The fourth and final installment of my series. Please excuse mistakes.
I’m learning, okay?
This one took me the longest time by far.. I actually didn’t think it was going to go anywhere after part 2. XD
Copyright: Blizzard Entertainment. I don’t own the game nor am I making a profit. :3
Time had come and gone. Three years, in fact, though Kara didn’t seem to notice the time pass. She overlooked the complete transformation of her body; any remaining fat on her arms became muscle, her legs grew toned, her belly void of the “pudge” she had while working at the Faire. Even her face grew hardened and her hands seemed permanently dirty with blood and grime.
Her leather armor became chain mail and her wooden bow was recrafted into metal by masters in Darnassus. She and Avalon together grew much more powerful.
She’d abandoned Lakeshire completely (though kept in touch with Thell) and moved to the gloomy forests of Darkshire, then to the tropical lands of Stranglethorn, where she mastered the art of camouflage and stealth. With her fox she fought through dungeons, through wave upon wave of Horde, and practiced shooting on pirates and the undead. Kara conquered the Dark Portal and all of the nightmarish Outlands.
Yet she was only truly focused on one thing. Finding Jarred. This was what it was all about, wasn’t it? Him? Every new land and every person she’d talked to said the same thing. “He sounds familiar, but I haven’t seen him.” One clue she’d gotten was that he’d ventured to Northrend. And that was the only place she was hoping she wouldn’t have to go.
Northrend was the northernmost continent of Azeroth. The Eastern Kingdoms were of course, to the East. Kalimdor was west.
Kara had only heard stories of Northrend. It was immense. And it could freeze your fingers off in a manner of minutes. And now the hunter would have to venture there, of all places.
“Leave it to Jarred to find his way there,” Kara muttered under her breath. She leaned forward on her gryphon mount, straining over the dark feathers to see the boat. It would be arriving that day, the dockmaster had said.
The air smelled of the ocean and the afternoon sky was blue. It was lovely on the edge of the Stormwind docks. Kara felt rising dread.
She expected to hear a low growl from Avalon, yet there was none. She was safely with a stable master, at least until Kara arrived at her destination. Neither of them liked being apart. Kara sighed and settled back on the saddle, having a hard time not fidgeting.
Half an hour passed before she saw the enormous boat pull into the harbor. The crew quickly left the ship, to be replaced with the fresh new crewmen. All of them were dressed much more warmly than Kara, to her dismay.
She was the only passenger to board. After she’d settled down on the huge ship, she led her mount to the top of the deck.
“Nice fancy gryphon there,” remarked one of the men – an older man.
Kara analyzed for sarcasm, but didn’t pick up any. “Her name is Carmen,” she replied. A brief smile crossed the man’s face and he turned back to securing ropes. Kara sighed again (she felt like she’d been doing that a lot lately) and went to the front of the ship. The sails were flexing powerfully against the wind and the ship cut through the water like paper.
“Okay men, let’s make this trip a good one!” the voice of the Captain shouted out from somewhere behind her. Sailors whooped. “We’re going to Northrend, boys!”
There was a chill deep in her bones that Kara wished she could have prevented. Perhaps warmer armor, or thicker blankets. She didn’t even dare to venture outside as the ship made its way to Valliance Keep, which was the Alliance’s stronghold.
Instead she stayed by the candles, shivering, while the ship creaked from the bitter wind and ice. As the ship gradually slowed, she counted down from 100. Finally, she was called.
“All passengers! Out! We’re at the Keep. All crew members not helping secure the ship, please meet Captain Lewis in the keep..” his voice was carried away in the wind and Kara didn’t bother to try to listen for it.
She braved herself for the cold she knew was coming and stepped outside. Kara must’ve looked like a peasant, wrapped in a thin blanket with her untidy hair flying about. She faced the dock, and then the mighty wood and stone fortifications of the Keep. She climbed atop Carmen, who didn’t look particularly cold. The gryphon took flight, but the wind’s resistance was immediate. Her wings tilted and she had to swerve to the ground, landing with difficulty. It was obvious that she wouldn’t be able to fly here.
“Damn it. Now what am I supposed to do?” Kara fumed, dismounting. No way would she try to travel on horse. She couldn’t torment her poor mare like that. For the same reason, she wouldn’t take Avalon from the stable master yet. It was getting dark and the poor fox shouldn’t be called out during a miserable night. Kara began to move when something startled her.
“You could get trained by the flight master there,” said a familiar voice, sounding particularly helpful. Kara whirled around to see a dark purple feline staring thoughtfully at her. It was settled comfortably on a hanging net above the docks.
“Thell!” she exclaimed. “Why are you here? I thought you said you were going to be in Darnassus!”
The Druid shifted out of his animal form, dropping from the net and landing smoothly next to her. He looked unaffected by the cold. “Well, I was. It was horribly boring, and they wouldn’t even let me teach swimming lessons in the Moon Pools.”
Kara grinned widely and embraced her friend tightly. That was Thell, all right. “Okay. Well, how’d you know I was coming to Northrend?”
The night elf shrugged. His bright green hair fell over his shoulders as he did so. “Word gets around. Besides, everyone knows who you are.”
She raised her brow. “Everyone? What do you mean?”
Thell rolled his eyes as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Kara, you’ve gone to literally every place in all of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. Everyone who you’ve helped knows who you are. And I only had to ask a couple of people before I got my answer.”
“You stalker!” Kara cried and Thell laughed. She smiled too, but in her mind, she was thinking about Thell’s words. So everyone knew her as that nutjob looking for that presumed-deceased-paladin-guy. Great.
After she’d stabled Carmen, they hightailed to the nearest inn for a drink. Kara looked over what the kitchen had to offer and made a face.
“Is that all they have? Whale grease and.. and..”
“This isn’t the place for nobles and perfume trading like Stormwind. We survive off what we can,” replied the cook gruffly in a thick accent. The Draenei man had a worn leather apron on, dotted with burns and stains. His arms were scarred and muscled and Kara assumed he’d done his fair time of fighting. She lowered her gaze and he moved on.
“I recommend the tea,” Thell said softly. Kara smiled. They talked of when they met and what they’d done since then. It had been so long since Kara had last seen him.
Eventually, when the other patrons left, and the sun dropped from the sky, their conversation turned to Jarred. It always did.
“They told me he was here,” said Kara. “It’s the only reason I came.”
“Everyone ends up here, eventually. The only people who can pass through Outlands, anyway. This place is remarkable in how many adventurers it receives. Though .. not everyone leaves alive.” Thell steepled his fingers and leaned forward on the wooden table. The candlelight illuminated his features and he looked dramatic as he spoke.
“What do you mean?” Kara’s voice was hushed.
“Well.. it’s dangerous! There’s dragons everywhere,
Vrykul, it’s colder than you could imagine, and the Lich King’s damage is still everywhere. Half the continent is undead plague-ridden walking corpses. Have I mentioned the cold?”
Kara remembered stories of the Lich King told to her only a year ago. He was the insane “king” of Northrend, essentially, and controlled an army of undead. Both the Alliance and the Horde fought against him, though much was left to reclaim. He was eventually overthrown.. but there was irreversible damage.
“Is the whole continent like this? Cold and snowy?”
Thell shook his head, his long Night Elf ears moving too. “This area is the Borean Tundra. It’s one of the coldest places. There’s also .. uh.. Dragonblight. It’s like a dragon graveyard, I swear. Alexstrasza the Life Binder is there in Wyrmrest Temple..”
Thell seemed to drool a bit. Kara narrowed her eyes.
“Ah, sorry! There’s Gundrak. That’s where the voodoo troll zombies are. And Stormpeaks. The Icecrown Citadel is where the Lich King used to be. Those are some of the cold places I remember.. Grizzly Hills is a foresty area, and Sholozar Basin..” he chuckled. “Well, that’s a nice place to go to if you’ve frozen up. Mind the mosquitoes!”
