Chapter 20: Parts of a Hole

Cold, it seemed, was the great tester of men.

In a world very different from Azeroth, it had been the cold of terrible winters and the long, fierce grip of ice ages that mankind had endured to spread across the world on bridges of ice that vanished behind them, in time. As civilization rolled on, others had endured the cold of the world to discover lands anew, seek routes of trade, and set themselves on the peaks and the very roof of the world. Cold brought little, and took much, but for those who could survive, there was no greater craftsmanship of exceptional men.

Even in Azeroth, a land of magical power and incredible abilities, anyone who was wise gave respect to the cold.

Zackel, in his own small way, worshipped it. At least, that would be the reason he would give for why he was out on the Alterac fortress roof, standing amongst the howling gale and the white near-oblivion that engulfed him. It was the best word he could think of to describe it, though it was not a worship that would mirror the more traditional kinds, with tenants and deities and sacrifice. It was, in the end, the manifestation of the deep, respectful symbiosis that he had worked so hard to craft with the nature of the cold. He was not alone: virtually all frost mages (and some Death Knights) held a similar mindset.

The difference between them and Zackel was that, had they started this blizzard, they might have been able to stop it. If they could not, they would have retreated and waited for the spell to burn itself out. If they had tried, and failed, to stop it, likely all of them would have said that the latter option was the only option.

Zackel was out amongst the storm he had summoned because from his respect of the cold, he knew he could handle it, and possibly tame it. But the reason he was even trying, and refusing to yield, was another entirely.

He had not been woken up by Rielle, and when he had woken up on his own, she had not been in the room. Zackel had eaten and gotten dressed, and upon her lack of return, had gone to do what she'd told him to do in such bitter acrimony last night.

More than a few would have said he was a fool for doing so, and in truth, Zackel knew he was edging around the gates of reason. But the circumstances of last night, and of the whole 'gilded cage' experience he'd had, and was still having, with the draenei, was just complicated and uncertain enough that he hadn't waited in the room for her to return, or gone to look for her to see whether she'd changed her mind or not. He knew that the rage she'd directed towards him was undeserved, but he also knew Rielle was smart enough to know that, and he did not know if she herself could tell that or not, or not yet. To really know, he had to arrange circumstances which did not suit such anger, and waiting for her in the room or trying to find her had too many random variables to his liking. So he'd gone up to the roof and begun his latest effort to stop the storm, and waited to see what would happen from there.

Those few might also say he was giving far too much for his choices. Zackel would not be able to say they were wrong.

But he would also be able to say that the sleep he'd had had been more restful than anything he'd had in weeks, if not months. That, and the fact that when he'd walked out into the storm, the cold of the wind had seemed like a firm clutch rather than a biting knife.

It was the latter that had really spoken to the mage, and indicated to Zackel that, as wrong as her reasons had been, Rielle had given something to him. She'd forced circumstances so that he'd had no choice to reveal his darkest shame. Had she not been so irrational over his choices in Tarren Mills, odds were that he would still have kept the events of that day locked within himself. A weight on his soul.

How a frost mage interpreted cold could heavily depend on mindset. Ever since that day, despite his greater ability to endure it, Zackel had always felt intense cold as blades on his skin.

Not any more.

The weight was not gone, but so many of the chains had seemed to have been cast off in the sleep that he'd had last night. Rielle, as poorly as she had acted, had a hand in it.

So he'd done as she'd asked. If she did not come, than he would go from there. Once that was decided, he'd simply slipped into a mental focus state, and opened his mind to the power that he'd unleashed. As he did, the magic surged through his body, Zackel using its power and his respect of the cold to adapt his biological functions to endure it. Once that was done, he began the dialogue.

Time fell away. All concerns of the events within the castle, with Rielle and otherwise, ceased to be part of Zackel's mind. He embraced the winter, and the winter embraced him in turn. And they spoke.

Zackel was aware of the slowly encroaching danger. There was no degree of 'worship' that would protect him indefinitely from the hostile nature of the storm he'd called. Eventually, he WOULD freeze to death. But Zackel believed there was enough respect there that he would be allowed to turn and leave when the strain began to reach the true danger zone.

Before it did, the faint voice began calling to him.

Zackel managed to return his senses back to reality in time for the rod to jab him in the back. Zackel moved a bit to adjust himself, even as the symbiotic state slipped away from him, knowing that their conversation was at an end.

"ZACKEL!" Rielle was screaming over the howl of the wind. Zackel's mind took somewhat longer to respond than it normally would, slowed by the cold, but it had not lowered so much that he could tell it wasn't a yell to alert him of an incumbent danger. Rielle wanted his attention, for whatever reason.

Zackel's motions were also slowed, as he turned towards the Draenei, whose features briefly looked pissed off before she briefly crossed her arms, a universal sign of how unpleasant she found the rooftop to be.

"What the fel are you DOING?" Rielle asked.

"…you wanted…the storm…ended, Rielle." Zackel said. Had he been a normal person, Rielle never would have heard him speak: she could barely hear herself. But he was a frost mage, and had just spent a long time in conversation with his power. While it did not respect him enough to cease, it respected him enough to carry his words to the draenei instead of away into itself. "So I have…tried to do so."

"How long have you been up here?"

"Oh, give or take, carry the one…about five hours."

"FIVE HOURS?" Rielle yelled, looking at Zackel like he was completely insane.

" Likely…good practice…for enduring the conditions in Northrend…" Zackel said. "Which I think I will be…experiencing sometime in my relatively near future…barring unforeseen and…unfortunate circumstances."

"YOU WEERKUAY IDIOT! GET YOUR DUMB, STUPID ASS INSIDE BEFORE I THROW YOU DOWN THE STAIRS!" Rielle yelled. "I THOUGHT YOU WERE SMARTER THAN THIS! WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO PROVE, MAGE!"

"…only what…I can." Zackel said, as he began to slowly walk forward. Rielle snorted, a sheen of mist erupting from her nose as she turned and half-stalked, half-fled back to the open door and the slightly greater warmth that lay there. Zackel followed at a considerably slower pace, and not because he wanted to show off his greater ability to endure the wind and cold. Despite what he said, he'd somewhat overdone it in his dialogue with the storm, and his body was feeling it. He would have to be careful with what he did next.

Rielle, having headed down the stairs, had started going back up them when he appeared in the door frame, and she crossed her arms and glared with angry impatience as he began to make his way down them.

"So lemme guess. All you managed to do up there was unsuccessfully attempt suicide."

"If by that you mean…continue to be unable to stop the storm…then yes."
"Figures. You can't do anything right." Rielle said. Zackel did not reply. "HURRY YOUR STUPID ASS UP!"

"I…can't."

