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Sep 30

Dire Maul Chapter 1

Joella walked out of Cregs office into the common room. She had just been given an assignment to take a team into the Ogre held city of Dire Maul consisting of a priest, who was arguably crazy, his teenaged son who was still in training as a mage, and a druid who was new to the guild. Joella was not looking forward to working with this particular team. But Cregs knew how to put people together and she trusted his judgment. The guild would not be as successful otherwise. The job was a relatively simple. They were to gather information and recover a key that the Ogres carried. But the combination was volatile and she wondered how she was going to be able to get them to work together.

The Goldshire Inn was quiet this time of day with only a few patrons who were not in the guild. The only people there, besides the innkeeper and the barmaid, were three men engaged in a dice game. One of them was Denzel, the one person Joella was glad would be joining her on this mission. The other two were his latest victims.

Denzel was a young and handsome warlock who enjoyed getting into trouble, particularly with the ladies. He had tried to woo Joella, unsuccessfully, but their friendship had grown in spite of it. Over the past few years that friendship became a partnership that felt as comfortable as her favorite pair of boots. Denzel had been raised in Stormwind’s upper class and learned the arts of manipulation and intrigue. But his affinity with the dark arts created a secret life that he led outside of the public eye. He always wore the latest fashions and was able to charm his way out of almost any argument he started. Those he couldn’t talk his way out of, Joella usually finished. Except for one. He was a master of magic and while he usually used it to his advantage, today he had returned to the simplicity of alcohol, and a weighted pair of dice.

“A 2 and a 3. I thought you had it there with my roll of a 3 and 4. I’m sorry my friend.” Denzel pulled the pile of coins from the center toward his already substantial pile. He looked up at Joella, who nodded toward the door. “Well gents,” he told his inebriated opponents, as he pushed back the chair. “It’s been a lovely game but I’m afraid I must go.” He scooped the pile of coins as well as a worn pair of troll dice into a bag. They started to rise as well, as if to stop him. When he saw the glare in their eyes, he stopped. He glanced at Joella, who gave him a look that told him this wasn’t the time to pick a fight. “I won’t leave you completely empty handed though.” He left a few out, handing them to the barmaid. “Get these two gentlemen another round will you?” He said winking as he handed her the coins, caressing her palm. She giggled. He looked back at the two, who nodded and sat back down.

“Are you done flirting?” Joella said with a touch of impatience.

“In a moment.” He told her then, turned back to the maid. “I’ll see you again soon.” He said dripping honey from his voice.

The barmaid giggled again and walked off to get the drinks.

“ Must you do that every time we’re here?” Joella said with a sigh, as they stepped outside.

“You wouldn’t want me any other way.” He replied in his best bedroom voice.

“I don’t want you.” She said, putting and end to his advances. They walked the post outside the gate where their horses stood. She busied herself with untying reins as she continued. “Except that I need someone to keep me sane. Cregs has a job in Dire Maul. He wants me to take our new druid, Kyuni, and Nostrawarus.”

Denzel stopped dead hearing the name and his featured darkened. “He can’t be serious.”

Joella looked at him and shrugged. “Cregs thinks he’s ready.”

Denzel grunted. “Perhaps. Balat had better be going too.”

She climbed into her saddle and looked down at him. “ He is. Now are you going to help me or not?”

He pulled the reins off the post with a jerk. “Of course I am. Someone needs to keep an eye on those two.” Pulling himself into the saddle he continued, “Balat should be done for the day. What about our druid?”

Joella checked her locator. “She’s where you always find druids, Stormwind’s park.” Pushing it into a pocket, she set off at a trot toward the city. Denzel swore under his breath and followed her.

 

The park was a quiet respite within a bustling city. One could step off the noisy cobbled streets and onto the serenity of lush grasses and fragrant plants of another world. The druids who made their homes here had blended human architecture with elven design that created a comfortable atmosphere for both races. The only thing that was distinctly elven was the moonwell. It was the centerpiece for the park. It was a shallow stone circle of recirculating water that seemed to glow a bright blue. Elven carved arches surrounded it creating the look of a portal though they were only pools of enchanted water. Much of the druidic magic came from these moonwells and though Joella didn’t understand how they worked, she had seen their restorative powers in action enough times to respect them.

