.III.
Something is Rotten in Splintertree

Kieromaris meditated by Lake Elune’ara, allowing her mind to drift like a fish through its waters.  The evening was cool and breezy, teasing the lake’s tranquil surface.  Kiero’s long hair spilled around her folded legs, blanketing her thighs.  Frogs hopped about on the lake’s bank, slow and drowsy.  Kiero caught the scent of forthcoming rain.

She dreamed while awake, of things that were and might be.  The whispering earth was her companion, its creatures her guides.  The frogs clustered at her feet and spoke patiently.  The trees told secrets, which fell silently to the ground in a flutter of leaves.  Kiero listened and was troubled.

Azeroth was a plagued world, inundated with threats that began at its very core and extended into dimensions unknown.  Perpetually embattled, the world was a jewel that many sought to shatter—or at least dominate.

But of all it struggles, the relentless invasion of the Scourge was undoubtedly the worst, to Kiero’s mind.  The blight it spread was not only magical but organic.  And yet, the Cenarion Circle’s gains towards a way to reversing it were minimal.  Its biological components were stubbornly complex, and its arcane components were deeply esoteric.  With the Scourge suddenly intensifying its efforts to overrun the world, a way to reverse their plague was more crucial than ever.  But the earth seemed to have no answers for Kiero—only complaints.

She exhaled and rose.  She felt restless, uncomfortable.  There was a disturbance in her bones.  Slender fingers became padded paws as she shed her form and took another, one built for speed.  She had only a vague idea of her destination, but she knew she had to get there fast.

---

Eventually, Cian was the only one left.  Ingomar had crawled into the bed next to Eulalia’s about three hours ago, after her sixth pint.  The dwarven woman was passed out with her mouth open and a mug still in hand.  Even the bartender was dozing, albeit lightly.  Business could happen anytime for a goblin, and if Ingomar should suddenly crave more beer before dawn, he wanted to be ready.

Cian stretched out on a hammock, counting the grains of wood in the ceiling.  It wasn’t that he never slept.  It was just that it happened rarely, like an eclipse.  Truthfully, he fought an active war against sleep.  He had nightmares of when he was controlled by the Lich King.  He wondered if those things he had done, unwilling but aware, were the reason why he could not succeed in his efforts to die.  Some part of him knew that his position in the Twisting Nether would be especially vile.  Punishment awaited Cian in the afterlife for the blood he’d shed.  For the flesh he’d tasted.  He looked over at Eulalia, sleeping as still and quiet as a clump of peacebloom.

Maybe there was another reason he was unable to die.

A scraping at the inn door interrupted his thoughts.  Cian paused, and then realized that the scraping was everywhere—the windows, the roof, it even sounded as though something were scratching at the floor.

Cian had lost much of his capacity for fear long ago.  But he was slightly concerned.

He slipped out of the hammock and moved soundlessly to the door.  Through the cracks in its planks, Cian saw a swarm of ghouls and skeletons, pawing fervently at the inn’s structure.  He couldn’t see beyond them to the rest of the town, but he imagined the city guards were quite beleaguered.

Cian went to Eulalia’s bedside and shook her, not gently.

“Stranglekelp,” Eulalia mumbled.

“Eulie,” he said.  He jabbed a sharp thumb into her neck, and she started.

“Two pieces and a lead vial!” she cried, and then, “Wait a tic.”

“There’s a problem,” Cian said. “Listen.”

Eulalia blinked. “Scourge.  Lots of them.  But it is so late.  Don’t they know people need to sleep?”

“Reckon they do, in fact,” Cian said.

He approached Ingomar warily, feeling certain that any attempt to rouse her would reward him with a beer mug to the face.  Hesitantly, he stood over her, while Eulalia tied her hair back and put on her helmet.  He was about to ask her to wake up the dwarf when Ingomar shifted and stared up straight at him.  The mug’s business end struck his bony cheek, and he grimaced.

“What’re ya thinkin’, leerin’ at me like tha’?  Mentally dividing me into tasty portions, I’ll wager.”

“Madam, I have no intention or desire of eating you,” Cian said. “Especially not while you’re still alive.”

That last remark earned him another cuff to the ear.

“Silence the violence,” Eulalia said. “At least against each other.  I think we’ve got to kill some people outside.”

