[Closed] Bumps in the Night

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Nebet
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[Closed] Bumps in the Night
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Contains: 
some swearing, mild violence, mention of off-screen sexuality, implied nudity

Summary: The Short and Sweet soda shop has been in business for several months, and business is unexpectedly good -- so much so that Tammar and Diccionario have finally decided to hire an assistant to free up some time for Dicco to dedicate to his studies. With an extra pair of hands to help in the shop in the form of the kind and eager Kwu Tenderpaw, the friction that had arisen between the gnome woman and her young draenei co-proprietor has just begun to ease. But then something goes bump in the night, and the shopkeepers find themselves involved in business they hadn't bargained for...

Dramatis Personae:

*Tammar Warpweave, co-proprietor of the Short and Sweet Soda Shop.......Nebet
*Diccionario, young co-proprietor and inventor.......Thess
[*]Kwu Tenderpaw, novice engineer and shop assistant......Kylerkyler
*Shaatnez, tinkerer and friend of the shop........Nebet
*Heiros, herbalist and member of the Keepers......Tunin
Razahir Godwyn, Druid of the Talon........DaoShen
*Maayan, mage and mentor to Diccionario........Nebet
Marcus Duccan.....Thess
Jeneviv MacKenzie (The Firebird)........Enveri
Adage......TBD
Piero Consilio........Thess
Bao Inkpaw, aspiring adventurer..........Mars [inactive]
Emma Felstone, landlady......[NPC]

Updated as characters appear.

* Has a Keeper crystal
[*] Obtains a crystal during the story (so far)

 

OOC discussion thread: [here] - non-participants are welcome to post!

OOC Notes: This is anticipated to be a fairly intense story, and will be a mix of regular forum posts and moderately-edited RP logs. With this many (six currently!) participants, story sections may take some time to be posted while we coordinate planning, writing, editing, and so forth.

Nebet
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Tammar pulled aside the curtain to check the sign in the window, ensuring that the polished wooden shingle, carefully painted by Dicco some six months earlier, was sitting with its “CLOSED” side facing outward. It was late, and the streets were all but empty; there had been an unusually constant stream of customers coming through the door, and she and Kwu had hardly had a moment to breathe the whole evening, pouring glass after glass of soda and dishing up ice cream scoops by twos and threes. It had left no time for cleaning up as they went, and it had taken almost an hour after the last customer had straggled out for the two of them to get the glasses and cups washed and the tables straightened. She had hardly been able to say two words to Heiros before the quiet draenei had retired to the guest room; he had been staying there for the last several weeks while taking care of some business in the city, and she had found herself getting used to his calm perspective and dry humor. Now Tammar was taking a few quiet moments for herself before finishing the last of the end-of-day routine, having already sent Kwu up to bed.

The pandaren woman had only been assisting in the shop for a few weeks, but she had proven a quick learner, even proposing a few well-received adjustments. Tammar chuckled to herself, remembering Kwu prodding Dicco about his plans to build a quieter housing for that infernal machine that he had come up with to make the berry slushes. Why he thought attaching blades to a motor was a good idea was something Tammar would never understand, but she couldn’t argue with the results: the slushes had proven very popular. Still, she had Dicco and Kwu handle the machinery; the sudden roar of the motor as it whirred to life never failed to startle her, and it was hard to smile at customers with her heart racing in her chest. She doubted that making the machine quieter would help, but she appreciated the gesture.

Stepping off of the platform behind the counter, the gnome woman groaned and bent back over her hands, trying to stretch her stiff spine. She frowned and patted the comb that held her Keeper crystal tucked behind one of her braids.

Dicco, she sent out over the network, I’m locking up. Will you be in tonight?

No, Tammar, the reply came back after a brief delay. I told you, I am working with Shaatnez in his workshop on...er...that project.

The gnome shook her head in exasperation. All right, but if you do come in, don’t forget to lock up. And I will need you in the shop tomorrow, so make sure you get enough sleep.

Yes, Tammar, came the response. (Was that a touch of sullenness?)

Sighing, she shuffled over to the door of the shop and turned the lock, then untied her apron. She was bone-tired, but she didn’t really blame Dicco for spending as much time as he could out of the shop. This project -- which he had refused to tell her anything about -- had been all-consuming for the past week. And besides, she knew that sleeping on the pallet on the floor of Abhayaa’s office was not very comfortable. Kwu, to whom Dicco had given up his bed, had offered to switch places with him, but Dicco had refused out of stubborn politeness; when the pandaren had pressed the issue, he had simply spent as many nights elsewhere as he could get away with, making the argument moot.

She shook her head as she hauled the cashbox from under the counter. It was getting full; she would need to get Dicco to take it to the bank soon, if not the next day. She set the box down in the closet with a grunt, then hung her apron on a hook inside the door before closing and locking it.

Coming out from behind the counter again, she put her hands on her hips and surveyed the shop with a satisfied smile. Even after exhausting nights like this, she was deeply gratified that this little business venture was doing so well, and she was proud that she had been able to carve out a small space for herself.

‘If only I had a little more time for my studies at the Cathedral,’ she thought wistfully as she headed for the stairs, stifling a yawn.
 

Nebet
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((This is a reworked chatlog, so I apologize for the present tense narration. There were also cameos by Kelvin Evangeline Flashcog and Hiltoren Swiftspark. :) ))


[The next evening, after dinnertime...]

Tammar stands on the porch, enjoying a few moments of cool evening air before the after-dinner rush begins. Dicco ran off right as they closed for dinner, promising he would be back in time to help, but he hasn't shown up yet. 'Well,' the gnome thinks to herself, 'he has a few more minutes...' She waves as she sees Kwu coming back up the street.

The pandaren bows, and Tammar smiles at her, saying with a chuckle, "Ready for another rush hour?"

Kwu nods emphatically. "Of course!"

Tammar peers down the street. "Dicco said he would be here soon. I hope he isn't too long about it."

"I'm sure he will be here soon enough."

The two head inside and finish readying the shop to receive customers.

Tammar says as she double-checks all of the supplies, "How was your break, Kwu?"

Kwu smiles and shrugs. "Oh fine, mulled around in the dwarven district and did some tinkering before rushing back here."

"What are you working on?" Tammar asks, pulling her apron out of the closet and tying it around her waist.

Kwu twiddles her thumbs. "Oh small things, started working on shaping pipes and pressure valves."

"Oh? For what?" Tammar asks, then grins. "Or are you going to be all secretive too?"

Kwu chuckles. "Oh nothing secretive, it's just been slow recently, trying to focus on keeping up with the demand here at the shop is top of the agenda, engineering has been secondary."

Tammar nods. "I am very glad for your help, but I hope we're not taking up too much of your time."

Before Kwu can answer, their first customer of the evening arrives, and they get him settled with his ice cream.

Tammar frowns at the door, leaning forward across the counter as if trying to look down the street, and Kwu pats her on the shoulder calmingly. "Give him another couple minutes, I'm sure he will be here soon."

Tammar huffs, but stops fidgeting, and Kwu hides a grin beneath the back of her paw.

"I wonder if we should subscribe to the newspaper, have it in here for people to read?" the gnome muses aloud, a few minutes later.

Kwu takes a moment in thought. "An excellent thought... even better perhaps though, can we get our name in it? Perhaps a small section somewhere to attract some customers."

Tammar nods. "That's an idea. I've had Shaatnez walk around with flyers to give out, but it's difficult to get people to take them sometimes."

Kwu chuckles. "Perhaps I could make a banner and have it trail behind me as I bounce about the city."

This gets a quizzical look from the customer, who has been sitting at a corner table reading a book, and Tammar giggles -- actually giggles! -- at the resultant mental image.

Suddenly, Diccionario bursts through the door, breathing deeply; he has obviously been running. "Sorry I am late."

Tammar motions the draenei youngling back behind the counter. "There you are, goodness! I was getting worried."

Diccionario waves a hello to Kwu before turning to the gnome, "Sorry Tammar, I lost track of time finishing the project."

Tammar raises her eyebrows. "Oh, so it's finally finished?" she says.

Diccionario nods his head, "Mmmhmmm, Mr. Shaatnez should be by later; he is bringing it along." Dicco blushes a deep blue.

Tammar shakes her head. "Okay. I'm just glad it's done. That thing -- whatever it is you were making -- has been eating your life." But she is called away to assist another customer before she can say anything else.

Diccionario picks up a cloth and wipes down the counter, leaning to whisper to the pandaren next to him, "Do you know what she means, 'eating my life?'"

Kwu chuckles lightly behind her paw and leans closer to Dicco. "She just means that you've been spending much of your time on it and that it seems to be absorbing most of your thought," she whispers back.

Diccionario nods. "Oh...um, how have things been going here?"

Kwu shrugs. "Oh, a little busy here, little busy there, not too much for us on average –"

Tammar cuts in, "—yes, not like last night, fortunately," she says over her shoulder as she gets some clean napkins out of the supply closet.

"…Your work has gone well I take it?" Kwu finishes.

"Mmhmm, I... I hope when Mr. Shaatnez shows up you will both be impressed."

Tammar gives the draenei a sidelong glance, but doesn't say anything.

Kwu reaches up to tenderly give Dicconario a pat on the shoulder. "Dicco, I'm sure whatever it is, will exceed whatever expectations we could possibly have."

Diccionario once more raises an eyebrow as he works through the sentence in his head; he nods, then moves out from behind the counter to straighten the room.

Tammar starts polishing the taps. "How has your work with the -- oh." She breaks off and  smiles at the two gnomes who had just come in, a dog following on their heels. "Hi there! Welcome to Short and Sweet!" Giving them a closer look, she says pleasantly, "You've been here before, yes?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Hiltoren replies, overlapping with Kelvin’s “Hi! Yes, we have.”

"Well, welcome back!” Tammar says as the Hiltoren frowns and shoos the dog outside.

Much like last time, Kel orders a float with cherry-vanilla-cola and vanilla ice cream, while Hiltoren requests a glass of cola.

Tammar dispenses a glass of the dark red-brown soda and then hands it over to Kwu for her to scoop the ice cream into, then fills another glass with ice and cola. The pandaren nods and wastes no time in wrestling with the exceptionally cold dairy treat, coming up with an almost perfect scoop and placing it atop the float, sliding the glass across the counter with a smile and bow.

After a brief discussion in which Hiltoren insists on paying for Kelvin’s float, the two gnomes get settled in at a table off to the side, chatting animatedly. Tammar drops their coins into the box behind the counter and wipes her hands on a clean towel, chuckling, then hides a small yawn behind her hand.

Kwu turns to Dicco a moment, mouth twisted into a light smirk. "Dicco, Tammar and I were discussing an interesting proposition earlier that I would like your input on...."

Diccionario's lips curl up into a small smile, "Oh?"

Kwu nods. "Oh yes, we think it would be good for business if I were to cavort about the city trailing a large banner with the shop's name on it."

Tammar holds in another giggle.

Diccionario gasps slightly, "Well... err.. yes, if.. if you wanted to, I mean it would get peoples attention I'm sure."

Tammar has to try considerably harder to keep from giggling.

Kwu chuckles lightly. "On a more serious note, Tammar actually suggested perhaps we supply some issues of the local paper for our customers."

Before Dicco can reply, however, another customer comes in, but leaves almost as quickly as he arrived. The two gnomes say their farewells soon after and head off into the evening.

Tammar waves to Kelvin and Hiltoren as they depart. "Have a good evening!"

Kwu waves goodbye as well, barely lifting her head from her cleaning.

Diccionario retrieves the empty glasses from the table and returns to set them carefully on the countertop in front of Kwu.

"If you two don't mind, I'm going to go upstairs for a little bit and see if I can find something for this headache," Tammar says, rubbing her temples.

Kwu glances up a moment to the new dishes, putting away the clean glass and taking another to wipe down. She turns a moment to nod to Tammar, taking a step back to allow her some room and setting in to her cleaning once more.

Diccionario nods. "Are you alright, Tammar?"

"Mmhm, I'll just be a few minutes. I think Miss Abhayaa left some of her tinctures here." The gnome sidles past Kwu before hopping down off of the platform and heading up the stairs.

----

Tammar has been upstairs for only a few minutes when a quiet rumbling is heard outside.

"Hey, Dicco!" a voice calls loudly from the street.

Kwu nearly jumps at the sound of the vaguely familiar voice, glancing up quizzically.

Diccionario's head jerks up, and he runs to the doorway. "Mr. Shaatnez!"

The older engineer is sitting astride a small motorcycle worked in gleaming chrome, its engine purring quietly; Dicco beams at him as the youngling emerges from the shop.

"You managed to get it here."

Shaatnez grins. "Hi Dicco, sorry I'm late. The boat was delayed," he explains, carefully walking the bike back to the sidewalk to get it out of the road.

Diccionario turns to lean in the doorway. "Kwu, come see."

Kwu nods emphatically and rushes to the door, blinking behind her goggles a moment in wonder before jumping with a cheer.

Shaatnez gives the pandaren woman a friendly wave and a grin as he puts down the kickstand and dismounts carefully; the motorcycle is a little small for him, so he has to exercise extra care not to knock anything with his hooves. "Hello, Kwu. Fancy meeting you here," he says with a chuckle.

The young draenei smiles at Kwu. "This... this is my project."

She turns to Dicco, bouncing on her heels with her tail twitching excitedly. "That's just... Wow!"

Diccionario walks excitedly over to the bike, "I've been working on it for months." His voice drops to a hushed tone. "It's a present for Tammar."

Kwu lowers her voice significantly, though still trips over her tongue. "That's an excellent work of craftsmanship if ever I saw one Dicco, and mighty kind of you I'd say."

Diccionario leans down next to the idling machine; he seems to be listening to the note of the engine. He pulls out a small rag and attempts to clear off a small spot of oil on the rear guard.   "Thank you, Kwu. Mr. Shaatnez helped a great deal."

"Where is Tammar, by the way?" the older draenei asks.

"Ahh… Tammar went upstairs to see if she could find something for a headache," Dicco replies, still bent over the motorcycle.

Kwu says, "If you'd like I could go see if I can coax her down here?"

Shaatnez smiles at the pandaren. "Yes, if you could go get her that would be good. I'm afraid I have an appointment with a client, though, and I'm already running late because of the boat."

Kwu nods ecstatically, turning on heel and heading off to retrieve the gnome.

"So, Dicco, can I leave this with you? I'm sorry I can't wait for her to come down," the older draenei says apologetically, his tail twitching a little.

Dicco nods in assent. "That's fine, Mr. Shaatnez, but it's a shame you won't be here to show her.  You helped with the project so much."

Shaatnez chuckles. "You can let me know how it goes via the crystals." He turns off the ignition on the bike with a flick of his wrist, then punches a button on his belt pack, calling his rocket. He tosses the younger draenei a casual salute before zooming off.

----

Back in the shop, Tammar emerges from her room, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She startles to see Kwu standing on the stairs.

The pandaren woman nearly stumbles up the stairs before quickly composing herself before Tammar. "Ah-ehem. It seems that Mr. Dicco's project has arrived. He would like if you would come outside to see it. Shall we?" Kwu politely offers a hand to Tammar.

Tammar nods, gathering her skirts to descend the steps. "What is it, after all this secrecy?"

Kwu grins. "Oh, you'll just have to see for yourself!"

"Never do know with that boy," the gnome replied with a chuckle.

Stepping onto the front porch, Tammar crosses her arms and says, "What in the Nether is that?"

Diccionario stands nervously next to the bike, still wiping it down with his rag.

"Dicco, is this your project?" she asks.

Diccionario looks up to the gnome, "T-t-tammar, I wanted to give you something to th-thank you for all the help you have given me.  I, well, I also wanted to help you with something too.  So I, well, I made you this bike.  It is perfectly safe and has every known safety addition I and Mr. Shaatnez could think of."

Tammar goes absolutely white as a sheet. She opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out for several heartbeats. She looks between Dicco and Kwu, a shaky smile on her face. "Oh...hahaha...this is a wonderful joke, you two."

A few more moments of awkward silence hang between the three.

"But really, who'd you borrow the bike from?" Tammar asks, earning a quizzical glance from Kwu.

Diccionario looks a little crestfallen. "It... it isn't a joke.  This is what I have been working on for the last few months."

A sheen of sweat has collected on the gnome's forehead; she wipes her hands on her apron. "Um. Oh." She stares fixedly at the bike. "It's very nice, Dicco, and I'm sure you worked very hard on it," she says squeakily...and takes an involuntary half-step backwards.

Diccionario's lips thin as his mouth compresses into a small straight line across his face.

Suddenly, the tense tableau is interrupted by a human woman dressed in leathers striding up to Dicco. Tammar is too caught up in staring at the gleaming motorcycle to notice the human woman at first.

"Hello!" the human says to Diccionario, her tone friendly.

Tammar gives the human a glance, then finally seems to see her. "Ah, hi! Are you here for the soda shop?"

The human woman looks between the gnome and the draenei. "Or, er… sorry, um. Good eve!" She steps a little closer to Dicco. "I am... trying to balance my chi by performing a good deed before the night comes to a close."

Kwu's ears twitch slightly at the mention of chi. She glances over with a quizzical smirk and shakes her head lightly before kneeling down to whisper to Tammar. "If she decides to come into the shop I can go inside and deal with her if you'd like a moment to speak with Dicco. Alone."

Tammar gives Kwu a wide-eyed look. "No...no, that's okay, I can help her."

Kwu gives the gnome a steady look. "Alright, if you insist. I just thought you could use a moment with him." Tammar doesn't reply, but she wipes her palms on her apron again.

The human woman has been continuing her explanation to the draenei youngling. "A little draenei girl lost some balloons, have you seen any along the canals?"

Diccionario looks at her distractedly. "I'm s-sorry I haven't seen any."

"Oh, that's okay," she says. "Thanks anyway, sir!" She smiles warmly at Diccionario and then sharply turns around.

"Sorry about that!" the woman says to Tammar and Kwu, coming to a stop in front of the porch. "I suppose I could use a drink."

Tammar summons her best smile. "No problem." She turns and heads inside, trying her best not to seem like she is fleeing for safety.

The woman gives her a bright smile in return, then follows her into the shop.

Kwu watches as Tammar retreats inside, torn between following her and going to Dicco. Under the circumstances she decides with a sigh to see to the crestfallen Draenei.

"Dicco... would you like to come sit with me on the porch a moment?"

Diccionario slowly walks over and flumps down dejectedly on the porch.

Kwu reaches over, pausing a moment before giving the draenei an emphatic pat on the back. "I can only imagine your thoughts right now, Dicco. I know you worked very hard on that for her."

Dicco looks over to the pandaren he was quickly regarding as a friend. His eyes are red and beginning to moisten, and he opens his mouth as if about to speak, but closes it again.  He shuffles sideways away from Kwu and deliberately turns to face away from her, looking up the street and across the canals.

Kwu observes the young Draenei, quietly keeping back the urge to hug the poor man. Her mouth had started to feel dry and her throat tight... Odd, she has usually seemed better capable of handling herself. A deep breath and she regains some composure, speaking again but deciding against trying to form physical contact again.

“It’s alright... I won’t ask you to speak at this moment, just listen if you will. I do not know what it is about this Tammar finds so off-putting, so I hope between us perhaps we can get to the bottom of that. But I can say I know she would not do something to harm you so... I can see it in her eyes, she does worry and care greatly for you, but something is clouding her mind and she is not acting herself.”

