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The fighting was non-stop now. There were no screams or groans, only a strange chittering that summoned more of the unfortunates that attacked with gaping angry mouths filled with pointed teeth. The company moved forward steadily, fighting there way to what was purported to be a laboratory.
Everyone was bathed in the pale green glow now. The light grew brighter the closer they got and Gentyl wondered if this too was something she should be concerned about. It reflected off their skin and armor. Weapons flashed green in places, but mostly they were mottled with the black ichor from the creatures. Tom turned to look at her, even the whites of his eyes glowing green now.
Gods, what have I brought my people into? She put the thought aside. It was too late to worry about that now and would it really matter even if they had known ahead of time? The scouts hadn't suffered from any lasting effects, if any, but neither had they penetrated this deep into the tunnel. They would have to deal with that later...if they survived. For now the mission was the only thing.
Meriste pointed to a forsaken walking toward them. He was dressed in a white lab coat similar to the ones she had seen apothecaries wearing in the Undercity and in the laboratory in the hills Pia had wiped out years ago. What knowledge could they glean from him?
"Take him if you can," Gentyl said quietly, hoping not to alert others ahead of them.
Meriste's cat pounced, pinning the undead against the wall, but before they could subdue him he detonated a small device he jerked out of his pocket. The forsaken and cat exploded before they could stop him. All hope of surprising whoever remained ahead disappeared. The Guards moving to secure the forsaken flew across the tunnel, slamming into the opposite wall. One team dashed forward to help them while another group dashed around the rubble to secure the position in front of the wounded. Gentyl knelt with the downed guards. Thankfully they were mostly dazed from the concussion with scrapes and cuts. Tergen's helmet had been blown off. Thankfully the leather chin strap had ripped or his head might have gone with it. As it was, there was only a deep cut in the side of his face where a neat, if bloody, little patch of beard had been jerked out. The dwarf shook his head and reached up to touch the gash. A string of colorful oaths followed, threatening the most vile retribution on the forsaken who had ruined his beard.
"Stay here," Gentyl said to the ones on the floor. "We have to move now, but we'll be back quickly."
Faithe remained with the wounded to finish patching them up. Tergen, however, refused to stay behind when the honor of his beard had been impugned.
They ran forward, quickly killing the remaining guards who rushed to meet them. Scientists scrambled, trying to protect their work. One ran by, papers clutched to his chest, eyes wild with fright. When he saw he couldn't escape he reached toward his pocket. Not willing to let another one blow himself up and take more Holy Guards with him, Rose incinerated him in a ghastly blue flame that flared, sputtered and died in a matter of seconds.
Another explosion rocked the cave, sending them all to their knees as they covered their heads. They slowly stood and brushed the dust from their clothes when the tremors stopped. If they didn't hurry these workers were going to bring the whole place down on top of them. Of course, Gentyl still wasn't sure if their plan to destroy it wouldn't blow them up in the process anyway, but they had to make sure Argustus was stopped. She had hoped to find him here, but that would be simply too convenient. If they survived, he had to be stopped, but that was another problem for another day.
The group moved cautiously through the rubble and smoke, watching for traps and hostiles. Meriste wheeled and leveled her bow at a moving pile of rocks to their left. Chunks and pebbles tumbled down across the floor. She drew back the arrow and aimed it at the center of the pile. The only sound was the clattering stones until the remainder of the pile exploded outward. A short, stocky, gray figure roared and threw its arms out, "Demned undead tryin' ta bury me afor it's time."
Gentyl's knees weakened a bit. They had almost killed Stillig. "Come here, fool dwarf before we have to bury you for good." She hugged him and then stepped back from the cloud of dust.
She motioned the group forward to finish off the rest of the workers who were still scrambling to gather papers, boxes and all manner of laboratory equipment. Geist swarmed out of some natural air vents around the cavern making it look like it was pouring the wretches out of some macabre faucet.
They ran, skipping along the floor in that odd skittering gait, shrieking as they did. Some still had crates tied to them they had been dragging. One flung himself at Gentyl clawing through the air at her. His gaped mouth was filled with wicked, jagged fangs. A long, black tongue flicked out like a snake as if he was already tasting her blood. She stepped to the side and swung her axe. The stroke removed his head and half of an arm. The head rolled across the floor with remnants of a noose flicking about like a sisal tongue. The fingers on the disembodied hand clenched, inching the hand along until at last the nerves stopped and it lay still with just a few, final twitches. She kicked the hand out of the way as Taeldran jumped over the rolling head and rushed after another of the creatures.
