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Oct 16

Dire Maul Chapter 2

Lethtendris sat watching as the contest continued below. The crowd cheered as prompted by the goblin announcer. He weaved a story for each champion conjuring images of exotic lands and embellishing stories of their origins. She could laugh at the irony. They were all simply slaves captured when towns were ransacked. Some were true fighters. The soldiers and defenders of lost battles and lands. Most were simply peasants who managed to stay alive long enough to make it here. But the crowd didn’t know that. They had no idea who or what the competitors were. It didn’t matter. The food was plentiful and the beer flowed.

This was only an exhibition. Arena Master Reghar Earthfury had brought his fighters early in hopes that what Lethtendris promised would increase his chances of winning the real competitions in the days to come. Magical enhancement was common. But often it was unstable, lasting only a few weeks. It required the Masters to employ Enhancers or have a contract for regular treatment of their champions. She was offering a way to take that magic with him that would be cheaper in the long run, though the up front costs were high. He was here to find out if her system worked.

“I expect this next one to do well.” Earthfury told her as a young elf walked wide eyed onto the parched ground. “I picked him up a few days ago. Bought him from a goblin who said his family owed back taxes on their farm.”

She watched as the young elf battled his way past a Tauren and a Troll. The ripple of hard toned muscle moving his limbs gracefully. His thrust and parry became almost a dance. “Very pretty.” she thought to herself. “He would make an excellent plaything.” She twisted her hands just so then watched as he quickly tired and was beat down by his opponents. Earthfury’s eyes widened ever so slightly.

“It would appear that he has no stamina.” She told him.

He made a rumble in his throat that she had come to interpret as an affirmation. “That is something easily fixed.” He said. Indicating that this one would be enhanced.

She twisted her hand again to cast a spell that would ensure the elf would not wake until she wanted him to. “That makes seven you want treated for today.” She said. “I can only take a few more if you want them all ready for tomorrow.”

“I have a better stock than usual.” He replied. “If this system of yours works, you will have a permanent contract.” He looked beyond the confines of the arena to the walls beyond and the crowds that milled through the area. “You will need to make improvements to increase production.”

She followed his gaze. He was right. But more than structural improvements were needed. “As you can see my choices are limited. There are few mages among the ogres who have the capacity to work this type of magic. The satyrs are better suited. But they are limited as well. If you could get me some slaves who could do the work, I would consider lowering the price.”

He turned his massive head toward her looking straight into her eyes. She was surprised to see the intensity of his gaze. He was not yet convinced. “A generous offer.” He rumbled. “But I need to know if this works first.”

***

As the team stepped through the portal, they landed waist deep in water. The sun was setting at the end of the day in Stormwind. Here, it was just coming up and the chill of the morning didn’t make the water any warmer. Joella grimaced pulling her packs of gear out as quickly as possible. She looked at the rising sun, measuring time in her head. The soonest they could hope to get there was mid-day and the team may be tired by then. An evening approach may be better. The shadows of twilight were always good to work in. She looked at her wet pack. The salty seawater would strip the coating off her armor making it more difficult to move in. She would have to re-apply it and the other supplies would need to be dried and checked. They would spend the day at Feathermoon stronghold then. If this was Feathermoon.

“You haven’t ported there before have you?” Denzel asked the question of Balat who was the last to step through. He hefted up his own packs to make sure his supplies wouldn’t been affected. The horses didn’t seem to mind but Kyuni’s nightsaber bounded out of the water, splashing everyone. They watched as she planted herself on the beach and begin to lick herself dry.

“Well, no, but I was still close.” Balat answered and pointed at the guard tower in the distance.

“And how do you know this is Feathermoon since, you have never been here before?” Denzel teased, asking the question before Joella could.

“Um..” Balat said, then blinked away. Leaving his horse to be picked up by Nost.

“We really can’t have him doing that.” Joella sighed as she started to wade to the beach. She had yet to figure out how to use that particular habit of his to her advantage.

 

A few moments later as they reached the shore, Balat blinked back to them. “It’s Feathermoon.” He announced. “The innkeeper said we could dry off there. The ferry won’t be back for a few hours anyway.”