Pausing to take a shaky breath the pandaren notes the dryness in her mouth once more. Balance, Focus. “I do not ask you not to feel hurt Dicco, I do not pretend that this can magically be forgotten or ignored. I just ask, that if you ever need to let it all out you come and speak with me. I know not how and if these other... Keepers, of yours can come to your aid, though I’m sure if they could they would... I just mean to say I am here, right here, for you. For the both of you.”

Dicco takes a deep breath before muttering, “...don’t understand.” Taking care to avoid looking at Kwu to hide his scowl, he rises from the stoop in front of the shop and walks across the street with a sense of purpose, his shoulders hunched and his arms looped across his middle.  He sits on the edge of the canal, dangling his feet toward the water.  He does not want to speak to anyone right now.
 

---

Once the customer has her glass of cherry-vanilla cola in hand, Tammar summons her best smile. "Sit anywhere you like," she says, gesturing around at the chairs and tables arranged around the shop . The gnome pours a glass of plain soda water for herself, taking a seat on a high stool behind the counter and trying to compose herself. Eventually, the human woman – who introduces herself as Darissa – engages her in conversation, telling her about her travels as a monk, and Tammar begins to relax a little.

Kwu enters quietly after a few minutes, her head hung low. She removes the engineering goggles from her head and sets to twiddling her thumbs in thought.

Tammar glances at Kwu, then toward the door. "Oh, is that so?" she says to the leather-clad woman, prompting her to continue her story.

While Tammar ducks into the supply closet to rummage around for something, Kwu serves the woman another glass of soda, which Darissa quickly drinks.

After a further exchange of pleasantries, the human monk wishes them a pleasant evening, saying, "May your chi always be balanced" as she leaves.

Once the customer is safely down the street, Tammar says to Kwu, "What is that she was saying about chee?"

Kwu chuckles lightly. "Chi is... hard to explain. Suffice to say, she wished balance of mind and body to us."

Tammar shakes her head with a wry smile. "All right..." The gnome climbs down off the platform and rolls up her sleeves, getting up on a stepstool to start washing glasses and cups.

"Flip the open sign, would you, please?" she says to the pandaren.

"Already on it."

Tammar smiles genuinely, up to her elbows in soapy water. "Thank you."

Kwu flips around the sign so the outside world would see "CLOSED". She turns back to Tammar and stops a moment. She twiddles her thumbs, tail twitching anxiously before she finally approaches the smaller woman.

Tammar says without looking up, "Can you hand me the pile of spoons, please?"

Kwu nods, nearly stumbling as she slides around Tammar to reach the collection of utensils and passes them to her.

The pandaren woman takes a moment to breathe, focusing inwardly a moment before going to speak. "Ah... Ehm... T-Tammar..."

"Mm?" Tammar says, beginning to stack rinsed cups on the rack over the sink.

Kwu shuffles awkwardly, trying to carefully pick her words. "I noticed that... Ehm... Well Dicco's project seemed ah... perhaps less ehm... Grand, to your liking that is."

Tammar blanches again, a glass almost slipping out of her hand.

"He can't have been serious, Kwu."

Kwu bites back her tongue, glancing away a moment and half-turning before letting out a deep breath and turning back.

"I think...just... He seemed very interested in the fact that it was 'safe.' I can tell that he and Mr. Shaatnez put a great deal of effort into it... but maybe they don't quite understand what it is to you..."

Kwu continues, "To that end, if you don't mind my prying... Well I just... I also do not know what it is about it that set you so pale, like a warrior reliving his first kill. I just... I hope maybe you could, ah... enlighten me?"

Tammar grips the front of the basin and twists to face the pandaren woman, giving her a steady look. "I refuse to believe that Dicco would seriously propose that I ride that...that...thing. It MUST be a joke."

Kwu takes a sudden step back, silently cursing her lack of balance.

Tammar plunges her hands back into the soapy water, scrubbing spoons with a vengeance. "I believe that he worked hard on it, but I don't think it's very funny of him to make something like that for himself and then try to joke that he made it for me."

Kwu cautiously regains her lost step, and takes another, slowly kneeling down to close the height between them. Carefully and calmly, she reaches out in an attempt to gently grasp the other woman's arm.

Tammar just about jumps out of her skin, jerking back and accidentally splashing soapy water across the both of them.

Kwu winces slightly but accepts the wetness as an expected danger. Equally carefully retracting her arm as not to further distress the gnome, she forges on in a calm and even tone.

"Tammar please... just turn and look at me a moment."

The gnome has her eyes squeezed shut, rubbing at them awkwardly with her sleeve to get the soap out. When she opens them, they are red-rimmed, but her expression is impassive as she turns to face the pandaren.

Kwu looks into the gnome's eyes with a hint of worry at both the soap and her obvious distress.

"You have something deep within you... Does it hurt to bring up so?

Tammar's face seems to close down, as if locking the pandaren woman out. When she speaks, her voice is quiet and authoritative -- the voice she uses with children. "Let's get the shop cleaned up, Kwu. I still have that headache."

Kwu sighs. This would be a difficult task indeed. "Of course, Tammar..."

Tammar turns back to the basin. "If Dicco's still outside, tell him to get in here and sweep up, please."

Kwu rises solemnly, taking a moment to breathe before turning to the door.

"Mr. Dicco, I think it's time to come inside... Tammar would appreciate if you could begin the sweeping."  

Hearing no response, Kwu leans out the door to find the street empty except for a small motorcycle, gleaming in the moonlight.

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[Earlier that day...]

She was as much surprised by the means the letter arrived as she was by the letter itself.  It came at one of her Ironforge drops, addressed to Alice Hanover; a rarely-used alias.  She paid the postmaster with a smile and retreated to one of the busy taprooms in the city to read the message in quasi privacy.

Mistress Hanover,

My employer wishes to propose a business arrangement with you that he believes will prove mutually beneficial.

If you would agree to hear the details, come to the Blue Recluse at seven in the evening on Wednesday.

It lacked a signature, which in and of itself was not unusual given the nature of her business contracts.  She folded the paper and tapped it against her lips. Mm. Expensive parchment; faintly scented.  Perhaps this might be worth her while. 

Later that evening she readied herself for the trip to Stormwind. Since the Defias job had gone so far awry, she had been avoiding the human city, working to blend in with the other non-dwarven residents of Ironforge.  She stood in front of a grand wardrobe in her bedroom, frowning over the available clothing.  Making her selections, she dressed quickly and regarded herself in the mirror. 

A robe of soft blue hugged what curves she had and emphasized her femininity.  Her hair was pulled up in a messy bun, ringlets cascading around her face, and light makeup covered the freckles; leaving an impression of smooth, alabaster skin.  Perfect. She looked like a moderately successful priest or mage; no one powerful enough to command deference, and yet not so low on the ladder’s rungs to get booted out from establishments like the Recluse.  She bared her teeth in a feral grin at her reflection, then whirled away, excitement bubbling through her veins.

“I've been approached about a job in Stormwind."  She stood in the kitchen with Adage, swirling a cloak around her shoulders.  “I have agreed to hear the terms.”  She did not feel good about leaving the city without someone she trusted knowing her whereabouts.  They had both seen first hand how quickly things could go wrong.

“I take it this is not a job selling pies.”  He looked over her finery with unspoken appreciation, reaching out to tuck a curl behind her ear. These robes were a far cry from her usual attire of serviceable tunics over plain trousers, and he seemed quietly enchanted by the unfamiliar way the gown complemented her body.

"Mm. No,” She worked long flexible piece of wire into the mass of her hair, the copper blending with her hair color seamlessly.  “But it should be fairly straightforward and simple.  The person they want to hire is a rather specialized thief.” 

“And if the job is immediate should you accept? How much setup does it require?”  She looked up at the question, smiling. He was leaned ever-so-casually against the marble table, his arms folded.  He asked good questions.

“That is part of the terms I wish to hear.”  She worked a dagger down into her bodice carefully, then lifted her skirts to wrap a garter-sheathe around her thigh.  “I would prefer two weeks at minimum for moderate security.  More if the place they want me to get into is heavily guarded.”  She dropped the hem and shook out the skirts, sliding her hand into a hidden pocket to test her draw.  Satisfied, she gave herself a little shake, ensuring everything was safe and secured.

"You're excited. Is this high-risk and high-profit?" He reached out, tracing the backs of his fingers over her arm and up the curve of her neck. His icy eyes were intense with study while they drew over her form.

Jenny grinned widely at him, quirking her eyebrows. "Is there another type of venture worth doing?"  She gave her cloak one last tweak, sliding her hands down the lining and feeling the comforting weight of weapons hidden within.

Adage shook his head and smiled, watching her fastidious preparations.  “You will do well for yourself.”

She gives him a slightly tart look. "I know. I usually do."  She moved closer with a pleasantly feminine rustle of skirts and petticoats, standing up on her toes to brush his lips in a brief kiss, twirling away for the door… only to stop when she felt a firm tug on the back of her cloak, preventing her from moving forward.  The corners of her mouth twitched in a suppressed smile.  “Yes?”

Adage did not speak; instead he slowly pulled on the cloak, reeling her back in.  Once she was within arm’s reach, he turned her around and cupped her face in his hand, kissing her with feeling.  Jenny leans into the kiss, deepening it with promises of future intimacies before pulling away, her fingertips pressing against his chest.

“I do not know what I did to earn that, but I’ll have to be sure to do it again,” Her voice was slightly breathless.

He massaged the back of her neck softly, his neck tilted at a gentle angle. "Just have a decent time out there. Let me know what you're doing, so I can decide if I want to do it as well." 

His solicitousness made her feel slightly giddy and warm, and her smile reflected that.  Her hand skimmed up to curl around his neck, and she leaned in for one last heartfelt kiss.  "I will.  On both counts.  I would never dream of hogging the fun to myself." 

His gentlemanly bow offered no resistance when she backed away once more. "Don't let them skimp you on your earnings, either."

She laughed softly as she slipped out the door.  Her voice drifted after her, rich with amusement. "Unlike most women... I know how much I'm worth."

Jenny moved around the streets of Ironforge easily, making her way toward the tram to Stormwind.  One more scholar visiting Ironforge and heading home for the day, nothing special, no need for anyone to take notice.  She joined the throngs boarding the tram and considered the upcoming meeting. 

Adage waited fifteen seconds after she left, then slipped out the door, stalking after her with practiced grace.  Her slender form was easily followed through the streets of Ironforge, and he took particular delight in whirling and cat-stepping through the crowds unseen.

He stepped off the tram a few moments after Jenny, amusing himself with moving to within touching distance, the faint scent of her perfume in his nose, but the woman herself unaware he was close. 

They moved quickly and easily through the streets of Stormwind; most of the residents retiring to homes and common rooms for their evening meals, a steady stream of people providing a cover for one small red-head to hide within. 

As she crossed the bridge into the mage district, Jenny tossed back her cloak, revealing the robes beneath.  She murmured greetings to those she passed, looking very much the young scholarly lady, passing easily through the grassy parks and mounting the stone steps to her destination. 

“Ah, excuse me”, her voice was different, higher and slightly breathless as she leaned over to one of the Recluse’s staff.  “I am meeting someone.”  Her eyes darted away and she affected a shy smile. “A gentleman.  Is there somewhere I might sit…discreetly?”  A coin was pressed into the server’s hand, and the lady in the blue robe was escorted to a semi-private nook in the dining room. 

Adage slid behind her, cloaked in shadows, his hands on the hilts of his weapons.  He took up a position against the wall, the only sign of his passing the slight sway of the curtain hanging open over the alcove. 

Jenny poured herself a cup of tea and settled in to wait, affecting an air of anxious anticipation; a young lady on a romantic assignation.  Ten minutes later a distinguished looking gentleman with silver hair entered the room.  A quick word with the staff, and he began making his way to Jenny’s table.  She affected not to notice, watching his progress from beneath lowered lashes, but behind her, Adage could see the lines of tension in her posture, and the way one hand moved into position.  She was ready for trouble.

“Mistress Hanover,” He settled into the chair across from her and smiled pleasantly.  “I am certain you are a busy lady, so if you have no objections, we can discard the pleasantries and I will get down to business.”  He spoke with the crisp accent of Stormwind, and if his voice was an indicator, was well-educated… but not a noble himself.  A servant then, and a well-trusted one.

“Of course,” Jenny took a slow swallow and set down her teacup, her other hand still in her lap.  “You were unfortunately vague in the details regarding our potential arrangement.”

The gentleman smiled slightly and inclined his head.  “Just so.  I find the mail to be tediously prone to interception these days, I pray you forgive me.  My employer has misplaced an artifact and wishes it retrieved.  With all due discretion, of course. It would be a source of great embarrassment should it be revealed gone.”

Jenny’s eyebrows raised, and she did some quick thinking.  Some noble son gambled away a family heirloom, perchance?  Very low risk work, retrieving such… and with all the hush-hush about, likely to pay well.

“Very well. I trust you already know that my fees—“ She began, only to be interrupted by a leather case that slid across the table.  “I believe this should cover your fees, Mistress.”  She eyed it for a moment or two, then pulled it closer and opened it.  Her mouth fell open in a rather unprofessional manner, her blue eyes wide.  She closed the case quickly, regarding the gentleman across the table in a new light. 

“I believe you are correct, sir.  What is the article I am to retrieve, and who is currently in possession?”  She fought to keep her voice even, but her fingers stroked the case possessively.

The man passed a scrap of parchment across the table.  “I believe this has all the information you require.  When might I expect delivery?”

She picked up the parchment and frowned at it. She did not recognize the address, but knew the general neighborhood was not one of the city’s more affluent ones.  “Two weeks, at most.  More if there is security.”

“That is sufficient.”  Her companion got to his feet, straightening his clothing with crisp movements.  “Normally we would insist on receipt of the item before payment,” he nodded toward the case that she still held.  “But your reputation precedes you.”  With a slight smile, he gave her a half bow and left, carefully edging around the other patrons.

Jenny let out a slow breath, tucking the scrap of parchment into her bodice.  The note said the item she was to retrieve was in a small lockbox.  Whatever was in it must be priceless to its owner, because her payment…  She looked down at the case and allowed herself a tiny smile.  Oh yes.  This was worth it.

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Piero leaned against the wall under the eaves of a building not far from the entrance to the tram. Wearing some loose-fitting cotton trousers, a leather jerkin two sizes too big that revealed his slim but muscular arms, and a smudged face, he looked for all intents and purposes like a labourer enjoying the cool air of the evening before heading homeward.

He casually looked over the street as folks flooded out from the tram; eyes darting, he searched for a mark. For the last few weeks, he had been living quite well from the gold in the chest he had stolen from his brothers. The fools! They didn’t know the half of what was in that chest, and he hadn’t been stupid enough to tell them. He was sure no one would find the package he had taken from it, safely tucked behind the stone he had pried out of the wall in his room at the inn. With the dirt he had mixed into the mortar when he replaced it, it looked just like any other stretch of wall. He had plans for that item, but that didn’t help his immediate problem: spending money. The city was expensive, and the chest was starting to look a little bare.

His gaze swept over the street again, and he spotted her. The perfect mark: a diminutive lady in blue robes, a priest or mage by the look of her. Her coppery gold hair was swept up in a loose bun with ringlets dangling down at the edges; it suggested to Piero an absent-minded scholar, someone more at home in the company of books than people. So much the better for him; she would not put up much of a struggle and probably would just want to forget the whole incident. He thought to himself again: the perfect mark.

He watched her turn the corner, then set off down the street. Excellent. The way she was headed there was a convenient, quiet alley that led down to the backwaters of the canals. He paced his walk a little faster than hers, timing it so they would all but collide as she met the entrance to the alleyway. As he slipped along the street, watching her make her way through the throng, something prickled in the back of his mind -- he wasn’t sure what, but something was slightly amiss. No matter. It would all be over in a few moments.

Twelve feet from her and the alley was coming up fast. He maintained his calm, almost bored demeanor, but his mind thrummed with the excitement of what was to come. He sniffed the air lightly and caught her scent, fixing it in his mind. Perhaps he would take this a little further than a robbery... perhaps. Six feet from her now and he prepared himself to strike. He gave one last glance upward to make sure the street was clear...and a damned City Patroller walked around the corner.

He swore under his breath and peeled off into the alley. That was close a little too close for his liking. He was loath to give up such promising quarry, but he would have to move quickly to make sure he didn’t lose her. Waiting a moment to make sure the guard had moved on, he surveyed the alley. That’s what he was after: a windowsill twelve feet from the ground. As a younger man he probably could have scaled the wall to the sill, but not now -- his knees had gained a dull ache these last couple of years, and more often than not he strapped them before venturing out. He did, however, have other options available to him.

Another quick scan of the alley to make sure he was truly alone, then he closed his eyes, concentrated. He felt the blood course through him as felt the change come on, and his body screamed in pain -- but it was a pain he was all too familiar with, and he suppressed the urge to cry out. His chest thickened, filling out the loose jerkin, the leather drawn taut across his shoulders. His face contorted, stretching into a muzzle as his teeth elongated into razor-sharp fangs. His fingernails start to grow outward and darken into iron-hard black claws; dark, blue-black fur sprouted all over his body. The small man had vanished, replaced by a hulking black worgen.

Piero let himself growl, a deep, rumbling sound that slunk out into the evening as he coiled his haunches and leapt up to the windowsill. Claws bit into wood and his feet caught against the stone below. He scrambled upward, his body elongating as he pushed off with his feet and caught the gutter; he pulled himself up with a single jerk of his sinewy arms and slipped silently onto the rooftop. There were still patrols flying overhead, but the lengthening shadows of the evening gave him plenty of cover. He sniffed the air again, trying to locate her scent. He caught the barest whiff of it heading towards Oldtown. That would mean a bridge crossing, very little cover. But if he was quick enough he shouldn’t be exposed for too long.

He gave another flying leap, the strength in his worgen body easily clearing the width of the street below, and landed with a dull thud on the rooftops opposite. He dropped to all fours and sniffed the air again. Locking onto her scent, he moved purposefully over the wooden shingles. He had mixed luck; the street was far too busy for him to make a dash for the bridge, but he spotted her walking along the opposite side of the canals.

Sticking to the rooftops, he stalked his prey and soon found himself having to reassess his opinion of her. She moved deliberately through the crowd, smiling and giving out greetings to passersby. This was no cloistered, bookish student; she seemed confident and gregarious. Perhaps not so much the easy prey he had envisaged; nevertheless, she had piqued his interest.

Something prickled in his mind again as he watched her move towards the trade district, and this time he allowed himself to focus on it. He stared intently from the shadow of a chimney, following her through the early evening crowds with his eyes, his nose twitching. Suddenly, it struck him: her movements. They were too assured, too graceful. She was used to sliding through a crowd quickly, fluidly, and unnoticed. To the untrained eye nothing seemed amiss, but Piero recognised exactly what she was doing: he had done it himself many times in the past. His lips pulled back in a sharp-toothed grin. This could prove even more interesting than he had first thought.

The woman turned a corner and headed further toward the bridge to the Trade District. There was nothing for it now. He would have drop back to street level which meant slipping back to a more human, acceptable shape.   He doubled over as his muscles once again contorted and he shifted forms.  A quick glance up the street to make sure no one was looking in his direction and he stepped of the roof of the single story building, twisted in mid-air and caught himself on the edge of the tiles. A small grunt escaped him as pain flared through his knees from his impact on the cobbles, but he paid it no further mind.

