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Edward did not find himself hindered by the snow or the cold. Indeed, he found himself actually preferring the cold to the dripping heat that was present in the Barrens or, to a lesser degree, in Ashenvale. The chill coagulated his running blood, and for once he could travel without needing to stop and clean the crusted blood from his clothes. The strange thumping in his heart, however, stubbornly persisted, and for a while Edward entertained the idea of using his sword to saw through his ribcage and rip the offending organ out.
Even without a mount, it did not take long for him to reach Everlook. The furbolg shaman's instructions were a challenge to understand, but he managed to translate the grunts into usable directions.
Head east, the furbolg had said. And never go south at the forks.
Edward was altogether unimpressed with the town as it began to come into view. Its whitewashed walls were not unlike those in in Gadgetzan, and he saw no buildings that rose above the wall's parapets. Two guards stood guard outside - excessive, Edward decided, given the only creatures in Winterspring that would dare attack a goblin encampment were the starved wolves and rogue yeti.
The difference in smell, however, was not something Edward recognized until he passed under Everlook's gate. The cold and the snow kept living things from leaving their holes, giving the surface a scent free of sweat and fat and waste. Entering Everlook was like passing through a wall of mortal stench, and he already began thinking of Valzul.
Edward was certain the Troll was here, hiding somewhere among the handful of buildings in the town. Goblin bruisers eyed him suspiciously as he wandered, fingering their clubs and muttering to one another. They were well equipped and numerous; telling Edward that Everlook, like most goblin towns, had little tolerance for violence within its walls.
When Edward finally came around to the inn, he attracted even more hostile stares from nervous goblins and patrons. There was a fair mix of both factions huddling around slanted wooden tables and cramped booths. Even the Horde, however, passed dark glares toward him, and a group nearest him crinkled their noses in disgust.
To him, however, the air was heavy with the smell of melting wax and smoldering coal from the furnace. It provided a suitable cover for the mortal reek that would otherwise have dominated the room.
How appropriate, Edward thought.
There was something subtle, however, and Edward nearly missed it. It was the smell of sand and salt water - entirely out of place in a land of ice and snow. It only took a moment for him to find its source: Valzul with Azshana and an unfamiliar goblin, in a discrete corner of the inn.
He could not keep the grin from spreading across his face. Ignoring the approaching barkeep, Edward went to Valzul's table.
He took a free chair and, without asking, sat between the goblin and Azshana. Edward looked at each of them individually, starting with the goblin, then the Elf, and finally Valzul.
"You tried to hide from me," said Edward. His hand wandered to a crudely shaped mug in front of Azshana, brushing the handle before simply taking it. "But there is nowhere left for you to hide now."
The goblin set his fork on his half-finished plate of beans before pushing it away. He turned to Valzul. "I take it that he is your undead friend?"
"No, it's nothing like dat," Valzul said.
"This Troll is wanted for murder," Edward continued. He sniffed the mug's contents, then tentatively sipped. The tea washed down the back of his throat, tasting far too bitter, before trickling from the torn flaps of skin along his neck.
"This is a neutral town," said the goblin. "You'll be hard pressed to find someone here who will care."
Edward ignored the goblin, pushing the mug back to Azshana. "Your tea is in need of honey."
Edward held his gaze on her for a moment longer than he intended, feeling something foreign. Since his near-death experience at Valzul's hands in the Barrens, he had been experiencing emotions he had long thought dead or dormant. Maybe he had lost his carefully acquired self-control, or maybe his fall down the steep mountain slope had triggered something in his decayed brain.
Because of Valzul, he now knew what hatred was. He knew pleasure, anger, surprise, and humor. The emotions, though, came and went, like a tide, and he either felt nothing at all or was entirely controlled by an emotional surge. They were exaggerated, and - having gone for so long devoid of feeling - he was not quite capable of handling them.
Looking at Azshana, Edward now felt something new, and he did not recognize it.
"The crime was not just murder," Edward continued. He let his hand lay next to Azshana's, until she recoiled. "It was cannibalism."
"Your crime, not mine," Valzul said heatedly. "Who sent you after me, Edwed? Is dis all Zeenjen's doing?"