"Oh really. Why, you think it will keep you from getting your ass kicked? Because believe me…"

"I…must show caution Rielle…or I will die." Zackel said. Rielle put on a doubting look, though Zackel could tell it was at least partially a front.

"Please. If you're not dead already from being out there so long, you probably won't die now." Rielle said, stalking up the stairs. "Fel, how are you not a statue alre-"

Rielle's words died off as she reached out and touched Zackel's face, mainly to assess any damage he might have in order to know how hard she could smack him.

The cold she felt beneath her fingers made that intent die off within a second, and she had to fight to recoil. There was still a trace of heat within Zackel's skin, but Rielle only knew that due to her continual warrior training and her own sensitive sense of touch allowing her to pick it up. Even so, what the draenei found was that Zackel's skin was so cold to the touch that Rielle, had she not had visual clarification, would have sworn she was feeling a corpse. No longer being distracted by the storm, Rielle could now see that all of Zackel's hair was encrusted with ice, which was just beginning to melt. He hadn't been lying. He HAD been out there for hours.

"…Zackel…what did you DO to yourself…?" Rielle said.

"I tried to stop the storm. It requires certain…efforts."

"You idiot, get your dumb ass in front of the fire before you break a part off yourself…"

"No. Not yet…" Zackel whispered. "My heart rate…is at dangerous levels to provide enough heat to keep me alive. I need to…sit down at the bottom of the stairs…and re-adjust my biorhythms. Or I could…go into cardiac arrest. Hence, die. So…if you're just going to insult me…please move so I can at least…not collapse on you while I do so."

"…you IDIOT." Rielle snapped, but she did not move aside. Instead, she moved to Zackel's side and placed an arm around him, aiding him down the stairs. Zackel felt her shudder as she touched him and how unnaturally cold his body and clothes were, but she kept in contact as they made their way to the bottom of the stairs. Once they were there, Zackel sank down to the floor, assuming a meditative position.

While his primary focus was on the issues that he had just brought up, there was still a small part of Zackel's mind that was paying attention to what Rielle did next.

What she did was kneel down next to him, her eyes flicking back and forth over his body.

"…can you summon a fire or something?"

"…not like this…not yet…" Zackel whispered.

"…is there anything I can do?"

"…there is the obvious…but I'll understand if…you don't want to do that. Besides that…there's not really…" Zackel said.

Despite himself, he was mildly surprised when Rielle put her arms around him. Then he felt her intense shudder at his low body temperature, and realized he had best concentrate his own efforts, lest he do harm to the alien.

"H-Hurry your ass up." Rielle said, her teeth chattering a bit as Zackel's ice-cold form began reacting to her own body heat: fortunately, Rielle had not worn any of her heavy metal armor when she'd gone onto the roof. "Or I'll just…go grab a log off the fire and stick it down your throat."

"You…don't have to…"

"Yes, I DO. I have to do everything around here, because despite being so smart, YOU'RE MORE SO STUPID, and I swear if you try and comment on my grammar there I will bite your ear off."

"…duly…noted." Zackel said, as he began to feel normal sensation return to his body. Rielle kept her embrace, clearly trying to keep her teeth from chattering.

"…I was…not able to stop the storm."

"Yeah." Rielle said.

"…I know that you…"

"Yeah that was the last night you idiot, and I swear if you tried one of those 'I'll hurt myself to make her feel bad!' deals, I'll rip off your testicles and feed them to you. Assuming I can even find them."

"…was that a comment on the cold or my failings as a man?"

"BOTH." Rielle said, shifting a bit and falling silent. Zackel also went quiet, pondering his next move.

"…I'm sorry."

"Oh stop being sorry. Everything about you is sorry. Your ability to think, your ability to fight, your ability to…handle trauma…compared to…some…" Rielle said, seemingly torn between getting angry and making sense. "But what should I expect from someone like you? You've been demonstrating you're a moron since the moment we met."

"…that's what I like about you Rielle. You never stop speaking your mind."

"Shut up asshole." Rielle said, her tone starting to cross the rage threshold again.

"No, no, I meant it. There's no deception in you. You're up front and forward with everything about you…including what you don't like. You wear your heart on your sleeve. Not many people have the courage to do that."

"Flattery will still get you nowhere, Zackel. I haven't suffered amnesia." Rielle said. "In fact, sitting here freezing my well-toned ass off is reminding me why I was so pissed at you to begin with."

"…I'm sorry I can't make you feel different." Zackel said. "If you want…I can go back into the storm…"

"You know I should call you on your lackadaisical attempt at reverse psychology and toss you back out there, and then use your frozen corpse to prop the door closed." Rielle semi-snapped. "I also don't appreciate this passive, doormat-esque mindset. I still say you're a weerkuay moron, but at least you have your reasons for being a moron. Or I'd have let you sit here all alone."

"…so…what about us?"

"Oh you're gonna get us out of this, Zackel. But…" Rielle said, her tone skirting away from anger and towards thought. "I have thought about it. Where you and I see differently, and why. I haven't…forgiven you, but I don't think forgiven is the right word."

"…at least there's that." Zackel said.

"What, you expected something else, mage? What kind of a person do you think I am?" Rielle said. Zackel winced and closed his eyes, thinking his answer over a second.

"That's a loaded question Rielle. You should be careful with those. As should I."

"Oh, and what does THAT mean, Zackel?"

"Last night, I was completely honest with you. If you want, I can continue." Zackel said, turning to look into Rielle's face. Darts of anger were again crossing her eyes as she narrowed her brow, though she did not release her clinch.

"Tread very carefully, mage. You may think you can change things, but change…is not always good."

"…No…no, I suppose not." Zackel said. "But I will venture and hope what is gained is good. What are you, Rielle?"

Zackel ran his tongue over his teeth for a second, gathering his thoughts.

"You're an exceptionally determined woman. Not just that. You understand and balance your determination. You want to get out of here and know that you, for the most part, can't. A lot of people would go completely stir crazy instead of just mildly, or delude themselves into thinking they should chance what they might not survive. You instead adapt the situation to suit your direction. Which brings up my next point." Zackel said. "You're not just talented. You're enlightened in your talent. I've seen how well you can read body language, how quickly you can adjust to sudden, unexpected changes and variances in combat. The average person would rely entirely on the advantage that would give them over the…well, average person. You don't. You're constantly seeking to better yourself, learn or create new facets of your abilities and skills, and you don't neglect what you were originally taught in the process. You know you're good, but you want to be better. You understand something a lot of people don't: there's no real destination in our journey. Just the journey itself."

"If you think buttering me up is going to lessen what happens when you drop the other shoe, think again, mage."