Nost pulled him aside. “Hey, calm down a little.” He nodded toward the rest of the team. “We have more to look out for than just ourselves this time. Joella’s a good leader so we both need to pay attention to what she asks.” He handed his son the reins to his horse.

Balat could see the concern on his father’s face. This one was important. He didn’t want to disappoint Joella and Denzel. It was his chance to prove to them that he was ready for bigger things. “Ok dad.” he said as he took the reins and joined the others.

 

As they made their way to the stronghold, Balat battered Kyuni with questions about Night Elves and Druids. “You don’t need to pester her to death.” Nost told him after a few questions.

“I don’t mind.” Kyuni said. Then continued to answer them. She was surprised at how much he knew for one so young. As they walked down the trail she looked at the trees, plants and watched the wildlife. She picked up what Elunel and the horses told her in the way they twitched ears and tails. She listened to Balat and observed the contrast between his movement from one subject to the next and the serenity that surrounded them. All of the humans she had encountered seemed to live so fast. They were so curious about their world but never really listened to it.

She watched Nost as he stopped here and there to look at one of the plants more closely. Sometimes pulling one out to stuff in the pack that was slowly filling as they walked. “This one just might listen.” She thought to herself.

Joella pulled Denzel back a few paces to talk with him. They watched the interaction between the others for a moment then Joella asked him. “So, what are you thinking?”

He drew in a breath then took on the posture Joella recognized as assessing a new conquest. “A little thin for my taste, but the whole nature thing is a turn-on. I wonder what she could do as a cat? They do transform into cats right?”

Joella sighed. “Among other things….I should have known.” She hit his arm and he did his best to look hurt as he rubbed it. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

He quit rubbing as a smile crept to his face. “You are taking this way too seriously. We haven’t even arrived there yet and you’re acting as if you’re ready to kill something.” He said while laughing at her.

Joella sighed again trying to relax. He put his arm around her in a half hug as they walked. “Ooh. I do believe you need some r&r,” He said, then, pinched her backside.

She pushed him away. “Stop that! I need a serious evaluation here!”

He laughed at her again. “You did say you needed someone to keep you sane.”

Joella looked at him for a moment. Resigned, she shook her head, smiling at him, finally letting go. He always seem to know just what she needed.

He continued. “So far it seems to be off to a good start.” He nodded toward the others. Kyuni was laughing at something Balat had said. “She can see things that we can’t. Not just because she’s a druid. I can tell she has a real talent.” His eyebrows twitched. “It will be interesting to learn what those talents are.”

Joella knew he was thinking about more than her professional talents. She changed the subject. “What about you and Nost. I’m not going to have to stop a fight in the middle of this am I?”

“So long as I don’t bring up his parenting, or lack thereof, I think we’ll be fine.” He said wryly. “When I found him today, I wondered. But what he showed gives me hope that he really will recover.”

“You still don’t trust him.” She stated more than asked.

“I make no secret of that and he knows it. But, I have to admit, he is the best choice for this. If those elves want to know what’s going on with the plants in there, he can tell them better than anyone I know. With a druid to work with it might help him too, since they share a common interest.”

“What about Balat?” She asked him. “That habit of his is going to be trouble.”

“Balat wants to prove himself. He tries so hard to be important. Give him something to focus on and he’ll be fine.”

This is exactly why Joella wanted Denzel here. He was as much an asset to her as he was her friend. His ability to read people had saved more than a few missions.

“Our team leader, on the other hand,” he turned his assessment to her. “needs to relax a little and quit worrying about how we will work together. Just worry about getting us in and out with as little confrontation as possible.”

She smiled at him countering his assessment with her own. She did her best to imitate the look he gave her whenever she asked. “And we need to keep our Warlock focused on his duty instead of daydreaming about the scenery!”

He looked surprised. “The warlock never has a problem focusing on his duty.”

“Why did I decide to bring you again?”
“Because you would never succeed without me.”

‘Arrogant bastard,” she thought with affection. “That’s probably more true than you know.”

Once the team reached the inn, they gathered around the hearth fire to dry off and get warm. As they worked through preparing their gear and checking supplies, Joella filled them in on some of the specifics of the mission.

