Categories > Games > Warcraft

Turning Red

by DominicSacco 2 reviews

Warcraft fan fiction chronicling the backstory of hotheaded high elf outlaw rogue Phoenix Bloodheart, a troubled teenage elf that tries to learn to control her blackouts and bloodlust after making ...

Category: Warcraft - Rating: R - Genres: Fantasy - Warnings: [V] [R] - Published: 2020-06-04 - 123897 words - Complete

The Chronicles of Phoenix Bloodheart
I: Turning Red

Dominic Sacco

Dedicated to Ash and Crow


Bal'a dash, malanore (greetings, traveller). A bit about me and this book: I have played World of Warcraft on and off since vanilla. I absolutely adore everything about the rogue class, elves, stealth characters and mechanics in video games, but I wanted to create a character that doesn’t follow that typical archetype. Someone flawed, with potential.

A couple of years ago, someone asked me what my World of Warcraft roleplay character’s backstory was. She didn’t really have one at the time, so I started writing something and it... got a bit out of hand to say the least! Two years later and I ended up with what you’re reading now. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a book and I’m glad I finished it.

More importantly, if you do read it, I would love to hear your feedback: good, bad and anything in-between. So please throw any morsel of constructive criticism my way (by emailing or filling in this feedback form) because I would like to learn and improve from this. I have ideas for some other (non-Warcraft) original novels in the future and this is sort of my attempt at testing the waters. I’d also like to write more stories based on this novel’s storyline in the future. You can sign up to this newsletter at to receive info on these.

This free fan fiction novel is inspired by (but not officially associated with) Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft franchise. Please note, some elements from the games have been reimagined in this novel, and all of the main characters in this book are my creation. So, fellow lore nerds who may feel the urge to flame me, please consider these points before doing so!

Finally, if I’m being honest, I feel that Phoenix is probably some kind of projection of myself. That wasn’t done on purpose, but something I realised about halfway through the book. Although I’m enthusiastic, I have a short temper. Writing this character has helped me cope somewhat with my anxiety and at times reckless, emotionally-driven decisions. I have a bad habit of sometimes burning bridges (hey, I’m a Scorpio!) and this book has acted as some kind of therapy for that. I write about esports for my job, so this was a nice release from that too.

Please note, this book has some adult themes in it (sorry mum!) so I wouldn’t recommend it to children.

I hope you enjoy what I’ve created and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Al diel shala (safe travels).



Thanks to Naariel for creating the artwork I commissioned (used with permission for non-commercial use). You can check out Naariel’s website here.

Thanks to my good friend Tom Stratford for turning Naariel’s artwork into a moving image using his leet animation skills. You can see Tom Stratford’s website here.

A big thanks to another good friend of mine, James Batchelor, for helping to proof this thing. He put up with years of grievance having to sit next to me at work so I am very grateful he somehow agreed to help out. Oh and he’s an author himself, so please do check out his work on the James Batchelor website. Thanks to other early readers, Roy Hemenway and Louise Wallgren, who helped me fix a few things, and to thewayitis35, thank you so much, I think you are my first real fan and I really appreciate your support!

Thanks to Leonardo Zorzi for creating Phoenix’s theme song and granting me the rights to own it.

Credit to for the fonts used on the cover: Augusta by Dieter Steffmann and Seagram by Kaiserzharkhan.

A big thank you to my family, my parents for allowing me to chase my passions, my wife for putting up with my s* and my and three children for giving me hope for the future.

Thanks to Vile Thorn and The Rookery for giving me the confidence to grow this character and to The Northern Terror for making my time in vanilla WoW so memorable. Also, thanks to Chiel, Ireshka and The Family, you probably aren’t aware but you picked me up when I really needed it. To all my past guildies, I will never forget the adventures we shared together.

Last but not least, thanks to Blizzard Entertainment for creating the Warcraft game franchise. Final reminder: this piece of fan fiction is non-commercial, entirely free and I will not make a penny from it.

“Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind.”
Robert Green Ingersoll

behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a way that causes damage

Prologue: Blood and water

Darkness has fallen and she walks alone; her bloodied boots brush softly across the sand.
The slim elf, dressed in faded red leather, looks up. The moonlight twinkles in her blue eyes as she pauses to soak in the view. The old, beautiful ship stares back, anchored by the water’s edge.
The twilight sky blends with the midnight blue water below, perfectly still and calm, the tide lapping gently onto the shore.
As she takes her first step onto the wooden deck, she pauses. Her former self would be fighting back tears, but she has cried enough. Instead, she lets the pain wash over her and pass by.
She walks slowly around the creaking top deck, brushing her hand across the ship’s rigging and handrail as she does so. Her worn red boots tap gently on the wood.
Upon reaching the helm, she holds the wheel in both hands, her tatty fingerless gloves tightening around it as she looks out across the water for a few minutes. A warm breeze flicks her fiery ginger hair backwards, revealing two long pointed ears. She stares, locked in thought.
She shifts her head to the left and squints. A frown spreads across her forehead as she taps her four fingers on the wooden wheel, one after the other.
With haste, she steps back and leaps onto the ship’s rigging like a cat pouncing upwards - and begins to climb. She moves swiftly, without effort, without conscious thought, and soon finds herself up in the crow’s nest. There, she crouches down low, shuts one eye tightly, and uses the other to stare down through a gap in the wood.
A figure emerges onto the deck below, the spurs on their boots ringing gently across the ship. They walk towards the stairs leading to the ship’s lower deck.
The blue eye peering from the crow’s nest narrows with loathing. The ginger-haired elf stands tall, grits her teeth and pulls a grappling hook and length of rope from her pouch. She swings it over her hand once before releasing. It flows through the air swiftly towards one of the lower masts.
The elf hastily unfastens her cloak, holds onto either side of it and places it over her head. As the hook below loops tightly around a mast, she jumps over the edge of the crow’s nest. Her cape slides down the rope, holding her light body and she moves with surprising speed, the wind rushing in her ears. The elf lets go of the cloak towards the bottom and kicks out her right foot sharply towards the person below her.
The figure dives to the side, narrowly avoiding the attack as the ginger-haired elf hits the deck hard and rolls forward, cushioning her fall.
The two elves rise in sync, turning to face one another. They are of similar height and frame, two silhouettes locked by fate.
They stand still in silence, as fresh rain begins to fall, lightly tapping on the wooden deck beneath their boots. The pair stare into each others’ eyes with disdain, the moment lingering and tension growing as they consider which moves they should make next.
Rage bubbles slowly inside one, hatred in the other, as they begin to circle one another.
The ginger-haired elf speaks, with spite and anger: “After all you’ve done, you dare set foot here as well?”
The other replies with a sarcastic curtsy, the gentle grin on her pale face belying a lust for violence.
Anger swells in the redhead. A sword is pulled from its red and gold scabbard. The other elf follows, removing a lightweight rapier from black boiled leather.
“I look forward to the small ounce of joy your death will bring after what you’ve done,” the ginger elf adds, her voice quivering. “You have taken so much…”
The patter of the rain on wood grows more frequent as it continues to fall, slightly heavier now.
“And you from me,” the dark figure replies. “But I shall take it back tonight, and take your life,” she adds, a smile curling the edge of her lips upwards as the words linger, masking her own hatred and sorrow. “Just like the others.”
The rage boiling beneath red leather reaches the surface, and the fiery elf bellows in anger, her battle-shout hanging in the air as she strikes forward, forcing her enemy into a parry. The pair lock swords and deflect each other’s blows in quick succession as the sound of steel on steel breaks the peace of the water’s edge. The rainfall gradually transitions into a noisy downpour.
The ginger elf’s rage is flowing freely now, her mind losing consciousness, completely seized by the red mist of fury that glazes over her eyes. Her subconscious mind is now in total control of her actions.
Her sword swings hard, with surprising strength, forcing her opponent to repeatedly absorb the blow with her own rapier. The struggling elf in black almost slips on the damp deck.
The golden-hilted sword returns, this time with greater force and speed as she strikes again and again with unrelenting aggression, making it harder for the dark figure to parry effectively and remain standing. Eventually, unable to keep up with the pace of attacks, she stumbles back and drops her sword noisily.
The elf in red looms over her on deck, screaming with fury, wildly pulling her own weapon back as she prepares to strike it forwards one last time with a killing blow.
But rage clouds her judgment; her balance wavers slightly. The elf in black twists her right foot upwards at the last moment, sending the spurs digging into red leather - and the skin of her opponent’s left thigh.
The standing warrior buckles as the elf on the floor sweeps her leg across low, knocking the ginger elf’s feet out from under her. Now it’s her turn to collapse onto the deck and drop her sword as she falls. The pair of rapiers lie just out of reach, both instruments of death lying still, tempting their owners to move and pick them up again, the blades glistening in the rain.
Ignoring the out-of-reach swords in favour of a quicker move, the dark figure spots an opportunity and swings her right leg over her enemy, straddling her. She punches her foe’s face with ferocity and a thin splatter of blood hits the watery deck.
The impact of the punch shakes the fiery elf out of her rage, as she returns to her senses. She looks up to see a face twisted with envy and loathing, and another fist slamming down towards her, right between the eyes.
For a split-second she wonders how she got caught up in such chaos and danger.
Phoenix braces for impact, moves her arms up in front of her face and closes her eyes.

Part I: Lighting a spark

“Scars are just a treasure map for pain you've buried too deep to remember.”
Jodi Picoult

“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse. So collapse. Crumble. This is not your destruction. This is your birth.”
Zoe Skylar

Chapter I: Chance

12 years earlier

Phoenix Dreamfoil is where she shouldn’t be yet again, having snuck out of bed in the middle of the night for the umpteenth occasion this year.
The five-year-old is sitting on the second-floor balcony of Silvermoon City Inn located in Quel’Thalas. This region is home to the high elves - who are also known as the Quel’Dorei - and lies north of the Eastern Kingdoms.
Young Phoenix is watching the inngoers below laughing, drinking and gambling their night away.
Her blue eyes beam with childish wonder as she kneels and looks between the railings down on the only world she knows. The smells of roasted boar, beer, sweat and bloodthistle smoke rise from the inn floor and fill her nostrils.
The tiny elf’s face is like a podgy ball of dough, with a petite nose, a lumpy chin and pale, pinkish skin that contrasts with her fiery, messy ginger hair. Freckles dance across her cheekbones.
As she turns her head left and right, not knowing what to look at first, her hair follows. It comes to a sudden stop as she stares at someone below, and a lock of hair falls to rest humorously between her eyes, making her look like a tiny ghoul with a long hairy nose. She’s too engrossed in the hubbub below to brush it behind one of her pointy ears.
Her attention is drawn to an elf with silver hair dressed in all-black leather, sitting at the dice table. He has just raised his glass to celebrate a win, his other hand scooping gold from the table top as other men and elves watch on, some with jealousy.
Phoenix frowns. She recognises this elf. And she knows she doesn’t like him.
At another nearby table, a group of short yet stoutly dwarves are laughing loudly and hysterically. One occasionally slams his flagon down on the wood, sending beer splashing onto those around him. In one corner of the room, on a slightly raised stage, an elegant-looking female elf with a long decorative gown is playing a harp gracefully and effortlessly.
In the other, darker corner near the entrance, a couple of female elf courtesans are in conversation with one another, while flaunting their looks and catching the attention of a human man by the bar, who stares back at them. They are wearing revealing ornate dresses, with long satin gloves and tights. Their figure is human-like, yet ever so shorter and skinnier than the man across the room.
Phoenix smiles when she sees one of the female elves, her mother Amelia Dreamfoil, then frowns when she notices the man from the bar walking towards them. She doesn’t like her mum pretending to befriend other people for gold.
Her eyes wander again, this time spotting a goblin behind the bar, flipping bottles and pouring drinks with many years of experience. Phoenix finds it funny how a creature shorter than a dwarf can even exist, not to mention one with such a big, ugly nose.
All the music, laughter and colours below whirl around the elf’s little mind like a kaleidoscope.
Then, all of a sudden, there’s a flash of movement by the dice table. Two elves are struggling with one another, and the elf in black pushes another backwards, knocking him over the table. Glasses smash as dice tumble onto the floor, and the inn quietens as everyone looks to the source of the commotion.
The fallen elf stands and shouts at the male in black, while pointing: “You’re a cheat! And a thug!”
Other elves around the table stand. The Quel’Dorei in black, a tall and looming figure, smiles slowly, sips the last of his drink and places it calmly on the table, taking his time, knowing well that all eyes are on him.
After a pause, he raises his arms and says: “I won fair and square.”
“This die is weighted, you liar!” the other retorts.
The angry elf throws the die at the elf in black. It bounces off his chest to the floor. Two other elves move towards the agitated elf in retaliation, their hands moving for their weapons, but the figure in black raises his right hand and they halt.
Back on the balcony, young Phoenix’s mouth is slightly agape now as she looks down in curiosity. Her face and blue nightgown are encased in shadow, with moonlight pouring in from a nearby window. The inn’s fire below occasionally sends streaks of light up to flicker and dance with her silhouette.
The old goblin barkeep moves towards the table and politely asks all of the elves to leave, nodding over to the inn’s bouncer, a short, black, bald-headed and muscular elf called Solari, who nods back, with one hand on his sheathed sword. He suppresses a sigh and looks at the barkeep with disappointment, his body language implying it’s not the first time he’s had to kick them out.
The elf that lost the dice game is first to respond, hurrying past all a fluster and storming across the inn to leave, slamming the door behind him. The rest by the dice table turn to leave too, including the figure in black and his accomplices. Other guests start to talk normally amongst themselves again. The inn returns to calm.
Phoenix’s eyes are still focused on the elf in black as he approaches the inn door. Her gaze turns to horror as she watches him stop and look towards her mother, with contempt and intent.
The elf in black casually approaches her mother with a drunken glare, ignoring the bouncer’s verbal reminder to leave, and pulls her arm towards him. She recoils and mouths a response, but it can’t be heard over the noise of the inn. It seems no one else notices except the bouncer and Phoenix, and her heart thuds faster in her chest.
All of a sudden the elf in black strikes Phoenix’s mother in anger with his fist, knocking her onto the floor as she shrieks and curls up in pain.
The bouncer, Solari, rushes towards him, but one of the troublemaker’s friends raises his hand, placing an invisible magical barrier in front of the bouncer, who responds with his own spell. The two elves are locked in thought, their magic pushing against one another as a struggle ensues.
Silence falls across the inn again momentarily, followed by gasps and quiet mumbling as a crowd of people rush past to leave. The man by the elven courtesans slowly steps towards the elf in black and his two aides, mindful of the fierce magic at play.
“Stupid wench,” the figure in black says as he kicks Phoenix’s mother in the side.
Phoenix feels like she’s been winded herself as she watches on, with pain and helplessness welling up inside of her.
“Step away from her!” the human shouts and leaps to Amelia’s defense, throwing a punch at the elf in black, who expertly dodges the blow. The human leaps into the fray, knocking the magic user over almost by accident - and a fight erupts.
Phoenix looks around the room and waits for others to help apprehend the troublemakers, but finds only worried looks and eyes staring at the floor. A couple of dwarves stand, but they are slow to react and she doesn’t notice them; she only sees her mum writhing in pain, the outnumbered human and bouncer losing the fight, and panics.
She also sees her chance.
Half wanting to cry and half wanting the mean elves to disappear, Phoenix dashes towards the stairs as instinct takes over and the want to protect her mother overwhelms her. She moves faster than she expects, almost running straight into the wall at the top of the stairs. She pushes away, regains her balance and her bare feet patter loudly down the cold, concrete stairs, her ginger hair tumbling after her.
The child turns towards the inn’s entrance and runs at full speed, looking up briefly to notice that two elves and Solari are left standing, while the troublemaking elves have their backs to her. One is casting a spell with his staff and the man in black is moving his hand into an inner pocket. She can’t see Solari from this angle but hears him conjuring magic. Despite the danger, she tries her luck.
Phoenix runs towards the elf in black and jumps onto his back, clawing at his chest and biting his neck.
The adult instinctively swivels from the pain, grabs Phoenix by the head without looking at who she is and smashes her into a nearby table, head-first.
There is a bright flash - then the world goes black. This little girl will never be the same.

Chapter II: Rebirth

After two days, she wakes.
Phoenix is lying in her bed at the inn. It is dark; a cool breeze wafts from the open window opposite her to caress her face.
This small space adjacent to the inn keeper’s room contains nothing more than the essentials: a bed, a window, some books, a small pile of clothes.
It’s more of a large cupboard space than a room. But for Phoenix, it’s home.
The elf child slowly brings her right hand to touch her head and feels an immense wave of heaviness. The pain from the huge lump at the front of her skull is numb and constant, and her neck aches.
She looks to the cool night sky and feels the faint but ever-present warmth and energy from the Sunwell - a fount of magical power north of where she lives. She closes her eyes and focuses on it, as it soothes her injuries and soaks into the core of her being, her little mind, her soul.
High elves have grown accustomed to the Sunwell’s gift, with the magical properties helping to sustain their lives to hundreds or even thousands of years. As a young elven child, Phoenix is still learning about the Sunwell and its power. From her experiences so far, including the trips to the well itself with her mother, she enjoys its radiance but doesn’t fully understand it - though she already takes it for granted.
Phoenix suddenly thinks of the elf in black, and a wave of fear washes over her, making the head injury seem mild. She cries. She realises she has no idea whether her mother is alive or not, and this frightens her further. More tears fall.
Before she can shout for help, the door opens and a wrinkly, green head peers around at Phoenix, about halfway up the side of the door.
Chrim, the goblin innkeep, sighs. He potters over to Phoenix and does his best to console the elf child.
“There there, you’re okay now,” he croaks, while awkwardly patting her shoulder. This does absolutely nothing to stop the crying, but he continues anyway before taking a quick inspection of her head. He realises the patting is futile and begins to dress a new bandage instead.
“Your mum is in her room,” Chrim says. “She’s been worried sick. We all have.”
“Is she okay?” Phoenix manages to ask, a squeak amongst sobs.
Chrim ponders this, and half-nods, before scratching the few remaining wiry grey hairs on his head. “Yes. You can see her for yourself,” he says. “It’s rest day, the inn closed hours ago. Can you stand?”
Phoenix attempts to do so, while trying not to think about being unconscious for so long, her bare feet feeling the cold tiled floor and pushing the rest of her body up. She feels disoriented but repositions her footing and, after standing for five or six seconds, looks back to Chrim. He smiles an ugly goblin smile that means well, but the yellow crooked teeth are as reassuring as the pathetic patting. However, it’s a successful distraction, and Phoenix stops crying.
The goblin carefully applies the bandage to her head. He then leads her slowly through his study, past mountains of paperwork, books and bags of silver and copper coins, to the second floor balcony. The old green goblin and ginger elf child walk arm-in-arm, the same height as one another despite their difference in age. It makes for a rather peculiar sight.
Upon reaching Amelia’s door, Chrim knocks and announces: “You have a little visitor.”
A muffled gasp comes from the other side of the door before the words: “Come in! Is -”
Phoenix opens the door, her face flustered with dried tears, and stares up at her mother with expectancy.
She is wearing a white blouse and khaki skirt, with knee-high leather boots complementing her stunning figure. Deep brown curled hair falls to her waist. She stands with splendour, masking her narcissism, her face glowing in the flickering light from a nearby desk candle. An enormous bruise surrounding her left eye belies her beauty as she smiles.
Amelia hurries towards her child and scoops her up in her arms, squeezing her tightly and peppering her with kisses. Phoenix reacts with a quivering bottom lip and fights back more tears. Moments like this with her mother are rare; she doesn’t want their hug to end.
Phoenix opens her eyes to see her mother’s books, four-poster bed, chests, wardrobes and trinkets are right where they belong. Some vials and plant leaves are strewn across a desk nearby.
“Are you okay, Phoe?” Amelia asks, her hands scanning the bandage wrapped around her daughter’s head.
Phoenix manages a nod and asks: “Mummy, did the bad man do that to your eye?”
“Oh what, this? This is nothing!” Amelia shrugs it off and laughs at her child’s concern, as if it is somehow silly and unwarranted. “He didn’t hurt me. I fell over, that’s all.”
“What happened to the bad man? Who is he?” Phoenix asks innocently.
Amelia sets her daughter down and kneels to her level. “After you distracted him, Solari used a spell to stop his friends, and as some dwarves helped too. But he was too quick and got away… do not worry about him. He’s nobody and won’t bother us again.
“Promise me, Phoenix - you must never do something like that ever again. You could have been seriously hurt. And you know you’re not to be in the main room at night.”
Phoenix replies: “But you were hurt and I was scared. What if that happens to you again?”
“Then... the inn will hire more guards,” Amelia responds, with a reassuring smile.
They both know it’s a lie, what with the inn being a relatively humble establishment and Chrim just about keeping the place afloat, but Phoenix hugs her mother anyway and whispers her own lie back: “I promise.”
Amelia smiles and asks: “How do you feel? Like your normal self?”
“Yes,” Phoenix replies. And she does, for the most part, though her head still throbs mildly. Her mother doesn’t seem convinced.
A few hours later, as Phoenix tries to sleep, she shudders at the thought of the elf in black returning. The fear consumes her; she ends up tip-toeing into her mother’s room and snuggling up beside her sleeping parent in bed.
Her eventual sleep is fraught with nightmares of magic and death.


Amelia takes a few days off to comfort her daughter as they both recover. Phoenix thinks it might be the best few days of her life, spending all that time with her mother, talking and playing together.
But as the weeks pass, Chrim and Amelia soon resort to how they were before the attack.
Chrim throws himself into his books, the running of the inn and acquiring new business. He was never good with children, and rarely has any meaningful interaction with Phoenix.
Amelia works to earn coin and spends little time with her daughter, telling her the bruise has made her poorer. She rejects her child’s innate want for comfort, repeating the old line: “It’s not that I don’t love you, Phoenix, but mummy can’t spend time with you while she’s working.”
After the attack, Phoenix gets scared of the slightest things; loud noises or sudden movements startle her more than ever before. She rarely speaks unless she’s spoken to, and even then it’s one-word replies or quiet, shrill responses, unless she’s talking to her mother.
The occasional bar fight terrifies her; she seldom sleeps well and is plagued by night terrors. She has a recurring dream of a faceless man dressed in black chasing her and her mum through deserted streets of Silvermoon City. Her demeanor seemingly shifts from bright, warm and engaging, to quiet, nervous and anxious.
Almost every evening she struggles to sleep, and creeps to the second-floor balcony as usual to watch out for her mother, hoping that the elf in black will never return. But in the process she sees her mother kissing different people every other night, and taking them to her room. This bewildering activity pains the young elf, though she’s unsure why.
Only her mum can sate her fear and anxiety, and time with her is limited, so Phoenix caves inside herself as she grows, bottling her thoughts and emotions deep within. To a stranger, it would appear Amelia loves her daughter, but she gives her little attention and their relationship is not as strong as it could be.
The other subject of concern for Phoenix is the fact she has never known her father. When asking her mother about the topic, she gets no real answers.
“You don’t have a father,” Amelia would say.
The words would often swim around her head, painfully, like a recurring headache.
Amelia keeps her daughter sheltered at home instead of sending her to school, and teaches her the basics of reading, writing and history when she can. Phoenix also helps in the inn’s kitchen, washing dishes and running errands for the cleaning staff and head chef, a stout and blunt human, who insists she works in silence unless spoken to. He is a direct and threatening man, and runs his kitchen almost through fear, keeping his staff on their toes and working hard.
He scares Phoenix, which makes her rushed and clumsy. Sometimes the other serving children and dish washers berate Phoenix, mocking her quietness and blaming her for other people’s mistakes, getting her into trouble.
On top of it all, she struggles to make a connection with magic. While she is able to feel the warmth of the sunwell, it is passive - she is unable to summon the powers of even the most basic levels of magic at her will. Because of this, she receives further ridicule from other children.
While Amelia does not show her daughter much affection, she keeps a close, guarded eye on her. On the rare occasion they travel outside the inn, on trips to the Sunwell or Eversong Forest, the surrounding area magically blanketed in eternal springtime, Phoenix tenses up and worries about the world outside more than her difficulties indoors.
She avoids eye contact and interaction with other elven children, some of which bully her for being looked after by a whore, for not knowing her father, for her odd, quiet demeanor - and they know she will not fight back. Phoenix becomes ever more insular as she desperately seeks her mother’s attention.
As the months go by, this unfulfilled love, this natural desire for her parent’s attention, combined with Phoenix’s curiosity of her father’s identity and lack of friends her age, results in a troubled, quiet child.
But Phoenix loves her mother dearly and carries on through the pain, worry and uncertainty.
Ten years pass.

