Warcraft Fan Fiction ❯ Turning Red ❯ Turning the tables ( Chapter 16 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]

“This must be the place,” Phoenix proclaims, showing the map to Seven. “Trixie’s X marks the spot. Eastern wall, third floor up, second from the left.”

He nods; Phoenix looks up. The tall balconies of different apartments overlook the alley below, which is wedged between the back wall of the apartment building and the rear of several other houses, much lower in height than the apartment block. This means those living in them are able to enjoy a breathtaking panorama of Silvermoon City, with the lower buildings not spoiling the view. To Phoenix it appears to have been built in such a way that the apartment is purposefully taller than most homes and shops in the city, giving the owners an impression that they are of a higher class and somehow more important than those around them. 

Phoenix sneers, and in an impulsive move, takes the grappling hook out of her bag and launches it up onto the third-floor balcony with speed and a little anger. It wraps around the decorative wrought iron bars with a clang and holds fast.

“You don’t wait around, do you?” Seven asks.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Phoenix chirps, repeating Seven’s earlier comment and taking hold of the rope in both her hands. 

“Wait,” Seven says. “Before you go charging in like a troll in a trinket shop, keep noise to an absolute minimum up there. Do not talk to me when we’re inside. We work efficiently, split up to find what we need as fast as possible. I’ll wait for you to get up there first and keep an eye from down here. Stay calm, keep the dark iron close and your sword at hand.”

Phoenix makes a mocking face as she hoists her legs up and intertwines them around the rope. 

“I’ve done my training, beauty,” Phoenix mutters.

“You’ve started your training, little beast” he retorts, but she’s already up and away and chooses to ignore his comment. 

All the practice back in the hideout pays off: Phoenix makes light work of the rope and hauls herself over the railings onto the sturdy balcony. From there, she makes a salute down to Seven below, who takes his own rope and grappling hook from his bag and carefully throws it up to Phoenix, who catches it and ties it tightly to the railings without a sound. 

As a much heavier being than Phoenix, Seven puts in a lot more effort to pull his larger frame up his thicker rope, but his muscular arms do the trick and in less than a minute he is up on the balcony. Phoenix begins picking the lock of the balcony’s wooden door inlaid with stained blue glass. Seven stands and waits as she fiddles with a lockpick for a minute to no avail, keeping an eye on the alley below and the balconies around them. Thankfully at this hour, none are in use. 

Phoenix frowns and concentrates, leaning her left ear closer to the lock as she carefully prods the pick along the length of the keyhole, tapping it up and back down every now and then in a bid to raise the tumblers the required distance. She occasionally turns a small tension wrench poking out of the keyhole to try and unlock the door, but in her haste it resets some of the pins and she has to start over. Eventually Phoenix resorts to raking the pick through the keyhole impatiently and flicking the tension wrench more frequently, which makes a little more noise. A satisfying click is made and the door eases open. 

Phoenix leans back, glances at Seven and does a little dance on the spot, jiggling her shoulders, but Seven instantly stamps the childish behaviour out by gently slapping her long ear with the back of his hand. She steps inside the apartment and retains her focus. It’s a small spare room. In the darkness Phoenix can make out some cabinets, a dresser and a bed, with a cuddly hawkstrider beside it. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious items of value at first glance.

Seven closes the balcony door behind them. He then takes a small lantern out of his bag and raises it to Phoenix, but she is already wandering off, away from him. 

Phoenix moves into the next room. She hears a sharp noise behind her and realises it’s Seven clicking his fingers to grab her attention. He’s holding out the lantern to her and scowling. She takes it and uses a match to light the candle inside it, heading through the door ahead, letting Seven search the first room for the mana crystals and staff.

