The inn was a bit of a musty place, certainly not the most well kept inn he had ever had the misfortune to stay in. However, it was the only inn in town, and the only other option was to stay in a tent near the Greymane wall, which would not offer him much opportunity to investigate the town's residents, which was his primary mission.
Thomas reached into his wallet and paid the innkeeper the agreed upon sum, a price nearly double what one would expect. But he was forced to pay it in order to keep up their cover story, he and his new wife needing a place to stay while they sought sanctuary in Gilneas. The decision to add his "wife's" fragile health as part of the cover certainly explained to the villagers why they weren't staying closer to the wall, but it did mean he was going to be spending a lot more money than he would have otherwise. The Kirin Tor would be receiving a bill for every coin he had to spend.
He was also unhappy about having to work with this girl. She was a rank amateur, and had never taken part in a covert operation before. Worse, she was still only a Journeyman, not even a full fledged Magus. Reginald had tried to calm his worries by giving Thomas a glowing report on her accomplishments and qualifications, but that did little to quell his fears about working with a girl no older than sixteen, possibly younger. With Thomas being almost thirty, their marriage cover story made him look positively creepy. Glowing recommendation from Jaina Proudmoore for her services during treaty negotiations with the Horde and distinguished service record from the Battle of Mount Hyjal be damned, he just hated the looks he was sure he would receive from others during the mission.
The Archmage who had assigned them to work together had told Reginald that she was along not for her skills as a mage, but for other skills only vaguely related to those. Reginald trusted that assessment, and as head of the mission team, Reginald's word was final. Thomas did not care for that, but had to live with it since that was how things had always been done. The head of the support team was always technically in charge of the mission since they were less likely to get emotionally involved and thus could be counted on to make more rational decisions than the undercover investigator.
After receiving the payment, the innkeeper motioned the young barmaid over. "Show these folks to their room, Elizabeth." The brown haired girl nodded. Thomas' companion, Amanda, greeted her with a warm smile and motioned for the girl to lead the way. Thomas had to admit, the girl was a natural actor. Her blue eyes did not betray even a hint of nervousness. Her blond hair, held in a simple braid in the style popular among young peasant women only added to her seeming innocence and warmth. And her fair skin allowed her to blush nearly on command, which she had used to devastating effect on the town's gate guard to gain them entrance to the city after dark. Her low cut peasant's dress surely added to the effectiveness of that particular ploy, with the way it displayed her ample cleavage.
Thomas caught himself staring and quickly looked away. He already looked too much like some lecher, now was not the time to act like one by staring at his companion in this manner. He glanced over to the barkeeper, whose smirk told him that he had been caught in his gaze. He sighed silently. This was already proving to be an unpleasant mission.
They followed Elizabeth up the stairs to the final door at the end of the hallway. The girl opened the door and led them inside, where she lit the small lamp on the table just inside. "This room isn't much," she said, "but it's unfortunately all that we have left. I apologize if the bed is a bit lumpy," she said, indicating the fairly large curtained bed. "And I also apologize for the dust. We haven't rented this room out in weeks, so it seems that we need to clean it again."
Amanda smiled warmly at her again. "As long as the bed is bug free and the blankets are warm, this room will be just lovely. Thank you, Elizabeth." It came in a flash, and if Thomas had not been looking at her, he would have missed it, but a look of sorrow and terror crossed Elizabeth's face. Amanda also seemed to catch it. "What's wrong, Elizabeth?" the girl asked, with all the subtlety of an Arcane Explosion.
"Nothing," the girl said, her face a bit ashen. She shook her head. "No, I can't let you stay here," she said in a whisper, shutting the door to the room. "If you remain in this town, your lives will be in grave danger. You must conclude your business quickly and leave. You might safely make it through a single night. Perhaps two. But if you remain beyond the next full moon, you will surely die. I beg of you, get out of here while you can!"
"Can you tell me any more?"
The look on the girl's face was one of sheer terror. "No, I've said too much already. I'm sorry, I have to go." And with that, she hurried out the door.
Thomas and Amanda exchanged worried glances.