Ingomar swung out of bed and took up her hammer. “That’s what ye got to understand, Eulalia.  These ain’t people.”

“They were, once,” Cian said, as a number of rotting fists broke through the inn’s walls.  Growling and snarling, a host of ghouls burst inside, twitching at the prospect of fresh blood to drink.

The bartender grabbed a rifle from beneath the bar and fired into the throng, which barely separated.

“Hey!  Some help here?” he shouted.

Eulalia leapt onto a stool and loaded three arrows into her bow, which each struck down its target.  Cian vanished and crept behind the lines, finishing off the ghouls wounded by Ingomar’s consecration.

“Begone, abominations!” she roared, swinging her mace in a wide circle.  The monsters tumbled like so many beer bottles, although they were more confused than damaged.  Cian and Eulalia used this to their advantage, as she rained down arrow after arrow and he ambushed the dizzy skeletons.

Eulalia set two fingers to her lips and whistled.  A great white tiger bounded through the ranks, hissing and spitting as it tore through bones, dirty rags, and remnants of flesh.  But they were still only four against perhaps forty, and they could not maintain the fight forever.

Three skeletons toppled Eulalia’s stool, and she backflipped over the counter to avoid being overwhelmed.

“I’m outta bullets,” the bartender shouted. “Where are the guards?”

“Busy,” Cian said, as he drove two knives deep into a ghoul’s back.

“We’re wearin’em down!” Ingomar said.  Holy light burst forth from her palms, felling the ghoul who grasped for her.

“The first twenty, maybe!” Cian said. “What about the rest of them?”

He didn’t receive an immediate reply, as the frustrated ghouls jumped on Ingomar, burying the paladin under their gruesome weight.

“Ingomar!” Eulalia cried, hesitant to unleash a volley for fear of hurting her friend.  Her single shots took out the Scourge easily, but there were too many. “They are like bees!  Awful, mean, bees!”

Cian swore and dove into the fray, but he had barely gotten in a stab when all of the ghouls were thrown off, crashing into beds and hammocks and perfectly arranged bureaus.  Ingomar grinned triumphantly, protected by a bubble of divine light.

“Damn paladins,” Cian said.

One of the ghouls sunk a claw deep into his ribs, and the green ichor that passed as Cian’s blood spilled onto the floor.  Wracked with pain, Cian tried to parry the next blow but he was too sluggish.  The ghoul ripped apart his side, and Cian screamed as his bones broke.

An arrow hissed past his head and into the ghoul’s heart.  Its torso separated from its legs as its faced contorted in disappointed surprise.  Eulalia jumped down next to him, her mouth grim.  Cian slumped down, gasping.  It was the paramount of cruelty that, despite his undeath, he could still suffer so intensely.

Eulalia, gripping her polearm, charged into what remained of the attackers, beating them down with reckless abandon.  Her cat followed close behind, finishing whatever job she couldn’t.  Although Cian’s vision was hazing, he could see the rage in Eulalia’s movements as though it were a palpable entity.

“Atta girl!” Ingomar said. “She’s a righ’ terror when she gets goin’, eh?”

Cian spat ichor. “Uh huh.”

She seemed to notice his injury just then. “Yer more battered than a drumstick in a tub o’ booze, lad!”

“Seems that way,” he heaved, and when he tried to right himself, his bones splintered in his chest. “Damn it.”

Eulalia rejoined them, her armor coated in a sickly sheen of undead slurry.  Her teeth were bared and feral, much like the snarling cat by her side.

“Reinforcements came from Orgrimmar,” she said. “They’re cleaning up.”

Her eyes flicked to Cian’s wounds. “Ingomar, you have to help him.”

“What?  But—” Ingomar began. “I don’t—he’s Forsaken.”

“He’s in pain,” Eulalia said.  Cian groaned to punctuate the point.

Ingomar sat down. “I need to have a think on this.”

“There’s not time to think,” Eulalia said. “Please.”

For some reason, a battle always strengthened Eulalia’s lucidity.  Fighting anchored her to solid ground like nothing else.

“I don’t even know if the Light will consent to such a thing,” Ingomar said.
“But you can try, can’t you?” Eulalia’s resolve was breaking, now that there was no enemy to sustain it.  She leaned on her cat for support, looking unhappily at Cian. “I hate to see you with so much hurt.”

