Part I Edit
The high, wing-backed chair in the great room was not in its normal place. It had been dragged from its position alongside the lavish, velvet, ruby-colored sofa to directly face the immense marble fireplace. The silhouette above the back of the chair, curly auburn hair, gathered upward into a loose-yet-elegant French twist, almost seemed to absorb the red-orange hue of the flame to create an eerie, fiery aura.
She sat there, dressed in clinging black silk that laced up her back and kissed her shoulders with thin ribbons of strap, legs crossed and icy-blue eyes absorbing the intensity of the fire. One might think that this close to it she, or at the very least, the chair, would erupt into flame, but she seemed to be unaware of the heat and the chair seemed unharmed.
At her side stood a hooded figure, black cloak ensconcing all but his black-lacquered boots and angular face. He was handsome in a way; or would have been, save for the gauntness of his dark face and the hungry look in his intense, emerald eyes. One would have to look very closely to see the pupils: thin, black, reptilian slits embedded in those impossibly green eyes. This green was a mad green; an envious green; a malicious green that glared, snarled, and bared its teeth with one glance.
�If you and your Daggers cannot find them,� he sneered in a rasping, snake-like hiss, �then Master wishes you to inform the Agency.�
Elisia�s cold eyes � a cold the fire could not even touch � spared him the briefest of glances, as if he were mere annoyance and not the malicious threat he appeared to be.
�I have a plan,� she answered in half-irritation, half-conviction.
�Yesss� and when you fail, as you most surely will with that pathetic little rag-tag band for followers, you will have the Nikajah search. The Nikajah has been a thorn in Shadow�s side, in Master�s side. The Nikajah and its followers will have a better chance than your useless division. They think too much of themselves.�
Elisia�s expression changed briefly at the mention of Nikajah�s name. Anger, envy, disgust�but then it was gone as quickly as it had come, the impassiveness of her tawny, beautiful features picking up the golden hues of the fire. She offered her hand, palm down, the serpent-ring on her finger pressed toward the figure. Its ruby eyes flashed in the firelight, almost as if alive.
�Master does not doubt my loyalty. His Will Be Done,� she answered soothingly, the tone she reserved for seducing a particularly willful target.
The figure purred � not in a feline manner, but in an odd, grating way that sounded similar to the rattle of a poisonous snake.
Part II Edit
The One... The One... The Two Shall Become The One... The Shard... The Shard... The Shard That Broke The One...
Elisia sat straight up in bed. The room was black as pitch save for twin emerald eyes floating just above her head. The sound of leathery wings flapped, fwoop, fwoop, fwoop, and everything else was still.
... You must meet The One-Handed. The time is now.
Elisia pursed her lips in irritation, illuminating a soft fiery spark from her right palm. All she glimpsed was a black leathery wing snuffing out the flame with a particularly forceful flap.
MASTER. The word reverberated through her mind and twisted it, as if pushing her arm at awkward angles behind her back. She bent to its will and grabbed her black silk shift, feeling for it in the darkness.
There was silence and then... she felt a pull. It was as if her whole being was pulled through something too small for it to fit through. It was windless and dark, illuminated only by gentle whorls of silver-purple threads floating through the massive void. And yet, she was funneled through it...
Her feet touched roughly-hewn, weathered wooden planks. Noise rushed into her ears; at first seeming far away and filtered through glass, then rushing fully upon her, filling her head with volume. She pulled her shift tightly around her, noticing finally that she was among men, goblins, and the occasional other species. They were at some port of call, there was a ship, and...
Lewdly, they stared at her. Managing a frosty glare that shut their gaping maws, she entered a building with a swinging sign. On the door had been tacked a worn piece of ripped parchment reading only a hastily-scrawled numeral: one.
The patrons all spotted her, but the innkeeper was quick to intervene. Even as they made rude gestures and even ruder suggestions, the wrinkled goblin led her to a back room. Smoke was thick enough to create a fog against the candle-light that could be assumed lit the small back room. The tavern owner left in a hurry, closing the door shut behind her. Murmuring a few words to the Darkness, she felt herself steel with the Power of the Nether.