Chapter III: Change

Much has changed over the past decade, yet everything seems to have stayed the same.
Amelia, Chrim, Solari and Phoenix are all still working at the inn, but the latter is no longer a little girl. At 15 years old, Phoenix is now looking with interest beyond the boundaries of the building, questioning her purpose and starting to think about her future.
Despite Solari doing his best to teach her, Phoenix still cannot command magic. With her poor background and lack of access to respected magic schools, Phoenix all but gives up pursuing that avenue.
She doesn’t enjoy working in the kitchen either, so she instead expresses her desire to try new things.
“For now, you can start working behind the bar,” Chrim says to her frankly, with his increasingly wheezy and ageing voice. “Two silver a week, with bonuses based on takings.”
Phoenix knows it’s a lousy offer and Chrim has a lot more coin to spare, but it’s a new task and one that gives Phoenix a fresh sense of optimism. Plus, she has outgrown that small bedsit and wants to save for a room or eventually a place of her own.
She is also content in the company of bouncer Solari, who, like her, is a little insular and rarely speaks unless he needs to. Working in the main inn room, she feels he has her back if there’s any trouble. Over time, she almost forgets entirely about the elf in black from years ago. Almost.


On her second night serving customers, three young Quel’Dorei men enter the inn in cocky spirits and approach the bar.
“How may I help you?” Phoenix asks them politely. Her voice is no longer the cute, chirpy voice of a young child but while it is still delicate and quiet, it is also crystal-clear and well spoken. It is a welcome voice to hear, calming and pleasing, well-suited to an inn.
Inside, Phoenix still feels the same as she ever did - shy and insular - but is dealing with changes on the outside.
Standing behind the bar, the young elf has grown taller and looks paler than before, no thanks to her lack of time spent outdoors. Wearing a dull grey shirt and black trousers that elongate her skinny figure, she looks a little older than her years.
Her messy locks are longer, straighter and tidier than before - while retaining their fiery ginger tint - and her puppy fat has all but gone. Phoenix’s cute podgy face from her earlier years is now longer and better defined. Her smell is earthy, like freshly fallen summer rain or pine caught on a sea breeze.
She is starting to look a little more like her mother, turning into a young woman, and with that comes new glances and attention from certain inngoers.
“You can get me a room and take your clothes off for starters,” one of the elves smirks, sending his friends into laughter.
Phoenix is flustered with anger more than embarrassment and looks away in trepidation.
Her blue eyes are beautiful but they do not shine like her mother’s. Something is missing. She appears to be an elf devoid of character, devoid of the true care and attention she always craved from her mother.
Despite her distinguishable hair and relative good looks, Phoenix has the tendency to fade into the background. But now, working behind the bar, there is no place to hide.
“I only serve drinks,” she quietly replies.
“Oh yeah, it’s your mum that serves the other goods,” the customer sniggers. “Three beers, then.”
Phoenix pours the drinks and takes their money with an expressionless face. Inside, she is seething. She looks over at her mother, who is at the other end of the inn already flirting with someone.
Phoenix’s resentment towards her mother’s line of work has grown. Aside from the prostitution, Amelia has an addiction to bloodthistle. Not only is this frowned on in some parts of elven society, forcing Amelia to take it in secrecy (often with questionable people usually linked with her job), it means they had less money, and Amelia had to work longer to compensate.
The cravings also make her irritable and short-tempered, resulting in arguments between mother and daughter. Phoenix still loves her, but is disgusted by the thought of following in her footsteps. She instead focuses on learning her own trade behind the bar, and though the idea scares her, she feels like she wants to just run away. Away from her life, from her mother, from the addictions. There is nothing left for her here but drudgery.


Each night, after closing, Phoenix tries a different tipple. One quick, sneaky gulp to get a feel for the drink, better understand the inn’s customers and learn more about her profession. It helps her remember her customers’ favourite drinks, and to associate the different tastes of alcohol with different types of customers. Most are friendly enough, and she does her best to ignore any rude or disparaging comments aimed her way, or any trouble.
She saves as much money as she can, and a few generous tips start to add up. Eventually she has a few gold to her name.
Elsewhere, a far bigger change is happening in Azeroth. Townsfolk begin talking about rumours and sightings of strange monsters razing villages outside the human city of Stormwind far across the land.
Every other night, Phoenix overhears stories in the inn of foul beasts plaguing the human areas of Elwynn Forest and slaughtering innocent people. To many, the tales are just hocum, but others worry for the safety of the high elves, their way of life and for Quel’Thalas.
For Phoenix, the talk is surely nonsense.

Chapter IV: A fire inside

Phoenix has been planning this day for months, having spent so much time just thinking about what to write.
Now it’s here, she’s surprised that she doesn’t feel nervous.
Phoenix would never be able to say these words aloud. But as she writes, she continues to bottle some of her feelings and holds back the tears while doing so.


I can’t do this anymore.

The bloodthistle, the prostitution, the questions you’ve left unanswered.

Why do we have to be stuck here? Who is my father? Do you even love me?

Our life here is dysfunctional, and I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.

Maybe I will return one day, to show you there is life outside this inn. Until then, please don’t come after me.


Later that evening, Phoenix says goodbye to Solari. Not literally, because she wants to leave without causing a fuss, but by telling him he’s a good bouncer instead. The ageing battlemage is taken aback by the sudden compliment and is left blinking and bewildered as Phoenix scoots off to her room. She packs her things - some clothes, food, water, gold and basic tools including a pocket knife and rope - into a humble bag.
That evening, she falls asleep sooner than usual, dozing through a mild commotion in the hall outside her room.
The following morning, she wakes up in the early hours while everyone else is still asleep. It’s just past 5am and the world is still and dark.
Phoenix wraps a grey cloak around her shirt and leaves the four walls of her minuscule room for the final time.
She opens the door to Chrim’s room and tip-toes past the old, sleeping, snoring goblin and into the hallway beyond.
The skinny teenage elf waits outside her mother’s room for a long moment. She brings the envelope to her mouth and thinks about kissing it, but for what? Luck? Love? She decides against this and slides it hastily underneath the door instead.
Phoenix turns to leave, but hesitates. She thinks about scrapping the whole idea and staying at the inn. Her mind dips to and fro, like a ship sailing through choppy waters.
The thought of staying is eventually brushed aside, but part of her wants to say goodbye to her mother properly. She deserves that, doesn’t she? Phoenix reaches a middle-ground and decides to take one last look at her mother while she sleeps.
Phoenix slowly opens the door to her mother’s room, and shuffles inside almost silently, stepping over her own letter. She turns her nose up and holds her breath. The room stinks of bloodthistle, the substance her mother had grown addicted to.
She moves towards her mother’s bed and suddenly comes to a stop.
The room is empty and her mother is gone.
Phoenix checks the clock - it’s too late for her to still be working. Something is wrong.
She scurries back to Chrim’s room and knocks on the door, quickly questioning why on Azeroth she’s doing so and decides to just walk in and wake the goblin up instead.
She rocks the frail goblin a little too vigorously and he awakes, startled.
“What? What is - ” Chrim groans.
“My mother is not in her room! Where is she?” Phoenix whispers.
Chrim’s half sigh, half yawn and look of guilt tells Phoenix he knows something.
“I had to kick her out.”
“What? Why?” Phoenix raises her voice slightly. She has no idea why she was whispering anyway.
“I’m sorry... the bloodthistle abuse was a problem. People were talking about her and I can’t house a substance like that in a place like this. She was attracting the wrong crowd. It’s nothing personal, it’s just bad for business.”
“So you just kicked her out without letting me know?! After all we’ve done for you and this inn...”
Phoenix feels a pang of rage but keeps in line.
“I was going to tell you in the morning - you were sleeping,” Chrim slurs in his half-asleep state. “She was okay with it and I didn’t force her to leave right away, your mother wanted you to know she’ll be back soon to talk to you.”
Phoenix doesn’t notice his nervousness. Or his lie.
“Did she say when?” she asks.
Chrim shakes his head sadly.
“Of course, this means there’s a vacancy…” Chrim continues. “People are talking, you know, you look like your mother, and I’m getting more requests for… so maybe in the future you could-”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence. You can keep your filthy money.”
Phoenix, surprised by her confidence, lets the rage bubble more this time, but turns her head away in anger as she storms out of the room - and the inn - for good.
Chrim calls out for her but she doesn’t turn back.
As Phoenix opens the homely oak front door of the inn, a wave of feelings rush over her. Sadness for her mother’s situation, anger over how things turned out and dare she think it, excitement for what may lie ahead. Disappointment in herself and her pitiful life. She closes the door and feels her eyes welling up. She frowns, fighting back the tears, and leans back against the bricks of the inn wall, looking up at the purple sky with a grimace.
After taking a moment to regain her composure, Phoenix wipes away a tear and breathes deeply, the crisp early morning air filling her lungs.
She can feel the warmth of the Sunwell and, feeling a smidgen of calm, looks around Murder Row. The buildings and cobbled streets are encased by a dim hue but not quite shadow, as the first signs of dawn emerge. To her left is the entrance to an alley; on her right there’s a long concrete path leading out towards the central areas of Silvermoon. The city is sleeping - except for the solitary drunk with his back to the wall by a nearby alley, that is. Upon spotting the young elf, he mutters something inaudible at her. She realises her crying may have woken him up and feels a mild pang of guilt.
‘You and me are alike now,’ she thinks to herself, ‘homeless and probably going nowhere’. She looks to her right and takes her first step to leave.
The door to the inn creaks opens behind her.
“Wait, Phoe,” Chrim says, wearily. “I haven’t told you the truth.”
Phoenix looks back at the little goblin, shocked. Her mouth opens as she thinks of something to say, but he is first to talk.
“I didn’t fire your mother,” Chrim continues, pausing to lock eye contact with her. “She was taken.”
Phoenix stares at Chrim in disbelief, her mouth widening.
“What? Who…” she stutters.
“I...” he sighs and throws his hands above his head, not knowing where to start. “They left this note,” he says, handing it to her while avoiding eye contact. Phoenix takes it, stunned.
“Your mum didn’t want you to know, she didn’t want to scare you,” Chrim says. “But you’re not a little girl anymore and you deserve to know. I’m sorry, Phoenix, I really am. Please don’t do anything stupid. Come back inside, won’t you?”
Phoenix takes a deep breath as she grips the note tightly, not wanting to unfold it or discover what lies within. Deep down she knows she must.
She opens the folded scrap of paper slowly, reading each word carefully.

Amelia can no longer afford to pay for our goods, so she is now in our property until the debt is paid. Do not speak of this or your business will suffer. In the meantime, we suggest you find a new whore for your establishment.

A small feather has been drawn and smudged in the bottom corner of the note.
Phoenix softly scrunches the paper and looks up at Chrim as her world crumbles around her, almost literally. She wants to cry, to scream, to panic, all at once. The powerful feelings that have been buried for years rush to the surface and this time cannot be contained by Phoenix’s mind.
All noise evaporates: the sound of the gentle breeze brushing the leaves of a nearby tree, the creak of the door and Chrim’s concerned voice, it is all replaced by silence, followed by the pounding of Phoenix’s heart as it thunders rapidly inside her chest.
She’s trying desperately to focus on Chrim, to answer him, but all she can see is the old goblin silently mouthing something to her as if in slow motion.
Phoenix attempts to turn her head, but everything around her blurs, like she’s travelling at a hundred miles an hour yet somehow remaining stationary. Chrim’s head blends with swirling lines into the door, with the inn wall, with the floor.
The lights go out.


Phoenix regains consciousness, the feeling of wind rushing in her ears, slowly replaced by hideous screaming as she comes round.
She turns to the noise of the shrieking and sees the homeless elf recoiling away from her in horror, tripping over an empty bottle onto the ground.
“Get away from me, please!” he begs, glancing up at Phoenix and the floor beside her.
She looks down to see Chrim’s lifeless body in a pool of blood and his face - or what’s left of it - smashed into an unnatural mess.
There is a hollow where his left eye and the bridge of his nose should be, bloody scratch marks on his forehead and cheeks, and most of his teeth are missing. His neck is purple and the expression on his motionless, utterly disfigured face, is one of horror. Thick bloodstains are marked on the door of the inn and parts of the wall beside her.
Phoenix retches and vomits onto the floor, part of her sick splashing onto Chrim’s boots. She turns away from the body in disbelief, leans over and spits, out of breath. As she leans her palms on her knees, she notices both her hands and the sleeves of her grey shirt are stained with blood. She starts to shake with fear.
“Help! Somebody! Guards!” the drunk shouts, and Phoenix hears footsteps emerging from the nearby alley. She looks up at the cowering elf and back down at the blood on her trembling hands. Phoenix thinks for two seconds - and runs.
She sprints along the long tarmac path to leave Murder Row as quickly as possible, her slim frame swiftly cutting through the air; the satchel bouncing awkwardly on her back; her leather boots patting softly with urgency on the cobbled street. Before she reaches the grey wall at the end of the path, which forks left and right, three thoughts rush into her mind all at once.
First, she ponders which way to turn: left towards the Royal Exchange, the quicker way out of the City, or right towards the Bazaar, the longer but potentially safer option with crowds of shoppers and traders to hide amongst… scrap that, they won’t be there this early. Second: how long will it be before other guards identify her? Third: did she really just kill someone? Not just anyone, the person who provided a home for her whole life. The only thing she’d ever had that could come close to a father figure.
The third thought makes her feel sick again. It lingers in her mind, causing Phoenix to glance over her shoulder while running at full pelt. Chrim’s lifeless body lies in the centre of her line of vision. Phoenix feels a mix of fear, panic and disgust all rolled into a ball of anxiety. She spots the tramp speaking to a fully armoured Royal Guard, who turns towards Phoenix. Her eyes widen. His ornate silver armour is dull with no morning sun to catch its edges and glint. What if he’s a battlemage? He could cast a spell towards her and harm - or restrain her - in seconds. She pushes the thought aside, quickly swivels her head forwards again and continues running forwards. She gasps.
Phoenix suddenly crashes into someone.
She knocks over the oncoming male elf, who is adorned in a majestic set of blue robes, sending his large gnarled wooden staff ricocheting noisily onto the floor and her bag flying to right, choosing the path for her.
He shrieks in shock and anger as he spills over backwards onto his backside, while Phoenix, unable to break her momentum, tumbles on top of him as they clatter to the floor.
“Shit!” Phoenix cries out, panicked by the seconds wasted and her displaced bag.
“Imbecile!” he grumbles loudly, swatting her away, but she’s already pushed herself off him, leaving a smear of goblin’s blood on his silk robes which he hasn’t yet noticed. “Watch where you’re going!”
Phoenix ignores him and instinctively sprints towards the Bazaar. She picks up her satchel on the way, throwing its strap around her left shoulder and tightly under her right arm as she runs along the narrow path sandwiched by several small buildings and closed shops. This time Phoenix doesn’t take a half-second to look back at the guard. She thinks she hears him shout something but she’s in full flight now and blocks the noise out.
Phoenix’s body aches like never before. Not because she’s never run as fast in all her life, and not from the impact of bumping into the passer by, but from something else. Her slim torso feels like it has been drained of energy, as if she’s been working out all morning or crashing after a sugar high. Phoenix blinks for a second as she attempts to absorb whatever she can from the Sunwell. Nothing happens; she still feels somewhat lethargic but forces herself to continue, hoping the adrenaline coursing through her veins will see her through.
The wind rushing in her long ears quietens as the path suddenly opens up and she emerges into the Bazaar’s main circular plaza, turning left to face the large gaping space between her and the street leading to the Inner Elfgate - and Silvermoon’s exit. Panic crashes over her like a wave, stopping her in her tracks momentarily as she breathes wildly and darts her eyes around the plaza.
There are merchants setting up their stalls and carts as the first trickle of shoppers enter the streets, but there is still hardly anyone here: it is too early for crowds. Blending in and losing any trailing guards that way is not an option. She hears desperate footsteps and clanking armour in the alley behind her and instantly resorts to plan B. Phoenix starts running again, veering slightly to the left to avoid making a scene in the middle of the large circular plaza. She knows she must pass through the Inner Elfgate before word reaches it if she’s to evade capture; Phoenix digs deep for that extra something and runs a little faster.
This is not how things were supposed to be. She had planned on taking her time to walk out of Silvermoon one last time and admire the world around her, to drink in the magical aura and early morning stillness of her home city, enshrouded in permanent springtime by the Sunwell. She wanted to do this to ease her doubts and forget the past. Instead, she is running scared like a headless chicken, fighting for survival.
Regardless, Silvermoon is beautiful: the beige buildings stand tall, decorated in traditional elven style with splashes of blue, red, green and gold. It demands the attention of every elf, every visitor, every inhabitant present, the occasional luscious green or red-leafed tree adding to its beauty. But Phoenix cannot register any of it properly as she whizzes through the ancient city alone at this hour without her mother for the very first time.
As she passes the stalls, she catches the eye of a merchant glancing towards her with puzzled curiosity. He soon spots the guard running after her, as do a few other traders. Phoenix is already halfway across the plaza when the guard emerges from the alley she left some ten seconds ago.
“Stop her!” he yells, the deep voice echoing across the plaza.
Phoenix suddenly comes over giddy, and slows ever so slightly to retain focus, her boots staggering across the cobbled ground. She passes a couple of patrolling guards, previously hidden by a large marquee on her right. She notices them in her peripheral vision but keeps her distorted focus dead ahead. The pair of guards look at each other and back at Phoenix. This propels her to keep up the pace, fighting against her body’s urge to stop and rest. She shakes it off and continues.
“ - her!” a screaming echo comes from the other end of the plaza. “By the Sunwell, stop that girl!”
The two guards give chase, joining the third, a few seconds ahead of him. But Phoenix has already reached the street at the end of the plaza and is now bursting with all her strength towards the Inner Elfgate. Her light, slim frame gives her an advantage over the heavily armoured guards with their long shields and double-bladed swords.
Flashes of blue, gold and white blur in front of her as she passes tall, ornate buildings either side of the street, which is paved with beautiful blue stones. There’s the odd person here and there, going for an early morning walk, their eyes bulging at Phoenix as she whizzes past, but at this hour there’s hardly anyone around.
Phoenix’s breathing is fast and erratic. She doesn’t have time to admire some of the golden statues of elven legend, including Dath’Remar Sunstrider who founded the kingdom of Quel’Thalas some 7,000 years ago. He fearlessly led his people across the seas, through harsh blizzards in the mountains and fought off savage Amani trolls to make their home here. Now his statue merely watches as an unwitting murderer flees his people.
Phoenix notices the statue and briefly wonders if she too will lead an interesting life, or if she’s destined to rot in prison for a crime she didn’t want to commit, or doesn’t even remember doing. Her head feels cloudy and she instead tries to concentrate on leaving Silvermoon City behind her.
Her body is burning with effort, crying out for her to stop, but her mind wills her to keep going. At the end of the street there’s a clearing, the buildings replaced by bushes and grass as the City ends and Eversong Forest begins. She can hear distant shouts from the guards behind her, but doesn’t hesitate as her boots move from the tap of the concrete to the silent muffle on grass.
Phoenix turns right and hesitates. The enormous Inner Elfgate dawns in front of her, defiant and bold, the only thing standing between her and freedom. Fear bubbles within her. The gate opens at sunrise every morning, around 6am, for traders and customers to bring their coin into the city, but Silvermoon is still in that transition between night and morning. The gate is closed tight. The only ones inside the city right now are those who live there or those who passed through the gate yesterday. She is trapped.
The Elfgate consists of two gargantuan wooden doors, each inlaid with gold and displaying a striking ornate pattern, which flows and curves as one when both doors are shut, as they are now. Each thick door is about 25 metres long and 20 metres tall, creating a huge 50-metre wall - a barrier to protect Silvermoon from the outside. A flicker of blue magic beams across the Elfgate, which is sandwiched by two circular stone guard towers and sheer, almost unscalable hilltops. Battlements run atop the length of the gate, connecting the twin towers, with some of Silvermoon’s finest guards and archers stationed and ready upon them. Two special gatekeepers are positioned at the centre of the battlements, responsible for any guard shift changes and most importantly, opening and closing the gate via two huge stone winches encrusted with magical runestones. The guards here speak only in Thalassian - the high elven tongue - and expect travellers to speak it too should they wish to trade in the city.
Phoenix, knowing she probably has half a minute maximum before the other guards catch up with her, runs straight towards the centre of the huge Inner Elfgate.
“Anaria shola,” shouts one of the elves down at her from atop the commanding Elfgate.
“Anar’alah belore,” Phoenix yells between breaths, her heart tearing through her chest like a drum.
A breeze catches her hair as she desperately tries to catch her breath.
“Belore, Aranal. Belore, Aranal!,” she repeats, desperately. But gets no response.
One gatekeeper says to the other, low and impossible for Phoenix to hear: “She’s eager, Andreas, it’s not daybreak yet.”
Phoenix cries up at the guards, her voice breaking and echoing across the large open space: “Anu belore dela'na!”
Back atop the high battlements, the second guard responds to the first: “Bah, it’s only a little girl, Dahneil, just ignore her…”
The gatekeeper’s words trail off as, in that very moment, the first ray of sunlight pokes above the horizon, catching Phoenix’s ginger hair and gleaming mildly off the gold pattern of the Inner Elfgate. Phoenix is spending every valuable second to take as many breaths as she can, but the shining glint from one of the guard’s helmets atop the Elfgate takes her breath away.
“Huh,” the first guard states, watching the first light of dawn break over the horizon. “Would you look at that? Guess she’s right. Well, let’s open it.”
“Al diel shala,” the second guard yells down towards Phoenix.
Hope flutters in her heart as she sprints towards the two towering doors, smiling widely.
“Al diel shala!” she shouts in return, with ecstasy and disbelief. “Al diel shala!”
The two gatekeepers atop the battlements start to turn their respective winches, and one of them shakes his head in response to the girl’s peculiar enthusiasm. They do not see the three guards emerging from the edge of the city towards the grass and the enormous gate.
Phoenix arrives at the base of the gate, pressing her hands on it as if this will somehow force it open quicker. She shuts her eyes and thinks about what may happen if she’s caught, her heavy breaths seeping into the old wood. After what seems like an eternity, but is probably only a few seconds, Phoenix feels the large door twinge as it starts to move. She looks over her shoulder and spots the three guards, shouting at the top of their voices, running towards her and waving at the guards in the battlements to close the gate.
“Tal anu'men no Quel’dorei!” one of the guards shouts up at the gatekeepers.
“Wait!” the first gatekeeper says to the other. “Andreas, what’s that?”
“Huh?” he says in surprise, both gatekeepers moving away from the winches and looking below to see the guards waving at them to close the Elfgate. They spin back towards the winches and turn them in the opposite direction fast, in a bid to close the gate. But it is too late.
Phoenix has already slithered through the narrowest of gaps between the two mammoth doors and is now sprinting down the hill into the thick shrubbery of Eversong Forest.
There is confusion as the gatekeepers atop the wall and the guards below them shout at one another, the gatekeepers trying to make sense of the situation and the archer generals in the two towers beside unable to understand what is happening fast enough. With no clear instructions given to them in the commotion, Phoenix is able to make distance between her and the gate. She has her eyes half-closed now as she runs, her heart feeling like it wants to beat its way out of her chest, her mind telling her a volley of arrows could shred her to pieces at any moment.
By the time the guards have opened fire on Phoenix, she’s at the edge of the Forest, blanketed by the leaves of a hundred trees, casting her in shadow, the shouts of the guards now a mere muffle in the wind.
Phoenix is terrified and incredibly lucky to be alive.
But she is alive. And she feels more alive than she can remember.