His quarry was just moving into the district proper, and as he moved to follow her, he spotted what he needed. With all the rebuilding going on in the city he had no trouble locating a workman’s cart. He walked up to to it purposefully and scooped up an armful of short planks and a hammer. Suddenly he was a workman again, moving through the crowd on his way to build something.

He caught sight of her and stalked her through the trade district and out the other side. As she wended her way through the crowds toward the bridge, he deduced her destination: the Mage Quarter. No problem; his disguise would still serve him there. He began to whistle somewhat tunelessly as he crossed the final bridge and stepped onto the grass so favored by the magic users of the city. She still moved about thirty feet in front of him, walking up a slope in the path before suddenly turning into the Blue Recluse. Blast, BLAST, and MORE blast! His workman’s disguise would be all but useless in the upmarket bar.

He continued up the street looking for options and spotted a low window, the shutters carelessly left open, the interior dark. He scaled the wall, his knees groaning slightly, and tumbled into the room. Quickly he looked about him, a bedroom it seemed...what could he use? He spotted a dirty robe that looked quite a few sizes too big and swept it over his jerkin and calf-length trousers. It was ostensibly white, but age had dulled it a little and there were ink stains around the cuffs. A plan began to form but he needed some more props. A pair of half-moon spectacles from the bedside table joined a stack of books, notepad, and pencil from the desk. He quickly washed his face and ran water through his hair, purposefully ruffling it again. He tested a few words for tone and inflection and popped the spectacles on his nose. He was no longer a hard-working laborer but a bumbling academic. He was never one to let a good idea go to waste.

Quickly back out the window and up the street, he slipped into the Blue Recluse. The bar was half full of patrons, most after an evening meal. He spotted his quarry sitting in a corner booth, sipping on tea. If this young woman was not what she appeared to be she would be here for something more than the obvious drink and meal, he quickly concluded she was going to have a meeting. He needed to get close, but not so close as to disturb her with his presence.

Approaching the bar he fumbled in the pocket of his robe and dropped a silver on the counter and regarded the barman, “Ahh... uhmm a table for one my good fellow, something...no... something on the upper balcony please.” One of the serving staff showed him upstairs to a table on the opposite wall to his quarry’s booth. “No... uhm, I require more... oh ah...light. I want to make some notes while I’m here.” The words spilled out quickly, almost if his mouth was working overtime to keep up with his thoughts. “Oh... how about that one, near the stairs. It’s just just uhm... just below the lamp.” The server nodded and accompanied Piero to the specified table.

From his seat he had a good view of both the darkened booth and the bar, and if he strained hard enough he might be able to catch a phrase or two of conversation. He opened the book he had taken from the bedroom, and, not even bothering to look at the pages, he held it as high as he dared, the better to cover his face. His right hand grabbed the pencil and began making notes, ostensibly on the book, but in reality on what he knew of his quarry already. It wasn’t long before a well-dressed man entered and looked around the room. He was silver-haired and dressed quite well. The way he was looking for someone specific pricked Piero's interest.

The man moved to the counter and spoke briefly with the barkeep. His mannerisms and speech reminded Piero of his youth. A servant, then...but a trusted one, perhaps an adjunct or an aide. Which would suggest rather an important personage as his employer. Piero gazed over the book, his hand making notes on the pad next to him. Silver-hair moved over to the woman he had been following and Piero allowed himself a grin. Definitely a meeting of some kind. He strained to hear and caught words and phrases of conversation: employer, artifact wishes retrieved... embarrassment. The man then slid a package across the table, and Piero suppressed a chuckle as his hunch proved correct. His mind raced and he thanked his lucky stars that he had decided to follow her this far. This situation could prove to be most beneficial to him.

The meeting was coming to a close and he had a decision to make: follow the girl, or follow the servant? The girl was a professional -- and good at her craft, if she was being hired by someone of importance. Since he was primarily after information, he probably would not gather that from her without the need for killing or at least revealing his presence to the girl before it became absolutely necessary. Besides, being a professional, she would probably not have enquired too deeply after her employer. Better to follow the servant. That should inform him who would be so embarrassed by whatever the girl had been hired to retrieve. And once he knew who, it would not be such a large matter to find out what...and from there he would have something as valuable to him as the package he had secreted behind the wall of the inn: he would have leverage.

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

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The silver haired man stepped outside and took a deep breath.  He allowed himself a tiny smile.  The ball was in motion, the game had begun.  He neither knew nor cared anything about Alice Hanover.  The name was one of many whispered in the drawing rooms and smoking chambers of clubs and gambling dens, where the specific, special needs of the wealthy were catered. 

He adjusted his cuffs and stepped out onto the cobblestone streets of the mage quarter, making his way through the early evening crowds toward the palace district.  Arrogant as any noble, he had no reason to think anyone might follow him.  Hanover had been well paid for her discretion, and no one else had been close enough to overhear the conversation.  So he had no inkling that a dark shadow was keeping pace with him over the rooftops.

He walked easily out of the Mage District, joining the dwindling crowds strolling along the canals as he made his way toward the palace and the enclosing district.  Any doubts Piero might have had regarding the origins of his quarry were alleviated when he stopped at a townhome not too far from the palace.  He gave every impression of being a resident rather than a guest; he did not knock, and when he walked through the door, there was a male voice raised in greeting- most likely a servant.

 

Jenny finished her tea, her fingertips stroking the leather case beside her.  It was difficult, but she managed to wear a disappointed expression- as if her tryst did not go according to plan.  Her face crumpled, and she managed a few weepy hiccups.  Leaving coins to pay for the tea, she rudely pushed her way out of the common room, her fingers dashing at her eyes.  No one had noticed the couple in the darkened booth, but if they had, her exit would lead them to the conclusion she wanted. 

She dashed down the cobbled streets; affecting to sob while clutching the package she had been given, until she reached a seedy little house with a rickety outside stair located in an alley near the canals.  She opened a discreet door beneath the stairs, vanishing inside.

She held the door open longer than was strictly necessary, closing it after she felt a slight stirring of air.  Quickly, she shed her cloak and lay the package down, twisting her arms behind herself, tugging at the bodice’s laces.  “Well. That was interesting.”

Adage appeared on the far side of the tiny room, looking around with interest.  It was the second of her bolt holes she had led him to.  Like the first, this one contained a cot, a chest, ewer and basin, with a few robes similar to the one she wore hanging from pegs on the wall.  It kept with the persona of a priest or mage that either lived slightly above her means, or swore vows of aestheticism.    “You seem excited.  I trust the fee is acceptable?”

“Yes.  It’s a very rare map dating from the before War of the Ancients.”  She grunts with effort, jerking the final lace free and easing the robe over her arms.  “It’s difficult to say who owned it, because if the Night Elves knew it was in human hands, I’m sure there would be an incident.  They are already quite grumpy about the archeological digs unearthing their cultural artifacts. And there are many private collectors.  But…”  Her voice was muffled as she pulled the gown over her head, tossing it onto the cot.  “Only one of them collected maps.  Lord Gregor Lescovar.”  Her fingers went to the ribbons holding up the petticoats, letting them drop over her hips.  “Lescovar is, of course, dead.  But he had two sons.  Aldous and Percival.”

Adage picked up the package and carefully opened it, revealing a very old sheet of fine deerskin that was cracked with age and etched with badly faded ink.  He regarded it with the reverence of a holy relic, his fingertips brushing over the delicate inks.  The place names had mostly faded, but the lower corner was labeled ‘Azshara’ in a flowing, elegant script.  He felt his own rush of excitement, pleased that she understood the value of such an item. “You think one of the sons hired you.” 

“Mmhmm. The contact said that I need to retrieve an artifact that would embarrass the family if it were revealed to be missing.”   She fished the scrap of parchment from her corset and passed it to Adage.  He glanced at it briefly then stuck it in a pocket of his trousers, turning her around so he could unlace the undergarment, his fingers deft and sure.

“Do you plan to begin tonight?”  The corset was loosened, and she began tugging it over her head as she stepped out of the pillowed pile of petticoats.  She went to kneel beside the trunk, doing something with the latch, her voice distracted.  “Yes. I want to visit the address, get a feel for the building.  With luck, I’ll hit it next week.”  There was a loud click from the chest.  She lifted the lid to reveal neatly folded clothing; dark trousers and tunics, and a pair of supple leather boots with soft soles.  She began to dress, shooting a glance over her shoulder.  “You’ll come with me?”

Adage smiled, his answer an elegant bow.

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((Kwu is posting the bit from tonight. :) ))

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Shaatnez poked his head in the door of the shop, looking around for whoever might be there.
 

Kwu waved to the draenei in the doorway. "Welcome to the Short and Sweet, how can I help you?" She paused a moment and looked the draenei up and down before snapping her fingers and smiling. "Mr. Shaatnez, it's you, yes?"
 

The garishly-dressed draenei gave Kwu a grin. "Yep, that's me." He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. "I see the bike is on the porch. How did things go after I left last night?" he asked, stepping into the shop and taking a seat at the counter.
 

Kwu looked down at the counter for a moment, slipping the engineering goggles off of her head so she could pinch the bridge of her muzzle lightly in thought.
 

The draenei's face fell. "That badly, huh?" he said softly, lacing his fingers together and leaning on his arms.
 

The pandaren nodded slowly a moment before sighing lightly and looking back to the draenei. "Yes... fairly bad. Would you like a drink first, then maybe you can explain some things to me about those two."
 

Shaatnez shook his head. "Yikes. I had a feeling...but yeah, a plain soda water would be good, thanks." His tail swished, thumping quietly against the base of the stool he was sitting on.
 

Kwu nodded in agreement, bending over to grab a glass absently and hold it under the tap a moment. "I can't begin to pretend I know much about those two, but I can tell they were each cut deeply in separate ways..." She lifted the filled glass and placed it on the counter before Shaatnez. She then turned to better face him, leaning on her left side with her elbow on the counter supporting her. "... Perhaps you can tell me something, anything, about how the two generally are together."
 

Shaatnez turned the glass on the counter, thinking. "Well, mostly I've been helping Dicco with his engineering. I haven't had too many opportunities to talk to Tammar, so mostly I just know what Dicco has told me, and some of the chatter over the Keeper crystals."
 

Kwu nodded lightly. "He has a great gift in that skill of his... with no shortage of help from you I assume... She just seems so put-off by... everything! The bike, the machinery in here... I can't begin to understand why she, as a gnome, would be so...distressed, by these things, not that I mean that she shouldn't! I mean... of course she shouldn't, but not just because she's a gnome!" Kwu grew flustered over her own words, ears and tail twitching anxiously as she trailed off.
 

"Heh." The draenei had twisted his tail around the base of the stool as if to anchor himself, and he shook his head before taking a small sip of the soda water. "I wish I knew. Maybe then I could help. She doesn't like to talk about it, though, that much I can tell you."
 

"Oh I was lucky enough to gather that much... I tried to speak with her, as gently as I could, yet she nearly snapped on me! I swear, I don't know what it is about it, but something inside her is deeply scarred, and I've no idea what... Not to mention poor Dicco!" Kwu shook her head lightly, sighing defeatedly. "He wouldn't say so much as a word but I could see he was deeply troubled too. He was so convinced she would like it, her rejection... I can't imagine how he's handling himself."
 

Shaatnez sighed heavily. "Yes...I tried to explain to him, because even just from the little I'd gleaned, I knew it wasn't going to go over well." The draenei dragged one thick finger through the condensation gathering on the wooden counter-top. "One time he took her off to the Badlands at the behest of one of those message boards -- you know the ones, with the king's notices?"
 

With a slight nod the pandaren replied, "Yes I've seen... I've been off to a couple places myself, but not the badlands, how did it go over?"
 

Shaatnez snorted. "Not too well. The ended up at a goblin settlement where there was this shady-looking teleporter from the landing area up to the town proper. You can imagine how that went, maybe."
 

Kwu shuddered at the very thought. "Less than desirable to say the least I suspect..."
 

The draenei rubbed at his chest with a thumb -- unconsciously checking his crystal. “Tammar lost it, and Dicco was so upset that he ported right to Dalaran, ran into the workshop and almost tore the bike apart with his bare hands."
He looked up solemnly. "I managed to stop him and calm him down, then take him back to where he'd abandoned poor Tammar, but I don't think certain things quite sank in the way they needed to."
 

Kwu's features were bordering between severe pain and outright horror at the image in her mind. "He... he almost... I can barely imagine. Oh Dicco... Tammar..." Kwu trailed off a moment in thought. Absently she began drumming her nails across the countertop, features fixed in quiet reflection. She finally glanced back up after a few moments and her eyes widened visibly. "Wait... So he hasn't spoken to you either since the incident?"
 

He shook his head, looking surprised. "No. I came here to check on him, actually -- Tammar, too."
 

Kwu glanced back and forth a moment, a reflex not of sight, but thought, nails tapping quicker to prevent her feet from following suit. "He didn't come in last night, and I haven't heard from him since... Not to say he hasn't been around without my knowing about it, but, well... I've been busy as well what with that notice board we just spoke of."
 

Shaatnez frowned. "I asked him to let me know how it went over the stones, but I was with a client for most of the evening and had it shielded."
 

The pandaren's teeth showed over a quivering lip a moment as she bit it in thought. "Oh dear... I hope he's alright... I'm sure he can handle himself, but... I would just like to see him back unharmed. As for Tammar... I haven't spoken much with her either. Though I'm not sure you'll see much of a difference in her actions. She seems very... One might say, locked up. Whatever it is that puts her off so seemed to shut her down in the oddest way. She just acted her almost usual self and seemed to ignore the entire thing as best she could."
 

The draenei glanced toward the top of the stairs. "Where is she, by the way?"
 

Kwu followed Shaatnez's glance to the stairs and stared a moment before glancing back, shaking her head. "I wish I could tell you. I thought I had heard her speaking of her wishes to spend more time learning of the Light as I hear it called, but I do not know if that is where she is at the moment, or if she's just out getting more syrup and the like to stock up."
 

As if she had been summoned, the diminutive shopkeeper appeared in the doorway, scuffing her feet on the mat. She was dressed in her regular "going out" clothes rather than her uniform, a small stack of books tucked under her arm. "Oh, hello Shaatnez," she said brightly, then gave Kwu a nod.
 

Kwu turned to note Tammar's sudden appearance with a shocked "T-t-tammar! It's g-good to see you, of c-c-course." She glanced over to Shatneez a moment with an almost imperceptible shrug.
 

Shaatnez got to his feet and gave the gnome a flourishing bow. "How are you, Tammar?"
 

Tammar shot Kwu a puzzled look, then returned the draenei's bow with a polite curtsey. "I am well, thank you. Have you come to deliver Dicco back to us?" she asked, perhaps a bit tartly.
 

Kwu cleared her throat into a closed paw before interjecting. "Ah... Tammar... Mr. Shaatnez doesn't have Dicco... In fact, he hasn't seen him since we have, either."
 

The tinkerer gave the pandaren a pained look, then nodded. "Yes, I came here to check on you two and...er..." He trailed off awkwardly, gesturing vaguely at the front porch where the still-gleaming motorcycle sat chained to a post.
 

Tammar grimaced. "I see...well, he isn't here, and I don't know where he is. Frankly, I don't really want to talk to him right now, but we are having another coupon day in a few days, and we'll need his help." She glanced between the two taller beings. "So, perhaps you might find him and get him to come back here and get that hunk of junk off the porch. This little prank has gone on long enough."
 

Kwu shot an equally pained look back at the draenei but was quick to speak over the impending awkward silence. "Ah- Of course Tammar. I will make sure to double my efforts in finding him."
She then paused a moment to glance at the books in the gnome’s hands. "Oh- I didn't even think to ask. What have you gotten yourself there Tammar?"
 

The gnome's features softened, and she sighed, shifting the books to her other arm. "Just some prayerbooks. Basics, you know -- from the Cathedral library. A friendly gnome helped me find them, and I figured maybe I might be able to sneak in some reading during the slow parts...." She shrugged fatalistically. "But, seriously, let me go upstairs and change, and then why don't you two go see if you can find Dicco? Two pairs of eyes will be better than one, I should think. And we do need him back."
 

Shaatnez merely hooked his thumbs into his belt, saying nothing, his pale face impassive.
 

"Was it one of the two who came by recently?" As Tammar continued on though, Kwu thought it best not to question her anymore and nodded enthusiastically. "Of course, I'm glad to see you've gotten your books. We'll get right on finding Dicco, isn't that right, Mr. Shaatnez?" Rather than wait for an answer the pandaren merely stepped around the table and quickly snatched up his hand, heading straight out the door without missing a step.
 

Shaatnez' eyes widened in surprise, but he let himself be pulled along. "Yep, that's right...we'll find him, Tammar,” he said hastily over his shoulder. “Call over the crystals if you need anything!"
 

Tammar gave him a desultory wave, then headed for the stairs to change into her uniform.
 

Kwu leaned close to Shaatnez in an attempt to whisper into his much higher ear. "Do you see what I mean? She's not exactly the same but... Well, ironically out of all of us it seems to have been affected least!"
 

His tail swishing agitatedly, the draenei nodded, then wordlessly put a hand to the control box at his belt and called down his rocket from its holding pattern above the clock tower. "Any idea where he might be?"
 

Kwu sadly shook her head with a sigh. "Would that I did, I'd have at least talked to him if I could, not that he seemed open to it. Before the engineering fiasco I know he had hoped to do more studying with the mages... Perhaps there, if not..." The pandaren trailed off solemnly.
 

Shaatnez nodded grimly. "We'll check there first, then." He climbed onto the two-person rocket, steadying it with his hooves on the cobbles so Kwu could get into the passenger seat.
 

She regarded the odd construct a moment. With a shrug she carefully hopped up into the passenger seat and held on for dear life, though in a more lighthearted manner if the smirk across her face suggested anything.
 

[A] Kwu, Ebonspell, [H] Vispiasting, Kureya, Rauuhya

Keialaar
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Jenny and Adage took to the rooftops- two sleek shadows gliding soundlessly from chimney stack to rooftree, making their way easily to the neighborhood the shop was located in.  They investigated every nook and cranny from above by starlight- discovering three loose shingles that rattled when stepped on, a host of roosting pigeons, and a dormer window that swung open with a tooth-grating creak of metal hinges.  Jenny froze the moment the window made noise, then very gently eased it shut again.  Nothing stirred beyond a few sleepy birds, disturbed by their prowling about. 

 They spent the remainder of the evening tucked into the shadows, watching the street below; getting a feel for how much moonlight struck the building, and timing the night watch’s patrol.  They retreated to her safe house in the wee hours of the morning and fell into the tiny cot in a tangle, getting some much needed sleep.

Nestled against Adage’s back, Jenny smiled to herself.  She felt damned near invincible with him as her partner.  She knew this was not the case- they still had to exercise caution, but… her confidence soared as she wriggled down beside him and closed her eyes to dream of maps… and perhaps a ship.

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Dicco sat next to the waters of Olivia’s Pond behind the Dwarven District, in the evening shade beneath a large tree he found the solitude he wanted to sort through his emotions.  The cool water lapped at his hooves and he felt mud soaking the bottom of his dark trousers.  Why?  Why would Tammar not even see what he had done for her.  He wanted to prove that she didn’t have to be fearful of machines, he wanted to pay her back for the help and kindness she had shown him.  Months it had taken him, all that effort for what.. to be told it was a joke?  He sniffed loudly and wiped a tear from his eye with his sleeve.  