Phoenix finds herself in a narrow hallway, with the apartment’s main entrance at the end of it, to her right. The floor here is cold. She looks down to see it is bright white marble, with navy flecks spread around it. There are two doors in front of her, one straight ahead and one further along towards the entrance, and two behind her, one of which she just stepped through. Phoenix directs the light from the lantern along the hallway, lighting up chests of drawers, a coat rack and some shoes, as well as some decorative paintings of Silvermoon and expensive-looking ornaments. A bone china jug. A rabbit. A bust of an old-looking elf. She checks the drawers and finds nothing of relevance. 

A carriage clock is ticking on a shelf beside her, with a mirror above it. She takes a moment to pause and look at her reflection in the shadows, to think about what she’s doing. She raises the lantern and the candlelight pooling from within reflects back at her, turning her hair golden. In those few seconds she feels nothing from the blue eyes and red mask staring back at her, no remorse for what she’s about to do, nor any fear, though she knows feeling it now would not be unwise. Instead, there is a fluttered excitement within her, even a little arrogance, and a resentment towards the apartment’s owner for crossing Trixie. A knot of conflict betrays the latter, as she thinks about her increasingly confusing and untrusting relationship with the goblin. She shakes the thought away.

Phoenix silently opens the left-hand door in front of her, opposite the balcony room, and thinks she hears another noise as she does so. She freezes and quickly moves the lantern around looking for any traps. But it’s just a bedroom. A lavish one, mind, with purple drapes over the large four-poster bed. There appears to be nothing of danger around.

All of a sudden there are footsteps outside the front door and a key goes into the lock. Her instincts were right. Phoenix swivels to try and alert Seven somehow. He hears it too, and turns towards the hallway. The orc rushes towards the door nearest him and notices Phoenix staring back from the doorway opposite, across the hall, her eyes wide open in shock as her lantern flails wildly. He nudges his head in a command for her to move, blows his lantern out and closes the hallway door quickly and quietly. 

Phoenix blows her candle out just as the front door opens and dives into the bedroom, leaving her door ajar mid panic, while being careful not to knock the lantern into anything. 

Just as she hears the front door open, she decides to scurry under the bed - but the lantern and bag will barely fit, so she hastily hides them under one the thick pillows. Luckily, there are two on each side of the bed, so her items are well-hidden. Phoenix shuffles under the bed as quickly as she can without making noise, lying face-down. 

A dim light from the hallway switches on and glows under the ajar door. Phoenix hears someone fumbling around outside, opening and closing drawers, followed by their footsteps which are gradually getting louder, clacking on the marble floor. It must be the apartment owner Trixie mentioned. Have they forgotten something? Are they coming into this room? 

The footsteps reach the doorway, and stop, abruptly. They must have noticed the slightly open door. The clock in the hallway outside ticks loudly. Phoenix holds her breath. Streaks of light pool from the well-lit hallway into the dark bedroom. The door creaks as it’s slowly pushed open. 

The lamps inside the bedroom light up themselves, probably by magic, Phoenix thinks to herself. She closes her eyes tight. The elf feels her heartbeat thump in her chest as she lays perfectly still, face down. She is positioned under the centre of the bed, amongst shadows, and dares not move to the edge for a closer look for fear of being spotted. Instead, she keeps her face down and listens. Phoenix finds herself holding the coin Django gave her, gripping it tight, praying to no one in particular that the elf does not spot it.

She hears muffled footsteps on the carpet as the figure shuffles over to a wardrobe about a metre away from her. The door creaks open and the person begins rummaging around inside. Phoenix hears something being slid across the wardrobe’s floor and the clink of glass or something fragile. The wardrobe door closes and the person exits the room, snapping their fingers to snuff out the lights before shutting the door behind them.

Phoenix remains still, listening for noise in the hallway to make sure they’re gone, but it is difficult to hear anything clearly where she is. After a couple of minutes lying still, she crawls out from under the bed and stands slowly, before tip-toeing over to the door. Phoenix presses her ear to it and listens carefully. She can hear the ticking of the clock - probably the loudest damn clock she’s heard. A door squeaks like a mouse. 

