Author's notes: Thanks so much for the reviews, everyone! They keep me going! :) This chapter's a couple pages shorter than usual… sorry about that! :( It's still not the shortest chapter so far, so I hope that's some consolation. However, I'll hopefully get the next one done before Christmas! Woo! :D Until then, here's chapter 12. Enjoy!
Zelinda checked the Darnassian words again. Yep, she read them right… but they still didn't make sense. "Lady Proudmoore doesn't know…" she said, almost to herself.
Cassandra looked confused. "But… why would someone keep this a secret from her?"
"Because she'd never approve it," Zelinda said, noting the absence of a signature on the parchment. "From what I hear, Proudmoore does everything she can to preserve the truce between the humans and orcs; she'd only break it as an absolute last resort. Apparently, some of our superiors don't think she's being aggressive enough."
"But to try an' kill Thrall directly…" Barrett said. "That seems a wee bit too aggressive, aye?"
"I don' tink dat was da main objective, mon."
Everyone turned towards Raj. Zelinda asked, "Why do you say that?"
"Dis be a pretty weak attempt ta assassinate 'im. Ya gonna need mo' dan two rogues to take out da Warchief… but ya only need two ta draw a lot o' attention." He motioned toward the letter. "Dey even said dey didn't care if everyone in Razor Hill noticed dem. Whether dey be successful o' not, everyone's gonna find out anyway." He looked stern as he continued. "Killin' da Warchief wasn' as important as gettin' us pissed off."
"So… they're actually TRYING to start a war?" Zelinda said, looking astonished. "Why would they want to do that?"
"Probably because someone's tired of waiting around to get attacked first," Cassandra chimed in. "Proudmoore's pretty adamant about not breaking the truce, but she'll have to fight if Thrall breaks it first… or if she thinks he broke it first."
Zelinda furrowed her brow. "Why wouldn't they go straight to Proudmoore with this letter?"
Cassandra shrugged. "Maybe they weren't planning to show her. Maybe they were just gonna do the job and not ask questions."
"Then why didn't Sylvan and the other rogue destroy their orders?" said Millie.
Zelinda stared at a particular sentence on the parchment. "'Success or death are your only two options.' In other words, don't expect a warm welcome unless you've finished the job." She glanced at Millie. "I assume one can't just go and see Proudmoore directly."
Millie shook her head. "For obvious reasons, access to her is limited. Plus, whoever has the authority to send two rogues on this type of mission isn't a low-ranking official. It's possible that they had very little chance they'd see Lady Proudmoore and NOT run into whoever gave this order… which certainly wouldn't be good for them. Still… they must have intended to show these to someone, if not Lady Proudmoore, otherwise there's no logical reason to keep them intact."
"Well, unless that someone was the enemy, they royally fucked that…"
Zelinda stopped in mid-sentence. Wait… why WOULDN'T they let the enemy find this?
"Or maybe… they didn't care if the enemy found it," Millie said, mirroring the night elf's thoughts. "If they found someone to translate it, it would prove that Lady Proudmoore didn't know anything about this."
Zelinda looked over the contents of the letter, and silently cursed herself. I should have read the whole thing to the orc…
Millie crossed her arms and furrowed her brow in thought. "I still don't understand. If they did want to show the enemy this letter, they could have done it without risking their lives. They didn't have to put it right in Thrall's hand. Why did they actually go to Razor Hill?"
"They had no choice," Cassandra said. "You either do the job, or be branded a deserter or a traitor. You can't just ignore orders from the Alliance… especially nowadays."
The gnome looked skeptical. "So you still think they were going to go through with it?"
"Yes I do," Cassandra nodded.
"Then why didn't they destroy the orders? It doesn't make sense, Cassie!"
"Why would they actually go to Thrall if they weren't going to kill him!?" Cassandra was obviously getting annoyed with the conversation. Raj chuckled.
"What's so funny!?" the warrior snapped at him. Zelinda looked at the troll curiously.
"Ya wanna kno' what a rogue be tinkin' and none o' ya bother askin' da rogue," he said, grinning.
Cassandra glared at the troll, then straightened and crossed her arms. "Okay… Impart some of your roguish wisdom unto us."
He grinned wider. "Ya can do da job without actually doin' da job."
Her eyes narrowed. "…Excuse me?"
