Mertassa had to admit, the little vrykul had done an adequate job thus far in not drawing attention to herself. As they entered the city on manasabers with the priestess disguised magically as a nightborne, Mallory had cast little more than passing glances at the scenery, and had turned her nose up at anyone they met. The only problem was that she had a bad habit of looking back. That would be remedied soon enough, however, as it wouldn�t be an option once she was safely nestled within a palanquin.
* * *
Mallory�s insides raged at her, struggling near to bursting as she yearned to run freely about the place, examining every last little detail. The ride into the city was slow. She wasn�t sure whether to be happy or anxious about that. A slower pace gave others more time to notice her, but it also gave her more time to take in the sights.
It was unlike anything she had ever seen, and more grand than she had ever imagined. To think that this was once Aertemis� hometown, if she remembered correctly. She wondered if the death knight could point out her old home, if it still stood. It occurred to Mallory that the city could have been made and remade dozens of times over during its long vigil within the bubble. The streets and buildings may not be the same as they used to be.
The worst part was her struggle not to stare and gape open-mouthed at the meticulously decorated sights, the carefully manicured trees, the wondrous architecture… It all called to her. She was utterly in heaven.
Until a wrathguard came into view, stomping carelessly up a regal stairway that spilled out onto the main thoroughfare. Mallory�s fist clenched, and she had to still herself before she accidentally set off her glove weapon. She forced herself to look away from the demon before it caught her staring, and swallowed hard.
She glanced back, unsure if she would catch a glimpse of… No, don�t worry about it, she told herself. We�ll be fine.
They reached an area near the corner of a city square, where several empty palanquins waited in the shade of a precisely groomed tree.
�Wait here,� Mertassa said softly, producing a tome from her satchel. �Don�t stare. Here�s a book. Read under the tree. When I return with your escort, be bored. I�ve made you wait far too long and such.�
�Right,� Mallory whispered back, taking the book. She sat carefully beneath the tree on a blanket, feeling only a little awkward with the strange sensation of being taller and having long, pointed ears. She tucked the noble gown under her folded legs and began to read. The book was in an older form of Darnassian, and she realized with a chuckle that she recognized the cover. She had found a ruined copy of the same book in the ruins of another night elf city once. The historical value alone could be worth a fortune. She thumbed through the book, still in excellent condition, skimming it. It seemed to be a novel about time travel.
She tried to resist the urge to glance up and stare around. This became especially difficult as another wrathguard trundled right past her. Her hand tensed, ready to fight, but she fought to keep herself in check. Killing the demon now would only get herself killed.
Fortunately, Mertassa returned soon with an escort of four attendants in formal suits. Mallory closed the book and stood, wearing an annoyed expression. �Ah, finally you�re here, Mertassa!� she said. �This wait is simply unacceptable.�
Mertassa flashed the faintest hint of a knowing smile, and inclined her head. �My apologies, Lady Melline. Your retinue has arrived.�
Mallory rolled her eyes and gave an exasperated scoff as she settled into the palanquin and allowed the attendants to lift it. Mallory scooted to its back and leaned back against the pillows. This particular palanquin had fabric walls up the sides, mostly obscuring her from view except from the front, unless someone got up close.
If only Mom and Dad could see me now, she thought, not for the first time this year. Okay, Mal… Get a good look around the city, and don�t get used to this kind of treatment.
In truth, she enjoyed the palanquin ride. As the attendants walked, the bobbing up and down had a rhythmic, soothing quality. She could easily have fallen asleep in spite of everything. From this angle, where she couldn�t see the demons, she began to imagine the whole of the world being covered in a city like this one, and it was utterly blissful. She allowed herself to bask and enjoy it for just a few moments.
�Ash�thoras denil,� came a man�s voice outside the palanquin, uttering a nightborne greeting.
�Wisdom to Elisande,� came Mertassa�s voice in reply as the palanquin came to a halt. �Commander, must we truly speak now, and interrupt my quarry�s meditation?�
�I am afraid we must,� the commander answered. �I care not who you�re carrying. The Grand Magistrix herself has ordered a… reallocation of our forces. We must tighten security within the city.�
Mallory craned her head to see Mertassa�s head over the edge of the palanquin, listening closely. Mertassa shrugged. �But security is already sky-high.�
�Not high enough, it seems,� the commander answered. �The former First Arcanist yet lives, and there are stirrings of dissent in the Waning Crescent. You�re being reassigned there at once.�
Mertassa tilted her head a bit, seemingly unsure of the implication. �To keep intruders out?�
�And to keep sympathizers from escaping.�
�Escaping what?� Mertassa asked pointedly.