Phoenix darts back under the bed and listens. The bedroom door opens. There are slow, heavier footsteps shuffling around the room. This time, blanketed by the darkness, Phoenix tilts her head towards the edge of the bed, looking out. In the darkness she sees two huge legs shifting around and has to hold back a laugh at someone Seven’s size trying to sneak about.

“Seven!” she whispers.

“Phoenix!” he replies in a gravelly whisper. “Where are you?”

“Under the bed!” she answers. “Are they gone?”

“Yeah,” he responds, keeping his voice low.

Phoenix scurries out from under the bed and stands beside Seven, letting out a deep sigh of relief.

“That was close,” she says. “Our friend must have forgotten something. He took something from the wardrobe.” 

“I took something too,” Seven grins, holding out a golden sceptre.

“You found it! Where?” Phoenix exclaims in hushed tones.

“Not now, we shouldn’t be talking - I can explain later,” Seven says. “I still haven’t found the crystals though.”

“Okay I’ll check the wardrobe, you look around elsewhere,” Phoenix says, lighting her lantern again. She moves to the wardrobe and opens it. The two wide doors open up to reveal a long clothes rack and an assortment of shelves. The base of the wardrobe is messy, with shoes, scarves and other accessories scattered around. Phoenix reaches out and touches along the base with haste. She feels a cardboard box towards the back, concealed by all the clothes, and pulls it. As she does so, the large box makes the same sliding sound she heard earlier. 

She removes the lid and shines her lantern into the box to reveal an assortment of glistening deep blue mana crystals. Their owner led her right to them.

“Bingo,” Phoenix says low. “These your boys?” she asks Seven. 

The orc turns his head and takes a closer look. 

“That they are,” he smiles. “Quickly, help me put them into my bag. You can carry the sceptre.”

Seven places the sceptre onto the bed and turns his focus to the mana crystals. The orc and elf get to work quickly and within seconds the sack is full. Phoenix collects the golden sceptre and slides it into her belt. It rests on the right-hand side of her hip, contrasting with the rapier and its scabbard on her left.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Seven says, heading out of the room.

Phoenix does not follow him. The orc stops as he reaches the doorway and turns around to look at her. She is in thought.

“What now?” he asks. 

“What about the motive?” she asks, quietly. “Trixie said to find out why he’s not paying up.”

“I think given the situation, we leave that part for another day,” the orc responds. “This guy will no doubt find Trixie’s business partner once he realises the stash is gone. He seems meticulous, we don’t want to trash this entire apartment and waste more time when we could be getting away with the goods.”

Phoenix grins a wicked grin his way. Seven stares back at her with mild despair.

“We’re standing in an expensive apartment, owned by a wealthy individual, and you seriously expect me to just leave with a bunch of crystals and a silly little cane?” Phoenix states, brushing the sceptre. “Plus, trashing an entire apartment sounds like a great stress-relieving activity.”

Seven frowns and sighs, while closing his eyes. He can feel her grin burning into him even without any vision.

“Oh no,” she adds. “We’re going to show this guy he made a mistake. And we’re going to get a little richer along the way.”

Seven begins to say something but Phoenix continues: “Plus, Trixie did say to recoup the payment he still owes us…”

Phoenix trails off, leaving a higher-pitched twang to her voice as she does so, attempting to make the proposition more attractive to Seven. 

The orc closes his mouth and stares at her, before shaking his head and looking away.

“Fine,” he succumbs. “But we’re not trashing the place. And we stay only for a few minutes. Grab some gold and valuables and we get out. Finding the motive is a bonus, not a necessity.”

Phoenix smiles and leaps into action, noisily swinging open cupboards and drawers to rummage through them.

“Be quiet about it would you!” Seven half whispers, half shouts.

“What, quieter than your booming voice, you mean?” Phoenix quips. “That shouldn’t be hard.” 

