Olive Branches

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Olive Branches

Postby Verdus » Wed Sep 19, 2012 1:02 am

(( I'm including this now-complete story over here, since it has some... connections to other shenanigans going on. 0:) ))

Verdus couldn’t help but fidget as he drove the cart up the dusty mountain path. As a druid he was no stranger to wearing another’s shape, but this time he just couldn’t seem to get comfortable in his own skin, what there was of it anyway. Every movement felt stiff and wrong somehow, like gears always just a little too short on oil. He couldn’t understand how the Forsaken could put up with it. Then again, he mused, it had to be better than the alternative.

Discomfort aside, Verdus was still extremely pleased with the results. The polymorph device had been exceedingly difficult to design, and even with the already-functioning pattern buffer that he’d stolen from the transporter in Gadgetzan it had taken more than a few all-nighters to construct. He still felt bad about the theft (that poor engineer was going to have a lot of work ahead of him to replace it), but it wasn’t just the part that Verdus had needed. No, that he could have built himself with time. What he’d really needed was the patterns inside. Most engineers had been through at least one transporter malfunction in their careers, left walking in another’s shoes for a while, so to speak. Verdus was just surprised he’d never heard of anyone inducing one deliberately before. It probably had something to do with how incredibly risky it was to tamper with your own pattern mid-transport.

Almost compulsively, he checked his watch again as the cart rounded the final switchback before his destination. Time was tighter than he would have liked; even with the stabilizers he’d built into the device, Verdus wasn’t sure exactly how long the effect would last. The last thing he needed right now was to revert to his normal form before he even got to the fortress or, worse, while he was still inside. The guards would never believe his story coming from a tauren druid, but a Forsaken? Maybe. Just maybe.

The pack-beasts slowed to a stop outside the gates of Krom’gar Fortress as Verdus mentally ran through his story one last time. Unbidden, memories of his childhood bubbled to the surface of his mind, intensely re-memorizing his tiny handful of lines for a play already underway, what had seemed such a monumental task at the time. Verdus could almost feel the stage fright again, that self-conscious panic he used to have at the thought of his parents and all the clan’s elders watching him. This was a little bit like that, he supposed. Of course, if he flubbed his role now, it wouldn’t be just teasing he’d have to contend with. If he was lucky, he’d only be arrested for treason.

“Halt!” yelled the orc guards at the gate. This seemed somewhat redundant, as Verdus had already drawn his cart to a complete stop, but he remained silent. Taking one last mental step into character, Verdus simply answered them with his best contemptuous sneer. At least, he hoped that was what it was; there hadn’t been time to practice in front of a mirror. The closer grunt’s eyes narrowed as he barked, “What is your business here, worm? This is a military installation, not a graveyard to be robbed!”

Already making the right impression, Verdus thought to himself. Perfect. “I come with orders from the Warchief,” he rasped. “Direct me to your commanding officer at once.” The words felt strange and gravelly in his throat as he spoke. Verdus was very much looking forward to never taking a Forsaken form again.

The other grunt scoffed loudly, looking Verdus up and down with naked disdain. “You expect us to believe that Hellscream sent the likes of you? With orders for us? Hahaha!”

With deliberate slowness, Verdus turned to look at the second orc, the sneer gone from his face. His entire plan rested on the soldiers here accepting his implied authority, with little more than menace and intimidation to back it up. He stared at the grunt for several long seconds, his face completely neutral, pretending that he was examining a grinding gearbox. Nothing but a mindless assembly of parts not doing what it was told. The laughter faded to a clearly unnerved silence as Verdus dismantled the grunt with his eyes, more than a little disturbed at just how easily the mindset seemed to come to him. “No, you fool,” Verdus slowly said in a very quiet, calm, and matter-of-fact voice, “I expect you to obey. Now grant me entrance and direct me to your commander, and perhaps I will forget to mention to my master how you have delayed me. I am on a very tight schedule, and Malkavet Blackheart does not respond well to those that interfere with his agents.”

At the mention of Malkavet’s name, the two grunts immediately exchanged a nervous glance, exactly the response that Verdus had hoped for. Muttering vague apologies under their breaths and pointing toward the main tower, the grunts quickly turned to open the fortress gates and allow him through, all without looking at him even once. Verdus told himself that the smug grin he wore as he drove the cart into the fortress grounds was just about staying in character. As self-deception went, it wasn’t very convincing.

Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:43 pm

Re: Olive Branches

Postby Verdus » Wed Sep 19, 2012 1:03 am

Parking the cart in the dead center of the fortress grounds, Verdus took an envelope out of his coat and climbed down. Ignoring all of the other grunts in the yard, he walked straight toward the command tower with the envelope’s blood-red seal clearly visible to any onlookers. Nobody at Krom’gar Fortress was a stranger to similarly sealed envelopes being delivered to its commanders. In fact, most of them would have considered it a welcome sight; more often than not such a delivery meant that battle and glory would soon follow.

Marching straight into the tower as if he owned it, Verdus found himself facing a large troll woman standing on the other side of a large map table of Stonetalon Mountains, studying it intently. On each side of the room stood a heavily armored orc standing at attention with a greataxe strapped to his back. In the back, by the stairs to the higher levels of the tower, was perched an enormous gray swoop; it watched Verdus intently for a few seconds before screeching at him and flapping its wings in a show of dominance. Looking up from the map at the disturbance, the troll woman scowled and demanded, “Who ju be? What ja be doin’ ere?”

“My name is unimportant. I come with orders from the Warchief,” Verdus replied. “Are you the commanding officer of this... fortress?” He made sure to include a note of derision on his last word for the sake of character.

The troll’s scowl deepened. “Ah be Bloodguard Gesakka, segund to Centurion Ashnak Longmahch.” Gesakka snorted in something that might have been contempt. “Ah s’ppose ju be tinkin’ dat not good enough fah ja, eh?”

A curious reaction... “You’ll do, so long as you have the authority to execute these orders,” Verdus answered. He carefully tossed the envelope onto the table, deliberately just out of the Bloodguard’s reach. “I have come to take custody of a prisoner here on behalf of my master. The Warchief has authorized the transfer, as you can see,” he continued, gesturing to the envelope on the table. “How quickly can your men have him brought here? Undamaged, mind you. My master is very... particular about the condition of his test subjects.”

The orders were fake, of course. Verdus had wanted the gist of them to be relayed orally so as to delay examination of the document as long as possible. That sheet of parchment had cost him an awful lot of gold, drawn up by the most skilled scribe he could find on short notice. It wasn’t just that faking military orders was a capital offense that made it costly; there was also the fact that it was, quite deliberately, not all that great a fake. Verdus wanted the forgery to be discovered so that the crime became known, but he didn’t want it to happen until he was away from the fortress. Such precise imprecision took surprisingly great skill and, thus, was commensurately expensive. But thanks to his polymorph device, nobody in the fortress would be able to identify him, nor would the scribe. As long as he could get away from the fortress without being caught, his name would remain clean. Malkavet’s, on the other hand? Not so much.

Gesakka looked at him appraisingly then, pointing at the envelope, barked, “Smadda! Fetch!” The huge swoop in the back launched off its perch, snatched the envelope, carried it to its master, and then went straight back to where it was before, as if the great bird of prey had never moved. It screeched at Verdus again, the beast’s open hostility plain. “Smadda not be likin’ ju, deadah,” Gesakka said as she held the sealed envelope. “Mebbe ‘e be tinkin’ ju look like dinnah. O’ mebbe ‘e be tinkin’ ju got sometin’ ta hide...” The troll’s voice trailed off as she leaned forward against the map table, continuing to examine Verdus critically.

His heart raced as he grasped for a reply. The Bloodguard was clearly suspicious of something, even if she wasn’t sure exactly what it was that was bothering her. His posture? Accent? Was the pattern-swap effect starting to fray? Was she just fishing for the sake of intimidation? And that thrice-damned bird wasn’t helping anything either. It was almost certain that the animal sensed something amiss about him, but he couldn’t exert any power over it without the others in the room noticing the magic. On a hunch, Verdus recalled something that the troll said earlier and took a chance. “Neither my master nor I place stock in the opinions of birds, Bloodguard. If you insist on wasting my time with them, then perhaps you won’t do after all. I would see this Centurion Longmarch you spoke of. It seems one can’t get anything done reliably in the Horde these days unless one gets an orc to do it, wouldn’t you agree?”