Kara nodded, trying to soak in the information. Thell was reliable, as he’d been all over the place, and probably knew more people than she did. Thell was the kind of person who got along with anything. He was a self-described connoisseur of information. He knew everything. “Thank you for the help. I think I’ll really need it,” she admitted.
Thell smiled. “I can .. help, if you want. I know my way around and the Tundra is not a good place to be in alone.”
“I won’t be alone. I’ll have Avalon,” Kara said defensively.
The night elf leaned back, sipping his cooled tea. “Yes, but she’s not with you now. The things you neglect to acknowledge are the things that get you killed. Luckily, we’re among friends, not in the middle of a battlefield where you’re the last one standing.”
It wasn’t the fact that he was right that made Kara silent. It was the fact that his words brought up the thought of Jarred.
Kara woke up in the middle of the night and cursed. Her fingers were clenched tightly against her hand, trying to retain whatever warmth they had. She squeezed them together, wincing at the sharp pain. It felt like hell had frozen over.
She slipped out of her blankets (regretfully) to start the fire again. She put more wood in and quickly got the flame going, immediately sighing with the rush of warmth. The hunter sat by the fireplace, gazing into the embers.
Minutes passed by and she felt like she could doze off again, but she stopped herself. Kara felt.. lonely. She wanted Avalon, or Thell, or even just someone to talk to. No. She wanted the one she loved.
She made up her mind and got up, draped herself in the blanket, and abandoned her fire completely. She walked quietly to Thell’s room in the inn, shivering in the cold and darkness of the sleeping building.
His door opened silently. Kara moved to his bed, with her blanket still on, and lay by the side of the bed that was empty. She fell asleep beside him.
Thell opened his eyes a little when he thought she had slipped into dreams. He had heard her open his door when he was in thought, but remained silent, expecting her to say something. Instead, she lay down beside him and just.. fell asleep. The elf thought this was odd, but didn’t dare wake her up.
He could ask later. Finally, he closed his eyes and joined her in sleep.
Kara awoke to a warm tongue in her face. She squirmed away, falling off the side of the bed as she did so. Her instinct kicked in and she rolled and got to her feet, reaching for an arrow that wasn’t there. Then her eyes opened.
“Whoa, calm down Kara! It’s just us,” Thell said, reaching out for her hesitantly. Avalon had bounced onto the bed, the fox’s pink tongue lolling cheerfully.
“Gods, you scared me!” Kara said accusingly, but started to laugh anyway. She kicked away the blanket tangled around her ankles and embraced Thell tightly.
“I hope you don’t mind that I picked up Avalon. She missed you dearly.”
Kara shook her head, wiping away the fox’s saliva on her cheek.
“Are you hungry? We could get breakfast and then begin your work here..” he began. She nodded, suddenly feeling the cold bite of the air and remembered where she was.
“I’m cold, too. Let me go back to my room and change.” She quickly left his room. Avalon bounded after her, and Thell was left alone. He wondered whether or not he should bring up the fact that Kara had delibrately gone to his room that night. Then decided not to.
He could wonder about it, but if he asked, she might not come back again.
“Are you sure I have to do this?” Kara asked, sounding somewhat frustrated. Outside, beside the inn, was a training session. Volunteers, soldiers and teachers alike were in orderly rows in the courtyard. Dummies bearing a torn, scarlet red Horde flag stood beyond them, with an arsenal of gleaming swords, axes and crossbows.
Thell nodded. “It is dull work for you, I know. But they won’t even consider you unless you pass the final test.”
“Do I have to do the work in-between?”
“It would help.”
Kara let out a silent sigh, observing the obedient men and women in front of her. They were going through drills. “I believe you speak to the Commander,” Thell suggested, pointing to the man in the front of the trainees. He was obviously from Stormwind, with his gold and blue armor.
With a determined stride, she moved across the dark dirt with Avalon just behind her. Thell stayed behind to watch. The sky reminded her of the Faire; the threat of rain hanging over your head. The only difference was the bitter cold. After the drills had ended, Kara approached him.
“Commander,” Kara began, remembering her manners. “I wish to take the test to begin fighting outside the hold.” The lingering people in line had their eyes on her, some incredulous, others amused.
The Commander was no more muscular than any other human man. In fact, she wouldn’t have noticed a difference between him and a typical warrior. He did have a large scar running down his face, however, that she tried to avoid staring at. He looked her over and let out a bark of laughter.
“You? You look like a scrawny runt from Elwynn. Get out of here, you wouldn’t last a day.”
Kara held her tongue, glowering at the man. Avalon brushed by her side, sensing her sudden shift of mood.
“I disagree. Give me a chance, sir.”
He narrowed his eyes, and seemed to decide that for his own amusement, he would let her try. “Can you hold a weapon?”
“Yes,” she replied.
He nodded to the rack of weapons by a stack of wood for fortifications. “Fetch the broadsword.”
Kara couldn’t fight with, much less hold, a broadsword. The Commander knew that. She returned, her arms quivering from the sheer weight of the weapon. She struggled to hold it up properly.
“Basic training involves wooden swords, but apparently since you think you’re better than these people here, we’ll start with this.”
Avalon bared her teeth.
“Sir, I won’t be able to fight with a broadsword. I’m a hunter.” The fox by her side growled louder, as if to testament to that. The commander’s grim face broke into an equally dark smile.
“Oh, are you really? That’s just too bad. Fetch a smaller sword then, if that’s not too hard for your poor little hunter frame.”
Kara let the broadsword fall with a clang and retrieved a much shorter, thinner, sharper sword and its sheath, alongside her Darkmoon dagger. She placed her bow and quiver on her back. The weight was certainly heavy, but she felt that she needed it.
She returned to the Commander, where the audience of trainees had grown. “Have you figured out what the test is yet?”
Her head dipped in a barely-comprehensible nod.
“Still want to take it?”
Again, the nod. The audience laughed and jeered at her. She remained straight-faced. She’d faced worse than this. What was one commander to thousands of ogres, spell-casters, giant spiders, undead ghouls and dire wolves? Yet, when he drew his sword and shield, a magnificent blade that reminded her of a lion’s fang, she felt this resolve crumble.
She glanced to her left to see if Thell was there. He was on the roof, watching her. Kara swallowed visibly.
“We will begin when you are ready.”
She whistled at Avalon to sit this fight out, but the Commander stopped her. “No, let the animal fight with you. She is your little pet, isn’t she, hunter?” The fox was in no mood to leave anyways. Her head was down, her golden eyes alight with a raging fire. Avalon would fight.
Kara drew her sword first, but barely had time to think about her plan of attack before the Commander leaped forward, his shield blocking any move she could possibly make. She ducked away, then lifted her sword to try and attack, but the Commander was already there. She blocked his first blow, then stepped back. He attacked again, and Kara nearly stumbled.
There was a flash of dark fur and Avalon lunged, her teeth digging into the man’s sword hand. Her fangs cut through the leather and blood blossomed around the material. It didn’t affect the Commander at all. He merely struck her with his shield once, and she slid to the weapons rack, unmoving.
“What’s your name, little hunter?” The Commander asked, sounding only slightly breathless. Kara deflected another of his blows. When she didn’t respond, he lifted his sword and ran it past her face, bringing a thin line of blood up from her cheek. She winced from the pain, though her eyes burned when she replied.
“Kara Hicks.” Ignoring the blood, she stepped forward and drove the sword past his shield, but he dodged, his body moving in a way she wouldn’t have thought possible with the armor. Twice he threw her to the ground, and stood back to let her crawl to her feet again while the trainees shrieked for her to give up.
She parried and blocked most of the attacks he threw at her, though the result was taxing. She didn’t fight with swords and wasn’t trained like a warrior. Some of his blows slipped through her defense and she had gained a gash on her arm and a certain bruise on her shin where he’d kicked her.
Kara was terrified, yet filled with the desire to win. It was cold, but she didn’t care. The crowd was going wild, but she didn’t care. She was in pain, but she did not care. She had to beat the Commander.
