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Borrowed Books (Part 2)

They approached the house, climbing up the hillside in Elwynn forest. They’d taken care to not be noticed as they crossed through the human kingdom and now as they neared the top of the hill the strange house came into view, looking like someone had lifted a home out of Darnassus and dropped it in the hills near Northshire.

The young hunter looked place over, impressed. He'd never been to a general's house, but he was fairly certain this wasn't the norm.

"I just hope she doesn't court-martial me," he muttered, following Aroria. As they had travelled, he had begun thinking that he should have suspected something. By now he was half-convinced that any officer he reported to was going to conclude he'd been idiotically negligent.

“I wouldn’t expect so. She isn’t quick to try to lay blame on anyone.” They walked up towards the door. “We can let the animals wait out here for now.”

"You think that's wise?" Targeoff was scanning the area for domestic pets. "If somebody's dog tries to chase Purty, she'll kill it in a heartbeat."

“Better than us going into their stables uninvited, really. Besides there are no close neighbors.”

He shrugged; she knew these people better than he did. He clucked his tongue to get Purty's attention. "Guard Scout," he instructed. She took guard duty seriously, she'd be less likely to go exploring. He gave the horse a pat and followed his guide.

Athos casually moved off to a comfortable patch of soft grass and curled up to nap. Aroria knocked on the door then waited until a tall blonde woman answered and gestured for them to come inside.

Mayanna showed the guests into a sitting room. “Can I get you refreshments?”

"No, ma'am, thank you." Targeoff looked at Aroria to see af she wanted something.

“Some of that stuff from Hearthglen would be great, May.” Aroria settled into one of the chairs, looking completely comfortable in the unusual house.

Their host stepped away to pour a couple of tumblers, then handed one to Aroria before taking a chair facing them. “So what brings you this far out of your way?”

Targeoff looked at Aroria, but the lady seemed to be addressing him. He felt like he was still catching up; the ranger had addressed the woman as May, as in Mayanna Stonewood--she must be General Stonewood.

The women were seated, so he sat in one of the other chairs, somehow managing to sit at attention. “I, um…” he looked at Aroria again. “I’m not sure where to start, ma’am.”

“Our friend Targeoff here got caught up in a situation involving stolen magical tomes that I am trying to find,” Aroria explained. “It is apparently serious enough that his employer tried to have him killed.”

Mayanna turned her attention from Aroria to Targeoff, obviously expecting him to elaborate.

Targeoff rubbed his head, trying to figure out a way to explain without making himself look like an idiot--or worse, an accomplice. Then he snapped back to his upright posture, remembering there was an officer present. “I’ve… I’ve been performing courier services for Captain Garron,” he said. “For the last few months I’ve been delivering packages to and from remote locations, with instructions not to investigate their contents.” He glanced at Aroria. “A few days ago I called Captain Garron to let him know Miss Arcshine had been asking about the latest package. The next morning I was waylaid by four mages who attempted to kill me.” He swallowed. “No one but Captain Garron knew my planned route.”

The paladin nodded seriously. “Captain Garron… that name sounds familiar…” She frowned and glanced at Aroria. “What sort of tomes were stolen?”

“Demonic materials, the sorts of dark magic that only warlocks could want to use.” Aroria looked disgusted by the very idea. Targeoff sat perfectly straight on his chair, eyes forward, listening alertly.

Mayanna looked at both Targeoff and Aroria. “Do either of you know where these books are now?”

“No, ma’am.” Targeoff responded first. “The package I picked up felt like it might be a book, but I don’t think it was more than one. I picked it up at Light’s Hope from a man I didn’t know, and delivered it to a man named Mordin at Aerie Peak.”

The general’s expression soured when she heard the man’s identity. “Mordin. That man has an annoyingly wide reach. When did you deliver this package to him?”

“Five days ago, ma’am.”

“And they clearly have divided up the stolen items, I am going to have to track down each of them,” Aroria noted. “You sound like you have encountered this Mordin before?”

“Not personally,” Mayanna admitted, “but I have heard of several people that he has approached. Always with some sort of request or demand.”

