Peter shook his head as Auris shrank into the distance in her flying form. She was an excellent teacher in druidism. He doubted he realistically could ask for a better teacher, but she certainly could be stubborn.
He folded his arms and paced the yard in silence. Auris was departing from Mallory’s refuge, the secluded home of a dwarven farmer called Daldrin, to face an enemy Peter wasn’t sure she could defeat. The well hidden dwarven home on the eastern coast of Arathi made for a perfect place for the Shadow Trader to hide from her enemies. The situation with Shadowsage’s vindictive stalker had yet to be resolved, and so Mallory had remained in the shadows for the time being, with only her most trusted confidantes nearby.
But as Peter contemplated his druid mentor’s departure, and the circumstances surrounding the recent suspension of her lessons for him, he wondered if anyone was safe. This enemy Auris was facing… This… “Red…” When Auris had mentioned him, Mallory’s cheery disposition vanished behind stony seriousness. Peter could see why. His introduction to Red hadn’t been through a warning from Auris, but from a face-to-face confrontation.
* * *
The apprentice druid had been meditating in the Twilight Grove of Duskwood, in his bird form, listening to the trees, when Red had come walking in atop a Felsteed, with a magical red eye floating in his wake. The menacing night elf man had looked right at Peter as if he owned the Grove and Peter with it, and saw through his form. Recognized him as a worgen. When Peter tried to ignore him, Red antagonized and threatened him until soon, Peter took off into the air, zooming past Red’s face and spitting in it as he did. He then headed deeper into the Grove in search of Auris, the red eye somehow right on his tail.
But Auris was nowhere to be found, and the Grove seemed deserted. The Stormwind soldier who often camped there had gone into town, of course, and it seemed the Grove’s other semi-permanent residents had as well.
As Peter flew furiously through the trees, trying desperately to lose or injure the floating eye, Red strode calmly through the Grove, still on his horse, until he was perhaps a mere ten feet from the portal to the Emerald Dream.
Peter panicked. Whatever this man wanted with the Dream, it couldn’t be good. The chances of the Nightmare somehow ensnaring the intruder seemed slim — Peter somehow felt this man would be quite prepared for it — but the chances of him making it worse seemed all but certain. He couldn’t let that happen… Auris or no Auris, he had to do something.
Peter pulled the sharpest turn his bird-form wings could muster, doubling back on the eye and impaling it on his talons. It shrieked with an otherworldly wail. Dive-bombing at the portal, Peter slung the eye in Red’s direction, where it rolled, dead, to the feet of its master’s horse.
Peter landed between Red and the Dream portal, standing tall and reverting to his worgen form. “You’ll go no further,” he growled.
When the hint of a sardonic smile tugged at the side of Red’s lips, Peter dropped to all fours and bristled his fur, snarling and feeling his shape enlarge until he had become a great bear.
He wasn’t sure if Red laughed. He wasn’t listening… He was too busy silently begging the trees to root Red in place, and hold him tight as if Cenarius himself was asking.
And they did!
What bothered Peter, though, was how unconcerned Red seemed, even as the trees restrained him.
His weapon! Peter thought. Get his weapon away from him if you can!
They tried, the roots grasping at Red’s sword, but he deftly kept it from their reach without even looking, still staring at Peter as if narrowing down how to kill him. Peter backed up a single step, and put one of his back paws through the portal. A tingling sensation rushed through him as the portal felt like water tickling his skin and playing at his fur. On the Dream side, his paw found the dirt and began kicking up soil. He hoped to get someone’s — or some thing’s — attention. Auris…or an emerald dragon… Anything to throw Red off his game.
When it became obvious no help would be emerging from the Dream portal, Peter stood back up, returning to his worgen form. He reached into a pouch at his side, full of seeds Auris had given him. Pulling out a single seed, he channeled nature and life energy from it into the roots, making them even stronger.
“You know,” Red drawled nonchalantly, “I’m really just worried about someone I sent in there. Tae…Rainewind, I think it was? A child, really. So, the longer you stand here trying to hold me back, the greater the chances that the boy will die in there.”
