The Dwarf pondered the possibilities as he sniffed the air for hints of where to go next. Next to him, his tiger, Random, sighed contentedly as he devoured a haunch of fresh meat. It’s best not to watch, the Dwarf thought. Dinner’ll go down easier if ye dunna watch. A futile effort, of course, and cheese looked to figure largely on the menu after the big cat had dined.
But first, the game, which, being afoot, was rather large. Worgen. He had heard tales of this Arugal fellow in Shadowfang Keep, and meant to test his mettle if he could but find his way there and survive the job of getting to the old wizard.
Random growled. “What is it, fella?”, the Hunter whispered, and readied his gun. Were Worgen considered human, or animal, or something else? This close to the gate into Gilneas, where worgen were known to roam, it was hard to predict what might be found, and his tracking senses often got confused. At least if it was one of those damned undead creatures, it would be obvious.
Following instinct, the hunter and his companion proceeded; closer to the gate, all the time. Eventually, the cause of the big cat’s distress was heard; the sound of a young woman, weeping.
She was ragged, frail, despondent. She looked like she could have eaten shoe leather if she could only find some. Hunkered down beneath a fallen tree trunk, she appeared to be trying to stay warm. A wretched specimen. Unlimbering his Common, he tried to reach her. “Here, lass, how do ye end up in such a place as this? Are ye ‘ungry?” He extended his hand, holding a packet of jerky. “Here, ye could use this, from th’ looks of it.”
She jumped at the sound, but didn’t run. Hesitant at first, her hunger overcame her fear and she grasped, and ate greedily. “That’s better,” he coaxed, setting a water skin out where she could get it. “Easy, take your time or you’ll get sick.” Remembering lessons past, he tried to get her to talk, which would slow her down a little.
“Name’s Grimmtooth, formerly of Grim Batol. I’m a hunter with the Alliance these days.” Some interest. “And what’s yer name, lass?”
She paused. Good. “Um. Name’s Illume”, she muttered around a mouthful of food. “‘m a mage.”
“A mage? Haven’t you learned to conjure food yet?”
She froze. Her eyes got wider. “I, uh …. ” – she blushed – “I forgot I could.”
Mages! “Not exactly th’ survivalist type, are you?”, he chuckled She shook her head. “Well, let’s get ye somewhere safe, lass. You from Gilneas?”
She nodded, dejectedly. “They closed the gates. Master sent me to get herbs, I knew where some were out here. They told me. They told me. I, I, didn’t listen. They closed the gates! Oh Gods!” Tears started streaking the dirt on her face before she covered it and started weeping again.
Stunned, Grimmtooth considered options. Well, I think we can call the hunting expedition a wash. Still – they CLOSED THE GATE?
“Lass, stay ‘ere. I’m gonna look around a little, and come back. Get ahold of yerself, eat a little bit. We’ll sort somethin’ out.”
Sure enough, the gate was closed. No guards present, nothing. When asked, the mage professed ignorance of what was going on. After a while, he had to take her at her word.
Taking her back to Southshore seemed to be the best option, staying clear of that damned internment camp. As they travelled, he considered her story. She had no family either side of the wall, she said, and had been staying at her Master’s keep as she trained in the Arcane arts. He had big plans for her, and had started inquiries into Dalaran before it got destroyed.
What to do with her? She was a bit old, but he pretty much had made up his mind anyway. After all, she needed a home, and she probably wasn’t capable of fending for herself quite yet.
“Listen, lass. If you haven’t a place to stay, I’ve been known ta take in an orphan or two in my time. Even if ya just need time ta get back on yer feet before ya move on. I’m a orphan meself, I know how scary it can be. An’ ye can continue yer training in Ironforge, if ye don’t mind Gnomes.”
She was visibly startled. “I … I don’t know what to do. You’re right, I’ve never been on my own. But I feel like I’m … imposing.”
“Well, ye can make up yer mind in a room of yer own in a warm, dry place. Yer not likely to get a better deal.” He grinned at her.
Finally – finally – a smile crept out. Wiping away a stray tear, she knelt down and took his hand. “You’re right, of course. I probably won’t impose on you long, but your offer is most kind and I accept.”
He was still grinning when he realized that somehow a stray tear had snuck out on him as well. Silly Dwarf, he admonished himself. You really need to stop being such an old softie.
“Okay, everybody, turn out! Uncle Grimm’s home and I have a present for ye!”