“I’m not liking it much either,” he said.

Ingomar exhaled. “If the spirit of Uther wills it, it’ll be done.”

She set her hands to Cian’s side, unable to hide her flinch.  She began to recite a prayer, and golden light blossomed over Cian’s wounds.  His bones mended, his cuts healed, even the regrown skin was strangely shimmering.

“Thank you,” he breathed.

“Don’t mention it,” Ingomar said. “Really.”

Eulalia fed a piece of meat to her cat, and as she was occupied with scratching behind his ears, a number of Orgrimmar’s citizens entered the inn.  An’jin was among them.

The troll’s sharp eyes understood the scene before him immediately, and he strode up to Cian with aggravated purpose.

“Ey mon,” he said. “Nice seein’ ya ‘gain.”

“Hello An’jin,” Cian said evenly. “I trust you’re faring well.”

“Hey, it’s that troll I killed!” Eulalia said. “Tell him I said hello!”

Cian massaged his temples. “ … Eulalia says hello.”

“Dat her name, den?” An’jin said. “Can I ask ya why you’re travelin’ with a night elf?”

“No,” Cian said. “I don’t really know myself.”

“Can I ask ya, den, why ya lied ta me?”

“Because I knew how it would look?”

“Speak proper language, ya bastards,” Ingomar said.

“I’m not sure he knows Common,” Cian said to her, to which An’jin replied, “Ya mon, I know da stuff.”

His accent was heavy but understandable.  Cian raised an eyebrow.  An’jin shrugged his thin shoulders. “I spend mosta my time studying. Dat includes linguistics.”

“Hiii,” Eulalia said. “Sorry about the gulch!”

“Are ya now,” he said.

She nodded emphatically, missing the wry note in his voice.  “Do you want to come with us on our quest?”

“I think I’ll be passin’ for now,” An’jin said. “Though I do wonder what be da nature of dis quest.”

“We’re gonna find a cure for undeath,” Eulalia said proudly, as though the task had already been accomplished.

“Interestin’,” An’jin said. “Good luck wit dat.” To Cian, he spoke in Orcish. “I’ll be checkin’ in, mon.”

Cian nodded warily, not wanting to argue.  He couldn’t guess An’jin’s interest in him, but nor could he afford to strain the relationship between their peoples any further.

“Hey,” the bartender said.  He gestured around the inn, which was in shambles—broken beds, severed hammock cords, pieces of candles and blood soaked books all lying in various disarrayed piles. “Who’s gonna pay for all this, eh?”

“We saved yer life, ya wee ingrate!” Ingomar cried.

“But you ruined my business,” the goblin snarled.

An’jin dropped a handful of coins onto the intact part of the counter. “This oughta cover it, mon.”

The bartender scooped up the gold with a greedy grin. “Thank you much.”

“You didn’t need to—” Cian began.

“Ain’t no thing, mon,” An’jin said. “I can make dat back in an hour.”

“Well then,” Cian said.

“Sure you don’t want to come with us?” Eulalia asked. “I promise not to kill you again!”

An’jin laughed. “I’m sure dat we’ll be meetin’ again, lady.” He enveloped her hand with his and kissed her knuckles. “Be seein’ ya.”

The mage disappeared in a burst of arcane light.

“Mages an’ their fancy teleportin’,” Ingomar scoffed. “Best wash yer hands, Eulie, who knows what kinna fleas that one’s draggin’ around.”

“No worse than a kitty I think,” Eulalia said brightly, as she buried her long fingers into the tiger’s fur.  It rubbed up against her legs, pleased.

By this time, the inn was crowded with guards from both Ratchet and Orgrimmar picking through the debris in search of any still moving ghoul parts.  Cian felt it was a ripe time for an exit, and he began to wend through the goblins and orcs—a sea of green skin—towards the now missing front door.  Eulalia and Ingomar followed, amidst jeers and slurs that they couldn’t understand.  Cian thought better of translating.

Once in the sunlight, Eulalia breathed in deep and announced, “Okay!  Let’s get started.”

“You’re not serious about this idea, are you?” Cian said.

“As a curse!” she said.

“Look …”

“I want to,” she said.  She paused, and then added. “All you have to decide is whether or not you want to come too.”

