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Bitter Mystery
Khrale sifted his long, callused fingers through the disturbed needles. The smell of freshly disturbed, rich loam made him smile in remembrance of old lessons. Ahead of him, no more than a pace distant, a mottled brown leaf lay half-overturned, its underside still damp and dark. The sun hadn’t had long to burn the color from that portion yet. He sighed and shifted, letting out a soft grunt as his thighs threatened to cramp up from crouching for so long.

“What is it Khrale?â€Â
Everlook was as dreary as ever, Khrale thought. His exposed skin tingled, almost painfully, and his breath misted from his nostrils, seeming to hang in the still air for far too long after he’d walked through it. The sky was iron-grey, with heavy, low-lying clouds hiding the sun once again. He was a little thankful for that, however – he didn’t like passing through the region with squinted eyes all the time. He never had, in fact, despite all the years he’d spent there with his father.

Fresh snow had fallen overnight, blanketing stacks of crates and bundles of supplies, giving them the appearance of miniaturized mountains. But despite the fresh snowfall, the main tracks into town and between the buildings was already hard-packed, even a little slick in some places. He stepped carefully, not wanting to slip and fall on his rear. The passing humans would simply love that, he thought. And the goblins would laugh until they were sick. He grinned, remembering how he’d laughed along with them, so many years ago.

The air was bitter with hot forge-smoke, and the sounds of dwarves at work at the small forge, tucked back between two huts, rang through the air. Khrale glanced over, but he recognized none of the dwarves, nor any of the goblin helpers who were busy shoveling coal into the furnace. Radiated heat made the air hazy where they worked, and the walls of the flanking buildings, normally sheeted in ice, sweated.

The inn was quiet when he passed it, for once. Normally it was bustling with visitors at all hours of the day. But perhaps it was simply too cold for most to be out. It was never too cold for the goblins that ran Everlook, however. Bruisers Khrale didn’t recognize patrolled the town, turning suspicious eyes he way now and again, but he ignored them, concentrating instead on his destination. The burst of laughter and high-pitched, guttural speech from a handful of throats from a building to his left told him he was almost there. Nixxrak and his brothers spent more time socializing with one another than they actually did working.

Khrale dipped his hand inside his heavy shirt, patting the shallow clay container, tucked down between his mail and outer clothing, held in place by his Plains-Kodo belt, for reassurance. Days ago, after the ranging hunters had come back with no further reports for him and Chaska, he’d decided to try something different. He’d gone back to that same site of horror, alone, two nights previous, and scraped up as much of the dried blood as he could. He’d been thankful that it hadn’t rained at all – otherwise his opportunity to find out what was happening would have been lost. The woods had been eerie in the dead of the night, and he’d caught himself looking over his shoulder quickly more than once with paranoia. But he had his blood now, and hopefully soon, some answers.

He hadn’t told Chaska. He wasn’t sure whether or not she’d approve, but he didn’t want to worry her either way. He glanced around quickly, and, seeing nobody looking his way, slipped behind Lorrix’s small mining store, to the shadowy area, cluttered with rusting cages and machinery, where Witch Doctor Mau’ari worked her hoodoo, for those who could afford her prices. Khrale turned his cold blue eyes to the hulking tauren that stood protectively nearby, his heavy axe loose in his huge hand, his deep-set charcoal eyes boring into Khrale’s with almost frightening intensity. Krhale grinned at him, and Storm Shadowhoof grunted in reply, dipping his head quickly to indicate his assent at the proposed visit. Mau’ari and her taciturn bodyguard had been in Everlook for as long as Khrale remembered. As many times as his father had warned him away from bothering them, or even going near them, for fear of what might happen just by association, Khrale had found ways to satiate his curiosity. It wasn’t difficult, after all, when his father sometimes disappeared for days, if not weeks, on end on some ranging, with only easily-distracted goblins left to mind him.

Mau’ari gazed at him from behind her voodoo mask. Khrale had never seen her without it, nor did he think he ever wanted to. If Storm’s eyes had been intense, Mau’ari’s were something else altogether frightening to behold. This was a troll who’d lost her way, he thought to himself. She could probably have been a great shaman, or mage, once – perhaps even an exceptional priest. But the darker paths had called to her, and consumed her utterly. She wasn’t evil though – no, far from it, Khrale knew. She studied the darker aspects of life, but she still had a strange sort of morality that kept her from Thrall’s justice. She wasn’t Darkspear though, he knew that much about her, and little else.

“Mau’ari know why you seek her out, Khrale,â€Â
((<loves mysteries>))
(( ! I want morrrrre!))
When he finally found her, Chaska was swimming, paddling lazily in the pond on the lowest level of the Bluff. Khrale has spent most of the day looking for her, asking around Orgrimmar, but nobody had seen her. It was surprising, when he thought about it. She was much loved by the Tribe, so for nobody to know was a little bewildering, if not distressing, to him anyhow.

Thunder Bluff was not quite the last place he thought he’d find her, but almost. Chaska didn’t seem to spend much time in Mulgore anymore. He reminded himself to ask her about that one day.

He exited the base of the huge, totemic windrider tower and crossed the swath of green slowly. The Bluff was always peaceful and serene. The Tauren went about their business with a modicum of fuss and bustle, seeming to prefer to take their time, to enjoy the day in its fullness. Plump, yet small, brown birds swooped and banked through the air above him, moving from the peak of one roof to the next, seemingly at random, and with no apparent purpose. Khrale grinned despite the heaviness weighing down on his heart. The instincts that drove birds would always mystify him, unlike much too many other things in the world.

He stopped at the edge of the pond and crouched down beside Chaska’s pile of mail and other gear. He watched her duck her head under the water, then snort and shake it from her twitching ears. She turned lazily toward him and eyed him in an all too familiar way. She didn’t say anything – no, just studied him for a long moment before raising one bushy eyebrow in question.

Khrale sighed. “What be you doin’? I be lookin’ for you Chasky.â€Â
((<wonders what she'll do next!>>)) More!
Don't mess with the trees!

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

~Bill Cosby

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