She smiles to herself as she searches for gold, finding a few coins in the bedside cabinet and flicking one into the air, before catching it. She can feel Seven’s eyes boring into the back of her skull, which only lengthens her smile.

Over the next few minutes the pair manage to pilfer a few expensive-looking gemstones and ornaments, which they place into Seven’s sack. Phoenix also pockets some lone gold pieces.

The elf is still going through some drawers in the hallway by the ticking clock when Seven stops the search short.

“Come on, we have more than enough now,” Seven says. “Let’s leave.”

“But there’s more we can take here,” Phoenix interjects, frowning while keeping her eyes focused inside the drawer in front of her, lit up by her lantern. Her curiosity and eagerness meandering dangerously into greed. 

“Don’t get greedy, we’ve got what we came for and overstaying could cause problems,” Seven replies. “Plus, this sack is getting heavier. We don’t need it weighing us down further.”

“Okay, spoilsport,” Phoenix says, about to close the drawer when she comes across a small stack of letters.

She hurriedly pulls the notes out, brings them up to the lantern and skim-reads them. It’s the proof they are looking for. A trader is trying to undercut Trixie by promising to get the buyer the same crystals for less, and is offering large amounts of gold and other goods for Trixie’s crystals in order to take them off the market. The notes paint Trixie as a wanted smuggler and details a plan to ruin her business - and eventually get her locked up.

“Hurry up!” Seven calls from the room they first entered, by the balcony. Phoenix takes the letters and shoves them into her bag.

“Calm that thick head, just give me one more minute to cover my tracks,” Phoenix responds jovially, before taking out a lockpick and quietly but crudely carving the word ‘NAUGHTY’ into the wood where the letters were. “You check that first room one last time.”

Seven grunts. “I’ll be waiting by the exit.”

When Phoenix is finished, she walks to the room by the balcony and smiles casually at Seven as she passes him. He wears a frown but Phoenix swears she can see some admiration beneath it.

“Cockiness leads to arrogance, to carelessness,” he adds, opening the balcony door for Phoenix.

It also leads to success, Phoenix thinks to herself. Feeling a little aggravated by his lecturing, she decides at the last second not to speak the words aloud or reveal the motive to Seven.

The elf instead lifts her bandit mask down below her mouth so Seven gets the underlying message beneath her forthcoming words.

“You’re sounding like Trixie now,” she says, looking into his eyes for a moment before lifting the mask again and passing through the door, not allowing him to properly respond.

“Let’s just get out of Silvermoon,” he growls. 

Phoenix wishes it were that simple. Anxiety stabs at her as she thinks about how she will tell Seven what she’s thinking.

Phoenix attaches the grappling hook to the rails of the balcony and lets the rope fall to the floor into the darkness of the alley below them.

She turns to re-lock the door with her pick, but Seven is already doing it, so she hoists over the balcony grating and slowly slides down the rope to the floor. As she does so, she thinks again about how to speak the words she’s thinking aloud. She dismisses the idea, then allows it to come forward again. This inner conflict frustrates her.

“I’m throwing the bag down to you,” Seven says, quietly from the balcony, before letting it fall gently from the edge. Phoenix, her mind elsewhere, manages to catch it and places it on the floor. One of the mana crystals cuts into her arm but she doesn’t complain.

Phoenix casually leans up against the wall underneath the balcony, folding her arms and bending her left knee so the sole of her foot is pressed against the brickwork. Definitely false confidence.

Seven makes the descent and one of the iron rails creaks under his weight. He eventually touches down on the floor. As he grabs the rope again to pull it down towards him, Phoenix blurts out: “I’m going back to the inn.”

Seven pauses in thought. Phoenix stares back at him, thinking about her last moments at the inn and what she went through, and how some kind of closure could be good for her. He wriggles the rope until the hook breaks free and twists down into his hands.

He says: “Are you sure that’s a good idea -”

“No, I’m not,” Phoenix responds coldly. “But I need to go back there. What else are we supposed to do all night anyway?”

