Power in Stories

“There's power in stories, though. That's all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.” – Varric Tethras

Suspicious Circumstances

“Oi, Winnie, ye done sittin’ on yer arse yet?”

Turning his head all the way around to his right so he could see her with his good eye, Reswin replied, “Only visiting, Gwen. Still haven’t been cleared to get back to active duty.”

Gwenia Sternsteel wrinkled her nose at that before she lifted her arm to wipe away sweat from her brow before turning back to the training dummy she’d been fighting. As she settled back into her ready stance she asked, “Eye givin’ ye troubles still?”

“I haven’t tripped over anything recently at least.”

She laughed at that before saying, “That’s somethin’!” Gwenia then flashed one of her daggers in a salute as she added, “Don’t take too long ta come back to us, Winnie. We still need them sharp eyes o’ yers, even if there’s only one lef’ now.”

Reswin fought a brief grimace – since he’d been putting off coming back deliberately with everything going on with the Uncrowned, saying it was still getting used to his changes – and gave the dwarf the most heartfelt grin he could manage. “It’ll be soon,” he assured, “don’t you worry.”

“Good! Now ge’ off with ye.”

Nodding even though she was facing away from him, Reswin continued on his way into SI:7 headquarters. He nodded his greetings to other members as he entered, hoping none of them noticed that his hands were shaking. And he really hoped that Kearris hadn’t been called out of headquarters unexpectedly since he didn’t see him. He was relying on the older man as backup and a potential distraction in this.

The majority of the organization’s records were kept underneath the headquarters, in a secret vault that few outside of SI:7 knew of. Thankfully they were available to every full member so he didn’t have to sneak into try and find what he needed.

As his boots hit the cobblestone floor after climbing down through the hidden trapdoor underneath the stairs, Reswin glanced around to see if anyone else was there. Although the two lanterns closest to the ladder were lit, there were no others at use at any of the tables nor any materials laid out on them. He took a deep breath through his nose just in case, eyes fluttering shut as he focused on deciphering all of the smells. There was only the faint scent of whoever had lit the lamps and the rest was a mix of old wood, musty books and papers, and the strong earthen smell from being underground. Not to mention that his ears suddenly picked up Kearris’ voice from above him, his Gilnean accent standing out from the rest.

Content that he was alone and backup was in place, he allowed himself to relax just a little but kept his ears on alert.

Now, he had to actually see if there were records down here of recent goings ons. Like an answer to the question of why there were suddenly so many spies being sent into Horde territory. Which could have been him if he hadn’t been attacked right before the Legion invasion had started.

Oh, and make sure that SI:7 wasn’t on the trail of the Uncrowned since they were on the trail of the strange goings on in the former.

What a convoluted mess his life was.

With a sigh, Reswin shook his head as he walked to the shelf that should have the most recent reports and orders stored on it and muttered to himself, “By the Light, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” As his fingers touched the topmost book, he suddenly picked up a sound from the shadows of the room to his left.

A subtle shift of chains and the soft scrape of fabric against the cobblestone floor. Then there was a dry chuckle and he grabbed the hilt of one of his swords while jerking around to face it.

“Doing things you shouldn’t be, kid?” asked the voice, rough and slightly gravely with a strong touch of sarcasm. Also definitely male. “I should tell you that betraying SI:7 isn’t in your best interest.”

Growling in the back of his throat, Reswin hissed, “What makes you think I’m betraying SI:7?” There was little use in pretending that he wasn’t there, whoever it was down here with him already knew he was there. But who was it that he hadn’t smelled them? Even as a human his nose was incredibly sensitive and he should have picked up the smell of someone else.

Can’t believe I’m doing this isn’t exactly in the vocabulary of someone who’s doing something good,” pointed out the voice.

Drawing the blade he had his hand on, Reswin dropped into a ready stance as the second bit of speaking had given him a very clear idea of where this person was. Only half the lower level was set up for records and research, the rest of a mostly abandoned section that had never fully been brought up to snuff…which was where the speaker was. He let out a low breath then stalked forward and swung around the corner of the low wall that was a remnant of whatever the basement level had been before SI:7 had taken it over. And froze as glowing yellow eyes regarded him from a half-rotted face.

The undead man tilted his head slightly, the light of his eyes flickering in a way that sort of indicated he was moving them, and then chuckled dryly. As he slumped back against the low wall, the manacles around his wrists clinked together since his hands were in his lap.