�You have your assignment,� the commander replied curtly. �It is effective immediately.�
Mertassa sighed. �Very well… I�ll��
�Rainewind,� the commander interrupted. �…immediately.�
Mertassa saluted. �Right away.� She turned away, gesturing for the palanquin bearers to follow.
Mallory�s relaxation was over. She leaned forward in the palanquin, subtlety be damned, determined to find out all she could and see what was going on with this new assignment. As they marched on in silence, Mertassa looked down for a moment, then stashed something in her satchel. She then glanced back at Mallory and quickly deposited a note into the palanquin.
�Told you it�s not for tourists,� the note read in Darnassian.
When Mertassa looked back next, Mallory shot her an inquisitive look, trying to figure out what they would do next. The soldier simply shrugged in response, then tapped her head with one finger. Either she was saying she had an idea, or they would just have to improvise.
In the distance, Mallory heard sounds of chaos. Felfire bursts, screams, and the yells of demons. Something churned in her stomach as she got the gnawing feeling that was where they were headed. She began tying her hair up in the back so it wouldn�t impede her in case of a fight.
The sounds of slaughter grew louder. At last the palanquin drew to a stop, and Mallory could see a fel-green glow on some of the features of the city. She craned her head to catch sight of Mertassa, who was currently failing to hide her disgust at the goings-on.
Mertassa turned to speak to Mallory, but just as she opened her mouth, another voice called out.
�Rainewind! What are you doing? Help us round up these rebels, and send that palanquin away!�
Mertassa froze. Mallory caught her eyes and nodded, then whispered, �Let me do the talking.� She hoped Mertassa could read her lips. Then without further warning, Mallory called out, �What is the meaning of this interruption?�
Mertassa blinked, and snapped into action. �Lady Melline, forgive me! I was ordered to come here before we could complete our tour!� She turned toward this other commander, whom Mallory couldn�t see. �See, Commander Duskvale?! This is Melline Stelleris you�re putting out! Allow me to escort her b–�
�Rainewind, I don�t care if it�s the Grand fucking Magistrix. If you�re not lopping off rebel sympathizers� heads inside of one minute I�ll…�
Mallory cringed as Duskvale went on to make a series of vile sexual comments about Mertassa, followed by a threat of having her head. She growled to herself. Enough was enough, and this creep had crossed the line. She reached forward, where her hand would be visible, and snapped her fingers twice.
Immediately, the two attendants in the front lowered their part of the palanquin, sloping it forward. At the same time, the attendants in the rear lifted their half higher, pushing it upright and allowing Mallory to step out. She stepped onto the streets of Suramar City and into the sight of many night elven bodies… men, women, and children, some of them still burning with felfire. She was moved nearly to tears on the spot. Mertassa eyed Mallory with surprise, but Mallory had already turned on Commander Duskvale, who had fel energies emanating from his armor.
�Such vile talk for a member of the Grand Magistrix�s elite,� Mallory growled, maintaining just enough decorum to keep from being questioned. �Quite unbecoming of a distinguished…�
�Listen, you little wench,� Duskvale snapped back, �I�ll have your head too if you don�t get out of the Legion�s way here. But first I�ll–�
�The last person who made such threats against me is still rotting in prison,� Mallory interrupted, and that was true. �And really, the next time you threaten to have someone�s head, don�t. Or you may lose yours. Do I make myself clear, Duskvale?�
Duskvale was quiet for a moment, then nodded and turned away. Mallory looked to Mertassa. �Let�s go,� she said.
�That was too close,� Mertassa whispered as Mallory approached the palanquin again.
�Wait,� Duskvale spoke up. Both women froze. �We don�t have a prison… We just…� He turned to Mallory, his eyes narrowed to mere slits. �Something�s not quite right…�
Several other guards, fel energies emanating from their own armor, encircled them. Shoulder to shoulder with them were a number of demons. Mallory turned once more to Duskvale, waiting for him to make his move.
�I�d wager something�s not quite right with you,� Mallory retorted. �You are a disgusting individual. And I take it this is your doing?� She gestured around them to the bodies. �Some of these were children.�
Duskvale sneered. �City�s overpopulated anyway. And you know something, Lady �Stelleris�? I�ve been with almost every woman in this damned city, but strangely, I�ve never even seen you before.� He eyed her up and down. �Nice disguise. Wonder what you look like without it.�
That was the last straw. Mallory raised her hand high and snapped her fingers once more. Everyone blinked as a gust of wind surged through, and suddenly, the headless body of Duskvale fell to its knees and then to the ground.