There were piles of them now and still they flowed from the drains above. How many of these things were housed here. One of the scientists brandished a staff at Stillig and he responded by cutting him off at the knees, staining the white lab coat with a sickly ichor. The dwarf continued to hack until little remained and nothing moved.
Helhammer had stayed close to her side throughout the fighting as had Cray. Her people were experienced, fighting in small groups to cover each other, but Gentyl wondered how long they could hold out if the geists kept coming. Not much longer perhaps. They were tiring and sooner or later one of the scientists would succeed in setting something off. There was also the explosives they had brought in might explode accidentally. They had to get this secured soon.
Desmend and Osrio circled a table in a forgotten corner of the room. A pale green light sparked and then flashed as a scientist hidden under the table tried to detonate an explosive. The two men dove under the table after the forsaken who let out an ear-piercing shriek followed by a string of what Gentyl could only assume were the direst of curses. One of them silenced the forsaken while the other de-fused the explosive. While that wasn't the bomb they were here for, it could have caused enough damage to detonate the one they sought.
"Get this secure!" roared Taelanas.
The geist had slowed to a steady, annoying drip now that was quickly handled as they fell to the floor. Gentyl crouched down in front of the bomb and started pulling the explosives out of her pack. Rose and Disco joined her and began setting up the detonation wires. The work was slower than she would have liked, but they didn't know precisely what they were dealing with and they had to move carefully.
The battle sounds were lessening now. It grew strangely quiet and she realized most of the Guards were circled around them, watching the arduous process. When the last of the defenders was down, Taelanas sent the first group back down the tunnel. They would leave only a few behind to guard them as they worked. The rest would return to the horses in case something happened. No need for everyone to die.
"Team two, move out," Taelanas said. The words echoed in the cavernous chamber.
They were almost done. Gentyl held her breath as Rose attached the last of the wires. Disco started pulling out the modified kitchen robots. Normally they were programmed to set off an alarm if Gentyl went into the kitchen at the tower. These had been engineered to explode after a certain amount of time. Their timing had to be perfect and they didn't have room for any unforeseen delays.
Disco finishes setting the robots and the three looked at each other and gave a slight nod as if they were afraid even a whispered word would trigger the device. They moved back away from the bomb and down the tunnel slowly, watching for any remaining defenders. There were only bodies, bits of bodies and rats who were already gnawing on the corpses.
Helhammer at last left Gentyl's side when they reached the horses. In a perfect world, they would have extended the detonation wire far away from the entrance. This was far from a perfect world and they'd have to do it just outside. The blizzard still howled and they couldn't take a chance of the wind ripping the wires free.
Hel pushed Traveller's reins into Gentyl's hands. "Get on and get out."
She should have protested, but she honestly was ready to be away. Traveller stepped around the fire and joined the rest of the mounts just outside. Gentyl ticked off all of the remaining Guards to make sure they were all out. Taelanas had already done a head count of the main group and all were accounted for.
"Now?" Rose shouted above the howling wind.
"Aye, open the portal. Disco, get ready."
Blue glowed around Rose's mittened hands and a glowing image of Stormwind appeared. The wounded rode their mounts first.
Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Twenty-three. They were all through except Rose, Helhammer, Disco, Gentyl, and Tom. Tom would opened a second portal. There would not be time to cast again once they sent the electrical charge through the wire. Hopefully, it would do the trick and they wouldn't have to use the backup robots. Hopefully, they actually knew how to blow the thing up.
Hope. This was far too important to leave to hope, but that was all they had left now.
"Blow it!" she shouted.
Rose turned the control in her hand and ran through the portal with the rest of them.
The rest of the crew was gathered at the base of the tower, where Faithe and Selestene were checking the wounded again. Gentyl walked among them. Some of the wounds were very serious and they couldn't travel to Hearthglen yet. They'd have to stay in the infirmary in town until they could travel.
She looked around the crowd for Helhammer to get him to carry some of the wounded. Where was he? He wasn't here. Neither was Tom. She was positive she had seen them by the portal. Everyone else was here. She ran back up the mage tower, but they weren't inside.