“With your permission, ma’am, I’d like to stable my animals here.” The hunter hoped he wasn’t being too forward. “Miss Arcshine suggested it might be safer for them. Since someone seems to be trying to kill me… in case something happens, so they’ll be taken care of, ma’am.”

“You’re sure that you don’t want them with you for additional safety?”

“I don’t think they’ll be enough to make a difference, ma’am. If Miss Arcshine hadn’t been there, the first group would have killed all of us.”

Mayanna glanced over at her elven friend. “Lady Arcshine is good at that sort of thing.” She turned back to Targeoff, “Yes, of course you can leave them with us. There is plenty of room in the stables.”

The hunter looked relieved, although he maintained his upright posture. “Thank you, ma’am. If… If I am killed before this is resolved, you can send them down to my family in Westfall.”

“Just leave the contact information. We’ll do everything that we can to keep that from happening though.” She paused, leaning back with the tumbler in her hand as she thought through the problem. “Mordin is not someone to take lightly, I think.”

"No, ma'am." Targeoff hesitated, unsure how freely he should speak to this officer he'd only just met. "He's undoubtedly the scariest human being I've ever met."

She nodded thoughtfully. “Assuming he is even truly human, yes.”

Targeoff blinked; that possibility hadn't occurred to him. "That would explain it, ma'am," he agreed.

“May, we need to find Garron and find out what he knows. I was hoping that you might be able to help with that.” Aroria knew it might put her friend in a difficult position, but getting into Ironforge was harder than Stormwind.

The paladin nodded. “It certainly sounds like it, he’s involved too much to not know something useful.”

"I wouldn't mind talking to him if I can, ma'am." The hunter maintained his "at attention," but his voice betrayed his anger. "I'd really like to look him in the face and ask if he knew people were being sent to kill me."

“I think that we can arrange that. I’m going to get my gear and we can go have a chat.” Mayanna finished off the last of her drink and got up. “Feel free to get your animals situated while I do.”

"Yes, ma'am." Taking it as a dismissal, the hunter stood and went back outside. He had planned to seek out the people responsible for taking care of the stables, but it wasn't necessary--a young night elf was standing nearby, watching the exotic animals. He was pleased to see that the man hadn't tried to approach the animals; in the past he'd had trouble with people who thought themselves "good with animals" trying to pet the tallstrider.

Purty was fluffing and preening her lovely turquoise feathers, aware that she was being admired. Targeoff approached the kaldorei to ask who took care of the animals in the stables, only to learn it was this young man himself. He'd intended to just give him a few quick instructions on safely feeding and handling her, but the other had a number of intelligent questions regarding her habits, where he'd found her, her various calls and vocalizations… Targeoff quickly lost track of time.

Mayanna came outside to find them, now fully armored and with a heavy shield and sword. She smiled in amusement at seeing the men talking. Thywisp noticed her and waved, then took the pinto off towards the stables, the tallstrider following. “I see you met Thywisp.”

"Yes, ma'am. Sorry to keep you waiting, ma'am." Targeoff wondered how long she'd been there--hopefully not long enough to witness his imitations of some of Purty's calls. At least now he could stand properly at attention.

“Not a problem. We should get going though.”

The hunter had retrieved his rifle from the saddle; he shrugged into the shoulder harness that held it to his back as he followed. He was willing to leave Purty behind for her own safety, but at least he'd still be armed. He glanced around to wave goodbye to Aroria as they left.

Aroria, though, was coming up to join them. “I still have my mission.”

Targeoff dropped back next to her. “Will you be all right in Ironforge? Dodging patrols on the outskirts of the capital is one thing, I’ve done it myself in Eversong and Tirisfal. They’re going to be a lot harder to duck in the heart of the city.”

Mayanna tossed Aroria a sparkling orb. “We’ve got it covered.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The hunter glanced at the orb. Must be some kind of magical disguise or invisibility. At any rate, the General said it was handled.

She climbed into a gryphon’s saddle and gestured to two others waiting patiently. “Shall we?”

The hunter obediently approached one of the remaining gryphons, lay a hand on its neck and spoke to it softly by way of greeting, and vaulted easily into the saddle, ready to follow.

Aroria settled easily into her saddle, and a moment later they were in the air and heading over the mountains to the north.