Nobody said a word, but anyone could tell that the tension in the room ratcheted up significantly. A slight clink of metal marked one of the guards shifting his weight, the first time either had moved since Verdus had entered, while studiously avoiding looking at anyone else in the room. Even the swoop remained silent as its master visibly bristled. Several tense, silent seconds later, Gesakka snapped her gaze back and forth between her two guards and barked, “Ju two! Liv us! Now!” They wasted no time marching out the front door and into the main yard. The troll stalked around the table, her glare never leaving Verdus, until the two were face to face. “Ju tink ju ken jus’ wok en here an’ say dat ta me, deadah? Ju tink ju ken be talkin’ down on da Dahkspear like dat? In fronna me soljahs?”

“My opinions mean nothing, Bloodguard, only those of the Warchief and my master,” Verdus answered, trying very hard to keep the anxiety he felt out of his voice. “Power claimed and unused is no power at all.”

“Ah be tinkin’ o’ usin’ mah powah ta send ju back ta dis mastah o’ yours in little pehses.”

Crap. Despite everything, Verdus still managed to make himself sneer, though he couldn’t for the life of him say how. “I assure you, Master Blackheart would find that quite refreshing. So few are willing to openly defy him these days. It’s been positively ages since he’s had an excuse to... well, I suppose I shouldn’t spoil the surprise, should I?”

Gesakka took an unconscious half-step back, as her eyes widened a little and uncertainty flickered across her face. “Da Black’art? Ju mastah be da Black’art?”

“Oh, quite so. Did I forget to mention that part?”

The Bloodguard seemed to weigh her options for a few seconds before tearing open the seal on the envelope and pulling out the parchment inside. As hoped, she seemed to give it just a cursory read, her eyes pausing only briefly on the center of the page, where the prisoner’s name was inscribed. Looking back, she asked “Why da Black’art be wantin’ dis wan? Wat so special ‘bout ‘im?”

Relief began to creep back into Verdus’s heart as he replied, “I’m afraid that I’m not at liberty to divulge the details of my master’s designs. Suffice to say, he has taken a... personal interest in this particular prisoner. I’m told that he has very... special plans in mind for him.”

A flicker of revulsion crossed Gesakka’s expression as she made up her mind. “Gahds!” The two orcs returned to the chamber, standing just inside the doorway. “Get prisonah two-six-tree oudda da mines an’ bring ‘im ta dis deadah’s wagon.” Glancing at Verdus, she continued, “Make shuh ‘e’s not ‘urt, needah.” The two orcs saluted and left again. “Ju be takin’ ju prisonah an ju be goin’ fah away from ‘ere, deadah. Dere be no place fuh da Black’art’s sickness ‘ere. Ju got dat?”

Verdus gave her a truly genuine smile and answered, “Trust me, Bloodguard. That won’t be a problem.”

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Joined: Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:43 pm

Re: Olive Branches

Postby Verdus » Wed Sep 19, 2012 1:03 am

Some time later, the sound of clanking chains heralded the prisoner’s arrival in the main fortress yard. Verdus had chosen to pass the time by standing outside next to the cart, hands clasped in front of him, staring intently at a particular spot of dirt. There was nothing particularly special about the ground, save for a small colony of ants miraculously untrampled by the busy military fortress around them. Watching the hive go about its business gave him an excuse to avoid making eye contact with any of the grunts on the base. It was important that he be seen, but not remembered for anything he himself did. When asked what they recalled about today, he wanted the soldiers to remember not the nameless Forsaken standing among them, but the monster for whom they all thought he proxied: Malkavet Blackheart.

Also, the bustling ants made for a needed distraction from the mind-numbing tedium of standing completely motionless for almost half an hour.

Verdus didn’t look up until the sound of clanking chains had stopped right in front of him. The sight of filthy, battered, bare feet, flanked by two pair of plate boots, intruded on his insectoid reverie. One of the guards had, in fact, stopped directly on top of the fledgling colony; as dozens of angry ants converged, Verdus couldn’t help but suspect that the orc was probably going to regret that oversight later. After making them wait for a drawn-out moment, he finally looked up to behold the rest of the dwarf, in distressingly similar condition to his feet.

“Is this the one you’re looking for?” asked one of the orc guards. His compatriot said nothing, but shifted his foot slightly.

The question was actually a very good one. The dwarf in front of him was ragged and graying, clad in a stained shirt and pants that were more holes than fabric. The hazel eyes that glared back at him were as hard as the shackles that bound the dwarf at wrist and ankle.