With a flick of the Commander’s sword, the flesh of her hand was sliced open. She cried out in pain and thrusted forward with the sword, though it was too weak and he knocked the weapon from her hand. Kara stumbled away, catching herself on her hands before she fell.
“END IT!” yelled one of the onlookers. The Commander smiled at her again. He raised his sword and expected her to get to her knees, the universal sign of defeat.
Instead, Kara spat the blood in her mouth to the ground. Summoning strength from somewhere she didn’t know she had, Kara leaped backwards, disengaging, and smoothly drawing her bow from her back as she landed.
The Commander looked to her and it took a second to figure out what she was doing. In realization, he began to charge, but she’d already notched an arrow. She let it fly, but it caught in his shield.
He was just in front of her now. She was much smaller than he was, and so she slid under him, to the wild cheers of the audience. The second arrow was in place. She had a time window of one second before he whipped around and the shot would be lost.
She was crouching just behind him, in a position to shoot and then spring away. She released.The arrow flew right where she’d planned, in the little divot of his boot and leg armor, where it was weakest. The tip of the arrow pierced the armor just below the bone of his ankle. The Commander yelled out a curse, ripped away the arrow, and began to charge again. He fell short a foot away from her. This time, Kara smiled.
She hopped back as the man got to his feet and swayed. She pressed in with attacks, letting loose another arrow that bounced off his shoulderpad. The force caused him to hesitate with a grunt. He advanced slowly, her backing away, while she fired off three, four, five more arrows. Each one he blocked or dodged with his sword or his armor. Kara grew worried, and finally, the archer’s worst fear had been confirmed.
She was out of arrows.
As Kara dropped her bow and shook her quiver off her back, she eyed where her sword had dropped. If she could get past him again, she could grab it.. she dashed forward to the Commander’s left. She suddenly felt the world shift under her and her face was re-introduced to the dirt.
The Commander turned her over with a boot, planted it on her stomach, and laid his sword by her throat. There was complete silence. Kara’s eyes were wide as she panted, her chest heaving. The Commander gazed down at her, breathing equally hard, though there was victorious shine in his eyes.
“See, class.. this is what happens when little Stormwind girls think they’re better than-” the Commander’s crowing was cut off when Avalon appeared from nowhere, her white fur stained red, and sunk her teeth deep into the same wound she inflicted on him before. With a wrench of her jaw, his sword twisted upward and away from Kara, then dropped to the ground beside her. Avalon jumped away.
Utilizing the time her fox had given her, the hunter kicked his sword away and threw herself forward, knocking the Commander back on his knees while she crouched in front of him. She took a fistful of his hair and jerked his head back. There was the click of a blade being removed from its sheath, and then there was a bright, gleaming dagger at his throat. Twin snakes curled around the handle. Kara wielded her Darkmoon dagger, her eyes blazing as she gazed into the face of the Commander.
He raised his hands in defeat and she backed away, letting his head fall forward. She resheathed her dagger, ignored the awestruck trainees, and looked straight to the roof where Thell sat, smiling.
Thell was, to sum it up, amazed. The fight he’d just witnessed was hard-fought and well-won, and was only about two minutes long. There stood Kara, bloody and exhausted, her raven-black hair flying in the wind, looking fierce and beautiful. And she had her attention on him.
The Commander, behind her, climbed slowly to his feet and disappeared behind the corner of the inn. The people he’d been teaching dispersed, talking as though nothing had happened. Ah, humans. Such a young race.
Thell transformed into a purple-feathered bird and soared down from his seat on the roof, down to where Kara stood. She was tending to Avalon and bandaging her own wounds.
“That was an impressive fight,” he said. “Remind me never to challenge you to a duel.”
“You’re more powerful than I, Thell. You’d probably claw me to pieces. Though I think one day we could duel,” she added thoughtfully. Thell shrugged.
“Do you need go rest? You did sustain injuries.”
She shook her head stubbornly. “No. I have bandages, see? Let’s go talk to the dwarf who’s supposed to be handing out quests.” Kara peered over Thell’s shoulder to where, sure enough, a dwarf was seated atop a ram, watching her expectantly.
She moved to go and speak to him. Meanwhile, Thell did another once-over of the ground that had been a battlefield only moments ago. There was blood, snapped arrows, and something else. The Commander’s shield.
Thell walked closer to it, inspecting the shield. The golden lion of Stormwind was imprinted on it, sure enough, with eyes of ruby and claws of iron. There was an arrow marring its features, however. The first arrow that Kara shot. Thell didn’t know how she managed to shoot it like that in the middle of a fight, without aiming for too long. But she did, and when he thought about it, it was a little amusing. The arrow was lodged into the metal right between the lion’s glittering eyes.
“I saw yer fightin’. Most impressive, young lady!”
Kara smiled and bowed, wincing a little as her back bent. “I’m honored to hear that. What quests do you have for me, sir?”
The dwarf (red-bearded and shockingly familiar to the dwarf that walked in on her and Jarred so long ago), pulled out a weathered scroll and looked it over. While he was silent, Kara smiled at his ram. Its dark fur was frosted and it gazed quietly back at her.
“Well, let’s see here… There’s been small waves of the Lich King’s old bugs attacking the Hold. We’ve lost about … ten men since last month. The biggest threat is those big ones. Like giant beetles. The next time one comes around, show me some more of your shootin’ skills, lass. Kill three of ’em!”
The dwarf stopped her. “Ye don’t need to begin now. Try tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir.” Kara bent her knees in a bow and walked with Thell back to the inn.
The meal that was served at supper was the tastiest she’d had yet at Valliance Keep. It certainly was above her usual standard of eating — the time spent in Hellfire Peninsula, she’d survived off of blood and dried strips of boar meat.
She ate beef (yes, real cow) stew and crusty flatbread, and Thell gave her his chunks of meat, eating only the vegetables. Avalon had taken a cow haunch and gone upstairs to eat.
“Tomorrow is the real thing.” She said. Thell nodded, looking at her while he popped a bit of bread into his mouth. The fire crackled merrily behind them, bringing back the feeling in Kara’s toes. Other patrons had come to the inn to hide from the cold, too, apparently. Suddenly, Thell spoke.
“Are you afraid?”
“I think anyone in their right mind would be.”
He laughed. That was certainly true. He, too, had felt fear when first fighting through Northrend.
“I can always help, you know. Not just looking for him, but .. the fighting too.”
She glanced at him and smiled before slicing up a bit of carrot with her spoon. “Thanks, Thell.”
There was a bit of silence before she spoke again. “When I was fighting the Commander today… I know you were watching. What were you thinking, honestly? Did you think I had a chance of winning?”
He swallowed a mouthful of stew and thought very carefully before responding. “Well, I was afraid for you. I saw you get hurt and I know the Commander isn’t one to go easy on newcomers.”
He glanced subtly over to the table in the corner, where said Commander was slumped over the wood, snoring with a bottle of sweet rum in hand.
“But I had every confidence that you would win. I knew how strong you were back in Lakeshire,” he said.
Kara smiled lightly, thinking of how he could possibly call her strong back then. More silence. However, behind them, someone called out loudly, “You remember that girl that beat the Commander today? I heard she has a room here!” Kara nonchalantly pulled up her hood. Thell smirked. “I only ever saw one other guy do that. Some paladin, or somethin’. Went to Icecrown, didn’ he, Joff?”
“Er.. yeah.. Icecrown.” Another guy piped in about Kara’s legs, resulting in a chorus of laughter from the group.
Kara hid her face (which was at this point bright red) and stood, pushing her bowl away.
“Thank you. Um, I’m about to fall over here. I’m going to go to bed. Good night, Thell.”
He waved good-bye as she trudged upstairs and disappeared behind the shadows of the hall. He had hoped that she still would be unaccustomed to the cold and join him once more, but thought against it.
And, apparently like some of the other things he’d guessed about Kara, he was wrong. She was already asleep on the other side of his bed.
