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The second floor balcony would have made a fine peoplewatching vantage point for anyone else, but Calluna was bent over a black leather boot in her lap, sewing in a thick woolen lining. A pipe was clenched between her teeth, sweetly fragrant smoke wreathing her flaxen head while she hummed tunelessly, a slight frown creasing her plain, open features as she worked.

A crash and clatter from inside brought her back out of her thoughts.

"Twig?" she called into the room behind her. "Twigget, yeh want me to do the dishes? Yeh put on such a nice spread t'night, its the least I can be doin'."

"No, no, I'm fine," a patently Gnomish voice replied. "I just fumbled the saucepans is all. Just put them away when I'm done drying?"

"Anything fer you, me treasure." Calluna grinned and turned back to her leatherworking, but frowned again at the sight of a garishly-robed figure bulldozing through the strolling Ironforge pedestrians below. "Aw, seven hells...what's that arseface doin' here." She stood up and deftly knocked the ashes from her pipe, before calling upon years of espionage work and blending into the shadows around her. Once stealthed, she vaulted lightly over the balcony railing and flattened herself against the front door, waiting for her prey, who huffed and puffed his way closer...closer...and raised his hand to knock...

"HEY, BURDIE." Calluna appeared from the dimness and fairly bellowed her greeting without a trace of warmth, surprising the unwelcome visitor so that he fell backwards onto his rear...which was large even for a dwarf. Smirking, she crossed her arms in front of her and offered no aid as he struggled spluttering to his feet. "What brings you up the mountain, little brother? Not enough souls to save back in Brewnall, or did they finally kick yer arse out for lack o'fashion sense?" She eyed his attire, a cacaphony of magentas and greens. "Och, yeh bloody peacock."

Trying to look unruffled, Brother Burdock smoothed his caftan over his considerable belly and managed a perfunctory bow.


"Aye, Burd."

He clasped his hands before his girth and tried to look officious. "I came up here straightaway as soon as I learned, to tell ye..."

"Honey? Who is it?" A chubby, rosy-haired gnome peered over the balcony. "Have we got company? I could put out some tea and we have leftover peach pie and oh, it's YOU, Burdock. I'll just get back to the dishes then, good night, don't fall off the road on your trip back down...much." The gnome turned on her heel and went back inside.

"Err...Light bless, Twigget Wizzlebee..." Burdock waved weakly as she retreated. "She doesn't like me much, does she Cluny?"

"And what gave yeh that idea? Oh, could it be yer rantin' on about the evils of nethermancy, when she's never squished a wee bug with her powers? Or mayhap it was yer sermonizin' against cohabitations n' gender-biases in love? Pfaw, like ye yerself ever loved anythin' but a full plate at dinner, five times over. An' don't be actin' like ye want t'cozen up to me n'her now fer any reason other than her bein' a world-class pastry cook, yeh grubby mongrel! Is that why yeh trudged up here? Fer pie n' tea? Yeh can shuffle yer lardness back down th'hill and mooch of Ma n' Da fer sweets, ye'll not sully any cup in MY house!" Calluna turned and made to go back into the house.

"Naw, naw, Cluny! It ain't that, listen!" He grabbed her arm with a fleshy paw, and immediately released her after a freezing glance. "Err, bygones, bygones...naw, naw, I just came from the folks, see?"

"Da?" Calluna's eyes went wide with alarm. "What's wrong wi'Da? Is he well? Or Ma? Or wee Rugie n' Yarrow? What happened?"

"They're fine, Cluny, it ain't about the folks, or our wee siblings neither."

"Then what? Get to the point, man!"

"I am iffen ye'd let me!"

Calluna opened her mouth to berate him further, then shut it, glaring at her brother with her lips set in a thin line. Burdock took a deep breath.

"It's Fionnghuala."

"Eh? Nulie?" Calluna brightened. "She's back, is it? Och, that's lovely! We ought t'have a nice fete for her, we should. She been promoted? What's her rank in the Dawn now? Captain Nulie...no, Major Nulie! Colonel Fionnghuala Gempebble, och, how proud are Ma n' Da? Me own big sister, a grand homecomin' from the warfront!"

