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Borrowed Books (Part 1)

Aroria arrived in Dalaran and headed towards the offices of the local Horde leadership. General Redshield again, she mused. That alone was interesting, she’d had little interaction with him since finding the shadowcaster for him, but he was calling on her again. Something personal again? That seemed unlikely so soon, especially with how stable his family seemed to be. More likely something delicate, or he would rely on the teams of irregulars he kept ready for various tasks. She nodded towards guards as she entered the building and made her way towards the general’s office.

The halls were bustling with activity, much of it very high-ranking. Hardly surprising, with all the action going on at the front. One of Redshield’s aides intercepted her and accompanied her the remainder of the way, making sure she was safely ensconced in the General’s office before scurrying off to alert him of her arrival.

Ten or fifteen minutes passed before the general himself made an appearance. “Ranger Arcshine. Thank you for coming,” he said as he entered. He strode to his desk as he spoke. This meeting was in an official capacity.

She’d stood as he entered. “Sir. How can I help?”

He sat at his desk, gestured for her to make herself comfortable. “You’ve been very helpful to me in locating Zantoris. I’d like to enlist your help again, if you’re available.”

She gracefully folded herself into the chair again. “Considering the current state of things on Argus being little but a stalemate, I don’t see why I can’t get away from it for a while. What’s the mission?”

“We’ve had several important tomes stolen from Silvermoon City.” Redshield didn’t waste time with preamble. “Evocatio Daemonium, Ars Diabolus, and Fel Infusions and Tinctures. At least we believe they’ve been stolen. At any rate, they’ve disappeared. Our mages are unable to locate them by scrying.”

Aroria expression turned to a thoughtful scowl. “Not exactly the sort of material that we want getting into the wrong hands. Especially now.”

“No, they’re not.” Redshield nodded. “At this point we’re not even sure when they went missing. Two days ago they were sent on loan from Sunfury Spire to the Royal Library. Yesterday the library reported that the books it had were not the ones it had requested. Yet the log in the Spire checking them out, and the one in the library checking them in, both list the correct tomes.” He shook his head. “Either someone in the staff has made a very basic mistake, or someone is doing an excellent job of obfuscating a theft.”

“I assume that you didn’t call on me to double check their inventories, so you believe it is the latter?”

The General nodded again. “That is my conclusion, yes. If I’m mistaken, they’re quite capable of auditing their own inventory. The nature of the books makes it rather important not to waste time on duplication of effort.”

The ranger’s mind was racing with thoughts of how to track the thief, assuming there even was one. “Sounds tricky, but I can get started immediately. Do you suspect that the culprit might have been someone in the library? If so, I will have to be more circumspect in my investigation.”

“Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.” Redshield scrawled his signature on a document and added a dab of wax to imprint his seal. “This verifies that you’re working on my behalf. It should ensure cooperation from anyone in Silvermoon City. If it doesn’t, you can contact me through the buzzbox.”

Aroria smiled as she took the letter. “I have a fair amount of influence myself. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good.” Redshield stood. “If you have everything you need to get started, I’ll leave you to it.”

She stood as well, and offered the salute without really thinking about it. Her mind already focused intently on her mission. Obviously her next stop was the Royal Library.

Redshield returned the salute and headed for the door, his mind likewise focussed on his next tasks. His aide appeared from the hall, ready to escort the ranger if she required it. “I think she knows the way,” Redshield addressed him. “Where’s Captain Darkvale?” The aide’s answer was too faint to hear as they disappeared rapidly down the hall.

Aroria made her way back to Silvermoon City, and to the Royal Library. She took time to simply walk slowly around the exterior, her keen eyes examining every track and trace. She inspected windows and doors. It was a busy place, to be sure, but there were certain signs that would stand out to one trained in the ways that she had been. Not just by the Farstriders for the wilds, but also for work in spying and assassination by leadership that was now long dead.

She felt eyes on her, people watching and wondering what she was up to, but she also knew that most people wouldn’t challenge someone who seemed to know what they were doing. She focused silently on her task and let them watch.

There, finally, she found it. Soft soled boot marks and a telltale scratch in the metal around the lock. The boots that would make such a track were too rough to be favored by the types who would be using the library, but they would allow for quiet footsteps. Aroria took note of the door’s location and moved to the inside of the library to pick up the trail from there.