She raises her hands and folds them again. Seven looks conflicted too. He wants to stop me, Phoenix thinks, but he also wants me to move on.

“Okay but I can’t go in there, look at me,” he adds. “I need to stay away from crowded or well-lit areas. I’ll find a place to hide outside, you blend in and do what you need to do. We must lay low.”

Phoenix nods, surprised by his immediate acceptance of her idea.

“Thank you,” she says, her aggravation dissipating somewhat.

He offers a half-smile her way, which is difficult to notice for the mask covering his mouth, but Phoenix can see it in his eyes - and returns a smile.

The duo take the long route towards Murder Row and the inn’s back entrance, keeping to the shadows and saying little to one another as they walk. 

“Well, that job was easy,” Phoenix says, low, with a touch of smugness about it.

“Too easy,” Seven replies, implying something about the mission felt off.

They turn the corner and Phoenix sees Murder Row ahead of her, the inn at the end. She stops to look at the cobbled floor and the memory comes flooding back. 

She sees herself again running at full pelt, frightened, tumbling into that old elf, sending her bag - and his staff - flying. A smile creeps across her face, masking the anxiousness that threatens to flutter inside her chest again.

“Are you okay?” Seven asks.

She nods. “Just an old memory.”

As they walk down this wide alley towards the back door of the inn, Seven looks around for a place to lay low. He spots a couple of beggars sleeping beside the wall to his left, behind a row of bushes and some bins. There are thick shadows creeping along the length of the alley, and Seven thinks he can hear the shuffle of others in the shadows closer to the inn. He is on alert, but appears calm.

Seven turns to Phoenix and places his large hand on her shoulder. 

“Stay safe, beast,” he says. “I’ll be right here.”

Phoenix nods again, not knowing what to say. A mixture of emotions curdle inside her and she cannot find the words to convey what she’s feeling or even acknowledge what Seven is saying, so she simply nods again and smiles with a slight frown.

She watches Seven as he turns and saunters over to the couple of sleeping homeless elves, and wonders how a being his size can move like that, so covertly and carefully, without drawing attention.

She turns back to the inn at the end of the alley and takes a deep breath. The old grey building seems to stare back at her as she approaches, and the shadows pooling from the left and right threaten to envelop her somehow. In her mind’s eye she imagines the glint of a royal guard’s armour by the inn door, next to the lifeless body of Chrim, the guard slowly turning to face her. She shakes her head and brushes the memory aside, breathing in the cool night air and walking with poise. 

As Phoenix approaches the old oak door, she looks down and half expects to find Chrim’s massacred body and bloodstains there, then feels somewhat surprised to find nothing there, even though she knows she shouldn’t. 

There’s the laughter and hubbub of patrons emanating from the other side of the door. Nothing has changed. Life has continued as usual. For everyone except her, Chrim and her mother, it seems. 

Phoenix pushes the door open slightly, letting the noise of the inn spill out towards her. She peeks through and sees the usual mix of elves, dwarves and others drinking at tables, socialising and enjoying themselves.

As she steps into the inn, she instinctively looks to her right. And there he is. The dark skin and bald head of the bouncer. Her old friend, Solari, standing tall, looking straight ahead, then to the right, scanning the surroundings and making sure everything is as it should be. He turns to the left and makes eye contact with Phoenix.

Her eyes soften and she pulls the mask down from her face, again struggling to find any words. Her mouth curves upwards as she finds hope in an old pair of eyes she hasn’t seen in months.

Solari leans forward slightly and tilts his head in thought. His eyes widen and his mouth opens in mild shock.

“Phoe?” he asks.

As she responds with a bright, warm smile, Solari immediately puts his arm around her shoulder and guides her back outside.

“You mustn’t be seen in here!” he whispers loudly. “Come.” 

Solari closes the inn door behind them and looks down the alley to see if any guards are around.