"No attempt at deflection planned, Rielle. I believe what's good in you outweighs what's bad. What's bad…" Zackel said, steeling himself. "You have anger in you. I can't presume to judge where it comes from or how justified it is. You unleashed it on me, when all I did was what I thought was right. I don't think it was deserved, then and now, and maybe that's what will define us in the end, but…" Zackel said. "You can think. It's not just in your skills and drive. When we debated earlier, you didn't just throw out your opinion and try to bludgeon me with it as a weapon. You looked at it, and while you kept it, you didn't just blithely accept it as unassailable because it was yours. I'd like to think that factor holds true now, and that the immediacy of your anger isn't getting in the way of it. We all have the rage in us in some way. Sometimes it decides more for us then we'd like. But it won't make me change my mind and my opinion, Rielle. If the me of now went back and replaced the me of then, and provided everything played out the same way otherwise…I wouldn't do a thing different."

Rielle's glare briefly intensified, and Zackel felt a small flutter of fear in his gut. Not of the draenei herself, but what was at stake. Some things, as an old poem went, could not be put back together, and finding that out was a terrible thing.

"Why can't you understand the world, Zackel?" Rielle asked.

"The world is a big place. I don't think I've experienced enough to understand it. All I have is…all I have." Zackel said. Rielle said nothing, keeping her gaze locked with Zackel's. "But I can't see how we're different there, Rielle. You've shown me that fact. You ask how I see you? In a way, I see…most of the best aspects of myself. And parts I wish I could have."

"And the rest?"

"…I can't assess those, Rielle. I don't know the story there." Zackel said. "If you want me to do it anyway, then…it's nothing that you can't overcome. Or decide is correct. That choice, in the end, is yours."

"…oh you think you're so clever, don't you." Rielle said. "Think you can manipulate me, like I'm one of your Thrust games. Oh you can't, Zacky-boy. You're not that good."

Zackel stared.

"…But…" Rielle began.

The slightest hint of motion registered in Zackel's mind before Rielle broke her embrace around him and whirled towards it, snatching up her axe. Zackel followed her gaze…

He didn't know just what he saw disappearing from his view, it moved too quickly. But he knew he'd seen something.

"Zackel, tell me that wasn't just my mind having to recover from being frozen by your idiocy." Rielle said.

"…no. I saw it too." Zackel said. He braced himself and then lifted his body back into a vertical position, all his muscles yelling in complaint as he did so. He'd gotten too wrapped up in talking to Rielle to notice his body's slow return to relative normalcy, but the fact that he now needed to move made him realize he could, though his battered form was not happy to have been called on to act. It seemed it would have preferred being motionless and having access to an outside heat source for a few more minutes or hours. Zackel managed, in the end, to get it to shut up, but it was clear his body wasn't to stay quiet long.

"Something's in here." Rielle said, glancing at Zackel before taking off. Zackel followed, a bit slower than he would have liked, and entered the pair's sleeping quarters to find Rielle stalking around, looking said room over.

"Anything?" Zackel said.

"Nothing. Shit. I KNOW I saw something!" Rielle said, semi-dashing over to her armor as she began putting pieces of it on.

"You did see something." Zackel said, stealing over to the fire to warm up some more and conduct his own visual sweep. If something had eluded the draenei, though, it eluded him in turn. "The question is, what?"

"What could POSSIBLY be in here, we've been stuck in here for weeks, what could POSSIBLE hide for WEEKS…?" Rielle snapped, slipping her hooved feet into her armored boots.

"Therein lies the question…" Zackel said, gathering his power. "And I think it's a question long overdue for an answer."

"Whatever it is, it better hope it's a ghost. Otherwise, it will find this world is a world of hurt." Rielle said, having finished suiting up as she saw fit. Axe in hand, she began heading for the other door.

"I'll be right behind you. Just going to seal off where we've come from." Zackel said, heading to the door they'd entered the room from. A quick check of the hallway revealed nothing new, and Zackel hedged his bets by not just closing and locking the door, but icing it shut. He found Rielle waiting for him on the stairs.

"Let's go Zack. Try and keep up. If you don't, I'm leaving you behind." Rielle said.

"Lead the way." Zackel replied, staff in hand as the two headed down the stairs.


In a way, Zackel didn't know what would have been worse. Finding obvious evidence that something had changed, or what they had gotten…which was the same old exact abandoned castle they were stuck in. To Rielle, the latter clearly jarred and aggravated her more, as she'd broken into a low, constant mutter after one sweep turned up nothing new. After asking Zackel if his ice traps were still working (Zackel confirmed they were), Rielle had begun stalking around the castle again, a low stream of muffled vitriol spilling from her mouth.

Zackel, on the other hand, kept quiet, for several reasons. One, he didn't want to bother Rielle any more, despite the fact he was getting rather mentally abraded himself by this whole process. But the other was the bigger reason: upon discovering nothing new, and in reflection of the fact that Zackel KNEW he had seen something, the mage had begun turning the issue and experience over in his head once more.

The difference this time, of course, was that Rielle was no longer causing him to forcibly recall the events of that day in Stormwind. With that and its unfortunate side effects lifted off Zackel's shoulders, Zackel found himself no longer distracted by the notion that he was losing his mind, or that aspects of his past were being reflected in his present and would define his present actions. As it turned out, those two factors had been considerable stumbling blocks in the use of his mental abilities, be they ever so humble. So while Rielle stalked and cursed, Zackel followed behind her, watching her back and thinking on the issue.

Like the two were linked, Rielle stopped dead even as a concept gelled inside Zackel's mind.

"Son of a…SHIT! I hate being played with like this!" Rielle cursed, her head jerking back and forth, trying to take it both sides of the hallway at once. Zackel considered trying to put a hand on her shoulder, and decided against it: he probably risked losing his hand if he did so.

"You're not alone there…" Zackel said.

"Weerkuah wants to play with me, I'll show him some real fun games…" Rielle said, before her eyes noticed something and settled on Zackel's face. "You. Mage."

"Yes?"

"That look on your face. You have an idea. You damn well better have an idea, or I'll take my frustration out on you!"

"Don't take me in any fashion yet, Rielle…I do have something…something…" Zackel said, trying to interject some of their old banter in his words. He wasn't sure if it worked, and decided to move on instead of pressing. "The way you put it. Play."

"Yeah. Play, except I'm not having any fun." Rielle spat.

"Rielle please, calm down…"

"I AM CALM!" Rielle semi-yelled. The realization of the contradiction sank onto her face two seconds after she'd spoken, leading her to grimace and touch her head. "All right. You had an idea. What's this about playing?"

"That's the thing. I…don't think that's what this is. I've said it before: this is too drawn out to be playing or games." Zackel said, looking around. "If we theorize, again, the concept of a sadistic intelligence watching us…it's too long overdue to make a move. A mind like that can only play for so long before it gets bored. If it was trying to get us into an optimal situation for it to act, well…it had two. Within the last twenty-four hours. And nothing happened."