Chapter V: Outside

Stepping out into the lush landscape of Eversong Forest, her boots crunching on the leafy path beneath her as she continues to run, Phoenix’s fear is merged with a sense of optimism. A solitary bird sings overhead as a breeze catches the luscious red-leaved trees.
Phoenix considers hiding. The guards will probably expect her to go west or south, away from Silvermoon, and will no doubt inform the guard posts and villages in the surrounding area of her crime and appearance. What if she tries to lose them here instead?
She thinks this over for a few minutes and ultimately decides: hiding is too risky. No, she will continue running and perhaps take on a new identity. She feels utterly exhausted. But presses on.
After ten minutes of running deeper into the forest away from the main paths towards the south-west, Phoenix’s pace slows to a brisk jog as her body reaches its limit and refuses to run at pace any longer. She reaches a clearing beside a river and four paths meeting at a crossroads. The grass is longer here and a few weeping willow trees overlook the river. She turns her head, waits and listens for any guards. The trees respond with a sigh as a breeze passes through them.
Phoenix had a head-start on the guards, but mustn’t get complacent. She’s sure it won’t be long until they catch up. She scans her surroundings quickly. There are a few early morning fishermen and women on the riverbank, some of whom are dozing with hats over their faces, having congregated from nearby villages. Phoenix looks around and behind her to check she’s being followed, then kneels at the water’s edge. The trickle of the river, the gentle breeze in the trees and the birds chirping overhead are the only sounds in the area. Phoenix tries to block them out to stop herself from lulling into a false sense of security.
Phoenix realises she may have blood on her face, so she checks her blurry reflection in the calm water and notices a few smears. She’s not sure who that girl is looking back at her anymore.
She splashes water onto her face and uses some grass and leaves to try and scrub any dried blood away, washing her brow, her soft cheeks and long ears rigorously. She passes her ginger hair through her fingers, feeling for specks of dried blood and doing her best to remove them, wringing her wet hair clean.
With her two flasks full, she begins to take a long drink from the river directly, using cupped palms to gulp water into her mouth, in between heavy breaths. After a few more minutes, Phoenix stops to inspect her sleeves and her clothes for any blood. she attempts to clean her bloodied palms, sleeves and knees by scrubbing them frantically using her fingernails and large leaves.
Her sleeves are the worst culprit, the blood having seeped deeply into the grey fabric as light pink blotches. No amount of scrubbing will remove them entirely, though they are largely faded and unobvious to passers by.
Phoenix, having caught her breath and feeling somewhat calmer, is suddenly conscious of being watched. She looks up slowly and sees a fisherman in the distance staring back at her from the far side of the riverbank. He's too far away to see the grass-stains on her face, her messy wet hair or the pink blotches on her sleeves.
She sits up, leans back from the river’s edge and does her best to look like a normal girl taking a normal visit through the woods on a normal morning, when she hears a type of chirping harsher than a normal bird cutting through the air.
Phoenix looks towards the sound of the noise to see a couple of flightless purple-feathered hawkstriders (two-legged chicken-like birds almost the size of horses) behind her. They are leading an open wagon which contains some farming equipment, shovels and other goods on the back, coming from the southern path and heading west. It trundles past Phoenix on the path nearby at surprising pace as the hawkstriders chirp sharply, much to the frustration of those fishing.
In a split-second she decides it would be a good idea to jump on board with half-washed-away bloodstains than to stick around and spend however long trying to remove them entirely and risk being caught. Plus, she desperately wants a place to rest. The cart is heading towards Fairbreeze Village after all, and who knows, maybe it will go through the village itself. She starts to sprint towards it.
Phoenix jumps and rolls onto the back of the wagon, bumping as she does so but barely making a sound. The lone driver turns his head but doesn’t see Phoenix, who is sitting up against a stack of boxes, blocking part of his view.
As they move away from the river and the crossroads, there is a break in the trees, the bright sunlight of morning beaming down on them. The cart shifts to the left and creates an opening; Phoenix can see part of Silvermoon City in the distance, in between the gaps of the thick trees, its grand buildings and spires standing tall. She wonders if she will ever see them up close again.
Phoenix wants to smile at her freedom and daring escape, but ends up mulling over Chrim’s death and the uncertainty and danger that may lie ahead for her. She thinks for the first time in this calmer situation about being a murderer and stares at the leaves and the rocks in the path below her as the cart moves. She does her best to ignore the bumpy ride and the noise of the bickering birds, taking an apple out of the bag to stop her mind from wandering too deep. She bites into it, admiring the clear waters of the river, the trees around her and the view of Silvermoon in all its glory as they all fade into the distance.
After finishing the apple, Phoenix can do nothing but watch the world go by. She has no errands to complete for the first time in her life; she feels free but cannot enjoy the moment. Worry simmers within, but her tiredness overwhelms it. Another wave of mental exhaustion passes over her again, and this time she does not resist. She leans and curls back up against the boxes in the back of the cart, the mildly bumpy ride making her feel at ease. She decides to jump off the cart whenever - and wherever - she wakes, leaving her life in fate’s hands.
Phoenix closes her eyes and dozes.


The noise of a crowd wakes her. Phoenix yawns, stretches and suddenly jolts upward, wondering where she is. She fumbles for her bag and feels nothing but the wood of her cart to her left. She panics. Her hands fumble around to her right and catch the rough texture of old leather. Phoenix sighs with relief, swings the bag around her shoulder and stands up. She swears under her breath for not holding the bag more closely and looks around.
She’s not exactly sure where she is, but her intuition says she’s probably not far from Fairbreeze Village. It feels like she napped for an hour or two. Intrigued by the nearby crowds, Phoenix skips off the back of the moving cart and crouches down low to avoid being spotted by the driver.
She is in a large open field full of temporary stalls and other amusements, with a line of buildings to one side.
By this time it’s mid morning and some sort of festival is going on. There are stalls selling fresh produce, garments and trinkets, children running around playing and a band performing traditional elven music in a nearby marquee. The smells of freshly baked honey bread, mixed berries and roasted meat fill the air.
Phoenix smiles inside at the prospect of enjoying the festivities and finding some work, or perhaps a passing trader who can take her on as an apprentice, but feels that mild pang of fear again at the thought of being caught. She puts her hands in her pockets to hide the faded bloodstains and looks at the floor.
Feeling a little peckish, Phoenix trots over to a nearby honey bread vendor. She asks the man behind the stall for a few slices, and as he prepares them, Phoenix turns back around to look at the festival for a place to sit. There are happy faces everywhere and plenty of benches to sit on - or trees to rest against.
“That’s one silver please,” the man asks.
Phoenix turns to face him, smiles, moves her hand into her satchel - and panics. She can’t feel any coins in the money pocket.
Phoenix frantically checks the other pockets on her and in her bag, fumbling around for her gold. Her life savings. Her chance at a future. Gone.
She turns around and looks on the floor to check if she dropped it by accident. Her heart thumps in her chest. Did she leave it back at the inn? Did it fall out while she was running out of Silvermoon?
“Hey kid, are you gonna pay for this or not?” the vendor asks, agitated.
“Sorry, I think I’ve lost my money,” Phoenix answers and the man frowns, half in frustration and half in sympathy. Phoenix immediately starts jogging back towards the road to Silvermoon, triple checking her pockets for the gold. The man shrugs and serves the next customer.
She looks around desperately for any wandering wagons but quickly accepts the money is lost. Phoenix’s frustration rises at her own carelessness, combined with a growing anxiety over being alone and hunger in the pit of her stomach.
Phoenix mills about the festival for most of the day, feeding off scraps of discarded bread, beef and berries bought by other elves at the festival and dropped or thrown away. She watches other happy families smile and laugh with one another, friends in good spirits, lovers kissing one another on the grass. Phoenix finds herself in the tricky situation of wanting to find something, someone, anyone, to offer her a new start. But her shy demeanour prevents her from reaching out.
Phoenix spends most of the time by a nearby stream at the edge of the festival, looking at the face in the water again and wondering who is looking back at her. Who does she want to be? What is she supposed to be? The elf with pink-ish skin, blue eyes and ginger hair just stares back, no longer a little girl but not yet an adult. Longing for something.
Deep in thought, Phoenix makes herself get up and stops her mind from wandering further. She reads a nearby sign and begins walking towards the direction of Fairbreeze Village. After an hour or so, she finds herself alone on a dusty road in the middle of Eversong Forest, sandwiched by bushes, the sounds of the festival long gone as evening starts to descend.
After another half an hour of brisk walking, she slows to catch her breath and feels her freckled cheeks flushed from the heat of the dawning sun. All she can hear is her breath and her footsteps. She thinks she can smell a faint, familiar scent. Looking up, Phoenix sees a small bridge passing over the shallow stream up ahead.
It’s late afternoon and the sky is flush with amber swirls as the sun begins to set. Phoenix decides she will have a break once she reaches the stream to cool off and have a drink from her bag. She looks down at the floor as she walks towards the embankment, following the red and green leaves beneath her boots.
Phoenix doesn’t notice the figures rising from the ditch by the stream.
She decides to gently jog in order to close the distance to the bridge, and find a place to rest before night falls. She keeps her eyes focused on the floor, and stumbles into something.
Phoenix looks up and comes face-to-face with the elf in black.

Chapter VI: End of the road

“Well well well, what do we have here?” The Quel’Dorei in black asks aloud.
He is flanked by four or five other elves dressed in similar black leather clothes. They tower over her. One - a female with straight, sharp white hair - smiles blankly.
Phoenix’s heart races. Is it really him? From years ago? Does he recognise her?
“I’m… I’m... just on my way back to Silvermoon,” she manages to stutter between breaths, lying. “I’m late.”
“Well, you’re going the wrong way for one,” he smirks, and the others laugh. “You’ve reached a toll bridge.”
The elf in black looks at Phoenix as if judging her; she can feel his cold blue-grey eyes trying to figure her out. She is petrified at the thought of him recognising her from all those years ago. She glances back at him and his hardened, pockmarked face, his long silver hair and trim beard, and looks away again. A scar runs from his nose to his left ear. He must be a few hundred years old for an elf, who can live for many centuries.
Phoenix looks back down to the floor, terrified.
“For you…” the man in black says, after a few moments. “100 gold.”
A few of his accomplices shuffle almost awkwardly, the white-haired female makes a devilish grin and Phoenix balks inside at the obscenely high price.
“Norros,” one of the other elves addresses the man in black.
“I’m just joking!” Norros smiles, gesturing with his palms facing outwards like a mime. “10 gold,” he adds, with certainty.
“Oh father, why not more?” the white-haired elf protests.
“I’m afraid I lost my money,” Phoenix quickly interjects, nervously. “I only have a few gold to my name, it’s back home.”

“Aw, don’t worry my dear, it’s perfectly fine, we can make a deal,” Norros says, grabbing the bag around Phoenix, who reluctantly allows him to take it.
“I don’t have anything,” she starts, her heart in her throat, but the bag has been thrown to the young white-haired female, who is already emptying its contents to the floor. A humble blanket, a few flasks of water and some plain clothes fall to the floor, followed by all of Phoenix’s food: enough apples and bread to last a few days.
Norros looks disappointed. He slowly looks back up at Phoenix.
“Where exactly is home?” he asks her.
She hesitates. She doesn’t know how to answer, as home is nowhere now. Inside she prays not to blackout again, for it would surely mean her death.
Norros’ daughter steps forward with one of the flasks of water, holding it over Phoenix’s head as she starts to say: “He said… Where...”
She pours the water over Phoenix, slowly emphasising each word: “Is...? Home...?”
The water runs down the face and hair of Phoenix, seeping slightly into her clothes.
‘I don’t have one,’ Phoenix thinks to herself. She tenses up and her mouth wobbles with nervousness; she starts to cry without showing it, making a sound or screwing her face up, the first few tears mixing with the water.
She glances up at the white-haired elf, who smiles a slow, wicked smile back. Her stare is like poison to Phoenix, there is hatred behind her eyes.
Her face is clear like a crystal, her big grey-blue eyes a mirror image of her father’s. Her nose and mouth are small like a mouse, her skin pale, contrasting with her black jacket, cloak and trousers. A narrow sword is in her holster.
“Now now, Alexandra,” Norros says, stepping forward. “That’s no way to treat a guest. She must stay somewhere.”
Frightened and wet, like a cat that’s been thrown into a bath, Phoenix takes a breath to try and mask her crying - and lies again.
“A small shack with my foster family, I’m an orphan, we’re poor we don’t have anything,” she blurts out.
“Then how do you have some gold to your name, as you said?” Norros asks.
“I saved up a stash while working,” Phoenix’s voice cracks despite speaking the truth.
“Okay. Where do you work?” Norros replies.
Phoenix tries to think. She doesn’t want to put the inn in trouble or give away her identity, and her second delay costs her.
“The bank -” Phoenix’s response sounds more like a question than an answer.
“She’s lying,” Alexandra interrupts with a snarl, standing right in front of Phoenix.
The two elves are the same height, so their eyes meet easily. But Phoenix doesn’t want to look straight at her. Instead, her gaze wavers nervously. She notices that Alexandra has a small tattoo of a feather on the side of her neck. Could it be? The same feather from the note?
Alexandra appears to be slightly older than Phoenix, her long streaks of white hair fall over her back into slight curls, contrasting with her dark black leather. She stares at Phoenix, who stands opposite her in her light grey outfit, slumped and looking back at the neck tattoo, her wet ginger hair stuck to her face and tunic.
“May I, father?” Alexandra asks Norros, without taking her eyes off Phoenix, who is now staring at the floor, any mild anger for her mother’s potential kidnappers overshadowed by fear. Alexandra tenses her hands into fists, her black, grimy fingerless gloves tightening and loosening.
He nods, uninterested, turning away with the rest of the group before saying: “Do not be long.”
Before Phoenix has a chance to realise what is happening, the leader’s daughter has grabbed her with both hands.
“What are you doing?” Phoenix shrieks quietly, with panic.
There is no verbal answer. Alexandra releases her, swinging her arms and landing a short but vicious flurry of punches to Phoenix’s chest and kidneys.
Before she can react to the pain, a fist flies towards Phoenix’s face, smashing into her nose. Blood seeps as she is sent reeling from the blow, crashing to the floor and covering her face, before attempting to stand again and flee in panic.
Alexandra kicks Phoenix’s chin and the force knocks her backwards. She tumbles over the edge of the small bridge and into the shallow stream below, the water turning a light shade of pink from her bleeding nose.
Phoenix coughs and scampers out of the stream. She lies in sharp pain, dazed and muddy and wet. She hears a voice through her ringing ear and winces.
“You have 24 hours to pay the fee,” the voice says, deadpan, getting louder. “Meet here, this time tomorrow, alone. Do not tell anyone. If you don’t have enough, bring what you have. If you don’t show, we’ll find you. And the payment will be increased.”
Phoenix curls up defensively with her eyes tight shut, praying the ordeal to be over.
Alexandra responds by drawing her sword.
“Please don’t!” Phoenix cries.
Using her narrow rapier like a whip, Alexandra slashes at the edge of Phoenix’s clothes with poise and control, leaving them slightly torn. She laughs fiendishly, steps back and kicks Phoenix in her stomach one more time, who curls up again, shaken with fright, and soon feels her boots being pulled off.
Phoenix writhes in pain as she hears more laughter and footsteps gradually echoing away from her. She slowly crawls to the ditch beside the stream, shaking with shock. She coughs uncontrollably, the blood from her nose splattering onto the ground. Phoenix opens her eyes and sees the group walking away from her, towards Silvermoon.
Phoenix cries silent tears, lying still and trying to absorb what just happened. She turns onto her back, moves her shaking hands away from her face and looks down at them. They are smudged with mud, blood and tears.


A couple of minutes pass before Phoenix opens her eyes to see the stars above shining back. Her body is aching all over while her nose and chin hurt to touch. Her face and hands are covered in dried, cracked blood. Phoenix tries to stand and staggers to gain her balance.
She limps to the stream barefoot and cups a few handfuls of water to her face. Crickets rustle in the bushes around her. The bleeding from her nose is slowing.
She drinks desperately before cleaning her face and hair with the shallow stream water. Phoenix removes her cloak and lifts her shirt at the sides to reveal some newly formed bruises, painful to touch. She grits her teeth and rests her hand on her chin. It feels fractured.
After taking the time to clean herself up and try to calm down, Phoenix heads back to the bridge to look for her belongings. She finds her empty satchel and takes it just in case, but feels defeated with nothing to her name.
She thinks about her next steps, a pang of hunger waving through her. Eventually she decides she has no alternative but to escape and head as far away from Silvermoon and Fairbreeze Village as possible. Her life here is over. She will never get the kind of money demanded on time and fears what may happen if the group in black - or royal guards - find her. Though part of her thinks that if she runs, if she never sees that gang again, then the chance of finding her mother again may fade with them.
She begins walking west, towards thick woods. She knows not where she is going, has never been in this part of the forest before, and walks slowly, silently and painfully. Light rain begins to fall; an owl hoots overhead.
After an hour or so, passing the West Sanctum, she sees the light of a village up ahead. Feeling exhausted from the pain and walking, she decides to turn in for the night. Better to seek help in the day when everyone is awake.
A little way from the road, Phoenix finds a small cave nearby at the base of a hill, speckled with moss. It’s about the same size as her old box room, making her feel a little at home, and provides shelter from the rain. Near the cave mouth, some stones have been gathered and laid in the shape of a triangle.
Phoenix enters the alcove, lays down on the grassy, mossy gravel and thinks about what has happened in the past 24 hours. Her mother is gone, she has no money or food, and the safety of the inn is lost forever. It seems she has brutally murdered her previous employer, escaped from Silvermoon City and its royal guards by the skin of her teeth, and has been robbed and beaten by the gang in black from her childhood. If Alexandra’s feather tattoo is the same as the one from the kidnapper’s note, they could have her mother too.
Phoenix Dreamfoil is broken. Her hunger is overshadowed by fear; her will is shattered; her spirit sapped. She feels like she has nothing to live for, more so than when she was at the inn.
But this time she doesn’t cry. Tears have lost their meaning. Fear is becoming normal. She is finding herself in a place beyond sadness now, beyond purpose or feeling. She feels… nothing. Like she is nothing from nowhere, no one at all.
Phoenix closes her eyes.

She is with her mother now, arm in arm, walking towards the Sunwell. They are laughing and smiling together, the sun shining and the warmth of the well’s magic radiating over them.
Phoenix looks around and notices they are completely alone. The sky suddenly cracks and turns black overhead, thunder and lightning and rain shooting down at them. She hears footsteps quickening behind them and turns around to see a figure in black closing in on them fast. She tries to make out the face but it’s masked.
Phoenix, startled with fright, pulls on her mum’s arm to encourage her to run, but the arm falls limp. Her mother is staring in a trance, frozen, and Phoenix tries to scream but no sound comes out. Time slows almost to a standstill. Phoenix turns around in slow motion just in time to see the black figure, through the pouring rain, leap towards them both.