“Cannae let ya undertake this crazy enterprise alone,” Ingomar said.

“Much as it pains my shriveled heart to agree with a paladin,” Cian said.

“Then there you go,” Eulalia said.

“But what are ye gonna do, lass?  Where are ye gonna start?” Ingomar said.

“Somebody’s working on this,” Eulalia said. “The druids.  We will talk to the druids.”

“Moonglade is a good four days’ journey,” Cian said.

“Didn’t realize gryphons were so slow,” Ingomar said.

“We can’t take the wyverns because they were all killed,” Cian said. “The flight master isn’t in such great shape, either.”

“Better get a move on then,” Eulalia said, summoning her cat.

Ingomar and Cian called forth their horses, which stood in stark contrast to one another—holy and unholy, juxtaposed.

Ingomar’s magnificent steed tossed it head at Cian’s, in a gesture that Cian found unmistakably mocking.

“Your horse is insulting my horse,” he said.

“As well it should!  Ha!” Ingomar said.

---

Kieromaris slunk through the rotted forest of Felwood on four sleek, black-furred legs.  Her feline body was hidden in the darkness that permeated the land, allowing her to slip by agitated treants and diseased wolves without notice.  Her sense of trepidation heightened with each step she took towards Ashenvale, which surprised her.  Ashenvale, although besieged with problems of its own, was a purified well in comparison to the aching misery that poisoned Felwood. If anything was happening, surely it was within the filthy, secretive cults that persisted here, working to further the designs of the Burning Legion—the other great threat to Azeroth’s well-being.  But she felt nothing here that wasn’t already present, no new cry for help among the many that had existed since the forest’s original pollution.

Kiero hesitated by a sickly bush of berries.  She shifted, just for a moment, into her elven form and took a cup of salve from her bags.  She massaged the mixture into the bush’s leaves, restoring vibrancy to the fruit.  She harvested the berries for later and moved on—the path out of Felwood was near.  Her muscles shook.  She hoped she was not too late.
 
 

---

They took the back route out of the Barrens, so as to avoid being hacked to pieces by the Horde guards.  Cian was relatively sure that the guards wouldn’t understand the gloriously altruistic nature of their quest.  As it was, everyone assumed that he was stalking Ingomar and Eulalia, rather than traveling with them.

He shut his mind and brooded.  Was friendship between them so inconceivable?  Not, admittedly, that they were exactly friends.  He and Ingomar were enemies waiting to happen, actually, although Eulalia acted as a barrier to their animosity for now.  Still, the bloodlust exhibited by his fellow Horde unnerved him.  Cian wondered if it was specific to him or to his companions, if he would be ordered to kill Ingomar and Eulalia so relentlessly if he were a priest or a druid.  His livelihood was sustained by death.  No one was asking more of him than what anyone expected.  But it wasn’t what he wanted.

The problem was that Cian didn’t know what he did want.  He hadn’t planned anything beyond questioning Eulalia.  He had thought she might try to kill him but instead she had embraced him, and now what the hell were they doing?

Trying to fix him.

Cian knew that the plague could be improved, or worsened, depending on your perspective, but reversal seemed far less likely.  The disease both took away and prolonged life.  It would require a paradox of similar proportions to counteract it.  But it was so much easier to break down than to build up.

They were approaching Splintertree Post.  Cian steeled himself, prepared to avoid eye contact with the guards.

But, as it turned out, none of the guards had eyes to avoid.

Despite the enemy territory, Eulalia dismounted immediately.  She dropped down by the murdered orcs, and there was such sorrow in her face that Cian couldn’t bear the sight of it.  Even Ingomar was dismayed.  She went among the dead, in search of anyone who might still live, anyone she could preserve from their fate.

Every step into the village revealed increasingly horrific scenes.  A tauren woman was splayed out across the inn’s threshold like a gruesome welcome mat.  Like the guards, her eyes had been gouged out, but her stomach had also been split open.  Cian noticed with disquiet that her entrails were shredded, as though they had been partially consumed.

“Did we do this?” Eulalia cried, meaning the Alliance, which was known to raid Splintertree with all the regularity of sunrise.

“No,” Cian said. “Something worse.”

“Aye,” Ingomar said. “I’m no fan of these lads, but I wouldn’t go defilin’ their corpses in such a manner, and damned if I know many who would.”