"Really then. How can I tell something didn't happen to you when I was out of sight, by that logic?" Rielle said.

"…cut my head off."

Rielle arched an eyebrow.

"If you think I'm not me, then remove the chance. Kill me." Zackel said.

"Oh ha ha Zackel, you know you need to…"

Rielle moved so fast that Zackel barely made out the motion. She stopped her abrupt swing an inch from Zackel's neck. Zackel's eyes widened, and he recoiled away from the weapon, staring with wide, shocked eyes. Despite his efforts, he still had trouble following her. Then again, he hadn't exactly had his defenses up.

"…all right. I haven't met someone who could so convincingly fake being pathetic." Rielle said, lowering her weapon. Zackel considered taking umbrage, but decided the alien hadn't really meant it. Maybe. "Continue."

"Okay…we both saw something. Odd things have occurred. Yet at the same time…nothing has happened." Zackel said. "All the evidence, especially considering the last twenty-four hours, flies in the face of something plotting to do us harm. Something cannot be so smart to try and manipulate us as it seemingly is, and so stupid that it hasn't recognized the best time to strike. So, if we eliminate that…"

"BEHIND YOU!' Rielle abruptly yelled, grabbing Zackel and shoving him aside. Zackel hit the wall with some surprise, trying to re-collect his thoughts and whirl around to face what had caused Rielle's alarm…

Only to find nothing. AGAIN. Rielle apparently thought otherwise, though, as she was sprinting down the hallway.

"What's going on!"

"I SAW SOMETHING! I KNOW I DID! YOUR BODY WAS BLOCKING IT!" Rielle yelled over her shoulder, as she whirled around the corner. Zackel ran to follow the alien, who moved amazingly fast considering her heavy armor. After another minute, though, it was clear even her anger couldn't out-pace her need to rest, and Zackel found her at another corner of the lower hallways, breathing hard and deep.

"What is GOING ON…" Rielle hissed through clenched teeth, turning back to the mage. "Did you see anything?"

"Just you. Running around."

"It ducked out of sight literally the second I needed to move you. By the time-ARGH!" Rielle cursed, slashing the wall with her axe.

"…do you want me to finish?"

"What? Oh…yeah. All right Zackel. What's our problem?"

"Well, if it's not something in here that wants to do us harm, and we accept something else is in here…then that just leaves one option. Something is hiding in here with us."

"Hiding?" Rielle said. "For WEEKS?"

"The only other option is we're both going stir-crazy. And I doubt that would manifest for both of us in the exact same way." Zackel said. "Something hiding in here with us makes the most sense. It hasn't tried to attack us because it can't handle us. Considering we haven't seen ANYTHING beyond fleeting glimpses of a maybe-something…it must be very, very good at hiding. So good it's somehow managed to do it this whole time. Between that, and the stress of our confinement and…other issues…we overestimated the threat to us. It might not…be a threat at all."

"…a nice theory Zackel." Rielle said. "But it begs the question: WHY DIDN'T IT SET OFF ANY OF YOUR ICE TRAPS?"

"…maybe it secretly viewed me…"

"ALL of them? Didn't you stick a few in random locations just in case?"

"…yes."

"And if something's hiding in here with us…what's it eating? Where's the evidence of its presence? Have you seen anything out of place that could indicate something like that? I haven't, and I should know: I've run around this fortress so many times that I've practically memorized it."

"…no. No I haven't…"

"Don't seize on a theory just because it sounds good to YOU, mage. I'm not putting my life at risk because of your stupidity."

"Rielle, please…"

"No please about it Zack! We have a problem and you are not presenting a solution! And I really don't want you becoming part of the problem again!"

"…I just…"

"What, Zackel? You just what? You don't trust me?"

"…that's…" Zackel trailed off. He did not know what to say. Rielle had raised several significant holes in his theory, and almost any other time, Zackel would have adapted or abandoned it. But…

It wasn't just the fact that without this theory, he didn't have a clue what was going on. It was something else, something he found he just couldn't put into words for Rielle.

He'd been up there, all that time, talking with the cold. The cold that reigned supreme here. He had not been able to talk it down…but in the strange ways of magic, he would have insisted that it respected him.

Yet it had given him no indication of a threat, of some sort of looming danger that put his life at risk. Zackel was certain, CERTAIN, that if that was the case, it would have given him SOMETHING, even something so vague and incomprehensible that it would only make sense in hindsight. Yet, all his 'dialogue' had been in his attempt to stop the storm: he'd been given nothing that could be attributed as a warning, portent, omen, or otherwise.

How could he possibly explain to Rielle that he thought he was correct because the equivalent of a little birdie had not given him reason to think otherwise?

"I…I just think it's the solution that makes the most sense, even if it isn't much. The rest make none."

"Right. Of course. The Light forfend that a mage ever considers that he's completely wrong." Rielle said, her tone alternately snarky and disappointed, though Zackel couldn't place the exact nature of said disappointment. "Bravo, Zack. You are the very height of brilliant."

Zackel's eyes widened, and a puzzle piece snapped into place.

"…of course."

"What? Of course what?"

"If we're not being literally haunted, then my ice traps would have caught something…except…" Zackel said, lifting a finger as he began drawing on the air. "Of COURSE."

"What?"

"The unusual nature of this situation kept me from realizing it. Too many distractions, most of them my own fault." Zackel said. "My ice traps…they're set off by invisible trigger 'lines'. There's several of them, criss-crossing back and forth in the trap's setup…but they're all at least two feet off the ground."

Rielle stared, and Zackel saw the wheels turning in her own brain.

"We thought that something that might be here didn't have the substance to set off traps, but…" Zackel began.

"What if something was so small or cautious to go UNDER them all the time?" Rielle said. "That COULD happen but…what would be that small? A gnome? A kobold?"

"I don't know. All I know is it's time for some adjustments…" Zackel said, planting his staff with both hands. Rielle felt the temperature drop in the immediate vicinity, and took a few steps back to get out of Zackel's cold field.

"You're adjusting the trigger lines?"

"Carefully…or WE'LL set them off when we go through them. They're somewhat pre-designed spells, and they don't react well to tampering…" Zackel said, closing his eyes. He felt Rielle and the hallway drift away, his senses reaching out to the nearest of his traps. He grit his teeth as he mentally adjusted the trigger lines and then re-solidified the trap's status. With that done, his mind moved to the next one, carefully making the same adjustments. Then the next…

If Zackel had had eyes on the back of his head, he might have noticed the contemplative look that had come over Rielle's face as she watched him. But what she was thinking, and how it related to him, was literally miles away from Zackel's thought process. If he could adjust all the traps, then maybe answers would come. Or, at the least, he could know for sure his thought process was completely wrong…

ARE YOU SO CERTAIN THAT THAT SOLUTION FAVORS YOU?