Targeoff let his gryphon follow the General’s, absently watching the landscape pass beneath them. He was well familiar with the way between Ironforge and Westfall, both by ground and air. His mind wandered as they flew; the General hadn’t said anything about Targeoff’s role in the thefts and whatever Garron was up to. He still didn’t know if he was considered an accomplice. Possibly she was waiting to determine that herself.

By flight, the journey was not too long and soon they were landing in the center of the bustling city. When Aroria dismounted, she had changed somehow. Now looking like a red-haired human woman, though green-eyed they did not demonstrate the fel glow that the Sin’dorei carried.

The hunter did a double-take as he dismounted, then resumed his attention on the general. So that’s what the orb was for.

Aroria winked to him then glanced around. “Which way?”

“Oh, right.” He’d been following the sin’dorei’s lead for the last few days; he’d forgotten she wouldn’t be as familiar with the city. “He’s usually in the military ward.” He indicated the direction, looking to the General to see if she wanted him to lead the way.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the armored paladin was in motion, striding purposely through the city streets while her boots thudded heavily against the stone with each step. Even the stubborn dwarves of the city tended to move out of the way of a knight in that sort of mood.

Targeoff fell into step on her right, so reflexively that they almost seemed to start moving at the same time. He saw the city guards take note of their progress--an armored knight moving with purpose through the streets was bound to mean trouble for someone, and a decent guard would know it and be alert. Several of the guards were dwarves he knew, but they hardly noticed him marching in her wake.

“Where in the ward does he usually spend his time?” Mayanna’s tone had shifted, now sharply business-like.

"This time of day, he's probably in Bruuk's Corner, ma'am." Targeoff followed suit, adopting what his sister referred to as his "name, rank, and serial number persona."

“Heh, of course he is.” She turned and headed into the tavern, a place she knew well from her years socializing with the Boomstick Gang. She stepped inside far enough for the others to enter behind her, then paused to survey the room.

"Against the wall on your right, ma'am," said the hunter quietly. "Orange beard, looks like he's about to start chewing on his tankard."

The dwarf in question did, indeed, look as if he might erupt into rabid profanities at the least provocation--or rather, he looked like someone who carefully cultivated the appearance, to keep those around him scrambling to stay on his good side.

The paladin was not intimidated. She strode to the table and looked down at the dwarf. Aroria stood back and to the side, watching the room closely. When Mayanna spoke, there was a clear note of command to her voice. “I would like to talk, Garron. I have questions.”

The dwarf started visibly at the command voice, then recovered his snarl. "Good for you, lass," he began, then spotted Targeoff beyond the paladin's shoulder. "Cartwright!" he exclaimed. "Thank the gods, ye're in one piece!"

"You did know." The hunter was momentarily shocked out of his military discipline. "Son of a bitch.

“Good, you already know the topic. It’s a suspicious thing, how he was ambushed on the road when you were the only one who knew where he would be.”

For an instant the dwarf looked guilty. Then he assumed an indignant air. "A man's suspicious for worryin about his employees, now. I ain't in the army no more, I don't answer to you." Targeoff had never seen the dwarf attempting to look crafty. He found he preferred the blowhard.

Mayanna stepped closer. “Perhaps you’d like to tell me what you know about Mister Mordin?”

"Never heard of him." Garron folded his arms and stared up at the paladin.

“Is that so? Then it wouldn’t be a problem if I started telling people how you told me all about your work with him and the things that he’s had you doing.” The knight stared back, her expression hard.

The dwarf paled a bit under all the hair, but glanced around and saw the curious spectators watching his confrontation with this woman--this human woman--and snarled back at her. “Go ahead. I’ll start telling ‘em all about your work with ‘im, and all the things you’ve said about it.” He sat back in his chair, rooting himself in. “I got quite the imagination, too.”

“You do that. It would make my job much easier if he came by.” She leaned in, “I have faced all the worst evils we’ve known. I am not intimidated by him.”

Garron glanced around the room again. The other dwarves were watching with interest. This show was better than some of the fights they saw in the Brawler’s Guild. Garron realized he’d painted himself into a corner, but couldn’t think of anything to do other than double down on his bluff. “Fine, then,” he retorted.

One of the watching dwarves stood up and sauntered over. “What’s the problem, General?”