The next afternoon, it was raining hard. Not the kind of rain that fell in Darnassus and soaked the leaves underfoot, leaving dew that the rabbits went after. It was the kind of storm that rattled the windows with an angry wind, its rain pelting the ground, thrown by dark clouds. Kara’s armor was soaked (and so was Avalon) through by the time she tried to leave the inn for battle, but there was nothing to do but stay inside. One of the scouts even said that the Lich’s bugs had gone underground, so it seemed like she might as well rest. She didn’t need sleep of course, she’d sent the entire morning snoozing.
The Commander certainly was taking the time to rest: he was sitting by the inn’s roaring fire, nursing an obvious hangover. When Kara went downstairs he ignored her as she passed.
“Do you have still cornbread?” she asked the serving boy politely, holding out a handful of copper and silver.
“Yes, ma’am!” he replied. He disappeared back into the kitchen while she sat down and fed Avalon. When he brought out her late breakfast she noticed it was baked fresh and he’d drizzled honey over the slice.
Lovely. Just lovely. She began to eat, noticing that only a few tables were occupied. Her, and some Valliance Keep guards that had escaped the rain. Others had gone for sleep in the barracks, and the rest had been assigned guard duty. She sympathized with them.
Kara had taken a sip of water when a voice behind her startled her. “Good morning.”
“Argh, Thell, you need to stop scaring me!” she coughed, waving away the chuckles of the guards that had seen it. “And it’s afternoon anyway,” she mumbled.
A grinning night elf sat in the chair opposite her. Avalon had raised her head at the sudden movement, but sensing it was just Thell, she went to try and get attention from him. He stroked the fox’s head and regarded Kara warmly, inquired about her wounds, the general polite conversational stuff.
“I hope you aren’t going to try and go outside.”
“Already tried,” said Kara. “While you were asleep. No point in going out anyway.. it’s not like I could actually shoot out there.” The night elf nodded agreeably.
“I’m still not used to the weather,” she admitted.
“You will. And once you get some warmer armor.. well, it’ll be easy from then on.” He smiled a bit.
“When I do. I’m still stressed in Hellfire Peninsula rags, practically!”
He laughed. “Oh, haven’t adjusted to the cold yet? I can think of a way for you to warm up.”
She froze, then, even when Thell clearly expected a reaction. Those words, those same words had been said by Jarred on the beach that one night. She turned away, oblivious to Thell’s questioning of her silence.
She bolted up the stairs, her sore muscles slow to respond but responding nonetheless. Kara slammed shut the door to her room and sat on the side of her bed. It’d been years since she’d cried. But the tears came anyway, regardless of her shame. She was supposed to be a hardened warrior, not a sobbing little girl. The rain pounded overhead and effectively covered up her sniffles.
She wiped her arm over her eyes and saw as Thell slowly opened the door, letting in light from the lanterns outside.
“Did I say something? I was only joking, I didn’t mean to offend you..”
Her head shook, causing strands of dark hair to fall forward over her forehead. “I really miss him,” she said miserably. As usual, Thell didn’t need to ask about that. She didn’t say Jarred’s name too often, referring to the boy only as ‘him’. “Where’s Avalon?”
“Asleep by the fire downstairs.” Thell moved forward to sit next to her, sighing. The bed creaked as he sat. “You’ve fought so hard to get to him. When we do find him, I’m sure it will pay off, my dear.”
Kara nodded though her eyes were focused in a dark corner of the room. One of her small, pale hands touched his lightly and he gripped it in a comforting way. The tears stopped.
After a few minutes, she leaned against him, with her head on his shoulder. Thell smiled softly, leaning down to kiss her forehead.
“I ought to be off,” he began hesitantly. “There are people that await my counsel.” Before he could stand up to leave, Kara moved up to sit on his lap, looking into his eyes in a defiant sort of way. “Kara?” Thell questioned, confused. “I–“
She silenced him with a long kiss. When they broke apart, Thell looked shocked and still deeply confused. “Don’t you..um..” He was lost. Then he spoke. “Are you sure about this?” Kara took a deep breath, removed the lingering thoughts of Jarred momentarily, and then opened her eyes. She had to be stronger than this.
Kara’s face hinted the slightest frown, then straightened out. “I need this.” She gently grasped the back of his head, drawing him closer. He looked at her face for a long time before leaning in himself. Their lips met. His hands tentatively moved to her shoulders, fingers moving about as if they didn’t know what to do.
And that was the exact negative of the Thell she knew.
She was still in his lap, and even through the folds of the clothing they wore she could tell there was a hardness stirring. Kara sank down to the floor, eyes on him the entire time. He watched with lingering restraint, but it was clear that his own arousal wasn’t about to let him walk off from this.
“We are wearing far too many clothes,” she observed.
In seconds, she had his (and her own) clothing strewn about the room. Thell’s now quite obvious erect member strained against his stomach, which Kara took into her mouth eagerly. Her cheeks hollowed, tongue moving furiously. She appeared to have had pretty good practice; Thell’s head went back, his pupils blown.
He opened his mouth but no words were spoken. She grinned around his cock at the reaction, released the head with a pop.
She stood, leaning over him, the tips of her breasts over his chest as they both moved back over to the center of the bed. They kissed again, rougher than before.
Kara straddled Thell, loving the way he looked so awkward and exhilarated at the same time.
His hands brushed delicately against the skin of her hips. He was obviously still trying to remain dominant in the situation, but with Kara on her knees high above him, it was a tad bit difficult.
She lined his prick up with herself, and with the ease of (apparent) practice, slowly sunk down onto him. They both took a breath, Kara adjusting to being so .. filled. Then she began to shift; rising high then lowering down again. Thell was murmuring incoherently.
Kara picked up speed, moving quickly, trying to get him deeper. His hips began to buck back at hers. She leaned forward, enveloping him in a kiss, surprised when he eagerly began to probe his tongue to hers. Their hips ground together before she roughly went at it again. Thell’s face, ordinarily straight with concentration, was a mask of arousal. When he noticed she’d slowed for a moment, he took her in a firm grip and began to thrust into her himself.
She was close then, so close, and finally she came, crying out, Thell grunted. “Gods, Kara…”
Kara came to the realization that he hadn’t come yet. She moved swiftly, got up, then lay down beside him. She used her own juices as lubricant and took him into her hands, taking the head of his cock into her mouth, tasting herself, until he released as well.
“Thank you, Thell.” She said as an afterthought as they cleaned themselves with cloth and a water basin. She still felt the sweat on her face cooling, and the smell of Thell and sex was still on her too. The elf beside her chuckled.
“You’re thanking me for that? You needed it, might as well give it to you.”
She rinsed the cloth, the tiniest of smiles on her face as she observed the reflection of the moon in the water.
Suddenly was a faint whimper and a paw scratching the door. Kara turned her head.
“Go let your perverted fox in.”
Kara complied, laughing. “Perverted?”
Thell nodded. “She was outside the whole time. I could see her shadow against the door.”
“Like animals can be perverted. She’s a fox, Thell.” Kara opened the door and Avalon rushed inside, licked her hunter’s hands fervently, then darted to the bed and lay down. She’d taken Thell’s spot and stared at him when he tried to get near.
Thell was convinced she was jealous at the lack of attention.
“Kara Hicks!” The voice jolted the two (or three) awake. It was late night. A man was in their doorway, water dripping down his clothes and forming puddles on the floor. He held a lantern, and apparently had just been braving the storm outside. “The Commander needs you right now! Excuse us, Arathellin…”
Kara bade Thell goodbye, quickly gathered her weapons and followed the man outside where they quickly darted to the main keep. It wasn’t raining despite the man’s soaked clothes, but it was cold and cloudy. Men were beginning to get into formations and it made Kara wonder why. The Commander still had his hangover and was cranky, sitting atop his white stallion, barking orders.
“I brought the hunter,” the man reported. The Commander didn’t even spare her a look.