Verdus had never actually seen the dwarf before, not that he had expected to. All he had to go on was the description in the stolen prisoner manifest that had led him here and offhand comments hazily recalled from long ago. Doubt started to creep in, but the glare from the dwarf’s eyes pushed it away. Many would have been broken by their hammering down in the Krom’gar mines. But this dwarf? He’d merely been tempered by it. “Yes, this is the one,” Verdus replied, turning to climb into the driver’s seat of the cart. “Shackle it in the back, carefully mind you. This pathetic creature is damaged enough as it is. My master will be quite wroth if further injury befalls it before delivery.”

Grunts and thumps sounded from behind Verdus as the two guards manhandled the prisoner into the vehicle. Once the lock clinked into place, the first of the guards came around to the driver’s seat to hand Verdus the shackle key while the other fidgeted in clear discomfort some distance away. Snatching the key, Verdus looked the guard straight in the eye for the first time and told him the same thing that he’d told Bloodguard Gesakka, the words that ensured half the Horde would know of what happened here before the coming dawn. “You are to tell nobody of this prisoner transfer to Blackmage Hollow, do I make myself clear? Hellscream’s eyes are not the only ones upon you.” Not waiting for an answer, Verdus whipped the pack-beasts into action and drove the cart out of the fortress, leaving a resentful army in his wake with entirely the wrong impression.

On the way back down the hill, Verdus checked his watch again. Too long, he had been in there too long. He needed to get to Webwinder Hollow as quickly as possible to make the handoff before his disguise unraveled. Whipping the cart to an even higher speed, his passenger sputtered what could only have been some choice dwarven curses as the ride became all the bumpier. No sooner had he made the treeline of the Hollow than the sound of a warhorn rang out from Krom’gar Fortress, now safely on the other side of the mountain. Dammit! Had they realized the forgery already? This would have to be fast.

Verdus jerked the pack-beasts to a halt at the meeting point and leapt out almost before the cart had finished moving. Moving quickly, he rounded to the back of the cart and climbed in, kneeling to face the rather confused dwarf. “I don’t suppose you speak Kaldorei, do you?” Verdus asked, in his rough understanding of the night elf language.

The dwarf’s expression of confusion deepened, but his answer was unintelligible.

Sighing, Verdus muttered, “Of course not, that would be too easy...” Trying to recall the few words of the human tongue that he knew, Verdus pulled a small teal-colored flower from his coat. Holding it in front of the dwarf’s face, he said, “Lorelli.” Then he pressed the flower into the dwarf’s open hand and said, he was pretty certain, “Lorelli. Give, Lorelli.” Finally, he held the shackle key in front of the dwarf’s utterly perplexed face and asked, “Understand?”

Those hard hazel eyes flickered between confusion and hope before settling on, if not true understanding, what could at least have been a willingness to play along. The dwarf nodded jerkily and gripped the teal flower more securely.

“Good,” Verdus answered. As he began to unlock the shackles, Verdus whistled the special bird call that he’d arranged with Corspilla as a signal that he was ready for her.

“BAH!” was the immediate response from directly behind him.

Nearly jumping out of his skin in surprise, Verdus whirled around just in time to see a veil of invisibility shimmer away. He couldn’t recall ever seeing Corspilla as she’d looked in life before now. It was a strange experience. Verdus could see the resemblance to his friend’s more familiar Forsaken form, but if he’d just passed her on the road like this he wasn’t at all sure that he would have known her for anything except just another human. Whoever that witch doctor was that Corspilla got her disguise from, he or she did very good work.

“Where’ve you been?!” she demanded. “I’ve been waitin’ here forever! You’re lucky I have some wool with me to knit socks for the trip. Otherwise I might’ve had to start lightin’ some of those stupid spiders on fire.” Corspilla looked back into the forest and shook her fist in the general direction of the giant spiders that Verdus presumed still skulked in there. “I don’t think they like me very much.” She cackled mischievously.

“Sorry about the wait,” Verdus answered, slipping out of the role of Malkavet’s smarmy agent and back to his usual mannerisms, if not yet his form. “There were some complications up in the fortress, and it sounds like there are going to be more pretty quick. You ready?”

Corspilla answered with a single, definite nod and an enthusiastic, “You bet!” Without further prompting, she began the complex incantation that would open a portal to the dwarf’s final destination: Stormwind City.