They were gone.
"Tom! Helhammer!" she screamed into the hearthstone.
The hearthstone crackled. In the background she heard Helhammer yelling at Tom. "Idiot, this is Ironforge again."
"Aye, Sepha," Tom replied. "Shut up."
Gentyl was too relieved to be angry for the panic Tom had caused with another of his misdirected portals. "Pardon?"
"Not you, Sepha. Hel. He's foaming at the mouth. I offered to make him another portal, but he just stalked off. We'll be there shortly."
They spent the rest of the day tending to the wounded. Several of them had strange burns the healers weren't familiar with. Broken bones, wounds, the strange burns and an illness that had many of them vomiting kept the healers busy.
Meriste was still mourning the new cat she had lost in the fight. Desrapture and Osrio had donned their detective hats to try and learn more information about the lab and exactly what kind of bomb they had hopefully destroyed. The weather still raged and so they had not sent out a recon party for final assessment.
On the third day, they were able to move even the most severely wounded back to Hearthglen. It wasn't that she didn't trust Stormwind, but Gentyl just felt better with the Guards were all safely home. She supposed it was akin to a mother hen tucking the chicks in the nest.
Gentyl made the rounds of the infirmary, dropping off the cookies that had been delivered weeks ago but stayed remarkably fresh and enticing. Each cookie seemed to evoke a different taste and scent to each person. Gentyl adored snickerdoodle cookies so to her that's what they were while to others they might be chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal or whatever their favorite was. The only problem was, Gentyl got sleepy after she ate them. Of course, for a recovering person, that wouldn't be a problem so she felt no guilt in passing them out.
She passed the library on her way back to the great room after leaving the infirmary and noticed Thora and Tom studying some documents. They had barely left the library since their return. She had assumed they were studying some scrolls from Pandaria, but they appeared to be stacks of papers unlike what she had seen before. "What are you two working on?"
Thora looked up. "We recovered some of the papers from that laboratory. We're trying to translate them."
"Where the bomb was?
Tom nodded slightly, not raising his gaze from the paper he was searching. He made a few more notes on another paper, and then rubbed his chin in concentration. She took that as her queue to leave the two be. Perhaps they would be able to determine if the strange sickness was related to the laboratory or just a coincidence. If it was the flu, it seemed odd no one else had caught it and no one but people who had been close to the laboratory had it.
Late that morning she received word the blizzard had let up. It was still blowing, but it was no longer impossible to fly. It didn't take long to muster a group to go scout the location. She fairly had to order several in the infirmary not to go as they were as anxious as any to know if they had been successful.
The flight was long and cold. Snow still whirled through the air. An eddy caught three guards as they dropped off a peak and spun them around like an invisible dance partner. The gryphons roared in irritation and shook their manes. Gentyl caught her breath when a gust grabbed her and nearly knocked her into a cliff.
They probably should have waited, but they needed to know.
The group had been flying far longer that what they should have and there was still no sight of the mountain. Had they got turned around? She motioned them down. "I don't understand. Has the wind slowed us down that much? The mountain should be near here."
Calendre took out her compass and tried to get the sun's position, but it was nearly smothered with the heavy storm clouds. "No, we're still on track. We need to veer a bit east is all," she shouted.
They flew back up, correcting course. She didn't remember that little valley being here. Then it dawned on her, it wasn't a valley, it was a crater. The others must have realized it at the same time and they landed on a nearby peak. No one said anything. There was nothing left of the mountain. Trees near it had been flattened. Huge boulders had been thrown miles from the point of detonation.
"Should we fly closer?" Hel asked.
She shook her head. They might return when the weather and visibility were better, but not now. They had seen what they needed to see. More than she wanted to, actually. "Tom, Thora, when we get back, burn those papers. No one needs to know the secret behind that kind of destructive power."
"Aye, Sepha," they replied in unison.
There was only one thing left to do. Hunt down Argustus.