The frequent cleaning inside made it nearly impossible to follow the path from the side entry through the library. Instead she went towards the secured area of the library to investigate. Some tomes, she knew, were considered more dangerous or precious and were kept under more careful protection. The missing books would certainly have been in that category or they would never have brought her in to investigate.

Again, she could find the signs of locks being picked. Aroria copied the effort and stepped inside. Three books were laid out on a desk; Introductory Evocations, Taxonomy of the Species of Kalimdor, and Creations of the Titans . None of which belonged in this part of the library. Odd. Aroria knelt and glanced under the table, and smirked to herself. Toe prints from the same boots were in the dust under the table. She studied them carefully, noting their size, the details of the stitching, everything. Now all she needed was to find the same prints leaving the library and follow their path.

She blinked at the sunlight when she left the library and waited for the large red cat to join her side again before setting about finding the tracks.

Finding the tracks was simple enough, following them somewhat more challenging until they left the crowds of the city. Athos’s nose came in handy for that a few times. Soon enough though they were in the clear and tracking the thief to the south, and out of Sin’dorei lands. There were few settlements in that area, and so the ranger was hardly surprised to find herself at Light’s Hope Chapel. She set about asking questions. In a place like Light’s Hope, people noticed everyone who came and went, especially when they were strangers to the place. In time, she still had no name for the thief, but she did have something nearly as good. The name of the person they met with, a human named Targeoff. She set out to find him.

---

Aroria kept Athos at her side as she scanned about for the courier she’d been directed to, examining each human she saw to compare him to the description she’d been given. Finally, she entered the small tavern and glanced around spotting a man who seemed likely. She touched her feline companion on the back as a warning to be ready and approached the man.

Targeoff was enjoying his first hot meal in several days, and looking forward to sleeping in a bed. He glanced up as a blood elf ranger approached, vaguely wondering why she hadn’t bedded the animal in the stable. Not his business. He returned his attention to the stew.

The ranger stopped beside his table. “Are you Targeoff?”

The hunter looked up again, suddenly more interested in why she hadn’t stabled her cat. He rather wished he had his own animal companion present. He swallowed a mouthful of stew. “Yes, ma’am. You are?”

“Ranger Arcshine,” she introduced herself professionally. “Could I ask you a few questions?”

Targeoff shrugged and gestured to the chair opposite. “You can ask, ma’am. I can’t promise I’ll answer.” He resumed eating; the stew was too good to waste.

Aroria took the seat and casually leaned forward, a position that coincidentally let her keep a hand near the knife on her belt. “I understand that you’re a courier? Have you recently carried a set of books?”

He shook his head, not in denial but refusal. “Can’t talk about my deliveries, ma’am. I get paid to deliver ‘em, not to gossip about ‘em.”

She scowled and the cat growled softly. “How well were you paid to transport items stolen from the Sin’dorei?”


“Stolen?” He looked up sharply, then caught himself. She was trying to rile him up, get him talking. “I don’t know what’s in the packages, ma’am. Captain Garron tells me where to pick them up, where to take them.” He looked at her curiously. “Who’s paying you, ma’am?”

She ignored his question, determined to not let the conversation drift. “And where did you take the package that you picked up at Light’s Hope?”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “If it was your delivery, would you want me telling any random stranger all about it? You’ll have to talk to Captain Garron.”

“Who is Captain Garron?” Her voice still carried a hard edge as she asked the question. And the animal with her stood ready, with his feline gaze focused on Targeoff.

“He was a captain in the army.” Targeoff glanced at the alert cat, then back at the blood elf. He didn’t think they were likely to start something in a moderately crowded tavern, but it was still worth being wary himself. “Mostly spends time in Ironforge, as far as I know.”

“Was? How is he still running around using the title?”

The hunter paused, he’d never really thought about it. “Guess we just call him that out of habit.” He shrugged a bit. “I’ll ask him next time I see him.”

The ranger’s green eyes seemed to glow all the brighter. “Why did he leave the military?”

The hunter was growing irritated. "You'll have to ask him that, ma'am. Like I said, I'm not one for gossip." Nor, he thought, did he care to submit to further interrogation by this stranger who wouldn't answer his own questions. He wiped his mouth neatly. "If you'll excuse me, ma'am." He stood slowly, careful not to make any abrupt motions that would alarm her feline guardian.