Bodies were strewn everywhere, many dismembered, their half-eaten legs and arms lying stiff in pools of congealed blood.  Every head bore empty sockets, but the mouths told the story the eyes could not: the lips were twisted in surprised fear.  No one here knew what had hit them.

The scent of death did not bother Cian, he had to live with putrefaction every day of his unlife.  But the rank stench of rigid corpses and the coppery taint of blood in the air were too much for Eulalia.  She buried her head in her cat’s fur and sobbed like a child.

“I don’t understand you,” Cian said, irritated. “You kill these people every day.”

Her voice was muffled by fur. “It is not the same and you know it.  I would never do a thing like this. Never ever ever ever never.” She almost screamed the last words, such that the cat shuddered from the force.

“Maybe so,” Cian said. “But you are mourning your enemy.”

Eulalia raised her head. “You are the one who is hard to understand.  Why does everyone insist on making themselves enemy or non-enemy?  Can’t it—isn’t it okay for me to mourn—a terrible thing?  Because, you know, you don’t wish terrible things on people, even if they have no last names and do not wear shoes.”

Cian opened his mouth to retort that he had a last name (it was McCulloch), but understood that was beside Eulalia’s point.  He supposed she was right.  A brutal massacre had happened here, not a military battle.  This was beyond the pale of warring factions.

“Oi,” Ingomar called. “I think I hear something in this lil cave network over here.  Maybe some survivors.”

She leaned inside and shouted, “Any of ya alive in there?”

Cian, standing by her, could discern a low, guttural sound, which became agitated after the dwarf’s yell.  He went stealth and moved in, motioning for Ingomar and Eulalia to follow.  Braziers lit the way, casting their flickering shadows on the walls.  Eulalia stepped with all the silence of a secret, but Ingomar’s proud strides announced her as though she were leading a parade.  Whatever was back there knew that at least someone was coming.

The cave complex wasn’t extensive, but they did find another eviscerated corpse before they reached the source of the noise.  It was a male tauren this time, and Eulalia whispered as she bent beside it, “This was a recent death.  Less than two hours.  Look.”

Splotches of blood formed a trail deeper into the tunnel.  They drew their weapons.

Sitting there at the tunnel’s end was a group of Forsaken, their claws clutching severed body parts which they gnawed at deliriously.  One in particular was enjoying a pile of eyeballs, which he was sucking off his claws like olives.

Cian was so shocked that he came forth and shouted in Gutterspeak, “What are you doing?!”

The group, which was comprised of three undead men and two women, paused their feeding frenzy to stare at Cian.  The eyeball connoisseur replied in Common, “Hello, brother.  Join us.”

They lunged for him, and Eulalia shot three arrows, which killed their targets instantly.  The two remaining Forsaken hissed at Eulalia, and she bared her fanged teeth in return.

“Stop,” Cian said. “Stop it.  What’s going on here?  Why did you do this?”

The woman slunk up close to Cian.  Her tattered dress was sodden with gore, and her lips were crusted with bits of fur and skin.  “We’ve returned to the Master.  You will too, soon.”

“That’s right,” said her male companion. “His will is our will.”

The woman spasmed and grabbed Cian’s vest.  Her words were so quick that Cian almost missed them. “You must run.”

Her moment of control passed, and the woman attempted to tear Cian’s vest from his body—and presumably the flesh it protected as well.  Cian shoved her away and she crashed into the other Forsaken.  Cian could see the anguish in their halting staggers.  He focused on the dirt floor and said to Ingomar and Eulalia, “Kill them.”

“Ye don’ have to tell me twice, lad,” Inogmar said.  A pillar of exorcising fire exploded through the woman, reducing her to ashes.  Eulalia lodged an arrow in the man’s heart before he could even consider a counterattack.

“I’m sorry,” Eulalia said.  She had noticed that Cian was shaking.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I must admit, I’m … I’m a little unnerved.”

“Aye, me too,” Ingomar said.  “What if you start actin’ like them eh?  Think yer resolve can handle the Lich King’s will?”

“I’ll never serve the Scourage again, never,” Cian growled. “I’d sooner submit to your mace.”

“And ya will too, if yer conviction should ‘appen to waver,” Ingomar said.