“Dire Maul was an elven city that has been taken over by Ogres and Satyrs. It is believed that the Satyrs have corrupted sections of the city so the plant life is rumored to be hostile.”

“Maybe I’ll find some new stuff to bring back then.” Nost said, leaning back in his chair, savoring the idea.

“That’s why Cregs wanted you on this one Nost. You have the most experience.” Joella told him staring at Denzel for reassurance.

“So long as it doesn’t try to eat us.” Denzel replied jokingly.

“Chances are you will die from the poisons on them than being eaten by them.” Nost told him. Looking at Kyuni he continued. “But, if we have a druid then maybe we won’t need to worry too much about it. You can cure poisons right?’

“Of course!” She said.

“Ok hostile plants off the worry list.” Joella said. Then looked at Nost. ”Just be careful with anything you don’t know about. I don’t want people sick off the plants when we have the residents to worry about.”

“What? Hey, I’ve never been sick from picking them.” Nost looked affronted.

“Only off what you make with them…” Balat muttered to himself.

“That’s Denzel’s department.” He told his son with a finality that left no room for further comment. Balat visibly shrank and became very interested in the contents of his pack.

Both Kyuni and Joella looked at Denzel, who looked genuinely confused.

“No one has ever been sick off my elixirs.” He didn’t mention the other potions that could not technically be considered in that category. “I have enough in my arsenal.”

Kyuni studied Nost. She had spent a little time in the cathedral learning about the type of healing the priests did there. Something about that statement and the way Balat said it confirmed a feeling she had that there was something more to this pair than what they projected. “I thought you priests used plants to cure disease, not cause it?” She asked him.

“I do.” Nost said as if it was and expected question. But he searched for an explanation. ”It’s just that, um…well… one should learn the negative aspects of a plant as well as the positive ones in order to fully understand how to use it.” He looked at Balat again. Who was still studying his pack. “But sometimes things happen.”

“I see.” Was all Kyuni said.

Nice recovery. Denzel thought. Exactly how much can you read from us? He wondered. She was picking up on the subtle hints that something was not as it seemed. He could see the suspicion in her glowing eyes. Is that a druid thing? It would be very interesting getting to know this one.

Before the conversation became more awkward, they were approached by a Night Elf who had been sitting at a counter.

“Forgive the intrusion. But hearing your conversation; you are from the Dogs of War?” He asked.

Joella stood to meet the Sentinel. “We are.”

He was only slightly taller than Kyuni. Though he seemed almost as thin at first glance, he moved with a feral grace that indicated an underlying strength of a veteran soldier. He had a chiseled face and the same glowing eyes but the lines around them suggested he had seen much. He bowed to them. ”Latronicus Moonspear. I am the Sentinel commander for the Feralas forces.”

Joella bowed back. “Good to meet you. I’m Joella. This is Balat, Nost, Denzel and Kyuni.” She introduced the group.

He looked strangely at Kyuni as if remembering something. “Kyuni Starstrike?” He asked. She stared back with a look of dread on her face. It was enough of a confirmation for him. “It is good to see you have found…” His mouth twisted in distaste. “gainful employment. Your brother is part of this group?”

Kyuni’s eyes brightened as if in defense. “How do you know my name?” she demanded.

He smirked again. “Word of you and your brother’s adventures travels far.”

“That was a long time ago.” She answered warily. How much was he going to tell them? She and Drun wanted to make a new start when they joined the guild. If Moonspear told them even fraction of it, she feared they would never be able to leave her past behind.

“And we have long memories.” He warned her. To her relief that was all he said.

Denzel watched with interest. He smiled at her reassuringly. Nobody came to the Dogs without a past of some kind – very interesting to get to know her indeed.

“You don’t care for us?” Joella asked Moonspear. Though her voice was relaxed, Denzel could see the sudden tension that marked her defense of her team.

His demeanor changed back to a formal politeness as he again addressed Joella. “Only because it represents a failure on our part.”

“The Sentinels are a formidable organization.” Joella stated, curious to hear an explanation.

“I’m not talking about the Sentinels per say.” He began. “We Night Elves pride ourselves in taking care of our own concerns. The fact that we must resort to mercenaries to do our work leaves a bitter taste.” He paused.