In his back pocket a crystal embedded in the ring of a spanner began to glow faintly and he heard Mr Shaatnez’s voice calling for him.  He pulled the spanner out of his pocket and stared at it for several moments. He had tried to help so badly, all he wanted was to help his fellow Keepers, particularly Tammar, but everything he had done seemed to be a mistake.  He drew his arm back, tears stinging his eyes and flowing freely down his cheek, he tensed ready to toss the spanner into the dark water in front of him.

He sat there sucking air into his lungs in gasps, he could do it, he could throw the crystal away and run.  He had been on his own before and knew how to look after himself, this time he would be better prepared, he had skills, he could go to Dalaran, study with the Kirin Tor find a place in the world find friends where he wouldn’t make mistakes and chase them away like he had done with Tammar. Mr Shaatnez’s voice continued, “Dicco. Dicco, where are you?  Please answer.”

He dropped the spanner and picked up a stone laying next to him, with a cry he tossed the stone as far into the pond as he could, before he curled into a ball, lay in the mud and began to sob loudly.

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

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Shaatnez cursed inwardly as he and Kwu zoomed over the darkening rooftops of the city. Dicco wasn't answering his narrow-band sendings, but he didn't want to broadcast more widely over the crystals. Even he could tell that Tammar wouldn't appreciate that.

He kept the rocket on its westbound heading, toward the Mage Quarter. Like Kwu said, it seemed as likely a place as any.

Suddenly, Tammar's voice came over the crystals. Shaatnez?

Yes ma'am?

I appreciate your help, but I just realized the time. Please try to have him and Kwu back at the shop before the hour.

Shaatnez consulted his chronometer and gritted his teeth in frustration as he brought the rocket down for a soft landing on the lawn around the mage tower, the craft's directional rockets firing smoothly. Forty-five minutes, and no telling where the kid had gone. Shaatnez glanced up at the top of the tower. "I really hope he's here," he muttered.

I will if I find him before then, he sent back, steadying the rocket again so his pandaren passenger could dismount. If not, I'll take Kwu back and keep looking.

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((Edit from forum logs on The Keepers website https://keepersofwra.wowstead.com))

 

Over the hill near the Eastern Earthshrine Inkpaw rolled up the cloth that displayed her scrolls and charms, shaking off the dust of the day. Trade that day had been slow. There were usually more people milling about the monks' training camp: curious adventurers, tourists, explorers, and of course the monks themselves. It had been unusually hot and dry and there was only the faintest trickle of dusty, sweating visitors, who were reluctant to buy her "Authentic Pandaren Scrolls of Wisdom", as she had dubbed them. She had sold only a few charms, and only after she had worn her voice hoarse by shouting about their cooling properties
.
She didn't like what she was doing, but she didn't see any other way she could feed herself in this strange, expensive city. Adventurers would pass by her display and she would stare at them longingly, their clothes dirty and battle-worn and dangerous weapons strapped easily to their backs. Once, filled with overwhelming desire to become like these powerful fighters, she had snuck a heavy sword from one of the monks and attempted to destroy a combat dummy. Straw was only barely spilling from its sides before her arms tired and she lost her breath. Panting and embarrassed, she replaced the sword and didn't try again.

She hefted the bag of merchandise over her shoulder and regarded it with dislike before dumping it at her tent. Feeling like a change of scenery, she deftly made her way down the steep, grassy rock face that led to Olivia's Pond. She didn't come here often - despite herself, she enjoyed the bustle and variety of the busier parts of Stormwind - but today, she wanted quiet. She settled herself at the water's edge and skipped a stone, disturbing the calm surface. When she had left the Isle, she had dreamed of travelling and battling. Instead, she hadn't yet left Stormwind and she couldn't even best an inanimate dummy. This was no way for a hero to behave.
Inkpaw was startled out of her wallow in self-pity by the sound of a splash in the far side of the lake. Instantly she was on her feet, her eyes narrowing as she tried to make out the object below the ripples. Was it a fish? No, it sounded too heavy and the fish in this pond weren't taken to jumping. It sounded like a rock that had been thrown or dropped. She scanned the far shore before her eyes alighted on a dark lump, half-submerged in the water. Her insatiable curiosity sparked, she backed away into the cover of the trees that ringed the pond and quietly made her way around to the mysterious shape.

She crouched behind a shrub, her eyes wide. It was a draenei, she guessed from the blue skin, and he was in obvious distress. She considered going to comfort him, but then she would have to explain her spying. And even if she did make her presence known, they might not speak the same language. She chewed on her claws as she considered. Finally she decided to leave him be for the time being and then, when he was recovered, she would conjure to bump into him as he left the pond and try to cheer him up then - as nothing more than a friendly stranger. That way, he wouldn't know that she'd been watching him.

Satisfied with her decision, Inkpaw surged to her feet rather enthusiastically. The bush rattled and a few twigs snapped. She froze.
Dicco sat bolt upright and shuffled against the tree.  The draenei had pulled his spectacles off and slipped them into a pocket a minute before; he hated crying behind his glasses. Looking out into the darkness without them, he couldn't make out much.  He wiped the tears from his eyes and squinted heavily.  He could make out a dark shape a few feet away.  He strained a little harder and recognised the curved shape of a pandaren looking toward him. His voice croaked as little as he stuttered,"K-Kwu?"

Inkpaw remained motionless for as long as it took her to realise that yes, the draenei had spotted her and was apparently speaking to her. She sidled out from behind the bush and fidgeted nervously, her words coming out in a tumble. "Uh, hi. I was just, um, gathering roots." She shoved her perfectly clean hands behind her back and hoped that the draenei didn't know his botany - the flora in the city was almost purely decorative. She continued in a rush, "I mean, I didn't know you were here. But, uh, now I do - know you're here, I mean - and I was wondering, are you okay? I mean, do you need help or anything?" She cringed inwardly. Who was she to be offering help, when she had been spying on him and his grief only moments before? And even more importantly, would he even understand her? She had no idea what language draenei spoke.

As the pandaren spoke, Dicco realised his error.  What on earth would Kwu be doing out here by the pond anyway? "Stupid." He spat the word out without thinking, realising the stranger might misinterpret his words he held up his hand and waved it to suggest wiping away his mistake, "Not you.  Me."  His other hand balled into a fist and he thrust it downward into the mud where it made a small squelching splash. "Stupid... stupid Dicco."

Even as her face softened in compassion, the name twitched in her mind. Where had she heard it before? Still, her curiosity would have to wait: it looked like he was in more pain than she had realised. She approached him carefully, as if he were a wounded animal, and crouched in the mud facing him. "I'm sure you're not stupid, but you are, uh, getting all dirty. Why don't you come out of the mud and you can tell me what's wrong? Only if you want to, I mean, but it always helps to talk. At least, that's what a friend of mine used to say, but she did love to talk, so who knows." She offered him an awkward but genuine smile and held out her paw.

Dicco looked up at the compassionate face staring at him before looking down and seeing his mud-soaked clothes for the first time.  He turned back to the pandaren and nodded before pushing himself up and trying to brush the worst of the mud off. Head hung low, he beat at his clothes but that just seemed to spread the dirty goo and make things worse.  He could feel the tears welling behind his eyes again, but he pushed those feelings down and muttered in a small voice, "I'm sorry."

Inkpaw waved her hands in front of her quickly. "It's all right! I mean, I should be the one who's sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you or anything. Um..." She fiddled with her hands again, sheepishly appraising the muck staining his clothes. "Don't worry. See, I'm muddy too." She lifted a dripping footpaw out of the mud and scuffed it on the grass. "It doesn't hurt or anything. It's just earth and water. Why don't you take a walk with me and tell me what's wrong while we dry off? Or if you don't feel like telling me, at least I can pay for some food or something. Does that sound okay?"

A look of consternation crossed the young draenei's face. "I can buy my own food." He sighed loudly and shook his head slightly. "I didn't mean.. I only..." His shoulders slumped. "Talking would be good."

Inkpaw spread her hands and smiled. "It's nice to be treated though, right? But sure, talking. So what's wrong?"

Dicco took a deep breath and considered the pandaren's words. "It's... well, it's all a bit of mess and complicated.  Could we, uhm, maybe find somewhere else to talk...? I am feeling a little soggy."

Inkpaw nodded eagerly, pleased that the draenei hadn't brushed her off. "Of course! Where did you have in mind? Oh, if you can't think of anywhere, I know this great cafe. It sells ice cream, and do you know I never had ice cream on the Isle? It's a human thing or something. I've been saving up, and..." She broke off her torrent of words to fumble with a coin purse at her side. She peered inside it and continued triumphantly, "Yep! I have enough for two. Anyway, it always cheers me up, so maybe it'll cheer you up too? The walk there is long enough so that we should be dry when we get there."

Dicco visibly winced at the word “ice cream.” Wild-eyed, he looked up at the pandaren and blurted out, "Not ice cream!" He shuffled as he calmed slightly and said, "I'm sorry, uhm... I don't feel like ice cream. There is an inn in the mage district, with the rebuilding it's a longer walk going via Old Town and the trade district, but perhaps there? I know it is probably more expensive, but I can buy you a tea or something."

Inkpaw flinched at his outburst and held her hands up. "Okay. No ice cream, that's fine." She brightened. "But maybe another time, when you feel like it?" She grinned and bounced away, halting abruptly as she comes to the path leading to the city proper. She pulled a tightly rolled map from her sleeve and examined it. It was drawn skillfully but messily, and covered in notes and tags on certain locations, such as "nice food", "writing supplies", and "here be little humans", with the "little humans" crossed out and replaced by "dwarves". Her eyes scanned over it and came to a large blank spot at the lower left corner. "Hmm... you'd better lead the way. I haven't mapped the Mage District yet. That's where it is, right?" She pointed at the blank area and looked over her shoulder at Dicco.

He gasped as he looked at the map the pandaren had drawn. His excitement caught in his voice, his troubles momentarily forgotten, "Sha samir D'ore! You drew this -- is it to scale?  It is accurate?"  He looked past the scribbles and notes to see extremely precise straight lines and details; his finger traced over the inked marks on the parchment, focusing on a small drawing of a typical human structure showing the brickwork and heavy beamed roof. "Do you think you could do something like this but for machinery, technical drawings?  If I gave you rough sketches that is, is it something you could do?"

Inkpaw looked up at him in surprise. "Um, yeah, I couldn't find anyone selling cheap maps so I decided to draw one myself... is it really that good?" She glanced back at the map with a critical eye. Even though her writing was everywhere, the buildings and roads were to perfect scale and she'd even taken the care to illustrate trees and cobblestones. "Most members of my family could do stuff like this," she mumbled, unsure of herself now under his enthusiasm. "As for technical drawing, I guess I could try? It'd have to be free, though. What kind of machinery are you thinking of?"

Dicco's enthusiasm was bubbling over along with his words as he continued to ramble. "All sorts, I have managed to design a few devices and I would love to be able to show certain people how they fit together.  I have tried but I can't get a line straight like this.  Or have it to this sort of accuracy or detail." He began attempting to measure out distance with his fingers, his face scowling slightly as he tried to keep them steady across the page, "Blast, why did I have to leave my callipers at the shop!"  He absent mindedly took the drawing from the pandaren's hands and ran up the hard cobbled stairs behind him. He looked to the auction house to his right, back to the map, back up at the auction house, took a few small steps backwards and began to pace out distance while trying to one-handedly measure his steps on the map, all the while muttering under his breath in Draenei.

Inkpaw dropped her gaze to the ground bashfully at his comments, leaving her distracted as the map was pulled from her grasp. "Thank you, I mean I'll try but I can't guarantee anyth- hey!" She looked up in surprise, seeing only a large blue tail disappearing up the stairs. She followed him up the steps, breathlessly protesting. "Look, you're welcome to borrow it, but it's a rough copy. I was going to do one much better! And our strides are different, it might not match up on the map." She caught up and feebly tried to pluck the map from his hands.

Ignoring the pandaren, Dicco gripped the map tightly and continued to awkwardly pace out steps, "My step is 4 and a half yards which on the map should be about one thirty sixth of that which should be about an inch and a half, about a fingerwidth."  He called over his shoulder, "You know this would be so much easier to test if you used the gnomish measure rather than the ridiculous royal measure, who came up with such a messy system anyways and why would the humans continue with it when there are better options."  In trying to turn and still pace, his clumsy turning tripped his left foot over his right and he spun as he fell and plopped down sitting.  "It seems accurate but I would need to test further to be sure -- maybe get a tape and some accurate tools." He held out the map for its artist to take. "This is very well drawn."

Inkpaw followed him about helplessly, trying to interject with his rapid comments. "That sounds about right-- But that's the system we used on the Isle-- And I know I should compare it to a map in the royal library, but I'm not sure they'd let me in there--" She pulled up short as he stumbled to the ground in front of her. "Are you okay?" she exclaimed, reaching out in alarm. Instead, her fingers closed around her map. She blinked dumbly at the draenei, barely registering his compliment. "Um, thank you. You know, you seem a lot more cheerful than you were a few minutes ago."

Dicco's shoulders slumped as his thoughts were dragged away from pictures of gear assemblies, valves and pipes.  He bit his bottom lip and looked around before replying weakly, "Uhmm but, well... the map."  He shrugged his shoulders and pushed himself up to take a few steps towards Old Town before turning back. "The inn, it's this way."

Inkpaw tucked the map back up her sleeve and caught up, walking by his side. The streets had turned dusky, and the buildings cast long purple shadows across the pair. Bothered by the sudden change in mood, she fidgeted with her claws again before blurting out, "You know, you don't have to tell me what you were upset about if you don't want. Why don't you tell me what specific kind of devices you want drawings for? Like, clocks, or guns, or those weird gnomish things? It sounds like fun, even if I haven't tried it before." She offered him a cheerful grin which soon faded when she saw his distracted, absorbed face.

Dicco continued to walk in silence, lost in his own thoughts all the way to the mage tower, where he took a left and pointed at some seats set out on the cobbled path in the last of the sunshine.

He took his seat and motioned for the pandaren to do the same; he was calm but his shoulders were still slumped slightly and his eyes were downcast. "I should introduce myself; my name is Diccionario... Dicco.  I am co-proprietor of Short and Sweet.  Can I get you a drink, or something?”

Sitting down, Ink's eyes lit up in realisation and she slapped the table with her paw. "That's where I've heard your name! That little woman - gnome, I mean - mentioned you once when I was there. You really run it with her? Can you get free ice cream?" She waved away the waiter and laced her hands under her chin to rest her elbows on the table, staring at Dicco in wonder. "Isn't that a funny coincidence? I'm Inkpaw, by the way."

Dicco visibly flinched at the mention of the gnome from the soda shop.  He took a deep breath, sighed heavily and began, "It is a pleasure to meet you Inkpaw.   The gnome you spoke with, Tammar, is really what's upsetting me at the moment.  You see, I made a present for her, and I wasn't sure she would like it, but I spent months and months making it for her... and when I showed it to her, she wouldn't even look at it, she called it a prank.  I don't understand, if she didn't like it she could have told me, but to say I was being cruel and trying to trick her.  It... it upset me."  Tear began to well in his eyes. "I try so hard to be a good friend, but it doesn't work out.  I was stupid."  He voice rose and rumbled, some of the other diners turned to look at the awkward youth and shied away as his voice rang out over the garden: "Stupid Dicco."

Shaatnez picked his way down the spiraling ramp of the mage tower, a concerned frown on his face. He and Kwu had done their best to look in every possible corner for the draenei youngling, checking between the stacks in the enormous library and peering into classrooms, trying not to disturb the instructors. The draenei consulted his chronometer again; it was five minutes before the hour, and Tammar would want Kwu back at the shop very soon. He cursed under his breath.

Inkpaw listened intently, her eyebrow markings crinkling in concern. She winced when he mentioned Tammar and mentally berated herself for unknowingly mentioning ice cream so often.

When he had finished, she leaned over and patted his blue hand gently. "I'm really sorry to hear that. And please stop saying you're stupid, because you're not."

She glanced around at the other patrons and then cleared her throat, adopting a businesslike tone. "Look, what if it was just a misunderstanding? Maybe she didn't truly realise it was a gift? I don't know what the present was that she thought you were being cruel, but you obviously weren't. Look how miserable you are over it now." She leaned back and shrugged. "See, pandaren are easy to buy gifts for. I've never met a pandaren who wasn't happy with a lovely box of buns, or a keg of ale, or a hot springs noodle bowl. You know, when you fill up a hot spring with noodles and have a big party? Do you have that here?" She mused for a moment and then shook her head. "My point is, I've never been in your situation. But you seem like a nice person, and so does she, so maybe you should try talking to her and explaining?" She offered him a smile.

-----

Of all the luck, how did one lose a rather large blue man in a city of pale skins and short statures? Kwu thought to herself. The ride over and around Stormwind had been an interesting one to say the least, though it took a great degree of her practiced balance to keep herself centered as the rocket device zoomed to the mage district. Were it not for their search Kwu might very well have enjoyed the experience, maybe even gotten some design points from Shaatnez for future reference. But there were more important matters at hand, and in line with her shy nature she quietly shuffled throughout as much of the mage tower as they dared.

There were a great many sights she did see, young mages turning creatures into a variety of barnyard animals, stacks and rooms and halls brimming with books of arcane knowledge, with more than a few where she made a mental note of titles and apparent rarity for upcoming... events. But there had been no sign of Dicco. Shoulders slumped and eyes downcast, she trodded out of the tower alongside Shaatnez, hearing him curse and surmising time was running short for her. That was when her ears twitched. The sound she heard wasn't exactly soft, especially in the quiet of the Mage Quarter, but she was so distracted it took a moment before it registered.
She snatched at Shaatnez' wrist and tugged him towards the source of someone's not-so-indoor voice. "Quick, I swear I just heard someone say ‘Dicco’ over here!"

Shaatnez was mid-stride when Kwu grabbed him, and he was nearly pulled off his feet as he stumbled down the last foot or two of the spiraling ramp and took a sharp turn toward the Blue Recluse, tugged along by the pandaren; he hadn't heard a thing.
As they rounded the base of the tower, Shaatnez caught sight of Dicco sitting at a table in front of the tavern. "Oh! There he is!" The older draenei gently disengaged his wrist and closed the distance across the lawn in a few long strides, sending narrowly across the crystals to the gnome: We found him!

----

Dicco sighed loudly, "That's just the problem: she won't listen. It's as if she see the world a certain way, and if the facts don't agree with what she sees, she ignores it -- she ignores me or tells me I'm wrong.  It is just so frustrating, sometimes I wish..."

Ink pursed her lips and started to reply before being cut off by the sound of clattering hooves and an unfamiliar voice.

Dicco's head whipped around at the sound of Mr Shaatnez's shout.  "Amere de sha naas," he swore under his breath before turning to face the older draenei.

"Dicco, there you are!" Shaatnez exclaimed, giving the youngling a smile and resting his hands on the railing next to the table. "Tammar has had us looking all over for you, and she is very worried." He gave the pandaren sitting across from Dicco a nod and a half-bow in greeting. "Please pardon the interruption, ma'am."

"Hello Mr Shaatnez, hi Kwu.  This is Inkpaw,” Dicco said.

Inkpaw’s eyebrows rose in curiosity as she looked up at the draenei and the pandaren, momentarily silenced while Shaatnez spoke to Dicco. When Dicco introduced her, she offered them both friendly smiles and a bow, greeting Kwu in lively Pandaren.
While the two pandaren were exchanging hellos, Shaatnez spoke over the crystals to the younger draenei, Just to warn you, Tammar is very insistent that you come back to the shop. She's been a little overwhelmed, I think. The words were overlaid with sympathy and wry humor.

