped. “I don’t have time for this. We don’t have time for this.”

“If you will examine the paper, Magister,” Jadaar said.

“And why would I do that? Throw this man out, immediately.” The guards saluted, and two of them turned to seize him by the arms and escort him out with force if necessary. Jadaar raised an eyebrow skeptically.
“By all means, Magister Hathorel,” Jadaar said, graciously. “I simply thought you wanted a look at the evidence that is going to exonerate the man you had arrested. Since I have already taken the liberty of sharing it several hours ago with the captain of the guard and three other Magisters as an anonymous tip and they are already out investigating, I just thought I would come by and show you as a courtesy before I leave these in the custody of a higher-ranking official.”

“I don’t…” Hathorel began, but Jadaar lifted up the piece of paper again.

“This is a receipt drawn up from by a goblin moneychanger named Usuri Brightcoin. She threw it out because she accidentally started to write ‘copper’ rather than ‘silver’ on the second line. It is addressed to a Vasarin Redmorn — no relation, of course, to the individual currently in your custody. The captain of the guard confirmed that the distinction between their names is not quite so fine in Thalassian. This…” Jadaar dug in his bag and came up with an ashtray that had clearly seen some use. “This is an ashtray encrusted with burnt, tarry ashes — very similar to the ones on the table in the Cantrips and Crows, where the proprietor told me that the recently vanished Utherin Brightspark used to meet with his goblin friend.”

“Circumstantial,” Hathorel said, with a dismissive wave of a long-fingered hand.

“For now. When your captain of the guard returns from speaking with Quartermaster Redmorn and his goblin co-conspirator, I suspect the quality of the evidence will have improved considerably.” Two of the Sunreaver guards pulled futilely on Jadaar’s arms before they settled on simply crowding him out of the room with their swords drawn. “Good day, Magister Hathorel,” Jadaar called, before he was out of sight.

Hathorel rounded on Asric, who had been leaning in the doorway watching the proceedings. Before he could dismiss the guards, Asric put on his best innocent face and said “Since I’m apparently out of the lineup of suspects, may I go?” Hathorel looked helplessly from the guards to Asric and back again, then turned away.

“Go. Get out of my sight,” he said, his voice dripping with defeat. Asric savored it for a moment, then turned and fled down the hallway as quickly as he could without actually breaking into a run.

Jadaar was waiting for him in the purple-paved main street, outside the archway that formed the entrance to the Sunreaver’s district. They left together.

* * *

The Cantrips and Crows was known as the cheapest lodging house in Dalaran. It cut costs in several key areas — for one, it was situated in the center of an actual sewer, thus ensuring that only the desperate or those lacking a functioning sense of smell would ever get near the place. It also saved money by offering old, straw-stuffed matresses that had housed entire civilizations of fleas, inedible food, undrinkable drink, and employing a single barmaid who had raised sullen disinterest to the level of art. It was a genuinely awful place, but at least here they could stretch their last few coppers over a period of weeks rather than days.

“So…what now?” Asric said, holding his nose and taking a swig of his drink. It was supposedly beer, but Asric would not have picked that term to describe it.

“We need money,” Jadaar said. “Utherin Brightspark is still missing. There’s a reward out for information leading to his return.”

“Back on the old beat, huh?” Asric said. “I could get used to that.”

“You’re assuming I want your dubious assistance.” Jadaar tapped the edge of his mug idly. “Remind me again why I tolerate your company, Asric.”

Asric smirked wryly, and pulled Jadaar into a kiss. Jadaar still tasted of cheap drink, the air smelled of sewage and burnt gruel, and the wobbly table in between them was filling Asric’s elbow with splinters, but it was still a good enough answer.
cypher: (oh like I'M the crazy one.)

[personal profile] cypher 2010-10-01 06:03 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, what a fun ride this is! I'm not really familiar with the fandom, but the headers made it look like an enjoyable story, so I gave it a shot anyway, and I'm so glad. Their voices are fabulous -- I love their banter! -- and you do such a good job of showing how much history they have together before they pick up the start of this adventure.
aestivalis: (⌈ ∞ ⌋)

[personal profile] aestivalis 2010-10-02 01:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Just now got to finishing, and I have to second [personal profile] cypher - that was just so much fun! There has been a 'Jadaar and Asric have an extended banter-laced adventure' shaped hole in my life for a long time, and I am just delighted that you've done such a wonderful job with this :>!

Also, you make New Agamand sound absolutely putrid, and I subsequently can't wait to have a Horde character levelled enough to pay a visit. (Two in their fifties and a DK, I'll get there eventually...!)
stealth_noodle: Max, Sam, a gun, and a popsicle. (firearms and popsicles)

[personal profile] stealth_noodle 2010-10-04 01:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Stealing the "fun" descriptor from the other commenters, because that's exactly what this is. :) I love, love, love the banter and the dynamic, and anything involving both a bear and the Forsaken being delightfully over-the-top makes me happy. I quit WoW before BC came out, and now I have a burning desire to play again, dammit.
cestus: (Default)

[personal profile] cestus 2010-10-07 09:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Such wonderful fun! I adore these two and you capture their bickering so beautifully. Hmm, since Blizz moved them from Shattrath to Dalaran an thence to the tournament, I wonder where they'll end up after this expansion. Wherever it is, I hope they're still together, and that it inspires you to write about them again.