"CLUNY! That ain't it!" Burdock was wringing his hands, tugging on his sparse beard. "She's back, but she's...DIFFERENT!"

"Wotcher mean different? War does things to a body, I've been out there, I know. Course she ain't gonna be the same! She's likely improved from the flirty flufflehead she was before...oh, och, did she take a wound? Is she scarred? Och, her pretty face, she was always the looker of the family!"

"Naw, Cluny, not like that, she...she...she..."

Calluna rolled her eyes. "What, WHAT. Say it, dun spray it, Burd. I got no time fer ye if I'm to fit in a celebration before I take my assignment next week, they're sending me up Northrend way fer reconnaissance."

Burdock fairly bawled. "I came here t' WARN yeh, yeh can't be lettin her NEAR yeh, for what folks'll THINK of us, the Gempebble NAME!"

"What. What. Did. You. Say?" She balled her hands into fists.


"Burdock. Get the feckin' hell off me doorstoop."


"You said the SAME BLOODY THING when me n' Twigget bought this house together." Callunas voice was low and edged with ice. "I didn't tolerate it then, and I'll not tolerate yer gobshite now, speakin' that way about our--no, MY elder sister. You n' yer sanctimonious prattle about pride of name n' neighbor...th'only shame I've ever felt in me life was knowin' that Ma n' Da had the misery of you for their oldest son! GET YERSELF LOST!" And with that, she whirled inside and slammed the door.

Twigget came rushing down the narrow stairs. "Honey? Oh, honey, he's gone and riled you up again. What was he on about this time?" The little gnome ran over and took both of Calluna's hands in hers, rubbing soothingly. "Sweetie, you're all tense."

"Nuh." she grunted. "'E came here to rant on cause Nulie's come back from th'front an' he don't approve of her no more...not that he ever did much in th'first. Yeh know she was always a bit ehh...well, free with her charms, aye? Her bein' such a pretty thing, all the fellers would be chasin' her knickers and she never bothered t'run that fast away." Calluna chuckled weakly and shook her head, before caressing Twigget's face tenderly. "Looks like I'm not th'only Gempebble sister in the bad graces of that fat idjit."

Twigget sighed and returned the gesture. "Cluny, you can't let him get to you. I mean, you can, but just not that much. He's not worth it! Let's concentrate on the positive. Your big sister's come home! We'll have her over for a nice supper, and you can catch up, and introduce me, and I'll make a lovely cake...not necessarily in that order. I should bake the cake first!" With that, she gave an impish grin and winked, and they both giggled.

Calluna hugged Twigget tightly. "Darlin', yeh know, yer people aren't given to bein healers of Light, but yer a balm for what ails me, every time."

The gnome smiled and toyed with one of her pigtails. "Well, it's getting late, love. Let's go to the bedroom and I can keep playing doctor, hmm?"

"Och, yer NAUGHTY...an' I like it!" Squeals of laughter followed them into the bedchamber.


The deathcharger clopped slowly up the snowy road loading to the gates of Ironforge, ridden by a heavily armored and shrouded passenger...the only identifiable feature was the end of a long, pale blonde braid over their right shoulder.

The hardy mountaineers on watch that night, still unused to seeing any member of Mograine's Ebon Blade pass among them, peered closely at the traveler, fixing their eyes on the badge worn prominently at the rider's waist. It bore the seal of Varian Wrynn, king of Stormwind, and though the mountaineers relaxed their grips on the weapons they bore, they kept them at the ready nonetheless.

The path evened out its incline, and the rider tugged on the reins of the lichly mount, then wrapped them loosely around the saddle horn. Hands thus freed, she reached up and slowly removed the plate helmet that had obscured her features.

Any dwarven male would have once turned his head to gaze upon her. Anyone at all would have called her lovely...once. Now her perfect features were transformed by a waxen pallor and eyes that glowed with a preternatural phosphorescence. Now they stared at her for entirely different reasons...and she was not unaware of the change.

When she spoke, her voice was as hollow and cold as a cavern:

"I'm home."
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