Joella nodded. She understood there were political complexities involved in almost every mission they were called to.

“From what little I heard,” he continued, “you already know about the plant life. It is indeed corrupted. There is a Satyr there named Alazzin. He is the one who seems to be directing the corruption, so has become known as The Wildshaper to his followers. We want you to bring back proof of his death.

“There is another party of interest, Lethtendris. She is a blood elf, who, like the rest of them, is addicted to magic. She is a cruel killer who we had in custody until a few months ago. Thus our failure. We have tracked her to Dire Maul and we suspect she can be found with the satyrs. Their type of magic would attract her. We also suspect she has some sort of device that can store magical energy. Bring back that device so we can ‘safely’ dispose of it.”

Joella almost laughed at his choice of words. That disposal would only come after a thorough understanding of what Lethtendris had created. Though it was not her concern, she always wondered what became of some of the objects the guild had put in the hands of local authorities. Denzel’s contacts within the upper echelons of Stormwind’s society, and thus the Alliance itself, had provided a few rumors. But it was rare that they ever really knew what became of their missions.

“That should be easy enough for us. Do you want Lethtendris dead or alive? Alive will make things more complicated.”

“Proof of her death will be sufficient.”

“And will we bring what you require back here to Feathermoon, or another location?”

“I will be here. The object and proof are to be returned to me.”

“Looks like we have a contract then.” Joella extended her hand and Moonspear took it; signifying agreement of both parties.

“I will leave you to your preparations then.” He said and bowed again. They all returned the gesture this time. Moonspear turned away to greet the Sentinels that had been standing in the background for the entire conversation. Joella just now noticed that they were there. Unnerved, she turned to Kyuni. “Did you know they were there?”

Kyuni’s guard came down and she relaxed as she watched them leave. Nodding to Joella she replied. “I did. I am surprised you did not.”

Nost explained the discrepancy. “All Night Elves can shadow-meld. They have taught the art to a few human rogues. But even then, we humans can’t vanish like they can. We have to resort to distraction and misdirection to hide our actions. Because of the Night Elves’ attunement to nature and their environment, they simply vanished into the background. Or so it appears to us.”

Joella watched him carefully this time. Usually his recitations went on about the properties and uses of plants. But this was the first time she had heard something like this from him. “Why didn’t you tell us this before?” She asked.

“Never had a reason to until now.” He replied.

“That means he forgot.” Balat said, teasing his dad.

“I did not.” Nost replied in defense. “I haven’t forgotten everything.” He stopped, as if trying to remember more but then looked frustrated when he couldn’t. “Just most of it.”

Denzel saw again what he saw at the herb shop. Nost pushed whatever it was aside and again replaced it with resolve. He looked then at Joella and saw the same concern on her face that he had. “Bad timing for him to start remembering things,” he thought.

Joella turned to her pack and pulled out a drawing of a crescent shaped object. This was one of those rare objects that they actually knew what it was and why they were to recover it. “We have one more piece of this mission.” She passed it around the group waiting for everyone to get a good lock. “This is a key that is supposed to unlock the doors to the inner sections. We are to bring one back so that it can be duplicated.“

Denzel studied the drawing. “Do we know where it’s supposed to be or who might have it?”

“No.” Joella stated simply. “This is going to be the hard part. All we know is it’s are supposed to exist and what it looks like.” She looked at the drawing again as Denzel handed it back to her. “More or less.” She added. Then, looked at the group sitting before her. The additional requests for two assassinations made this a little harder than she expected. Her hope was to get in quietly, collect information, and get out. But when did anything go as planned? She pulled a map out of her bag spreading it out where everyone could see. “We will try to approach from the northwest side.” She indicated a spot on the map. “The main entrance is set against the mountain and this approach puts us on the top of the wall there.”

Denzel watched her as she continued to explain the plan and role for each team member. He loved to watch her as a team leader. She was able to assess a situation and adapt a team to the required circumstances better than he ever hoped to be able to do. She was never harsh but demanded the best of every member. She listened to their concerns without judgment. It was something he never expected to find in one trained as a Paladin. More often than not he encountered the self-righteous members of their order. Joella glanced at him. Realizing he was caught, he refocused his attention on the map in front of them.

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