Edited by Gentyl on 1/26/2013 5:19 PM PST
Thelinna was proving to be a serious problem. Fernand had been under house arrest, a prisoner in his own laboratory, for the past three months. Thelinna had ensured that the guards would not allow Fernand to step foot outside the Modas il Toralar’s walls, and complex spellwork prevented him from teleporting at a whim. These complications were beginning to irritate the Apothecary. In order to begin establishing his distribution network, he needed to continue his dialogue with Lieutenant Commander Orwyn in the south, and the Deathstalkers in the north. He had no idea of the current state of the Icecrown facility and the Deathknell Project. What was worse, he had not heard word of Lilienne’s wellbeing in three months – the Apothecary was displeased and slightly concerned, although he trusted Vectus (and by extension, he supposed, Suni and Timeus) to do what was necessary to keep his daughter safe. Fernand doubted that Thelinna had any evidence linking him to these activities. If she did, then Aziel would have had the Apothecary torn apart by demons months ago. No, it seemed that this was all merely a power play on Thelinna’s part, to show Fernand that if she so desired, she could make his life miserable with a single word. The hateful, vengeful !@#$%.
Sitting motionlessly at his desk, staring vacantly into space, Fernand Argustus pondered the situation. Before he could do anything to help himself and Lilienne, he had to appease Thelinna’s ego. He had to demonstrate to Aziel that he was still capable of working in the Modas il Toralar’s best interests. Finally, he had to reassert his personal authority over the other Toralites, for while their attacks upon him had merely been verbal to this point, it was only a matter of time before someone seeking favour would make an attempt upon his life. Fernand sat in his dark, dusty tomb of an office, his black suit and tie making him appear like a fresh corpse ready for burial, and let his mind assess the situation and compared his options from every possible angle.
Gentyl stood alone on the rampart. She was still in shock over the destruction they had triggered. Had that been dropped on a city, there would be nothing left. Much like Theramore, there would be only a crater to mark. . . she refused to think more.
As awful as the weapon was, she was in deep conflict over Argustus' fate. She had paid dearly for every scrap of information she could get on the mage. That he was brilliant was obvious. That he could be a cold-blooded killer was documented. Even so, there was another side of him she felt sympathy for. The man who had loved deeply. The caring father. She would regret depriving the girl of her father, but he could not be allowed to continue his experiments. Could not allow? None of her ghosts had been able to turn up any recent information on him. There were rumors he was being held by Modas, but that didn't make any sense. If he had displeased the powers that be, they most likely would have simply had him tortured to death. She feared he may have gone underground to establish a second laboratory. Would he abandon one to start a second? Had he really abandoned the first one to the care of his lessers?
As Annetia Dawnrose read over the letter, she could scarcely believe her good fortune. It was a job offer from one of her father’s old friends, and Light knew decent jobs were few and far between these days. Once, the Dawnrose family had been worthy of note, the owners of a thriving agricultural empire who controlled quite a bit of land in Quel’thalas. Neither Annetia nor her immediate relatives had so much as swung a plow in their lives, but as far as merchants went, the Dawnrose family was particularly savvy. Over time, they came to trade heavily in grain, dairy, cotton and tea. Until the day when Arthas Menethil invaded Quel’thalas, and blighted much of the land with the plagues spread by the Scourge. Now, only the hardiest of plants could survive in what was termed the Ghostlands and Plaguelands, and even then only a fool would risk contracting the Blight by eating anything from the corrupted soil. The Dawnrose family was effectively bankrupted overnight. Annetia’s uncle, the Dawnrose patriarch who led the business, committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea. Annetia’s father, not much of a businessman but instead a mage in the Kirin Tor, struggled for some time to support his wife and three children, all of whom were forced to turn to menial labour in Silvermoon after selling off the clothes and jewellery that previously marked them as a noble family. Unfortunately, there was not a great deal that Annetia and her family were now suited for – her education was in the etiquette she was suspected to present at dinner parties, classical music and poetry, current elven fashion. Annetia found herself serving as a maid, cook and handmaiden to the families she once socialised with.
More than a month was now passed since Annetia had heard from her father. He was assisting the Kirin Tor in Dalaran, monitoring the Blue Dragonflight. It paid quite well. But two of his scheduled fortnightly family visits had come and gone, and Annetia’s father hadn’t shown. She was beginning to worry, especially as there were terrible rumours around Silvermoon that the Alliance were murdering Sin’dorei in Dalaran, even members of the neutral Kirin Tor such as her father. She desperately hoped that he was safe somewhere, but in the meantime, there was another problem – without his stipend, it was a struggle for Annetia’s mother and siblings to eat and pay the rent on their modest little dwelling that was such a far cry from the mansion they once owned. And so it was with great relief and the beginnings of joy which Annetia read the letter addressed to her from Fernand Argustus, one of her father’s most faithful and longstanding friends.