“You’re a bit young to be turning traitor, kid,” he commented.

The fuck,” was Reswin’s first response. He then moved forward with his blade at the ready and bared his teeth as he growled, “What are you doing here, forsaken?!”

The undead looked mildly annoyed before he arched an eyebrow and held up his bound wrists, gripping the chains and pulling them taut. They clinked together loudly in a way that made Reswin flinch since adrenaline made his worgen attributes all the more intense but he did notice that the chains were bound to rings embedded low in the wall. There was also a second set of chains that ran from those same rings to manacles around his ankles.

“Prisoner,” stated the undead flatly. “I would’ve thought it was obvious.”

Why?!” he snapped, losing more than a bit of his patience. He could feel the wolf rising in him and knew without looking that white fur was already spreading up his arms underneath the bandages. The undead seemed to notice this as well but he just nonchalantly leaned forward.

“Kid,” he stated flatly, all sarcasm gone, “I’ll answer your questions because Light knows I don’t want some other idiot like I used to be have to turn traitor. But you’ve got to get a handle on that temper and kindly not wolf out on me.”

Reswin growled, already feeling his throat shifting to make the sound deeper and more animal, then closed his eye as he took a hasty step back. He kept his sword in hand as he moved but where he wouldn’t accidentally cut himself and kept backing up until he came up against a wooden support pillar.

Breathe, he remembered the old worgen Jayge who’d taken him under his wing in Stormwind saying to him, and think of something that calms you.

Not of being human?

The old worgen had just snorted and replied, You’re worgen now, son, not human. Best get used to it. You want to go back to the body you were born in? Calm will control the shift until you actually get a grasp of the change.

Leaning his head back against the pillar, Reswin let out a long breath and recalled one of the calmest places he knew. Dunes had a ridge that she loved out in the Redridge Mountains and she’d taken him there many times for training, especially forest types. And they would sit on the ridge at the end of the day as the sun set, drinking good Stormwind brew in silence as they watched it fall in the sky.

Thinking of those days instantly drew the worse of the tense feeling out of his limbs and shoulders, letting him breathe easily in long, slow exhales and concentrate on pushing back the wolf. As he felt the last of the fur recede, he opened his eye and lowered his head to look at the undead again.

The man was just sitting there, watching him with what he could only assumably read as impassiveness – it was hard to read a face with only the eyebrows really to judge by since his eyes were just glowing lights and the skin around his mouth was rotted away to expose the skull with careful stitching between it and the remaining skin. There was no armor on him, his brown pants the light sort that might be worn underneath heavier leather and his shirt was a loose, threadbare white with multiple patches of color on it.

What he did notice was that there was an old brand on the inside of the undead man’s right arm, revealed by rolled up sleeves. He could only see part of it from the angle but he’d devoured old books in the whole of SI:7 during his downtime as a trainee. Even seeing only half, he recognized the single downward angled blade and half of a skull that he could see.

This undead talked about traitors to SI:7 because he had been one.

Moving towards him, Reswin demanded, “Who are you?”

There was silence for a moment as the shadow of a man looked up at him before he replied, “Necronim. Or Saran Tathdyl. Not like you can’t just look me up in these very records down here since SI:7 seems to have been stalking me for years.” He then gave a little shrug before he added in a rush, “Former assassin and traitor to SI:7. Current blade for whoever the fuck I chose, mostly my friends and family. Also currently a prisoner of SI:7 on the orders of Mathias Shaw.”

Stunned, Reswin blinked.

Master Shaw knows you’re here?!”

Master Shaw ordered my being captured from what I got told,” replied the man…Necronim, he’d said? Given that it was the first name stated, he’d go with it. “Apparently had questions for me.”

Now that was suspicious.

Reswin had heard a lot about spies and agents being sent to watch members of the Horde but to capture one? That wasn’t the way that things typically worked in SI:7.

Frowning, he asked, “What sort of questions?”

Necronim’s yellow eyes flicked up at him before he replied with a brief chuckle, “Not good things. Like what sort of reaction the Horde has had to the Broken Shore. Where we got our information for our assault. What casualties did we suffer. Did we intend to retaliate against the Alliance for what had happened there.” He then shrugged before adding on. “Not interesting shit.”

“Sounds like a normal interrogation of a Horde spy to me.”

Now he could tell the undead was glaring at him from the furrowed brow. There was also a distinct…guttering…of his yellow eyes.