“Tell her to mount on her gryphon and join the others. And be quick about it!” He wheeled his horse around and galloped to where guards were already marching out of the keep. Flying would mean Avalon couldn’t come. She stayed with Thell. Luckily, Kara had trained to fly in Northrend before then. Well, it was more of a crash course, in case of emergencies. But it was better than nothing.
Kara ran to the stables, where thoroughly frightened horses were being saddled. They whinnied and reared as Kara slipped past, to the very last stall. Carmen’s eyes were wide and she drew back when Kara tried to slip the saddle on.
“Work with me here, girl! This is important!” As though the animal could sense Kara’s attempts to calm her, she settled, but still seemed uncomfortable. Soon the gryphon was charging out of the stable, tossing up hay and dirt from her talons and paws. There was a line of other mounted archers that Kara joined, tugging on the reins to tell Carmen to line up. If the animals were nervous, their riders were distraught.
“What’s happening?” she called out to the archer next to her.
“The undead are attacking, I don’t know much else,” replied her muted voice. Another burst of wind caused Carmen’s feathers to tremble.
How were they to fly in this weather?
“Archers, on three! Do not leave formation! Fall back if you must, but do not let yourself be captured!”
That was all the information Kara received. In three seconds, as promised, twenty archers and their mounts launched into the harsh air and into utter chaos.
“Left! Go left!” Came a frantic voice. Kara jerked the reins. Carmen screeched, veered left, and then Kara was able to see. Below them, on the beach that the Keep was built on, were their targets. Hundreds of staggering, growling undead. Some where simple skeletons, others huge deformed chunks of flesh. All of them were swarming around the Valliance soldiers and infantry that were sent out to fight them.
Kara now understood why the archers had to be mounted. Luckily enough for her, Kara had plenty of practice shooting while flying. The problem was that Carmen was unlike her normal self.
“SHOOT!” Came a command. Kara notched an arrow and let it fly. It landed in the eye of a large hobbling undead with an audible squish.
“Hit ’em right between the eyes,” she whispered to herself. Carmen banked, turning with the other gryphons for a second round. Many undead and men alike had fallen, but there was more to kill. She felled ten more. One collapsed, crushing more under it. Though she was deadly focused, she managed a smile at the good kill.
She watched as men beneath her died, and focused on killing the undead that took them down. Bodies splashed into the water. Snow turned red. She was lucky that she got to be in the air.
Her eyes turned to the hills where the undead had been climbing over only moments ago. Their reinforcements were spent now. But there was a figure there, in blue armor. He was Valliance, and he appeared to be injured. There was a corpse limping after him, teeth gnashing. The man might die if she didn’t do anything.. she hesitated before breaking the formation, well aware that she was breaking rules as well. Carmen swooped down from the sky, and Kara knew when the man looked up at her, they must have looked like dark angels, with Carmen’s enormous black wings and Kara’s wild hair.
“Grab my hand!” she shouted, leaning down. Carmen was uneasy around the undead, but followed her rider’s command. The man took Kara’s hand and with some struggle she lifted him from earth. With a vocal command, the gryphon lurched from the air and rushed back to the keep, accommodating the weight easily. The screams and shouts and clangs of metal faded away as they flew.
They landed in the courtyard of the Keep. Medics rushed to the man and took him off. Kara returned to the fight, but there was not much left for her to do. Any remaining undead sank into the bloody ground, back to whatever hell they lived in.
Many were dead. Some were faces Kara recognized. The two twin medics had been killed over their patients, the stablemaster’s boy, and the polite guard she’d spoken with on the inn. Other bodies were torn to unrecognizable states, and Kara did not want to look at them.
She dismounted from Carmen, wincing from the stench of death. A very large, sweaty and blood-covered animal ran at her, its chest heaving from exertion. Atop it was the Commander.
“What the bloody hell did you think you were doing?” he shouted. She cringed, then frowned.
“What are you talking about?”
“You left the formation! You were told to bloody STAY!”
She began to protest, but the man spoke over her.
“Disobeying orders, Hicks. You CANNOT leave formation! Do you fucking understand?”
Kara’s face turned to a scowl. “I saved a life, sir. It was for a good reason.”
The Commander’s face was covered in ichor and black blood, and as he glared at her, a chill went up her spine.
“Get to your quarters. Go there and stay. Don’t even think of leaving.”
She mounted Carmen and tried to be gentle as she steered her gryphon back to the stables. Her hands trembled in her fury. When she got to her room in the inn, she was alone besides Avalon. She stroked her fox’s ears as she lay against the pillow, not even bothering to clean herself up.
“I don’t understand,” she said softly. “Why he hates me so much.” Avalon turned to look up at her with golden eyes, then lay back against her stomach to sleep. It was only noon, but Kara felt like she could sleep as well…
She’d just drifted off when her door was once again slammed open. She started, expecting to see the Commander or some servant he would send. It was Thell.
“What did you do?!” He demanded, but in a concerned way.
“I fought. I saved a man’s life, and now I’m being punished for it,” she said fiercely.
“The Commander is pissed. Not just at you .. but .. a lot of people died today. I think he’s just penting out his emotion on you,” Thell speculated.
The elf was slightly taken aback by the tone of her voice.
“He feels like he has to compete with newcomers that are talented? I don’t know!”
“Helpful,” she muttered. “What’ll happen to me?”
Thell shrugged. “Just forget about it. Forget about him.”
“How am I supposed to forget about him?” She said irritably.
“It should be a little easier after today..” he trailed off. Her eyes met his and he instantly shrank from her gaze.
“What do you mean?”
He responded with a soft murmur. She stood and Avalon fell back to the bed. “Tell me.”
He sighed exasperatedly.
“They’re moving you to the group going to Dragonblight. They’re.. Basically kicking you out of the Keep.”
Her heart sank. “For leaving the formation? That’s stupid! How can they–” She stopped herself and turned away.
“I don’t know either. The Commander–“
Kara shook her head and spoke vehemently. “I don’t want to hear it. Please go, Thell.”
Kara didn’t want to go to Dragonblight.. at all. Why should she? There was nothing there but snow and dragon skulls, certainly not the paladin she was searching for.
Days passed. Kara was relocated to the barracks, not allowed to leave the Keep like they expected her to. She didn’t even have the option of leaving now; Dragonblight was a punishment. She had to wait inside the barracks until the group was ready to go. That would be in a week. In the meantime, Kara got hold of a quill and paper and began work.
To all it may concern–
I refuse to travel to Dragonblight as a punishment for saving a man’s life. I am not remaining in Valliance Keep any longer, however. Avalon and I will be heading to another part of Northrend, and I am withholding exactly where. Thell, please do not follow me. Wait until you find out I am either dead, or I write to you. If this letter reaches anyone at the Faire, I’m sorry for my absence. My journey has taken me to many places and I have been too busy to visit. If I should not return, mark my grave by the animals, please.
She dipped the quill into ink and with a final flourish, wrote her signature smoothly and tossed the paper to the bed.
Kara packed quickly, brought food, and then snuck outside into the biting cold. She had memorized the guard paths, timing it exactly when she was out of eyesight. Avalon had to be restrained by the stable master, but Kara knew she could still summon her.
Carmen was where she’d left her, in the last stall, though she’d been fed and groomed. Kara’s eyes welled up as she thought of the stablemaster’s kid but refused herself any time to mourn him properly.
As soon as Carmen was saddled, she mounted the gryphon, fled from the back of the stables and took flight from there. Carmen’s wings beat against the air powerfully as she climbed higher, brushing against low-hanging clouds. The view of the Keep was impressive, although it seemed Kara had grown a hatred for the place.
They dodged the flying patrols, gaining no attention. They were dark against a dark sky. This would be easy.
Kara tightened her grip on the reins, wishing she’d brought warmer clothes, but it was too late. Carmen soared over snow-blanketed land and dead earth, moving swiftly across the Tundra.