“Wait a moment please,” the elf’s tone shifted to something more polite, “I am searching for stolen items that could potentially be very dangerous. I am not looking for gossip, I am looking for information to prevent a threat.”

Targeoff regarded her skeptically. "Dangerous how?" His tone conveyed the unspoken question: And why should I believe you?

Aroria took a moment to evaluate the man before speaking next. The fact that he was resisting her actually spoke well of his sense of ethics. “I am a Farstrider working on orders of Horde military command. The books taken contain dark magic that could be turned on both Horde and Alliance.”

"Uh huh." The hunter thought a moment, then sat down again. "Look, I don't know what's in the packages I deliver--but I know they're valuable, or it wouldn't be worth hiring a courier." He gestured at the ranger. "So you show up, you want to know what I had and where I took it, you spin me this yarn about dark magic and what sounds like some kind of conspiracy…" he spread his hands expressively. "You can see where I'd be dubious. If you were me, would you buy it?"

The ranger frowned but nodded. “Very well. I shall find this Captain Garron then. Travel safely.” She stood and gestured for the cat to follow her out the door.

Targeoff watched the pair leave, then shook his head. What was that about? He stood up himself and went out to the stables to check on the animals before bed. Scout whickered softly in greeting when he entered the stable.

“Hey, guys.” He spoke quietly so as not to disturb the occupants of other stalls. “Brought you some carrots.” He stepped into the stall with them, immediately swarmed by Scout’s velvety nose and Purty’s curious beak, looking for the promised treats. He patted and talked to them for a while, indulging in the kind of affectionate silliness he would never do with people around. Finally he gave them each a last pat and left the stables.

In his room, he retrieved a buzzbox from his saddlebag and called Garron.

“What? I haven’t got nothing for you yet, I’ll call you,” came the dwarf’s grumpy greeting.

“Hey, Captain. Lady was just asking me about my deliveries today. I thought you should know.” He briefly described his encounter.

“Well, we knew people was like to be interested in valuable stuff, that’s why we wanted a soldier, right?” Garron sounded pleased, as if he’d personally outwitted the ranger. “Good job, not telling her nothing. You done the right thing letting me know. Get some sleep, I’ll probably have another job in the next day or so.”

“Yes, sir.” Targeoff tucked his device back into the saddlebag and went to bed.

He was off early the next morning, letting Scout take it easy, Purty strutting alongside. The tallstrider wasn’t her usual talkative self this morning. She seemed on edge, watching the surrounding brush as if expecting a predator to leap out at her. Targeoff stayed alert as well; he trusted the tallstrider’s senses.

They travelled for over an hour, moving well out of the populated areas, into empty countryside. Good place to ambush a lone traveller, he thought, pulling his rifle out of its scabbard on the saddle, warily watching any likely hiding spots close to the road.

Purty’s head came up, and she clacked her beak rapidly several times. Targeoff had the rifle sighted even as the group of strangers appeared out of nowhere--damn mages! He shot the one in the lead before they realized he was aware of them. Then he had to dive out of the saddle to avoid a geyser of flame. Scout whinnied in terror and bolted down the road.

The hunter rolled to his feet to see Purty leaping for the mage that had nearly incinerated him, slashing him with her powerful claws. One of the other mages made a motion in her direction, and the bird was suddenly dazed, staggering.

The mage she had attacked was on his knees, wailing, trying to put his insides back inside. One of the others was casting something else on the bird, while a fourth had turned back to the hunter. He scrambled desperately for the rifle. He had to stop whatever was about to happen to Purty.

The fourth mage cast his spell, stunning the hunter. The last thing he saw was an enormous red cat leaping for the one attacking Purty.

Arrows whistled through the air, striking first at the mage attacking Targeoff. The wooden shaft embedded deep in the spellcaster’s chest. More followed in quick succession, targeting each of the attackers in turn. By the time Aroria moved up to check on the human, Athos had finished his work and paced up to her while still cleaning blood from his teeth. The ranger continued to hold the bow low and ready with an arrow nocked as she scanned the bodies for signs of life.

The tallstrider was sitting groggily near the bodies of the mages, blinking and shaking her head. She made a low, deep call, like a drunk man blearily daring anyone to mess with him. The human stirred as well, the effects of the spell wearing off. Several hundred yards down the road, the pinto whinnied querulously, watching the scene.