Edward felt a flare of anger at the mispronunciation, eclipsing whatever he was experiencing with Azshana. His heart vainly pumped itself, but the blood was still far too chilled to push through arteries. He regarded the Troll's question for a moment, not even certain of the answer himself.
"I want to kill you because I feel like it," Edward said, enjoying the irony in his statement, knowing Valzul would not be able to appreciate it.
Azshana was the last one at the table he had expected to speak. "You have no time left. Valzul will eventually be cleared of murder, and it'll be you who will be killed."
Edward grinned, careful to avoid tearing the newly-formed flesh at the corners of his mouth. "I do not have to kill you as well. You can leave, or simply stay out of my way. You are far more entertaining than your Troll counterpart."
"You are losing your mind, or dying," she continued, and his amusement faded. "You can't give a real reason for why you're here, because there isn't one. Do the Forsaken let their fellows run leashless through Kalimdor?"
Edward's grin vanished at the reminder of the letters he had received from his superiors in Lordaeron. "I preferred you in Feralas. It would be a shame if killing that sentinel in Ashenvale had cost you your charm."
"You mean…" Valzul interjected. "Da sentinel dat I killed."
"Very noble, taking the responsibility," said Edward. "But ultimately hollow. The only witnesses were Horde, and that is where the blame will fall as far as Darnassus is concerned."
Edward turned his attention back to Azshana. He set his elbow on the table, and leaned close enough to smell her breath. He lowered his voice so only she could hear.
"Her partner, however, was rather tasty. While the Orc was certainly filling, there was an almost salty aspect to him that left a lingering flavor on the…palate. The Elf, though, I wish I had more time to sample - sweet like berries. I suspect the difference is due to diet - who knows what sort of trash Orcs eat on a daily basis."
Some of the color left Azshana's face, though she did not move away. Edward continued. "And, in the future, I'd appreciate if you no longer drank this foul tea."
The goblin wiped his mouth before muttering an excuse and leaving - though Edward barely noticed. He reached over the table, this time with the intent of taking the mug once more, but his hand was grabbed by Valzul.
"Dis is enough of da game," Valzul said, his voice low enough to keep from attracting attention, yet still carrying a perceptible edge. "If dis be between you and me, den we can settle it real easy."
Edward found himself tempted by the challenge. "Settle where?"
"Outside, in da snow."
Their table began to attract curious looks, and, seemingly reluctant, Valzul released Edward's hand. Edward's rational half began to warn against his rash instinct, considering the possibility that the Troll might be trying to set him up for a trap.
After all, Edward would try to do the same.
"Not outside the town," said Edward, correcting the forefinger Valzul had cracked with a snap. "Behind the inn."
From his brief scouting of the town, the gated area behind the inn was secluded enough to be out of sight and earshot of the guards. Outside of the town was too large, and there were too many places for Valzul to have potentially hid a nasty surprise, or arranged an ambush.
Valzul's eyes narrowed. "Ya think I'm a fool?"
Edward took the fork from the goblin's abandoned plate, scooping a few beans for a taste. "It doesn't matter, Valzul. I prefer it this way." He found them flavorless, but swallowed them anyway. He did not take a second serving.
The past few weeks only served to reinforce his belief that mortals were, ultimately, ignorant of what was in their best interest. He was beginning to understand why his superiors were so adamant in eliminating them. Flesh was akin to a parasite or disease, warping its hosts mind, allowing emotion to run rampant.
Sylvanas called the Undeath a curse, but Edward now believed it to be more of a liberation. Though it was only relatively recent that he was able to experience such a range of feelings, it was a difference in seeing the world in full color as opposed to monochrome. He still did not understand the actions of those like Valzul and Azshana.
He knew more changes were coming to him. Since the time he was nearly killed in the Barrens, his emotions grew in potency. His body was also acting in ways that could not entirely be explained by his new, flesh-rich diet. His heart pumped when it had not pumped in years. There were foreign stirrings in him when he fought with Azshana in Ashenvale, and even now as he sat at the table.
Edward watched as Valzul set a protective hand over Azshana's, then whispering something into her ear. He felt irritation well up within him, and he did not try to control it. He thought back to the cave in the Barrens, of the Troll and Elf's irrational protection of one another.
"The problem with mortals is the hypocrisy," Edward said. Valzul's interaction with the Elf was beginning to repulse him. He felt a dull thumping in his chest. "Trolls, Elves, Orcs, or Humans - you're all the same. You deny reality - deny that nothing is forever."