Helping the ragged dwarf out of the cart, Verdus took him by the shoulder and pointed at Corspilla. “Follow. Understand?” he said in extremely broken Common.

The dwarf nodded in assent as they both moved over behind the chanting mage. A few moments later, a tiny blue spark materialized in the air before them. It hovered there alone for a fraction of a second before blossoming like a flower of light, unveiling a rippling image of the streets of the human capital city. At the same time, Verdus thought he could just barely pick up the clamor of riders approaching from the direction of the fortress. War wolves, it sounded like. Time was up.

“You remember the plan, right?” Verdus asked as he leaned over Corspilla’s shoulder to look her in the eye. His voice held considerably more anxiety than he’d wanted. “Just get in there, get him to the Pig and Whistle, and get back out. You don’t have to talk to anyone or stick around. Probably better if you don’t. Please, just be careful, okay? I don’t want you getting caught or hurt over this.”

Corspilla answered him with one of her wild, mischievous grins. “It’ll be fine! I know everyone there. We’re friends! And we can get some booze when I get back,” she said as she led the dwarf through the shimmering hole in the air. “You’re buyin’!”

“Heh, you bet I am,” he answered her. Turning to the dwarf, who’d stopped for one last look back at the cusp of his portal home, Verdus bade him farewell with, “Nice meeting you, Beltar Forgebreaker. I hope we don’t meet again anytime soon.”

Though he couldn’t have understood the words, Beltar gave a rugged grin in return. And with that, the portal winked closed like it had never been.

Verdus had one wild moment of relief and elated triumph before being snapped out of his reverie by the increasingly loud noise from the approaching Krom’gar warband. Any minute they’d round the cliff face and catch sight of him, but there was still one last thing to do. Verdus removed the final item from his coat: a small box of unidentifiable metal, the contents of which had cost him even more than the forged orders.

Opening it with exquisite care, Verdus removed a small pair of tongs cast from the same metal, then used them to remove a small crystalline vial from the box, containing a dark green substance of some kind. Moving quickly but carefully over to the cart and holding both items at arm’s length, Verdus turned the box over and touched the cap of the vial to a rune engraved on the box’s exterior. The vial’s cap immediately vanished and even at arm’s length Verdus could detect an acrid chemical smell wafting from the substance inside. Upending the container over the rear of the cart, the green liquid oozed out and immediately began to sizzle upon contacting the wood. The small glob consumed and expanded, devouring wood and metal alike.

Tossing the vial, tongs, and box alike into the expanding chemical blob, Verdus quickly moved to the head of the cart. He deftly unhooked the pack-beasts, urging them away before they melted into a bubbling mass like the rest of the cart. The foul substance wasn’t supposed to harm living creatures, but watching it work Verdus found that difficult to believe and saw no reason to take chances. At least it definitively stopped upon contacting earth; it wasn’t going to spread. Verdus was extremely conflicted about using a substance this vile at all. Strictly speaking, the cart didn’t even need to be destroyed, there was nothing incriminating inside, but it was still a critical part of the plan. Details were important when selling people on a false narrative, and nothing proclaimed the work of a mad Forsaken alchemist like pointless, over-the-top toxicity.

The warband was growing very close as Verdus darted back to where Corspilla had opened the portal. Examining the footprints where they’d paused before stepping through, he stood as if he’d been at their side so as to give the illusion that he’d passed through with them; a Horde agent delivering a prisoner of war right to the capital of the enemy, clear treason. Verdus would just have to hope that his preparations had been thorough enough. Crouching down, he leaped straight up into the air from where he stood at the cusp of the former portal. At the peak of his jump, he finally did what he’d been wanting to do for hours: cast off the stiff and wrong form of his borrowed Forsaken body and shift into that of the stormcrow he so loved to be.

Flapping his regained wings, Verdus rapidly ascended to the top of Webwinder Hollow’s treeline, but no higher. Not yet, not until he was well away from Krom’gar Fortress and its alerted warbands and no longer needed it for cover. Flying away, Verdus finally let himself feel relief. He’d done it. One soul, if not innocent then at least not guilty enough to suffer the Blackheart’s depravity, rescued and sent home to his friends with the Wildfire Riders. It wasn’t going to stop any wars, not after the disaster at the summit. But it was something, and for now that would just have to do.

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