Zackel's eyes snapped open, and he recoiled backwards, startling Rielle from the suddenness of the motion.

"What…!" Rielle began.

And on the heels of her voice, the faint, crackling crunch noise came, even as Zackel felt fingers of ice run up his arm.

And behind that…came the soft, short cry.

Zackel jerked his head towards the direction it had come from, and then back towards Rielle, whose own surprise was vanishing from her face.

"I KNOW I heard something!" Rielle said, and took off. Zackel stared after the warrior, the wheels turning slower than he would have liked…

As he realized the thought that his surprise had driven away.

"RIELLE WAIT I DIDN'T TURN OFF ALL…!"

Whether Zackel's warning helped her, or it was simply her own reflexes, Rielle managed to stop on a dime and leap backwards as the hallway walls in front of her abruptly bloomed into a dozen stabbing ice lances, the frost weapons crashing together where Rielle would have been if she'd kept going.

"…You IDIOT!" Rielle snapped, glaring at Zackel.

"Sorry I…"

"DON'T CARE!" Rielle yelled, turning and smashing through the ice with two great sweeps of her axe. Zackel felt a brief flush of shame at having nearly hurt the draenei, before the realization slammed down onto his thoughts anew. Another trap had been set off. They'd heard a cry.

Something WAS here.

When Zackel caught up to Rielle, she was smashing her way through the originally triggered trap. Zackel stopped to observe, and his heart seized up. There was nothing, as far as he could tell, on the other side of the triggered defense. A quick scan of the area around him gave no evidence that anything was THERE, either. It was another false lead, another dead end…

Before Rielle started through the second trap she'd shattered…and then immediately stopped, having seen something on the ground. She dropped to one knee, as Zackel quickly made his way to her side.

Rielle was looking at her fingers, and the faint touch of red that was there. The same red that Zackel quickly ascertained was spattered on the ground in front of her and leading around the corner.

"Blood?" Zackel said, wanting to be sure.

"If it bleeds, we can kill it." Rielle said, standing up. "Zackel, turn off the rest of your traps. I don't want to go setting them off."

"Whatever we're chasing could…"

"Just DO IT." Rielle said, her tone clear that she wasn't going to take any dissertation.

"…all right." Zackel said, reaching out. While modifying the traps was difficulty, simply shutting them off was not. All it took was a few quick gestures and an act of will.

"It's done." Zackel said, having felt the sensation of his traps turning off as faint taps on the back of his skull.

"Then we hunt." Rielle said, standing up and following the blood trail. Zackel once again followed after her, and as he did, his mind turned back to the issue at hand.

There HAD been something in there with them. Something of flesh and newly spilled blood. Something that had avoided all his traps…because it were too short?

Then…HAD he set off his own trap several nights before, due to his own stress?

Had all the voices in his head been just that, in his head?

And if something was in there with them, how had they avoided…?

Rielle's gesturing hand broke Zackel out of his train of thought. Having got his attention, Rielle pointed to the ground in front of them, and then at the room to their front and left. The blood trail ran into it…it being the same room with the hidden door behind the bookcase, and the strange room with its incomprehensible markings it led to.

"Come on." Rielle whispered. "We'll charge in. Be ready for anything."

"All right." Zackel said, gathering his power. Rielle got her axe into an optimum defensive position, as the pair crept over to the doorway as quietly as they could. Rielle held up one hand again, extending four fingers and then using them to count down.

On one, they erupted through the door.

Zackel wasn't sure what he expected to see when he charged into the room with Rielle.

He hadn't expected it to be nothing at all.

The two drew up almost as soon as they've charged into the room. Said room was as abandoned as ever, with the rotting bookcase still placed in front of the hidden door. There was no monster, no corpse, no sign that anyone had actually slipped into the room beforehand.

"What the FEL?" Rielle cursed, her head jerking around. Zackel looked up, seized by the odd thought he might see a ladder or a rope. But nothing was in the stairway passage the room lurked below of, and as Zackel turned around, nothing had snuck in behind them.

"NO! It was IN HERE! THE TRAIL…!" Rielle almost screamed.

"…the trail." Zackel said, turning his eyes to the blood traces they'd followed into the room.

Which immediately jerked left, to the wall next to the door. A small pool of blood was there, but no body. Zackel blinked, even as he realized whatever they'd chased had hidden to the side of the door and used their tunnel vision against them, immediately heading back out of the room even as they realized it was empty.

"…trick. Come on Rielle…!" Zackel said, heading back out of the room. Much to Zackel's lack of surprise, there was not a fresh route of blood spatters to follow.

"It doubled back on its own tracks." Zackel said.

"Great. MOVE!" Rielle said, pushing past Zackel and stalking back the way she'd come, noting the smears and faint new traces that indicated the mystery creature's backward passage and trying to determine where the new break-off point might be. For a moment, Zackel almost considered turning his traps back on, and then decided that it would probably not be worth it if Rielle triggered one again. Instead, he followed the warrior once more.

"Almost got you, you shit. Got a lot of…" Rielle muttered, turning the corner, ready for a possible attack. None came, and Rielle continued re-tracing her steps, Zackel behind her.

He almost didn't see it, as they walked past the stairs. The movement caught the corner of his eye, causing him to stop.

"Rielle!"

"What?" Rielle said, turning around as Zackel turned to face the stairs. "The basement?"

"…no." Zackel said, looking at the basement door. They were locks on both sides, and Zackel had locked the 'outside basement' locks ever since the last time he'd explored the makeshift tomb he and Rielle had made of it. There was no way anyone could have opened the door from inside the basement without causing clear damage, damage Rielle would have surely seen. "The stairs."

"The stairs? I don't…" Rielle said, heading over to the stairs and looking at them. Zackel saw her shoulders tense up a second later.

"You may be right." Rielle said, pointing at the stairs. Zackel walked over and crouched down, taking in the faint spot of blood on the dirty stone steps, nearly indistinguishable from said grime. "It's gone up to our room."

"Yeah, up to our…" Zackel said, as Rielle started up the stairs, clearing the smaller flight in two big steps and turning onto the rightward next flight. Zackel began following her up…

Then he stopped, as the wheels in his brain turned some more, and he turned away from Rielle and towards the wall behind him. It took the draenei a few seconds to notice.

"Zackel what are you doing?"

"Saw something." Zackel said, looking at the wall.

"What?" Rielle said, heading back down the stairs. "Saw SOMETHING?"

"…I…" Zackel said. "Movement. Wrong kind of movement."

"WHAT?"

"…Rielle, how could something hide in a building with us…for weeks…and not have us notice it?" Zackel said, as he began acting on an inkling and began feeling along the wall. "Even if they were good at hiding, the odds of one of us never even stumbling over them is…"

"So what, we're back to a ghost?"