Fangs in the Forest
Arthur was a rather imposing sort of man, tall and muscular with a large frame. Even his salt and pepper hair did nothing but increase the man's stature, rather than make him look his age. He was just the sort of War-Magus that Thomas was glad to have along if things became dangerous. Thomas had worked with him before, and knew that his real name was Silva, though he had never really talked with the man before, but he knew that he could count on the man in a fight, and that's all that really mattered. He had taken the name Arthur and was playing the role of Thomas' Uncle, in the event he had to leave this house where they were basing the support team to contact the field agents.
The house actually belonged to a distant cousin of Arthur's, so it was easy to get permission to use it, and since the two actually looked vaguely similar, it wouldn't be hard to pass him as the other man since his cousin was a bit of a recluse, tending to avoid company as much as possible. The downside was that his cousin also avoided cleaning, so the place was a horrible mess. Upon arriving, Amanda had immediately located a broom and had enchanted it to begin cleaning for them and had pressed Reginald into getting a bucket of water from the nearby lake so that when she had completed enchanting the feather duster and turned to the mop, it would have water waiting for it.
Thomas chuckled at that. Reginald was the man in charge of the mission, highly experienced at serving Dalaran and the Kirin Tor. The casualness in Amanda's tone as she ordered him around had shocked everyone there, Reginald especially, which is why he could not come up with a response other than grabbing a bucket and heading out to the lake.
Thomas had worked with that man on multiple occasions as well, and also knew his real name. Magus Yadier, expected to become an Arch-Magus the next time promotion exams were held. He was a bit of a legend among Dalaran's secret operatives. None of his missions had ever failed, and the worst any of his team members had ever suffered was a broken leg. That alone was worth note when you considered that no other team leader had a death free record and perhaps an eighty-five percent success rate. But what made him a legend was that his missions were all the ones that had been deemed highly dangerous, if not nigh suicidal.
The other woman on the support team was another veteran, quite the opposite of the young girl he had been partnered with for this mission. For this mission, she was to be known as Samantha, but Thomas knew her as Kath'leen, another decorated War-Magus with plentiful victories under her belt. She had entered the military at an early age, so in addition to her training with spells, she was proficient with a half dozen common weapons. The only area that she lacked skills in was her social skills. She was extremely shy around new people except when she could fall back on her comfortable role as a soldier. That was why she could not be an undercover agent, as she tended to either be unable to approach people or dealt with them as a drill sergeant might deal with a lazy private.
Amanda had taken her shyness as a challenge and had begun working on making her open up almost immediately upon meeting the woman for the first time. It made her quite uncomfortable, but Thomas enjoyed watching the determined young girl try to befriend the other woman, who seemed more afraid of her than she would have been an army of rabid murlocs.
After returning with the bucket of water, Reginald had everyone sit at a table so they could begin the mission briefing, since they did not have much time before Amanda and Thomas had to go rent a room at the inn. "Alright folks, here's what we know. There have been rumors of half man, half worg beasts roaming these woods. They're said to be extremely vicious, so I would not venture from the village or the main roads unless you have to. A few villagers from Ambermill also say that if you come close enough to Pyrewood Village at night, you'll find that the entire village has become Worgen like these beasts. That in particular is what we're here to investigate. If people have been infected by some kind of magic, we have to put a stop to it, especially before it spreads."
"What of the keep in the hills above the village?" Thomas asked, studying a map of the region.
"That keep belongs to a man by the name of Baron Silverlaine. He's technically still the Lord of these woods, but with the fall of Lordaeron, his power really only extends as far as Pyrewood Village. If what we've been told by the people of Ambermill is correct, there is also a former member of the Kirin Tor living there as well, one Archmage Arugal. He fled Dalaran during the Scourge invasion. Librarians at Dalaran say he had a number of valuable books in his possession before he fled. One of them is still missing, the Book of Ur. They are unsure what information it contains, but it was located in the special section of the Library only accessible to members of the Kirin Tor, so it is quite likely that the information within could be dangerous. While going into the keep is to be considered a last resort, if we find ourselves there, we are to locate that book and return it if possible." He paused and looked at Amanda, whose brow was creased with thought. "What is it? Do you know something about that book?"
"I've heard the name Ur before. Let me think about it for a moment." She closed her eyes for a moment and then jumped from her chair. "I once overheard my uncle and my father talking about Ur. Uncle was very interested in Ur's research regarding other worlds."
"I never heard that Ur was working on that kind of thing," Thomas said.
