They had one last night in the house. Idira spent the evening gathering the few possessions they still had left and carrying them into VanCleef's room for packing into leather satchels. As she set down the last of her books onto the scuffed parquet floor, she noticed Myra hadn't done any packing during the time she had been away.
Her sister wandered around the room, aimless, lifting things up and putting them back down, unable to bring herself to pack anything. Myra hadn't said a word since she had gone back up to her room, but now, as darkness set in and the room darkened with shadows, held back by the faint light of a single candle, she began to plead with VanCleef to allow her to stay until the attack against Stormwind was over.
VanCleef shook his head and said it wasn't safe in Moonbrook anymore, explaining Jac's men now possessed more than half of Westfall. Ten days ago, Kip had told him he no longer had enough men to keep Jac's growing army of criminals and thugs out of Moonbrook. Within a fortnight, he predicted the town would be Jac's. When Myra asked why VanCleef couldn't leave more men at the house, VanCleef crossed his arms and said he needed his men in the mines working on the final stages of ship's outfitting, not fighting a losing battle against Jac. Besides, he said, once he had taught Stormwind his lesson, they really would have no reason to return to Westfall, with a ship like The Night's Cutlass, they could go wherever they pleased, could even cross the Great Sea and visit Kalimdor. Myra turned away, but not before Idira caught the glint of tears in her sister's eyes. She knew what her sister was thinking. If they went across the sea, Myra would never see Benny again.
'I have been working night and day to have everything ready in time,' VanCleef said, watching Myra as she went into the closet and brought out her only other dress and lay it on the bed. She stared at it, forlorn. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes and rubbed them hard before looking up at her again. He looked like he could fall asleep standing up. He leaned against the fireplace pillar. 'I haven't slept for more than three hours in the last two days trying to finish everything for you,' his gaze flicked over Vanessa, curled up asleep on the bed, before he continued in a low voice. 'I have done all this so you and the girls would not have to suffer, as I have had to do, washing in cold water and sleeping in rough berths. Can you not see I have done all this for you, my love? To protect you, and keep you safe?'
Myra sank down on the bed and let out a low cry, hollow and hopeless. Idira set aside her book, their conversation too distracting for her to be able to focus on making the agonising choices of deciding which books to keep and which to leave behind.
'If you take me in there, I will die,' Myra shuddered. She looked up at him, her face filled with anguish. Her eyes moved from his down to one of the daggers hanging from the belt on his hips. 'I cannot live in the dark,' she whispered. 'I can't. I won't. I will kill myself first.'
VanCleef pushed away from the fireplace and went to the bed. He stood over Myra, a spark of anger flaring in his worn features. 'Do you have any idea what Jac has become?' he asked, harsh, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. 'The women his men have captured are slaves, chained to stakes like animals, forced to work in the camp by day, and raped every night. I have no reason to believe your fate would be any better. Jac has proven over and over how little he cares for his own flesh and blood. Do not make me force you in this matter, because if I must, I will.'
At his words Myra sagged and folded into herself. She wept anew, defeated, her hands pressed to her face, her thin shoulders shaking, but she didn't argue anymore. VanCleef sat down beside her and took her into his arms, hushing her and rocking her, trying to console her. After a little while, Myra pulled away from him and lay down, putting her back to him, her face streaked with tears. She closed her eyes.
Idira got up and lifted a cover over her sister. In the light of the flickering candle, Myra looked terrible, her face gaunt and exhausted, dark smudges surrounded her eyes. Only a shadow of her beauty still tinged her features. She reminded Idira of how she had looked that one winter on the farm when they were at their hungriest, on the brink of starvation, long before all of this began. It was like they were going back to the beginning again. Everyone hungry, everything hopeless.
VanCleef stood up and watched Myra as she drifted into sleep, his hands on his hips, his expression filled with extreme tenderness. Idira realised VanCleef probably loved Myra as much as Benny did, but in a completely different way, not for the person she was like Benny did, but as an ideal of who he believed she was, that only he could reach.
Idira went back to her little pile of books, all she had managed to keep back from that hideous goblin during his final foray. She had been told she could only bring three books with her, the other eight would have to be left behind, but VanCleef had promised he would hide them in the cellar's secret room, where they would be safe until they could be collected again one day, after he defeated Stormwind. She had nodded, obedient, her eyes catching Unambi's who shook his head and looked away, sharing her misgivings. They both knew they wouldn't be coming back. She sighed and sorted through her books again, deliberating which of her friends she would have to abandon to their awful fate, left in the cellar to rot.
The next day they left, carrying the last of their worldly goods on their backs. Cook stood at the door and waved a tearful goodbye. Despite VanCleef's warnings, she insisted she was too old to be going on such an adventure and besides someone needed to stay and look after the house until VanCleef came back.
Despite knowing it was cruel to put a cat on a boat in a cave, Idira couldn't bring herself to leave Blackie behind for Papa's men to find, so she placed her cat into a basket and closed the lid. Then, just like she had done seven long years ago, she picked up her companion and left her home, following the others across the square as they began the long walk through the deserted town towards the desiccated plain separating the town from the sea, and on to the cliff road that led down to the docks and their new life.
She turned around just before they left the square to look one last time at the big house. She gazed at the window to her room and imagined seeing herself looking out that window, never allowed out to play with the other children, a prisoner in a gilded cage. Over the years, she had had some happy moments, but everything about living with VanCleef had been overshadowed by strife and fear. She realised despite his once great wealth and power she hadn't really been happy there, and a part of her was glad to be leaving, to be moving closer to the day when she would stand on that balcony in the floating city with the hero called Khadgar.
'Bye house,' she whispered. Somehow it felt right to say it, within those walls, she had been educated and trained to have manners fit for a palace, things she would never have experienced even in the best of all other outcomes. Perhaps that house was important for her preparation for her future, for that day when she would meet the hero Khadgar. Perhaps everything had a meaning, even though at the time it felt like nothing made any sense at all. She sighed, her heart heavy. Or perhaps there was no meaning to anything, and her dream of a floating city had only been just that, a dream, as fanciful as her fairytales. She had never dreamed of Khadgar again, though every night she wished she would.
She turned to find Unambi waiting for her, his expression filled with sadness. He shifted the heavy bags so he could hold out his hand to her. She took it and together they left, neither of them speaking, even Blackie lay quiet in her basket, subdued by the oppressive silence of a town left with nothing but the memories of the laughter and voices of the townsfolk, long gone, sighing in the wind.