“Cian is so much stronger than that,” Eulalia said. “It will not happen. Won’t, won’t, won’t.”

Cian thought, if it won’t happen, then why do I look at you sometimes and imagine the taste of your liver?

But then, maybe the disturbing images weren’t his fault, maybe they were the machinations of an external force trying to control his true self.  But if the Lich King was trying to re-assert dominance over the Forsaken, then he could possibly succumb, end up like his former comrades lying still on the ground in front of him.  Or maybe his conflicted feelings weren’t caused by this at all.  Maybe he just needed a force to blame.  Maybe he couldn’t admit that the things he had done, had seen, had torn apart with his bare hands and consumed—

“Cian,” Eulalia said.

He gasped. “Wh-what?”

“You’re heaving.  I mean like … more than usual.”

“I’m fine, it’s fine,” he said. “I, I have to go to Orgrimmar.”

“But, the druids …”

“I have to warn the Warchief,” Cian said. “If this isn’t a fluke, then we could have a very serious problem on our hands.”

“Okay then … we’ll go with you!”

“We will?” Ingomar said.

“You won’t,” Cian said.

“We will!” Eulalia said.

“You will be killed on sight,” Cian said.

“Nooo,” Eulalia said. From her bags, she produced a purplish glass sphere encrusted with gold. “Not with this.”

“An orb of deception,” Cian said. “How did you come by one of those?”

“Ooh, it’s a long story,” Eulalia said.

“I’ll bet,” he said. “Did it involve another troll trying to eat you?”

“Nope,” she said. “But it did involve a zombie man like yourself pretending to be a night elf so he could spy on Astranaar which is where I was staying and when I found him out I’m pretty sure he was mad enough to kill me and do that thing to corpses that you guys do.”

“Cannibalize?”

“Yes, something with a lot of syllables.”

“Right.”

“Anyway.” She smiled. “I took it from him.”

“I’m sure he handed it over peacefully,” Cian said.

“His eyes were not open at the time, so I guess he was pretty peaceful, yeah!”

“Sorry ta interrupt this deeply intellectual conversatin’, but we need ta be on our way,” Ingomar said. “The longer we stay here, the more likely ‘tis that someone, somewhere, will be thinkin’ alla this is our fault.”

As if on cue, an outraged female voice shouted from the cave’s entrance. “Who’s in there!  Did you do this?!”

Cian identified the voice as distinctly night elven—haughty and thick with indignation.  He slipped into stealth and positioned himself beside Eulalia, and a moment later, a night elf appeared before them, her long white hair disheveled, her purple skin flushed.  Exhaling, she took in the scene before her: Eulalia, Ingomar, the pile of eyeballs, the half-eaten arms and legs, and the unmoving bodies of the Forsaken.  Cian could almost see her synapses firing as she tried to put the situation together.  He guessed that if he showed himself at this point, she would mark him as her solution.  As it stood, she was probably wondering why Eulalia and Ingomar had committed such a massacre.

“Eulie!” the night elf said. “Is that you?”

Or he could be completely wrong.  Did Eulalia know everyone?

“Yup!” Eulalia said. “How are you, Kiero?”

The two women embraced.

“Oh, I’ve missed you,” Kiero said, and her tone was so fond that Cian was almost jealous.  Almost. “And how are you, Ingomar?”

“I’m all righ’, despite, ye know, circumstances.”

“What exactly happened here?” Kiero said.

“I’d love to tell ye the whole story, but if we could talk in a place not reekin’ of the stench of desecrated corpses, I’d be much obliged,” Ingomar said. She started out of the cave, and they all followed.

Cian wasn’t sure if this was the right time to reveal himself, but Eulalia chose for him.  She prodded one of his exposed shoulder bones and said, “Say hi.”

Grumbling, he stepped into view, prompting Kiero to cast a spell immediately.  Thorny vines sprung from the ground and snaked around his ankles and thighs, fixing him in place.  The thorns pierced his flesh, and he gritted his teeth in anger.  He took a bit of powder from a pouch on his belt and threw it in the air.  The powder exploded in smoke, and he vanished.  Angrily, Kiero raised her arms to cast another spell.

“Wait!” Eulalia said. “He’s our friend.”

“Let’s not be usin’ such strong language, now,” Ingomar said.