It would take a couple days for Kara to reach her destination. She was ready for it, whatever may face her there. And yet she couldn’t assure herself it would be okay. After all, Icecrown was no man’s land.
“Damn,” Kara whispered to herself, jerking forward as Carmen shot into a vertical climb. There were dragons everywhere in Icecrown — what the hell? They weren’t even alive.. not remotely fleshy either. They were bone, but still had some of the gristly bits, held together from some foul nercromatic magic.
They seemed to be guarding the air, so Carmen was trying desperately to guide her way through this minefield. She settled back and Kara rubbed her bright red fingers, feeling the snow settling on her shoulders. She had a hood, but it was useless. The stuff melted right through. It felt like a blizzard — even though she’d heard from the villages outside that this was tame weather.
“Come on, girl. We’ve just got to get to some little trading place and we’ll get more supplies,” she cooed. They slipped through Sindragosa’s Fall; an enormous cracked, icy rupture in the ground where the stories told that the undead dragon rose from its depths, summoned by the Lich King himself. But stories were stories, right? Kara had a hard time thinking that way, looking at the gape in the ice that remained.
She looked away, running through her plans in her mind once more. She and Carmen would have to brave a little more of the weather to get to the tiny trading village huddled by a mountain. There weren’t a whole lot of people there, but they had no other choice. Kara didn’t want to get involved with those Argent Tournament people above the mountain.
They landed by the little village soon. The people welcomed her (word of her arrival had apparently been sent by the village she’d visited last) warmly. They allowed Carmen to stay in one of their most comfortable stables, so she didn’t need to worry about her.
Kara raised up her leather hood to help lessen the blow of the wind as she made her way across the snow-dusted road to the tavern. The only light was the blinding white reflection of ice and flickering lanterns.
Kara entered the wooden establishment quietly, sitting in the table nearest the door. The place quieted considerably, and she anxiously ran her palm down the rugged wood of the table. A night elf woman suddenly sat at the seat across from her, a pleasant smile across a face Kara wouldn’t expect smiles to normally be seen. She set down two steaming cups with a clink.
“Miss Hicks, I presume?”
Kara inclined her head, her expression matching the night elf’s. If was going to play this act, she decided she might as well play it well.
“And to whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
Maybe she was surprised that Kara hadn’t pulled an arrow on her yet. If she gave her reason to, maybe.
“Thea Crowly,” she said, recovering from the silence.
“Yes. Well. You’ve been expecting my arrival.” Kara’s fingers danced lightly over the rim of the mug. She nodded, taking a sip. Thea’s slightly glowing eyes never left Kara’s.
“We received a message from an anonymous sender. A great huntress would be arriving and we were to welcome her.” Thea’s pleasant face revealed nothing.
“And you assume it’s me?” Kara returned. Thea nodded.
“You carry a trademark bow, your Darkmoon dagger, and a black gryphon. It’s really not that difficult.”
Kara sighed, trying to come up with an interesting comeback. She looked down into the mug, swirled it’s contents, then relented to enticing smells of the mug in front of her and took a sip. It was delightfully spicy, and took the edge away from the cold.
Why would some anonymous person write a letter, here, she wondered. How could they possibly know where she was going? Her mind went to Thell, and yet she knew she had left no clues as to where she was going.
“Do you like the tea? It’s an interesting recipe, I learned it in Winterspring. The herbs grow there abundantly.” Thea was trying to make small talk now?
“Yes, it’s good,” Kara agreed. Thea’s bright eyes were boring into hers, so she looked back down at the cup and tried to focus on the letter.
She blinked, trying to think deeply into this, and make the connections she’d been taught to make. Yet she found that she seemed to be having trouble with that. Her eyes flitted back to Thea. The elf’s grin only seemed to grow wider upon seeing Kara so obviously struggling.
“Wh-what’s in the..” she tried to speak. Her senses were dulled, her eyelids felt heavy. So heavy. It’d be nice to let go and sink off into.. No. Not here. Not now.
Let go, urged some little voice in her mind. She stood up suddenly, the chair tumbling over behind her. The other patrons continued to talk, not paying attention to her. The world spun, lights flashing behind her eyes.
“Is the huntress dozing off from her long journey? Here, let me help.” Kara felt the lightest of touches around her shoulder, then she finally collapsed.
When Kara woke, she jolted. There was cloth tied over her eyes, she couldn’t see or hear anything.
She was upright, her arms tied up above her head.. her toes were just barely brushing the ground. An unwanted cry escaped her lips — her shoulders were unbelievably painful, and she struggled, taking a step forward then a step back as she tried to steady herself. Her armor and weapons had been removed, only her underclothes remained.
Kara growled, trying to wet her dry mouth.
“I find the sleeping draught quite useful, actually. Rogues use it sometimes in their assassinations so their targets aren’t as sharp. But those are light doses. You got the full treatment, miss Hicks..”
Kara remained still. The voice came from behind her. Thea. She turned her head to look, but a sudden stinging blow to her lower back caused her to jump forward, only to be dragged back by the ropes at her wrists.
“If you make one move that I don’t like, you will pay for it. Do you understand?”
At the lack of a response, another blow landed lower than before.
“Yes!” Kara cried out.
“Don’t try to summon any animals, either. I will kill them in front of you. Just don’t risk it.”
The elf let that sink in. Kara wished Avalon was there.
After a while, “I suppose you have questions?” Thea posed, and didn’t hit Kara again for no response. “My real name is Thea, no lies there. But I did lie about the message. There wasn’t one. I’m just.. as I would call it… an interested party.”
“What does that mean?” Kara asked hoarsely, her head hanging down. She jerked when she felt cloth slide down her skin, bringing goosebumps.
Thea ignored her. “Are you aware of how many factions want you dead, Miss Hicks?” Once again, the answer was forthcoming. “Thirty-four. That’s quite a lot, don’t you think?”
There was the sliding of material on stone. From the waist down, Kara was now naked. Anticipation rolled through her mind.. she was tempted to kick, fight, do something.. anything..
“And I’m right there in the middle. My blades are for hire, dear. I’ve been contacted by thirty of those thirty-four, all of which offering a higher price than the other for your head.” Her voice was a purr. Clearly she was enjoying this.
“Have you figured it out yet?”
“You’re an assassin. A rogue.” Kara couldn’t mask her voice. She spat the words out. Thea laughed, her elvish blood making the sound almost musical.
“Exactly right! Which puts me at a very, very interesting position, Miss Hicks.”
Kara heard boots on the ground stepping softly over to her head. The material around her eyes was removed, and she looked straight into the eyes of this devil. Thea’s pointed face was tilted slightly, as though she were considering the possibilities.
The elf had changed into tight leather, and Kara unconsciously averted her eyes.
Kara’s peripheral vision identified her surroundings. The room was hardly big enough for two people. They were somewhere underground, but it didn’t really matter right then. Now she was focused on Thea’s long, slender finger running down the side of her face.
“You’re so fascinating. I’ve never had such conflict.” The elf turned away, pacing slowly in front of her. “I’ll put the blindfold back on. Perhaps I could use that whip I love. I think for you it would take fifteen. Perhaps twenty, until you’re bright red and crying out for me,” she wondered aloud. Kara’s eyes widened in horror. “I’m guessing you’ve never been punished before? You used to being dominant?” Thea snickered.
“I could retie you, tease you until you’re close, begging me to let you come,” she continued.
No! Kara wanted to scream. I’m not like that! The hell is wrong with you?!
“You know what? We’ll start with the whip.”
The cloth was returned over Kara’s vision and soon she heard rummaging. She grew desperate.
“What do you want? Is this some sort of interrogation? I’ll answer your damn questions, just let .. me.. go!” Kara pulled angrily again at her restraints, nearly tripping over herself.
Silence. Then, “Well, I thought it’d be obvious to you. What do I want? You, Miss Hicks. Now shut up, or I’ll have to make you. And you won’t like that one bit.”