The position was to act as a handmaiden to the Lady Thelinna Que’sheth, a noblewoman and high ranking member of the Modas il Toralar. Annetia was not familiar with whatever this Modas il Toralar was, but she trusted Fernand, and the promised wage was impressive enough to support her mother and siblings as well as herself. According to Fernand’s correspondence, all that was required of her was to serve and assist with Lady Que’sheth’s personal needs, meals and daily business activities. He noted that Annetia’s poetic and musical talents would likely make her a fast favourite with her new Lady. Fernand also wrote that Thelinna was something of a tea enthusiast, which brought a smile to Annetia’s lips. The Dawnrose family was famous for cultivating a unique and exotic tea from the Isle of Quel’danas, called Morning Song. The plant was infused with the mana-rich soil surrounding the Sunwell, and its leaves seemed to dance every morning as the first rays of brilliant golden sunshine touched them. As Annetia began packing her few possessions, she decided to stop by Quel’danas on her way south to the Undercity, and then onward to her new role within the Modas il Toralar.
It had been several weeks now that Thelinna had acquired her new handmaiden. Annetia was more than pleasing to the matriarch of Modas il Toralar. She was sitting in her room in the private area of the sanctum, where Lord Aziel and Lady Thelinna resided. She reclined in a plush chair, looking over some correspondences while Annetia brushed and styled her hair so it was just right. A mirror was offered to her, and she closely examined her appearance. "Excellent, Annetia. Thank you, my dear," she murmured softly before returning to look over her letters. "Is Lord Aziel still within his inner sanctum?"
"I believe so, my Lady. I have not heard him leave yet," Annetia responded. "I do have your tea ready for when you go out to the sanctum. I can have one of the boys bring it out for you, or I will bring it out myself, if you prefer."
"Do bring it out yourself, dear. The boys have not been quite so amusing to me recently," she murmured. "Has there been any reports left in my office?"
"Yes, my Lady. Would you like them brought up here?"
"Mmm, yes. I do not believe I am in the mood just yet to make my way downstairs. I really should check in on Fernand sometime soon," she murmured. "I must see if he has actually begun his work on the Nerubian Blood Plague. Kaerina will be quite pleased when that is finished. It took him much too long to complete cleaning and fixing his part of the laboratories."
"Ah, as you say, my Lady. Still, ah. May I ask a question, if it is not out of place?" Annetia asked, her tone nervous as she spoke.
"You may," Thelinna replied nonchalantly, almost sounding distracted as she continued to look over her letters.
"Would it not be easier to give Argustus more room? He is working quite hard and-"
Thelinna lowered her letters, frowning heavily as she turned to look to Annetia. "My dear, Fernand Argustus is a treacherous fool. Whether he was under the influence of saronite or not, he put us back in years of research. He left Modas for no good reason. The fact that he is allowed to continue his existence is appalling. I will keep him on a short leash, and he will suffer for his transgressions, my dear. He is simply here to work, and work is all he shall do so long as I am Claviger of the Fel Hand."
"I apologize, my Lady. I should not have asked something so bold," Annetia responded.
Thelinna gave a slight nod, lifting one of her hands and gently patting the other Elven woman. "It is alright, my dear. He is the one who got you this position. Your father's friend, correct? It is only natural that you show concern for him, but I do believe when you realize and begin to understand what a troublesome man he is, you will not show such concerns."
Annetia remained silent until Thelinna dismissed her and prepared to make her first appearance of the day.
As the days went by, and the weeks elapsed, Annetia slowly began to feel comfortable in the Sanctum. Her duties to the Lady Thelinna kept her busy for the most part, and she rarely interacted with the more fearsome members of the Modas. Those duties were not terribly taxing to the young Sin’dorei woman, and the wage she received was actually quite generous. Annetia was confident that her family would be comfortable enough for the foreseeable future, at least until they learnt more about her father’s fate. She was even beginning to enjoy her time with her new Mistress, for while she could be a tad distant and cold at times, Thelinna treated Annetia with a respectful manner that not all Sin’dorei noblewomen used toward the help.