Dicco's brow furrowed and a pained expression flashed across his face.  He abruptly crossed his arms, saying aloud, "She will have to stay worried, then.  I'm not going back, not tonight anyway."

Ink turned back to Dicco, alerted by his defiant words. "Hang on a minute. I don't think it's right that they should drag you back just because you wanted to be alone, but surely this is a chance to explain to Tammar? She won't know what happened if you don't, and she'll be worried like he" - she gestured to Shaatnez - "said. And if she doesn't listen the second time, then it'll be in your rights to run away again." She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms, nodding firmly.

As Dicco put his foot down and crossed his arms, Kwu bit her lip in thought, tail twitching absently behind her. But as Inkpaw spoke and she took a moment to reflect on her words, Kwu had to agree she had about the best idea. "I... Ah... I'd have to agree with Inkpaw, Dicco. If you're set in your mind then no one can stop you, of course, but at least come explain to Tammar in person... Maybe it will help her to see?"

Shaatnez said nothing, looking back and forth between the two pandaren women. He glanced at Dicco and raised his eyebrows interrogatively.

The tableau was interrupted -- for the two draenei, at least -- as Tammar's voice came over the crystals.
Shaatnez, I'm so glad you found him. Where was he? Is he okay? And how long will it take you to get back here? Her voice was oddly impassive, considering the rapid-fire questions she was asking.

The older draenei's face tightened, but he held his peace, waiting to hear what Dicco would have to say. The younger draenei's eyes narrowed and he took a deep breath; his voice was low and cut through the air, the words laced with venom. "Why does everyone presume I will meekly go back and pretend there is nothing wrong?  Why do you think I want to?"  His voice became strained as if he were forcing himself to say words he almost didn't want to. "Kwu, if you are so worried that Tammar know I am alright, YOU tell her. I don't want to speak with her right now, why can't you respect that? Mr Shaatnez, I want to go to Dalaran. Is it alright if I stay at the workshop, for tonight at least?"
 
Kwu's shoulders sagged a touch for a moment or two and she sighed softly, her head dipping slightly as she thought. But when her gaze lifted again she gave Dicco a determined nod. "Of course... I didn't mean to suggest...I just... It is good to see you okay, Dicco. Please, when you are ready, at least come see me someday soon, if not at the shop perhaps somewhere around the city. In the meantime I will let Tammar know." She bowed low and shuffled back a few paces, trying her best to summon a steady smile.
Shaatnez' tail swished tensely as he let Kwu speak, his hands kept carefully flat on the railing. "Yes, Dicco, that's fine," he finally said, his tail drooping, voice quiet. "I've said before that you're welcome to stay with me in Dalaran any time you like, and I meant it. But I should get Kwu back to the shop. I'll come back and get you after I've dropped her off, all right?" he finished, looking the young draenei in the eye.

Dicco saw the discomfort in his friends faces and shuffled awkwardly in his seat, his voice was quiet, barely over a whisper as he said, "Of course I want to see you Kwu, and likely Tammar as well. Just.. Just don't push me before I am ready, I am tired of people telling me what to do."

Ink, after slowly absorbing the exchange, glanced anxiously to Dicco and spoke up. "Okay, it'll be okay if she knows you'll speak to her eventually. Then she can apologise in person. Um, in the meantime, can I... can I come with you to see your workshop? So I can see those things you wanted drawings of in person?"

Dicco nodded to the pandaren. "It's fine with so long as Mr Shaatnez is okay with it; it's his workshop really."

"I don't have any problem with that," the older draenei said distractedly, punching the button to call his rocket over. "We might have to find somewhere else for you to stay, though, Ms. Inkpaw -- I'm afraid Dicco is occupying the only spare room."

Shaatnez looked up suddenly as the clock tower began tolling the hour. "...but we will have to discuss that later." He swung one leg over the contraption and settled himself into the pilot's seat, holding it steady as he waited for Kwu to be ready to be taken back.
With a nod Kwu carefully hopped onto the strange vehicle, turning back and giving Dicco and Inkpaw a wave. "I look forward to seeing you again, Dicco. Perhaps you as well Inkpaw. Whenever you're ready of course
, no pressure, and remember that." She turned back and gave Shaatnez a nod as she adjusted her goggles and grinned lightly.
 
Dicco's relief was obvious as the pair began to mount up, and he called to them, "Mr Shaatnez, I should be able to get the three of us through a portal if you meet us back here.  Take care, Kwu." His voice dropped to a low mumble, but there seemed to be genuine concern in his voice as he added, "and take care of Tammar too."  

Shaatnez gave the youngling a solemn nod, then brought the rocket up off the ground and sent it zooming toward the Cathedral district.
As Dicco watched the two fly off, he slumped back in his chair with a sigh and turned to Inkpaw. "I hope you will like Dalaran."

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

Keialaar
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While Jenny and Adage crept around rooftops, the silver-haired man divested himself of his hat and gloves, passing them carelessly to a servant before making his way to the drawing room.  He paused at an elegantly carved side table long enough to pour a healthy quantity of an amber liquid into a cut crystal glass (from a matching decanter), then paced over to stand beside a tall chair facing the fire.

“Is it done?”  His voice was low and scratchy- coarseness masked by an educated accent.  It matched the man in the chair- big and brawny.  He looked more a dockworker than a nobleman; his fine clothing notwithstanding.  His was thick and coarse, pulled sharply back from his face into a tidy queue.  His shoulders filled up the chair with solid bulk.  The fire threw his face into stark relief, making odd shadows beneath his cheekbones, his eyes glittering with intelligence beneath thick heavy brows.

“Yes.  She was most eager.”  Silver-hair passed the drink to his employer, who took it in one beefy hand but did not drink. 

“It must be handled delicately.”  The glass was held carelessly, the liqueur within reflecting the firelight over the planes of Graham Fensworth’s face; the man that struck fear in the hearts of many of Stormwind’s wealthy young scions.

The Fensworth family was a relative unknown among the general populace of Stormwind’s upper class, but the few that had cause to know the name would pale upon hearing it.  It was said the family made their fortune pirating off the southern tip of Stranglethorn, but no one could confirm it.  Sometime after the third war, Liam Fensworth, Graham’s father, had moved to the newly rebuilt stone city, organizing and maintaining several discrete gambling establishments.  The Fensworth family was serious about gambling debts.  They would smile pleasantly while breaking bones, or inflicting crippling-but-not-life threatening wounds.

“Of course,”  The silver-haired man smiled, but it did not reach his eyes.  “Hanover came very highly recommended.”

Graham finally looked up at his companion, his expression unreadable. “The Felstone bitch doesn’t know what she’s sitting on. Neither does anyone else. I want to keep it that way. I will not tolerate any leaks, Samuel.”

Samuel sighed quietly to himself.  He was heartily tired of the younger Fensworth’s ham-handed attitude with his employees, and not for the first time he wondered if Liam’s death had been an accident, or an orchestration of his son.  “She believes she is retrieving an artifact to prevent embarrassment.”

Graham grunted.  “What did you pay her?”  He sipped, finally, of the amber liquid in his glass.

“One of the maps from Aldous Lescovar’s payment.”   Samuel’s voice was quiet and even.  “It was a curiosity, at best.  Old, to be sure, but of value to no one but the night elves.” 

Graham grunted.  “Good choice.  You may leave me now.”

Samuel bowed, then quietly left the room, closing the doors with a quiet click.  Graham sat staring into the fire, considering his next moves.  Emma Felstone was sitting firmly on the road to power, and if she would not move of her own accord, then Graham Fensworth would ensure she was removed.

 

[The next morning]

 

A habitual early riser, Jenny was up with the dawn.  She looked like any other working class Stormwind citizen; her hair bundled up in a cap, a threadbare (but clean) coat worn over a tunic and pants.  Her boots showed heavy wear and clumped on the cobblestones as she walked.  If she didn’t speak, she could be taken for a very pretty boy that hadn’t quite hit his last growth spurt- which suited the persona she wanted to wear that morning.

She strolled through the streets like an apprentice lad dawdling on his way to his master’s shop, stopping at a cluster of street vendors for a cup of hot tea and a warm bun.  The haggling was lively- as was the banter.  She often shared gossip, and had useful items like pins and ribbons to trade for a bite or a drink.

The man with the buns wrapped one carefully in a scrap of paper before handing it to her.  “And iffin ye find any more o’ that blue ribbon… The missus wants to trim m’ daughter’s birthin’ dress.” 

“What? Your daughter is being christened already?”  Jenny accepted the bun, paying with a bit of felt stuck with pins.  “It seems only yesterday you were telling me your wife was expecting.  Congratulations, man!  I will see what I can do.”  Her stomach growled audibly.  The vendor laughed and began wrapping up a second bun, passing it to her with a wink.  "For your master."

“We hear that Prince Anduin’s gone missin’.”  The second vendor, a man she knew only as Hal, took her tin cup and filled it with steaming hot tea.  She paid with a handful of coppers (he did not take pins- no wife at home to use them, but he would take buttons.)

“I haven’t heard much, m’self.  But I’ll keep my ears open.  My master is deaf as a doorpost and thinks everyone else must be too.”  She grinned widely as the two vendors guffawed.  “Aye, and y’ must be getting to him soon lass, or there’ll be hell to pay.  Off wi’ y’ now!”  Good naturedly, they shooed her away, and she crossed the bridge with the throngs of morning citizens starting their days.

Her guise as a calligrapher’s apprentice gave her access to different parts of the city; it was not uncommon to be sent in search of a specific ingredient to be used in mixing an ink, or a special paper, or because the Master was hungry.  She picked up her pace, ducking out of the flow of traffic when she approached the address she had been given the night before. 

She stood on the canal side of the street, making idle chitchat with the street vendors setting up in front of the shop she was to rob, ostensibly picking through the barrels of second hand clothing and looking at the selection of used books, but in reality getting a good look at the building in daylight. 

The dormer window looked to be her best option for entry.  She disliked that it faced the street, but the cant of the roof gave her a deep patch of shadow in which she could make her entry and exit- and hopefully no one the wiser.  She smiled to herself.  Tonight, she would do a dry run, get inside the building and get the lay of the land.  “Yes, how much for this blue ribbon?”

 

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Shaatnez brought the rocket in for a gentle landing on the sidewalk in front of the shop, holding it steady with his hooves on the ground while he waited for his passenger to dismount. Tammar was hovering in the door of the shop, her uniform neatly pressed; her arms were crossed, a look of impatient worry on her face.

Kwu hopped off the rocket in as careful a manner as she could manage, still sliding and stumbling to a state of balance but better than before. She turned and noted Tammar and took a breath before managing a greeting to the gnome. "We have found Dicco..."

"Yes, Shaatnez told me," Tammar said calmly as the draenei dismounted and approached the shop.

The pandaren started, biting her lips lightly as she forced herself to continue. "...But ah... He wishes to spend some time in Dalaran... to himself."

Tammar raised her eyebrows. "Well. He didn't tell me that part."

Kwu glanced to Shaatnez a moment and cleared her throat before continuing. "It was only shortly before we rushed back to make sure I would be returned at a reasonable hour."

The gnome nodded. "Did he say why?"

"Ehm... He... Needs some time to think about his actions, with the bike and all, I believe."

Shaatnez opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it for the moment. Tammar glanced at him, then eyed the motorbike sideways. It was still sitting on the porch, gleaming in the moonlight. "Shaatnez, if you could do me a favor and get rid of that contraption, I'd appreciate it," she said stiffly.

Kwu glanced at the vehicle passively at its mention for a few moments until curiosity got the best of her. "I do suppose it should be... removed. Whatever might you do with it Mr. Shaatnez?"

The draenei blinked, hooking his thumbs into his hip pockets. "I don't know. It was difficult enough to get it here in the first place. But I agree; it can't stay here."

Kwu sighed lightly. "What a shame... it's certainly a prime example of engineering proficiency." She stepped over and patted the handlebars with a shrug. "A shame it's not exactly pandaren-sized... If it were up for grabs, and I had the gold, I bet I could get it resized and refitted just in time for some... deliveries... I have to make within the next few days."

Tammar waved a hand impatiently. "I don't care what you do with it, as long as it's not cluttering up the porch. Besides, there's no sense in it getting stolen, is there?" She looked at Shaatnez. "Is there any way you could take it back to your workshop?"

He shook his head, frowning, then snapped his fingers. "Actually, I do know what I can do with it. I have a client who lives on the outskirts of the city who has a large carriage house. She owes me a favor -- I could ask her to store it there until we figure out what to do with it."

Kwu glanced between the two a moment and smiled lightly. "Excellent, at least it has a place to stay... Perhaps I'll have to have a talk with Dicco when he's... open again. I wonder if he wouldn't mind me perhaps writing down some materials and measuring some dimensions of it for future works."

Shaatnez nodded. "Well, let me get it over there. I'm sure my client won't mind," he said with a lopsided grin, walking over to the bike and starting it up.

He awkwardly maneuvered himself into the seat and walked it down the ramp to the street, then waved to the two shopkeepers. "I will see you around."

Kwu waved Shaatnez off  with a smile. "Bye!"

Tammar gave him a curt wave, then motioned Kwu inside. "I'm glad Dicco is safe, but when he gets back here he is going to get what-for..." she muttered as she turned to go into the shop.

=========

The next evening, Tammar stood in the middle of the shop, waiting for Kwu to arrive. The shop had closed for the day earlier in the afternoon (as it always did on the first weekday), but the gnome had asked Kwu to meet with her just before the dinner hour. She nodded as the pandaren stepped onto the porch.

"Ah, Kwu, I'm glad you're here," Tammar said, beckoning her inside. "Come upstairs; I want to show you something."

Kwu looked at Tammar quizzically, but followed as instructed.

Tammar pulled the ring of keys off of her belt and unlocked the door to Abhayaa's office, stepping inside and lighting a candle on the desk. She bent down and unlocked one of the desk drawers, withdrawing a small wooden chest and setting it on the desktop.

Kwu glanced over the box then back to Tammar a moment. "Ah... Tammar? I know you and Miss Abhayaa know each other and all but... what exactly are you going through?"

Tammar said matter-of-factly, "Don't worry, she knows about this." As she spoke, she lifted the lid of the box to reveal a neat line of oblong velvet pouches. She plucked one from the box and handed it to Kwu. "Here, open this and tell me if you recognize it."

Kwu took a moment and stared at the obscure pouches, but at Tammar's insistence she finally nodded and took the pouch, slowly tilting it upside down and staring at the small object in her hands. "Is... is that... like Dicco's?"

The gnome nodded. "Yes, it's a Keeper crystal." She patted the comb tucked into her braid. "I have one too. And I would like you to have one also."

Kwu's ears twitched a moment as her eyes remained glued to the small crystal in hand. "Are... A-are you sure? This must be... expensive, rare? I couldn't dare risk losing it or dropping it!"

Tammar reached up and tugged the comb out of her hair, holding it out to compare the crystal with the one Kwu held in her hand. Both were crystal points, oblong, with intricate runes carved into the facets; the only difference was that while Kwu's was clear, Tammar's was a deep midnight blue. "They are tougher than you might think," she replied. "As long as they aren't struck sharply."

Kwu was still quietly uncertain, but it would hardly be any better to refuse such an act of friendship. After a moment she finally took a deep breath and nodded. "Then so I shall, and ever vigilant I will still be with this treasure..." Her face softened a moment and she smiled. "Thank you very much Tammar... You've been very kind to me."

The gnome looked up at the pandaren's face, her expression serious. "Abhayaa has agreed that you should have a crystal, but first you should understand what being part of the Keepers means." Her expression relaxed a little, her lips quirking into a smile. "Of course, we only give crystals to people we believe already understand it, in here" -- she put her hand over her heart. "But, to activate the crystal, it will need a small drop of blood to attune it to you."

The pandaren nodded. "Of course... I hope to meet this mysterious Abhayaa one day. But in the mean time... blood you say? That's curious... No matter for now though..." She glanced at the crystal in her hand and then around the room a moment. "Eh... E-erm…S-so... Do I just.. g-grab a pin or something?"

"The point of the crystal should be sharp enough to draw blood. Or I can get my sewing kit."

With a nod Kwu took a deep breath. Pain wasn't foreign to her, but self-inflicted pain... well, it always took some convincing. Carefully she took the crystal in one hand and after another deep breath rapidly jabbed the point into her upturned palm.

She winced lightly and exhaled, remaining calm. A light trickle of blood seeped out and around the crystals point and she nodded to herself. "Easy enough..."

Tammar flinched also, but watched as the blood was absorbed by the crystal, a faint glow coursing through the channels of the glyphs as the crystal changed color to a shade unique to its new owner.

Kwu blinked lightly as the crystal changed shades before her eyes, taking in her blood and becoming a shade of green, jade like the hair on her head. "Isn't that something..." she whispered.

The gnome smiled and tucked the comb securely back into her braid. Both of the crystals glowed softly as the gnome's words flowed over the network: Welcome to the Keepers, Kwu.

Kwu nearly jumped at the sound of a voice, much like Tammar's, though the gnome was clearly silent. She silently cursed her memory and looked intently at the crystal in her hand a moment, trying to focus her thoughts.

A draenei sent a message over the crystals, full of warmth. Welcome, Kwu. I'm glad you've joined us. That was Abhayaa.

Thess, a human, added his greetings in the ensuing silence, his ‘voice’ quiet and carefully measured. Hello Kwu.

Kwu tried vainly to project her thoughts, but higher forces seemed to be conspiring against her. "However do you manage to use this?" she asked, still intently staring at her crystal.

"You can simply direct your thoughts to it, but it does help some people to physically speak. Even if you whisper, you will be heard clearly,  Also, it needs to be in contact with your body in some way for you to be connected. If you want to be alone, you can put it in a box or in its pouch."

Kwu nodded lightly and tried again, managing a few sounds. Though she was generally well balanced and collected, the endeavor had her mind in a twist and straightening her thoughts was still something that might need practice. Closing her hand around the crystal, she sighed and decided to speak aloud, gaining a more crisp connection and projection.

...Th--nk... Yo... I am pr---d to have be... this opportunity.

Shaatnez interjected, his ever-present grin obvious, Ha-hah! You'll get the hang of it soon enough. Maybe try holding it a little tighter!

Ah... Is this better?

Yep, there you go!

You can also speak to individual Keepers directly by focusing your thoughts toward them, Abhayaa added. The individual ‘voices’ of the Keepers speaking through the stones were unmistakably characteristic of each person, somehow communicating a portion of their self along with the message they were sending.

I see... I must thank you all so much for this opportunity. I know this not to be taken lightly.

I'm glad you see it so Kwu -- this was Thess again --  and I know how overwhelming it can be at first.

Perhaps a touch... I think maybe I will just need some time to adjust, balance myself.

The paladin chuckled, murmuring. Balance.

Take your time. The draenei priest’s words carried warm reassurance. You are not obligated to wear your crystal all the time.

Kwu’s reply was bubbly and appreciative. I suspect I may. It was wonderful taking the time to ah... ehm... hear, from you all.

The ceremony satisfactorily completed, Tammar closed the box and placed it carefully back into the drawer, then locked it back up. "What do you say to a celebratory something?" she asked solemnly.

Kwu returned the crystal to the pouch, tying it tightly and glancing up to Tammar with a quirked brow. "Oh? What did you have in mind?"

The gnome smiled wryly. "Well, plenty of soda downstairs. But I haven't been out to dinner in a while, either."