"Dey needed ta get proof, right? Ya can get dat without killin' da Warchief." He again motioned towards the parchment. "Dey said dey could come back with an insignia, o' summin' else dat belongs ta 'im." He turned towards the night elf, who was staring intently at him. "I forgot ta mention dis, but da orc said dey found one o' da rogues tryin' ta pickpocket da warchief."
Zelinda's eyes grew wide, as realization suddenly hit her. "If they came back with his insignia, they could say they did the job, and it gives them the chance to try to get to Proudmoore and prevent a full-blown war. The person who gave the order would eventually find out, but it buys them some time at least."
Millie chimed in. "And if they failed, at least Thrall would have the letter, which reveals that Lady Proudmoore wasn't breaking the truce knowingly!" Millie threw her hands up in the air and cheered. "We figured it out!" It is a well-known fact that a gnome's greatest joy in life is solving a difficult problem. Millie was no exception.
"Hold on! We don't know what Sylvan's intentions really were! We don't know all this for sure!" Cassandra protested.
"No, but do yeh have a better explanation, lass?" Barrett asked. "So… knowing this, what do we do now, eh?"
"We have to take this to Proudmoore, especially since the Horde thinks she broke the truce," Millie said, grabbing her staff. "I don't know about you, but a full-blown war doesn't appeal to me. We should probably go as soon as possible."
"Good! All o' ya can finally get outta 'ere!" Raj stood up and motioned towards the door. "if ya leave befo' Ma gets back, maybe she won'… aw shit!" he cursed as his mother suddenly appeared in the doorway again. She seemed visibly distressed that the four of them were still in her house.
Zelinda was quick to respond. "Sorry Tal'ika! We're leaving right now, so you don't have to-"
"Ya ain' goin' NOWHERE!" she said, rushing to the back of the room.
Everyone froze. "Um… we're not?" Zelinda said, dumbfounded.
The troll was frantically moving a heavy table to the side. "Dey be headin' here right now! Dey gonna see ya if ya all leave now!"
Zelinda's eyes grew wide. "Oh gods…" she said, mirroring everyone else's thoughts.
"Ya, so don' jus' stand dere! Help me with da table an' rug!" Tal'ika barked at them. Everyone rushed to help move the table and roll back the rug, which revealed a sort of trap door in the stone floor.
"We had dis made fo' da kids in case dere be a raid," Tal'ika said as she lifted the heavy wooden door, revealing a deep hiding space. "Hurry up!" the troll snapped, panic making her voice shrill. Cassandra jumped in, but it was too deep for the two shorter ones of the group, so Raj had to climb in to help. Just as he was helping Barrett down, Sor'ja ran into the room.
"Dey almost 'ere, Ma!" he hissed in a loud whisper. Tal'ika hastily slammed the door shut, hitting Raj's head in the process. Loud cursing could be heard through the floor.
"Shut up down dere!" she hissed as she and Zelinda threw the rug back over the exposed floor. "Sor'ja! Help 'er move da table, I'll try ta buy ya time!" Zelinda and Sor'ja had the table back in place in seconds, during which Tal'ika grabbed her staff and headed out the door… but was stopped by a huge orc in the doorway.
"Tal'ika, I presume?" the orc questioned, staring cooly down at the shaman. Zelinda and Sor'ja heard it, and nearly jumped away from the table, lest they draw attention to it.
Tal'ika quickly composed herself, and nodded at the orc. "Ya mon," she said as she stepped aside to let him enter. "Come on in."
The orc entered the room, and was followed by a tall female troll, with straw blonde hair, a number of hoop earrings, and an arrogant demeanor. Tal'ika's expression turned sour.
"Nice ta see ya, Mishiki…" Tal'ika said in a tone that suggested otherwise.
Mishiki grinned. " 'Ey, Tal'ika!" she said, unaffected by the cold reception. "We need ta see Raj. He be around?"
Tal'ika's obviously didn't like her familiar tone. "Well, he ain' 'ere," she said, gesturing to the room.
Mishiki glanced around, and finally noticed the night elf in the corner. Her face fell. "Ah. Dat be da elf, eh?" she said, staring icily at Zelinda.
The orc cleared his throat. "We're here on business, Mishiki." He turned towards Tal'ika. "The humans have attacked sooner than expected. The Horde will be moving out soon, but we're short on warriors. We're asking one member from each household to volunteer."