The locator guided her and Denzel to one of the elves sitting next to it as if in meditation. Joella had never met Kyuni or her brother Drunelf. They had been recruited into the guild by another elven pair from the guild who happened to be passing through the city of Darnassus a few weeks ago. Kyuni and Drunelf were the first Druids to join the guild. Joella had only a passing knowledge of what a Druid could do. All she really knew was that they were shape shifters and healers. “Kyuni?” Joella asked as she approached the elf.

Kyuni turned to the two humans who approached her. The woman was of average height with a fair but soft complexion, yet she seemed to command a presence much larger. She wore no formal armor except for the mace at her hip that marked her as a Paladin. The man with her was younger, with dark brown swept back hair and a glittering eyes. His longer robes were subtelly marked with the symbols of the warlocks Kyuni had seen across the canal. She stood to greet them. “It’s actually pronounced k-eye-you-nee. Maybe I should get used to the human pronunciation.” She bowed to them.”How may I be of service?”

Joella looked startled for a moment looking up as the elf rose to tower a full foot above her. She had blue hair that contrasted with the pink hue of her skin. It was tied back at the sides exposing the dark purple tattoos that marked her face. The leathers she wore did nothing to fill out a stick thin frame that reminded Joella of a willow tree. “I apologize. K-aye-yoo-nee then.” The name sounded strange to her ears. But then, everything about the night elves had always seemed a bit strange. Their culture and traditions seemed so close to her own but just odd in a way she couldn’t describe. “I’m Joella from the Dogs and this is Denzel.” Indicating her partner.

Denzel moved in applying his usual charm. He always seemed relaxed in any social situation no matter what race they were dealing with. He took Kyuni’s hand, kissing it as he bowed with a flourish. “A pleasure to meet you, my lady.”

Kyuni looked at him for a moment confused. “I’m not familiar with this form of greeting. Forgive me if I don’t return the correct gesture.”

He looked up at her. “No response is required except to be flattered.”

Joella elbowed him. “Knock it off.” She whispered. To the druid she replied. ” He does this with every woman he meets. Just ignore him.”

Kyuni chuckled as he released her hand. “I don’t mind. But my brother might. He’s protective.”

Joella noticed Denzel’s eyes light up when she said this. He always enjoyed a challenge. She wondered if Night Elves would be as affected by his charms as the barmaids seemed to be. “We’re in need of a healer for a job in Dire Maul. Cregs said you would be available.” Joella said.

“I am. And where is this Dire Maul?”

“In Kalimdor. Feralas to be exact.”

Kyuni frowned. “I just came from Kalimdor. It was a long journey and I do not envy the trip back.”

“We won’t be going by boat.” Joella reassured her. “We’ll be taking a portal created by one of our mages, Balat, as soon as we find him and his father. But we thought we should find you first.” She pulled her locator out again and checked it for a moment. “Looks like Balat lost him again.” She glanced at Denzel.

He looked over her shoulder checking the small symbols that floated on the screen. His countenance changed to one of grim resolve. “Meet me at the main gate. I’ll get them.”

“Is there a problem?” Kyuni asked.

“No, it’s just that Nost…” she hesitated, looking for the right words. ”…forgets things. I guess you could say.”

Kyuni started to ask how but stopped, not sure she wanted to know any more. She was having a hard enough time learning the new cultures of the humans and other Alliance races. She would get to know them in time. She changed the subject to something more pleasant. “How do you know where to find everyone?” She asked instead.

Joella held up the device. “Locator. One of our engineers adapted the technology from a homing beacon that was given to him. The token you received when you joined the guild sends a signal to this thing. I can find almost any guild member, within a reasonable distance.” She slid the device back into her pack. “We need to grab some stuff from the vault before we go. We can meet Denzel at the main gate.”

 

Denzel walked toward the mage tower where Balat would be. This scene was becoming too familiar and too domestic for Denzel. He had picked Balat up more times than he cared to think about because his father, Nostrawarus, had been incapable of doing so.

