As the mountains of Winterspring edged out of the way, the crew sensed something was wrong. The sight ahead of them was somehow off from the Teldrassil they always knew. The tree stood strong, but buzzed with hippogryphs. The Lor’danel Channel had airborne riders zipping back and forth, and there was something odd about the perennial haze over Darkshore.

“Ma’am?”

The voice came from a human man, the captain of the vessel.

“I see it,” Mallory replied, already at his side and approaching the bow of the ship. “I’ve never seen the area quite like this, but it reminds me of what I heard it looked like just after…”

“After the Cataclysm, aye,” the captain finished. “Shall I take us in?”

“Yes, but be cautious. I’ll call ahead and see if something’s wrong.”

She hurried away from him, secluding herself inside from the rest of the crew, and reached for her comm stone that had been made for her by Zen Fateshifter.

* * *

“DORADRASSIL, COME IN.”

The Warden grabbed at her comm stone as the deep, masked voice of the Shadow Trader vibrated the stone in her pouch. “Afraid I’m rather preoccupied at the moment, Shadow Trader,” she said, pulling her glaive from the lifeless body of an orc.

“DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME, DO WHAT YOU MUST. WHAT’S THE SITUATION?”

“Oh, are you here? Rats, I forgot how close your trip was in the commotion.”

“WHAT COMMOTION? FILL ME IN.”

“Horde attacking unprovoked and in great force. They’re pushing through Darkshore, and attacking from Felwood too.”

“DARKSHORE? WHAT ABOUT ASHENVALE?”

“Ashenvale has fallen, Shadow Trader.”

There was a long silence. Doradrassil flung her glaive at a troll who had thought himself clever and sneaky, and retrieved it.

“HOW MANY?”

“We don’t have any official numbers. But personally, I’d recommend basing our actions on… all of them.”

“ALL OF THEM?!” The voice on the other end, while magically masked, had clearly not been expecting this.

“Aye. I am in a thin spot at the moment, but that just means they’re pouring through somewhere else, and I mean to find them and cut them off if I can. I’m afraid homeland comes first, Shadow Trader. I hope you understand.”

“I DO.”

“Good. But Shadow Trader… it isn’t safe for you in Teldrassil. We… we can’t stop them all.”

Another long pause.

“I UNDERSTAND… DON’T DO ANYTHING FOOLISH, DORA. I’LL SEE IF I CAN PULL ANY ASSETS TO AID YOU.”


* * *

“Rann, you’re needed at Darnassus and Darkshore. Bring whatever help you can find! Horde attacking in tremendous force!” Putting her comm stone away and gathering up her robe around her, Mallory sprinted from the docks to the nature-powered portal into Darnassus proper as catapults lobbed their fiery payloads at the tree. She tried for only a moment to think about her business, about whether any of her Horde assets were participating in this attack… but she couldn’t. She just ran.

Reaching her house, she fought back tears as she gathered up what few things she could on such short notice. Mementos of her parents, the dormant remains of the fire seed that had been extracted from her sister Emma just a short distance away… Her head spun as she tried to think what else to grab. Smoke was beginning to pour in.

“No… no, no, no… I will not be homeless again…”

She grabbed her comm stone again. “Aertemis, where are you?”

“Darnassus. Fighting,” came the reply.

“Understood. Be careful.”

“Are you here?”

Mallory didn’t answer. She had her hands full, trying to stuff her satchel. Her graduation certificate and photo taken on graduation day… A few extremely critical pieces of paperwork…

She glanced around her home for the last time, tears welling up as the flames crawling up constantly shouted in her head that she would never see it again. She tried desperately to take it all in, and knowing time was short, forced herself to turn her back as the canopy over her bed began to catch. Her heart skipped a beat as she looked down the path from her door, and she noticed the patch of shrubs where Peter had once hidden, back when he was merely her worgen courier. Now he was Auris’ fiance. This had to be doubly hard for him, if he was near… He was losing his home for the second time to an attack by Sylvanas Windrunner.

As she made for the portal again, a flaming branch crashed down ahead of her. “Gah!” Mallory saw panicked civilians running for the Temple, but a voice rang from her satchel.

“I said, Shadow Trader! Are you here?!” It was Aertemis.

“Tradesmen’s Terrace, right?” came another voice, a male. “I’ll check on the Trader.”

In the roar of the fire and mayhem of the situation, Mallory didn’t quite register whose voice it had been, but would be grateful for the assistance.

“Yes,” she answered, coughing. “Tradesmen’s Terrace. Path to the Temple is blocked. Trying to go south.” She pushed southward through a plume of smoke, but blinking away the burning in her eyes, she focused onto an orc and a troll making for her.

“Toldja,” said the troll, “dere not be just night elves in dis tree.” He brandished a blade as the musclebound orc warrior hefted his mace.

“You’re messing with the wrong girl,” Mallory snarled, “and your Warchief is picking the wrong fight.”

The orc laughed loudly. “Is that right? Sure, the wrong fight. Because Theramore got us in so much trouble.” He swung his maul at Mallory, with her ducking and rolling out of the way. “You know, I wasn’t so sure at first about having Windrunner for a Warchief.” Mallory wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or his troll friend. “But you know what the best part is? She doesn’t get hung up on silly things like… sanctity of life. Civilians, old, young… it’s all fair game.”

Mallory’s stomach retched. She tried not to hear him as she focused on dodging his attacks. With her heavy satchel over her shoulder, she couldn’t easily fling off her robe to get at her battle gear underneath. Calling down a burst of Holy Light upon the orc stopped him in his tracks for a split-second, long enough to make an escape. The troll was hot on her heels though.

“Someone,” she said on her comm stone, breathing hard. “Two Horde on me… orc and troll… help.”

In the distance to the north through the smoke was a light blue flash, the telltale sign of the power of undeath. Either Sylvanas herself had set foot in Darnassus… or Aertemis was close, and responding.

Mallory couldn’t be sure though. All of this was so unexpected that it may very well be Sylvanas up there. Heading that way could very well be signing her recruitment papers to the Forsaken. And even if it was Aertemis, the orc and troll stood in her way.

Mallory still backed away as their pace slowed, and she knew why. They slowed their pace as she backed onto a branch. A branch that extended out over the massive trunk and sea below. She dared not look.

A boom rang out to the north. Her attackers turned for a moment, then glanced at each other. “I’ll check it out,” said the troll. “Ju take care of de girl quick, mon.” And he ran.

Thank Elune, Mallory thought. She tried to adjust her satchel so she could reach into her robe for one of her emergency grenades. If she could time it on the orc just right…

He had left his maul on the ground, and now edged toward her with an axe as she realized what he had planned.

He doesn’t know anything, she thought. If he’s going to cut the branch, I can still levitate down.

He raised his axe, a sadistic grin on his face. Mallory wound up to throw her grenade, but caught herself as the orc flinched. A spot of red appeared between his eyes, and grew, dripping down. His axe fell harmlessly, vanishing into the smoke below, followed by the orc himself.

As the orc fell from the branch, it revealed behind him, still brandishing a pistol, the goblin Razboom.

“Razboom!” Mallory breathed in relief. “Never thought I’d be so happy to see you! Come on, we’ve got to…”

She stopped.

He was not smiling. And his gun was now leveled at her.

Quietly, with an unsettling calm about him, he said simply, “So. You’re the Shadow Trader.”

Author Rann
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