That night, as Idira stood over Blackie's grave under a smoke blackened sky, she sensed someone watching her. She looked up, wary. Clad in black leather, a female slid from the shadows of the acacia trees and paced towards her, as graceful as a cat. Idira took a step back, wary. She had nothing with which protect herself, save her Light, which she wasn't sure she could count on. She half-turned to glance at the house, where she could see Unambi, bathed in candlelight, moving around, cleaning up the mess of broken crockery. She need only scream—
'I won't hurt you,' a feminine voice murmured, right behind her. 'I just wanted to make certain you were safe, after that.'
Her heart in her throat, Idira turned and met the dark eyes of the hooded young woman, lit by the soft light from the house.
'Vanessa?' she asked, uncertain, eyeing the set of large, vicious looking daggers the other woman wore on her belt.
The young woman nodded, terse. She pulled back her hood, just a little, so the deeper shadows left her face.
Idira stepped back, astonished, her hand going to her mouth. For a heartbeat she faltered, believing she was seeing the ghost of Myra when they still lived on the farm, for in Vanessa's face Idira glimpsed the same expressive eyes, and the familiar contours of her sister's cheekbones, jaw and brow.
Vanessa held up her hand, as though asking Idira to wait. Idira nodded, though her heart continued to pound, her mind caught in the echoes of the past as Vanessa glanced from side to side before cautiously pulling her hood back. Her niece's short, dark hair, mottled with sweat at the temples transformed her from memory into reality. Idira lowered her hand. This was no ghost, but the grown-up daughter of VanCleef and Myra, bearing Myra's features and VanCleef's colouring.
Vanessa glanced down at the little mound of muddy soil, bearing a stone at its head with Blackie's name etched across it. Her face tightened.
Idira nodded, her heart clenching in a fresh arc of pain.
'I'm sorry. She was a nice cat.'
Idira didn't say anything. She didn't know what to say. Logan's words tumbled through her mind, jagged and angry. Aggressor. Murderer. Bitch. She rubbed her hands against her hips, nervous and conflicted. Vanessa was her blood. Even if she was doing wrong, she was still her niece, the child of her sister.
'I know about you and Logan,' Vanessa said, low, as she lifted her hood back over her head. 'I'm guessing after I caught him discovering my latest strike he told you everything.'
Idira couldn't muster the energy to ask how her niece knew so much about her situation. Instead she looked over the farm yard, cleared of its debris and nearly dry from the heated air washing over Westfall from the burning city. There was only one question she wanted answered, so she asked it.
'A patrolman? Why?'
Vanessa shrugged. 'He saw me. I had to. I didn't enjoy it. Of course my efforts were wasted now that Logan knows. I just wish what happened before I met the patrolman hadn't happened . . . ' She prodded at a loose stone with the toe of her boot. 'Well, it is what it is. It's done now.'
Despite the heat in the air, Idira shivered. Vanessa sounded just like her father. Cold. Calculated. Dangerous. Idira wasn't going to ask Vanessa what had happened before the patrolman. She didn't want to know.
'You won't . . .' Idira couldn't finish the question. She shook her head. The thought of losing Logan, after losing so many others was unbearable.
Vanessa smirked. 'Don't worry. I let him go, for your sake. But then,' she cast her eyes towards the red-flamed glow in the skies above Stormwind, 'I have a feeling I might be the least of his problems for the next little while.' She slipped back into the shadows. 'You always took good care of me, Idira. I have never forgotten that. I am glad you are safe. When Westfall is mine, I will make sure you will be well taken care of, you have my word.'
A sudden whisper of air washed over Idira. She pivoted, following it just in time to see a shadow slip past the acacia trees and merge with the night. The light from the moon and stars, swallowed by thick layers of ash meant Idira could only see as far as the house's candlelight. Beyond, the night lay thick, ominous and claustrophobic; a wall of impenetrable black. She sighed again, her heart heavy. For a while longer, she lingered, gazing at the little gravestone marking Blackie's resting place before going to the house, determined to tell no one of the woman who had come to visit from the depths of the night.
Vanessa had been right about one thing, in the aftermath of the dragon's attack, Logan's problems increased exponentially. He sat in the kitchen nursing a mug of fresh brewed coffee, turning it from side to side in his big hands, complaining about the sudden influx of Stormwind refugees flooding into Westfall, looking for aid and shelter in Sentinel Hill—its fortifications still under construction and supply lines barely enough for those fighting to free Westfall from its oppressors. To top it off, the sudden return of the People's Militia's once-leader, Gryan Stoutmantle, now a Marshal allied with Stormwind, meant Westfall no longer belonged to the people but answered to the Alliance, whose mandates took precedence over the activities of the People's Militia, renamed on Stoutmantle's return to The Westfall Brigade. After more than one run-in with the long absent leader, Logan found his wings clipped so hard, he said they felt like they bled.