Nost was a brilliant herbalist who had fought in the recent wars attached to a medical squad. But this last campaign, something happened that almost killed him. He had been sent home to Stormwind where he had spent a few weeks recovering. His physical injuries healed fast enough but he was unable to remember anything from before waking in the hospital except for his herbal knowledge, and his son. Since then Nost had tended the guild greenhouse creating remedies for the numerous illnesses and injuries that they contracted due to the nature of their work, hopeful it would help him remember. But there were times when he would spend days there, seeming to ignore everyone and everything. The only person who could get through to him then, was Balat.

While his father recovered, the guild had looked after Balat, teaching him what they knew. Everyone enjoyed having him around because of his upbeat attitude and insatiable curiosity. He had an amazing ability to absorb almost anything he was taught, particularly with arcane magic. When Nost was recovered enough to make the decision, Balat had entered the mage school in Stormwind. As fast as he was learning, his magic was still chaotic and his own “practice” tended toward practical jokes.

Most of Balat’s tricks were harmless enough until one targeted Denzel, resulting in a very embarrassing situation with one of his dates. It made Denzel mad enough to confront Nost. Denzel was angry not only about the incident, but about Nost’s memory problems that prevented him from properly looking after his son. Denzel found a trigger and suddenly the mild mannered, absent-minded priest remembered his battle training and a little more besides. Denzel discovered firsthand what Nost was capable of and it left him with a fractured mind; afraid of his own shadow. Joella had been gone at the time and when she returned, she found her friend unable to leave the safety of his home. It had taken most of her healing skill as a paladin and the better part of a week to help him restructure his identity and self confidence. Nost, meanwhile, retreated to the Stormwind Cathedral and the priests there to help him understand what had happened, leaving Balat in the guild’s care, again.

As a punishment, Balat was put on a strict schedule of either classes or chores. When Denzel was recovered, he was assigned as Denzel’s page. Denzel liked Balat in general and the more time he spent with Balat, he found himself growing fond of the boy. To Balat, Denzel was a much needed mentor and friend.

Denzel stood at the tower entrance waiting for Balat to say goodbye to the instructor he was working with and join him. As they walked, Balat chattered on about this spell or that which he had learned today. This was to be his first really dangerous mission. His job, was to port the team to and from their destination, help keep his father focused, and stay out of trouble. Balat had a tendency to run off and do his own thing. Too many times he would be gone before anyone knew it and often at the most inconvenient times. Denzel hoped that he would realize the importance of this mission and pay more attention.

When Balat finally paused to take a breath, Denzel stopped him. “Get your gear and meet me on the entrance bridge. We have a mission.”

His eyes lit up. “A real mission? Not just a stupid delivery or something?”

“Yes, a real mission.”

Balat grinned at him and waited to hear more. He was disappointed when Denzel asked him. “You know where your dad is?”

He shrugged. “Do I ever….probably found a blade of grass that’s a different color green and thought it was a new species.”

“That’s what I thought.” Denzel growled. He sent Balat running toward the trade district and set off to find Nost.

 

When Nost returned from his time with the priests, he never mentioned their fight or even act like it had happened. Through Balat, Denzel had re-formed the working relationship with Nost. But he was still wary of his power. When awkward situations came up, most often involving Balat, he fell back on humor to hide the discomfort. It had worked well. But, Denzel knew the day would come when Nost’s darker powers would need to be tested. And as much as he enjoyed antagonizing people, He had hoped he wouldn’t have to be the one to do this. He found the priest in one of his usual haunts, picking through the wares of the herbalist shop along the canals. Mentally preparing for a battle, he approached. “Hi Nost.”

“Hey Denzel.” Nost replied offhand as he sifted through the contents of a bruiseweed container. “Why was Denzel here? It wasn’t that late, was it?” He thought to himself.

Denzel leaned on the rack of trays next to him. “I thought you said you were going to be at the Brown Recluse today while Balat was at his lessons.”

“Well, I was.” He said. intentionally not looking at Denzel. Something was wrong here. Denzel wasn’t his usual jovial self. “But he was going to be there a while. So I figured I’d go through my inventory and fill in what I’m getting low on.”

“And you seem to have lost track of time again.” He paused waiting for a response.