Aroria spoke over her shoulder as she kicked each body over to check it. “Are you injured?”

Targeoff dragged himself to his knees and looked around, dazed, to see if the animals were hurt. He saw the tallstrider lurch to her feet, still thrumming the basso profundo thumps that were her challenge call. He staggered to his feet as well, whistling the command to come to him. Both the animals started in his direction. He looked around at the ranger and her cat, as they prodded the corpses. “Who were they? Those guys weren’t just highway robbers.”

The ranger knelt and inspected one body more closely. “That is a good question. All mages, I am sure you noticed. The sort able to use tomes of dark magic.”

The hunter was running his hands over the tallstrider, checking her for injury. “Like the one you think I delivered.” He turned to the pinto, making soothing noises to calm the shaken animal. “But if they knew I had it, they should have known it’s been delivered now.” He looked at the corpses again, growing angry but lacking a target for it. “They weren’t here to steal it, they were here to kill me. Why the hell would they kill me after I don’t have the package any more?”

“Tying up loose ends,” the elf muttered in annoyance. “Who knew that you were going to travel this route?”

“Nobody.” The hunter ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. “I didn’t know myself until yesterday. You apparently figured it out--” he broke off as an unpleasant thought occurred to him.

“I followed you…” she stopped as she heard his tone change, “What is it?”

“I called Garron last night,” he said, absently stroking the horse’s neck. “To let him know someone was asking about the deliveries. I let him know where I was.”

Aroria’s eyes narrowed. “The same person that you delivered the books to? That’s certainly suspicious.”

“I didn’t deliver them to him, he just set it up.” Targeoff frowned at the bodies littering the road. “He’s been my captain for years, he wouldn’t sell me out to a bunch of… mage assassins.” He looked up and down the road. “Maybe we shouldn’t hang out here.”

Aroria snorted. “You’d be surprised who will sell people out. I’ve certainly been betrayed by closer.” Her eyes scanned their surroundings. “Let’s go offroad, you and I will do better than any attackers in those conditions.”

Targeoff nodded. He retrieved his rifle, checked it over, and returned it to the scabbard, then followed the ranger into the brush, leading Scout. Purty followed last, still looking rather belligerently for more attackers.

The ranger’s footsteps were silent as the moved into the rougher terrain, and she allowed her feline companion to scout ahead for her. Her glowing eyes scanned cautiously at all times as they traveled. When she was finally confident that they were alone and away from danger she spoke quietly again. “Whoever is behind this is taking the entire thing very seriously.”

Targeoff had been quiet as he focussed on finding sure footing for the horse that would leave minimal tracks, leaving most of the scanning to the tallstrider. As they seemed to be far enough from the road to stop worrying about leaving a trail, he draped Scout’s reins across his saddlehorn and let the horse follow on his own. He walked up beside the ranger.

“You think whoever stole your books, they gave them to me to deliver and now they’re trying to kill me so I won’t tell anybody?”

She nodded, “And you seem to have reached the same conclusion or you wouldn’t have asked.”

“Yeah.” He frowned, watching his surroundings for signs of trouble. He thought it over for a bit, then added, “Thanks for saving Purty.”

Aroria turned to give Targeoff a sympathetic look. “I lost a previous animal companion a while back in Outland. I know what it’s like, so I didn’t want it to happen to you either.”

The hunter nodded. They walked in silence for a bit, watching their surroundings. After a while he said, “I really don’t know what’s in them. Most of them, I take to a guy named Mordin.”

“Mordin? What do you know about him?”

Targeoff laughed a little. “Not a damn thing. Not even his name, really. He might as well have a little sign saying ‘Operating Under an Alias’ hung around his neck. He’s creepy as hell. Purty can’t stand him.”

Aroria glanced towards the tallstrider. “Should probably trust her instincts. What about him makes you say that he seems creepy?”

“Hard to put it into words.” He thought as they walked. “Something about how he looks at you. Like you’re a bug in a specimen jar. You get the feeling he really would just as soon kill you as look at you, if he thought it would benefit him even a little. You’re just nothing to him. A piece on a game board.”

She nodded, she’d seen that look before. “Exactly the sort who would toss you aside if it helped balance his equations.”

“Yeah.” He frowned. “I wonder if Garron called him to let him know what I told him.”