'And the worst of it,' he said, his tone veering dangerously close to a whine, 'is no one believes my report that Hope Saldean is VanCleef's daughter. They simply can't accept such a nice girl, whom they've watched grow up could be behind the killing of our men and the agitator of the situation in Moonbrook. It's incredible, she walks into the town looking the picture of innocence in her plain homespun dress and apron, going to the market to sell her vegetables. It's sickening. I tried arresting her once, and do you know what happened?'
Sitting across from him at the table, Idira set a peeled sweet potato into a pot of water and picked up a new unpeeled one from the bowl, keeping her eyes on the knife's blade cutting into the skin of the tuber. She shook her head, even though she already knew the answer, hoping her expression wasn't revealing anything about having seen her niece a fortnight ago.
'I was put on probation!' Logan tilted the cup of coffee back and gulped its contents down, finishing the last dregs with noisy slurps. He slammed the cup back onto the table so hard the pot containing the peeled sweet potatoes rattled against the board. 'Can you believe it? Stoutmantle just rolls in from the Light knows where after leaving us to fend for ourselves for the last nine years, expecting to take over where he left off without so much as a by-your-leave. He decides everything now, and all he's interested in are two things: keeping Stormwind's transients out of Sentinel Hill and trying to find out who killed the Saldeans and Blanchy the same day the dragon arrived.' He scoffed. 'He's even brought SI:7 investigators from Stormwind to get to the bottom of it, like that's the most important thing the People's Militia—I mean The Westfall Brigade—should be worrying about.' He leaned back in his chair, his legs sprawled out, rebellious. He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest and turned to look out the open front door, his eyes narrowed, hostile, looking for stray travellers.
Idira kept working, she had heard him rant about this subject often enough over the last week. She pulled the last of the peel away from the potato, feeling a tiny shimmer of pleasure, she had managed to take the peel off in one long piece. It was a game she liked to play with herself, although she lost more often than she won.
Logan got up to pour himself another coffee. He sat down again and sipped it, moody. She noticed he hadn't asked if she would like her empty mug refilled. She sighed and leaned back to stretch the kinks out of her shoulders, thinking for the hundredth time how glad she was she hadn't ended up with him; once he got in a sulk, there was no shifting him, and at times he was insufferable.
Though it was disloyal, a tiny part of her could understand why he had been sent on his way. Logan might be strong, but he wasn't particularly clever when it came to dealing with those in power. When he'd been slapped with his probation he'd had to give back his horse, so he turned up on foot, carrying a sack with all his worldly possessions over his shoulder, saying he'd decided to stay at the farm, declaring he might not ever go back, calling his comrades-in-arms arse-lickers and ingrates.
She had to admit, despite his non-stop railing, it was useful to have him around. He was doing an excellent job using his pent-up anger scouring the farmland for the occasional wanderer, leaving them in no doubt which way they should be headed: towards Sentinel Hill. Over the last days, he'd kept them safe without Unambi ever having to be involved, or any of their precious supplies—greatly depleted since the garden and wheat field were destroyed—from being stolen.
'Gives that know-it-all Stoutmantle something to do,' he would mutter each time he sent someone away, his features ugly and twisted by bitterness.
Idira got up and refilled her mug, taking her time, enjoying the sudden moment of quiet as she cradled the mug's warmth against her hands and inhaled the coffee's bitter, earthy scent.
Logan snapped out of his thoughts and glanced at her. 'What's for dinner tonight? I'm starving.'
'Eggs, fried potatoes, and fish,' Idira answered as she attempted to sip her coffee. It was still a little too hot. She glanced at the fish waiting to be gutted. 'You'll get your dinner quicker if you give me a hand.'
He looked at the pile of fresh fish, caught earlier by Unambi. 'You want those gutted and filleted or just gutted?'
'Filleted please,' Idira murmured over her cup. 'I'm going to make a hash.'
'Fine,' he got up, oozing resentment. Soon though, the mood in the kitchen lightened, as the work distracted him, soothing him. Idira smiled as she carried on with the potato peeling. She should have thought of this days ago. From now on, she would make sure he had plenty of little jobs to do in between his tours around the farm. Sitting and stewing was only making everyone unhappy, even Unambi had started keeping his distance from them, working from dawn to dusk restoring the garden or down at the beach, making new crab pots. Even Margle didn't show up as frequently anymore, sensing Logan's antagonism. The poor murloc had lost everything, so one of the first things Unambi did was help to build him a new home, raised up on stilts, using salvaged pieces of wood from the shipwrecks.
'I've been thinking of joining the Stormwind military,' Logan said, apropos of nothing.
Idira started, her knife slipping and severing the length of peel. She bit her lip, annoyed. She had almost made it through again with one long peel. She glanced at him, finding him already watching her.
'Oh?' she asked, wondering if he really meant it, or if he was just trying to goad her, as was his wont lately.
He didn't say anything, but Idira sensed his disappointment. He had wanted a reaction, after all. He shifted his weight, exposing the board behind him. The fish lay filleted in three glistening piles. She lifted a brow, impressed. He had done a good job. He dipped his hands into the wash bowl on the table, and reached out to take the linen towel from the hook on the wall.