It was that late. Nost cursed himself silently but said nothing. The fact that he was in Stormwind at all was proof enough that his memory was improving. Denzel didn’t need to come to the city this time just for that.

“We have a mission.” Denzel said and Nost finally looked at him. “He was done an hour ago. How is it that I seem to know your son’s schedule better than you do?”

“Don’t start with me, Denzel.” Nost challenged. “Balat’s a good kid and he enjoys being there. I know where he is.”

“But he doesn’t know where you are.” He let the words sink in for a moment. Nost dropped the plants and gripped the container. The spark of anger rose in his eyes.

Cursing to himself Denzel continued to push. “It’s not Balat I’m concerned about. Cregs thinks you’re ready to start working again. I’m not so sure. We need you to focus.”

Nost stared at him. “My focus is fine.” He said evenly.

“On something other than plants.” Denzel countered. He let the months of bottled up frustration color his words. He pulled on his own power as he saw Nost’s anger grow in reply. It’s what he was looking for. With this mission, Denzel needed to know if he could really trust the priest to control his power. Better something happen here than out in the field.

They had this argument before. Besides Balat, The herbs and their uses was the only thing Nost remembered from his past. It was his only anchor in a world he was trying to relearn. Denzel knew that and they had been over this too many times. He didn’t need to be constantly reminded. He hated the reaction that happened the last time and had since tried to understand it. The priests had no answers. All they could do was remind him of what he already knew. He didn’t want to lose control again. Not here; not now; wait a minute.

To Denzel’s surprise, Nost closed his eyes and shook his head. “Did you say we have a mission?” He asked. Denzel saw his expression change as Nost suddenly came to a realization of why he was there. The anger and frustration was gone in a heartbeat. When he looked back Denzel saw only resolve. “When do we leave?”

“Right now. I just sent Balat to the main gate. Joella said she would meet us there.” Denzel replied, physically relaxing. He released the power he had been holding, grateful that the situation had not escalated. It looked like Cregs was right. He laughed to himself as he realized that Cregs had intentionally set this up.

Nost grunted. “Where are we going?”

“Dire Maul. Joella and Balat are probably waiting for us at the main gate. We have a new healer. A druid. Maybe you could teach her something.” He said the last as he clapped Nost on the shoulder then made his way to the door. Nost barked a wry laugh and followed.

 

The stop at the vault for Joella and Kyuni took longer than expected. By the time they had found the packs and supplies Joella wanted, Denzel and Nost were waiting for them. They sat on the stairs of one of the shops along the main road into Stormwind. Joella almost laughed at seeing them sitting there. Denzel in his usual finest, and Nost was dressed in the plain tunic and pants that he wore around the greenhouse. If one didn’t know better one would think that they were a wealthy merchant and his servant waiting by the side of the road for a carriage to arrive. Their packs sitting beside them. Little did those passing by know what was contained in them or how much it was worth. They would have more than the usual Defias robbers to worry about. She thought to herself. Not that any of them would get very far, the Defias never did. Denzel studied the travelers streaming past as they headed home from their day in the city. Nost was studying what looked to Joella like just another weed poking through the flagstones.

“Apparently he wasn’t too hard to find.” Joella said as they approached, hiding the smirk that had crept to her face. Setting her own pack of gear on the ground. She looked at Denzel silently asking of things were ok between the two of them. Denzel nodded a yes to both questions.

“Where’s Balat?”

As she said it, the boy materialized next to her. He was about half Kyuni’s height including the spiked hair that stood out from his head like stalks. He had a disheveled look that only teenage boys could manage to accomplish. “Right here!” Balat laughed as Joella and Kyuni jumped. Denzel looked as if he had expected it. Nost didn’t so much as blink. He stared up at Kyuni and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Balat. You must be Kaaay um… Kaaay.”

“Kyuni.” She finished shaking his hand awkwardly. “Though from Joella’s description I admit I expected someone older.” This was the first time she had actually met someone so young.

“Everyone does.” he said with a shrug.