“I kill for the Horde when the need comes, kid, same as I did for SI:7 once,” hissed the undead, sounding insulted. “I’m a blade in the dark, not the eyes.” He then paused before flatly stating, “And if you want to know exactly how I got here, it was with my nephew’s life in the hands of that asshole Gorick.”

Reswin flinched at the mention of the man’s name and grimaced. He hated Gorick, almost as much as Dunes did. The man was a stain upon the organization as his mentor always stated and always had been. Then he realized exactly what the undead had said. “Wait, your nephew?”

“My nephew.”

“And he’s living?”

The undead nodded and replied, “He’s just over a year old at this point.” He then bared his teeth and growled, “Gorick or someone else kidnapped him from his own little bed not long after Broken Shore, scaring the shit out of my pretty fucking recently widowed sister and left a letter demanding a trade and that I – the abomination – come alone to do it. So I’m understandably more than a bit pissed at this point having been here since not long after that shitshow of a mission.”

“Gorick woul…”

Don’t tell me or yourself a lie you know is true,” snapped the undead. It was exactly the sort of thing that Dunes might snap off at him back when he was very rarely inclined to actually lie to her. “That eyepatch doesn’t help you much to hide expressions, kid. You know he’s a monster as much as I do.”

Reswin let out a low breath then nodded briefly before saying, “Gorick’s sort of irrelevant though, isn’t he?”

“Except for the fact the he captured an undead for the leader of SI:7. Even I know that you don’t catch things like me. You typically just watch and sometimes try to murder them along the way. Like with Sylvanas’ pet Nathanos. I heard about how that shit went down and killed almost everyone on the job.”

He grimaced because that was true, he’d been given the rundown of that failed assignment by Dunes. And having an undead SI:7 traitor chained up in the basement was definitely the strangest thing he’d encountered as a member.

Tilting his head, Reswin asked softly, “And why should I be inclined to help a known traitor? Why should I trust you?”

Necronim just stared at him with those glowing eyes and his rotted cheek twitched, as if he was trying to smirk, before stating, “Doesn’t look like you’ve got many other options, kid. Down here…alone…looking for some kind of answers and can’t believe you’re doing it?”

“You’re either turning traitor,” he added, “or something is rotten in SI:7. So which one is it?’’

“Why would me being a traitor matter to a traitor?” demanded Reswin, narrowing his eye.

The undead shrugged one shoulder vaguely and replied, “Betraying SI:7 was never what I meant to do. Shitty circumstances get the best of us sometimes and I was…desperate…for reasons I’m not going into. And I’ve always remained loyal to Stormwind in my heart. Never attacked humans without cause.”

“And I’m supposed to just believe that?”

“Believe me or not, kid,” the undead commented, “but I mourned when word came through channels that the King fell at the Shore. Shit, I was almost inclined to actually sneak into a church to light candles and say a prayer even with not being religious in years. SI:7 has been weird ever since – maybe even before – and I’m not inclined to just blithely believe there isn’t a reason for that.” He then lifted his manacled hands up again, the chains clinking. “Especially given the whole taking me prisoner thing.”

Reswin scowled because the undead wasn’t wrong. Could he trust him though? There were undead amongst the Uncrowned but he still hadn’t gotten used to the idea entirely since he’d been brought in. Not to mention…how could he trust a self declared traitor?

Honestly though…did he really have a choice?

At this point the undead could give him away.

“You need to prove I can trust you,” he stated firmly.

Necronim just nodded before asking, “Understandable. And how exactly am I supposed to do that?”

Scratching his chin, Reswin sighed before he looked the undead in his glowing eyes and replied, “Help me find out who killed Amber Kearnen.”

“Kearnen’s dead?” exclaimed the other rogue. He sounded and looked honestly surprised, shaking his head. “I ran across her a few times in Pandaria. She was always impressive, did good work…and you think SI:7 took her out.” The last statement wasn’t a question either but was said as an obvious fact.

“I have a suspicion.”

“Why?”

Sighing, he replied, “Because the knife found in her back was an old SI:7 issue. Second War with the maker’s marks filed off. The kind of dagger that assassin’s nickname their murder knife.”

Necronim nodded slightly at that, murmuring, “I know the one, kid. I had one from the old armory that I got gifted when I made rank, though it probably got destroyed when they branded me. Never bear a traitor’s blade and all that superstitious shit.” He then tilted his head slightly and arched an eyebrow. “How do you know how to recognize that knife if it’s no longer current issue?”