"No…no quite Rielle…but…" Zackel said, continuing his explorations. "I thought I saw movement on this wall. As in, the wall moved. And the only way, when it comes down to it, that something physical could avoid us so long…"

His fingers found the switch, camouflaged perfectly against the rest of the stone blocks. With a sense of grim satisfaction, Zackel pushed it in.

A low grinding noise confirmed his suspicion, even as segment of the wall slid open towards the pair. The flash of movement Zackel had thought he'd seen had reminded him very much of a door closing. The same door he'd just found and opened.

"Is if they knew something we didn't." Zackel said.

"…what the fel…?" Rielle said, walking around and peering into the gloom beyond the hidden door. "Can't see…"

"Torch." Zackel said, sprinting down the stairs and grabbing the nearest one off the wall. Rielle took it as he returned, thrusting it into the gloom. As it turned out, the room inside was so small that Rielle would have had trouble fitting inside, which made sense considering the only thing inside it was a pit in the floor.

"…the fel is this?" Rielle said.

"Old castles like this tended to have a secret passage or three, in case of various troubles. Helps the nobility get out in times of crisis and all that, and hard as hell to find if you don't know they're there." Zackel said, looking over Rielle's shoulder and at the hole. And as he did, another puzzle piece clicked into place.

"…of course." Rielle said, looking at the hole and the rusted metal rungs she could vaguely see going down it. "Damn, I don't know if I can fit…"

"You're not going down there." Zackel said, reaching over and stealing the torch.

"What the…hey! Zackel!" Rielle said, turning towards the mage as he backed up. "Are you HONESTLY trying some chivalry bullshit? NOW?"

"No. You don't have to go down there. Because I know where that pit leads." Zackel said, pushing the hidden stone door closed.

"What? The basement?"

"If what I remember about the layout of this place is right…not exactly."

"Layout?" Rielle said, her eyes shifting upward as she did her own mental calculations. As she did that, Zackel walked over to the basement door, leaning his staff against the wall as he undid the locks.

"…wait…the structure doesn't match…" Rielle said. "Wall would be too thick to…"

"Precisely. The way this building lines up, putting a passage straight down into the basement wouldn't work. It would be so deep into the basement wall this wall lines up with that the door would be nearly impossible to open." Zackel said, opening the basement door and snatching his staff up. Casting his light on the stairs, he carefully made his way down.

Arriving at the bottom gave him his final confirmation. He'd finally remembered something he'd observed but not realized at the time. He and Rielle had thrown five ogre corpses down into the basement. When he'd first investigated it, there had only been three.

Now there were none.

"…the bodies." Rielle said.

"Yeah." Zackel said, as his eyes fell on one of the basement's walls. "That settles it."

"I should have come down here…"

"Hindsight is everything, Rielle." Zackel said, flexing his fingers as he began drawing on his power. "Now, a few hidden passages and being short of stature, which would probably help considering how small that passage was, that could explain away something hiding away from us, always missing my traps, but the last part, the part with the missing bodies, combined with where that secret door and hole down into the basement was positioned, well, the only way all that works is if that's not frozen earth beyond that wall, but rather, another room."

Rielle was about to push past Zackel and take a swing at the wall when she felt the temperature drop again, this time so severely she swore she almost got frostbite.

"So…" Zackel said, and thrust out his hand. Radiating lances of ice leapt from it, spiraling out and impaling into various segments of the wall, the points inside re-erupting into dense hooks that dug into the stone. Zackel narrowed his eyes. It was time for the hard part.

"KNOCK KNOCK." Zackel said, and yanked his ice-hooks backwards.

Some of the wall stayed. The part that made up the hidden door broke apart as Zackel tore it off its 'hinges'. A cloud of ancient dust rushed out, engulfing and coating the pair standing at the foot of the stairs. Zackel managed to avoid coughing, even when the smell rushed in on the dust's heels, an extraordinarily foul odor of rot and worse. He gave the torch a touch of magic to make sure it didn't go out, and brought his staff to the ready. Rielle did likewise, raising her axe behind him, even as Zackel cast the torch forward.

The darkness fell away, revealing what lay within the hidden room.

"Rarrrrhhhhhhhh!" Came the voice, causing Zackel to take a step back, even as his eyes fell on the sound's maker.

An ogre.

A very small ogre, holding a sword he clearly had trouble lifting. Zackel blinked, looking at the ogre.

The second sound it made confirmed it to Zackel, as the ogre unleashed what it clearly hoped was an intimidating roar, and instead produced another reedy, angry yell that didn't sound very impressive. It was a child.

And, as Zackel recovered from his surprise, he realized it wasn't alone.

"Ogres?" Rielle said, stepping around Zackel, the confusion clear in her voice. Zackel didn't reply, instead taking another step forward and trying to see more into the room.

The child ogre charged, dragging its weapon behind it. Zackel felt Rielle tense up.

"Wait." Zackel said, snapping his staff in front of the draenei. Amazingly, she did, even as Zackel jerked the staff back towards the child ogre. "Sontar."

Ice erupted around the child ogre's legs, freezing it in place and causing it to topple over. Another ice burst froze its hands to the ground, preventing it from getting back up. It continued to yell and scream, but Zackel ignored it, stepping forward some more to see what the child ogre was protecting.

More ogres. The hidden room that had existed behind the wall had concealed a nest of them. But, as the child ogre had demonstrated, there wasn't a single adult male among them. Only children, and a few larger forms that Zackel was fairly certain were females. Zackel didn't need to see how the females were trying to get the children behind them to know what they were.

"…women and children." Zackel said, casting the torch around to make absolutely sure that there were no adult or battle-ready ogres. He was correct: the only grown ogres were the females, and while Zackel wouldn't have liked to have gotten into a fistfight with one or all of them, he was fairly certain he could have struck them all down with the power he had before they got within five feet of him.

"…what?" Rielle said, looking back at Zackel. "What are they doing…?"

"They must have been taken down here when the ogres attacked me. They didn't know the degree of the threat, so they were protecting the weaker…maybe?" Zackel said. He didn't know a lot about ogres overall, but he did recall that different clans had been observed trying new things they'd learned while on Azeroth. Considering the Crushridge Clan had been in constant battle with the far-from-honorable Syndicate, it made sense that they'd try and keep the 'vulnerable' part of their population tucked away when fights broke out. "When the storm started…your taunt."

"What?"

"You yelled down into the basement to bring up any hiding ogres. The one that came up…must have been their guard. When you killed it, when we threw all the bodies down here…"

"They hid? In this room?" Rielle said. "How did they know it was there?"

"They live here. Must have discovered it earlier." Zackel said. "Ogres…aren't as universally dumb as many people think."