A rough-hewn table stood at the center, surrounded by haphazardly-strewn, empty chairs. Dirty mugs and plates filled with carcasses littered the table-top. Behind a tarnished candelabra sat a rather large goblin, his pointed ears scarred, torn, and pierced with several golden hoops. He had a rather large, flat nose; beady black-brown eyes; and a pointed-tooth sinister smile with odd spaces between each tiny fang. His ears seemed too large for his somewhat bulbous head, wrapped in a smudged red bandanna. A jagged scar ran the length of his left brow, across the bridge of his nose, and ended at his right jawline. But the most noticeable thing about the goblin was that his right hand was nothing but a stump, end mended in a fat, swollen scar that had somehow blackened. His left hand was perched at an angle, sharp dirty nails filed into pointed claws drumming against the wooden table.
"Well, you must be La`Roche. I hear you're assembling a scry to find the location of The One and its Bane?" His voice was raspy around the thick cigar he puffed, blowing circles of smoke outwardly toward her. His eyes narrowed in an estimation of her worth.
"Your Ears and my Eyes must be the same, considering how I've traveled here. How may I address you?" she asked politely. Her hands folded in front of her, as though she were addressing a room full of nobility instead of some common thug goblin.
"Kraznor the One-Handed." He waved his blackened stump. "I might have a location on The Bane. But you tell Thomas it's going to cost him big."
She nodded, tucking a stray curl behind an ear. "We'll pay."
Part III Edit
"Mistress, a Nikajah Silverleaf is here to see you," the succubus spoke in a heated whisper. Her tail lashed back and forth, bright blue eyes wide with hope for even a simple touch.
Elisia scowled. Damn it. Someone had talked. "Send her in, Syva. And bring some wine... the thirty year vintage." I've been a fool to think they'd keep their mouths shut.
Elisia stood near the library's fireplace, expansive in all its marble glory, candelabra decorating the mantle in flickering light that was dwarfed by the fire burning within. Strange objects littered the space between.
The elf entered; the wooden beads in her hair clicking as she walked, announcing her arrival. She towered over Elisia at seven feet tall, and likely used that fact to her advantage.
"Ahh, Director, I've been meaning to speak with you," Elisia purred, proffering her sweetest smile. Her lips stretched so tightly her face hurt.
"Cut it. You weren't planning on telling me of this little mission of yours, were you?" Nikajah narrowed her eyes shrewdly, arms crossed over her chest.
Syva entered with a cask of wine and two crystal stemmed glasses. She poured some into each. Nikajah refused with a simple raise of her hand, but Elisia took hers and drank deeply before answering. She made a show of it, swirling, sniffing, and sipping.
"Of course I planned on telling you, Director, once I discovered that the mission was real and worth pursuing. You see, it is goblins intent on hiring me, and one can never trust a goblin to be telling the truth. I only wanted to verify that it wasn't a waste of time and resources by utilizing a scry before bringing this to your attention." Elisia gave her a sugary smile before taking another sip, appearing to be perfectly at ease.
Nikajah twisted her lip skeptically. "Right. In any case, goblins have hired... US... to do what exactly?"
"Why, to find some artifacts for them. They're just a middle-man for a rich collector, though. They will not give up his identity." She shrugged as if to say, I did all I could...
"I want to speak to them myself."
Damn. She knew it was coming, but... well, she'd talk to Thomas. "Of course, Director. I will arrange a meeting as soon as possible."
Part IV Edit
Part V Edit
The ship cut a sharp path through the dark, iceberg-riddled waters, the womanly figurehead carved into the prow spilling curls of sea-sprayed oak behind her handsome visage. Almost unseen perched upon the mast was a sleek raven, a tiny bone cylinder tied to one leg with a frayed piece of twine. It would be an arduous journey, and it would take respite, however brief, when it came. Days came and went, warming weather drying the raven's feathers faster after each hunt for the ocean's fare, most often a school of leaping silverfish. Days turned to weeks before the sharp eye of the raven landed upon coastline, and lifted its wings to the currents of salted air carrying it southern-bound. It would be long flights now before respite would be found once again.