This was, of course, until Annetia witnessed the Warsong orc Blademaster beat a second orc almost to death in the guild hall, in full view of the entire Order, as if it were no more than a simple public spectacle. The Warsong orc, Aethelgyth, who led the militaristic arm of the Modas (or so Annetia had been told), acted with a speed and single-mindedness that was terrifying to behold – before Annetia even realised that the second orc performed some sort of transgression, Aethelgyth was standing over the prone orc, striking him over and over again with the pommels of her axes, her eyes full of malicious intent and a sadistic grin that turned Annetia’s stomach to see. When Annetia heard the wet crack of the orc’s head as it struck the cement floor, she was forced to flee the hall to the kitchen, fearful that she would vomit. Gasping for air, feeling flush and on the brink of tears, Annetia gripped the edge of a kitchen sink with every ounce of her strength, desperate to centre herself and avoid fainting. Breathing heavily, she ran her hands under cold water and dabbed her forehead. It had only taken a moment, but now Annetia understood how dangerous it was for her to be here. What if, through no intent of her own, she offended the Warsong orc and was next? What about any of the other members of the Modas, the vast majority of whom were cheering and watching the bloodshed with undisguised excitement? What had Annetia agreed to by serving here?
A prim, soft tenor voice cut through the silence of the kitchen, giving Annetia a start. ‘I apologise for what you just witnessed. It was ... excessive and unnecessary.’ Annetia glanced up to see Fernand Argustus standing beside her, only his yellow, glowing eyes visible beneath a wide-brimmed hat and mask. Annetia felt a sudden flash of rage toward this man who brought her here. Before she was aware of her actions, the slim Sin’dorei woman was striking Fernand’s chest with balled fists, yelling at him incoherently. Unphased by her outburst, Fernand took her wrists gently in his clawed, skeletal hands and held her tightly. Annetia slumped against the undead man, crying, crying for the orc bleeding on the guild hall floor, crying for her missing father, and crying for herself. Annetia did not know how long this lasted, but eventually she stopped trembling so badly, and looked up into the empty, glowing eyes of the Apothecary. She noticed that Fernand’s cravat was damp and tousled from her tears. ‘I need to get out of here, Fernand. This place is ... this place is mad.’ Annetia shook her head, unable or unwilling to voice her opinions regarding the Modas. ‘Why would you bring me here!?’ She snapped, feeling that flash of anger for a second time.
‘I am terribly sorry, Mistress Dawnrose. I suppose that my concern for your wellbeing and that of your family prevented me from considering the potential dangers of your attendance here.’ Fernand spoke soothingly, releasing Annetia’s wrists and giving her a gentle pat on the shoulders. ‘Has there been any further word regarding your father?’
‘No.’ Annetia sniffled, wiping at her face.
‘Hmm, I see.’ Fernand replied ambiguously, giving a stiff nod. ‘That is most unfortunate.’
‘But you’ve got to get me out of here, Fernand! These people make me sick! ‘ She released a hollow sigh. ‘I’m scared, Fernand.’
‘I understand.’ The Apothecary gave another stiff nod. ‘Very well, I shall do whatever I can to get you back to Silvermoon safely. However, I must warn you that many within the Order take a dim view of those who leave. Aethelgyth in particular.’ Annetia shuddered. ‘But in the meantime, I must emphasise patience and control on your part. You must continue serving Thelinna as you were before, as if you never witnessed this barbaric behaviour today.’
Annetia shuddered again. ‘What if I upset one of them before you get me out?’ When she closed her eyes, she could still see the axe pommel bludgeoning the surprised orc’s face.
‘The only advice I can give you is that you must do everything in your power to please the Lady Thelinna. You must aspire to satisfy her every whim, and perhaps over time become a trusted confidant. Only then will the other members of the Modas leave you in peace, in fear of invoking Thelinna’s wrath.’
‘Okay. I think I understand.’ Annetia sighed, wiping at her face again. She looked deep into Fernand’s eyes, hoping to see some sort of sympathy or compassion there, but the undead man was inscrutable. She crossed the kitchen to a pantry, found a bottle of spiced fruit wine, and a glass suitable for Thelinna. ‘But please, Fernand, don’t take too long. I don’t know how long I can last in this place.’ When she turned back to the Apothecary, he was gone.