"Nor have I," Reginald agreed.
"His research was deemed dangerous by the Kirin Tor," Amanda said. "Uncle was a member of the Kirin Tor, so he was aware of it, but they put in quite a bit of effort to keep what he was doing secret from most of the population. The last thing they wanted was a populace worried that the Kirin Tor might inadvertently open another Dark Portal and expose us to another Horde. At least, that's what Uncle told Father when he asked about it."
Thomas let out a low whistle. "You don't think that's what Arugal has done, do you?" he asked Reginald.
"It is possible," Reginald said.
"If that's the case, I don't know that it could get much worse," Samantha said.
"There is another thing to consider," Reginald said. "The Forsaken have been active in the area lately. They might have launched their own investigation into Arugal, as we believe a former member of the Kirin Tor is stationed at the Forsaken's nearby fortification, the Sepulcher. I don't think that they'll interfere with your investigation needlessly, but try not to antagonize them if you run across them. We don't need another enemy out here." He sighed. "So, any other questions?"
Before anyone could respond, Amanda rushed from the table, suddenly forced to stop a fight that had broken out between the broom and the mop.
** * **
Amanda closed the door to their room softly and sighed. "I'm not sure I want to know what kind of meat that was that they fed us. I've never eaten anything so incredibly bland. Hasn't the innkeeper heard of seasonings?"
Thomas chuckled. "Salt can be rather expensive, especially this far from a port. You know, you might be able to find a general merchant in town who stocks some less expensive sea salt. I believe there's a man in Southshore who runs a side business harvesting the stuff, so some of it may have found its way here."
Amanda's eyes lit up. "That would be lovely," she said. "I think I'll go look for some while you check out the situation at the Greymane Wall tomorrow. At the least, it'll give me an excuse to get out of this inn for the day. The innkeeper and his patrons are not the most friendly bunch."
"I noticed that," Thomas replied, taking off his boots. "I suspect that they're tired of the refugees seeking shelter on their way towards Gilneas." He realized that as he was talking to her, his eyes were once again wandering where they should not. He looked away quickly. She did not seem to notice. "Anyway, you go ahead and take the bed and I'll sleep on the floor."
Amanda's eyes flashed and Thomas suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. She crossed the room towards him. "Come now, beloved," she said, putting her arms around his neck. "I know we haven't actually said our vows yet and are only betrothed, but think of what would happen if someone found out you were sleeping on the floor." She leaned in close, pretending to kiss him on the cheek. "We're being watched," she whispered softly. She returned to a normal volume. "They might think that we're lying to them about our relationship and kick us out of the inn. Or at least they'll make us get a second room so that we won't be co-habitating out of wedlock. We really can't afford a second room, not if we want to save money for provisions to take us as far as Southshore in the event that we can't find refuge in Gilneas." She frowned at him, conveying a look of fear and spoke softly, but loud enough that anyone listening could hear. "Besides, I want you close by in case Father sends his men after us. I don't want them taking me back home to that monster. I'm a woman grown and can marry the man of my choosing, my father be damned."
"Alright, Amanda, I'll stay here with you," he said with a smile. Thomas was impressed. With a single brilliant move, Amanda had covered up the reason behind his comment to anyone who might be listening as well as giving them a story to fall back on should the villagers begin suspecting anything about them. And she had detected the spies before he had, displaying to him her keen instincts. The only downfall was that now he was going to find himself having to maintain control while sharing a bed with this beautiful young woman. He was suddenly painfully aware of the fact that her body was pressed against his.
She smiled impishly at him, probably guessing his thoughts. "Good. Now that it's been settled, go look out the window." His eyes must have betrayed his confusion. "Just because we're sharing a bed doesn't mean you get to look at me while I change into my nightgown," she said. "There are some things you're not allowed to see until after we've actually gotten married."
He nodded, unsure of his ability to speak coherently at the moment, and went to the window. It was raining outside, and the dampness had brought a fog rolling across the streets. The city, and especially the castle on the hill, looked especially menacing with the fog all around it. Thomas was suddenly snapped back into reality by the realization that this place was likely to be highly dangerous. He looked out over the rooftops of the houses nearby and thought he saw a figure on one of them, but when he looked closer it had vanished.
A lone wolf's howl and the sound of rain was all that he could hear a few minutes later as he climbed into bed.