“You’re home early, Uncle!”, Jasra exclaimed as she came bouncing out of her room – and skidded to a dead stop when she saw the mage. “Oooooo! Hello!”
As his charges gathered in the common room, he presented them to each other. “Flora, Jas, Slithmere – this is Illume, our new cousin. I found her up in Silverpine. She needs a home, so here we are.”
“Illume, we ‘ave here Floramel, who I found on the streets of Stormwind, and Jasra and Slithmere, who I found in Warsong. They’re brother and sister.
Slithmere shyly bowed, and Jasra approached, reaching out to touch her cheek. Illume felt a tingle as healing energy flowed into her. “I’m couldn’t help but notice you were hurt,” the Elf murmured. Brightening a bit, she exclaimed – “Illume! That’s Kaledori for ‘Light Giver’!”
Still a little disoriented, the mage nodded. “You should see what Mom named our pets.” She noticed the warlock – Floramel? – eying her.
“A mage, huh? Probably forgot you could conjure your own food, I bet. I know mages, they’re lucky to remember which end of the wand to point at the bad guys!”
Illume blushed as she heard the dwarf stifle a guffaw. Flora’s eyebrows climbed up into her bangs. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” A look at Illume’s expression was all she needed. “Bah! We’ve got a lot of work to do, sister. Come along then, let’s get you settled!”
And like an exasperated force of nature, she swept the mage out of the room.
Unable to contain himself any longer, the Dwarf let out a chuckle. “I guess we’ll keep her, then.” His night elf charges let out little chuckles as well, and they sat down to catch up while Flora dragged her new sister around the apartment.
As the sun set, he looked out over the Wetlands at the blur that was his old home, Grim Batol. He always told Flora he could see his family’s old apartment windows from here, but they both knew he was pulling her leg. It was a game they both enjoyed.
Now, however, he was contemplating his new charge; who to make introductions to, what possible opportunities she might have in her new home, as well as King Bronzebeard’s reaction to his news about the closing of the Greymane Gate. Change was in the air again, and everybody was on edge. Times like this, it’s good to have a place to call home, and a family of sorts to come home to.
The young mage approached him. “Cousin Flora told me you might be out here.”
“Aye, from ‘ere I can see the windows to my family’s old ‘omestead. I like looking at it. It comforts me.”
She cocked an eyebrow. Oh ho, Flora’s let her in on that already, then. Ruin all my fun, she does!
“I wanted to thank you again for giving me a place to stay. Everybody’s been so kind. But … I won’t be able to stay long. I have to get back to Silverpine, figure out what’s going on somehow.”
“Aye, the hospitality is yours to accept or decline as you wish, but I think Flora’d miss you. As would I. Everybody needs a home, Illume. Even if it’s just for a while. I hope you’ll reconsider.”
Letting out a soft sigh, she knelt down to look him in the eye. “I have to tell you something, then, before I can accept. And I doubt you’ll want me around after that.”
“Well, ye won’t know until ye tell me, will ye?”
Taking a deep breath, she told him.
Letters of Introduction in hand, the young mage approached the mages’ tower in Stormwind. “If anyone gives you any trouble, you just let me know”, Flora had told her. “My friend Milo will take care of it.” From what she’d heard around the tables in the Blue Recluse, she wasn’t so sure she wanted the sort of help that Milo had to offer, but her sister’s assurances were strangely comforting, just the same.
After she had shared her secret with Grimmtooth – Uncle Grimmtooth, she reminded herself – he had rocked back on his heels a bit, then said “Well, it looks like you need help – good thing we found you!” He took her hand and assured her: “Family is unconditional, and yer part of our family now. I’ll keep yer secret for ye, don’t ya fret. And when yer ready, we’ll be there ta help.”
The future was brighter than it had been since that terrible day that her family had been taken from her. With a handful of introduction letters and possibilities, she faced the future with – for the first time in a long time – hope.
Not everybody gets a second chance, she thought. I don’t intend to waste mine.
Now … did they say the office was to the left, or to the right? Come on, Illume, we have much to do!
But I hold on, and I
Feel strong, and I
Know that I can.
Getting used to it.
Lit the fuse to it.
Like to know who I am.
Been talking to myself forever.
And how I wish I knew me better.
Still sitting on a shelf and never, ever seen the sun shine brighter.
And it feels like me, on a good day