He was feeling something strange, something that he had never felt before, but he knew it centered around Azshana, and the way Valzul seemed to claim her.
Edward got to his feet, his mind registering an overwhelming stench that had little to do with the tavern around him. "When the flesh finally rots, if you are graced with life through death, you will see as I do."
A moment later and Edward was outside the tavern, heading towards the town's entrance. He needed clean air after being suffocated by the smell of the tavern's patrons.
His blood was warming again, and he smeared snow and slush from the road over his arms and face, tearing at his clothes in an effort to cool himself. Whether the heat was caused by his anger, or simply the warmth from the tavern's billowing furnace, Edward did not know.
Edward fell to his knees in the snow, sensing the stares of the goblin guards on his back, but not caring. He could feel the blood in his veins slow, and it was not until his flesh became as cold as the ice he laid on did Edward stand again.
Valzul had found himself unable to sleep during his first night in Everlook. He stood alone at their room's window, quilt wrapped over his shoulders, wishing he had picked a room closer to the tavern's furnace. Flakes of snow were falling outside, as though in prelude to the coming blizzard.
While part of his insomnia was due to Edward's presence in the town, there were other factors as well. Indeed, Edward's presence did not particularly bother him. Living in Durotar, where centaurs and remnants of Proudmoore's broken fleet wandered freely, had given him the ability to sleep through nearly any danger.
The problem was much more fundamental. The room they had purchased had included only one narrow bed, and Valzul could not fall asleep next to Azshana. He had attempted using the floor, but the hardwood planks had kept him awake as effectively as Azshana's body heat.
It occurred to Valzul that he had no real plan. Assuming that he and Azshana could escape from Edward, and get the bounty on his capture lifted, what would he do next? Returning to Durotar was the simplest answer, but what he wanted was much more complicated.
Valzul heard Azshana stir in the bed behind him. When he turned, he found her wide awake, eyes glowing in the dark. It made him suddenly uncomfortable when he realized that, while she could see him clearly, he could barely see her outline.
"You haven't slept," Azshana said.
Azshana reached for a stump of a candle sitting on the nightstand. When she lit the wick, Valzul could appreciate the difference immediately. There were no traces of sleep on her face, her violet hair not tousled, and Valzul realized that she had not slept either.
"How about you?"
Azshana gave him a faint smile. "It's nothing."
"Is it Edwed?" While the fear would not be entirely baseless, Valzul felt that they were safe enough. Though little else could be said for their room, the door was thick, and no one could possibly force an entry without waking them and half the tavern.
"I'm just cold."
Valzul could not decide what she meant by that, so instead he said nothing. He offered her the quilt draped over his shoulders.
Azshana wrapped herself in the quilt. "I don't see how you're not freezing. Try sleeping again, I can't rest with you standing there."
"Durotar had cold nights too," Valzul said. He thought humorlessly of the irony. He could not sleep while next to her, and she could not sleep with him standing.
"Are you going back there?"
"Nah, Moonglade be next," Valzul said, evading the meaning of the question. "We probably some time here before Deephoof can arrange everything."
"I meant after your name is cleared."
"Den we deal with Edwed."
"After that," Azshana pressed.
Valzul wished she would forget the subject. He did not want to discuss or even acknowledge what was developing inside him, and his conversation with Azshana was quickly stirring an internal war within him that had not quite settled.
"What ya looking for me to say?" Valzul asked. He saw a flash of hurt across her face and softened his tone. "I don't know what to do. I don't even know what's going on with me, or with you."
"In Ashenvale, I didn't lie and steal from Landal because you saved my life before," said Azshana. Valzul felt as though his reaction was being carefully studied. "I did it because I started caring. And you kissed me…all this isn't what I was expecting, but it's happening."
Valzul rubbed his forehead, not wanting to look at her, not wanting to grant what she so clearly wanted: an assurance, or a commitment, or some other promise that he could not guarantee.
"Dis isn't something I wanna deal with right now," Valzul said. "Da kiss wasn't a mistake, but I thought all this trouble would be over when da poison cleared. I wasn't counting on Edwed coming back from da dead, or running into sentinels."