Cian was too angry to retort, still literally stinging from the thorns.  He fought the rage boiling rage behind his eyesockets, stayed the hand which gripped his daggers.  It would not do to retaliate, although he desperately wanted to, and felt he had the right.  He wanted to gouge her at least, cause her a little pain to repay the prickling in his bones.

“He’s my friend,” Eulalia said forcefully. “So please don’t hurt him.”

“Hah,” Cian said, still hidden. “I’m shaking.”

“Is that a challenge?” Kiero whirled around, calling down columns of moonfire on random patches of grass.  Cian chuckled.

“You can’t hit what you can’t see,” he said.

“Oi,” Ingomar said. “We don’t ‘ave time for this.”

The statement caught at least Kiero, who said, “You’re right.  Let’s find a place to make camp.”

They traveled far enough from Splintertree to deter suspicion, back towards the border between Ashenvale and the Barrens.  Ingomar built them a campfire, and it was only then, around the flames, that Cian let his face be seen again—or rather, the outlines of his leather mask.  Its shadow caused his eyes to glow red, which visibly unsettled Kiero.  He grinned at her while he sharpened his daggers.

“So what is this,” Kiero said, looking at him with distaste, “What’s going on?”

Ingomar told the story, beginning with the bar fight.  Cian focused on caring for his knives, so that he could tune out her numerous slights towards him and his association with Eulalia.  Ingomar still didn’t know how they had met up again, and he wondered how she would react if told the details.  She didn’t seem the type to understand a little kidnapping between old friends.

When Ingomar finished, Kiero nodded gravely and explained about the visions the earth had shared with her.

“They were vague,” she admitted. “I sensed more than I saw.  Terrible deaths, burned grass, bark stained with blood, and a persistent dread, so intense that I almost didn’t want to investigate.”  Kiero sighed. “But, well, it’s my job and all.  Protector of the planet and everything.”

“How noble,” Cian said. “Do you make sure to hug a tree every night before bed?”  He should have been more amicable.  It was better to get along, to at least try to be friendly for now.  But his ankles hurt.

“I do more than that,” Kiero said. “Wanna see?”

Not expecting her to run with the bait, Cian muttered, “No, I think not.”

“Kiero, are you coming with us to Orgrimmar?” Eulalia asked.

Kiero shook her head. “Given what you’ve told me, I think it would be better if I went ahead and warned the Cenarion Circle myself.  I can also talk to them about your quest, if you want.  Maybe the Archdruid will agree to see you.”

“The Archdruid?  I hope you don’t mean Fandral,” Cian said. “That fool can hardly see an inch in front of his face.”

Kiero shrugged. “You’re not alone in that opinion.  But he’s still the leader of the Cenarion Circle.  If anyone knows what we’ve discovered about the plague, I can’t think why it wouldn’t be him.”

“Hamuul would know more,” Cian said. “But I don’t suppose you’d be able to manage that audience.”

“All members of the Circle welcome each other,” Kiero responded icily, but added, “or we’re meant to, anyway.”

“Okay, we’ll meet you in Moonglade then!” Eulalia said.  “Let’s all go to sleep now.”

This was her way of diffusing an argument.  She was smiling so hard at the both of them that Cian nodded.  He was tired of talking, anyway.

An hour passed.  Everyone but him was deep in sleep.  He lay on his back, putting together constellations, doing his best not to think of what would happen in Orgrimmar.  The news he had was bad enough.  If Eulalia and Ingomar were discovered by an already panicked city …

Eulalia’s bags were in a pile at her feet.  Cian sat up, reached over to them, and opened the one which contained the orb of deception.  But as his hand closed over the orb’s cool glass, Eulalia’s hand closed over his.  Déjà vu.

“I know you’re not stealing from me again,” she whispered.

Cian let go of the orb. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“I am going with you,” she said. “You were upset that I left, so I am not leaving again.  Okay?”

“I just don’t think—”

Eulalia had closed her eyes and curled up again.  She yawned and said, “I dunno when you’ll figure out that arguing with me is probably the worst idea it is possible for a person to have.”

He closed his mouth and thought, Probably never.

--

As ever, Ingomar and Kieromaris belong to their players, not to me, although all deficiencies in their portrayals are my fault, of course.  Thanks for reading, hope you'll stay on for subsequent parts :)