“I’m investigating this man as a potential traitor to the Alliance, certainly at least a criminal serving a dangerous man.” Mayanna’s hand was resting close to her sword as she spoke, still glaring at Garron.

Garron made a dismissive gesture. “She’s full of shit. Spinning wild yarns.” Several of the spectating dwarves began to rumble in protest; they were military men themselves and objected to such disrespect of an officer.

“Treason sounds like a matter for the Council,” interjected the dwarf who had approached. Garron’s gaze shuttled between the observers even faster. His obstinacy was digging him in deeper every minute.

"I ain't no traitor," Garron snarled. "Ye all know how I feel about the Horde. I wouldn't do nothin to help 'em."

“The Horde isn’t our only enemy. Not even the major one right now.” She glanced around at the others there. “I’m sure we have a fair few people here who fought side by side with the Horde in Northrend, maybe were even saved by one, so that’s not even always a great defense.”

There were some rumbles of agreement from the surrounding dwarves. A fellow with a straw-colored beard called over to Targeoff. "Cartwright, is there anything to this?"

The hunter glanced at the dwarf. "Yes, sir, I believe there is."

"After all I've done for you!" Garron exploded in outrage. "There's gratitude for ya!" Targeoff maintained his eyes-front discipline, though his fists clenched so tightly the tendons in his arms were visible.

"If you've done anything for that kid, it's because he's the only one who puts up with your tantrums." As Garron began to bluster, yellowbeard raised his own voice to drown him out. "I think you'd better start answering the general's questions."

As the assembly murmured agreement, Garron huffed and sputtered with outrage. Finally he threw up his hands. "Fine! I see how it is! You'll side with a bunch of humans over yer own kind!" He glowered petulantly at Mayanna. "I arranged a few deliveries for Mordin. No law against that. I run a courier service."

“It is illegal when those things were stolen,” Mayanna noted. “Such as what you had Targeoff transport. It’s even more illegal when you try to kill someone to keep them from talking about those deliveries.”

"Don't know nothing about that." Garron glanced at Targeoff. "I just arrange the deliveries."

“Then how do you explain that they found him when you were the only one who knew where he was or that someone was asking about the stolen items?”

“I didn’t know they was stolen,” protested the dwarf. “The boy told me someone was askin about his last delivery, so I called the client to let him know. That’s just good service,” he added righteously.

Mayanna’s fist pounded hard on the table, mugs and platters clattered. “If you expect me to believe anything you tell me, you better tell me everything you know about this client. I know how he works, more importantly I have a pretty good idea who he works for.”

The dwarf jumped. “I don’t know nothing!” he protested. “The guy’s just some fusty human mage! Said I could help him work against the Horde. We all ought to be workin against the Horde! Everyone’s distracted by demons, while the Horde’s takin over more and more of our lands!”

Aroria shifted her weight but forced herself to keep still. She had to let Mayanna handle this for now.

“And what have you and Mister Mordin been doing to fight the Horde?”

“Well, we… we make sure they can’t use powerful magic on us, right?” The dwarf returned to his crafty look. “They got powerful spellbooks, and crystals, and who knows what. Specially them magic-addled blood elves, they’re loaded with it. He gets the worst away from ‘em, so they can’t use ‘em. And when we’re fightin in the field, he puts a hand in here and there to help the casualties along. A little accident here, a missed communication there. You know.” Garron attempted to look cunning, but only managed to look shifty.

Aroria wanted to hit him. He was so smug about it. Her fists clenched in anger.

Mayanna glared at him. “When we’re fighting in the field? There’s not a lot of Horde versus Alliance fighting happening right now. Which means that you’re taking forces away from the fight against the Legion. Do you want Sargeras to pay Azeroth a visit? Because that’s what we’re facing, and right now you’ve taken me away from that.”

The dwarf glared back, orange beard bristling. “You think the Hordies ain’t doing the same thing? Yer own king is dead ‘cause of that banshee bitch! What good’s fighting off the demons just so’s we can get overrun by the Horde?” He waved a hand at the watching dwarves, who stared open-mouthed. “Yer just like these fools, yer all blind. Mordin gets it. He sees the long view, he does.”