"We're in Everlook now, though," Azshana said, taking his hand with hers. It was as cold as it would have been if she had just come in from outside. "Nobody here cares. In the tavern, nobody so much as glanced our way. The goblin even laughed-"
"Dis town is a death trap," Valzul said sharply. "It's a haven for thieves and smugglers and anyone who needs to escape."
"And we need to escape."
Valzul drew his hand away and went back to the window. "Not here. Stay in dis town for too long and dere's a good chance we'll end up dead, or worse."
"Then what's your plan?"
"I already said dat I don't have one yet," said Valzul. A noise from below the window made him peer downward, into the fenced enclosure at the rear of the tavern. There were two short figures pinning a third against the fence boards.
"Or would you just prefer Durotar?"
Valzul did not reply. His attention was centered on the three figures struggling against the fence, the moon full enough to reveal two dwarves teamed against a human in scraggly furs and dirty hood.
There was not much fight in the human, however, and soon he was on the ground, curled over his knees as he tried to block their blows. Valzul was not at all tempted to become involved. The beating did not look like some simple tavern brawl, though Valzul was certain he recognized the human from somewhere.
It was not easy to watch. The pair of dwarves could have been twins; both with thick black beards and knotted hair with a few woven braids. They took turns kicking the crumpled figure on the ground, not being particular with where their boots landed. They did not laugh, or show any sort of reaction to the human's grunts and pleas. Their expressions were impersonal and detached, as if they were simply carrying out another part of a rather boring daily routine.
Valzul felt Azshana move beside him, her arm brushing against his as she leaned towards the window to follow his stare. Her expression became troubled, as though she had been forced to acknowledge something unpleasant. Valzul hated seeing her wear that expression, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, regretting that he had attracted her attention to the window.
A fourth figure came into view, a wolf pelt swathed over his shoulders and down his back. When Valzul saw the figure's left arm was partly missing, he realized he was looking at Crendin Half-fist - the human that Zork had warned him of.
In Half-fists' remaining hand was a dagger, which he rolled absently in his palm for a while before finally saying "Enough."
The dwarves responded immediately, backing a few steps away from the convulsing human. Despite the blood that now ran freely down the man's face, Valzul was still able to remember him.
When Half-fist spoke again, it was in a guttural voice of someone that was unused to speaking. "You took my damn money, and you lost my damn money."
The human said something that Valzul did not quite catch. The wind, which had not fully died, made listening difficult.
"And you used the last of it to fly up here - for what reason? To ask for more," Half-fist paused, as though considering something. "Hit him."
A dwarf obliged instantly, cracking his boot into the man's ribcage. Valzul grimaced as the figure rolled, clutching his side.
"I remember that man from somewhere," Azshana whispered.
Valzul nodded. "If you do too, den it must be from somewhere recent. But where have we run into humans before-"
Valzul hesitated, knowing only one time where he and Azshana had encountered humans. He watched the man now with considerably less concern, though he still hoped his instinct was wrong.
Half-fist moved closer to the other man, and Valzul had to strain his ears to understand.
"There's a lot of ways I can take back that loan," Half-fist said. "Maybe grind up your teeth and trade it to an alchemist, or sell your head to some Alliance bounty hunter."
The man muttered, and Valzul almost missed him speaking at all.
Half-fist must have missed it too. "What?" he asked in a growl.
"I got some plans lined up," the man said in a wheeze. "I just need time and you'll have the gold."
"You need time?" Half-fist asked, though it was scarcely a question. "You need time to run south, more like than not. Hit him."
The blow struck straight into his stomach.
"You ask me for gold," said Half-fist. "You ask me for time. Months ago, I gave you both, and you have nothing to show for it. Get him to his feet."
The two dwarves hoisted the man up, throwing his arms over their shoulders. Not too gently, they straightened his legs, forcing him to stand, and after a moment he was able to stabilize himself off the shoulders of the dwarves.
The full damage the man had taken was now apparent. His clothes were torn, the skin either split and bleeding underneath, or bruised and pulpy. He looked as fragile as glass, ready to fall over and shatter with the first gust of wind.
"I want his neck," Half-fist said.
A dwarf drew a jagged dagger.
Valzul did not watch to any longer. The scene had only served to reinforce his perception of the town: a gathering of cutthroats that the goblins were barely able to keep in line. Remembering the lit candle on the nightstand, he snuffed the flame before it would attract any attention from those below.