Denzel nudged Nost with his knee. “I don’t think it’s in the same family as the blooms. May fit into the nettles.” Nost muttered to himself as he plucked the plant out and put it in his sack. “Did you bring back those stalks I asked for?” He said to Balat as he stood up, wiping dirt and plant materials on his pants. When he saw Kyuni he stopped, staring at her as if he had seen a ghost.

Balat looked up at him recognizing the signs of one of his father’s flashbacks. “Not again” he thought to himself and repeated automatically the counsel Brother Joshua had given him when the first one had happened. “Be grateful he can’t remember. You can’t change the past but you can change the future. Help him replace what he lost with good memories.” It was getting easier to break him out of it and they were happening less frequently. But it still hurt that his father could never tell him what he re-lived. He stepped between Nost and Kyuni pushing the stalks into his father’s hands and breaking the moment.

Nost looked down at him, blinked, and took the stalks, stuffing them into his pack. He wiped his hands again and extended one to Kyuni. “Uh. Hi. Nostrawarus… or just, Nost. What are we doing again?” he asked of Joella.

“Dire Maul.” Joella replied with a hint of impatience.

“Oh right, in um…”

“Feralas.“ Joella finished.

“Right. Mageroyal, Khadgar’s whisker, Wild steelbloom…” He trailed off, as if trying to remember the rest of the list.

Denzel nudged Balat’s shoulder in reassurance He knew what Balat was going through. They had talked of it often. Balat gave him a half smile back.

“We need to get to Feathermoon Stronghold first” Joella said, cutting in before Nost’s list could resume. “We have a contact there who will provide us with more details about our objective. Balat, how close can you get us to the hold?”

Balat’s eyes lit up. “I can take you there! I just learned how to create portals to some of the smaller holdings. One of these days I’ll learn how to port into the horde cities like Jaina can do.” He started the incantation for the portal. Denzel stopped him.

“Not on the main road please. I don’t want anyone following us through this time.” He said winking at Balat and indicating the travelers walking by. While the portals by themselves usually only lasted long enough to admit a few people, Denzel knew that Balat didn’t yet have the control to close one on demand. “And it would be nice if we had our mounts first.” He hefted one of the bags onto his shoulder.

Balat stopped. “Oh, sorry. Behind the stable then.”

“That would be better.”

 

The Stormwind stables always seemed to resemble a zoo. The facility was situated just outside of town because of the size. Behind the main building where the livestock was kept, was a housing for almost every kind of animal that existed in the the Eastern Kingdoms. Joella often wondered how the keepers managed to keep the animals happy and match pets and mounts to owners so quickly. “One of these days I will have to ask,” She thought to herself. Within minutes of giving their names, the hands returned with four horses and a vicious looking nightsaber.

While the others simply took their horses reins and started strapping on saddles and packs, Kyuni approached her cat and touched it gently on the forehead. Something seemed to pass between them. The cat bowed down and stood again to let Kyuni place the harness and packs over it’s back. There was no saddle. Only a second thick strap that went across the cat’s chest to hold the bags in place. The “reins” were straps attached to the harness.

Balat watched the exchange as he readied his own horse. He had seen the cats the the other night elves in the guild rode but never had the chance to ask. “How do you lead him without reins?”

Kyuni laughed. “I don’t.” She said caressing one of the cat’s ears. It was easy to forget that humans didn’t have the connection to the animals that she had. “I tell Elunel which way to go and trust her to take me there.” She emphasized the “her.”

“But how do you tell her?” Balat asked.

“Through touch.” Kyuni replied. Actually there was more to it than that. But the explanation would suffice for now. “Maybe someday I can teach you. And maybe you can teach me to ride your….horse?” She was unsure of the word.

Balat nodded. “That would be fun!”

Denzel cut in. “We need to get through this first. You want to show off that portal now Balat?”

“Yup!” he replied and led his own horse and the group around the side of the building to a space between it and the surrounding mountain cliff. Though Denzel had explained to him that his job, like usual, was to get them there and back he was excited to be doing something that actually involved danger. Well, more danger than warding off the usual creatures and highway robbers they encountered. He recited the words of the spell carefully and the air before him shimmered forming a rough oval large enough for a horse to pass through. He tried to make it bigger but couldn’t quite find the words that would do it. Through the hole they could see a beach that lined a thick forest.

 

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