Doradrassil stood behind Duskvale�s body, her glaive in hand, and dropped the commander’s head. �I thought you�d never give the order. Ready?�
Mallory, letting the spell of her disguise lapse, now stood in her black battlesuit, her hair tied up in a messy bun. She reached her right hand out to her side and triggered the device in her glove. A lethal jolt of electricity arced to the demon on her right and a pair of nearby guards. Mertassa leaped into action, kicking a closeby guard in the stomach and drawing her new scarlet sword… A blade Peter had given her, stolen from Auris� nemesis, Red. It had a dreadfully powerful enchantment on it and she wasn�t about to try it on a fellow elf. She plunged the blade into the chest of a doomguard, who fell to his knees, clutching at his body and screaming in agony. Soon, red flames burst from inside the demon and engulfed him.
The palanquin clattered to the ground and the attendants ran.
Doradrassil leaped into the air and scattered tiny blades among the enemies. Upon landing, she spun in place, sending more enemies reeling backward as they clutched wounds from the blades of her cloak. Mertassa smashed the butt of her sword into an officer�s head, sending him crumpling to the ground.
�So when were you going to tell me you had a bodyguard?� Mertassa barked.
�When I knew I wouldn’t need her against you,� Mallory answered simply, electrifying another demon. “And now I do.”
Mertassa swung her blade at another demon, narrowly nicking its arm, but the effect was the same. It howled in pain, clutching its arm, which promptly burst into flames. She swung at a shivarra, who lurched clumsily backward to avoid the blade. Demons and nightborne alike backed away to give her a wide berth.
Mallory turned to Doradrassil. �Tell any survivors to get to their contacts if they have any, and tell them to get out of the city. It�s not safe for them here anymore.�
Doradrassil nodded. �I was watching from the rooftops. I think the resistance�s allies were headed for the eastern tower by the docks.�
�Then that�s where we need to be,� Mertassa called out, still driving enemies back. �I�ll need to make contact with them since my career in the Duskwatch is likely over.�
�Sorry about that,� Mallory said.
�Don�t be. You see what sort of creeps become officers. On top of that, he was a liar.�
Doradrassil vanished, no doubt to stealthily infiltrate some of the nearby dwellings and warn residents to get to safety. Mertassa and Mallory pushed through the streets, Mertassa keeping her now-infamous blade trained on any who would dare harass them.
Up ahead, a civilian gawked at the sight of a Duskwatch soldier fending off other Duskwatch members while escorting a human woman. Seemingly unsure of what to do, he began to turn to head for the tower Doradrassil had mentioned.
�Wait!� Mertassa called out.
They ran for it. Mallory called down a blast of holy fire on a pair of soldiers as they gave chase. For now, they had lost the soldiers. The man vanished through a teleporter, only to reappear at the top of the tower, backing away from them. They charged into the teleporter and were suddenly face to face with him as he aimed a sword at Mertassa.
�Whoa! Easy there,� Mallory urged in Darnassian. �We�re not here to hurt you.�
�How do I know that?� he challenged. �You�re just here to find us so you can rat us out, aren�t you?�
�If Mertassa was going to spy,� Mallory answered, �I don�t think she�d be doing it in a soldier�s uniform. Or did you not see us running from the guards?�
The man eyed Mertassa, who held her sword in a defensive stance, but otherwise waited patiently for him to work it out.
�Did we lose them?� Mertassa asked Mallory.
Mallory turned and glanced past the bushes that obscured her view of the street below. �Some guards are checking out the street, but they don�t seem to have realized where we went,� she answered.
�Look,� Mertassa said to the man. �We just killed a commander of the Duskwatch when he ordered me to take part in the slaughter at the Waning Crescent. If you won�t let us in, then at least take news to your leaders that Duskvale is dead. I�m Mertassa Rainewind… and I�ve been doing what I could for the resistance from inside the Duskwatch. But I can�t do anything from within anymore. I�m defecting. Please, let us in.�
The man eyed her for some time longer before finally lowering his blade. �Tenu�belah, Mertassa Rainewind.� He gestured toward a small object on the far side of the balcony, and a portal sprang open from it. He nodded to them both. �Then, welcome… to Shal�aran.