"Valzul-" Azshana caught his arm. "I know where I've seen that human before."
Valzul swallowed. He had hoped that he was mistaken. "In a minute, it's not gonna matter."
Half-fist spoke again, and Valzul did not have to strain to hear him. "I want your neck, but you can keep it - for now. The copper your head would get me isn't shit compared to what you owe me."
"By the end of this month, I want part of my gold back," Half-fist continued. "I don't care how. If not, our next meeting will be outside of town. Understand, Gressle?"
The name matched the face in Valzul's mind. Memory of Feralas, and the leader of the smuggle caravan, flared into existence. A deep part of him wanted Half-fist to end the meeting with Gressle's slit throat.
"Yes," Gressle managed to say.
Half-fist watched the other man for a moment, seeming to size him up. Finally, he nodded, and the dwarves let Gressle drop to the ground. Daggers were sheathed, and the two dwarves left him where he had fallen.
"And welcome to Everlook," Half-fist said, and for a fleeting moment Valzul was certain that Half-fist had turned to him. A sudden fear that Half-fist had known that he was being watched, or noticed the window, crept into Valzul.
The moment passed, however, and soon Gressle was left alone in the snow.
Valzul moved away from the window, his jaw clenched, unsure of what to do. From what he could remember from Feralas, Gressle alone was not dangerous. However, Gressle was now desperate for gold, and had connections with the local ring of smugglers. Edward was enough of a problem to deal with, and Valzul did not want to gain the attention of Half-fist or his two dwarf thugs.
Valzul could see Azshana having thoughts identical to his, and he began to consider going outside with his axe and finishing Gressle before he could gain his bearings.
Azshana spoke before he made a decision. "Gressle doesn't have any reason to come after us. He's not going to try and capture us in the middle of Everlook-"
"I'm not worried about him taking me and you like he did before," said Valzul. "But dere's a bounty on my head, and if he's looking to make some gold, dat's an easy way to get it. If word gets around of dat bounty…"
"It wouldn't just be Gressle we'd be dealing with," Azshana finished for him.
Yea, be more like Gressle, Crendin, da dwarves, and maybe some goblins if da bounty is high enough.
"In another day Zork will have da gold from da furs," Valzul said. "With gold we can fly outta here before da blizzard arrives, and I think it's best if we get out as soon as we can."
"Assuming that Deephoof comes through," said Azshana. "But how can you be sure he will? All you've told me about him is that you met him in Camp Mojache."
Valzul began scratching the back of his head, becoming as uncomfortable as he was when she first asked about the old Tauren.
"Landal seemed to know him," continued Azshana. "From the Circle, I assume. And he was mentioned again in the diary I read."
Azshana briefly explained her exchange with Landal, and how she managed to acquire an antidote from the Night Elf in Ashenvale - much of which Valzul had not been conscious during.
"Using the diary, I was able to persuade Landal to give me the antidote," said Azshana. "But it became clear that Landal and Deephoof loved the same woman."
Despite himself, Valzul was surprised. Deep down, he suspected there was more to Deephoof's story than the Tauren was willing to share.
"Dere's a bit more dan what I told you about Camp Mojache," admitted Valzul. "I was going to let you die. Deephoof saved your life. He talked me into doing what I did, and for dat I trust him."
Azshana looked at him for a long while, saying nothing, her glowing eyes steady in the unlit room. Valzul could still smell the smoke from the candle wick he smothered, and he was almost ready to light it once more so he could see her expression.
"Then I trust him too," Azshana said at last, kissing him a little too quickly before going back to the bed. "But we should sleep."
No longer having the awkward feeling that had maintained his insomnia, Valzul laid next to her on the bed that he once thought too narrow. Earlier he would not have been comfortable, but now he did not feel out of place.
"Still cold," he heard Azshana murmur as she moved closer to him. Tentatively, Valzul let his arm fall over her waist, his fingers brushing skin to find that she was indeed cold. He was close enough to smell her hair, so he shifted his head.
Valzul could not remember the last time that he felt truly relaxed. Edward seemed far away, and problems that would have bothered him in Durotar did not bother him now.