The orcess returned to cleaning her axes, the disobediant orc laying in a pool of its own blood, before being dragged off by the slaves. She had seen Thelinnas newest servant run from the room upon her outburst, that orc having questioned Aethels expertise with larger weapons. There was something weird with that servant, and she was going to find out what.
The skirt of Suni's heavier over-robe hissed along the floor of the airship's corridor. Behind her Lilienne trailed along, her voice high-pitched as she pleaded. She carried with her a handful of the encoded rune stones, holding them out to Suni as she trotted along.
“Please, Suni?” The girl begged.
Suni stopped and cursed herself silently for stopping. Turning in the hallway she glanced down at the child thinking to herself for the sixth or seventh time: Light, but she's grown ... And, Lilienne's brilliant jade-green eyes went to work on her soul. Bending down, Suni opened her gloved hand. “Oh, alright,” she said and had to raise the other in warning at Lilienne's glee as the girl spilled the dozen or more rune stones into her palm. “I'll do my best, but I make no promises, Lil.” She thumbed the girl's cheek fondly before standing up and securing the memory stones by placing them in a small, drawstring pouch.
“Just tell him, Suni,” Lili said as she slipped her hand into Suni's and escorted her down the remainder of the hallway. “I don't care. I've been studying hard. I want to be like him, and mama. Maybe someday I can … make everything better. So he won't be ashamed to see me.”
“Oh, Lil … it's not that.” Suni swept around and went to her knees, hugging the girl. “Don't EVER believe it's shame – at least not towards you. Everything is just so complicated, and it's gotten much worse after Theramore, and Jaina's too-emotional response.” She rubbed her arms and smiled into Lili's eyes with her own mismatched pair. “I'm quite sure he'll always be proud of you. No matter what. Now … have you seen your uncle Jonathan?”
Lili shook her head and Suni frowned, giving a small sigh. “Neither have I … and I'm beginning to worry. Again.” The two of them stepped through the doorway as the door swished open. At a table nearest the far wall, Timeus sat at a bench, in a high chair, his back to them. On his head he wore what Suni believed were goggles, though she couldn't be sure. Either way, he had comically huge bug eyes when he turned to regard both women. It gave Lilienne a reason to laugh, although Suni caught the severity of his look before he relaxed with recognition. He was up to something – yet again – and was none too pleased with the interruption.
Letting go of Lilienne's hand, Suni drifted across the floor, arms stretched out as she wrapped the gnome within them and gave him a hug. She kissed the top of his balding head fondly and stepped back, hands on his shoulders for emphasis. “Tim,” she said sharply and gave him a gentle shake. “You MUST stop working so hard. You've hardly been outside in weeks!”
Timeus shook his head as he rotated his chair back around to face the workbench. His hand waved dismissively at Suni, and she laughed at his stubborn rejection. “I can't just yet,” he said, which had been his standard reply for the past month. Behind the two of them, Lilienne found one of his many inventions to occupy her time and attention.
Suni turned and leaned her back against the high table, sifting curiously through his littered workspace. Timeus peered up at her over the rim of his goggles, asking gently, “Any sign of him yet?”
She squeezed her eyes shut, averting her gaze. “No, and Kordrion's convinced there never will be. Everyone says it's time to move on. Except Lynnie, but she's had to withdraw from crossing boundaries, too. They say I should be happy with … “ She trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought. Thankfully, Timeus was gracious enough to simply reach over and pat her on the hand without another word. She took a moment to collect herself, opening her eyes as she did.
“Has Jonathan been hiding around here?” She asked.
“Mmm not that I know. Last time I saw him was roughly a month ago? We started a game of chess.” Timeus motioned towards the game board and, as Suni looked, the only thing she could discern was that maybe a few pieces had shifted on the squares. She shouldn't have been surprised it was a game of squirrels versus worgen, either.
She shrugged, saying, “Well, that doesn't help much. Right, so I suppose I'll need to start looking a little deeper. It's not like him to leave – well, it is like him to leave without a trace – but it's just … rude.”
Timeus chuckled at her diatribe, quipping, “He is an adult, you know,” which made her wave a hand in irritation.