Disease and decay reached up through the currents like tendrils of sickness reaching for the raven's wings. It pushed on, though flying through a thick soup of death-stench and rot. There would be no hunting here; therefore, the journey would be hasty now. It beat the air with its wings furiously, as though battling the Plague itself. The Sickness was an abomination to Nature, an abomination to Living Things. The raven spiraled down toward an encampment outside of a brilliantly shining chapel; its white marble shone out against the sickly landscape like a beacon of hope against the ravaged lands. Finally, it alighted on the branch of a Plague-gnarled once-tree, branches twisted grotesquely like misshapen claws.
The Sentinel deftly maneuvered the tiny bone cylinder between leather-gloved fingers, neatly slicing the twine with a sharp hunting knife. Released from its burden, the raven gave pause only for a moment. Its coal-black eye stared unblinking at the elf before it, with a clever intelligence that seemed to assess and weigh her in that gaze. The woman met the stare with one of her own; luminescent silver bright against the dusky violet-rose of her face. She murmured the right words and the raven took flight, away from the Cursed Lands, far away as its wings could carry it to the next meal. Sometimes that meant feasting on what was Living No Longer, but it must be certain that what it consumed was not an abomination. No, never that, or else it would be turned to the Unlife.
Jasaeri Silverleaf ripped her gloves off with her teeth, barely muffling a grunt of irritation. Trapping them beneath one arm held against her torso, she sliced through the clear sealing wax with a fingernail. The thin parchment roll slid out of the bone cylinder easily, beginning to unfurl in her palm. Images floated through her mind unbidden of the raven perching on the branch. Jasaeri spared a glance in the direction of her companion, who was never far off. She sent waves of calm back along that invisible thread binding them together, the link that made them kin.
Before she even began to read the letter in its severe, slanted hand, her eyes found the sigil impressed in emerald wax of a crescent moon encircling a four-clawed paw and framed around the edge by five tiny stars. If that sign alone were not enough to sway her belief in who had written the letter, the odor of the parchment confirmed it. Her sharp senses pricked at the faint scent of smoky, exotic herbs. An image again formed in her mind, this time of a sleek panther with elfin ears. Jasaeri half-smiled to herself. Yes, Xi, it is She Who Sings to the Moon. A feeling of fondness rippled along the bond.
It was only now dusk, the sky above deepening in hues of golden red tinged with the greenish yellow of disease that hung over the land like a fungus. Her nose pricked at the scent of cook-fires starting. Skullfish stew. She could smell the Crescent-Tail Skullfish that had been mage-frozen for traveling mixed with the delicious aroma of vegetables roasting. As much as she disliked ingesting something that had been kept preserved using magical means, she admitted to herself that relying on the land was not an option and her supply of venison and stale bread had been nearly exhausted. Clutching the still-curled letter in one hand, she pushed inside her tent to deposit her gloves on the scant mat that served as her bedding.
Armed with a tin bowl of Skullfish stew in one hand and still cradling the letter in the other, she found a withered stump away from the ruckus of the encampment to read the letter. She was only vaguely aware of the disdain at her dinner from the bond with Xi, who far preferred raw flesh. She was many miles to the south hunting live, and healthy, game. Jasaeri's focus was on the contents of the letter that had found its way to her over so many days' journey.
Dearest Sister Jasaeri,
I hope this letter finds you well. Northrend is proving to be a difficult campaign in addition to the many duties that Agency requires of me. Forgive me for bringing this right to the point, but space is quite limited and I fear I cannot trust this information to normal post.
I have uncovered Elisia La`Roche's involvement in a plot to acquire sensitive, important artifacts. When I had her installed into office, I inserted a device into her voice relay mechanism which allowed me to tap into her hearthstone frequency against her knowledge. I suspect her of collaboration with the Blue Dragonflight, but I cannot be certain. She must be intercepted before she, or any others, uncover these items. If found and assembled, these artifacts could mean an end to all of the mortal races, and perhaps even Azeroth itself.