As much as Valzul wanted to, he knew that they could not stay in Everlook for too long. An Elf and a Troll made an odd pair, and he could not think of any place where they would not attract unwanted attention.
But then, even that problem still felt very far away.
Zeenjen knew that he was following the right lead when he found the corpse of an Undead wolf by the entrance of the Timbermaw lair. The innkeeper at Splintertree had not been lying - Edward had definitely gone north through Felwood, as unlikely as it seemed. Valzul and the Elf could not be far ahead.
His raptor, however, became uneasy as they approached the corpse. Through all of Felwood it had retained the latent aggression that Zeenjen had purposefully instilled in his mount, yet now it fought against every step forward, shoulders trembling.
Zeenjen struck the raptor's flank with his riding crop, being none too delicate. The lash broke the scales, creating a trickle of blood.
"I don' have time for dis, Whisperwind," Zeenjen threatened. He never let his raptor keep one name for too long, and for this journey he wanted to give it a Night Elvish name. Whisperwind was one of the few Elf names he knew, and he cracked his riding crop again - this time to release his own pent-up anger. He did not like calling his mount Whisperwind, but it was necessary in order to appease the spirits as he ventured through godless land.
Approaching the corpse, Zeenjen could not be sure how long the wolf had been dead. With creatures corrupted by Unlife, it was always difficult to tell for certain. Normal rules of decomposition never seemed to apply.
Whisperwind started towards Timbermaw Hold with a kick, Zeenjen giving little slack with the reins. He did not expect to have much trouble traveling through the Hold - after all, as an officer of the Horde, he generally had good relations with the Timbermaw. This was not the first time he had been to Felwood.
Zeenjen knew that he did not have much time. Word of Valzul's bounty would spread like fire through every backwater tavern in Kalimdor, especially when cannibalism was on the list of crimes. Given that Zeenjen doubted Moonglade would grant Valzul and the Elf entrance, his brother could only be in Everlook. Though it had been years since Zeenjen was last in a goblin town, it was not likely that they had changed much. If he did not hurry, Valzul could be dead before he even arrived.
Zeenjen jerked on Whisperwind's reins, bringing the raptor to an instant halt. He turned, peering down the road behind him, having a feeling in his gut that he was being tracked.
Zeenjen was certain that Gallek was trailing him. He had seen the Inspector in Splintertree, and spied him before in the Barrens. While one such encounter could be written off as coincidence, two encounters made Zeenjen suspicious. Gallek had gall to think he could follow a Troll for so long without being noticed. If more time was available, Zeenjen would have turned around and confronted the Orc before going any farther.
Instead, he urged Whisperwind back towards the tunnel.
"Dere'll be a time and place for Gallek, if dat's what he wants," Zeenjen spoke aloud - Whisperwind tilted her head, as though listening for a command. "Edward and dis Elf need to be dealt with first."
Edward had been Zeenjen's own mistake. He had not expected the Forsaken to become as volatile as he did. The Elf, however, was an unknown factor. He did not understand what had come over his brother, but he was certain some sort of forest magic or hex was involved.
Zeenjen's experience was limited to the physical world rather than the spiritual. He knew the old Darkspear traditions, and the old Darkspear remedies. If the Elf had provoked a spirit into corrupting Valzul, there was only one sure way to stem the magic. Killing the Elf was only the first part, and would serve only to weaken the hex rather than eliminate it. The second part required that the Elf's spirit be broken before it could fully enter the spirit world. Only then could Valzul be truly freed.
Though even father would warn against it, Zeenjen could see little other way. Some Darkspear customs should not have been abandoned, whether Thrall and the Orcs understood them or not. Zeenjen knew the very act, even on an enemy, would jeopardize his position in the Orc hierarchy, but Valzul's defection would destroy his career just as surely.
After all, the Darkspear had devoured their enemies for thousands of years before the Orcs even arrived on Azeroth to keep their spirits from seeking vengeance in the afterlife. Resurrecting an old ritual, illegal or not, to save his brother and maintain their family's standing in the tribe was a small price to pay.
(If there are certain sections or point of views that aren't as interesting as others, please note it so that I may improve/cutback on these sections in future chapters.
On that note, due to school demands and the holiday season, I expect the next chapter to be posted in approximately a month - so there will be a bit of a gap. But it shall get posted.)