Out of nowhere, the whip Thea had been talking about swung through the air and smacked against Kara’s ass. The hunter refused to give this filthy rogue any satisfaction of hearing her cry out, so she shut her lips tight as the whip struck her twice, three times, four. Each strike brough a sharp burning sensation.
She counted ten when Thea stopped.
“Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.” Kara heard the elf walk around her, viewing her work. “Do you like that?”
“No.” Kara turned away when she felt a finger try to stroke her cheek.
“What a little bitch,” Thea remarked, though there was no anger in her voice. Instead, she sounded like she’d been issued some sort of challenge. A firm hand gripped Kara’s chin and brought it high, two fingers forcing their way into her mouth. She jerked away, raising a knee, kicking at Thea. She supposed by the angry snarl that she had succeeded.
Then there was a hand at her leg, tying a thick rope around her ankle. She struggled, testing for any weakness, finding none in her bonds. The other ankle was restrained. Then they were both pulled outward, as if into the walls, and she was forced to stand with her legs spread wide. Her screams turned to whimpers. Her muscles burned.
“Better. Shut up, Hicks. I’m trying very hard not to gag you.” Thea was behind her again. Kara felt a cool hand on her outer lips, a probing finger testing for dampness, finding none. “Guess you are really more of a dominant one, hm? You won’t believe how many people get off on this. I know what they like.” Thea might as well as have been talking to a rock. When a thin finger suddenly entered Kara, knuckle-deep, her body tried to move away from the intrusion. But the ropes allowed no movement.
Then it was withdrawn. Kara breathed deeply, feeling broken. Again, this time with two fingers, then then there was a pinch to her clit. She squirmed, leg trying to jerk away the rope.
Behind her, Thea groaned. “Damn..”
And then she felt the elf licking at her, tongue flickering around her clit. Kara wondered faintly how her body could possibly be enjoying this; the tongue lapping madly at her.
The two women both shuddered. Thea pulled back, wiping her mouth with a hand, laughing delightedly. “I told you, you do like this, you little slut. You’re so wet.” The night elf’s voice was teasing. Unknown to her, Kara’s face had reddened in shame.
Thea leaned forward onto the hunter, forcing Kara to stretch her back and lean as well. An arm snaked down Kara’s side and played with her nipple through her thin shirt, rolling it between slender fingers and the other hand stroked Kara’s outer lips.
“Do you like this, then?” Thea’s voice was low in Kara’s ear. The hunter let out a muffled groan, but shook her head. Two fingers plunged into her pussy, then curled. One of Kara’s knees shuddered then gave out, jerking on her wrists again. Thea removed her hand and sucked on the glistening fingers with a grin. “That did it, hm? Excellent.”
There was a sudden muffled ringing noise, like a bell. Thea sighed. “Oh dear. I’d been hoping to have some more fun with you, but we’re out of time.”
The rogue elf made her way back around and began to untie Kara’s wrists, letting her fall back to the floor with her knees spread. “So, I actually do have a request for you to carry out.”
The hunter looked up when the cloth around her eyes was removed, and she glared, yet the rogue seemed unfazed. Kara then saw that she’d changed somehow, and was fully equipped in her rogue gear, with gleaming, curved daggers at her side. Kara felt more naked than she really was.
“When you see my brother again, could you tell him I said hi? Remind him I’m watching, and not to let himself fall in love with little human hunters.” Thea removed one of her weapons and examined it closely. “I’d hate to have to leave a stronger reminder.”
The dagger grinned darkly down at Kara, who shied away from the blade. Thea smiled, and grabbed for one of Kara’s arms, lightly tracing the blade into her forearm to form the letters “TH”, then in a burst of dust, disappeared. A couple seconds later the ropes around her ankles were slashed loose and she shakily rose to her feet.
She didn’t know any elf with the last name Crowly. What brother had she been talking about?
She wiped her arm, smearing away the beads of scarlet that had gathered. The door that she hadn’t noticed before was creaked open, and outside she found her armor.
She felt jumpy, like she was about to snap and start punching things. She tentatively whistled for Avalon, who magically appeared beside her. The fox, of course, identified something was wrong and brushed against her hunter’s leg defensively.
“Let’s get out of here, Avalon.” Up the stairs they went, finding that she was in the basement of the tavern. She slipped by the remaining patrons, almost sprinting to the stables. It appeared that there was now a blizzard outside.
A bell rung wildly again, causing her to jump. She continued, rushed, terrified. Carmen was awoken and saddled already.
Kara mounted up, told Avalon she’d be alright, and steered her gryphon outside, who seemed to be stalling. “Please, please, fly for me. Just a little bit. I don’t want to be here.”
Carmen tossed back her head, bellowing, and took flight. The snow was dizzying, and Kara still hadn’t recovered from her ordeal.
She had opened up her map and was just about to reaffirm where they were when the first arrow whistled past Kara’s head.
The hunter dodged, already notching her own bow, searching for the attacker. She could see nothing but blinding white snow.
More arrows followed. What the hell? The bell had been a warning, but for whom?
“ATTACK! THE SCOURGE! Ready the defenses…”
The voices faded away and Kara could faintly see the pulsing glow of dark, necromantic fire beneath her, leading a mile down into the snow. The Scourge? This was the army of the undead? Attacking some helpless little trading spot on the side of the mountain.
They must be on the path to the Tournament. And Kara sure as hell was not going back to die for them.
She began to put away her weapons to properly study the map now that they were safe. A slip of cloth on her thumb grabbed her attention. A tiny bit of pink cloth was tied around the center with ink hastily scrawled onto it, reading ‘Sindragosa’s fall”. She checked her quiver. All of the arrows had the same thing.
Kara sat back, bemused. She didn’t want to go there.
She shook her head. Her focus was on the paladin, and that was it. And if someone gave her a bit of cloth telling her to go to Sindragosa’s fall, only fifteen minutes away, she was going to go there. She jerked the reins and Carmen flew faster.
The gryphon and her rider soared over Sindragosa’s fall. The mass of dragons there had dissipated, and slipping through the defenses was easy.
Carmen landed on an icy patch of ground that rose up into the sky like a sort of plateau. There were noticeable areas that appeared to have been crushed by enormous claws, which Kara tried her best to ignore. She dismounted, her feet crunching on the snow. She scanned the area for anyone, but it was just her and the howling wind.
Kara led Carmen down the snow, whistling for Avalon, who appeared by her in seconds. The trip down to the gaping hole of ice was difficult; the hunter stumbled and lost her footing several times. Avalon, coated in ice, had to bound through the snow. The weather reclaimed their footprints almost as soon as they’d made them.
They’d made it to the lower part, just at the edge of where Sindragosa had forced her way from her grave. Kara surveyed the area again, spotting an unusual dark lump against the edge of the cavernous gap.
Her eyes widened when she saw the lump’s chest was rising and falling. She ran as fast as she could without tripping.
The lump happened to be a cat. A feral Druid. Kara could feel her heartbeat in her ears as she kneeled, her hands smoothing the fur of the cat. It was frosted in snow, one of its eyes half open. As it felt her hand, its lips drew back in a snarl.
The cat flashed, once more becoming humanoid, revealing the bloody body of Thell.
“Thell!” Kara said shrilly. “Thell what happened, why are you here?” He was breathing, shallowly, and Kara searched for his wounds. Bruises and cuts all over him, but the biggest sign was on his stomach. Letters were carved into his skin, like the one on her arm. TH. She dragged Thell away from the edge of the ice, back to where it was safer.
“Arathellin.” Kara said in her most commanding tone. His eyes flashed open.
“Blue potion,” he said softly. “In the pouch.” She reached into his side pouch, removing the vial glowing aqua. She uncorked it and gave it to Thell, who quickly swallowed its contents. He cast a slight spell and his blood disappeared. It seemed obvious that Thell wouldn’t be able to cast any more magic, much less stand up on his own. The scars of his injuries were still there — and ugly white line still clearly reading TH.
“Who did this?” She asked, already dreading the answer. “Tell me, who did this to you?”
