"Team Ratshag Secret Headquarters" said the sign on the door. I was surprised to find a grin creep onto my face. The Orc had an odd sense of humor, I was coming to realize, something seldom seen in Ebon Hold.
I knocked on the door. A minute later, it was opened by a small, hunched-over woman. She peered up at me, if "peered" was the right word. Her eyes were missing, leaving two dark empty sockets in the middle of her face. She was also missing large pieces of flesh, and what remained didn't look to be held on to well. In all honesty, the ghouls I raised while doing fieldwork often looked healthier
"You're early!" she snapped at me venomously. "I'm sstill baking the pies!"
"Ratshag said 6:30..." I said, taking half a step back reflexively.
"Fegh! It'ss not a raid. You don't get kicked for being late. But ssince you're here, come on in." As she stepped back out of the doorway, she straightened up enough for me to see she was wearing an apron with the words "If ye must pynche something, pynche the cooke!" on it.
I followed her into what was essentially a large apartment. A large central room with sofas, chairs, and small tables, a second room on one side with a large table which looked like it was sometimes used for eating and sometimes for meetings, and three small bedrooms to the other side. In the back was a well stocked kitchen and pantry. Just outside the kitchen were three tubs filled with crushed ice and bottles of beer. The Forsaken woman, Danger Mouse she said her name was, nonchalantly picked a bottle out and popped the cap off with an exposed bone in her elbow.
"Here. Rats getss grumpy if you don't drink his crappy beer, so I always pour one out before he getss here and fill the bottle with some dwarven ale."
The bottle she handed me had a cheap label proclaiming it to be "Uncle Bonechomper's Day Old Piss". Lovely. However, I really didn't want to risk offending my host so early in our relationship, and my senses of smell and taste had been dulled considerably since my dark rebirth, so I went ahead and took a swallow. It was ... tolerable.
Mouse was scurrying, for lack of a better word, about the kitchen, throwing ingredients together, pulling pans and implements out of drawers, cleaning others and throwing them back in drawers. I tried to pitch in and help, and received a thwack on the back of my hand hand with a wooden spoon. I backed off before she decided to use the rolling pin next, and settled for polite conversation while she worked.
I found out that she'd been born Nancy Burnside, and grew up outside of Andorhal. She'd been 17 years old when the Scourge outbreak killed her. To me, this sounded like an infant, but humans live such short lives. In fact, she was considered an adult she assured me, and had been planning to marry a man, and leave her parents house. Bob, his name was, or maybe Richard. She wasn't sure anymore. But the plague had come, and apparently she had risen and been absorbed into the Scourge army. Unlike me, she had no memories of this time. Rank-and-file zombies were not required to do much thinking, unlike Death Knights. She came to herself some six months after Sylvanas began her uprising and found herself caught in the midst of the fighting between the Scourge and the Forsaken. She'd managed to work her to Tirisfal Glades, and eventually Ratshag had found her. She'd never been able to find any records of what happened to her family - most likely they had all perished. She said this as if it did not matter, but I was not in the least fooled. She started to mention the human rogue who had become infatuated with her, much to her pleasure, Khol something, when other people began to arrive and she dropped the subject.
There was Ellspeth, a Blood Elf, who promised very sweetly to drain my soul last of all. Phoenicia, a Dwarf with fiery red hair a personality to match, encouraged me to "keep yuir feet on the groond!", which made no sense but seemed friendly and well-intentioned. Another Forsaken, introduced as Galertruby, was most anxious to talk to me. Unfortunately, he was in an even worse state of decay than Nancy, and was completely missing his lower jaw, rendering him completely unintelligible. So I listened, unable to understand a word, and did my best no nod and make affirmative sounds at the right moments. This seemed to work, and eventually he patted me on the arm affectionately and headed off toward the tubs of beer. And of course there was Ratshag himself, who let out an excited roar when he saw me and lumbered over to give me an enveloping hug. The voices in my head screamed at this overwhelming invasion of my personal space - Pestilence! Strangulate! - but I forced a smile onto my face and even managed to gently pat him on the back.
There were others, perhaps a dozen or so, and most were at least politely welcoming. Except for one. A human female with black hair and a red checkered shirt took one look at me and very pointedly walked to the far side of the apartment, glowering. After a minute, Ratshag walked over and began talking to her. They kept their voices low, but we Elves hear better than other races and I could make out much of what they were saying, even over the other conversations in the room.
"... no frickin' way, Ratters!"
"... needs us. Nowhere else to..."
"... Lich bitch traitor ... can't trust ..."
"... know what I'm doing ..."
"... it away from me!"
"That'ss Kinnavieve," said Nancy, next to me. "She has a problem with dead people."
That was it. I just couldn't handle that. No matter how nice Ratshag was, and Nancy, and some of the others, I had to get out. The hatred, the distrust, the contempt - I couldn't take it. Not again. I turned and started walking rapidly toward the door, only to find it blocked by two newcomers.
They were both young by Night Elf standards, these two newcomers, but quite tall. The one was well over seven feet, possibly seven three. She was wearing nothing but some worn leather pants and a bra, and had she was holding a small wooden crate with air holes in one arm. She had a dragon tatooed on her left shoulder, as well as other markings on her hand and ankle. The other, still practically a child but only a few inches shorter, was wearing a simple black dress and sandals. I recognized her, and my heart sank. Palintera Nightwhisper. I'd fought with her father at Mount Hyjal, and seen him die. If that paladin had a problem with me, and my betrayals, how badly must this young Elf loathe me and what I had done?
We stood facing each other. I blinked, unsure how to get past them without making things worse. For some reason, they were both grinning at me, and bouncing up and down, as if excited about something. After a moment, the taller one held out the crate. "We got this for you," she said. "It's a bunny!"
Unsure how to respond, I looked at it. Yes, there was indeed a small white rabbit hopping around inside. And then Palintera stepped forward, arms reaching for me. I tensed, ready to run or, if necessary, defend myself.
But it wasn't an attack. It was an embrace - warm, gentle, almost maternal. Not at all like the boisterous bear hug the Orc had given me earlier. "Welcome home, my sister," she said softly. "Welcome home."
And for once, the screaming in my head faded away. I found myself leaning into that warmth, my arms holding onto her for support. Tension that I had carried for so long I had almost forgotten it was there seeped away, my legs felt weak, and tears streamed down my cheeks.
After so many years, I had made it home.