"…but why did they stay hiding down here for…weeks…" Rielle said, as she realized what her 'smoking out' tactic had done. She also didn't know much about ogres, but she knew that their cultures tended to revolve around strength. Between slaying their protector, and throwing the bodies down into the basement, she and Zackel must have seemed terrifying. And when the storm kept them from leaving…

"No choice." Zackel said, peering around at the ogres again. His eyes noticed a particular one, staring at Zackel with clear defiant terror. What set it apart from the other children was the dirty, bloodsoaked rag on its leg. Noticing his gaze, one of the female ogres (if that was what they were, as female ogre sightings were so rare that Zackel couldn't recall any information about them off the top of his head) moved in front of it, glaring at Zackel with harsh, but weary eyes.

It was the clear dullness in that protective gaze that drove it home to Zackel, as well as the bones he'd realized were scattered all over the floor inside the hidden room. He knew then why the child ogre had been sneaking around the castle. And where the ogre corpses in the basement had gone.

"…no food." Zackel said, causing Rielle to glance at him. "If they had any food down here, they must have ran out…maybe even within a few days. That's what the flickers of motion were, the odd events that we couldn't place. One of the children sneaking around, trying to find more food. When they couldn't…they had to eat what they had available."

Rielle looked back at the ogres, glancing around. The wince that briefly passed over her features indicated that even she realized what the ogres had gone through to survive, including eating their own dead. Clearly even that had not been enough, from the trace of lethargy the assumedly-female ogres were showing. They were weak from lack of sustenance, and Zackel doubted they could put up much of a fight no matter how much they wanted to.

"So this is our ghost." Rielle said quietly.

"Yeah. Hiding ogres. Mixed with a whole bunch of bad coincidences." Zackel replied, as he tried to think of what to do now.

"…all right then." Rielle said. "Let's make it quick."

Zackel started to reply, when Rielle's words fully sunk in.

"What?" Zackel said, as Rielle raised her axe and began to approach the hidden ogres. Zackel stared, the shocked surprise that slammed into him nearly paralyzing his vocal cords.

"Wh-…RIELLE WAIT! What are you doing?"

Rielle stopped, and Zackel heard her take a long, slow breath.

"This is our problem, Zackel. We have to solve it."

"Solve it? You mean…"

"YES, YOU IDIOT. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I MEAN." Rielle said, turning around and directing a fierce, angry gaze towards the mage. "We found their hidey-hole. There's nothing else we CAN do."

"…Rielle…are you serious?"

"Serious? SERIOUS? ARE YOU COMPLETELY BRAIN DEAD, MAGE?" Rielle snapped. "You think this is something that can be solved with understanding and acceptance? THESE ARE OGRES. They LIVE for war, death, and destruction! It's ALL THEY KNOW."

"They're women and children!"

"You think that will make a difference? Don't you know how dangerous cornered animals are?"

"These aren't animals, they're not…!"

"No, mage. Do NOT start this. Not now." Rielle said, her tone low and dangerous. "There's a lot to you I can understand and tolerate, but this is NOT a situation where your bleeding heart will help. It will get us killed. So I'm going to solve the problem before it gets worse."

"They're…"

"OGRES, mage. Not Alliance, not Horde, OGRES. They kill everything they can, and laugh while doing it. That's the way they were on Draenor, and that's the way they've remained on Azeroth. Their gender and age are meaningless in the end. Not when they can't hide any more." Rielle said. "I do not do this out of cruelty, or hate, or mindless fear. I do this because I KNOW IT'S WHAT'S NEEDED. And if you can't stomach it…well, I'll do it alone." The draenei said, turning around towards the ogres again. She felt the deep pang of regret bloom in her chest, multiple stripes of it running across her heart, but she swiftly shoved it down, bringing her cold, practical mindset to the fore.

Then a new cold washed over her. This time, it wasn't just a sudden chill. It as like ice had formed claws and raked them over her skin.

"Stop." Zackel whispered.

Rielle narrowed her eyes, turning her face back towards Zackel, who was now holding his staff up, misty blue power swirling around it. The mage watched the dranei's face, hoping against hope…

And when the seething anger returned, Zackel felt his own deep clench of regret. But, like Rielle, he forced it down. Some things were the casualty of the greater good.

"…are you serious." Rielle said quietly.

"You will not hurt them." Zackel said, gathering more energy.

"…are you THIS WEERKAUY STUPID, MAGE? You'll side with OGRES? Over ME?" Rielle snapped.

"I will side with the helpless, to prevent mistakes from being made. If that is in itself a mistake…I'll take the blame. And whatever the consequences may be." Zackel said. "But until that happens…I won't let you hurt them, Rielle."

Rielle snorted dismissively, lifting her axe.

"You think you have any say in the matter now, ZACK?"

"…I'll do what I have to."

"You think you can stop me? You?" Rielle sneered.

"…….I'll do what I have to." Zackel said, his tone quiet and sad.

Rielle looked at the mage, cocking her head at his expression. Zackel returned her gaze, watching a gamut of emotions cross her features, before it finally settled on cold, angry disgust.

"…you're hopeless." Rielle said, lowering her axe. "You're just…just…"

Rielle stalked towards Zackel, shoving him out of the way and storming up the stairs behind him. Zackel heard the basement door tear open and then slam shut, the sound causing him to slump his shoulders. The regret bore down on him again, a crushing weight of broken possibilities.

He only allowed it a few seconds before he pushed it away. The ogres had not disappeared, and after what he'd sacrificed to hold onto what he believed was right, he was loathe to have it been for nothing.

"Ogres." Zackel said, taking a step forward towards the hidden clan remnants, who were clearly confused at just what had happened. Even the child he'd frozen to the floor had gone quiet.

Zackel dispelled the ice he'd used on the defending ogre, allowing it to scramble up and back towards its peers.

"Do…you…understand…me?" Zackel said. He knew ogres spoke Low Common for the most part, which would force him to address them in simple, slow terms. "I…will…not…hurt…you."

"…why?" One of the females asked, its voice a dull croak.

"…I…did…not…know…you…here. Not…enemy…" Zackel said. "Unless…you…make…me…enemy."

Zackel looked around at the mess inside the hidden room, and again felt sorrow over what he'd inadvertently made the creatures do. Ogres may have almost always tended towards being savage, monstrous brutes, who gladly would have roasted him over a cooking fire…but even they probably had been loathe to eat the corpses of their fallen men-folk, until they'd had no choice. He'd done that to them, not to mention being the one who'd killed them. Despite the strong extenuating circumstances, Zackel still felt considerable remorse over it all.

"…Boy." Zackel said, indicating the ogre child with the filthy, blood-soaked dressing. "You…the one? Wander…around…castle? We…chase…you?"

The ogre child stared for several moments, before giving a slow nod.

"…come…here." Zackel said, leaning his staff against the wall before slowly reaching into his robe. The female ogres bristled at the motion.