Phoenix startles awake with a gasp, sitting upright. Her sides and jaw ache with intense pain, beckoning her to lay back again. The actual rain and thunder outside exacerbate her nightmare, one she has not experienced for years.
She struggles to relax and fall asleep again, dozing on and off uneasily until sunrise.
Starving and aching more than the night before, she forces herself to leave the cave and find help in the village nearby.
It is grey and foggy outside, the grass soaked from the storm, which has now passed. Phoenix stretches, yawns and looks down to find one silver coin glinting up at her from inside a small triangle of stones. What luck. How hadn’t she noticed it earlier? Phoenix picks the coin up and examines it, puzzled, before heading to the village.
An old elf tending to plants scowls at her as she passes. Phoenix walks between buildings, looking for some kind of help, and settles on a nearby bakery, the silver coin gripped tightly in her hand. The occasional face peers at her from the windows, while others in the street avoid making eye contact, as if she’s an outlaw or strange hermit. Phoenix realises she must look like a tramp, a troublemaker or just an absolute mess.
She buys a couple of sweetrolls from the baker, who proves to be untalkative, and tries to seek a helping hand or advice from other shopkeepers, to no avail. She gets one-word answers or grunts in response to her questions.
Phoenix avoids the local inn, as it looks like home, and the guardpost, for obvious reasons. She wishes she could report the group of thugs, remembering Alexandra’s threats. No, she will leave here, and get as far away as possible.
After swiftly devouring one of the rolls, she decides to go back to the small cave to savour the other and think about her plan of action in more detail.
She walks to the cave mouth, looks down and stops abruptly. Another silver coin is lying in the middle of the triangle of stones.
Is Phoenix still dreaming? She’s barely been gone 20 minutes - who’s putting the coins there? Is it magic? If so, she thinks to herself, she could keep gathering them until her debt to the gang in black is paid.
She lays down near the stone triangle at the cave mouth, closes her eyes tight and for a moment wishes she is some kind of special mage with the ability to conjure coins and money from thin air.
She gradually peeks through her left eye, her right still shut tight, and feels more stupid than disappointed to see the same single silver piece on the ground in front of her. She opens and shuts her eyes a few more times for good measure.
“You are a strange creature,” a shrill voice pierces the foggy air as if from nowhere.
Phoenix looks around, crumbs stuck to her chin and left cheek, blending in with her freckles. She sees nothing.
“Who said that?” she asks, startled and scared.
There is no response. Phoenix stands and looks around, at the village, into the cave and at the trees nearby.
“I must be going mad,” Phoenix starts. “I’m hearing things. Or talking to myself.”
“No,” the squeaky voice responds. “You’re just being lazy. You are looking and listening. But ya do not see.”
Before she can react, she hears the sound of metal shimmering through the air. A coin is flicked directly onto the top of Phoenix’s head, where it lies perfectly still and balanced. She hears a short giggle nearby.
Phoenix quickly grabs the coin in frustration and looks up.
A female goblin is lying down on the cave’s roof, tilted to one side and looking back at Phoenix, her head supported by one of her hands. The other waves a silly wave at the young elf.
Phoenix scowls in frustration. “I don’t have time for this.”
“You don’t even know what ‘this’ is.”
“A stupid goblin playing stupid games, with a stupid girl whose life is falling apart, that’s what,” she says, angrily, her heated emotions giving way to false confidence.
“That’s not fair,” the goblin squeaks, casually flipping down from atop the cave to land feet-first on the ground beside Phoenix, smiling up at her and standing proudly.
She is dressed in simple boiled leather, yet somehow makes it look almost elegant, with her basic-looking shin guards and arm guards perfectly scaled to her short size. She wears a scarlet red cloak with fine gold stitching, a patch over her right eye and thick jet black hair rests just above her shoulders. A narrow rapier is in her holster. A small golden inverted triangle brooch is adorned to her leather breastplate. The mix of both poor quality and expensive-looking clothing is jarring.
“The name’s Trixie,” the little green-skinned goblin says, holding out a gloved hand towards Phoenix.
“I just wanted to help a local beggar.”
“I’m not a beggar!” Phoenix retorts, ignoring the short outstretched hand and putting her hands on her hips.
“You took my silver, did ya not?”
Trixie’s voice is piercing and high-pitched, with a wild twang. Phoenix’s is prim and well-spoken in contrast.
“I didn’t ask for it,” the elf says to the goblin.
“But ya took it anyway and knew it wasn’t yours. So you’re a thief, then?”
“Ah, by the Sunwell!” Phoenix cries in aggravation as her heart thuds hard in her chest and tiny spikes of rage jut into her mind. She throws the two silver coins onto the ground by Trixie’s feet like a toddler having a tantrum. “Take your money back, I don’t want it anyway!” Phoenix spits. “Who are you?”
Trixie smiles, saying: “I already told you my name. You spent the first silver rather quickly, which suggests otherwise. So you’re a beggar, a thief AND a liar.”
“Shut up!” Phoenix moves towards Trixie and tries to grab her as her rage rises, having to lean down to reach the goblin’s head.
Trixie grins as she avoids a grapple: “A beggar, thief, liar and a thug.”
Phoenix kicks towards the goblin, uncontrollably; she doesn’t care if she loses control anymore. Time seems to slow slightly and Phoenix feels groggy, like she’s underwater. She makes weak contact with the goblin a couple of times, but Trixie easily evades and parries Phoenix’s poor instinctive attacks.
In an instant, Phoenix’s boiling anger fizzes away and is replaced by sadness. She stops flailing, uncurls her fists, turns away and frowns. She feels a little drowsy.
“What do you want?” Phoenix whimpers. “Can’t you see I have nothing? I am nothing…”
“Relax, kiddo,” Trixie says soothingly as her smile fades, her voice easing over Phoenix like a calm wave. “My, you have a short temper for someone so small who cannot fight...”
Trixie notices the bruises and blood stains on Phoenix, as well as her cut-up clothes. “But it seems you have guts.”
Phoenix mulls over the ‘small’ remark, turning back around and looking down at the goblin half her size in slight confusion.
“I don’t have guts,” she sniffs. “I am pathetic. I am a danger to myself.”
Trixie pauses in thought.
“Tell me….” she says, reaching up to pat Phoenix gently on the back. “One gold for your thoughts. No begging. Just money for information - think of it as a fair trade.”
“Why? What’s it to you?” Phoenix mutters, her curiosity piqued.
Trixie places a gold coin into Phoenix’s hand and folds her fingers around it, ignoring her question.
“No questions from you yet. How did you get here? Who are you? What’s your story? Maybe I can help.”
“I’m a trader, from Stranglethorn.”
“Why are you here giving money to beg… big elves?”
“H-hey, I said no questions! Your story first, then I’ll share mine.”
Phoenix looks at the goblin for a moment through puffy eyes and considers. She sighs and comes to the conclusion she has nothing to lose.
They sit quietly on the grass and Phoenix eats her other sweetroll as she begins to tell her story to Trixie.
“My name is Phoenix. Phoenix Dreamfoil,” she starts, offering her hand to the small goblin, this time the handshake succeeding. Trixie is taken aback by the elf’s sudden change in tone and looks a little perplexed upon hearing her name.
Phoenix tells the little green goblin almost everything, from the relationship with her mother to her capture, her sheltered life at the inn and leaving it behind, but avoids mentioning the murder or the manner of her escape from Silvermoon. Every now and then, Trixie passes her hip flask to Phoenix, who has a few sips of something strong. And with her sharp witty comments and charm, she even manages to make the young elf laugh once or twice, and think light of her situation.
Finally, Phoenix speaks worriedly about the ultimatum given to her by the bandits in black, and the threats they made. She uses this as an excuse for not returning to the inn, saying it could endanger the staff there.
“I know this group you speak of,” Trixie says, her eyes narrowing, her bright voice bringing light to a dark situation. “Firstly, I will give you the coin to pay them, so don’tcha worry about them…”
Phoenix is humbled by this act of kindness, and lost for words, though her eyes light up a little in appreciation.
“Why would you do such a thing? Who are you?” Phoenix asks again. “Like, who you really are, not just your name. You promised you would tell me your story.”
Trixie smiles at the elf’s inquisitiveness and innocence.
“I did,” she responds, nodding. “Come. There are some others I would like you to meet.”

Chapter VII: Down the rabbit hole

Phoenix walks alongside the little green goblin, back through the village she came across an hour earlier.
Trixie turns to Phoenix and flashes a grin up at her. She says: “Okay, my end of the deal. I suppose I’m an adventurer first, an opportunist second, and an activist in-between. I live life on the seas.”
Phoenix’s curiosity is instantly piqued as she gazes at the goblin’s eye-patch.
“You’re a pirate!” she beams.
Trixie chuckles. “I suppose you could say we are like pirates. But smarter. Nothing like the Bloodsail Buccaneers. We’re traders and tacticians, not mindless thieves or murderers. I also head up a reputable ship repair business.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Trixie glances at Phoenix, after noticing her stare. “A smart person doesn’t lose an eye. Lost it in a swordfight - but from what I gained, it was worth it. Lucky ya don’t need both eyes to see, eh?
“My eyes were opened after my time on the ship, the crew became family,” she says proudly. “For now, I lead a small scouting party here. Hopefully we will be reunited with our captain soon.’
Phoenix replies eagerly: “Are you setting sail again soon? Do you need a deckhand?”
Trixie stops walking to turn and face Phoenix. She shakes her head.
“My ship is out of action for a while,” Trixie says. “And anyway, do not be so hasty to leave your life behind here. There’s a lot worse than Silvermoon out there.
“Besides,” she says, starting to walk again, her voice taking a sadder tone. “I’ve been tasked with other important work here for now, while the main brunt of the crew are out adventuring somewhere far from these shores.”
She frowns mildly. Phoenix simply nods in response and looks down at the ground.
Despite her situation, her aching muscles and painful jaw, Phoenix feels a little better. There’s something about Trixie she feels she can trust, even though she barely knows her. All of Phoenix’s doubts are superseded by curiosity and excitement.
“Where are we going?” Phoenix asks naively, as they reach the Tranquil Shore beyond the western edge of the village. The grass and gravel give way to a short stretch of beach. It’s not long or large enough to attract sunseekers, but is still relatively beautiful nonetheless.
Between the forest and the water’s edge lie a few inconspicuous shacks on the white sandy beach. As they enter the second from left, the old dirty floorboards creak beneath their feet. Inside the small space there is a homeless elf asleep in the corner, inside a sleeping bag. The shack is almost empty, bar a couple of shelves littered with junk and a few empty bottles in the corner. Dust lingers in the air; it smells musty.
Phoenix turns to Trixie and blinks, as if to ask: ‘Why are we here?’
Trixie leans over the snoring elf and reaches out to one of the lower shelves. It seems as if she pulls on some sort of lever out of Phoenix’s line of sight, before turning to her again.
“You’re doing it again,” Trixie sighs. “Ya look but ya do not see.”
Before Phoenix can answer, a scraping noise emanates from the left.
“Let me open your eyes,” Trixie says, as a grate in the floor slowly moves aside, revealing an opening wide enough for a person to comfortably fit.
Phoenix blinks again and raises one eyebrow. Trixie moves past as if this is nothing out of the ordinary, and dips one foot into the opening, then the other. There’s a ladder leading down.
Trixie’s head soon disappears into the darkness of the hole, and after sensing her hesitation, the goblin shouts up at Phoenix, her voice echoing mildly: “Well, what are ya waiting for? Come on!”
Phoenix follows her down, a mix of excitement and fear nestling in her stomach. The only sounds are feet tapping on the wooden ladder and the faint snoring of the elf above filling the air, drifting into the distance.
As Phoenix nears the bottom, a flickering light emerges beneath her. Faint voices can be heard. Phoenix’s bare feet soon touch the cold gravelly floor, but she retains her grip on the ladder with uncertainty. One by one, her hands let go and she pokes her head around it to inspect her surroundings. The voices stop.
“Welcome to our humble home,” Trixie’s voice echoes slightly in the dark but warm cavern, her arms raised outwards as she casually turns around, her eyes fixed on Phoenix’s, gauging her reaction. “Please don’t be shy. My crew don’t bite. Unless provoked!” she squeaks.
The room measures probably no larger than 20 metres by 15. There are barrels and boxes stacked along one edge, with a few hammocks and simple beds up against two walls. The fourth wall curves outwards slightly, with a path spilling out to another area out of sight.
An inverted triangle has been coarsely-painted in red on the old crumbling wall facing Phoenix. Bottles and candles are strewn about on shelves and crates, casting a dim glow across the rocks. Efforts have been made to turn the cavernous hobble into a home; there are rugs and pictures on the walls, with a table near the centre that has been crudely put together. One picture is of an elf wearing a large sailing hat. Their captain?
Trixie pulls a lever by the ladder and the grate above them screeches as it closes above them.
Phoenix’s wonder is suddenly replaced with self-consciousness. There are others watching her, in the darkness.
Someone shifts from the top half of a bunk bed, glancing at her. A blue troll with wild red hair and two small tusks for teeth is sitting at the far end of the table and turns to face her. Trixie’s words about not being shy finally register in Phoenix’s brain and she instantly feels shy, back to her old insular self again.
“Everyone, your attention please!” Trixie raises her voice to a commanding level. “This is Phoenix… a lost girl who is far from home, and has got herself into a bit of a pickle with the Steelfeathers! We’re going to help her,” she says, and starts to rummage through a wooden chest.
Someone groans from one of the upper bunks.
The pale blue troll is standing in front of Phoenix now, a good two feet taller than her, smiling like he already knows her. He smells like the Bloodthistle leaves her mother smokes, mingled with sweat.
He moves to hug her but Phoenix recoils, so he goes to shake her hand instead, realises it’s so small compared to his and gives up. The moment becomes awkward, so he quickly decides to just pat her on the head instead.
“I be Django, mon,” he says with a thick voice, smiling with serene warmth.
Phoenix blushes and says, quiet as a mouse: “Phoenix.”
“I know dat, Trix already said,” he smiles.
Trixie returns from the chest with a bundle of simple brown clothes, a belt, a pair of tights and boots in her hands. She struggles to carry it all in her tiny frame.
Trixie speaks as she walks to the door near the ladder: “We don’t have many spare clothes but I think I managed to find something about your size. You can change in this room.”
Before Phoenix can reply, Django speaks again, after noticing her cuts and injuries. He says: “Damn. You really look like… like… you took a beating. You okay? Falkor may be able ta help.”
The troll leans in and whispers loudly, using his palm to cover the right side of his face like he’s pretending not to let anyone else hear.
“He be powerful, dat one,” he says to Phoenix. “Though he might not look it!”
Django points to a young elf sitting quietly in the corner. It’s hard for Phoenix to see in the dark, but it seems he’s disfigured in some way. He doesn’t appear to have ears, nor eyes. But before Phoenix can properly react to this, her gaze is drawn to the figure standing next to him: a beast the size of at least two full-grown elves. While not much taller than an elf, it is wide, with thick muscles.
Phoenix stumbles backwards at the sight of the two unusual figures, instinctively reaching for the ladder again.
“Haw-haww! Dis one no like da freak show, uh,” says Django, who returns to his seat at the table, finding humour in the moment.
“Do not be afraid, elf,” Trixie says calmly, moving past Phoenix towards the pair in the corner. “You are safe here.”
Phoenix gradually looks back up, her eyes drawn to the strange boy and the creature beside him.
In the shadows she sees two dim red eyes looking out from the larger being’s face.
“Phoenix, this is Seven,” Trixie says, across the cave. Her hand rests gently on the creature’s huge arm, motioning it to step forward. “He is an orc.”
As it slowly moves away from the wall and into the dim light of the room, Phoenix momentarily makes eye contact with the being, which responds by immediately looking away.
“Come, Phoenix, it’s okay,” Trixie repeats.
Phoenix reluctantly steps towards the goblin and the odd pair beside her. She is desperately trying to adjust to the bizarre mix of people, of different sizes and races, around her.
She tip-toes quickly past the troll and towards Trixie, Falkor and Seven.
Phoenix finds herself drawn to the latter. She has never seen anything like it before. It has the basic structure of a man or an elf, except its frame is twice the size. Its face looks savage, almost like a pig’s, but with a normal nose, and two large boar-like teeth jut out at either side of its mouth. Brown, scruffy hair sweeps across its forehead.
The beast is dressed in dusted grey-black leather. As Phoenix studies it, Seven looks ashamed. He pulls a bandit mask up from around his neck to cover the lower half of his face, leaving a pair of red eyes and sickly green skin on show, similar to a goblin’s.
Could it be one of those monsters from the rumours? Surely not, she thinks to herself: what’s it doing here?
Phoenix feels scared in this creature’s presence. The pair do not speak a word to one another.
“Up there is Thirteen,” Trixie says, pointing to an upper bunk. Phoenix sees a pair of eyes looking down at her from the darkness, with two elven ears protruding from the face of the shadowed figure.
“And this is Falkor,” Trixie states, reaching out to touch the sitting boy’s hand, guiding it into hers while looking at him with the love of a parent. The boy is dressed in a smart brown robe and his head is cleanly shaven. His elven ears appear to have been violently cut off, leaving behind a pair of stumps, and there are two fleshy sockets where his eyes should be. The poor boy can’t be much older than 10 years old, Phoenix thinks to herself.
“Falkor is incredibly talented,” Trixie says, looking back at Phoenix. “He’s our light here. He can’t see, or talk, like us. But he sees the world in different ways. He is a huge help to us, and he will help you now.”
A warm smile spreads across Falkor’s face. He makes a humming noise with his open mouth in an attempt to greet Phoenix, which comes out as a garble. Phoenix raises a hand and starts to wave, before shoving it back down like someone has pulled it, realising her mistake and blushing with embarrassment. Trixie grins in amusement at her mistake.
The goblin pats the floor opposite Falkor and makes eye contact with Phoenix, prompting her to sit. She does so, cross-legged, facing him, nervous. He must be some kind of healer, or mage, Phoenix understands.
She doesn’t know where to look. Falkor moves his mouth uncomfortably and as it opens for a second, Phoenix notices he has no tongue. He holds out his hands.
She wonders what happened to him but dares not ask aloud. He looks like a small monster or ghoul; Phoenix feels sorry for him and scared of him in equal measure.
Phoenix looks to Trixie, who nods back gently, and says: “Do not be alarmed.”
Phoenix raises her hands to touch the child’s. As she does so, an intense wave of energy floods through her, taking her breath away and forcing her eyes shut. Phoenix moves to release her hands, but Falkor is gripping tight, and all eyes in the room are on the two young elves. She submits, and tries to relax.
Falkor’s head spasms as he seems to concentrate, and Phoenix tilts her head down, frowning, breaking into a sweat.
“What’s happening?” she asks, scared, with her eyes still closed, as Falkor begins to make a series of gargling noises.
Phoenix feels the pain in her jaw and nose ease, as does the aching in her bones. The cuts on her body seem to dissipate. Falkor snorts and struggles to maintain his balance, saliva dripping from his chin. Scorching pain tears through Phoenix’s mind.
“Ow, my head, my head!” she cries out, opening her eyes wide.
“Stop!” Trixie quickly interjects.
Falkor eases his grip and Trixie parts the young elves’ hands. Phoenix moves back from Falkor and takes a moment to catch her breath. He detects Trixie’s presence and turns towards her. He taps the top of his head a few times with his left hand and shakes his head.
Trixie’s face contorts into mild unease. “That’s okay,” she whispers to Falkor, before hugging the disfigured elf and giving him a sip of something from a nearby hip flask.
Phoenix takes a sharp intake of air. She feels strong and healthy. Her connection to the Sunwell seems momentarily heightened and she can feel its magic seeping into her. It feels good. She opens her mouth and starts to say something, but the moment is interrupted by a distant noise, growing in volume.
A dwarf suddenly comes sliding down the ladder, landing like a lumpy piece of mud plopping onto tarmac.
“Urgh,” he pants, out of breath.
Phoenix, startled, turns to look at the commotion, blinking. Trixie stands and turns to face the dwarf, expectantly.
“Wheee!” says another person in a deep but almost melodic, wavy voice, out of sight. A pair of legs whizz down the ladder, hammering onto the first dwarf’s shoulders. It’s a ridiculous sight: two broad-bellied little beings, one standing on top of the other, holding onto the same ladder and facing towards everyone in between the ladder rungs, too out of breath to speak. They are wider and slightly taller than Trixie but still short, especially when compared to the troll or the beast, measuring around four foot in height to Trixie’s three. Phoenix thinks they look like some sort of oversized stacking cups with bellies attached to them.
“Oh ye silly sod, I told you to stop doing that!” the lower dwarf angrily shouts up at his compatriot, straining his voice. The veins in his neck bulge as he struggles with the added weight above him. “Get off!” he wheezes.
The dwarf on top chortles and jumps down to his right. He is also panting but not as breathless as the other dwarf, who holds a frown on his weathered, slightly wrinkled face. The two look almost identical, with thick brown-grey beards and bald heads. Phoenix assumes they are twins.
“Henry! Harris! What news do ya bring?” Trixie asks.
“No good booze, move quickly we must, and elves smell of dust,” the second, jovial dwarf says like words from a song.
“Shut up ye tool,” the first dwarf, blurts out quickly with a raised voice, clipping the other round the ear. “What he meant to say is we found what we were looking for, my lady.” He bends over to catch his breath.
“Have we?” Trixie says with mild delight. “Have we indeed… Excellent work boys.”
She smiles at Django as she passes him, the troll returning a knowing look as she moves towards the ladder. Trixie pats both dwarves on the back before handing them a bottle of drink from a nearby shelf.
The second dwarf attempts to take it but his hand is swatted away by the other, who takes a large gulp from the bottle, swallowing and breathing out loudly afterwards.
Trixie turns to Phoenix.
“This is Henry,” she says, opening her arm towards the grumpier, out of breath dwarf. “And this is his brother, Harris. They look the same, but by golly, don’t get their names wrong will you.”
Harris looks at Phoenix. He raises his hand and twiddles his fingers frivolously at her with a silly wave.
“Hello,” Phoenix says, sheepishly.
“Hi lass,” Henry responds, between breaths.
“Feel free ta change, Phoenix,” Trixie says, her eyes looking towards the nearby door. “Quickly if ya can. I want to show ya something else, above ground.”
The elf nods, finding it awkward to even walk through the door next to her, while all eyes are on her. But she does as she’s asked and moves into the room, bolting the door behind her. There’s a lantern on the wall in here, lighting up her surroundings. There are some clothes hung up to dry, along with an empty bath and some towels.
She changes quickly, and to her delight finds the boots fit her snugly, though the new leather tunic - with its sleeves and hood - is a little baggy. She admires the matching belt and boots, both black with gold-coloured buckles, and feels warm and almost dashing in her new outfit with brown tights. She puts her brown satchel around her shoulder, which matches her new clothes better than her simple cloth garb she wore previously.
Phoenix takes a deep breath, and kicks her old torn outfit into the corner. She returns to the main room.
Trixie smiles at Phoenix and looks at Django, who is sitting at the table.
“Blue, Phoenix, with me,” Trixie says, before heading up the ladder.
Phoenix glances at the troll, who is sniffing some white powder from the table into his right nostril. She looks away, feeling a little scared. He takes a deep breath and stands, before heading up the ladder. Phoenix reluctantly follows.