“Thea Crowly. She’s .. she’s my sister.”
It made sense. Sort of. Thea had been watching them somehow, so she captured Kara and injured Thell as a warning?. Was she jealous? Or just insane?
Kara thought for a moment, feeling like she was trapped.
“Why did you come to Icecrown?” She asked, trying to piece things together.
“I found your letter. And in the next hour another letter came from Thea. She told me to begin travel to Icecrown, and that there’d be someone there I would like to see. I thought she’d kidnapped you or something, so I came to help.” His eyes closed as he spoke. Obviously he was spent.
Thea did kidnap Kara, but the hunter didn’t feel the need to let Thell know that. Then a sudden noise caused both of them to look up in surprise. Avalon let out a low growl and bounded ahead in front of both of them. Kara soon recognized that they were footsteps.
She listened for ten seconds to try and determine the approximate weight and gait of the ‘thing’ getting closer to them. It was heavy, and they only got closer and louder. Kara drew her bow, anxious, trying to see what is was through the snow.
When it approached, she swallowed.
It was a .. a monster. She couldn’t describe it otherwise. It was about the size of a normal human, but it was disfigured. It looked like it’d been melted or burned — gaps in its gray flesh revealed sickly green insides. It moved with a limp, one foot dragging uselessly against the ground.
She lifted her arm, aiming straight between the thing’s eyes. But she didn’t shoot. Avalon lunged at it, but Thell spoke a sharp word in Darnassian and the fox resigned to furiously pacing by Kara’s ankle until she gave a command.
“Kara, kill it,” Thell urged, looking worried. “Before it gets here!”
But there was something interesting about this undead. Unlike the others, it looked like something inside of it had tried to fight back. The thing’s eyes were glowing gold like a deformed lantern. Had it been the Light? The sacred magic that priests and paladins used in their spells that guided them?
Priests and paladins.
In her mind, she subconsciously compared Jarred’s face with the limping undead in front of her. Besides rotting flesh and matted hair.. they looked.. alike. She stood suddenly, nudging Thell aside. The elf looked at her like she’d gone insane.
“It’s him, I know it is. Thell, it’s Jarred,” she whispered, the arrow quivering between her fingers. Jarred winced as he sat up.
“No, it isn’t! It’s an undead corpse. Even if it was, it’s not Jarred anymore!” Thell willed her to look into his eyes, but she was focused on the past Jarred that growled hungrily as it continued its limp toward them.
All Kara could see was his face through the flurries of ice, burned into her mind through years of struggle. He was the force that steadied her arm when she aimed and the courage that flowed through her when she needed it. And now he dared to show up, dead, after all she’d been through? He’d gone and gotten himself killed?
Thell scooted back.
“Kara, please! Get it over with!”
She ignored him, striding forward to meet Jarred. This was the man she once loved, she thought bitterly. And in the end, it was an obsession. The string of her bow grew taut. The undead began to go faster as well, sensing only untainted blood and flesh.
Before it had moved five more steps, Kara released an arrow into its eye, then the other eye, and finally in the brain. The had-been Jarred tumbled over itself, dead for the second time.
Thell sighed a breath of relief, trying to comfort the hunter who was now back at his side. There were no tears in her eyes.
—-(3 months later)
On command, the two albino worgs stopped their performance, the ball they’d been playing with popped in the jaws of the younger one. (They were replaceable, of course), and the wolflike creature flung the remnants of the toy away, his eyes glittering dangerously. They both raised their heavily furred necks and howled up to the sky. The audience cheered when they simultaneously leaped off the stage.
After the show ended, Kara refastened the worgs’ thick leather collar. She pet them, dared to kiss their wet noses, then sent them off for their dinner. They were sweet animals, really, once tamed.
The huntress packed away materials with Avalon’s help. When she’d finished, she looked up to see a shadow against the tent pole.
“Great show.” Thell leaned against the tent, smiling.
“You say that every time. And it’s the animals you should tell that to, they do all the hard work.” She ruffled the fur around Avalon’s head.
Thell took her hand, helped her up, and they left the tent. Outside, for once, the clouds were less heavy, and the sunset shone through. The crowd at the Faire was mostly gone. Carnies were sweeping the ground and preparing for the next day. In a way, Darkmoon never really slept.
Thell, Avalon and Kara went to the docks and sat on the edge of the pier. It smelled like it always did, salty, beckoning travelers to fish. Kara watched the tiny seahorses dart beneath their feet, humming quietly to herself as Thell observed the sunset.
“You know, some of the Faire workers call you the Tamed Druid for all the time you spend here, around me,” Kara brought up. Thell chuckled, the sound deep.
“I don’t mind.”
“You could work here, if you wanted. You could be an animal tamer, with me,” she suggested. They’d had this discussion before, though, and she already knew his answer. There was no harm in asking again.
“I couldn’t hold a job like that,” he replied, shaking his head. “I don’t know why you came back here. You’re powerful enough to continue on .. plenty of slaying to be done. Practically everyone in Azeroth knows your name!”
Kara nodded comtemplatively, brushing back her dark hair. The wind was pulling it all over her face. “If it weren’t for Silas, I’d probably be rotting in the Stormwind stocks. This is me paying him back. Besides, my publicity is good for the Faire.”
“After you finish repaying the favor, are you going to go back out to adventuring again?” Thell asked, with a hint of hope. Kara just smiled. She didn’t even know yet. Everything she did before Northrend was for Jarred. She thought she would have trouble finding motivation after killing ‘him’, but it wasn’t that bad. Life was quiet. When she got back to the Faire, a complete emotional wreck, her past colleagues took care of her. Keri even stopped herself from making snide comments for a week or two. However, her sister still hadn’t forgiven her for almost getting killed for a guy.
After a while, when the sun had finally dropped into the sea, Thell took a deep breath and said, “You could’ve told me, you know, instead of leaving me to figure it out.”
“What?” Kara asked, confused. Thell rolled his eyes.
“Your pregnancy. It’s getting somewhat noticeable. You could have told me.”
Kara hadn’t even told anyone.
“I can’t be that chubby,” she joked weakly.
Thell laughed. “It was the shift of hormones.” He tapped his nose. “I can turn into a cat, remember? Super nose?”
“Right, well. That’s also why I’m staying here. Safety,” she replied defensively.
The elf nodded, then asked hesitantly, “So is it .. um, is it mine?”
Kara shot him a look that immediately made him wince apologetically.
Kara actually couldn’t remember when it could’ve happened. There was that time they did it on the huge Darnassian tree, or floating in the magic-charged air of Netherstorm, on the balcony of the Purple Parlor in Dalaran.. but Thell still ought to know that it was his.
A small voice called out Kara’s name from somewhere behind her. She turned around to see Silas. The gnome tipped his hat in greeting to the elf, then addressed Kara.
“I apologize for bothering you, but it seems there’s something going on .. Er.. the two albino worgs aren’t where they should be. Their food is untouched.”
“And they haven’t just gotten out? Not roaming about, right?” Kara had an idea of the answer already. Silas wouldn’t ask her unless it was more than just two animals escaping. He shook his head.
He asked her because she was the only one who could find them.
Kara snapped her fingers and her specially-crafted bow appeared into her hands, along with a few arrows. Avalon perked up at the weapons’ appearance, looking excited.
“I’ll take care of it, Silas. Thanks for visiting, Thell. I’ll– .. we’ll see you soon,” Kara leaned over to kiss Thell’s cheek. The elf laughed, then transformed into his lithe cheetah form and looked up with amber eyes beside her. He was coming with her. She’d been hoping he might.
They began to run.
Kara’s face was a mask of determination as she sprinted over the black sand. There was a grin on her face. It felt just like the old times; Avalon (and Thell) dashing beside her, her bow drawn, running to their next obstacle.
As much as Kara missed the old times and no matter how often she would lose herself in reverie, this was the present. Even with her name cursed in Valliance Keep, and Thea’s threats, this was her life now.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.