"So we be 'ere ta pick up Raj," Mishiki said gleefully. Tal'ika tried her best to ignore her.
"I tought da Warchief said he-"
"Plans have changed," the orc cut her off, "and unfortunately we're short on time. Where is he?"
Tal'ika almost glanced at the rug underneath the table. Shit… Why'd he hafta be down dere? Her mind worked quickly at a response.
"He be out fo' a bit. We had a fight, so he left. I was gonna go look fo' 'im," she said as she set her staff down. She almost forgot she was still holding it.
The orc rasied an eyebrow. "So you don't know when he's coming back?" Tal'ika shook her head.
"In dat case, we wait fo' 'im," Mishiki said as she sat on a bench near the fire. Tal'ika shot her an exasperated look.
The orc also didn't seem too keen on the idea. "We don't have time to wait around."
"We can wait fo' dis one!" she said as she made herself comfortable. "We be doin' him a favor, anyway…" she sneered, making it obvious who the comment was directed towards.
Tal'ika had no idea what to do at this point. She looked over at Zelinda, but the night elf had no idea what was going on, except that these two seemed to have no intentions of leaving anytime soon, and the female troll near her was making her feel very uncomfortable with her death glare. Tal'ika's mind was frantically trying to think of something, anything, to get them out of there, but the awkward silence was getting longer… until someone finally spoke.
"I'll go," said Sor'ja.
Everyone turned towards him, even Zelinda. Tal'ika was rendered speechless, while Mishiki looked slightly disappointed. "Ya be too young ta go. We should wait 'till-"
"How old are you?" the orc asked, cutting off Mishiki.
The orc nodded. "Old enough. Gather your things, and join the others gathered near the road. We'll head out in ten minutes." He then turned to the blonde troll. "Let's go Mishiki. Only a couple houses left."
Mishiki groaned and reluctantly stood up. She followed the orc to the doorway, but stopped at Tal'ika. "Tell Raj I still be waitin' fo' 'im," she purred. Tal'ika looked like she actually threw up a little in her mouth as Mishiki turned and left the house, giving Zelinda one last hateful glance before she disappeared into the darkness.
"So what's going on?" Zelinda asked, now that they were gone. "Did Sor'ja…"
"Ya can' go," Tal'ika said, speaking in Troll and ignoring the night elf as she approached her son. "Ya have almos' no experience in combat, I'll go instead, I can take care o' myse-"
"I'll be fine, Ma," Sor'ja said, grinning to reassure her. "Ya need ta be 'ere fo' Rek'kar, Takki and Vaji."
He went about quickly gathering his weapons and some spare clothes. Rek'kar, Takki and Vaji came in from outside. Rek'kar and Takki pensively watched Sor'ja, while Vaji looked confused. "Is big brotha goin' somewhere?"
Their mother continued to fret over him. "Most o' ya be nearly grown, ya don't need me ta take care o' ya! I swear, if ya get hurt or…" she stopped, unable to finish her sentence as tears threatened to well up in her eyes. "Dammit, Sor'ja!"
He picked up his small pack and his two weapons, a bow and quiver and an axe, and gave Tal'ika a long hug. "Don' worry 'bout me, Ma." Then, before Tal'ika could stop him or say anything else in protest, he headed out, giving his siblings a pat on the shoulder as he passed them. He paused at the doorway for a moment, took a steadying breath, then flashed everyone a grin, probably to reassure himself as well as them. Then he was gone.
Zelinda was standing behind Tal'ika, so she couldn't see her face, but she could tell the troll was upset. She didn't know what she should say… until the floor broke the silence.
"So… I'm guessin' it be safe ta come out?"
Zelinda looked down where the muffled voice came from, then quickly went to the doorway to make sure no one else was approaching. "Yeah, it's okay." She went to the table and motioned to the two older trolls to help push it to the side, while Raj opened the heavy door and helped everyone else out.
"I'm guessing you heard all that?"
"Ya mon…" Raj said as he climbed out and let the door fall shut. "…How's Ma?"
Zelinda looked back towards Tal'ika. She hadn't moved. Vaji was still staring questioningly up at her. Raj approached her cautiously. "Uh… Ma?"
"… I, uh… forgive ya fo' hittin' me on da head earlier…"
At that, Tal'ika spun around and whapped him over the head.
"OW! Didn' ask ya ta do it again!"