Kwu chuckled lightly and nodded. "A delightful thought, I haven't taken the chance to get a well cooked meal here yet."

Tammar showed Kwu out of the office and locked it again, then gathered her skirts and descended the stairs. "Why don't we go to the tavern in the dwarven district? Shaatnez is always talking about how good a cook the innkeeper is..."

"Sounds fine to me!" Kwu shrugged.

=========

A few days after Kwu had been given her Keeper crystal, Shaatnez arrived at the shop door, whistling a snippet of Winter Veil carol. He knocked pleasantly on the doorframe and stuck his head inside.

Kwu stood and went to the door, smiling brightly as Shaatnez appeared and bouncing on her heels. "Mr. Shaatnez! Merry Winter's Veil to you!"

Shaatnez grinned broadly. "Happy Winter Veil to you, as well!" He had a large crate under one arm, two ribbon-wrapped packages under the other. He hefted them and said, "Mind if I come in and set these down?"

Kwu stepped to the side. "Of course! Please, come, sit, do you need a hand with those?"

He put the armful of stuff down on the counter and then pulled an envelope out of his belt pouch and handed it to Kwu. "So, Dicco had me bring that to you, and I also brought a few things I had lying around the shop," he said, patting the crate.

Kwu accepted the letter with a grateful bow, quickly slipping it open and glancing over the writing. She quirked a brow and smirked but merely folded it back carefully and placed it in her bags. She glanced up and thanked Shaatnez for the delivery, taking the two presents with a smile and temporarily placing them on the counter to look over the crate. "My, my... what an unexpected delight! ....Dear, I feel terrible for just barely having finished with my own Winter's Veil shenanigans."

"Open the crate last, please," he added, taking a seat on one of the stools and lacing his hands together.

Hey Dicco, you want to explain what I'm doing here? Shaatnez’ voice over the stones came through on a wave of cheerful laughter.

Sure thing, Mr Shaatnez. ...Tammar isn't there, is she?

Nope, she is in the library this afternoon. Shaatnez grinned, knowing that Tammar always put her crystal away while studying at the Cathedral.

In far away Dalaran, Dicco did the same. Kwu, can you hear me?

There was a brief pause, then Kwu’s voice came over the crystals. Yes, Dicco, I can. I apologize, trying to integrate this crystal into my current goggle design has it occasionally slipping in and out of contact. I'll have to redesign my model sometime soon....

Well, Kwu, you know how Tammar doesn't want her... the thing I made for her....

Yes, Dicco, is there something I can do to help?

Well we thought, I mean, that is... Mr Shaatnez suggested... and I agree with him; that is with a few minor modifications we could, ahh, uhmm... or it would be a good project for you to modify it for a pandaren.

R-really? I mean I would... I couldn't just... Are you sure?

Dicco replied, Yes Kwu, we are sure.  Happy Winter Veil.

So are you going to unwrap your present? the older draenei prompted cheekily.

Shaatnez' grin widened, and while Kwu unwrapped the two large packages, he stood and began unpacking the crate, setting an assortment of odds and ends and spare parts on the counter, bits of straw sticking to some of them. He whistled more of the Winter Veil tune, his tail swishing jauntily.

Kwu glanced over the materials. She hadn't seen much of actual schematics, but piece by piece she had an idea of what went where. As the pile topped up she was stunned.

Her voice was full of awe and gratitude as she spoke over the crystals. I... I... I don't know what to say, you two... Thank you... thank you so much. You've made this pandaren feel most welcome.

After a couple moments of Kwu managed to gather enough of herself to calm and regain some balance. With a jovial smile she stated, "Just a moment, I've got something for you too, and Dicco, if you can get it to him."

"Sure can. I'll be heading back to Dalaran tonight."

Kwu turned and skipped upstairs, rummaging about a few moments before returning with two similarly wrapped presents, holding one up for Shaatnez to take at his leisure.

Shaatnez took the gift with a smile. "Thank you. Do you want me to open mine now?"

Kwu chuckled lightly and shrugged, setting the other present down on the counter. "I'd have suggested waiting for the day of, but with all the kindness you've shown me I think it's fair you decide for yourself."

Shaatnez gave the pandaren a big grin and then gleefully tore open the wrapping paper.

"Oooooh!" he exclaimed, holding up a set of fabulous leather clothing. He held the crystal-studded chaps up to his waist and grinned broadly. "Kwu, these are AWESOME! Where in the Nether did you find them?"

The pandaren woman smirked. "I was bounding about between cities in search of something when I bumped into a leatherworker in Ironforge. He was complaining about a lack of work so I asked to see some of his stock and well... Bam."

"You, madam, have a very good eye," he said, beaming as he slipped on the white leather jacket, admiring how the long, elegant fringe on the sleeves swished luxuriously.

Kwu smiled and shook her head. "Or perhaps a very lucky one. I'm glad you like it, Shaatnez. I hope Tammar and Dicco enjoy theirs as well."

Shaatnez perched the hat on his head and then bowed theatrically, doffing it with a gem-encrusted flourish.

Kwu giggled lightly and gave a curtsey in response, though it was not so practiced as one might expect.

Shaatnez smiled. "Also, my client said that she doesn't mind if you use her tack room as a workshop, if you want to work on the bike. And I'm happy to help any time I'm in the city, too."

"Thank you. I'll keep my crystal nearby but hopefully I should be able to refit it with relative ease... Or that's the hope anyways, I still think Dicco's contraption here is far more complicated than anything else I've seen." She grinned.

Shaatnez met her grin with one of his own, neatly folding up the leather coat and chaps; he set the hat on top, then scooped them up with the other, still-wrapped present, his brow furrowing in surprise at the unexpected weight of the rigid object. He hefted it carefully, then said, smiling, "Well, I need to get to another appointment. Give Tammar my regards, please."

"Of course. Give Dicco a 'Merry Winter’s Veil' from me when you see him."

"Will do!" He gave the pandaren a friendly nod of farewell and headed out the door, his whistling following him down the street.

Kwu smiled and waved as Shaatnez went back to his business, turning to the careful pile of materials and setting about organizing it and getting it quickly put away before the gnome returned from the library, stashing it somewhere where Tammar wouldn't have to see.

=======

Later that evening, Dicco held one of the tomes in his hand, his eyes misting up slightly. Shaatnez had dropped off the unusually heavy package Kwu had given him, and Dicco had just finished unwrapping it while the older draenei unpacked his saddlebags in the back room of the workshop.The carefully-folded wrapping paper had come away to reveal a copy of all eight volumes of Schools of Arcane Magic by Archmage Ansirem Runeweaver, obviously brand-new. He ran his fingertips over the beautiful gilt lettering on the pristine spines, then reached into his back pocket, taking up the spanner that held his Keeper crystal.

Kwu... are you there?

Yup, all is well?

All is very well, Mr Shaatnez just dropped into the workshop. A tremulous pause. K...Kwu I don't know what to say.

Then you don't have to say anything, I just thought I could return a favour. What you decide to do with it from there, is entirely up to you.

Shaatnez shut the door of the back room and came back to the bench where the youngling was sitting. When he caught sight of the books, he sent a low, appreciative whistle over the crystals. That's a very nice gift, Kwu.

Nnn...no-one has given me a gift just for me since... since we left Draenor. Thank you so much, Kwu.

You're most welcome Dicco, most welcome.

Ironically I came across one of the volumes while we searched for you in the mage tower, Kwu continued. It took some searching but I managed to track down some newly printed copies. Her words came through with the sense of a casual shrug and a smile.

Dicco carefully placed the text down on the pile and stood, moving to drag a large chest from under one of the workbenches. He opened it and carefully withdrew a small clockwork figurine which he clutched to his chest as he returned to the small table where the books stood in a stack. He placed the figurine down beside the book and grinned at Shaatnez before opening the first text and beginning to read.

The older draenei smiled, then patted Dicco on the shoulder and went back to his seat, picking up another set of leather petals and methodically sewing them onto a wire stem.

Dicco looked up from the book and stared at the toy for several minutes. "Mr Shaatnez, I think I need to talk to Tammar."

The other draenei looked up from his work, raising his eyebrows inquisitively.

"I think I have been very silly."

Shaatnez began wrapping the thread around the base of the flower in neatly-aligned turns. "Well...talk to her, then?" he said finally.

"Tomorrow, I think I will head back to the shop."

Shaatnez nodded. "All right. Will you be alright going on your own? I need to finish up some orders for customers here."

"Of course, I will be back... I need to talk to Miss Maayan more about our lessons, and I don't know what Inkpaw will want to do, but I think I would like to stay at the shop tomorrow night."

Dicco picked up his spanner again. Kwu? Are you still there?

I am indeed, Dicco.

When Tammar gets in, can you let her know I will be coming to the shop tomorrow... it is time we talked about things.

I will let her know when I see her... Let me know if you need anything else, okay?

Just... just some time with her if she is willing.  Would you mind watching the shop?

Of course, Dicco.

Thank you Kwu... for the books as well.  I think I might get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be hard.

I understand, I should get some rest as well. Sleep well, and Merry Winter's Veil!

========

The following afternoon, Dicco cautiously poked his head through the door to the shop. "Tammar?"

The gnome looked up from her seat behind the counter, the ledger spread open before her on the counter. "Oh, Dicco," she said, tucking her pince-nez back into her pocket. "Come in."

He stepped through the doorway, glancing up at the decorations. "How are you?"

The gnome rotated her pencil between her fingers, then set it down carefully next to the book. "I'm well." She gestured him closer, then laced her fingers together, leaning forward on her elbows.

Dicco's expression grew obviously nervous. "C...can we talk, if... if you aren't busy.  I mean, if I am interrupting I can come back some other time."

She shook her head. "No, you aren't interrupting. I had just finished balancing this set of figures, actually. Come upstairs and have some tea," she said, suiting actions to words by climbing down from her stool and emerging from behind the counter.

Dicco glanced about at the obviously empty shop. "Can we go somewhere else?"

Tammar looked surprised. "I suppose I don't see why not. Let me go get my cloak and tell Kwu I am leaving." She hurried up the stairs, returning shortly and swirling the royal blue velveteen around her shoulders, then fastening the clasp at her throat.

Dicco smiled at the gnome. "Let’s take a walk?" he said, the inflection at the end making the statement a question.

She nodded solemnly, grabbing her walking stick from behind the door. "Lead on."

Dicco began to stroll along the canals, the clockwork figurine clattering along behind him. "I was very upset with you, Tammar."

Tammar strode swiftly next to him, her posture stiff. She gave the toy a distracted look, saying, "Oh?" in a conversational tone.

He nodded his head. "I overheard you and Kwu talking the other night."

She looked up at him, puzzled. "When?"

"The night I gave you the... the night I showed you my project."

Her mouth flattened into a thin line. "What about it?"

"I, uhm... heard you telling Kwu that it must be a joke, or a prank."

Tammar looked at him blankly for a moment, then rubbed her forehead. "Oh, in the Light's name..." she muttered.
Dicco forged onward. "I could accept if you didn't like the project or if you didn't want it... but when you said I was only doing it as a prank to make fun of you... it hurt. If you saw it as a joke, it made me feel like the things I like, the things I enjoy doing are a joke." His voice went quiet. "It made me feel like I was a joke."

As they came to the bridge, Tammar heaved a long sigh. She stepped up onto one of the broad, stone parapets that served as the bridge’s guardrails, the better to look the young draenei in the face. "So. You really meant to give me that...um...project...as a gift?" she asked grimly.

Dicco mutely nodded

"Oh dear," she muttered to herself, burying her face in her palm.

"I... I just wanted you to not have to be afraid anymore."

Tammar rubbed her forehead again and sat down heavily on the edge of her perch. She leaned forward on her hands, brow furrowed in thought.

Dicco leaned against the stone railing, staring at the water below.

Finally, the gnome spoke, her voice quiet and somehow heavy. "I know..." A sigh. "I know you wanted to help, Dicco. But it isn't...it doesn't work that way."

"Well, it should... people just don't make sense... you should be able to fix them."

She turned her head to look up at the draenei, her head framed by her hunched shoulders. "I wish I could explain it in a way that would make sense without..." As his words penetrated, her face suddenly closed up again, her expression returning to blank composure. “Well.”

She continued with a smile, reaching out to pat his arm. "You aren't a joke, Dicco, and I am sorry if I made you feel that way. It wasn't my intention."

Dicco nodded. "Th...there's more."

"Mmhm?"

Dicco took a very deep breath and blurted out, "I don't want to work in the shop anymore."

Tammar blinked, but her expression otherwise didn't change. "Well...all right," she said. "I'm guessing this is so you can pursue your arcane studies?"

He nodded solemnly in reply. "Miss Mayaan -- I don't know if you have met her, but she has a Keeper crystal I think. She is a mage in Dalaran and I am hoping she will help me."

He continued, words running together, "Of course, if you need help with the machinery I will come back, if Kwu can't fix it... or if, you know, she needs another set of hands to do things."

The gnome nodded, smiling patiently as he ran on. "I think I may have met Maayan once. She came to the shop a few times with Shaatnez, and he has mentioned her also. As far as the rest, well, Kwu has proven herself very capable so far. I am sure we will be fine." She reached up to pat her hair, making sure it was still neatly in place. "Besides," she added, "Shaatnez comes by the shop all the time, anyway."

Dicco bit his bottom lip as the implication of what Tammar was saying struck him like a blow to the stomach. "I understand, Tammar. I will have to find somewhere to stay in Dalaran. I think Mr Shaatnez is feeling a little cramped with me there. Once I do, I will have my things sent on... could I... could I stay at the shop tonight? In Miss Abhayaa's office?"

Tammar nodded, giving him another smile. "Of course!"

Nebet
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Tammar and Dicco walked back toward the shop in strained silence, the gnome's walking stick tapping impatiently on the cobblestones as she strode along the canal-side street. As they neared the storefront, she noticed a tall figure on the porch, leaning beside the door. "Heiros must be back from his trip," she said quietly, quickening her steps.

The draenei noticed the pair approaching and straightened up.  Taking a step forward as the pair came up the stairs, Heiros bowed.  "Welcome back."

Diccionario kept his head down and shoulders slouched dejectedly, barely glancing up at the berobed draenei.

Tammar smiled and gave him a curtsy in return. "Welcome back to you as well, Heiros. How was your trip?"

Heiros sighed and slumped a little, showing his weariness.  "Not so well, actually.  Ended up playing hide and seek with trolls in the jungle...  And no progress on my research from that trip.  Shall we go inside?”

Dicco groaned audibly at the suggestion and moved away from the door and back towards the porch step.

Not seeming to notice the youngling's reaction, the gnome nodded and pushed open the door to the shop, setting her walking stick against the wall as Heiros came in behind her. "Would you like something to drink?" she said to him. "We have another hour before we open again for the evening." As she spoke, she unclasped her cloak and began neatly folding the velveteen. Peering around the doorjamb to look at Dicco, she pursed her lips impatiently. "Are you not coming inside?"

"I think I might... just... go for a walk."

Tammar nodded. "All right, but I hope you'll have dinner with us later."

"You want some company, Dicco?" Heiros asked.

Dicco blurted out a cry of "No!" before composing himself. "I... I mean, no thank you, Heiros.  I think I want to be alone for a while." He turned to look a the gnome, his eyes full of hurt. "I won't be long Tammar, I just need to think about things."

With a small frown, Heiros turned toward the door.  "As you will,” he said, then stepped carefully past Tammar in search of a chair.

Tammar sighed and turned toward the inside of the shop. "So would you like something to drink, Heiros? We can go upstairs if you would prefer tea."

Forcing the frown away, Heiros gave Tammar a slight smile.  "Tea would be wonderful.  Lead the way."

The gnome reached up to pat her braids with one hand, her cloak folded over her other arm; releasing a long breath, she headed for the stairs. "I look forward to you telling me about you trip, Heiros. It has been busy here and I was sorry that I missed sending you off."

Heiros followed Tammar, wondering what could have changed during the last few days.  Once upstairs, Heiros again headed for a chair and stretched out, massaging his left leg.

Stepping into the neatly-organized kitchen, she set the kettle on the hob and began preparing the teapot. "What were you looking for in the jungle?" she asked lightly, glancing over her shoulder and noting his sore leg with some concern, but not saying anything.

"I never should have taken any advice from a goblin.... I had intended to do some careful poking around on my own, but a cheeky goblin that sells potions for the Alchemist in Booty Bay told me of a troll that would be willing to speak with anyone if they had money....."

"Since I have been curious about what they put in their pots besides heads, I went to talk to him. I ended up running for my life and spending last night curled up in a very tight hole as a ghost wolf. It was very.... exciting... but not at all fun or informative."

Tammar climbed on a stepstool, retrieving one large mug and a more usually-sized teacup, putting them on a tray with spoons and the rest of the tea set. She chuckled. "Oh dear...no, that doesn't sound like either of those things. Unless the information was 'don't trust goblins without two corroborating sources.' But that's hardly a revelation, is it?" She carefully brought the tray over and set it on the table, taking a seat as she waited for the water to boil.

"I would have been better off dodging crocs along the river for some specimens to play with..." Heiros chuckled a little.  "I'm sure I could get more sources, but all of them Goblins in that place."

The gnome nodded, then sighed again, smoothing her skirts over her knees and glancing at the door.

Heiros looked at the door, then began concentrating on his leg massaging for a bit.  "I take it there has been some change here.  Something unsettling has happened?"

She grimaced, then propped her head up on her hand. "Dicco just gave notice that he wouldn't be working in the shop anymore."

Heiros stopped his massaging.  "What does he plan to do now?"

"He is going to stay permanently -- I think -- in Dalaran and take up an apprenticeship with Maayan, Shaatnez' mage friend." The kettle began boiling, and she hauled herself up out of the chair with an effort. "He's been wanting to spend more time studying the arcane for a while now, as you know."

"That makes sense of the move, but if that is all that is going on, he should be looking forward to the move.  He sure didn't look happy outside."

Tammar stayed silent as she concentrated on pouring the hot water into the teapot, then brought it to the table to finish steeping. She climbed onto her chair again, shaking her head. "I don't really understand him, sometimes. But...well, this time I can at least guess." She looked up at the shaman, her expression flat. "Do you remember that project he was working on for all those months?"

"Yes, he was working on something in Dalaran, right?"

She nodded, then pinched the bridge of her nose. "Well. It was intended to be a present for me. Apparently."

Heiros said with an arched eyebrow and a smile, "Oh, really?  What did he make for you that took that long?"

Tammar smoothed her skirts again, her face an impassive mask. "He designed and built a motorcycle," she said, her voice measured. "He had Shaatnez deliver it last weekend."

With a nod, Heiros chuckled.  "That does sound like a project that would keep him busy for a while.  You don't have the best place for storage, though...  Where did you put it?"

She blanched. "I-- I didn't. I had Shaatnez take it away. I don't know what he did with it."

Heiros sighed.  Deciding the tea has steeped enough, he arranged the cups close and poured the tea.  Sliding Tammar's cup to her, he said, "Do you still have friendship between you?"

The gnome took the cup and wrapped her hands around the warm ceramic. "I hope so. That's part of why I didn't object when he said he was going to go work on his studies. Certainly the shop was taking a lot of his time...but now that Kwu is here, we can manage without him. At least, I think we can." She took up a spoon and stirred the tea slowly. "I honestly thought the-- the project was a joke, when Shaatnez showed up with it. A prank." She frowned into her cup.

Heiros frowned.  "I'm afraid that this may have come about through something I said at one point.  Do you remember when he was thinking of giving up tinkering with machinery?"