“You are wanted by the Royal Guard and this inn now belongs to the state,” he says. “There’s a price on your head! What are you doing here? Why-” 

“Wow Solari, it’s good to see you too,” Phoenix responds, her warm voice cutting through his frantic demeanour. He appears to be shocked by her calm tone and assurance. 

His pained expression melts away, replaced by genuine happiness. His face changes again, to sorrow, as his chin wobbles with sadness. 

The pair hug. Phoenix can hear Solari quietly weeping into her shoulder and it starts to set her off. 

“I thought you were kidnapped like your mother!” Solari says, his voice muffled by Phoenix’s tunic.

Mention of Amelia hits Phoenix harder than any punch. Her heart suddenly aches and the thought that she may never see her mum again makes tears trickle from her eyes down to Solari’s shoulders. Why has she been wasting time with Trixie and the crew when she could have been searching for her mother herself? Phoenix makes no noise as she cries, but shudders with sadness and pain.

After the pair take a few moments to let their emotions out, they withdraw. Solari asks Phoenix: “What happened to you? Who framed you? Was it the Steelfeathers?”

“How do you know about them?” 

“The note, the mark of the feather,” he answers. “Chrim never trusted them, they caused plenty of trouble here over the years. Now this.”

Phoenix thinks deeply, a confused expression spreading across her face and forehead. She had just assumed it was her who killed Chrim. There couldn’t have been another possibility, right? Surely the Steelfeathers couldn’t have orchestrated it? Why would they? Was she drugged, was her blackout brought on by something else?

“I… I don’t know,” she says, not wanting to tell Solari she murdered their former employer. “I mean, I had a blackout. I remember Chrim telling me about mum being taken, then I wake up next to his dead body. I have no memory of what happened in between.”

Solari stares into her eyes as he takes in this information. He glances at the bandit mask around her neck, the sword in her scabbard, an expensive-looking sceptre in her belt, the deep-red clothes covering her body. She suddenly feels ashamed.

Phoenix says: “Don’t worry about me, I’m safe. I have found a lovely group of… people… looking after me on the outskirts of town north-west of Fairbreeze Village, not far from Sunsail Anchorage. They have helped me, trained me, brought me out of my shell.”

“Trained you? Phoe, who are they?” Solari asks.

Phoenix shakes her head, protecting Trixie’s identity. “It’s not important. Do you know where my mother is? I must find her.”

“I’m not sure I’m afraid,” he replies. “But I did tail one of the Steelfeathers the other day, after closing. He went into what looked like a lone abandoned house in Skulking Row, west Silvermoon, towards the water’s edge. I daren’t enter alone. I was thinking of telling the authorities, the Steelfeathers are wanted -”

Phoenix raises her eyebrows in surprise. “No, please don’t,” she blurts. “That may make the situation worse and it may come back to you. Do you know anything else?” 

He shakes his head.

“Thank you, Solari,” she says, hugging him again and catching him off guard. She turns to leave as if nothing happened.

“Wait!” he says.

“I don’t want to get you into trouble, we must not waste any more time,” Phoenix responds. “I came here for answers and you’ve given them to me. I’ve no need to go back into that inn and blow my cover… I will write to you instead. We can discuss more that way.”

Solari nods twice and places his hands on Phoenix’s shoulders. 

“It’s good to see a familiar face,” Phoenix says, smiling, but not knowing if she will see it again.

“You too, Phoe, please take care of yourself won’t you?” 

She nods, pulls her mask up and turns away, walking back down the alley towards the beggars at the end of it - and her orc friend hidden beside them. 

Sadness sweeps over Phoenix, making her want to look back, but pride and a newfound inner strength prevent her from doing so. She is so young to have lost her mother and be in this mess, but it’s up to her to find her way out of it. She forces herself to block out negative emotions and tries to relax. She spots Seven and this helps. Soon they will be out of here, safe and on their way back to the hideout. 

But there is no safety here. As she reaches halfway down the alley towards the exit, four or five figures emerge from the shadows to surround her.