“Do you know how well Garron knows this Mordin?” She paused at the edge of a creek, then leapt across it with effortless grace.

“No idea.” He hopped across, not as gracefully but capably enough. “I only started making deliveries to him a few months ago, though. Always to a different location, but always the same guy.”

“Never any idea what you’re delivering?”

“I wasn’t supposed to look in the packages--but you can get a sense of them, sometimes, by the weight and the size. That last one had the feel of a book. I’ve delivered something I was pretty sure was some kind of an urn, or lamp. Stuff like that. I don’t know exactly what they were, though.”

She frowned as she pondered the situation. This was sounding more and more like a much bigger problem than she’d originally thought. “Where do these packages come from?”

He shrugged. “I pick them up at one remote place and take them to another. Someone gives me a package at Loch Modan dam, and I take it up to Farstrider Lodge. Like that. Sometimes Mordin gives me something to take back to Garron, probably his payment.”

“Garron is always the one that arranges the jobs?”

“Yes’m. When my tour was up I was looking for work, he started me off with some odd jobs and then got into this courier thing.” He glanced around to check on the tallstrider; she was ranging up ahead, watching the ranger’s cat with deep suspicion. “I’d been thinking about re-enlisting, but he said this would pay better. Which it does. I guess I’m starting to see why.”

“I don’t like the way any of this sounds.” She paused, running back through some of what he’d said. “The package, you said it felt like a book. Singular?”

“Looked like it to me. A big one, like one of those grimoires mages use.” He blocked out a shape in the air with his hands. It was about right for a large tome.

As he gestured in the air, Purty dropped back beside them, making a noise that would have been a warble if it hadn’t been in such a deep register. For many people her vocalisations might have seemed like random noise; to the hunters, accustomed to working with animals, she may as well have been speaking in Common: What are you two doing back here?

“It’s okay, sweetheart, we’re just talking,” Targeoff addressed her. The tallstrider took up a position on his other side, eyeing Aroria. The hunter chuckled, glancing at his companion. “She gets a little jealous if I pay too much attention to another woman.”

“I’m not planning on stealing you from her, just getting us all to safety.” She glanced ahead to where Athos stalked ahead, he’d glanced over his shoulder at her and huffed his amusement at the bird’s nervousness.

“Speaking of which--where are we going?” Targeoff frowned. “Where is safety, from people who can appear out of thin air?”

She’d been asking herself that very same question. “Well, there are a couple of options that I can think of. I’ve had good luck hiding from very powerful mages in the wilds before. It’s not a very pleasant way to do things though. Or I have a few powerful contacts in the Alliance that we could contact for assistance.”

“I don’t know that hiding in the wilds will work as a long-term solution. Besides, this sounds like something that needs to be reported, to… somebody.” He ran his hand through his hair again, beginning to feel some dismay. Normally he’d report to Garron. Now he wasn’t sure he could trust his old Captain. He didn’t like the feeling.

“Well, there’s the options of reaching out to an Alliance general that I know, or you can come back with me to the Horde.” Aroria suspected that she knew which of those would be rejected out of hand.

Targeoff thought it over. "I don't know. Maybe it's something coming from the Alliance higher-ups? I know Captain Garron hates the Horde, but I wouldn't think he'd go this far without sanction from someone above him." He put his hands on his head. "But if I go to the Horde maybe they'll think I was part of it." An even more horrible thought occurred to him. "Maybe the Alliance will think I was part of it! They'll put me away for treason. What'll happen to Purty if I'm in jail?" He knew he was thinking in circles, but had no idea what to do about it. He glanced at the ranger, suddenly looking very young. "What would you do?"

“Well I certainly wouldn’t trust Garron, at best he makes bad decisions and that is more generous than I am willing to grant him. You are going to need someone that you can trust, though.”

"I thought I could trust Garron. Looks like I make pretty bad decisions, too." He looked at Purty, who had flushed out a rodent and was happily gulping it down.

"The first thing I need to do it get these guys into a good stable," he said decisively. "That way no matter what happens to me, they'll be taken care of."

Aroria considered the matter. “I know someone that has shown herself trustworthy.”

He nodded. "I usually put them up in Ironforge, but until I know what's going on with the captain, I don't want them where he'd know about it." He gestured for her to lead the way.

She nodded and considered how best to reach the Stonewood house without getting herself into trouble. “Alright, this way then.”