Tal'ika's face was furious. "You will go out dere an' find 'im and bring 'im back 'ere!"
Raj looked incredulous. "Ya be CRAZY, mon! I can' jus' walk in an' take 'im…" He stopped. Although Tal'ika was clearly angry, she looked as if she were about to cry any second. Raj sighed. "He ain' a kid anymo', Ma…"
"… No… but I still be worried 'bout 'im. He ain' been out an' around as much… Ya can take care o' yo'self by now, but I don' kno' if… he…" Tears were spilling down her cheeks, despite her efforts to hold them back, and she averted her eyes, unable to look at anyone in the room.
Raj sighed again and scratched the back of his head. He very rarely saw his mother cry, and it made him feel uncomfortable. "A'ight… I'll go look fo' 'im."
"Um… we should head out now, too," Zelinda said quietly. She and the others had already started gathering their things.
Tal'ika nodded, and quickly dried her face. "Ya mon… ya betta go soon."
As the four Alliance were staring to gear up and gather their weapons, Vaji stared up at Raj. "Big brotha… are Zel and 'em leavin' too?"
Raj nodded. Vaji looked forlorn, and pouted a little as she stared at the floor. "Why's everyone gotta leave…"
Takki had an idea, and pulled Raj's ear down to her level. She whispered into it. He grinned and whispered something back. Takki then eagerly went up to Zelinda as she was gathering her bow and quiver. Zelinda blinked in surprise. "Yes?"
"Uh… please… come back!" she said in Common, catching Zelinda completely off-guard. She gave the young troll a huge grin.
"Yes," she replied in Orcish. Takki looked very pleased, and Rek'kar gave the night elf a shy smile, as if he seconded Takki's sentiment.
"Don' kno' if Ma's gonna let ya come back…" Raj said jokingly. Vaji then said her goodbyes in her usual method, by attaching herself to Zelinda's leg.
"Alright lasses, let's head out before we run inta more trouble," Barrett said as he slung his shotgun over his shoulder. He gave a polite nod to Tal'ika. "Thank yeh ma'am, fer yer hospitality." As he cautiously checked out the door, Millie and Cassandra approached Tal'ika.
"Um… we're sorry for all the trouble…" Millie said as she offered the troll a small leather pouch. "And we're sorry we don't have more to offer you."
Tal'ika gave her a weird look. "Watchu givin' me money fo'? Dis ain' a hotel!"
"It's only a few gems," Cassandra said. "We just… wanted to thank you." She looked a little uncomfortable speaking to the troll, but she did sound genuinely thankful.
Millie nodded. "We really do appreciate it. Thank you."
Tal'ika was a little surprised by the gesture, and hesitantly took the pouch. She stood silently for a moment after she watched them leave. Maybe dey ain' ALL that bad… she said grudgingly to herself. She would retract that thought later, however, when she realizes they'd eaten all of her stew.
Zelinda was the last to leave, and went up to Tal'ika. She was silent for a moment, trying to figure out what to say.
"…I, uh… well… thanks." She shifted nervously. "For… you know… not killing me on sight."
Tal'ika smirked a little. "I haven' killed ya yet. Dat don' mean I won' in da future, mon."
Zelinda smirked back. "You mean if I ever come back here?"
The troll glared at her. "If ya bring any o' yo' friends again, I'll kill ALL o' ya!" She then softened her tone, and said the next part grudgingly. "But ya can come back, I guess… Ya be family now."
Zelinda gave her a broad smile. For some reason, she felt relieved at the troll's acceptance of her. At that point, Millie popped her head in the doorway.
"Come on! Let's go before anyone else shows up!"
"Sorry!" Zelinda grabbed her pack and rushed after the gnome, but was stopped at the doorway by a hand on her arm. "Zel."
Zelinda looked up at Raj, but before she could say a word, he had pulled her in for a long, deep kiss. After they finally separated, they stared silently at each other for a long moment. Zelinda remembered when they parted ways at Astranaar months ago, when she didn't know if she would ever see him again. Her silvery eyes looked intensely at his amber ones.
"…I'll meet you back here, okay?"
He grinned and put his hand on her cheek. "Ya better! O' else I'll be chasing ya all over Azeroth."
She smiled at him, and as a parting gesture, gently pressed her hand over his. Then she disappeared out the door and into the darkness.