Through tapping into her frequency, I have found three possible leads to the artifacts. She intends to investigate the trolls of Stranglethorn Vale, the Dark Iron Dwarves, and the Twilight Cultists in Silithus. She has charged two of her House to aid her in this investigation and bound their tongues in a curse: Wulfe Stargazer and Vestare. She personally pursues the path of the Dark Irons, and assigned the Twilight Cultists to Wulfe, and the Stranglethorn trolls to Vestare.
It is my intention to allow Elisia La`Roche to assist in leading us to these artifacts unknowingly. She has some outside source of information that I cannot seem to penetrate; likely involving magical means. It is my desire that while I am away on duty in the Northrend assault, you monitor her location as your duty permits and report back to me on private hearthstone frequency 12881.
With Love From Your Kin-Sister,
Nikajah M. Silverleaf
Allowing the letter to curl in her palm, she absently chewed the stew, committing the words from parchment to memory. It was almost a surprise when her spoon raked the empty tin. Her boots crunched against the withered, sickened brush and dry, brown grass, carrying her to her own small campfire. She tossed the curled letter in casually, watching the flame eat the parchment's edges black and quickly work inward, leaving only ash in its wake.
She had known the La`Roche sorceress would bring trouble. But then, her little web of plans was a beacon for Jasaeri and the others in the company, leading them straight into the thick of things so that they could right the wrongs. She was rather tired of chasing one threat just to end up thigh-deep in another; where were the Guardians? She half-wished she had not been assigned as liaison for the Sentinels to the Agency, but caught herself. She would not have been reunited with her family if she were assigned elsewhere. Fitting that would have been, she thought in a brief moment of self-pity, You shamed them all. That indulgence left a sour taste in her mouth that she washed out with the waterskin at her hip. She would not fail her family a second time.
Part VI Edit
The woman's shapely hips swayed with her as she strolled the Dalaran cobbled-streets, violet parasol twirling on her shoulder to match her expensively-cut violet dress with a high collar that crept up to her throat, bejewelled with a fat emerald brooch nestled just above an open cut baring the slopes of her copper-colored bosom. The edges were embroidered in fine golden scrollwork, shimmering beneath the eerie glow of Dalaran's ever-burning lamps. The full-lipped beauty slipped into the doorway of a tailor merchant, admiring bolts of fine silks and brocade. The twining serpent ring on her finger flashed brilliantly, the twin ruby eyes seemingly a-glow all their own. Nikajah pressed back into the shadows, clever eyes watching every movement.
Pressing two fat golden coins into the shopkeeper's hand, she took a handful of spools of fine, shimmering threads and delicately slipped them into a scrip at her side. A tongue came out to hungrily lick her full lips, and a smoldering blue-eyed gaze held the shopkeep for just a fraction of a moment. One gold was kept, and the other tucked back into her hand with a fool's grin of pure adoration. The entire scene made Nikajah queasy, but she kept her eyes fastened to the noblewoman.
As Elisia stepped back into the street, Nikajah sprang out and took her arm firmly, linking hers between in an iron grip. Elisia looked startled; that perfect pout forming an O-shaped gasp and an aura of flame surrounding her autumn hair in an otherworldly halo. She recovered her senses as she recognized Nikajah's formidible height, beads clicking with her stride, butt of her staff marking every other step across the paving stones. Elisia allowed herself to be nearly dragged with all the appearance of two friends gossiping about their recent adventures.
Pulling her into "A Hero's Welcome," Nikajah gave the tavern a cursory glance. Armored men and woman forgot what they'd seen in great mugs of ale, or perhaps a sullen gaze here and there said they only remembered too much. She escorted the sorceress up a narrow stairway to the room she had secured, a single feather bed, wooden table, narrow wardrobe, washbasin, and stool were all that served as decor. Swinging her around, Nikajah looked down a met the upturned, defiant gaze with a steel-jawed determination of her own. She used every inch of her height to her advantage.