Chapter VIII: Into the grey

The trio exit the shack and look out to the beautiful elven shoreline, the midday sun high in the sky.
“Fancy some lunch?” Trixie asks.
“Yeh-heh-heh mon,” Django replies.
“Yes please,” Phoenix says, feeling shy next to the blue troll, but not so much the goblin. For some reason, she can’t help feeling she’s known Trixie for longer.
“Will we be safe with you around, Django?” she continues. “No offense, but…”
He just smiles back at her, knowingly.
Long ago, when the high elves founded Quel’Thalas, they were attacked by the Amani trolls in the forests to the south. The wars were long and bloody, and while the elves successfully kept the trolls at bay, many of them still harboured hatred towards the trolls to this day.
“Django’s not Amani,” Trixie explains. “He’s a jungle troll, used to be with the Gurubashi tribe. But, you’re right to be wary kid, he’s still a troll. He usually travels at night - and never alone.”
Django nods.
“Lucky for him,”Trixie continues, “I’ve made friends with a few tavern owners round here. We bring them business, they turn a blind eye…”
Trixie taps her eye patch a few times. She stares at Phoenix with her other eye, with assessment and expectancy, saying nothing. The elf’s comfort splits slightly through the stare.
Phoenix eventually looks away, asking: “Uhh… where should we go then?”
Trixie shrugs her shoulders, looks at Django briefly and back at Phoenix, who starts to feel a little flustered.
“I mean, where do you usually eat?” Phoenix asks.
“Wherever we like,” Trixie responds. “What about yaself?”
“At home, I mean, at the inn,” Phoenix replies.
“That’s a long way to go for lunch...” Trixie says.
“You know I can’t go back there.”
“Then where ya going to eat?”
Phoenix, unsure how to respond, shakes her head slightly and turns her hands over awkwardly as if to say, ‘I don’t know’. Eventually she says: “With you...?”
“You can eat with us, of course,” Trixie states. “But I can’t pay for you this time. You’ve already taken three silver coins from me, and thrown two away. I expect to have them returned to me.
“You have one hour - starting now - to get yourself some lunch and pay me back. Consider this your first test.”
She winks at Django, turns away from Phoenix and starts walking to the village.
“A - a test?” Phoenix replies, scampering behind her. “For what?”
Trixie speaks impatiently as she walks, talking to Phoenix like she’s a slow-learning student. “We’ve tended to your wounds and cleaned you up. We can provide a roof over your head, show you how to survive, teach you some invaluable life skills, ya know… and in return you can do some work for us, for my crew. That’s how it works.
“But only if you can complete this first test.”
Phoenix looks back towards Trixie a little nervously.
As they reach the edge of the village, an elven couple walk past them. One of them frowns at Django, who flashes a tusky grin back.
Trixie places her forefinger over her mouth and whispers “shhh” to Phoenix. The tiny goblin suddenly turns around and makes a quick movement behind the male elf.
Before Phoenix has realised what’s happened, Trixie is beside her again, cockily juggling a few coins in her hands. She lets the coins fall into one palm and moves them into her pocket.
Phoenix frowns angrily at Trixie, speaking with force but keeping the volume low: “I thought you said you were a trader!”
“I am. In five seconds I made five coins, in exchange for nothing, for a quick trick,” Trixie says. “I’d say that’s a pretty good deal. You have 58 minutes to make three, and do whatever else you can to get yourself lunch. Should be nice and easy. Here, I can give you one if you like, to get you started.”
Trixie holds out one of the coins to the young elf.
“Look, I am not a thief!” Phoenix says, ignoring the offer and still speaking low, despite the couple behind them being well out of earshot.
“No, you look,” Trixie says playfully. She stops, turning to Phoenix. “You have nothing to your name, no home, no direction and you’re in a whole heap of trouble ‘til I bail ya out. You’ve wasted three minutes asking questions when ya coulda been making progress.
“I’m not saying you have to steal, but this is life, Phoenix. You need to learn how to make money quickly, to use whatever you have in your disposal to survive. Unless you want to be stuck in a boring job the rest of your life. We are not saints, but I wouldn’t exactly call us sinners, either. From what you told me earlier about your life at the inn, I know you’re smarter than you make out. Use that to your advantage.
“But you’re also confused - I mean you’re interested in pirates but don’t want to steal,” she smirks. “No offense kid, but right now you don’t have many life skills. That needs to change if ya wanna stay with us.”
Phoenix feels offended anyway. She goes to say something, but stops herself. She hadn’t considered staying at the underground shack, but right now it’s the only option she has. Trixie is paying off her debt, so for now she decides to stay quiet. The goblin is right - though it pains her to realise it. She could use some life skills. She looks instead to Django, for some kind of reassurance.
He places a big troll hand on her skinny shoulder, and says: “People always be wantin’ somethin’ mon. Trust your instincts, be persuasive, get lucky.”
Trixie adds: “Blue’s right. If you get stuck, don’t look at things in black and white. Lean into the grey. There’s always another way, ya know.”
Trixie points to a nearby tavern. “You can come with us there, or go where you like, just get the task done.”
“Best be getting to it mon, da clock is ticking!” Django chuckles, taking an old-looking pocket watch from his white shirt pocket and throwing it towards Phoenix.
She catches it, frowns and looks down at the watch. It is bronze and ornate and old, with a smidgen of rust on one small area. The time is 1:25pm - so there are 55 minutes left. Phoenix places the watch inside her trouser pocket and watches as the pair enter the tavern. She bites the inside of her cheek and starts to dash towards the cave she slept in the night before.
Phoenix glances at the baker’s where she bought the sweetroll earlier in the morning and thinks about stealing something. She looks around at a few passers by and wonders how easily Trixie took the coins from the elf’s pouch moments ago. Phoenix considers pickpocketing someone. Would it impress Trixie and Django? Possibly. But she quickly brushes the thought from her mind. ‘No,’ she thinks to herself. ‘I am no thief.’
As Phoenix runs, the wind rushing by her face reminds her of the sensation she experienced after killing Chrim. The thought of blacking out again scares her. What if she lost control right now? Would she trip and have a dangerous fall? What would she do? How long would she be out for?
Phoenix slows to a jog and brings her large brown hood over her head for the first time, pulling it further over the top of her eyes. She breathes slowly. The leather hood feels tough yet snug around her hair as she tries to forget the blackout. Walking through the village in her new clothes and healed body makes her feel at ease. But there is hunger in her belly again, bringing her back to the task at hand.
As she reaches the small cave outside the village, she hurries to where she first met Trixie and casts her eyes down, looking for the silver coins she previously threw at the goblin in frustration. They are nowhere to be seen.
She notices nothing but the triangle of stones; the feeling of slight annoyance creeps over her. Phoenix sighs and looks around for ideas, hope, a spark of inspiration, anything. The golden-leaved trees are her only answer, replying with a faint sigh of their own from a gentle breeze.
Phoenix stares at the triangle of stones in a moment of self-pity and defeat, telling herself she cannot do this task. She is ready to return to the others for some kind of hint or to give up. Stealing just doesn’t feel right.
As she stares at the triangle, she allows her mind to wander. Three sides, three points, three people. A strong shape, a symbol of sorts. What did it mean? Why was there an inverted triangle on the wall in the group’s hideout?
Phoenix hears laughter in the distance. She turns towards it and sees a male elf playing with his son in the grass. Both have dark, wavy hair and look like a picture-perfect parent and child. The young elf is running away from his father, who is covering his eyes, counting and chasing his son, who howls with laughter when caught. They are repeating the process, and getting closer towards Phoenix.
She scans the area where they are running from and sees a picnic blanket and some food: a half-eaten pie and some cakes to be precise. A satchel also lies open on the blanket. The father and son are distracted, and Phoenix does her best to casually walk towards the nearby stream, as if she has somewhere else to go. Her heart rate rises, the hunger in her stomach urging her to take the half-eaten pie and cakes out in the open.
As she passes the family, Phoenix realises she’s staring down at the food and so she forces herself to look up at the horizon instead, rather awkwardly. In avoiding eye contact with the elves, she is not aware of their exact whereabouts, and the little boy bumps into her leg.
“Careful, Franco,” the father says, and apologises to Phoenix. She avoids eye contact and hurries along, ignoring him with shyness and pre-emptive guilt, moving towards the stream but at an angle that avoids the picnic area. She eventually reaches a dip by the stream, sits down and turns around, shielded by the slight ditch. Phoenix crawls around towards the picnic area, pokes her head above the bump in the ground and looks at the food, which is achingly close to her. She glances back at the father and son, who are continuing to move away from it.
She sneaks up to the food, and manages to grab the pie and some cakes. Before she turns to run, she glances at the father, who is holding his son up in the air and talking to him lovingly. She watches them and freezes, paralysed not by fear of getting caught but the natural way the parent and child are bonding. Phoenix wonders who her father is, that old feeling of confusion, sadness and anger coiling in the pit of her being once again, overshadowing her hunger.
She hears Trixie’s voice in her head, telling her to do what she must to survive. But as she sees the father and son laugh at one another as they spin around again, her sadness pushes her other feelings to one side.
‘What am I doing?’ Phoenix thinks to herself, before placing the food back onto the picnic area. She begins walking back towards the village, but after stepping over the half-empty satchel, stops again. In one second, Phoenix weighs up her morals in her head.
She thrusts one hand into the satchel and uses her other to open it widely. There are several coins inside. She takes three and closes the satchel again, before jogging away.
“Stealing from a child,” she mumbles to herself, feeling pathetic.
Phoenix slows to a walk. She feels a pang of jealousy towards the little elf, for having a father, and pulls the pocket watch out as a distraction and motivation. It’s 1:40pm - she has just over half an hour left.
Phoenix follows the stream for a few minutes, walking among the tall, luscious grass, looking for ideas. She considers asking someone for lunch when reaching the village, but that would be begging and desperate. No, she can do better than that. She suddenly feels very stupid not to have taken a few more coins to buy lunch with.
She puffs with anger and kicks a tree as she passes it, stubbing her toe. She walks on, feeling frustrated. Another tree lies in her path, much thinner and smaller than the first. She kicks it too, this time with the sole of her boot. The force causes the young tree to sway slightly, its branches rustling above her.
Just as she’s wondering what to do next, an answer falls to her, literally. A red apple bounces onto her head from a tree branch, before rolling onto the ground. Phoenix picks it up, looks overhead and laughs. She is surrounded by apple and plum trees.
Phoenix rubs her head. Being hit on the head never felt so good. She takes her time gathering fruit, picking apples slowly from the nearby trees and the ripest ones from the floor - red ones, green ones, small ones, big ones - and places them into her satchel. She also grabs a large handful of juicy plums for good measure.
After a while, once she’s happy with her fruity hoard, Phoenix smiles smugly and begins walking back to the village. She steps over a low picket fence and heads back to the tavern. The watch reads 1:50pm; she has plenty of time left.
Feeling proud of herself, Phoenix enters the inn with her hood still over her head, feeling pleased she’s completed her task.
Most of the tables are empty at this quiet part of town, but two portly human men and two elves are drinking at one, while a family of elves sit at another, a mother, father and their two young children eating lunch. Behind the bar, a middle-aged balding male elf innkeep is drying up clean plates and mugs, while his wife is topping up drinks and serving customers. Their teenage son is scrubbing the floor.
Trixie and Django are sitting at a table near the bar, and look towards Phoenix expectantly as she enters. Noticing her smile, Django smiles back while Trixie raises an eyebrow. The pair have a cup of ale and some roasted boar and vegetables in front of them - far too much than the pair of them could possibly eat.
A couple of the elves cast wary frowns Django’s way.
Phoenix moves towards her new friends and, saying nothing, places her satchel onto the table. She opens it, allowing her mentors to peer inside. Phoenix also stacks the three silver coins in front of Trixie.
“Ya did good, kid,” the goblin says, pocketing the money. “And we’ll have some leftovers for the others.”
Phoenix nods and passes the pocket watch back to Django. He says: “You had time to spare, well done ‘mon. So tell Trix and I, what you do?”
“Well,” Phoenix starts, “I thought about stealing something… I thought about it a lot. There was a father and son, they had left their belongings unattended by a stream and were distracted. I could have taken a pie and some cakes from them too, but it felt somehow worse than taking money from them. So I just took the coins I needed from their satchel and left the rest. It felt wrong to take more from them.
“Then I remembered you saying there is always another way. I got lucky - I found some apple and plum trees.”
Trixie interjects: “How would they react if you’d stolen all their stuff? Assuming they didn’t spot ya, but found out later.”
“Upset,” Phoenix responds.
“Would you say the father had his life savings in that satchel?” Trixie asks.
Phoenix shakes her head.
“So what would happen when they find out they’ve been robbed of a few coin?”
Trixie answers her own question: “They would be fine. They would get over it. They would get by.
“Now how would a homeless person feel if their last roll is taken from them?” Trixie says.
Phoenix thinks.
“They will lose hope. Self-worth,” Trixie continues. “Things that cannot be bought or sold. You’re taking a bit of pie and some coins, Phoenix, you’re not ruining someone’s life.”
As Phoenix ponders this, Django asks: “Where d’ya find da fruit, mon?”
“Erm, near the stream and the cave where I first met Trixie. I kicked a tree in frustration,” Phoenix answers. “And an apple fell on my head.”
Django cackles openly at this, craning his head back, his tusks pointing up towards the ceiling. Phoenix thinks she can see a smidgen of white powder on the edge of his long nose. She starts to titter along with him, finding humour in the silliness of her earlier actions.
Trixie wears a more serious expression. She stares at the ale in her mug, swirls it around and leans back on her chair, crossing her legs and resting her boots on the edge of the table.
“Tell me, Phoenix…” she starts, looking her in the eye. “You said that you didn’t steal the fruit, that you found another way.
“But what you really mean is you found another way to steal.”
Phoenix opens her mouth, pauses and looks at Django and back at Trixie.
“I didn’t steal them,” she murmurs, low, like a contrary teenager, swinging her legs underneath the table, frowning.
It’s Trixie’s turn to giggle, her wide smile forming dimples in the sides of her green cheeks. It slips away in an instant.
“Of course ya did. I mean, you didn’t pay for them, did ya?” Trixie says.
“But,” Phoenix pleads, defiant. “I found them!”
“There’s nothing wrong with stealing, Phoenix, when the circumstances permit it. But you are resisting that fact and worse, are ignorant to the fact ya stole,” the goblin says, her voice adopting a serious edge.
Django rolls his eyes.
“Lemme guess,” Trixie says, lifting her feet from the table and leaning forward. “You also stepped over the farmer’s fence without even realising you were trespassing, and no one even noticed ya,” the goblin barks, higher in volume.
“Ya thought the trees were just there, in the wild,” Trixie continues, her tone turning sharp and hard. “Look at your fruit.”
Phoenix pulls her hood back and regards her collection properly.
“They’re ripe and delicious,” Trixie says. “You didn’t notice there weren’t any rotten fruit around. Because they pick ‘em and sell ‘em before they spoil!”
Her voice is louder now and she leans her face closer towards the elf’s. “Ya STOLE the fruit from the trees; ya just didn’t know it. You probably didn’t even see the farmer’s house behind them!”
Trixie stands on the chair and emphasises each word: “Your problem, Phoenix, is ya look. But. Ya. Do. Not. See!”
While Trixie wasn’t shouting, her voice was loud enough to break the calmness of the tavern. A few customers on other tables turn towards them.
Phoenix looks down at the floor, unsure how to respond, her ginger hair now on full show. She feels angry.
“Ya do not see,” Trixie repeats, softly, frowning herself while sitting back down and taking a swig from her cup.
At that moment, the innkeep’s eyes are on Phoenix. The ginger elf is still looking down and doesn’t notice, but Trixie - who is sitting opposite the bar - does.
An uneasy silence yawns across the tavern as the mood sours. More of the inn staff are looking suspiciously at Phoenix now, the wife whispering to her husband behind the bar. The humans are frowning at the three of them, and not in a way that’s from annoyance. The boy who was scrubbing the floor sneaks into a back room. One of the elf customers moves to the entrance.
Trixie tilts Phoenix’s chin up with her forefinger. Phoenix looks at the goblin and, from her concerned expression, feels like Trixie knows more than she should. Phoenix is a wanted elf, but Trixie doesn’t know that. Right?
“We’re leaving,” Trixie whispers, quietly enough just for Django and Phoenix to hear. “I don’t ignore my instincts. Run along back to the hideout, alone. At once. Do not lead anyone there.”
Django stands. Phoenix grabs the bag of fruit and power walks to the exit, bumping into a chair as she does so, spilling an apple, which breaks the silence as it rolls noisily on the wooden floorboards towards the entrance. An elf lifts the toes of his boots up and pushes down on the apple to stop it rolling. He slides the bolt of the door, locking it shut.
Trixie loudly slaps some coins down onto the counter in an attempt to draw attention away from the bumbling elf and pay for her meal.
“She’s that girl!” the innkeep shouts, pointing at Phoenix. “She’s a murderer!”
Phoenix suppresses the feeling of nausea and panic, but cannot stop her heart thumping with adrenaline as she reaches the exit and freezes. Phoenix doesn’t see the stunned look on Django and Trixie’s faces behind her, or the family move away from the commotion in fright. She doesn’t see two men and a couple of elves stand from their table opposite Trixie, nor does she notice Django pull a hidden blow dart out of his pocket, or Trixie touch the hilt of her sword. She dares not even look up at the tall elf blocking the door in front of her; she stares at the door handle instead. Phoenix doesn’t know what to do.
“Please calm down everyone, I’m sure there’s been a misunderstanding,” Trixie says, looking around the room and smiling her most charming of smiles.
“You’re not going anywhere either, Trixie,” the innkeep bellows as he slams his fist down onto the bar, “until you’ve explained why you’re in the company of a murderer on the run!”
Trixie and Django look at one another, utterly perplexed, as the family at the other table stand, moving away from Phoenix towards the corner of the room, their faces gripped with fear and worry; one of their young children starts to cry. The father lifts the boy up and holds him close, while the mother takes the other child’s hand, a look of confusion strewn across the little elf’s face.
“What? I can assure you, Balthuel, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Trixie responds. “This girl works for me. And she’s far too nice to be a murderer.”
Trixie laughs confidently, but stops abruptly when she realises no one is laughing with her.
The innkeep contorts his face in anger, his wife folding her arms as she stares Trixie down.
“She savagely murdered one of your kind and somehow escaped Silvermoon,” Balthuel adds, as if Phoenix isn’t in the same room. “Half the city is talking about it, the troubled girl that battered the victim to death. He was an inkeep like me! We are not safe here, standing around arguing about it in her company. The royal guard informed us and the surrounding villages in Eversong earlier today.
“King Anasterian doesn’t like unrest in his city. The royal guard would probably pay for information of her whereabouts, or for turning her in…”
One of the humans steps towards Trixie. “And we could use the coin,” he says in a gruff voice.
Trixie shows mild shock mixed with a dash of cheekiness. “Free coin does sound good… but I’m afraid you must be mistaken, good sirs,” she says, standing.
“Why not? How do you know her?” the gravelly-voiced man responds.
“She’s been doing some work for me, for a few weeks now,” Trixie replies with assurance. “She’s been nowhere near Silvermoon. She’s not your girl, guys. Why would I lie to you? I’m a regular.”
The innkeep ponders for a moment, the awkward silence of the room returning. He adds: “We know the type of people you deal with, Trixie.”
Django sneers at the inkeep.
“Plus,” Balthuel continues, leaning onto the bar with both his fists. “She fits the description. Her size, her hair. And I heard you call her by the name the guards mentioned: Phoenix. We’re to hold her here and inform the guards. No negotiating this time, Trixie.”
Phoenix closes her eyes and lowers her head slightly, her heart racing another notch. She’s had enough of listening, of letting fate drag her down a path where she’ll end up in prison, or worse.
Phoenix kicks the groin of the elf in front of her, who winces and cries out. She pushes him weakly but it’s enough for him to tumble onto the floor, knocking over a chair on the way. Phoenix fumbles for the latch on the door. Trixie frowns, sighs and leans her head back in frustration.
“Stop her!” Balthuel shouts.
Everyone in the tavern rushes towards Phoenix except the cowering family in the corner. The two men and elves standing by the table in the middle of the room dash towards Phoenix, as does the innkeep, who scurries over the bar. The young elf with the family in the corner starts to cry loudly.
Trixie grabs Balthuel’s arm as he passes, the innkeep pulling away in response before attempting to tackle Trixie to the ground. She springs backwards and kicks upwards, booting Balthuel’s chin. As she does so, one of his teeth goes flying towards the ceiling. The innkeep’s wife dashes around the bar to aid him.
As this is happening, a human passes by Django, who sticks out a foot. The man trips over and flies face-first into the wooden floor, crying out in pain. The other human, distracted by this, redirects his focus towards Django and Trixie, throwing a fist at the troll’s head. The troll darts his face away from the blow with surprising agility and headbutts the man in the nose, a tusk scraping the man’s face in the process. He then punches the human across the jaw with brute strength, the uppercut knocking him clean out.
“Stop! Stop!” Balthuel screams at the top of his voice, while lying in pain on the floor and covering his bloody mouth. But the commotion is too loud, the sound of bodies hitting chairs and tables and sudden movement creating a chaotic situation. The young elf in the corner is now half-crying, half-screaming with fright.
Phoenix, by this point, has managed to release the stubborn latch and opened the door, but just as she dashes to leave, she’s grabbed around the chest with two arms by the one elf who managed to reach her. The other elf, still stunned and winded by Phoenix’s groin-kick, slowly stands.
“Let go of me!” Phoenix cries, struggling to wriggle free of the elf’s grasp.
Django moves the pipe to his mouth and blows. A tiny dart flies through the air into the back of the elf who has his arms wrapped tightly around Phoenix.
The innkeep’s wife, meanwhile, has rushed around the bar with a bottle raised high, swinging it Trixie’s way.
“Get away from my husband!” she yells at Trixie.
“Don’t worry, he’s not my type,” Trixie responds calmly, swishing her sword from its holster and poking the bottle from the woman’s hand with the tip of her sword. The bottle smashes and beer sprays over both of them, glass cutting into the arm of the innkeep’s wife, who stumbles backwards onto the floor.
Django’s tranquilliser dart takes effect on the elf by the door, who slowly loses consciousness and loosens his grip on Phoenix, slumping backwards. Phoenix runs out into the street, the other winded elf limping after her. The family also take the opportunity to flee the tavern, the father holding his crying son in his arms.
The man who was tripped by Django stands and regains his balance, turning to face the troll and Trixie in a fighting stance. He glances at the bodies around him, some knocked out, some injuring and writhing in pain, and looks back at Django and Trixie as he reconsiders.
Django raises his hands; Trixie smiles a wide grin. The man backs away and takes a seat, raising his hands, admitting defeat.
Trixie walks towards the back of the silent inn, looking for something closely on the floor, as Django puts away his blow dart.
“Aha,” Trixie says to herself. She bends down and picks up a small item from the floor.
Trixie slowly walks towards Balthuel, who is still lying on the floor, holding his hands up in defense as she approaches.
She pulls out a few silver coins, and places them in a pile beside the inkeep, resting a solitary tooth on top of them.
“Thanks for the lunch,” she says. “And sorry about the tooth.”
Trixie looks around. “And the mess. But she’s not your girl, and your ‘customers’ attacked first. We simply acted in self-defense.”
Balthuel frowns and clenches his teeth with despair. Django stifles a laugh as the pair move to the exit.
Two battle mage guards dressed in blue regalia and silver armour rush into the tavern, led by the innkeep’s son.
“Oh tinker my town and paint me pink, what now?” Trixie asks.
“There they are!” the boy shouts, pointing at Django and Trixie. “Those are the two who were with the girl. Where is she?”
The guards look around for her. One says to Trixie and Django assertively: “You’re coming with us.”
“We’ve done nothing wrong, these customers attacked us after throwing false accusations our way…” Trixie trails off.
The guards move towards the pair, one towards Django, the other towards Trixie.