"Yes?" Tammar said, raising her eyebrows.

"He was going to do that for you, because he knew you were uncomfortable around machinery. I told him that if he loved doing it, then through love of him you would enjoy seeing him labor at something he loved and had talent for... So I'm afraid he thought that you would see his love for you as a friend in this work of his hands. And he thought you would trust he had good intentions for you."

"I'm sorry things have worked out this way..."Heiros lapsed into silence, staring down at his hands and his cooling cup of tea.

As Heiros spoke, Tammar seemed to sag in her chair, her head bowed over her teacup. She was silent for a long moment, her fingers holding her spoon in a white-knuckle grip. Finally, she put it down carefully, precisely, on the table next to her cup, lining it up with the grain of the wood; her face was carefully blank, but the corner of her mouth twitched in a suppressed tremble.

Heiros shook his head slowly, and then looked over at Tammar.  "As creatures that claim to be able to communicate, we don't do so well at it sometimes do we?  Would you like your tea warmed up?  I'm afraid I let mine grow too cool."

She shook her head from side to side, not trusting herself to speak.

As the silence grew, Heiros reached across the table, stopping just short of touching Tammar.  "Are you alright?  What are you thinking?"

She buried her face in her hands, her fingers twining through her bangs and gripping tightly. "I'm sorry," she finally managed to croak out.

"Sorry?  You have nothing to be sorry to me about....  that I know of anyway,"  he said teasingly, his hand still offered across the table.

She smiled tremulously, a hysterical bark of a laugh bursting past her lips and quickly devolving into a sob. Her composure crumpling, she patted Heiros' hand and got up, walking straight-backed to her room and shutting the door behind her.

Over the crystals, she whispered, I'm sorry. I can't explain why...I know it doesn't make sense. I'm sorry.

Heiros didn't move for a short time before fumbling in his herb pouch to take out a small, very thin item wrapped in cloth. Sliding it under the door Heiros sent back over the crystals, Here is something I picked up from one of the newer citizens here. You may have more need of it than me at the moment.

Unfortunately, Tammar had already pulled off her haircomb and set it on the nightstand, so Heiros' message -- and the small package -- went unnoticed.

After taking the time to clean up the dishes from tea, Heiros focused on the crystal once more.  Dicco, are you nearby?

Dicco's slow, heavy steps echoed through the empty shop as he trudged up the stairs. He rounded the corner and noted Tammar's firmly closed door. He spotted Heiros clearing away the tea and stood and stared at the draenei his eyes ringed in deep blue as if he had been crying.

Heiros nodded to Dicco and motioned to the table.  "Would you like to sit, and would you like tea?  I could reheat some water if you wish."

Ignoring the older draenei's words he seemed to look through Heiros to stare at Tammar's door. "I guess she doesn't even want to talk to me anymore." He looked back to Heiros and gulped, "Can you tell her... just tell her goodbye. I'll make sure to leave in the morning before she wakes." Before giving the draenei a chance to reply, he swept into Abhayaa's office and firmly closed the door behind him.

For a moment, Heiros was stunned by the sudden leave taken by Dicco, then after a moment's thought he headed downstairs. Heiros withdrew a sheet from an order book left on the counter and wrote, "I spoke with Tammar for some time. She is still your friend, and will be hurt if you leave without a goodbye. If I don't see you, I hope your journey goes well." After signing his name and letting the ink dry, he folded the sheet once and slipped it under the office door.

There was a soft thump as Dicco brought his balled fist against the door.  After a moment or two the door opened slightly and a crumpled piece of paper still folded came flying from Dicco's room.

After a few minutes of harshly-suppressed sobbing and several deep breaths, Tammar went to her washstand, splashing cool water on her face. She carefully rebraided her hair and put on her shop uniform, then emerged from her room. It was time to open the shop again, and Kwu would be returning any minute. She nodded stiffly at Heiros before walking over and giving his arm another grateful pat, but her face was an impassive blank once again as she walked down the stairs.

Picking up the crumpled wad of paper, Heiros clenched his fist around it and his face set as a wisp of smoke curled up between his fingers. Dropping the ashes in the waste, he called down to Tammar, "I am going to call it a night. Hope your evening business goes well." Then going to his room, he closed the door and sighed.

Looking at his aching leg for a moment, Heiros fell to his ghost wolf form with another sigh and curled up on the rug.

----

Later that evening Kwu flipped the sign around, bringing another average day in the shop to a close. She turned back around, set a few dishes on the counter and slid them across to Tammar as she set to rummaging about her packs for something. As she stuffed paws in and out of satchels and pouches, occasionally spilling bits and ends, bolts, screws and otherwise, she gnawed absently on her lip and shuffled lightly on her feet. "Ah... Ehm... T-tammar. I c-couldn't help but notice you seem a touch... w-well, quiet. Is anything the matter in particular?"

Tammar slipped the bowls into the basin of soapy water, rolling up her sleeves to run through the washing-up. She was bone-weary, even after the relatively relaxed flow of customers coming through the shop, and the corners of her mouth were sore from forcing her expression into a smile. Sighing, she started setting clean cups and glasses on the rack to dry, then glanced over her shoulder at the pandaren. "Mm?" she said absently, resting her hands on the edge of the basin.

Kwu took a breath and managed a smile as she continued. "Well it's just... Usually you're so outgoing with the customers but... Well I actually managed to get a word in and take a few orders." She chuckled awkwardly and took another deep breath. "I don't mean anything by it, I'm glad to get used to speaking to folk around here, I just wanted to be sure that something wasn't... you know, up with you, or anything. I’m here to help, after all!" Her tone picked up as her paw finally bounced off of the solid shape in one of her pockets that she had been searching for.

Tammar set the last of the dishes on the rack and poured the soapy water down the drain.

Wrestling the object out into the light she quickly glanced over it before nodding, finding it of the same quality as when she had stowed it away. She quietly placed it on the counter and gently prodded it in Tammars direction, falling silent for a moment as she twiddled her thumbs.

"You did very well with the customers today, Kwu," she said quietly, wiping her hands on a dishtowel with a sigh. "I have just had a long day, that's all." As she folded the towel and neatly placed it back on its rack, she continued, "Has...has Dicco spoken to you today?" She had kept her eyes down until now, but when she looked up to see Kwu's response, her eye fell upon the small box. "What's this?" she said quizzically.

"Ah... I know I-i'm a bit l-l-late for Winter's Veil, the last few days have been... a bit of a mess. B-but I made something for you that I want you to just look over, as thanks for all that you've done for me." She managed after a few moments.

"As for Dicco... Well... No, I have not spoken with him since... Since I saw him in the Mage District."

Tammar stepped up onto the platform behind the counter and picked up the box, delicately turning it over in her hands.

The gnome methodically unfolded the colorful paper, laying it open to reveal the present inside. "Oh, Kwu," she breathed, "it's lovely."

Kwu shuffled lightly on her feet, ears twitching delicately as she glanced down and shrugged. "Well... I dunno about that, it's just an early engineer's best effort."

Tammar hardly heard what the pandaren was saying as she lifted the lid of the intricately-carved music box. Quiet chimes played a gentle melody, the sounds floating out of the box's interior. Inside the lid was an inscription engraved on a silver plaque: "For Tammar, from Kwu. Remember, we are not all the sum of our parts."

Tammar brought her hand to her mouth, breathing out slowly. After a moment, she looked up at the pandaren, her smile twisting as she tried to keep her lips from trembling. "Thank you," she said softly. "It's beautiful...." She reverently lowered the lid back down, silencing the chimes, then gave Kwu a genuine, if slightly overwhelmed, smile.

Kwu smiled in return. "Of course. I'm just as thankful you've taken me in and helped me along. Merry Winter's Veil."

"Happy Winter Veil," Tammar said -- but her expression slowly sobered, her eyes falling to rest on the music box as she traced the silver filigree inlaid in its lid. "But...I guess Dicco didn't tell you. He isn't going to be working in the shop anymore."

Kwu clicked her tongue and sighed lightly. "He didn't say but I had a feeling something was up with him."

The gnome's jaw tightened. "Yes," she said softly. "But it's good that he is going to concentrate on his studies. Maayan -- Shaatnez' mage friend -- will be taking him on as an apprentice."

Kwu nodded. "I'm sure the time will be good to our budding mage... Still, it'll be a touch emptier without him behind the counter."

Tammar’s only response was a heavy sigh; she turned back to finish cleaning up while Kwu swept the floor, then wrestled the heavy lockbox into the storage closet. This is going to be a long night, she thought to herself, scrubbing her face with her hands. She sighed again and turned to follow Kwu up the stairs, reaching into her pocket to cradle the tiny music box in her hand and turning the inscription inside it over and over in her mind. We are not all the sum of our parts.

Keialaar
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[Apologies for the delay, I have had an acute attack of RL]

 

The waiting was, as always, the hardest.  After spending the morning watching the streets and getting a good feel for the neighborhood, Jenny slipped into a convenient alley, where Adage was waiting with a bag of clothing.  Her thick hair was quickly wrapped around her head, the loose strands tucked into a dark wig.  A Gilnean ladies’ hat topped the ensemble, a long and deadly looking hatpin holding the whole mess steady on top of her head.  A quick peek in a hand mirror, a few swipes of rice powder on her face, and the somewhat grubby apprentice lad vanished into a dark haired young lady- a maidservant, perhaps.  Well to do enough to be able to afford an afternoon’s leisure, but not so highborn to attract notice.

 She gave him an impish grin before slipping away, trusting that he would be where she needed him when he was needed.  Her stride was different, her posture.  Ahh, it felt good to stretch to her full height after slouching all morning!   She smiled to herself as she stepped into the shop.

 The interior was cool and shaded after the brightness of the street, and smaller than she had expected.  A keen eye took in her surroundings, and it was with an effort that she kept her brow from creasing in a frown.  Was this perhaps a front establishment?  To give herself time to think, she pretended to peruse the menu, helpfully provided by an older gnomish lady. 

 She had been hired to retrieve something of value.  Given the neighborhood, she had presumed that the soda shop was a cover for more clandestine transactions, but the usual indications of such activities were markedly absent.  No one fidgeted at the counter, no unusually well armed thug types lurked in the stairwell… she caught the eye of the Pandaren woman behind the counter and pasted a smile on her face.  This definitely made things a little more… interesting.

She ordered something that tasted of fresh raspberries and fizzed on her tongue, finding a seat in the tiny dining area, her mind whirling.  Stairs lead upstairs, presumably to the living space.  Her eyes traced over the joins above her head, mentally mapping it out.  Two rooms, perhaps three?  Given the construction of Stormwind row homes, it was likely three, but could be more.   She would need to be cautious, and give herself enough time for a thorough search.

Decisions made, she got up and fumbled in her reticule, pulling out some extra coin and leaving it on the counter with a dimpled smile.  A swish of skirts, and she was back on the streets, making her way back to her lodgings.   It was an effort to maintain her pleasant expression; responding to the called flirtations of shop boys, pretending to linger at the clothing barrows… all the things the lady’s maid she pretended to be might do.

“How does it look inside?”  Adage was waiting, his gear laid out on the tiny table.  He’d been sharpening his weapons and tending to the things they’d need that night. 

“Fishy.”  She made a face, pulling off her hat (still attached to the wig).  She scrubbed her fingers through her hair.  “It makes no sense.  Unless these people are better actors than I am,” She glanced over at him, wrinkling her nose.   “And I doubt it-!  They are exactly what they seem to be.  Honest merchants.  How they can have an artifact or nobleman’s heirloom, I have no idea.  Something feels off.”

“Do you want to cancel the job, then?”   He straightened from his relaxed lounge, his blue eyes intent on her face.

She grimaced.  “No… No.   I can’t really afford to be picky about the jobs I take.  And if I renege on this…”  She sighed and began stripping off her gloves.   “One day I will be able to be more choosy.”

 They talked for a time, of the job, of her plans for the future.  She fidgeted for a time, then lay down on the cot, her fingertips stroking the case of the map.  It represented a dream; she wanted to travel, to see places that had not been seen in centuries.  

“Get some rest. I’ll wake you when it’s time.”  Adage’s voice was accompanied by a soft creak of leather as he shifted on the stool.  Jenny fell asleep to the rhythmic whisk of a honing stone stroking his blade.

  

The moon hung high and bright when she and Adage shimmied their way up the side of a darkened house, the only sounds the soft rustle of ivy as they used it to aid their climb.  Reaching the roof was easy enough, the shadows of chimney and other buildings leaving ample darkness for them to slip over the smooth tiled roof lines unseen.

 Jenny felt the stillness of the night as a pressure on her skin. Her veins were fizzing with adrenaline as she swung herself over the edge of the roof, her toes catching a tiny wooden ledge.  A moment later she was precariously perched on her toes, a tiny can of oil in hand.  Hinges lubricated, the dormer window opened soundlessly, and with a sigh of relief, she eased herself inside.

 Leaning out the window, she let out a soft call; to the untrained ear, it was indistinguishable from the call of a night-hunting bird.  A Gilnean nuthatch called in reply.  She smiled to herself and eased the window shut.  There were no Gilnean nuthatches within several hundred miles.  A quick strike of flint and steel, and the tiny covered lantern on her belt flared to life, providing a dim beam of light to illuminate her search.

 An hour later, she had determined that there were no chests matching the description she had been given in the attic. The sense that something was wrong deepened, and she chewed her lip thoughtfully.  If… IF the item was here, it was likely in an office or a strongbox.  People were sometimes odd in their storage habits, but she did not want to waste any more time.

Quickly, she went to the trap door leading to the second floor, laying flat on the floor and carefully easing it open, listening intently.  The hall beneath was dark, and there were no sounds to indicate that anyone was awake, so she cautiously lowered the rickety ladder and eased down it as silently as she could.

As her feet hit the floor with a soft thump, Jenny paused, holding her breath and listening.  She could hear faint sounds of sleepers behind three of the four doors; deep, even breathing, a snore or two.  Occupied rooms would be riskier to search.  Best to check the other first; likely an office, it was the obvious choice.  She turned the knob slowly and eased inside, closing the door behind her with a quiet click, the thin beam of her lantern shining into the room.

 

Dicco had slept fitfully in Abhayaa's office; the pallet that had been made up for him was hard and uncomfortable. Added to this was Dicco's own frame of mind, he had become increasingly frustrated with Tammar and her inability to see that he could make his own decisions. He had lain awake staring at the ceiling for what seemed like hours before drifting into a broken sleep plagued by nightmares he couldn't recall on waking.

He lay in the dark on his side, half between sleep and wakefulness, on the pallet, against the wall opposite the door, next to the desk.  When the door opened, he made a soft ‘mrmph’, fidgeting and beginning to roll over.

Jenny froze when she heard the grumpy sound and the rustle of blankets. Shit. There wasn't supposed to be anyone in here. Her hand flashed; the lantern went black and a dagger was drawn. She made no sound, easing cautiously away from the door until her eyes adjusted to the darkness enough to see the pallet on the floor. Wasting no time, she stepped over to the pallet and knelt, pressing her blade against the figure's back. "Do not move or speak. I have no wish to harm you."

 Dicco came fully awake as something sharp pressed against his back. He flinched forward slightly before hearing the woman's voice in his ear. He froze, fear flooding through him. Facing the wall, he shut his eyes tight and began to quiver. Do not move. Do not speak. He would do neither. His eyes grew hot with the threat of tears and he tried in vain to stop his body from jerking with suppressed sobs.

Jenny felt a wave of disgust flooding through her. Gods, threatening a child? Was that what she had sunk to?  She recognized him now; the young draenei lad that worked in the shop.  She had seen him during some of her earlier scouting.  Why he was in here, and not in one of the bedrooms, she had no idea.

She rested a hand on the back of the boy's neck, repeating in a low voice. "I will not hurt you, if you are silent." She had not prepared to have to deal with a hostage, and she cursed under her breath. She eased back on her heels. She would have to use the child. 

"Sit up, slowly." She moved far enough that the dagger was no longer touching him, but was still close enough to be a threat. She felt a fine tremor in her hand. Please don't do anything foolish, boy.  Please don't make me hurt you.

Dicco sat up and turned to face the threatening voice. Tears ran freely down his cheeks. He pushed his large frame as hard against the wall as he could; shrinking away from the hand on his neck. He couldn't speak, he couldn't move. All he could do was cry and silently wish for this to be over.

 It was a struggle to keep her face impassive, and her stomach clenched. She did not like frightening youngsters. She fought to keep her voice low and even. "I seek a strongbox. Is it in this room, one of the others, or down below?"  Acid burned in the back of her throat.  She should have listened to her instincts and walked away. Gods, she hated this!

 Dicco shook his head; a box? He didn't know! All he could think of were his tool boxes, which were still stowed in his room. He wouldn't tell her about them though, Kwu was in there; he wouldn't send this lady to hold a knife to her as well. He choked up his courage and stammered a reply, "A.. a box? I, uhm I don't know."

 "Somewhere you keep valuables. Think, child." She did not wish to take her attention away from the boy in order to search the office herself, and every moment she spent increased her chances of discovery. "Quickly!" She hissed, hating herself as she loomed over the boy. She did not have time to be gentle with him.

Dicco's lip trembled, "Valuables?" The only thing he could think of other than his tools was the cash box. But they traded in silvers, not gold and it was religiously emptied each week. "There's a box, in.. in.. the storeroom downstairs. Bottom shelf... on the left as you walk in the door."

Her thoughts were not complimentary. Who kept their valuables out in the open, instead of a locked office? No matter, she now knew where to look. She leaned in close. "I am sorry to do this, but I cannot risk you calling out." A quick thump with the hilt of her dagger, and the draenei boy sagged against her. She laid him gently back on his pallet, tugging the blanket up around his shoulders and adjusting the pillow beneath his head.

Focus, Jen. Pity will get you into more hot water than you’re already in.  She muttered to herself and went to the door, listening carefully. The hall was quiet; much as it had been when she entered.  More cautiously now, she slipped out the door and down the stairs, testing each tread for creaking before settling her weight on it. The shop was eerie in the dark; large unfamiliar shapes loomed over her head, and she was forced to use her tiny lantern in order to orient herself.

It took her some time to locate the storeroom, as the shop equipment cast odd shadows in the dim light, obscuring the door. Once located, it took her no time at all to locate the box.  Her stomach churned, her pulse roaring in her ears as her feet skimmed up the stairs quickly, making a bit more noise than she had on her descent. Reaching the attic was a matter of moments, and then she was out the window once more, the box secured in her shirt.

Before she had time to take a breath, a rope slithered down in front of her, and she felt a surge of gratitude. She had been working solo for a long time, and having a trusted partner to help now, especially since things had already gone so far from plan, was a relief.  She watched the sky for patrols for a few moments, then quickly climbed the rope when a cluster of clouds drifted over the moon.

“Here.”  A cloak was wrapped around her shoulders, a hat plunked on her head.  Swiftly, she stuffed her hair up into the hat while Adage took the chest from its nest in her shirt, securing it on his own person before helping her adjust her garments.   “I’ll follow you.”   She felt the warmth of his lips on hers, and then he was gone, vanished into the shadows.  She took a deep breath, and then began to make her way over the rooftops, crouching low, but making less effort to remain unseen.  It was more important, at this point, that Adage get away; if she was caught, there was nothing incriminating on her person, and she could claim a tryst or unfortunate love affair to explain her presence on the roof.   