"Captain." She spoke the word as if producing it made her quake with sickness. "I will make you Captain."
Elisia had been near to shouting in anger, but disbelief washed the words from her mouth. Her blue eyes widened and for a moment, truly were beautiful. The scheming edge to them was back in mere seconds.
"You wish to promote me, Director?" Her eyes were calculating odds behind them, narrowing in estimation of what it would cost and why it was being offered.
Nikajah swallowed the bitterness from her voice. "I may not trust you, but our client does." She spread her hands as if to say, must I go on?
Elisia's lips twisted in a shallow smirk. "And so?" She would wrench every ounce from her, enjoying what appeared to be her shame. It was important, that she be blinded by pride, but Nikajah did not have to enjoy it. That she did not made her all the more convincing.
"And so you must be elevated to this position to allow you to seek what he wishes you to find. No agent responsibilities to tie you back. It is much gold he offers." Elisia's smile could not have been more indulgent.
"Very well." She even managed to sound put-upon! "I will accept this promotion, Director."
She could no longer bear the sight of that visage, drinking in power like it were casks of wine, drunk with the thought of her reach. "Where will you go?" The question sounded half-strangled even to Nikajah's ears, and the smirk on Elisia's face widened in pleasure.
"Wherever our... client... wishes, Director. I await orders. Perhaps this Northrend assault keeps him busy; there is no shortage of artifacts to be collected now that we have gained a foothold here." Her head tilted slightly, the mass of auburn ringlets sliding to one side. "I will, of course, keep you informed."
"See that you do." Nikajah managed, escorting the smiling sorceress from her rooms with a firm arm. "Go now; I have things I must do." The woman all but danced down the narrow stairs on her way out of the inn.
When Nikajah satisfied herself that the sorceress was gone, and every inch of the room had been searched for hidden cantrips or wards, she finally allowed herself to relax a measure. Seated at the narrow writing table, she dipped the nib of her pen in dark ink and began a letter on thick, stiff parchment that whispered under the scratches of the tip.
The bait has been swallowed by the vulture. You now have the vulture's branch - tame it. The vulture will lead me now, free of the branch, if I keep ever-vigilant watch. Do not allow its talons to find the branch again, or the branches of the rest of the tree.
Wiping the nib on a damp cloth, she blew on the page until the ink dried. Ripping the parchment into a thin strip, she rolled it and stuffed it into a tiny bone cylinder, sealing the open end with a simple white wax she held over a candle to meld. With nimble fingers, she tied a green ribbon around the cylinder and made a noise like the crow of a raven. At her window sill, a raven landed only moments later.
With a fine piece of twine, she tied the cylinder to the raven's leg. It studied her with a dark-eyed penetrating gaze, allowing itself to be handled and cocking its head at her gentle coos. She no more than finished securing the message than the raven took flight, searching for Lady Tyrianna Inochra, and only her.
Biting her lip, Nikajah slipped a wooden box from the narrow wardrobe no larger than an inscription case. Stuffing her writing tools into a linen sleeve, she tucked it into the shallow insides of the ornately carved case. Fastening a latch and locking it with a tiny key on a leather cord around her neck - one of a whole plethora that was hidden inside a small satchel that appeared to hold herbs - she took the case and her staff and departed.
Only when she was safely below the city in the sewers, tucked away in a room no one knew existed, did she withdraw the case again. Unlocking it, she put aside the sleeve and slid out the false bottom. An intricate design of swirling gears and mechanisms and dials had been hidden within the panel, and she tuned with with experienced precision. Elisia's sultry voice slid out barely louder than a whisper.
"And I've been elevated to Captain, Thomas. Nikajah is a fool."
Nikajah grinned wryly. Seated cross-legged on the floor, leaning back against the wooden slats of the room, and closing her eyes, she heard nothing but the voices emanating from the case.