'You want me to start frying these?' he asked as he dried his hands.
Idira nodded. 'Yes, low heat though.'
He pulled the copper frying pan from its hook and set the fish into it with the fish slice, deft. 'Are you going to say anything more than 'oh'?' he asked, quiet.
Idira hesitated, he sounded serious this time. So this wasn't just another one of his attempts to ease his anger by starting a quarrel. The quiet pop of the fish beginning to fry filled the quiet air.
'I won't go if you'd rather I didn't,' he said as he poked the fish, making sure the fillets weren't sticking to the pan.
'Is this because of the changes at Sentinel Hill, or is it because you . . .'
He turned and eyed her. 'Because I what?'
Idira blushed and turned back to her peeling, she would have to hurry if she wanted everything done on time.
'Because you want to meet someone,' she blurted out, peeling her potato with jerky movements, cutting away far too much flesh. She tried to slow down. There was no point being wasteful.
He didn't say anything. Embarrassed, she rushed on to fill the space where he had left her hanging, unable to stop the words from tumbling from her lips.
'I mean, I know the pickings are slim in Westfall,' she said, rushing ahead without thinking. 'Because you and me—well we both know that's not going to happen after that one time—so I understand if that's what you want to do. I mean, I really do. You have to live after all.'
She peeked up from under her lashes, trying to gauge his reaction. He'd turned back to the fish and stood bent over the pan, busy with the fish slice, shifting the pieces around far more than they needed. She was glad she'd planned to make a hash, the way he was going at the fish, it'd be in pieces by the time he was done anyway.
'Well,' he finally said, 'I just figured there's not much of a future for me here since Stoutmantle and his crew don't want to listen to people who have been here for years, and who know what's what. Not much point in going back if I have to take orders from people like that. Besides, I heard the pay in Stormwind is triple what The Westfall Brigade pays.' His shoulders lifted and fell, the fish slice moved a little faster. 'That's all, really,' he hesitated for several moments, then continued, 'I mean, I guess if I met someone, then I'd see, but I honestly haven't really thought about it. Military life, you know? Not much room for a wife and children when you're out saving the world.'
'Is that what you want to do?' Idira asked, quiet. 'Save the world?'
He spun around, irritable again, holding up the fish slice, sticky with pieces of fish meat and greasy with oil. 'What else is there for me to do?' he erupted. 'I mean, if I can't have you and I can't make a difference anymore in Westfall—' He shook his head, and jabbed the fish slice towards the window facing the mountains, where behind its heights the broken city of Stormwind lay. 'What's the point of anything anyway with that insane dragon flying around destroying the world? I just want to make sense of things. Do something that matters, you know. For once.'
Idira nodded. She understood. How she wished she could make sense of things too, do something that mattered, instead of just waiting for the next thing to happen to her. She went to him, pulled the fish slice out of his hand and set it aside.
'I think you are making the right decision,' she said, soft. 'I will miss you of course, but perhaps it is for the best. It truly does seem as though there is nothing left for you in Westfall, and look at you,' she smiled as she glanced up at him, trying to lighten the mood. 'You would cut a fine figure in a suit of armour. A proper hero.'
He smiled a little at her flattery, the lines of tension etched into his face over the past weeks easing, granting a rare glimpse of his handsome features, hidden for far too long behind a mask of anger. 'Really? You don't mind if I go?'
Idira shook her head, thinking of the floating city, and of Khadgar. One step closer. Even though it had hurt Logan, she had become canny enough about her life to know his shunning by The Westfall Brigade meant more than what it seemed. Azeroth was pushing him on, just like a piece on a game board, for what purpose she couldn't guess, but it wasn't going to be used here in Westfall with its growing population of transients and new Alliance-allied regime. No, Logan was meant for something greater, she could sense it. He had come when she needed him, and now he was leaving when she wouldn't anymore. Soon, she suspected she would leave Westfall, too. It would be wrong to hold him back until then for her own selfish reasons. She suspected if she needed another protector, her Light would provide it.
'I don't,' she said, when he cleared his throat, reminding her he was still waiting for her answer, 'although I think Unambi would like it if you stayed one more week until he finishes planting the wheat field.'
He nodded, and smiled, pleased. 'No problem. I can do that.' His stomach growled, loud. He picked up the fish slice and checked the fish, glistening, white and perfectly done. 'The fish is ready,' he announced, 'when can we eat?'
Idira stood up on her toes and kissed him on his cheek, her heart filled with affection though her thoughts were tinged with sadness and nostalgia; another friend and ally, just like Nin, Arinna, Lanira, Kip, and Benny would shortly be gone. 'Soon,' she said as she went back to her seat and finished peeling the last potato. She handed him the pot to put on the stove to boil, and picked up the basket to collect the eggs. 'Very soon.'
Once in the chicken pen, loneliness engulfed her. When she was sure he wasn't looking, she slipped into the coop and cried.