Outside, Phoenix is on the run again, her red hair flowing through the wind as she dashes through the streets. The male elf injured by her kick to the groin has recovered somewhat and is keeping pace with her, but there is some distance between the two due to Phoenix’s head-start. He keeps his eyes focused on her red hair and does his best to follow her as she darts in between passers by; the occasional building or tree blocking his view.
All Phoenix can think of is Trixie’s words looping over and over in her mind: ‘Bad fortune will catch up with you.’
She tries to shake them out of her mind. Feeling futile, anger simmers inside of her as she runs.
All of a sudden, a child pulling along a toy cart appears from the side of a building and into Phoenix’s path. There is another kid sitting in the cart, being pulled along. Unable to slow her momentum, Phoenix decides to take a risk and keep travelling dead ahead, jumping over the cart and the child within it, who is sitting upright.
She takes a leap, to the gasps of those nearby, who expect the young girl to collide with the cart and cause an accident, harming the children.
As Phoenix jumps, she arches her back and lifts her legs as high as they will allow, like a long jump. Her boot narrowly passes the head of the child in the cart, flicking his long elf ear instead.
As she lands, she almost tips forwards flat onto her face, but somehow manages to duck low, lean forward then back, and kick her legs out behind her as she regains her composure. Two apples fall from her open bag and roll onto the floor.
Phoenix must have forgotten to close the bag of fruit in her haste from leaving the inn. Then an idea pops into her mind.
She sees the sand of the Tranquil Shore approaching ahead of her and, between breaths, looks over her shoulder at her follower. He is further away than she thought, some 20 metres back, but running eagerly. The thought of being paid for turning her in must be motivating him to keep up the pace.
She rolls an apple onto the beach ahead of her.
Phoenix sprints onto the sand and turns towards the five shacks on her left. She jogs alongside them, careful not to make a noise, and takes another quick glance over her shoulder to ensure her assailant isn’t yet on the beach. All the shacks are empty, bar the second from the right, where a young elf is gutting some fish, his back towards the entrance.
Phoenix kneels down and places a single apple outside the front of this shack, prays in her mind for the plan to work, then proceeds to half tip-toe, half stumble quietly towards the second shack from the left: the one with the hidden grate.
She heads inside and, breathing heavily from all her running, tries to calm down and move more carefully so not to wake the sleeping tramp. She looks left: the grate is closed. Phoenix steps over the homeless elf - asleep again - and leans down, moving her head awkwardly to look into the lower shelf for the secret lever. The shelf is dark but there’s enough light from outside for her to spot a lever. Except there should be.
Phoenix panics. ‘Where is it?!’ she thinks to herself, fumbling her hands all around the shelf, inadvertently gathering dust and a little spider while doing so. She flicks the spider off her hand and runs her palm against the entire length of the shelf, moving closer towards the entrance of the tiny shack. There is no lever.
“Where is she?” a voice demands from outside, a few feet away.
‘Shit!’ Phoenix thinks to herself, her eyes wide in alarm, the thought of getting caught and revealing the hideout panicking her further. She digs her fingernails into her palms and paces around the shack, desperately.
“Who? What are you doing running into my shack?” the muffled voice of the fish-gutter replies. “And why are you shaking an apple at me?”
The other voice answers: “Don’t worry about that, a girl with red hair came this way, where is she hiding?”
Worry bubbles to the surface. The sound of Phoenix’s heart thunders in her ears and she loses her balance, forcing her to lean her palm onto the wall. The wood of the shack blurs in front of her; the muffled voices outside turning to ooze, like she’s underwater.
‘No!’ she thinks to herself. ‘Not again.’
Her mind goes hazy as the world around her quietens. Phoenix closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in an attempt to focus her mind and remain conscious.
She opens her eyes, her vision still blurred. She feels dreamy, like nothing is really there.
The thought of what would happen if she had another episode keeps running through her mind: a dead tramp, a dead elf, a dead fisherman? A dead Phoenix?
‘No,’ she thinks to herself, brushing the thought from her mind. The deathly image is replaced by Trixie, shouting at Phoenix within the tavern: ‘Your problem, Phoenix, is ya look, but ya do not see!’
Phoenix stands where Trixie did earlier in one last, desperate attempt, fighting hard to keep her consciousness, the room fading to black momentarily, her face quivering. She leans her hand into the shelf, and this time, crouches to Trixie’s low goblin-level height. As her left foot moves forward, she waits for it to hit the wall, but it doesn’t. The front half of Phoenix’s left boot moves into a small alcove in the corner of the wall, and presses down on a switch by accident. The grating opens.
Phoenix, still overcome by fright, by worry, by the possibility of death, does not feel any jubilation. Only impending doom. She jumps over the tramp and positions herself down into the gap. She takes a few steps down the ladder and loses consciousness. She falls.


Back at the inn, Trixie and Django take one step away from the approaching guards.
“No, there’s been a misunderstanding,” the inkeep tries to explain, who is still lying on the floor holding his mouth and prodding his skin into the area where his tooth was.
But one of the guards has already stepped forward and placed his hand tightly around Trixie’s wrist.
“Get yer hands off her, mon!” Django interjects, pushing his large three-fingered blue hand into the shoulder of the guard, who stumbles back, moves away further and nods at the other guard.
“Do not interrupt us, troll!” the guard gripping Trixie responds.
Sharp sparks of light flicker from the furthest guard’s fingers as the sound of raw electricity grows, before surging forwards towards Django.
“No!” the innkeep screams, his objection muffled by the noise of the spell.
But Trixie, anticipating the move, has already leapt in front of Django. The bolt of magical lightning from the guard’s hands charges towards the goblin and troll, but simply dissipates a few inches from them. The rest of the spell flies past them, smashing a window and charring nearby tables.
“What is this sorcery!” the guard shouts, drawing his sword. The sound of metal being drawn from two other scabbards - Trixie’s and the second guard’s - instantly follow. One guard rushes towards Trixie and the other to Django.

Trixie instinctively runs towards her guard and slides under his legs, poking her sword lightly into his heel as she rises, then leaps onto his back. She jumps and uses the hilt of her sword to smash into the guard’s temple, dazing him. Trixie kicks his calf at an angle which exploits his centre of gravity, buckling his knees. She then smacks the hilt of her sword into his forehead, sending him collapsing to the floor with a crash.
Django, meanwhile, is deflecting the attacks of the other guard with a jagged, wild-looking weapon, longer than a usual dagger but not quite as long as a sword, which was hidden within his clothes before. It looks like a large, thick tooth, from some kind of giant monster. He spots an opening, using the hilt attached to the tooth to bop the guard on the nose. Stunned, the guard delays, and Django thumps another uppercut into him, sending him sprawling.
The two guards join the other bodies on the floor, aching and defeated. Django places the long tooth back inside his tunic and Trixie returns her rapier to her scabbard.
Trixie walks back towards the innkeep, and places two gold coins underneath the pile of silver coins and the tooth.
“This didn’t happen,” Trixie whispers in the innkeep’s ear. “The girl was not here, the guards attacked an innocent pair of traders who acted in self defense. And you’re a good boy so you get to keep your inn.”
The last sentence is spoken with an implication, a deadpan undertone.
Balthuel nods hastily as blood trickles from his mouth. Trixie pulls a small pouch from her pocket and shakes it gently into her free hand. A few tiny vials fall into her palm. She takes a pale blue one inlaid with fine crystal and places the others back in the pouch.
“So the law forgets,” she adds.
Trixie leans over the first guard, and carefully places one drop of the blue liquid into the guard’s mouth, before doing the same to the other.
She walks slowly to the tavern’s exit to join Django. Before stepping outside, she pauses and turns to the innkeep’s son, flashing a toothy, happy smile at him. Trixie walks outside like some sort of bastardized royalty, her scarlet cloak flowing gently behind her.

Chapter IX: Truth and slapsies

Phoenix opens her eyes, the dim light of a nearby candle pooling into her blue irises.
She’s in a bed by the wall in the hideout, fully clothed beneath the covers; Seven and Falkor are looking down at her from chairs beside the bed. The orc grunts and moves away, while Falkor makes a loud noise from his disfigured face, catching the attention of the rest of the group.
Phoenix blinks, suddenly feeling very self-aware, and moves to pull the covers further over herself. But they are already above her chin, so she ends up looking like a child hiding from an imaginary monster under the bed. She shuts her eyes and stretches. Her right achilles tendon twinges with pain.
A crowd has soon gathered beside the bed: the two portly dwarves, Django, Falkor and someone else she doesn’t recognise: a slim, pale-looking elf with thick black eyebrows and an ugly-looking, basin-style bowl haircut. It’s Thirteen. They lock eyes; he tuts at her.
“You ain’t no saint, yourself, ya know,” Django says to Thirteen, responding to his tutting. “All you knife ears are nuthin’ but trouble,” he says jokingly.
Thirteen scowls at the troll and walks away.
Phoenix looks up at Falkor, who is on Henry’s shoulders. She forces herself to speak to him.
“Thank you, Falkor,” she says.
The boy squeals in her direction and smiles.
Trixie notices the exchange and looks pleased. She pushes forwards and the group creates a gap for her to move through. She has removed her scarlet cloak and sword, and is carrying Phoenix’s bag of fruit.
“Hey…” she says. “How are you feeling?”
“My leg hurts,” Phoenix replies with a groan, her voice deeper and more slurred than usual after waking. She clears her throat. “My right leg.”
Trixie says: “Falkor has done what he can, you should be feeling better soon.”
Phoenix blurts out with urgency: “The elf! Did he find us?”
Trixie raises her head and her palms and closes her eyes. She says: “All taken care of.”
“But did he?” Phoenix starts.
“All taken care of,” Trixie repeats with assurance without going into specifics.
She pauses and leans towards Phoenix, speaking low: “I don’t think we’ve been entirely honest, have we? I think we need to talk.”
Phoenix looks back at the goblin, expressionless, and reacts with a few little nods. Nerves creep into the pit of her stomach.
Trixie turns to the others and says: “Leave us.”
Most of them return to the table, except Falkor, who joins Seven in the far corner. Phoenix thinks it’s strange that two beings so different from one another would congregate together like that. Django lingers a little while longer and looks at Phoenix with concern, before lifting the two chairs and walking back to the table to play some card games with the dwarves.
Trixe sits on the bed next to Phoenix and pushes her back towards the wall, before bringing her knees up and placing the bag of fruit between the two of them. She sighs and passes her hip flask to Phoenix, who reaches out and takes it, reluctantly. She takes off the lid and sniffs it apprehensively. Trixie chuckles.
“Rum. To bring you some calm,” she smiles. “You know, you’re lucky Falkor is here, and that you didn’t bump your head when you fell,” Trixie says in hushed tones, keeping the conversation away from the others in the room.
Phoenix leans up in bed, takes a swig of the rum and swishes it around her mouth before swallowing, feeling the mild burn of the strong alcohol as it trickles down inside her. She hasn’t drunk since working at the inn - it feels good to try a tipple again.
“You gave Henry and Harris quite a fright!” Trixie chuckles.“You fell from the ladder right next to them.”
“Oh,” Phoenix responds, awkwardly, passing the hip flask back to Trixie.
The goblin takes a gulp of drink herself, before returning the flask to the holster on her belt.
“It seems the rungs of the ladder and the wall helped break your fall,” Trixie says, looking ahead. “Ya got lucky. But it sounds like it gave you a few bruises, and your foot was fractured upon landing. It’s an odd place to pass out...”
Phoenix responds: “Yeah, I do that, apparently.”
“And how often does it happen?” Trixie asks, looking concerned.
“Only twice so far, ever since my life went to shit,” Phoenix responds. “The first time, I felt anger before it happened. The second time, up there, I felt fear.”
Trixie nods in thought. She looks around the room and purses her lips.
“Is it true?” Trixie asks, turning to Phoenix. “You killed a goblin? Balthuel said it was another innkeep, I’m assuming it was the innkeep you mentioned from your story...”
Phoenix looks down at the bed covers, her fingers fidgeting.
“It’s true,” she says, glancing up at Trixie. “At least, I think it is. I mean, I think that’s what happened. I would never want to harm Chrim, he was my mother’s employer and gave us a roof over our heads. He told me the news about my mother’s capture and passed me a note. It said my mum belonged to someone else now, and had a feather marked in the bottom corner. I saw the same type of feather tattooed on the neck of the girl who beat me up yesterday. You mentioned their name earlier.”
Trixie says with contempt: “Steelfeather. They’re a family and group of bandits that control much of Silvermoon’s underbelly. Drugs, extortion, robbery, general crime. It’s likely they’re using your mother as -”
“Don’t,” Phoenix cuts her off. “Please don’t.”
They sit in silence for a moment; Trixie nods slowly in understanding.
“We will get her back,” Trixie adds, looking into Phoenix’s eyes, searching within them and finding only sorrow and pain.
“I hope so,” Phoenix smiles with her mouth, but not her eyes, which look down.
“Anyway, after I read the note,” Phoenix continues, gasping with sadness. “I… lost control. Everything went blurry, I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears, I couldn’t see straight, I couldn’t hear what Chrim was saying…”
A single tear falls from Phoenix’s eye and seeps into the blanket.
“When I woke up, one of the homeless drunks outside the inn was screaming at me, and Chrim’s body was… yeah. His face...”
“Shhh,” Trixie says, leaning closer and placing her green hand on Phoenix’s shoulder, using her thumb to wipe away another tear as Phoenix wells up.
“Could the homeless person have framed you?” Trixie whispers.
“I don’t think so,” Phoenix says, between sniffles. “My hands were covered in blood. There weren't any bloodstains on the drunk that I noticed. The last thing Chrim said to me was: ‘Don’t do anything stupid’. I didn’t think I was capable of such a thing with my bare hands.”
Trixie looks down. “By the gods,” she says.
“What?” Phoenix asks, choking back tears.
“It’s just... an awful thing to go through. I am sorry, Phoenix.”
Trixie leans in and embraces Phoenix, who lies there stunned, slowly returning the hug. She cries into Trixie’s shoulder and feels the warmth of another person’s touch, something she has longed for from her mother. The elf attaches herself emotionally to Trixie in this moment, their bond strengthening through the pain of the past and the comfort of the present.
Their hug ends and Trixie moves back to sitting up against the wall next to Phoenix.
Suddenly feeling a little hungry, Phoenix takes a plum from the bag of fruit and bites into it, the last of her tears slipping down onto the purple fruit. As she eats, she looks at the rest of the bag of fruit and thinks about returning it the next day. But it tastes good and she thinks to herself: ‘It’s only fruit, Phoe. The owners will get by.’
Trixie looks up at the rocky ceiling and frowns.
“How on Azeroth did you get out of Silvermoon at that hour, anyway?” Trixie asks. “The elfgate…”
“Was closed,” Phoenix replies, taking a pause to swallow her bite of plum. “I ran. I ran and I didn’t look back. I was so scared, guards chased me through the city streets, and there weren’t any large crowds for me to lose them in.
“By the time I reached the inner elfgate, I had about half a minute’s distance between the guards and I. By freak luck, the first light of dawn emerged as I shouted up to the gatekeepers on the battlements. They started to open it and I just managed to squeeze through the gap before the other guards approached and got them to shut the gate. Then I ran into the forest and hitched a ride on a farmer’s cart.”
Trixie nods and smiles slyly to herself.
“You did good, kid,” Trixie says, praising Phoenix. “I’m impressed.”
She holds her hand up and gives Phoenix a high five, giggling at the little goblin.
Phoenix smiles at Trixie, and in that moment, the act of murder and running from the law becomes somewhat normalised in her subconscious mind. Trixie is an infectious character, and Phoenix is extremely susceptible to her charms and praise.
“Why don’t you turn me in?” Phoenix blurts out, her confidence rising as she gauges Trixie’s reaction, testing her. “You said it yourself, you’re a trader. You could trade me in for money.”
Trixie looks back at Phoenix, stroking her chin and narrowing her eyes in mock thought, deflecting the question somewhat.
“Don’t give me ideas kid!” she jokes. “Besides, you have potential.”
Phoenix scrunches her nose up and scoffs at that statement.
“What, a potential burden you mean?”
Phoenix grows a smile and Trixie returns it, laughing naturally.
“Your tact needs work, but you would make a good runner, or messenger” Trixie adds, still smiling. “You’re fast. Say we had anything taken from us, you’d be good at claiming it back and getting away.
“I can trust those two bumbling dwarves with my life,” she continues, looking up at the portly brothers sitting at the table ahead of her. “They run errands, handle some of the trades and scout for me. But they aren’t exactly marathon runners, are they?”
Trixie turns back towards Phoenix, eyeing her up and down. “You, on the other hand, are slim, fast and nimble. You’re young. That’s why you have potential. But potential is nothing without guidance.”
Phoenix considers this, the message behind Trixie’s words. There is something that remains unspoken between the two, some kind of pact, a silent agreement that they both seemingly make at that moment. Trixie the guide, Phoenix the follower, the young, eager elf looking for meaning in her life. The pair sit in silence for a few moments.
“I don’t know magic,” Phoenix adds, breaking the silence. “Never have done. I can feel the Sunwell sometimes, but it’s random, I can’t harness it. I’m not a very good elf, am I?”
Trixie waves the topic away, pouting and shaking her head.
“We don’t need magic,” Trixie says. “We’ve got Falkor for that. And this...”
Trixie pulls out a long grey crystal from her inner pocket, about four inches in length, her eyes glowing.
“What’s that?” Phoenix asks, reaching for it.
Trixie holds it back.
“It’s an anti-magic piece of dark iron,” Trixie explains. “Very rare and twice as valuable. And we have a small crate-load of it,” Trixie smiles smugly to herself, throwing the crystal up gently and catching it in her hand a few times.
“The boys found a potential buyer earlier,” she says. “It’s partly why we’re here. Trading with the elves, while waiting for word from our captain, who will return and give us a new task elsewhere. We don’t stay in a place for long: why build when you can ebb and flow like the sea?
“We also have a large load of powerful mana crystals from Suramar.”
She whispers: “It feeds the addicted.”
Phoenix feels a pang of anger inside but doesn’t show it. Instead, she asks Trixie: “Why are you here, anyway? I mean, right here, underground. It seems you have enough to rent a nice apartment in the city, surely…”
Trixie studies Phoenix for a moment, half-smiling, half-staring.
“My sweet little redhead,” the goblin responds. “We would not have all this if we paid our taxes…”
Phoenix blinks and glances around the room for a moment, feeling a little stupid for asking the question.
Trixie looks back down at the dark crystal.
“I hold this close to me, it can be very useful for nullifying magic,” Trixie says. “Not so good for your pointy-eared kind, however. It blocks out what you need from your Sunwell. But when used momentarily, it can save your life.”
Phoenix’s curiosity is piqued. She stares at the crystal with child-like wonder and thinks about the other items Trixie and her crew may have stockpiled.
One of the dwarves groans in annoyance at the table; Django celebrates with a cheer before sliding a pile of silver coins his way.
“I know someone who had what you do, ya know,” Trixie says, returning the topic of the conversation to Phoenix’s blackouts. “He called it the red mist. Some of us call it bloodlust. I’m afraid it can’t be fully controlled, but it can be managed somewhat.
“What you had just now sounds like a panic attack, but it’s possible it’s linked to your other blackout… You know, Falkor had a tough time healing you properly earlier. He thinks there’s something wrong with your mind, something in the way. Perhaps this is all connected.”
Phoenix frowns in thought.
“But why me?” Phoenix objects. “I didn’t ask for this. I wish I didn’t have this to worry about on top of everything else.”
Trixie speaks softly, the glow of the candle making her green skin look purple and red in the flickering light.
“Fate does not care for what we wish,” Trixie says. “You are clearly hurting after the blood on your hands, the disappearance of your mother. But you do what you must. You build the pain into your story, until it isn’t pain anymore, it’s just another piece of who you are.”
Trixie stares into space, her words coming deep from within. Phoenix looks up at the goblin, a small trickle of hope rising within her.
“The blackouts needn’t be a hindrance,” Trixie says. “They can be harnessed as a strength. It is good that you have anger, that you have fear. It means you’re smart and ya want to survive. But never show your fear.”
Trixie’s eyes light up.
“Instead, instil it in others,” she adds, turning towards Phoenix momentarily, a wicked-looking grin spreading across her face.
Trixie’s voice takes on a raw, unhinged edge as she stares back into space. There is passion and danger burning within her.
“Fear is a powerful tool, more powerful than any weapon. It can disarm your enemy, or yourself, so wield it wisely. Anger and hate, on the other hand, can tap into your impulses, your inner thoughts and desires. Why not let the rage build inside of you? You are clearly a threat with it,” Trixie trails off, thinking about Phoenix’s potential.
“But it’s dangerous, I don’t have control over my actions,” Phoenix replies, raising her voice slightly, the dwarves and Django looking over at her, then back at their cards.
“You won’t, if you take steps to manage it like my old friend did,” Trixie says, turning to Phoenix, her voice returning to its normal calm demeanor. “If you’re anything like him, you bottle the anger when the situation is too dangerous, you release it when the odds are in your favour. Your subconscious will do the rest. The mind is more powerful than a blade. There is something inside of you, Phoenix, something that burns. I can’t tell ya what it is, except it exists. I’ll help ya find it, and use it to your advantage.”
Phoenix nods in understanding.
“While there is such a thing as fate,” Trixie goes on, “do not forget you can mould it and attempt to choose your own fate, make it your own,” Trixie says.
“What we need to do,” Trixie says, “is train your subconscious so it’s ready for when you do see red.”
“And how do we do that?” Phoenix responds, the salty tears from her blue eyes now dried and smeared into her freckled face.
“Slapsies,” Trixie stares at Phoenix, smiling a devilish grin.
“Sorry, what?” Phoenix asks, puzzled.
“You heard me: slapsies, or red hands, it’s a game,” Trixie repeats. “Come on, let’s play!”
“Why’s it called red hands?” Phoenix asks.
“You’ll see,” Trixie replies, grinning.
Trixie takes the hand of a perplexed-looking Phoenix and guides her out of bed.
Phoenix reluctantly follows Trixie to the table. Trixie shoves her into a chair a little harder than necessary and steps onto Phoenix’s knees, then scoots onto the table. She sits on the table, turns to face Phoenix and holds her hands out in front of her, palms together, facing the elf.
Phoenix stares blankly at the little green goblin in bewilderment.
“Oh come on, you tellin’ me ya never played slapsies before?!” Trixie screeches.
The goblin takes Phoenix’s hands, pushes them together and moves them outwards, then does the same with her own, so that Phoenix’s hands are in a praying position but tilted 90 degrees down, thumbs facing up. Phoenix’s fingers are opposite Trixie’s and lightly touching one another.
“Okay, I’ll go first,” Trixie explains. “When I try to slap you with one hand, you have to move your hands out of the way and avoid the slap. Do that three times, then it’s your turn to slap me. But if you move your hands away when I haven’t properly swung, then I get a free slap.”
Phoenix smiles and nods. She says: “Oka-”
Trixie swings out at Phoenix’s left hand with vigour. A loud slapping noise fills the room.
“Ow!” Phoenix frowns. “I wasn’t ready!”
“There are no rules in combat, kiddo,” Trixie says sarcastically, looking into her eyes. “Ya don’t take turns. Ya just fight.”
As she finishes the sentence she takes another sudden swing, this time Phoenix moving her hands out of the way.
“Okay that’s one, well done, well done,” Trixie says.
Across the table, the two dwarves and the troll have stopped playing their game of cards and are now watching the elf and the goblin with interest, with humour.
Trixie looks into Phoenix’s eyes and tilts her head forward slightly, grinning slyly.
Phoenix stares back with focus, keeping the palms below in her lower peripheral vision.
Trixie continues to stare, the tension growing.
Phoenix smiles back with uncertainty.
This continues for half a minute. Trixie holds the same silly grin, unblinking, causing Phoenix’s smile to widen.
Phoenix eventually breaks. “What are you doing?” she barks playfully.
As Phoenix speaks, Trixie jolts her hands upwards an inch - and stops. Phoenix swings her arms up so fast she almost hits herself in the face.
“Thank you for gifting me a free slap,” Trixie winks. “I didn’t swing - but you moved.”
“Shit,” Phoenix mutters under her breath, holding her hands out.
Trixie swings her right arm out wide and firmly slaps her palm into the outside of Phoenix’s left hand.
“Oooh,” a collective groan comes from the dwarves and troll at the table.
Phoenix’s hand stings. She opens her eyes wide in shock as if to say to Trixie: ‘How could you?’
Trixie simply smiles back, smugly, flicking her hair to one side.
“Okay, no more games,” Phoenix says with intent. This time she avoids Trixie’s silly gaze and stares down at the goblin’s deep green hands, watching them carefully.
Trixie makes a few dummy moves; Phoenix remains unflinching. Trixie makes three dummy moves quickly in a row and follows up with a sudden swing.
Phoenix glides her hands away with ease. Trixie’s eyebrow raises as a small cheer comes from the table.
Others have gathered around to watch the game now. Falkor is sitting on Seven’s shoulders, smiling, listening to the sounds of people having fun from his disfigured earholes. Seven looks less hesitant and more relaxed.
The slim, pale-looking elf, Thirteen, is standing next to Seven, leaning against a wooden beam and eating some bread. He is watching Phoenix and Trixie, half-amused, half with a look that could be construed as jealousy.
Trixie suddenly swings again - and Phoenix evades.
A larger cheer comes up from the group around them and Django and the dwarves start banging their hands on the table and their feet on the floor. A look of surprise falls across Trixie’s face.
“Ha hah hah,” Django laughs. “She’s good, Trix!”
Trixie looks around sheepishly and composes herself, moving towards the edge of the table and resting her boots on Phoenix’s thighs, digging one in ever so slightly to remind Phoenix who’s boss.
Phoenix smiles proudly and blushes, suddenly aware of the small audience around her.
“So it’s my turn now?” Phoenix asks Trixie, looking into her eyes. Trixie nods and Phoenix makes a brief, lightning-quick slap to the goblin’s left hand.
“Ooh,” goes the crowd.
Trixie raises her eyebrow playfully, trying to distract Phoenix with humour.
But the elf is focused, and pauses for ten or so seconds, staring down at her hands. She makes a quick dummy and Trixie pulls her hands away.
The crowd cheers again.
“Go on, hit me,” Trixie says, rolling her eyes.
Phoenix throws a mild slap.
“That wasn’t very hard!” Trixie protests.
Phoenix shrugs. And makes another slap. But Trixie evades it at the last fraction of a second.
Another “ooh” comes from the group of misfits around them.
The game continues for a short while, with Phoenix, Trixie and the gang enjoying the moment. By the end of the game, Phoenix’s left hand is like raw salmon. But Trixie is impressed.
“Now ya know why we call it red hands,” Trixie winks, leaping off the table.
“I suppose I do,” Phoenix smiles down at her.
“There’s nothing wrong with your reactions,” Trixie says. “The next part is combat training, confidence training, and tricks. The tricks of our trade.”
Trixie stands and addresses the room.
“Everyone,” she suddenly yells, stamping her right boot on the floor and circling to grab the attention of all around her.
“We are to meet the Steelfeathers now, to pay off this girl’s debt and see if we can get her mother back. Then she joins us. I do the talking, Django you stay by my side. Seven, you carry Falkor. Henry and Harris, as usual.
“Thirteen, I want you looking after Phoenix,” she says, peering round to the slim, pale elf with gangly features.
He chews a piece of bread from the other side of the table and looks back at Trixie, silent.
“You’ll get used to our grumpy git soon enough,” Trixie says to Phoenix, loud enough for Thirteen to hear.
“Right, what are we waiting for?” she says loudly to the rest of her crew. “Out! And don’t forget to leave a minute’s gap between each of you when heading back to the hideout,” Trixie booms, her small frame managing to produce a loud, commanding voice.
The gang move towards the ladder. Django is the first to head up.
A thick, hairy hand taps Phoenix on her back.
“Nice slapsies game, lass,” Henry compliments Phoenix, smiling.
“Oh, thank you,” she says shyly.
“Didn’t feel I had the chance to properly introduce myself last time,” he states, holding out his hand.
“Pleased to properly meet you then,” she replies, shaking his hand.
“I’m sorry you have to meet this idiot too,” he adds, his voice becoming a raspy growl as he turns to his brother.
Harris pulls a silly face and half-sings: “He’s the idiot, not I, he’s the idiot, oh my.”
Phoenix lets out a quiet giggle; Henry sighs and rolls his eyes.
“Don’t take anything he says seriously,” Henry mutters before turning to the ladder.
At that moment Thirteen brushes past Phoenix and she opens her mouth to say hello, but he’s already moved past her, ignoring her.
Trixie pats Phoenix on the side of her leg.
“Now, redhead, let’s go and get your mum back.”