** * **
Amanda sighed as she sat up in bed. Even if she had slept a few hours beyond when Thomas had gotten up to go to the Greymane Wall, she still was getting up far earlier than she used to. She pulled back the curtain on the bed and looked out the window. It could not be any later than nine in the morning.
Her stomach rumbled, so Amanda decided it was time to see about some form of breakfast. Rather than chancing whatever the inn was serving, she decided to raid her travel provisions for a bit of bread and cheese. She discovered that her bread had begun to mold, so she added a trip to the bakery to her plans for the day. It would be just one more person she could talk to in order to find out what was going on in town.
Breakfast finished, she got dressed and headed downstairs. As it was the night before, the inn's main room was dimly lit and smoky. She greeted the innkeeper warmly as she approached him. "Excuse me, sir, but is Elizabeth working today? I was hoping I could get her to show me around town. I have a few errands to run while my husband is out."
The innkeeper scowled. "Who?"
"Elizabeth. The girl who showed my husband and me to our room last night."
"Lass, I don't know what kind of game you're playing at, but we don't have a girl who works here."
Amanda was becoming frustrated. "But I saw her last night. She was about my height, had brown hair. She was wearing a blue dress. Surely you're just pulling my leg."
The innkeeper growled. "Look, lass, we haven't had a girl working here since my own daughter grew up and left home five years ago. I don't know what you're playing at, but this isn't funny."
Amanda was desperate. She knew she had seen a girl last night. She was sure Thomas would remember her as well. "Please, sir..." she trailed off when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see a bespectacled older gentleman with a look of concern on his face.
"Excuse me, miss," he said. "You're looking feverish. Are you unwell?"
His even tone snapped Amanda back into reality. She realized that she could not afford to make a scene. She took a moment and gave him a look of apology. "I'm sorry," she said. "I must have forgotten to take my medicine this morning." Several of the patients looked concerned, so she tried to think of an illness that would put their minds at ease. She quickly decided upon one she had read about in a story. "Don't be alarmed," she said. "It's not catching. I was born with a defect, a tiny hole in my heart. It leaves me frail and the doctor was unsure whether I would live beyond my tenth birthday. It's only thanks to the medicines he gave me that I'm alive. Without them, I'm prone to being emotional."
"I've heard of such an illness," the older gentleman said with a nod. "I had not heard that medicines had been devised for it, though."
"It's an experimental treatment. I'm not sure what's in them, to be honest." She reached into a small pouch she carried around her neck and rooted around, hoping to find something to pass off as a medicine. She found something that would suffice, a small mana gem she had that with a bit of illusion would pass as a pill if she put it in her mouth quickly. She crammed it into her mouth and concentrated, absorbing the mana within, causing the gem to disappear. She was now holding more magical energy than she was accustomed to, so she would need to burn it off at some point. She looked at the innkeeper. "I'm sorry, sir. I must have dreamed up this girl and without my medicine had confused her for reality. Please accept my apology." She turned to the older gentleman. "Thank you, sir. I probably would have hurt myself had I carried on much longer. My heart probably would not have withstood much more agitation."
"That's quite alright, miss," the older gentleman said with a smile. "I wouldn't be much of a doctor if I didn't recognize when a person was feeling ill."
"Oh my, where are my manners? I seem to have forgotten to introduce myself. The name's Livingston, but I would be honored if you would call me Stanley."
"It's nice to meet you, Stanley. My name's Amanda."
"A lovely name for a lovely young woman," he said, at which she blushed. "Now, forgive me for intruding, but I seem to have overheard you saying that you needed someone to show you around town. I have only been here for a few days, but if you'd accept the company of a foolish old man like myself, I believe I have enough knowledge of town to show you how to find most of the important places."
"Thank you, doctor. I'd be delighted to have your company on my errands. And with a doctor along, I would feel much safer should the ravages of my illness overtake me."
"Splendid. Well then, shall we be off?"
"Let's get going! I believe that this town's baker has a delicious pastry with my name on it and I would not want it to get cold."
As they walked from the inn, Stanley slid a small piece of paper into her hand. "Put that away and don't look at it until you're safely in your room," he whispered. "This place is not safe for a servant of the Kirin Tor. All eyes are upon you."
** * **