Dec. 17th, 2008

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Dearest Tezzin,

I wish every day that i could at least write to you at a fixed address so that I could share even the smallest mintutiae of my days with you; isn't that the right of a spouse? To natter on about the mundane? Instead I'm following the suggestion of our daughter and have decided to keep this journal.

So!

Surely by now the word of the crises in Northrend have reached you in your master's sanctuary. I can't imagine why he keeps you in sabbatical there, when your skills are so sorely needed by so many -- he has always been inscrutable to me. Nevertheless, even a humble nethermancer like myself has been called upon to help the forces against the Lich King; after seeing the devastation his armies wreaked upon the new harbor in Stormwind (and after all the hard work put in by the Dwarven masons!) I couldn't ignore the threat. Even though Varian Wrynn is only newly returned from his, well, let's call it a detainment since I am ignorant of the details; and I haven't had a chance to acquaint myself with his politics, I took it as a good sign that he is open-minded enough to count a young Sin'dorei woman amongst his closest comrades. He also cuts quite an imposing figure! I'm feeling confident that we'll see a lasting peace forged between Horde and Alliance with his help. What a fine legacy for young Anduin to inherit! I'm sure that grave little boy is glad for the opportunity to be a child again. Highlord Fordragon has been sent to Nothrend as well, and though I'm sure Anduin misses his friend and regent, surely it's a small price to pay for being reunited with his father.

Fortunately the libraries of the Explorer's League contain many map folios as well as accounts from good Brann Bronzebeard. Dearest, you know I'm no adventurer, but reading Brann's research notes and status reports is such a comfort before any journey. I tell you, if I ever have the privilege of meeting that dwarf, I shall impress upon him the need to publish some compact traveler's guides!

You will be so proud of Landra, and of Raani as well, who is still boarding at our home. Our daughter is doing great things with her fellow pages of the Silver Hand, helping the Vindicators in the Exodar. She still finds time for her artwork, and indeed, I'm going to run out of walls to hang the lovely paintings that she sends me! Raani has been working hard as well, and although I fear she may never be rid of the stammer that hampers her speech, her command of Common is excellent. She's a joy to have around the house, and has turned her room into a small workshop where she crafts lovely trinkets with gemstones. It's so nice to see tinkering being done...

But I digress, darling husband. I've packed my bags, given Raani the housekeys, gotten Feathers and Suntalon from the stables and will be heading to catch my tram to Stormwind soon. Steam-powered sea routes have opened up from there to the western peninsula of the Borean Tundra and the Alliance have built two posts there--one of them staffed completely by our people! I don't really know what to expect otherwise. I've gotten out my credentials from the Argent Dawn and other entities in the hopes that I can be granted safe passage as a diplomatic representative of Gnomeregan.

And as always, my dear, I strive to live by your example of benevolence and charity.

Ever yours,

Jinx
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Darling, I can't sleep although I'm weary to every last bone. The accomodations here at Valiance Keep --that is what they have called the landing settlement in the Borean Tundra-- are comfortable enough, but my mind is racing. Perhaps adding to this testament will help me to unwind.

Directly after I last wrote, I had to stop in the Tinker Town quarter before embarking on the tram to Stormwind. Gelbin Mekkatorque had summoned a small delegation of our people to his chambers! He didn't keep us long, only to impress upon us the need to be good and honorable representatives of the Gnomish race to whomever we encounter in the lands of Northrend. I gave my assurance that I would do just that...and I knew, my dear, that if you had been at my side you would have done the same. "We are a proud people, but we are not without humility as well, bought at a steep price." Poor Mekkatorque, he carries so much responsibility! But I'm proud to have campaigned and voted for him in the past, and would do so again at the drop of any article of headgear. From there I departed to the Deeprun Tram, where they still haven't been able to solve that rat infestation problem. Ugh!

The last time I was in Stormwind was some months ago; I hadn't seen the new docks. They're impressive, nearly the size of the city themselves, and guarded by seige engines! Unfortunately one of them fell entirely to pieces as I watched the Dwarven artillery corps practice their manouvers--and not a gnomish engineer in sight to administer repairs. I winced in shame, thinking how my dear mother would have been able to diagnose the malfunction with ease. I didn't have time to dally and watch the mechanics since my boat was about to cast off.

The new steamboats in use are swift and comfortable, and I even encountered some old friends aboard the Kraken (such an ill-conceived name, really)! You might recall Raani's elder sister, that loquacious huntress named Uusefin. She's usually unflappable and merry company (although she's oblivious to her misuse of the Common language--Raani said something once about a traumatic head injury when the Exodar crashed, I'm not certain), but the poor thing spent most of the journey hung over the railing plagued with terrible seasickness. I had a packet of gingermint pastilles with me but they didn't do her much good, nor did the ministrations of that mysterious young human cleric, Chloris. Chloris is kind and competent at her calling, but such a cipher that I don't even know her surname. Perhaps she's adopted the Draenic custom of not having a secondary appellation? Ah, well, it matters little. Poor Uusie was absolutely viridian with her gastric misery and it took both of us to help her down the gangplank, with her ursine companion Ioanni bringing up the rear. I've never seen a look of consternation on a bear's face before!

Valiance Keep is far more impressive than I expected. There's already a busy wharf, civillian recruits bustling here and there, liasons and signup sheets and workshops and military drills and regimentals and calvary horses and masons and carpenters! In the midst of all the din I was waved over by a human officer, I believe his name was Blythe? I had my documentation ready, and he certainly seemed relieved upon perusing it and spotting my name. "I've heard about you and what you did in Outland. To be honest, you're a cut above these poor saps," and he jerked his thumb at the line of humans and dwarves waiting to add their name to the enlistment rolls. Let me tell you, Tezzin, there was grumbling, and I worried for my head until I realized they were grumbling at Blythe and not me. Ordinarily I would have given him a piece of my mind for being so flippant! Imagine, denigrating the perceived quality of aid being offered! How typically human.

Forgive me, Tezzin. That was uncharitable and prejudiced.

I wish I had taken an earlier boat, that I might be able to write down my first impressions of the landscape. Other than the ice floes and gray stretches of sand that I saw from the deck of the Kraken I haven't been able to explore past the walls of the keep. After spending so many months traveling around Draenor it will surely be nice to see something more...mundane, I suppose; although nothing compares to my memories of the Gnomeregan that was.

I miss you, dearest. But I am resolute, and comforted by the knowledge that one day you and I will be reunited. I would ask you to hurry...but I don't even know if time runs the same way for you in that place, so instead I maintain, and hope, that you look forward to homecoming as much as I do.

I remain as ever, your

Jinx
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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.

"Cluny."

"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.

"Th' FAMILY NAME..."

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

"But..."

"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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