Chapter X: Black

After ascending the ladder, the group congregate on the beach. The waves gently lap onto the shore and the night sky overhead creates a calm, serene view.
Trixie stays behind in the shack a little while longer, flicking a gold coin to the elven tramp sitting beside the secret switch in the corner. He nods and smiles at the goblin in appreciation, his long, greasy black hair flowing to his shoulders. He looks dishevelled, with an unkempt beard.
Trixie steps out of the hut and onto the beach. Phoenix asks her: “Is he one of the crew? Is he really homeless?”
Trixie pauses, thinking about her answer. She replies: “Yes and no. Emile is someone I met during my travels in Silvermoon years ago, someone I can trust to hide this place until our captain returns. We value those with nothing, those who truly understand value. And they are my eyes and ears here. People like that deserve a second chance.”
She turns to Phoenix and asks: “Why do you think I helped you?”
Phoenix gazes with warmth to the horizon, at the sea flowing into the distance. She eventually turns back to Trixie and manages to whisper: “Thank you.”
Trixie removes the golden inverted triangle brooch from her boiled leather breastplate and passes it to Phoenix, who studies it.
“The triangle from the hideout,” Phoenix says.
“We trade and we take to get by,” Trixie says. “But this, helping those in need, is a large part of what’s important to me. My kind knows all too well about being at the bottom, and rising up.”
Trixie smiles as she turns the brooch around, so that it looks like a normal upright triangle to Phoenix in the palm of her hand.

“The triangle represents the way the world is. The poor, the homeless, the slaves are here, and there are many of them,” Trixie says, running her green forefinger along the bottom of the triangle.
She slowly traces her finger to the top of the triangle.
“As we go up, we get the aristocracy, the kings of the world, those who set the rules and take all the spoils,” Trixie adds.
Trixie turns the triangle upside down.
“Why can’t it be like this instead?” she says.
Phoenix stares at the inverted triangle in her hand, allowing her mind to absorb Trixie’s message.
Trixie smiles again, taking the brooch out of Phoenix’s hand and attaching it to her boiled leather clothing again.
“The captain took me in when I had nowhere left to turn,” Trixie continues, as she finishes fixing the brooch to her top. “He allowed me to do the same for others.”
The goblin turns back to Phoenix, her face taking a more serious look.
“Others like you. Others that, in time, can prove to be an asset to the crew,” Trixie says. “We’re glad to have you on board, redhead.”
Phoenix looks at the goblin for a moment, then down at the floor.
“Keep close by Thirteen. And keep your hood up tonight,” Trixie adds, stepping forward, lifting Phoenix’s chin back up to face her. “You’re a wanted woman. You will have to get used to leaving the hideout only at night, I’m afraid - at least for a while. It’s for your safety.”
Phoenix nods and Trixie turns towards the rest of her crew, who are standing around waiting for her instructions. Trixie looks at Seven and back at Phoenix. She strokes her chin in thought.
“Okay, in your groups,” Trixie says. “Spread out a little.”
Phoenix, looking eager to please Trixie, taps her on the shoulder.
“There is one other thing you should know,” Phoenix says.
“What’s that?” Trixie asks.
“I looked, and this time I saw,” Phoenix smiles. “The button, under the shelf.”
Trixie smiles and taps her nose.
“Like I said, kid,” Trixie says. “Potential.”
Phoenix twitches nervously. She says to Trixie: “It’s later than it was yesterday. Alexandra said to come alone and at the same time.”
Trixie grimaces and replies: “Sod the Steelfeathers. They can wait. They’re a bunch of amateurs anyway.”
Trixie joins up with Django, and leaves Phoenix alone for a few moments, who remains unconvinced by Trixie’s stance, causing the pit of her stomach to cascade with worry. She looks to her new compatriots and feels safe, but still uneasy. The group begins walking out of the town towards Fairbreeze Village and Thirteen soon saunters up behind Phoenix.
She looks over her shoulder at him and he stares back, a cold, expressionless face of disdain, of indifference. He looks not much older than her. For an elf, who can live to thousands of years, he is still very young.
Phoenix stops and moves aside for him to walk alongside her, but he keeps his distance, a couple of feet away, behind her.
“Trixie said for me to look out for you,” he drones. “Doesn’t mean we need to talk.”
Phoenix sighs and continues walking. She feels his contrariness is forced, and it disturbs her more than it frustrates her.
“And don’t think that because we’re both elves, we’ll be friends,” Thirteen says harshly, from behind her, their boots crunching on gravel as the sand of the beach gives way to a dusty road.
Phoenix says nothing, walking in silence, ignoring the awkwardness.
“I just want to get out of this shithole,” he continues. “Once I have enough coin, I’m gone. So no real point getting to know me.”
Phoenix wants to challenge his view, but decides against it. They walk the rest of the way in silence.
Unknown to them, Trixie keeps a close eye on Phoenix and Thirteen and the rest of the group, watching closely at the psychology at play and the potential for natural camaraderie and chemistry.
After 20 minutes, Trixie blurts out: “Changed my mind. Phoenix, as you’re wanted and are only to leave the hideout at night, you share something with Seven. Your kind would have a heart attack if they saw Seven for what he is in the day. Masked at night he passes off as an unusually sized human. So, that makes you equal. Consider yourself partners. Thirteen, you stay as the lone grumpy wolf.”
“But - ” Seven growls.
Thirteen smirks.
“I’ve decided,” Trixie cuts him off, holding up her hand towards him and turning her face the other way as she walks.
A feeling of dread waves over Phoenix as she looks at the monster ahead a few metres away from her. She makes a pathetic smile at him. He grunts and looks away.
After an hour or so of walking, Phoenix spots the small bridge where she was attacked up ahead.
“There it is,” she says, pointing towards it. It looks empty, but fear nestles in Phoenix’s stomach at the thought of what happened there yesterday.
At about 20 metres away from the bridge, Trixie holds her hand up for the group to halt.
She moves forward by herself towards the edge of the small curved bridge over the stream. Silence almost blankets the area, save for the sound of gently trickling water and the hoot of a solitary owl. Darkness has fallen; there are no street lamps here.
Phoenix looks around and sees no one. She panics at the thought of being too late, the bandits in black finding her when she leasts expects it and beating her up again.
Trixie squints and takes two steps onto the white bridge, her crew looking on behind her. She leans over the edge of the bridge, looking down. A shadow flickers in the reflection of the water. She stamps her boot twice on the wood, loudly.
There’s some movement below.
“Steelfeathers, it’s me, Trixie,” the goblin booms, stepping back towards the edge of the bridge. “Show yourself, I have business.”
For a few seconds, there is no movement.
Then, Alexandra slowly walks up the bank of the stream towards the path, her long white hair flowing behind her. She is flanked by two others dressed in black with bandit masks covering their faces.
Phoenix, who pulls her hood down further over her face, swallows and feels nausea sweeping over her.
“What do you want?” Alexandra says cooly and bluntly.
Trixie says: “I’m here to pay off the girl’s debt.”
She throws a pouch of gold towards Alexandra, who catches it and pauses, looking around the group of misfits dressed in brown and grey.
Though Alexandra can’t see Phoenix’s face for the hood covering it, Phoenix feels like she can. This instinct keeps her frozen in fear.
“I told you to come alone,” Alexandra spits towards Phoenix. “Coward. And you’re late. The fee has doubled.”
Trixie speaks calmly: “The fee is 10 gold and you’re lucky to get that, making foolish demands from innocent passers by.”
Alexandra takes a step towards Trixie. Django mirrors this, keeping a close eye on the group in black.
“You should watch your tongue, little creature,” Alexandra barks. “Wouldn’t want it being cut out like wonder boy over there, would we?” she states venomously, eyeing Falkor.
“You should watch where you’re working,” Trixie retorts, ignoring the threat. “You are encroaching on our turf. This is not Silvermoon.”
Alexandra hums a soft laugh, keeping her mouth closed. “Our turf is wherever we want it to be,” she adds, walking beside Trixie and closer towards the rest of the group while eyeing them, showing no fear.
“We decide what we’re owed and when we’re paid. Besides, you came onto our turf in your little ship,” Alexandra adds, looking at her nails, the fingerless gloves black as night like the rest of her outfit.
Trixie starts: “Your father struck a deal with - ”
“My father will not be pleased with you meddling in our affairs,” Alexandra interrupts. “He gave you this area as a gift. You were to leave us to our business, the bloodthistle trade, and in exchange we give you this area. Taking our targets or changing our demands was not part of the deal.”
The two bandits by the bridge watch Alexandra carefully, their eyes following her as she paces slowly.
“You still have your turf,” Trixie reminds the pale white-haired elf. “And I’ve paid you what you demanded of this girl. There is also another matter…”
Phoenix shifts nervously, heat rising in her chest and the itch of sweat irritating her armpits.
“The working girl you have from Silvermoon Inn,” Trixie states, carefully, as if it’s nothing of importance. “I have a client interested in someone of her experience.”
“How do you know about that?” Alexandra asks.
Trixie shrugs. “Word gets around.”
“She’s not for sale, not to you,” Alexandra states bluntly, with smarminess. “An absurd proposition and far too risky for us. Plus, she’s my practice tool at the moment when she’s not in use. She’s been… helping me perfect my punches and throwing knife technique lately. It’s more fun when the target’s alive.”
“You bitch!” Phoenix screams, taking two steps forward, the rage inside her bubbling fast like a quiet river turning to rapids.
“No,” Trixie yells, holding up a hand to prevent Phoenix revealing more. But it’s too late.
Alexandra walks slowly towards the root of the noise, the insult thrown at her by the skinny girl she beat up an evening earlier. Her accomplices follow her a few metres behind. She tugs at the back of the hood suddenly, revealing Phoenix’s face and auburn hair in the dark of the night.
She gently grabs Phoenix’s cheeks with her thumb and forefinger, scanning her face. Phoenix jolts her head away in defiance. Seven and Trixie instinctively move towards Alexandra, defending Phoenix. Thirteen stands, insignificantly, nearby.
“Well, well, look at that,” Alexandra says with smooth sarcasm. “Little liar girl has lost her mother. And we have her.”
She smiles blankly at Phoenix, baring her teeth.
Phoenix breathes heavily, overcome with emotion.
“Give her back,” she says, her voice unthreatening, almost like the squeak of a mouse.
Alexandra bursts into laughter and turns away, the pair of bodyguards joining her with a few muffled laughs beneath their masks.
“Oh thank you for this entertainment!” Alexandra beams at Trixie. She turns to Phoenix. “Oh yes mam! Or what? What are you gonna do? Nose bleed on my gloves again?”
“That’s enough!” Trixie says, stepping in between them both. “This girl is under my care and you’re not gonna harm her.”
Alexandra’s face takes a more maniacal look, her eyes wide with crazed determination. Phoenix, who wears an angry frown, is shaking a little with adrenaline.
Seven lifts Falkor from his shoulders.
“Passing you to Henry, little one” he growls, low, and Henry takes the young disfigured elf onto his shoulders. Seven senses the situation escalating and takes a step towards Alexandra, who looks at him and back at Trixie. Thirteen takes two throwing knives from an inner pocket, without anyone seeing.
“You think you can show up in numbers and intimidate us?” Alexandra says to Trixie, circling her. “That girl belongs to us. We own her mother, we own her.”
Alexandra moves her head forward towards Trixie all of a sudden, pretending to attack her, but moves it back again. Trixie flinches.
Django draws his daggers and moves forwards.
Alexandra laughs at him. “Oh, what are you gonna do? Cast some voodoo curse on me?”
“Enough, I said,” Trixie says. “One more threat from you and the deal is off.”
Alexandra backs away from Django, moving towards Phoenix, who shifts but stares straight back at the other elf in anger. She gets up in her personal space and moves her head close to Phoenix’s, the smell of smoke and bloodthistle on her lips.
Phoenix stares dead ahead, not into Alexandra’s eyes, but through her, as if she’s not even there. Her heartbeat is thudding in her chest; the stream, the trees and the night sky starting to blur - but Phoenix doesn’t care anymore. She allows the rage to grow, leaving it ready to burst through the surface.
Alexandra tilts her head and moves her mouth close to Phoenix’s left ear, lingering for a moment.
She whispers: “I hear your mummy is a bad fuck.”
Phoenix turns and instinctively spits in Alexandra’s face, the red mist glazing over her eyes. Alexandra swings her fist towards Phoenix’s nose, but she avoids it at the last moment like a boxer’s dodge.
Seven and Django leap to split the two up but Phoenix has already gone for the jugular - literally. She pounces towards Alexandra and grapples her, sinking her teeth into her collarbone like a feral dog as the pair fall to the floor.
Alexandra’s lower neck is clearly wounded but she makes no noise or scream. She violently pushes Phoenix’s head to one side and headbutts Phoenix, who growls with rage and pushes her head further into Alexandra’s face, clawing at her viciously and attempting to bite her again. Alexandra leans her head back to avoid the attacks, but Phoenix manages to get hold of it between her hands and rams her head into the floor.
Django dives again between the two as Seven uses all his strength to interlock his arms under Phoenix’s armpits, prizing her out and lifting her away from Alexandra as she kicks her legs in the air. The two other Steelfeathers jump in to join the fray but Alexandra knows they’re outnumbered. She mumbles: “Stop, stop.”

Alexandra gets to her feet and snarls at Django as she rises. The tattoo of the feather on her neck is bleeding from where Phoenix has drawn blood.
“You will pay for this, you little shit,” Alexandra says to Trixie, pushing Django and her accomplices away from her. She turns and walks off in a huff, holding her neck, her compatriots following close behind. “That girl belongs to us - we will take what is ours,” she calls back.
Phoenix is still struggling in Seven’s arms, growling and wriggling with such force to break free, like a wild animal caught in a trap. Seven’s muscular arms tighten around Phoenix who continues to struggle.
“Phoenix!” Trixie shouts.
Phoenix, on the brink of losing consciousness, can barely hear her. She is grunting and crying out wildly, raging with wildfire inside her. Phoenix wriggles violently and Seven loses his footing slightly. A glob of stringy saliva falls from Phoenix’s mouth as she continues to struggle and strain. Django and the rest of the group move to support Phoenix, who goes still before suffering a seizure.


Phoenix wakes to see a large boar-like tooth inches away from her face. She feels immense tiredness, blinks and realises she’s in Seven’s arms, the rest of the group walking beside them.
The thought of being carried by some kind of savage monster scares Phoenix, but she accepts the moment and quickly finds herself feeling safe and relaxed. She hasn’t been carried since she was a little girl, and even then it wasn’t often her mother would pick her up and hold her close.
Seven takes large strides and his barrel of a stomach breathes deeply, lifting Phoenix’s head up and down, the gentle rocking making her feel further at ease. Phoenix looks at the side of the monster’s face and into his red eye nearest to her, which is looking straight ahead. She sees no savagery in his soul, just determination and slight weariness. She guesses he is probably not much older than her, perhaps late teens or early twenties, but the orc has some weathered lines on his forehead and she wonders if he’s in fact much older.
Seven and the rest of the group haven’t noticed she’s awoken, and she takes the opportunity to close her eyes and pretend she’s still passed out. At this moment, she doesn’t want conversation or explanation, she just wants to feel safe.
Phoenix wonders what happened after she lost control. Alexandra’s twisted face enters her mind. There was blood, that much she knows.
Trixie explains Phoenix’s true situation to the group, her murder of Chrim and the manner of her escape from Silvermoon.
An awkward silence falls across the crew as they walk for a few more minutes, making Phoenix feel awful. ‘They must think I’m a freak, a psychopath,’ Phoenix imagines.
Eventually, Django breaks the silence, addressing Trixie. “I dunno mon,” he says. “Da girl is dangerous, she needs to learn to control her emotions.”
Phoenix keeps her eyes closed, listening in to the group’s conversation about her.
Trixie replies, softly: “Blue, did you not see the way she fought? It was wild, raw. She has ferocity inside her, like him. And her reactions in our slapsies game were some of the fastest I’ve seen. You cannot train that.”
“No, Trix, but we can train her with da blade,” Django says. “What happens if she loses her mind like that again with someone who has a weapon drawn? She be a dead elf.”
“Yes, I will start her training tomorrow,” Trixie states. “But we should not stifle her anger, it’s a strength that should be encouraged.”
Django, looking serious, says: “No. Without self-control she is a liability, to the group, to our mission. Let da captain decide what to do with that side of her once we hear back from him.”
A pause.
“If we hear back,” Django adds.
“Don’t start this again, blue,” Trixie commands. “You know what he’s like, he will contact us when he’s ready. Until then, we sell these crystals and train the girl up - as I see fit - so she’s good enough to impress him when the time comes.”
Phoenix’s mind whirs. What is the captain like? What will he expect of her?
“Well, I be helping,” Django adds. “Teach her about da world, about its mysteries and da little things that sparring won’t.”
“Fine,” Trixie says. “Just don’t make this a competition. And Thirteen, I saw you earlier, try not to be a shit to her.”
Harris sings: “He’s a shit, he’s a shit, he’s a shit and can’t help it!”
Django laughs a deep troll laugh and Falkor lets out an unusual noise. Phoenix can’t help but laugh quietly in her throat, her eyes and mouth still closed, but smiling.
“Fuck you, you fat retard,” Thirteen says aggressively.
“When are you gonna learn some manners, boy?” Henry interjects. “You might be good at what you do but by Ironforge, I swear you are rude and impossible. Trixie, why did you think it was a good idea taking this sod on? These little elves are harder to manage than a tavern full of drunk dwarves, full of problems.”
Henry speaks quietly to Falkor above him: “Except you of course, laddie.”
Falkor hums in response; Thirteen walks in silence, sulking.
“Anyway, I’m starving,” Henry adds. “Let’s get home.”
Trixie says: “We got the fish you boys caught this morning which we can cook tonight, there’s plenty to go around.”
Henry rubs his hands at the thought of a hot meal and some booze.
Phoenix finds herself feeling drowsy again. She drops the facade and lets sleep take her.