Reswin just smiled grimly and reached down to the knife he kept in his boot, hidden underneath folds of leather and wrapped cloth. He pulled it out and turned it where the undead could see the maker’s mark along the spine, which was old but definitely still intact.

“First War variation,” he commented. “They made them heavier during the Second War era but other than that the design was the same. Didn’t change the look until Third War and we’ve kept the same blades ever since.”

“You’re no assassin, kid, so how the fuck’d you get a knife?”

Smirking, Reswin just said one name, “Duneddae Read.”

The undead’s jaw dropped and he straightened up so quickly his back thudded against the stone wall behind him. “Dunes?!” he exclaimed, his shock obvious. “Wait…Dunes doesn’t give knives to just anyone. I trained with her once or twice in my time and she once kicked my smug young ass up and down the fighting field to prove assassin training wasn’t shit in a bet with my mentor. I was lucky to get away with all my limbs intact and nothing broken. She’s…shit…nearing fifty years now?”

“Wouldn’t know it from the way she still fights in training spars.”

“Fuck, kid. You’re Dunes’ protege?” That made the undead rogue laugh and he shook his head, saying, “No wonder you got a First War knife gifted to you. The Read family has been SI:7 since Intelligence was created and I know they kept the knives of their dead when the variations were retired. Which I’m guessing is also exactly what you wanted me to make note of.”

Well.

That certainly proved that Necronim was telling the truth about his history. The brand confirmed he’d been a traitor…but the comment on Dunes’ family made it solid that he’d at least served honorably for a time. It wasn’t common knowledge that the majority of the Read family had served since the founding and really was only something that would be learned as a member in decent standing.

“I did,” Reswin commented as he returned his knife to its sheath.

“So I passed the test?” asked the undead a bit sarcastically.

“One at least.”

That made Necronim laugh, a rusty sort of sound that rattled in the undead’s chest. He then nodded and the skin on his cheeks twitched in an odd way as he closed his mouth. What was that expression supposed to have been?

“Good answer, kid. Not sure how much I’ll be able to do while chained up to help you figure out what happened to Kearnen but I believe you that SI:7 might have taken her out. We don’t retire those knives. They stay in the family.”

“Exactly,” he agreed.

The undead nodded sharply then his eyebrows furrowed downward. Reswin tilted his head for a moment then sniffed, straining his ears and nose suddenly for anything suspicious. When he didn’t pick up anything other than the usual noises from upstairs and Kearris’ voice still present, he asked, “What is it?”

“We’ve got another problem while we’re at this,” commented Necronim darkly.

“Which is?”

There was silence for a moment from the undead man and then he stared Reswin right in the eyes and made a statement that made his breath catch and his heart skip a beat or two in pure shock.

“I’m pretty sure,” the other rogue stated grimly, yellow eyes gleaming in the dim light, “that SI:7 has been infiltrated…and Shaw isn’t Shaw.”

For a moment Reswin just stared at him then he breathed, “You’re serious.”

“You really think that Mathias Shaw would kidnap a former traitor who’s now an undead on the other side of the conflict just for the shits and giggles of asking him what the reaction was on Horde side? Or order it at all?” demanded Necronim. “‘Cause that’s certainly not the Shaw I remember.”

“No.”

“Exactly.”

Shaking his head, Reswin asked, “So…you want to help figure out what’s going on?”

The undead just shrugged before saying, “Like I said, kid, I’ve still got my loyalty to Stormwind. If someone’s trying to take it down and the King with it…well. I may not have sworn loyalty to the kid but I swore it to King Varian and even if SI:7 calls me a traitor I’m not going to let the city fall. Especially not when my sister and her kids live here.”

For King, for friends, and for family. That’s what drove the undead. He’d already stated pretty much that he’d given himself up to protect his nephew. And Reswin was fairly good at reading people by their words.

That wasn’t the action of a traitor.

But he was probably about to take an action that was going to have Kearris looking at him like he was insane when he related this on the way back to the Hall to report. Not to even mention what the reaction was going to be back at the Hall.

For a minute he just looked at Necronim then he sighed and crouched down, resting his elbows heavily on his thighs. The undead leaned forward with a brow furrowed in what looked like worry, starting to open his mouth, but Reswin beat him to speaking by beginning with his own statement.

“So there’s an organization of rogues in Dalaran these days…”

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