"No…I…help." Zackel said, drawing one of his few remaining healing potions. "Heal…where hurt."

"No!" One of the other female ogres said. "Trick!"

"…bandage…dirty. Could…make sick." Zackel said, holding up the healing potion. "Heal…water. Not…poison."

To try and drive the point home, Zackel uncorked the tincture and drank some of it himself, feeling the liquid tingle in his stomach as it tried to seek wounds that weren't there.

"See?" Zackel said. "Help…where hurt."

The child ogre still seemed wary, but ultimately came over to Zackel. Despite himself, Zackel did not drop his guard as he knelt down, removed the bandage and dripped several drops of the elixir into the ugly gash Zackel's trap had made on his leg. The wound began to close up, though the child ogre clearly didn't notice in his haste to get away from Zackel. Zackel stood back up, replacing the potion in his robes and picking up his staff again.

"…stay…down…here." Zackel said. "I…give you food…and water. Will leave…on stairs…every day." Zackel said. He held out his staff, and much to the ogre's astonishment, began manifesting bread and water containers on the floor in front of him. Zackel did that for nearly two minutes straight, the process draining him a fair bit but also assuaging his guilt. Some might have said that he had no reason to feel guilty, but Zackel had never been the type to dismiss things easily, even when he should have.

"…Storm…end soon." Zackel said. "When it…end…we leave. I…tell you before. You…can leave then. But…must stay down here. No more…sneak…or hide. STAY….DOWN HERE." Zackel said, finally putting a note of warning threat into his tone. "If…find any of you…in castle…even one…will not stop her again. She…kill you all. So…STAY. DOWN. HERE."

Zackel looked around at the hidden ogres, who seemed to understand. Whether Zackel could trust them or not, he really didn't know. But he'd meant what he'd said. If they bit the hand that had literally fed them, he would not stay Rielle's a second time. Otherwise…he meant the rest of what he had said as well.

Zackel cast his torch over the basement once more, again looking at the many scattered bones that had once been adult ogres.

"…I…sorry." Zackel said quietly, and turned to leave. He made it back up the stairs without incident.

He was mildly worried, when he tried the basement door, that he would find it was locked.


As it had turned out, the basement door was not locked.

The door leading to Zackel and Rielle's sleeping quarters was. Worse, Zackel's furs were haphazardly tossed on the floor in front of the door. The sight of them almost kept Zackel from trying the door and confirming that it was indeed locked.

Rielle had kicked him out.

Zackel stared at the door, dully realizing the problem. While he could make food, all his other items, including all his alchemy material (he'd wanted to make some glue to seal the hidden door on the stairs, just in case) were in the room, and considering the way his furs were lying outside the door, he doubted Rielle was going to let him have them. There was also the problem that the fireplace was inside the room, the room he had gone to considerable effort to seal off so the heat wouldn't leak out. The rest of the castle, while not freezing, was hardly pleasant…

…and she'd KICKED HIM OUT.

"…Rielle…I mean, come on…" Zackel said, mostly to himself. "We solved the mystery, you helped me with…why did you have to insist that the ogres had to die? Are you really so…we were…why did…"

And for the first time in a while, Zackel felt anger bloom inside him.

"…no. No, no, NO." Zackel hissed. This was ridiculous, and beyond the pale. Even taking into account the danger of ogres, Rielle should have seen more than enough of the world to know that you should never cast such a wide judgment. If there had been injured or sick male ogres hiding down in the room, then maybe she might have had a point…but there hadn't been, and Zackel was certain that the ogres had not been hiding them away. There had been nothing but women and children, near-helpless unless completely cornered, forced to hide and starve…and she'd wanted to kill them? Because they MIGHT have been a threat?

Just like she'd thrown away everything they'd built because of how he'd chosen to interact with the Horde, before they'd even met? Even AFTER he'd explained the misconception she'd had that had fueled said anger? And after he'd made it clear he wouldn't let her make a snap judgment, she'd done the equivalent of packing her bags and taking off?

Was that what she thought of him in the end?

No. Enough was enough. This door couldn't hold him, and she knew it, and Zackel had HAD IT. He'd given her inch after inch, considering how much of this was his fault, and she'd shown herself to not be deserving any of it…

…and that didn't make sense.

"…uggghhhhh." Zackel said, putting a hand up against his face. "….wait. If…"

The anger rumbled in his ears, demanding he stop thinking. He always over-thought everything, and this wasn't a situation that needed or deserved it. Rielle had seemed like a pretty decent girl, but her ugly side had come out, and it was too ugly for this to continue…

Except it didn't make sense to him. Rielle had shown flashes of a bad side, and they hadn't agreed with everything…but it shouldn't have lead to THIS.

How could it? He'd meant what he'd said, back on the stairs less than a half hour before. The good in her outweighed the bad…

Then again, he'd been so troubled by his own problems that maybe he'd made the wrong judgment, or missed things…

Or maybe the cabin fever was getting to Rielle, and she was making her own snap judgments. She'd seemed to have calmed down since last night…

But last night had just been some angry threats. Now she'd almost ATTACKED him…

Enough of this. You've been abused and belittled enough by that girl. ESPECIALLY after all you've done. It's time to make a stand. If you have to do it by kicking her off her perch, it's nothing she hasn't earned…

"…no." Zackel said, trying to cool his head, literally and metaphorically. Even if Rielle had turned out to be a bad seed, he couldn't follow down her path and start making decisions based on how angry he felt. In the end…that cure would be worse than the disease.

How he'd handled Jasciona had proven that. Some situations did not suit emotions well. He would approach this from a logical perspective.

And his initial steps were already telling him that there would be a lot of them. Things were not adding up. Revealing the hidden ogres did not answer all the questions, especially when it came to Rielle's actions.

There was something else, and he had to find it. If only to confirm whether or not it was actually there. Based on that…he'd figure out the proper, final way to deal with Rielle.

If everything failed, it wasn't going to be because he had.

"…all right, Rielle." Zackel said, picking up his furs. He wasn't speaking with the expectation that the draenei could hear him, and he didn't really care if she could or not. "Whether you deserve it, or not, you get one last inch."

Zackel turned, heading down the stairs. He'd have to figure out which room was best to sleep in. He'd also need to figure out a new privy. Then the real questions would begin.

"…I hope you do. I really do." Zackel whispered, and then fell completely silent as he arrived at the ground floor and began looking around.


In the room, Rielle watched the fire, feeling like she was looking into a mirror. She was silent herself, watching the wood burn.

It was dawning on her just what her situation was now. If she hadn't been trapped before, she was now. Alone.

…just like always. Why should this be any different?

"…stupid mage." Rielle said, and kept watching the fire.

But no matter how much wood she put on it, or how close she got, it couldn't chase away the chill.