Like the ranger, Targeoff’s fists were still clenched. He’d known the dwarf disliked the Horde. He’d never realized the man was a fanatic. Light help him, what had he let Garron get him into?

“Were you at the Broken Shore that day? Because I was. I watched as my king sacrificed his life for his people. You aren’t worthy to even speak of him.” Mayanna’s lip curled in a snarl. “You are a coward who hides in the shadows and lets others put themselves at risk to save your life, then scheme to arrange their deaths.”

Garron sneered back at her. “All I did was arrange some deliveries.”

“What was in the deliveries? Where did they go? WHERE IS MORDIN?”

“I don’t know what was in ‘em, and I don’t know where he is!” The dwarf actually smirked at her. “He’s too smart for that. I only met him a couple times in person, he don’t tell me the details so I can’t tell ‘em to nobody else! That’s why the Horde won’t win in the end, cause Mordin’s too smart!”

“You realize that he’s only interested in spreading the fight between the Horde and the Alliance because it benefits the Legion, don’t you?” She didn’t quite have evidence for it beyond logic, but everything in her bones told her that’s who he served. It was the only thing that made sense.

“Oh, shit,” said Targeoff, in his dismay speaking without permission for the second time. The general was right, it fit. He stared at the dwarf, wavering between hurt betrayal and absolute rage. “What the hell have you dragged me into?”

Garron glared back. “I was helping you out, ya ingrate. You said yer family would have lost the farm if you hadn’t sent ‘em all that money!”

“I would have found other ways to make money!” the hunter roared back. “Ways that didn’t turn me into a traitor!”

The dwarf snorted. “She’s just tryin to scare ya, boy.”

Targeoff took a step towards the dwarf, half ready to try to wring the man’s neck. He knew it wouldn’t work--Garron was half his height but twice his mass, the dwarf would wipe the floor with him--but he was too angry to care.

Aroria put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head. “Don’t. The General will find a way to make sure that justice is done.”

The hunter managed to stop himself, trembling with fury. No doubt the general would have some justice to mete out for Targeoff’s part in this, as well. And Garron sat there looking indignant at what he perceived as ingratitude. It took all the self-control Targeoff possessed to step back and return to his military stance.

Mayanna glared at the dwarf. “I will see to it that there are consequences for this. For you and definitely for Mister Mordin.” She turned and gestured for the others to follow her. They had to get Aroria out of here before the spell wore off and she doubted that she’d get much more useful information out of Garron.

Targeoff followed without another look at his former captain. He was afraid if he looked back, he’d try to strangle the dwarf after all. He paced at the general’s right and a step behind, his mind churning with thoughts of arrest and prison and disgrace.

“Cartwright? You said that you were formerly in the military?” Mayanna asked as they moved through the city, pushing through the crowds that seemed all the busier now.

“Yes, ma’am.” Targeoff answered in a bit of a daze. “Infantry, six years.”

“I suspect that you are looking for new work?”

Targeoff gave a shaky laugh before he caught himself. “Looks that way, ma’am. If I’m not going to jail.”

She shook her head. “From what I can tell, everything that you did was in good faith. Including seeking help when it became clear that something was wrong.” Mayanna turned to look at Aroria, “Perhaps the Unseen Path?”

Aroria nodded. “I can introduce him. Can certainly use all the help possible.”

The hunter looked from one to the other. “Ma’am?”

“An organization for people with our sort of skills who are assisting in the fight against the Legion,” Aroria explained. “A good place to make connections, if nothing else.”

“Yeah?” Targeoff perked up a bit, some of his anger dissipating. “I was thinking I should re-enlist. Something to undo whatever damage I’ve helped to cause. Think they’d take me?”

“I’m sure they would.” Mayanna took the reins to her gryphon back. “And we could certainly use anyone who is experienced.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Targeoff moved to another gryphon. “I was actually thinking about the people trying to kill me, ma’am. That might be an issue, trying to join a new organization with assassins after me.”

Aroria grinned. “Oh trust me, you’d hardly be the only one there who has enemies. We have excellent security and watch each other’s backs. No one gets in that we haven’t vetted.”

The hunter grinned a little as well, mostly in relief. “Sounds great. I can’t wait to meet ‘em.”