 

In the cool of the night Piero hunched behind some crates near a storm grate, his shirt tight against the fur on his chest.  He waited and thought of his earlier escapades; following Silver Hair had proved fortuitous.  Stormwind’s nobility tended to prefer elaborate landscaping for their townhomes, which provided the odd worgen seeking information easy cover for peeking into windows.  It did not take him long to find the drawing room, and his augmented hearing ensured their conversation was as clear as if he had been in the room.

The next day, some discreet enquiries led him to the Short and Sweet Soda shop, rented from a building owned by Old Emma.  No one thought twice about a worgen lounging on the streets these days – A bitter thought! – So he was easily able to set up a reconnaissance from across the canal.  

 He smiled to himself.  It hadn’t taken him long to spy the girl.  He had spent the day watching her watching the shop, pleased at this confirmation he had come to the right spot.  He watched the girl vanish… then reappear in a different outfit.  It was clever, really, but once he knew what to look for… she had a specific slant to the way she held her head, and always lead with her right foot- he knew he’d be able to recognize her again, no matter what she looked like.

After she left the shop, he crossed the canal and entered himself.  The shop was nothing special.  The clientele and proprietors seemed like ordinary folk. What on Azeroth could these people have that Silver-hair's employer might want?  Their uniforms were neat and clean, but not expensive, and nothing except perhaps the soda equipment leapt out at him as valuable.  No matter.  He could find out later, after he had whatever the girl was after in his hands. He was sure she would strike tonight. There seemed to be no need to wait, security in the building was light, and the moon was just past full.  Much longer and she wouldn’t have light to see.

He spent several hours hunched near the shop, waiting.  His muscles ached from being in the same position, and he was about to get up to stretch when the breeze shifted and he caught the scent he was waiting for.  Excellent.   He turned his head, his nose twitching.  Ah, it seemed to be coming from above.  Apparently she planned to enter through the rooftop. Hunching to make himself vanish in the shadows, he waited until he judged enough time had passed, then leapt up, his claws catching on the rough brick of the wall. It did not take him long to achieve the roof himself, and he was easily able to lurk amongst the chimney stacks.

He frowned as he realized he couldn’t keep the shop in full view while remaining in the shadows himself, but he had the advantage of superior hearing and a good nose… so he settled in again to wait, watching the shadows for movement.

He had begun to worry that she had slipped away when he heard a slight noise; perhaps someone scrambling over brick.  His eyes strained to penetrate the thick shadows above the shop, and was rewarded a moment later by a dark, cloaked figure moving away from the chimneystack and vanishing over the roof tree. 

Grunting in satisfaction, he once more counted out the minutes against his heartbeat. Two minutes; long enough for her to start feeling relaxed and lower her guard. He scented the air to be sure of the direction, then slipped back to human form; his clothes hanging loose from his body.  Despite the far superior senses, he found it easier to move across the slippery terra cotta shingles in his human form, and if he were caught… ah, but he would not be caught. That was of no worry.  He moved quickly over the rooftops, closing in on his prey.

 

Things were going well, in her estimation. Burglary was not a specialty, nor was it something she did frequently, but… Ah, the boy. That would bother her, later- when she had the luxury to think about it. For now, she needed to focus on her feet, fighting to keep her balance on tiles made slick with pigeon shit and Light knew what else.  She slipped from shadow to shadow, soft-soled boots whispering as she splashed through a pool of bright moonlight, her cloak billowing around her.  She reached the end of the block and was on the verge of dropping down to the street when she heard a sound. She cocked her head, frowning and listening hard. Adage?  No.  The man made shadows seem noisy.  What was that?

 

Piero started to run; not from directly behind, but from an oblique angle- she was too close to the edge and he didn't want to send them both flying.  He moved lightly on his feet, but as he drew closer, the vibrations of his steps and the rustle of his clothing couldn’t be suppressed.  It couldn’t be helped.  As he closed the gap, he drew a wicked curved dagger from his belt and held it low in his left hand.  He was close now, oh so close-!!  He swung out his right arm as their bodies connected and it swept around her waist; a parody of a lover’s embrace. He shifted his weight and pushed his hip into her, using it as a fulcrum as he lifted with his right arm.  Her feet left the ground and he brought the dagger to her throat, panting as he pulled her away from the edge. 

He spoke softly, the Gilnean accent thick on his tongue. “I don't think you'll scream, there would be too many questions for both of us if you called down the guard.  A pity really, sometimes I like it when they scream.” His breath was hot on her neck, and the edge of the knife was pressed hard enough that it dimpled her skin.  “Now you'll be a good lass and just drop what you took at our feet.  I'll scoop it up and disappear to the shadows.  You'll chalk this up to experience and return your fee to Mr. Silver-hair.  You won't come for me.  There are monsters enough in the night without you looking for one more.”

There was neither whisper nor warning for what happened next. He felt a prick at the back of his neck, then thick fog started to roll in over Piero's mind, dulling his senses and systematically shutting down his limbs - first his dagger arm, then his other arm, then his two legs. In no time at all he was as heavy and as useless as a sack of rotten potatoes, and some unseen force pushed his head back, easing him off of Jenny.

She landed easily on her feet, her face hidden in the shadows of her hat.  “You’re right.  I travel with one.”  Her voice shook a little with surprise and reaction; the attack had been unexpected and swift.  She nudged the fallen man with the toe of her boot, taking a deep, steadying breath.  With a glance toward the dark shadows nearby, she whirled away.  Later, when there was time, she’d indulge herself in a bottle of whiskey and quiet hysterics.  For now, she needed to get to their rendezvous point. 

 

Piero was left lying in a pool of darkness; conscious but unable to move.  The fast acting poison Adage had used would wear off in a few hours, and he would have a monster of a headache, but no lasting ill effects.   He could hear the scrape of Jenny’s descent to the street, and then nothing beyond the usual sounds of the night, left alone to contemplate his next actions while the toxin worked its way through his system.

 

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Piero stared at the sky. What happened? One minute he had had everything under control; the next, he was lying on the rooftiles, unable to move.  She had to have an accomplice... it was her fault. Certainly he wasn’t to blame for this fiasco -- his skill would never let him down like that. The wolf raged in his mind and he longed to howl out his frustration, but she had taken that from him, too, with her underhanded poison.  In his mind he snarled and growled. The little bitch had embarrassed him, and he wasn't going to take this lightly -- he would find her and then he would have his revenge; it would be such a sweet moment when his jaws closed on her throat, her life's blood spilling down his chin. He could almost taste it.  


What of his plans, though? He wanted so badly to make use of his gains with Silverhair's employer, but without the package he wouldn't have any proof.  What could be in that package, anyway?  The humble shop didn't seem like it could contain anything of tremendous value. They might be doing a fairly brisk trade, but there were selling lolly water and ice cream, for Light's sake, and the rent on their location would doubtless be quite steep.  Surely anything of value would have been used to cover the initial capital on the establishment.
He couldn’t feel a thing. Whatever that hidden bastard had used on him certainly was effective.  He tried to make a fist, but no matter how much he strained and struggled, willing himself to move, he could not quite do it.  A string of curses ran through his mind before he returned to the problem of what to do about Silverhair.


Perhaps there was another solution. Perhaps just the knowledge of what those shadowy figures wanted would be damaging enough to their reputations that he could still parlay his way back into the place he was owed.  A new plan began to formulate, subtle as only he could make it.  Rather than taking what he wanted...what if it were given willingly?  He could play the hero, thwarted at the last moment.  It would be an easy role for him to carry off -- after all, people liked him.


He tried to flex his fingers again, and they moved slightly. Excellent.  A few minutes more of planning and waiting and he was able to push himself to the edge of the low rooftop.  It was a drop, but not too bad; jarring, to be sure, but he should be able to walk away. Plus, if he looked a little battered, so much the better.  He rolled himself off the roof and landed with a hard thud, sending a jolt of pain coursing through his right knee.  He was able to push himself to standing, and after dropping his daggers into a drain, he slowly moved back towards the shop with a staggering limp.   He longed to make the change from this weak human form, but suppressed the urge -- he needed to appear as no threat to them, as if he were generally a stranger to violence.


It was a bare hour after he had felt the sting of the needle on his neck, and his head hammered with pain as whatever the numbing compound was fled his system. He slumped against the door of the shop and raised a fist, pounding against the heavy door and calling with all the strength he could muster,  “Wake the shop, for the love of the Light. Wake! There’s been a robbery.”

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

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Tammar slowly stirred from sleep, her eyes squeezed shut in the darkness of her room. She had been dreaming -- another of those headlong flights, then cornered alone, voiceless...fighting fruitlessly with inadequate tools that bent and broke on the shoulders of an enemy who reeked of oily smoke and hot metal. She cowered as its fists pistoned against the wall above her head -- THUMP THUMP THUMP.

THUMP THUMP THUMP.

She sat up with a start, her heart racing.

THUMP THUMP THUMP. The noise was coming from downstairs, and a hoarse cry floated up along with it; it sounded urgent, though she couldn't make out the words.

She pulled aside the curtain to squint across the canal at the clocktower. Still the wee hours. Frowning, she got out of bed and pulled on a dressing gown, then made for the stairs -- but as she began to climb down the first step, she remembered Kelvin's warning. She turned back and knocked lightly on the guest room door.

"Heiros?" she said quietly, running through a few slow, carefully-controlled breaths to calm her pounding heart. "Heiros, are you awake? Someone is outside."

(From downstairs, again: THUMP THUMP THUMP.)

Tammar's cheeks flushed as she remembered her embarrassing conduct the evening before. I shouldn't wake him...he will be tired from his trip.

Wrapping the dressing gown more snugly around herself, she turned away from the door and headed for the stairs, calling over the railing, "Hang on, I'm coming!"

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"Heiros?"

Heiros stirred from restless sleep wondering if he had actually heard his name, or if it was just some hazy remnant of unremembered dream.

Then the thumping on the door and "Hang on, I'm coming!" finish rousing him from sleep.  A quick glance shows no light showing in the seams of the shuttered window.  With some regret, Heiros rises from the rug and surges up to become Draenei once again.  Stretching for a moment, he eyes his armor and weaponry stacked in the corner. 

"The Guard would probably be louder, so who could be knocking at this hour?  Could be trouble, but no time for that sort of preparation."  These thoughts cross his mind as he turns to the door.  With a quiet plea to the essence of air, a shimmering cloak of electricity coalesces around him.  Opening the door, he sends a quick message across the crystals, "Tammar, I hear and am with you."

Taking the first step to descend the stairs, Heiros can't help but grin.  The message to Tammar was pretty much a waste of effort.  Hooves + wooden stairs = everyone awake in the area knowing a Draenei is moving around. 

 

[A] Heiros, Kianthys, Caperstaff, Oengus, Atheleys, Duenyen, Quiryn [H] Shadowpass, Kraea, Kintaile, Tunin

DaoShen
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Razahir made his way down the quiet streets of Stormwind, the stillness of the early morning still hanging in the air.  The worgen shrugged his shoulder as a clawed hand worked it's way under a shoulder guard to rub at the sore muscles beneath it.  It had been another long trip in Pandaria, and while there wasn't much to do in the way of restoring nature, there was much fighting and intelligence gathering to be had, both of which kept him very busy.  All he wanted right now was to simply get to his modest room at the Gilded Rose and get some rest before he headed back out.  

As he walked around the cathedral district, he caught a voice on the wind, one that grew louder the closer he got.  He couldn't quite make out the words, but the tone was undeniably urgent.  His exhaustion was momentarily forgotten, and his slow, loping, pace quickly picked up as he began following the sound back to its source.  Before long he could make out the words "wake" and "robbery," and the worgen decided this was definitely something worth investigating.  

Rounding the corner, he saw a human, slumped against the door and pounding on the door to his favorite soda shop.  He quickly ran over to the man, looking him over for any obvious signs of injury.  

"Are you alright?  Do you know who robbed you?" Raze asked urgently, looking around for any sign of the attackers or a passing guard.  

What do you mean dumplings DON'T solve everything?

[H] Mok'rogg, Claxle

[A] Razahir, Denryk

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THUMP THUMP THUMP

In the serene darkness the Pandaren upstairs merely shook her head meekly and tried to burrow her head further into the sheets. Then again the sound came, a crashing jarring thing to the balance of her mind, the calm darkness that fogged her brain suddenly shifted and flew out the window and a creeping brightness began to nibble at her concsiousness. With a groan Kwu rolled over and tried to deny the early morning, and then her eyes shot open and terror gripped her senses.

THUMP THUMP THUMP

Something was happening, something loud, something urgent. What had she missed? In a hurry she tried to throw herself from the bed, managing only a flopping sort of roll that planted her backside up in the air and awkwardly jammed against the wall. As she mumbled over her foolishness she heard Tammar calling out to the door and hooves on the wooden stairs. With a sigh of relief Kwu righted herself, brushing herself off and taking a deep breath, bringing her mind back to center. Everyone was fine, at least, no imminent danger, just someone at the shop entrance. Calmly Kwu shuffled out of the room and downstairs with the others to see what all the fuss was about

[A] Kwu, Ebonspell, [H] Vispiasting, Kureya, Rauuhya

Thess
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Piero flinched as a clawed hand touched his shoulder.  That cursed potion must be dulling his senses, he quickly caught that odd mix of musk and fur and knew this intruder on his plans was also a worgen.  The idiot was flaunting his form, that perfect gift that had been given shouldn't be paraded like that, it should be a knife in a vevlet glove, drawn only when the kill was assured.  He surpressed the challenging growl rising in his throat and drew deeply on the character he had created.

"Thank the Light you've come." He said, letting his Tirasian accent thicken on his tongue. He turned to face the newcomer and thudded his back against the door, taking the weight off his injured leg. "I'm sorry it wasn't me who has been robbed.  Roughly an hour ago, I saw a young woman with coppery hair climb from one of the windows and scamper down the tree there. I saw her carrying a box and cried out.   She ran towards the trade district and I chased, but she had an accomplice. I felt a sting on my neck and then couldn't move, they both proceeded to beat me while I was unable to resist, then left me in an alley.  The drug seems to have worn off so I stumbled here and am trying to wake the people inside but they haven't responded.  I hope nothing foul has happened to them."

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

Nebet
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Tammar reached the door just after Piero thumped against it. She stood on tiptoe to undo the latch, then pulled the door open a few handspans, peering out at the shadowed porch.

"Who's there?" she said, her voice still hoarse from sleep.

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Razahir cleared his throat as he grabbed onto Piero to prevent him from pushing the door open with his weight and falling inside as soon as the worgen heard the latch being undone.  He draped one of the human's arms across his broad shoulders and crouched to help the injured man stand better.  As soon as he got his head closer to Piero, he immediately picked up the familiar scent of a worgen.  At first, he thought it may have been one of the attackers, but it was far too strong to be a lingering scent.  Razahir said nothing to Piero, but filed the information away for later use.  

"Razahir Godwyn, madam," he answered Tammar, keeping his voice as reassuring and nonchalant as possible, "I'm out here with an injured fellow who claims that your shop has been robbed.  May we come in?"

What do you mean dumplings DON'T solve everything?

[H] Mok'rogg, Claxle

[A] Razahir, Denryk

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Tammar opened the shop door a bit wider, patting at the skirt of her dressing-gown -- she was looking for her spectacles, though of course they weren't there, and neither was the apron pocket she was fumbling for. Finally she gave up and squinted out at the hulking shape of the worgen, backlit by the streetlamp.

"Oh. Mr. Godwyn -- I remember you; you've been to the shop fairly often, sorry it took so long to get to the door...injured? Here, yes, yes, come in," she mumbled, stepping back to let the familiar customer through the door with his burden.

Either the gnome woman was still not fully awake, or she had managed not to hear Razahir mention the injured man's claim. "Let me get us some light here," she said, suiting actions to words.

Tammar withdrew a long brass candlelighter from behind the door and, after pulling over a chair to stand on, quickly illuminated the chandelier hanging in the center of the shop. She was grateful for the simple contraption Dicco had insisted on installing at the end of the brass rod; she didn't trust the matchsticks and their loud sputtering -- and their smell of gunpowder. But a tiny oil lamp with a self-contained striker and extinguisher, set neatly in the space usually occupied by a narrow wax taper, was something she was willing to use.

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Razahir followed Tammar inside, his eyes scanning for any potential threats still lingering in the shadows or signs of a burglary.  Finding none, he gently helped Piero to one of the chairs just past the bar, slowly easing his fellow worgen down.  With his charge now no longer restricting his movement, he stood to his full height, looking over at Tammar as she lit the lamp.  

"Is there anyone else in the store?  Has everyone been accounted for yet?  This fellow here claims the theives set upon him and beat him when he discovered them, and I fear they may have done the same here."  

What do you mean dumplings DON'T solve everything?

[H] Mok'rogg, Claxle

[A] Razahir, Denryk

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Stepping from the landing at the bottom of the stairs, Heiros replies, "I believe I heard someone moving about as I came down stairs, so that only leaves one unaccounted for...  You mentioned a beating, is there need of a medic?"

Moving out into the room, Heiros limps towards the chair with the wounded man for a closer look. 

[A] Heiros, Kianthys, Caperstaff, Oengus, Atheleys, Duenyen, Quiryn [H] Shadowpass, Kraea, Kintaile, Tunin

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Tammar stepped down from her perch and glanced around the room, her expression calm as she pushed the chair back under the table it had been borrowed from.

"I think we're all here, unless Dicco has come back from his walk," she said with a sniff. "But I half-expect him to be gone all night, like last time."

She turned to face Piero and Razahir, her glance sliding past the human -- not quite acknowledging his presence in the shop -- as she gave Razahir a nod.

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Heiros shakes his head.  "Dicco went to sleep in the office.  At least, he did go in there last night.  Do you know if he is usually a sound sleeper, Tammar?"

With a slight gesture, he gathers the shield off his body and fashions a small tight sphere of energy, and looks the visitors over in the brighter light.

[A] Heiros, Kianthys, Caperstaff, Oengus, Atheleys, Duenyen, Quiryn [H] Shadowpass, Kraea, Kintaile, Tunin

DaoShen
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Razahir returns Tammar's nod before turning his gaze to Heiros, gesturing down at the human/worgen seated in the chair, "He's been beaten and poisoned.  He said that the poison's worn off, but he seems to have trouble standing on his right leg, I believe."  

He spares a glance over at Tammar, "Perhaps you should go check to make sure Dicco isn't here, if he came home and interrupted the burglars, they may have inflicted the same poison upon him."

What do you mean dumplings DON'T solve everything?

[H] Mok'rogg, Claxle

[A] Razahir, Denryk

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Piero was hunched, his leg ached but that didn't bother him as much as being in this close proximity to the other worgen.  He longed to change, to howl his challenge and see the other run.  The chase exhilerated him and he could feel the furry bastards throat in his jaws.  Outwardly he was careful not to let a hint of this show, keep calm, keep those emotions balanced on a knife's edge.  Senses tingling he studied the small shop and the proprietor.  The gnome was nervous, as evidenced by the fidgetting when opening the door and though she seemed to also be pushing out a calm demeanour he could sense tension there.

He tried to catch her eyes as she looked over the three men in her shop, but they slid right past him; he wasn't expecting that. He wanted to be seen here, wanted to tell his heroic story.. but mostly they were ignoring him.  He kept his stare brief, not wanting to seem out of place, but she definately was tense; which was - curious.

[A]: Thess, Fahbrez Starshadow, Mihbrez Starshadow, Diccionario, Piero Consilio, Marcus Duccan, Lau Tze

Artwork by Vorrick

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