Edited by Suni on 3/5/2013 2:45 PM PST
“The whole lot of you wouldn't last a month if I didn't look after you!” She grinned, though and tapped the space just below her left ear. “Your banshee scream … thing is working, by the way. Low frequency resonance to keep the sha from attaching to my empathy. Genius.”
That got his attention.
Grabbing a light, Timeus used the edge of the desk to roll himself closer. “You don't say? Any adverse side effects emotionally otherwise? Let me look,” he commanded as he tipped her head to peer into her ear canal. “Mmmhmm. Yes. Nice. Bit of buildup, of course, but that's to be expected. Just keep the ear clean.”
She stood with a patient smile pressed to her lips, her good humor still intact as he prodded the ear canal one last time. After he seemed satisfied and set the scope down, she tipped her chin to look at him, asking, “Are you quite through?”
“Quite,” he agreed, and waved again. “Now run along, you're distracting me.”
Laughing, she reached up and squeezed his raised hand before parting. She offered Lilienne one last wave, her smile wide and perhaps a little proud as she watched the girl wave back absently, her attention wholly absorbed as she deconstructed Timeus's brand new invention.
She slipped back across the boundaries at night, under the protection of her carefully tailored disguise; Lynnie had done it, and now she had, too. She had found them: Bhayne, Lynnie, even her mentor, the archmagus Raoul. She had been frightened how they'd receive her, but she left that evening with her mind set to ease. Now … as long as Lex and Kordrion didn't lock her in a closet for disregarding their warnings about her safety … she had a plan.
She needed to know what had happened to Vith and Fernand Argustus was the last one to make contact with him before he left. It had been Lynnie's idea to simply ship the stones to Fernand via the AAMS. Suni had resisted the suggestion at first, balking at the idea of involving any one of them in her own dangerous scheme. She'd kept Kordrion and Lex informed (much to their dismay), and although Tiri still knew very little, Suni had confided in her heartbound-sister.
And, of course, Timeus had kept the family on the airship under his watchful eye. Suni had pressed on him the idea that Lillienne, as well as her aunt's family, would be much safer as long as they kept moving.
Suni hated scouring through Lillienne's messages to purge them of identifying passages. She obscured what she could without damaging the runes or the child's innocent detailing of life with Timeus and her family on the ship. There were flute lessons, alchemy and engineering, lectures on the principles of magic and even pastry baking. Pies. Suni flustered as she discovered a few dance lessons between her and Lilli, and on occasion, even Tirini. She was too cautious, however, and blurred the images of the two women, adding a soft, Jaina voice-over apologizing for the intrusion.
Along with one of her own, Suni tucked Lilienne's memory stones into a small silk bag with drawstring ties. Carefully dislodging the miniature hammered-bronze sparrow from her bracelet, she pinned the knot of strings in place. With any luck, Fernand would find himself in the company of an enchanted pet for a day or two. On the bag, she'd embroidered a golden sparrow soaring between two crossed blades in fine black thread – reavers, to be exact – in the hope that Fernand would recognize the symbolism. And beneath all of these, she'd embroidered in brilliant oranges, reds, and golds a phoenix alight with fire and about to consume all three of the symbols, to offer hope and life renewed.
She'd given the phoenix green eyes.
With a quiet sigh, Suni doused the entire bag with a mana potion, saturating it with power as a final precaution and effectively removing the traces of her own arcane signature. Not that anyone would give much notice to a self-taught, wretched magus of a girl with barely enough control to keep from setting half her town afire in the effort to warm a pot of tea. Never the less, she wasn't taking more risk than necessary.
She freeze-dried it between her hands and then held it out to the courier. The long blades of her ears twitched as she blinked wide almond eyes. Even disguised, she couldn't completely eradicate those mismatched irises, but the telltale glow of blood elf taint lent itself to hiding the blemish.
She was terse as she spoke, “Mr. Fernand Argustus is expecting this shipment of dormant stones for his work. See to it he gets them post-haste as they will expire and be nothing more than fel-touched useless to him.” She offered the courier a coin bag containing twenty-five gold pieces as a tip, hoping to inspire said haste. As the courier bowed and trotted away, she leaned against the wall, her hand pressed to her chest as she closed her eyes. She should have felt relieved, but instead, all she could feel was grim anticipation for what might transpire next.
Edited by Suni on 3/5/2013 2:46 PM PST
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