Rainewind? He must be related to Auris!
“Cut the crap,” Peter snarled. “If you were ‘worried’ about him, you wouldn’t have sent him in.”
“Touch�,” Red replied with a shrug, as if discussing the weather.
“You want him saved, then leave,” Peter growled, pulling another seed from his pouch and begging the roots to form a wall to push Red back. Again, they did. The energy Peter channeled from the seed into the roots made the action even swifter and stronger.
Red laughed as he was pushed back, not truly struggling against it, until shortly he turned and stalked away. Peter turned and faced the portal. He had never entered the Emerald Dream before. He had been told it was much too dangerous for an apprentice such as him, but he had no choice. He steeled himself, and plunged through the portal.
* * *
Auris’ son was found safe and returned home, but Auris was sobered — even more so than usual — by Peter’s account of his encounter with Red. She had almost immediately decided Peter should return to Mallory’s side, that it would be safer for him there. She claimed it was to keep him out of collateral damage — that she couldn’t go all-out with him around. He didn’t doubt that. But it was clear, in her attitude and demeanor, that Red frightened Auris. She said he was a former business partner, and perhaps at one point there had been the chance at something more. She had mentioned he didn’t take kindly to being told no after two dates. There was something that seemed horribly, impossibly powerful about Red, even though Auris swore the man had no magical ability whatsoever. He was a collector of powerful magical artifacts, and that more than made up for his lack of magical power.
“He’s just a man,” Auris had said. But he had collected so many of these artifacts, become so strong that he was a threat to Auris. Perhaps Peter was overestimating his teacher, but he had the terrible feeling that if Auris was scared of Red, the entire world should be taking notice.
If she doesn’t come back from this, he thought,then Red could well become the next world-ending threat we all face. Auris had disagreed, but Peter couldn’t discount the possibility. And Mallory’s deeply troubled look was doing nothing to ease his concerns.
* * *
“Absolutely not,” Mallory said again. “Doradrassil, this is a line I won’t cross.”
“And why not?” the Warden shot back, hiding in the corner of the little dwarven house. “Weren’t you the one telling Robin the Iron Horde situation was kill-or-be-killed?”
Mallory fell momentarily silent, pacing the room slowly. “That was talking about when you’re there, personally on the battlefield… and that was Mallory talking,” she said quietly. “This…this is in my capacity as the Shadow Trader.”
“So you don’t mind killing enemies yourself, but you won’t send your forces to eliminate a truly dangerous target? Do you know how messed up that is?”
“It’s not the same,” Mallory argued. “I know it sounds hypocritical. There’s a difference between meeting an enemy on the field of battle, where everyone knows what’s what, and sitting in a room and ordering that this guy must die. There’s a terrible threshold there, and I am not crossing it.”
“What threshold? Why?” The Warden looked truly exasperated.
Mallory lowered her voice. “Because the moment I decide that I have power over who lives and who dies, I’m the next world-ending threat. You know the power I have as the Shadow Trader, Doradrassil. Historically valuable artifacts, and information. Fel, with the right information…in theory anyway…I could start a war in five minutes if I wanted. All it takes is damning intel, and a few strokes of a pen. You’ve already seen it on a smaller scale with the Templars…and that wasn’t my doing.
“So Doradrassil, understand that if I sign Red’s death warrant, I would do so from a desire to do good. To make the world safer. But then what? What’s to stop me from doing it again for another threat? And what if I’m wrong about a threat? Or what if it’s someone I just really don’t like?”
“You won’t go down that path, I know it,” Doradrassil said encouragingly.
But Mallory shook her head. “It’s not a path you walk down… It’s a cliff you jump off of. Once you’re going down…there’s no coming back up.”
“So you’ll do nothing, no matter what happens to Auris?” Doradrassil asked, folding her arms with a scowl.
“I didn’t say that,” Mallory said quietly, sitting down at her desk. “I don’t think Auris will fall…but if she does…” A long pause. “If she does, I’ll bring in outside help. The Templars, the Alliance, something. And… I will consider direct action.”