Chapter XI: Of myths and monsters

Seven eases Phoenix gently onto the tramp’s sleeping bag. The elf is still in a deep sleep. The night is not that cold, but he places a blanket over her anyway.
He begins to make a campfire outside the hut, turning to look at Phoenix every now and then. He wonders about her story and whether they will make a good team, and feels annoyed about what she must think of him.
After making the fire, Emile the tramp returns up the ladder with some fish, and passes it to Seven, his large hands struggling to handle the smooth creature.
Seven hangs the fish by the fire to cook and returns to sit beside Phoenix. The orc takes off his face mask, showing off his full beast-like features, wide cheekbones, large teeth and thick, messy brown hair with a short beard of stubble.
He stares into the fire for a few minutes and thinks back to how he got here, how he left his clan and what will become of him in this strange new world.
Seven looks down at Phoenix, and finds himself admiring her courage, her inner fire for standing up to someone while unarmed, an elf ten times deadlier than her. She may be troubled, but she has spirit, he thinks to himself, recalling her actions over the past day, her bravery and acceptance into the group in such a short space of time. Phoenix is a better person than him, he concludes, and feels hatred for himself and frustration over his past life rising mildly.
Phoenix stirs and opens her eyes; Seven suddenly turns his face away from her and back towards the fire, afraid of what she might think had she seen him looking at her.
Phoenix yawns and looks up at the monster. She holds her hands out to soak in the warmth of the campfire. She blinks and lays in silence for a few moments. She doesn’t feel scared of him.
“Thank you,” Phoenix eventually says.
“What for?” he asks.
“For carrying me home, for looking after me,” she says, laying there for a while as she stretches again and regains her composure. “You’re nothing like the stories say you are, that’s for sure.”
“What?” Seven booms, turning towards Phoenix, wondering how she’s heard of his previous life.
“Your kind,” she explains. “I used to work at an inn. There was all this talk of beings like you tearing down human settlements in the villages around Stormwind. I see now that can’t be true.”
He throws a nearby stone into the fire, and looks shamefully towards the flames.
“It is true,” Seven says.
Phoenix swallows and sits up. He can sense her unease.
Seven doesn’t want to go down this road again, explaining the actions of his kind. But he is a simple orc, and if he’s to be working with this elf, decides she should know about his past and what makes him tick. He frowns.
“Why?” Phoenix eventually asks.
“Because we were fools,” Seven says, slowly and painfully, continuing to stare at the flames as he thinks about all the other fires and burnt down villages he’s witnessed.
“I am not of your world, elf,” Seven continues, his deep gravelly voice cutting through the air, joining the crackling of the nearby fire. “I come from another. A place my fellow orcs and I once called home.”
Seven curls one of his hands into a fist as he recounts his story.
“My kind are a proud people, we live for strength and honour,” he explains. “We are stubborn. For years, our clans had kept themselves largely to themselves, focusing on our own traditions and ways of life.
“Then came the demons, and everything changed,” his gruff voice rumbling beside Phoenix. “We were blinded with the promise of great power - and didn’t think of the repercussions. They tricked us into believing the Draenei - a wise old race whom we’d lived with in relative peace - were plotting against us.
“We struck the Draenei first, catching them off guard. We slaughtered them and took the remaining survivors as prisoners.”
Seven stares into the flames of the fires, drifting back into the painful memories from his mind.
“Most of our clans united to take a new power together. We were tricked into drinking the blood of demons, our supposed reward. It turned our natural dark skin this disgusting colour!”
Seven raises his voice slightly and points at his sickly green cheeks.
“It burned our eyes!” he adds, feeling ashamed. “How pathetic, how ironic that our clans unite for the first time only to be enslaved moments after!”
The orc is angry, breathing heavily and frowning with frustration. He smashes his fist into the ground. Phoenix flinches a little and sits in silence.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“The blood… it might have given us strength. Made us bigger. More powerful. But it blinded us. Gave us a bloodlust, much like you had when you attacked that other elf earlier. But a constant urge. This insatiable hunger to kill, to destroy, ended up destroying part of ourselves. Our lust for power changed us. We attacked blindly, taking land but ruining it along the way. The power we had been granted by the demons - this fel as it’s known - had corrupted us, corrupted the land. In the end there was nothing left.”
Seven gets up and walks towards the fire; Phoenix looks at him in thought, the flickers from the flames making her face aglow with heat. She wonders how his race ended up here in Azeroth.
He takes the two large cooked fish from the skewers and hands one to Phoenix. Starving, she bites into hers. Phoenix fans her hand at the edge of her mouth, the piping hot fish burning her tongue and gums.
Seven removes his gloves and, using his teeth, rips savagely into the fish, the anger from his story still curdling within him.
After a few moments of eating in silence, Phoenix asks: “So how did you end up here, split up from your... clans?”
“After we ruined our home world, we had to find somewhere new to live. We created an enormous portal, using the demons’ magic and the souls of the Draenei we had enslaved to power it. This disgusting magic - if that’s what you’d call it - created a link to your world. We entered and began taking territory.”
Phoenix sits still, in thought. Seven isn’t sure if she’s feeling terrified, or just trying to understand what he’s saying. Perhaps she is comparing fel magic to arcane and the magic of her own world, of the Sunwell. Maybe she is wondering about orcs attacking Silvermoon. Perhaps she is thinking nothing at all.
She asks: “Whereabouts did you arrive through the portal, on the other side?”
“Some kind of swampland,” Seven replies. “We began skirmishing with small pockets of humans and heading north-west towards more open land, where we came across more of their settlements. That’s when I’d had enough.”
Seven chews his food vigorously, anger still whirling within him. He spits a fish bone onto the floor.
“Marching into war against foes who are strong, who fight back, like the ogres and Draenei of my world, that is one thing. But being ordered to slaughter innocent life, again and again? Many of these humans were defenceless. No… where is the honour in that?”
Seven continues: “My kind says ‘victory or death’. But for me there is no victory in the death of innocents. I was one of the lucky ones, I had never felt the same kind of bloodlust as most of my brothers, my fellow clan, had. I was also mainly used as a scout, a spy to infiltrate enemy lines or weigh up locations before attacking them. Because of these two things, I felt I had more control over my actions.”
Phoenix is sitting beside Seven, listening intently. Her curious expression is infused with warmth and humility.
“One day, when I scouted ahead into a human farmland,” Seven recounts, “I saw children playing with each other, families working in the fields, humans smiling at one another, working together. The same bonds my kind had enjoyed many years ago. But they had no weapons, they were unprepared for war. I’d killed before - and look where that got us. I had a realisation. Instead of returning back to my clan, I ran into the field, into the farm. I told the humans to run, that an attack was imminent.”
Seven lowers his food for a moment and looks solemn, his voice quietening.
“Their faces, as I told them. The sheer horror on them. Like I was a monster. They ran, not from my words, but from me. From, this…”
Seven looks down at his hands and turns them over.
Phoenix moves her hand and places it gently onto Seven’s, her fingers engulfed by the sheer size of his palms. He flinches, moving his hand away from hers and looking away, feeling suddenly shy and shameful.
“You are not a monster,” Phoenix speaks, quietly. “You did the right thing trying to warn the humans. Your kind were tricked into this. That is not your fault.”
He turns towards her slowly.
“You do not understand. I helped them kill,” he says. “I have spilt much innocent blood, not just on your planet but on mine. I do not deserve to live. I am a coward.”
Phoenix looks at his eyes. She asks: “How are you a coward?”
“Attacking the outnumbered Draenei… defecting, refusing orders, refusing war is sacrilege,” Seven says. “After the humans fled, I… didn’t know what to do. I wandered their farm lands, inspected their things, I walked into a deserted home. The fire was still warm, there were photos of their loved ones on the walls and food left half-prepared. They did not deserve what we did to them. When two other scouts eventually came to see if I was okay, they thought I was mad. I told them what we were doing was wrong and forced them to look at our surroundings, the homes we were burning to ashes. They tried to take me back to our leader for punishment, but I refused. I knocked one out and left the other mortally wounded in self defense.”
Seven sighs.
“In my panic I fled,” he continues. “My kind were advancing to the north-west at that point, so I tried to get away as far as I could to the south. I decided I would learn about this new world on my own, to find a new way. But what I did to my kind, my clan, that is why I do not deserve to live. I should have turned back, accepted my death. But I wanted to do something, not die a meaningless death.”
Seven turns to Phoenix, looking sombre.
“How did you end up here with Trixie?” Phoenix asks.
Seven takes another deep sigh. “As I journeyed south, I came to a jungle. I climbed high into a mountain there, to get a scope of my surroundings, and waited until nightfall. I decided to follow the coast further south to look for a way off the island, to get away from my clan, ashamed and without honour. I came across an arena of some kind, where all kinds of different races would fight one another for money. They had an open fistfighting tournament and I decided to throw my hat into the ring, to get to know the inhabitants better,” Seven chuckles. “There were all manner of creatures alien to me there, but it was the trolls that fascinated me most. Beings with skin a similar shade to mine, less strong but with a calm intelligence. And their shamanic powers reminded me of my kind before the demons warped us with their foul magic. I decided that should I have fallen in the arena, at least in that moment I would’ve fought with some kind of honour, with purpose.”
He pauses, the fire flickering in his eyes.
“I fought a few matches and raised a few eyebrows. It was there that I met Trixie and your… kind, for the first time,” Seven stutters. “They promised me a space on their ship and an escape route, in exchange for my services. I suppose I was a novelty to them, at first anyway. I took their offer and here I am now, sitting beside a strange young creature with pointy ears, asking endless questions.”
Seven glances at Phoenix and smiles as he eats more of the fish, his mood lifting as his hunger dissipates.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sheepishly. “But you have to understand from my perspective, I have never seen anything like you before.”
Seven replies: “Imagine how I feel being here! And the goblins, what bizarre little creatures. How can things so small be so shrewd, so impressive at getting by without strength and size? Where I’m from, combat is everything... And she has helped me with self-control. No, I owe Trixie my life; I am happy to be here - for now.”
Phoenix considers this.
“I do have one more question…” Phoenix asks, between mouthfuls of fish.
“You elves are just on a relentless pursuit of knowledge and nosiness, aren’t you?” Seven smiles. “I’m sure one more won’t hurt.”
Phoenix states: “I’ve heard him mentioned a few times, but no one really goes into detail. This captain: what’s he like?”
Seven freezes and stops chewing his food. He looks ahead, considers what to say and continues eating again, slowly, before swallowing his mouthful of fish, and sitting in silence for a few seconds.
“He is one of the main reasons why I am here,” Seven replies. “Why we’re all here. He gave people like me, like Django, outcasts… a new chance. A new home. He is an elf of honour, of talent with the blade, a fair and funny guy. A leader. Maybe you will meet him one day. We have been here a few weeks now and are still awaiting his word.”
“Where is he and the rest of his crew right now?” Phoenix asks, curious.
Seven turns to Phoenix again and shakes his head in mock disgust, avoiding the question. “You are completely relentless aren’t you… you said one last question. Plus, I am getting tired, and you will no doubt need your rest too for your training tomorrow.”
Phoenix nods, seeming a little disappointed.
“But before I turn in,” Seven asks, loudly licking his green fingers after finishing up his meal. “I have a question for you.”
Phoenix seems to panic a little. She curls her mouth up and bites her cheek.
“What is it?” she prompts him.
“Trixie gave us all the full rundown on you and your situation while I was carrying you, while you were passed out,” he says. “But what I’d like to know is: when you reunite with your mother, what will you do, where will you go?”
Seven catches Phoenix off guard. She looks bewildered.
“Er,” she starts, with uncertainty. She struggles to find any words.
Seven notices the confusion and trouble in Phoenix’s eyes as she stares into the fire, which is starting to die down.
“Do not trouble yourself with things that haven’t happened yet,” Seven says. “When we find her, I’m sure things will work themselves out.”
Phoenix turns and smiles at him.
“Thank you,” she says.
“Those words again,” he replies. “Why? I have done nothing.”
“I have met monsters in my life, and you are not one of them,” Phoenix replies, standing and pressing the switch in the corner with her boot, the grate opening.
She moves towards the ladder, and strokes her hand across Seven’s left shoulder as she brushes past him. Phoenix takes a few steps down the ladder, her head poking above the grate, her eyes focused on Seven’s.
“Because you didn’t say if we find my mother, you said when,” she smiles, and continues down the ladder, not waiting for a response. He nods, stony-eyed and serious, but as she leaves from his view, he smiles. Seven stamps on the dying embers and puts out the small, flickering flames that remain.


Most of the group are laying in their beds and hammocks asleep when Phoenix reaches the bottom of the hideout, as she realises she’s been talking to Seven for quite some time, though there is a lone candle still lit, flickering at the table. Django is sitting beside it, playing a card game by himself. Some traces of white powder are on the table near him. Phoenix smiles at him nervously as she moves to her bed, but he doesn’t return the smile. He looks at her in thought, and simply nods his head upwards, partly in acknowledgement and partly ushering her to sleep.
As Phoenix lies in bed and closes her eyes, she hears the loud steps of Seven coming down the ladder. For the first time in her life, she feels like she is making friends. Solari, the old bouncer back at the inn, got on well with her, but he felt more like a friendly colleague than someone she would want to be around. She feels warm and in good spirits.
Just as Phoenix is drifting off to sleep, Chrim’s smashed-in face appears in her mind. She opens her eyes wide, and turns to the wall, trying to shake the image away. She forces her eyes shut and tries to think positively, of the safety of this group and a potential new life: perhaps not the life that she dreamed of but one of relative freedom nonetheless.
She shifts again, this time to her right, to face the rest of the room. Through her half-closed eyes she sees Django calmly playing cards by himself. Patience, probably. Beyond him, in the bed at the other end of the room, she spots Seven, on his back with his eyes closed. The bed is slightly too small for his large frame, his legs dangling off the edge of the bed, his left arm resting on the floor.
Phoenix thinks back on the events of the past two days. In less than 48 hours she has murdered, stolen, lost control of her conscious mind three times, joined a group of misfits, and angered a dangerous gang. What is she becoming? She looks across at Seven’s bunk one last time before she falls asleep, and tells herself she’s the real monster in the room, not him.

Chapter XII: Tricks of the trade

Phoenix wakes to a slap around the cheek. She groans and hastily turns over. A sharp flick connects with her right pointy elf ear. She moans again, louder, and pulls the covers over her head. There are more slaps, this time to her head.
“What are you doing?” she grumbles beneath the covers.
“Starting your training,” Trixie replies, dropping something heavy onto her lap.
Phoenix pushes the duvet down, frowning, and stares at the little goblin, half-asleep, her eyes puffy.
“If ya want to be with us, ya need to know how to survive, how to fight, how to live,” Trixie says, a little too perkily for Phoenix’s liking. “Starting now. You’re skinny, ya need toughening up. Get lifting.”
Phoenix glances down and spots two weights on the bed. She looks around the room. The dwarves are doing some stretches, Django is using a chair to step up and down repeatedly, occasionally grabbing a swig of rum as he does so, while Seven is completing some press-ups in the far corner.
“Oh, what on Azeroth is this?” Phoenix groans and pulls the covers back over her head.
She receives another swift slap around the head. Trixie grabs the blanket and pulls it away.
“This is how we prepare each morning, how we stay on our toes and keep fit,” Trixie explains. “You’re a good runner, yet ya don’t work to develop yourself. Imagine what you’ll be like after a few weeks of solid training.”
“I don’t want training,” Phoenix lies. “I just want to sleep.”
“Right now ya do. But you’ve had sleep, lazybones,” Trixie says, grinning. “Come on, up.”
Phoenix rises, reluctantly.
“There’s some leftover bath water in the washroom you got changed in before. Get cleaned and ready. There’s another new change of clothes for you in there and some bread on the table for breakfast.”
Trixie nods in the direction of the large table in the centre of the underground den and Phoenix sees a few pieces of crust and a slice of bread left. She sighs and says “yes mam,” grabbing the bread and beginning to eat it as she heads to the room to wash. Some wet clothes are dotted around, hanging on the walls by the lanterns.
“Don’t say I don’t do anything for you,” Trixie says sarcastically.
After Phoenix locks the door and strips off, she enters the dirty bath water, the smell of sea salt and burnt magic rising from the tub. It is surprisingly hot. She spots a couple of small wooden buckets in the corner of the room.
‘I hope I’m not given water carrying duties,’ she thinks to herself, still groggy and not fully awakened just yet. ‘Or perhaps Falkor conjures the water and the warmth with the magic, and the buckets are just used to add a little salt water to the mix, for whatever reason.’
Her mundane thoughts fade as she relaxes.
The old metal tub is deep and wide, with slices of rust in the outside corners. Phoenix looks lost in it. She is sitting up at one end with her knees up, her face and knees above water. After a few moments she splashes water onto her face, the salt of the water seeping into her pink skin, streaking down her face. She stares at the glowing lantern beside the bath and smiles, feeling alive, feeling reborn somehow.
Phoenix sinks beneath the water, gently closes her eyes and lets her face and body fully submerge. She lies there still, and breathes out deeply, the bubbles from her breath dashing to the surface. Her heartbeat slows; she feels content and ready to start her training. While her eyes are closed, thoughts run through her mind:her mother’s face, a smile turning to sorrow; Trixie, Django and Seven standing with arms crossed; Chrim crying, bloody and broken; Alexandra scowling with contempt. The visions blend together but do not pain or anger Phoenix at this moment. Instead, they give her some kind of focus, a disturbed clarity.
Phoenix slowly rises above the water, her ginger hair darkened and stuck to her head, neck and upper back from the water. She breathes deeply and stretches, before leaning over to grab the brush and soap from a chair nearby. She notices there’s a clean set of clothes on it, dyed midnight blue, as well as a neatly folded towel, and begins to wash herself.
Once she’s finished, Phoenix soaks herself again and stands to exit the bath, her steamy skin reddened from the warmth of the water. She dries herself using the towel and unfolds the deep blue clothes on the chair.
It’s the same outfit she was given yesterday - tunic with hood, tights, belt and boots, plus a pair of gloves and some clean underwear including a vest - but in dark blue rather than brown. It feels snug and the tunic a little tight-fitting compared to the loose brown one. She stands tall, holds her head back and shakes it, allowing her still-damp hair to fall behind her shoulders, over the back of her blue hood and onto the top of her tunic.
Phoenix clenches her fists a few times and tenses up. She looks into the small mirror by the door before she leaves, and for a moment thinks she sees a different person looking back at her. Her confidence is buoyed by the opportunity in front of her; the person in the mirror is not smiling, nor frowning, just looking back with belief and an inner excitement. Something she has not felt for… well, as long as she can remember. Something's not quite right - maybe it’s the colour - but this doesn’t bother her.
The reluctance she had for training and working out earlier has been replaced with an eagerness and determination to succeed. Phoenix does not feel a hunger to attack others or even steal from them. But she decides that Trixie is right - if she is to survive, to be able to defend herself from the Steelfeathers and better handle her rage and blackouts, then that means training. If that means learning to use a blade and whatever else Trixie deems necessary, so be it. Phoenix takes a deep breath, tightens her belt and turns towards away from her reflection. She unlocks the door and opens it.
Phoenix barely steps into the room, full of vigour, when an arm swings around her neck and places her into a tight headlock. A long dagger is pressed to her throat.
Her eyes widen, startled, but any panic dissipates when she hears a familiar voice breeze coolly in her ears.
“Knives,” the troll says with a thick edge to his voice. “Dey be your best weapon, your attack, your defense, your negotiatin’ tool, your get outta jail card, your words and wisdom on da streets… ya understand?”
Phoenix manages a little nod; the grip loosens.
She turns to her left and sees Django swishing his weapon around in a figure of eight in front of him, a broad smile stretched from ear to ear, his eyes following the oversized dagger as it whooshes, his wild red hair flowing through the air. The end of his weapon looks incredibly jagged.
Django flips the weapon up and catches it swiftly, placing it inside an inner pocket in his tunic, neatly concealing it against his large frame.
Phoenix looks impressed and grins at the troll nervously, shifting her weight onto her right foot, swaying slightly with anticipation of the lessons ahead.
“What is that weapon?” she asks.
“It be a tooth, mon,” he grins, showing his teeth. “Taken from a beast in da jungles of Stranglethorn. Like its former owner, it is fast, strong and deadly. Why use sometin’ made by us when nature already provides it? But it’s not for beginners.”
Curious, Phoenix asks: “How come you left the jungle?”
The lanky troll sighs.
“I tink dat’s a story for anotha time,” he starts, but continues on anyway. “ I am one of da Gurubashi tribe. For many years I was happy in Stranglethorn. But more and more of my kind began worshipping da loa of blood, Hakkar.”
He shudders at the name.
“Trolls were makin’ sacrifices to him, using foul magic, being driven to madness… dere was an evil dere. I could not stay. I signed up as a deckhand for hire at Booty Bay - dat’s where I met Trix and da captain. Even though elves hated my kind, he opened da door to me. And da rest is history, as dey say.”
He smiles, though the memory of his tribe seems to be a sore point for him.
Django smiles again, removes a smaller dagger from a pouch below and behind his knee. He flips it up in the air, catching it and passing it to Phoenix, hilt first. She takes it in her left hand and turns it over, admiring the blade. Django leans in and pulls her hood over her head, then positions her arm so that it’s outright and holding the dagger in front of her. He gently presses the back of her knees, bending them slightly. She stands still, frozen in Django’s advised posture.
He stands back and puts his chin in his long blue hands. The troll nods slowly, smiling.
“Yes,” he says. “Trixie chose well for you. Dis outfit will keep you hidden well at night.”
“Dat’s because Trixie knows best, mon” The little green goblin mocks the troll, and winks as she walks past. She takes the dagger from Phoenix’s hand and passes it back to Django without looking at him. Phoenix feels a different hilt being placed into her hand and pulls her hood back. She looks down and sees that she’s holding a narrow, silver rapier, in her left hand.
“Blue and the boys like to play with their small toys,” Trixie says, glancing at Django teasingly. “But I personally think bigger is better,” she smiles, acknowledging the irony of her statement, before dragging a chair opposite Phoenix.
“Bah,” Django grumbles disapprovingly, swiping his hand in the air and walking away from the pair. “She’ll prefer knives, anyway. Like Thirteen. Da knife-ears always do.”
Trixie ignores him. She jumps neatly onto the chair, slides out her own rapier and turns to face Phoenix.
“Turn sideways,” she says. “Bend your right knee and lean. Place your sword in front of you. Look and see with your sword, not your eyes.”
Phoenix follows, waving the light sword out in front of her. Trixie, standing opposite her, guides Phoenix’s sword upwards with her own, then taps it lightly a few times, ushering Phoenix to lower hers slightly. With the blades crossed, Trixie suddenly withdraws and strikes towards Phoenix’s chest, stopping at the last moment to tap her tunic lightly.
“I’m killing you,” Trixie says, screwing her face up to look like she’s dead and continually taps the sword into Phoenix’s tunic. “Do something!”

Phoenix pushes her sword down, moving Trixie’s aside. The goblin’s sword raises again and, thinking of the slapsies match they had, Phoenix quickly tilts her sword upwards to halt Trixie’s advance. The rapiers thwang.
“Good,” Trixie says, winking at Phoenix, who stares back into her good eye and eye patch, smiling.
Trixie makes a swift curving movement with her rapier, sending Phoenix’s blade crashing to the floor.
“How did you do that?” Phoenix asks with curiosity.
“Let me show you,” Trixie beckons, pointing towards the rapier on the floor with the tip of her own sword, encouraging Phoenix to continue.


Over the next few weeks, Phoenix trains hard, only returning to the surface at night to walk along the beach for some fresh air or help the dwarves shift cargo up and down the ladder. They run simple errands, selling mana crystals to customers in the nearby area for gold, and acquiring other trinkets and goods for the hideout. But she never ventures back towards Silvermoon and takes care to avoid the main paths and the bridge where she met the Steelfeathers. She almost forgets her birthday, but mentions it in passing to Seven, who tells Trixie, and the crew celebrate her turning sixteen together.
During the day, Trixie teaches her the basics of the blade, a fencing-like fighting style, interspersed with sea-fighting techniques adopted by pirates and various dirty tricks goblins like Trixie have used to swing many a battle in their favour. In the evenings, she runs through the art of lockpicking with Phoenix, starting with simple locks on some of the chests and trunks dotted around the room, and working her way up to some tougher locks towards the end of the week. She also teaches her how to climb a rope, using a practice rope tied to a hook in the ceiling, and basic knot-tying techniques.
Thirteen reluctantly teaches Phoenix the basics of assassination, using throwing knives, poisons and surprise attacks to gain an advantage, though Phoenix sometimes struggles to take in his frank words of advice.
Seven is much more supportive. Like Thirteen, he teaches Phoenix all he knows about the art of the dagger, using it to debilitate foes and kill quickly. While she is squeamish at first, Phoenix finds it extraordinary how someone the size of the orc could move with stealth and cunning, and she too focuses more on this than learning how to effectively strike a killing blow. Seven and Phoenix enjoy their time together and quickly establish a genuine bond.
While the dwarves can use a sword, they are not hand-to-hand fighters as such. Instead, they train Phoenix in the way of munitions, gunpowder, mines and traps. It is difficult for Phoenix to learn without practical use, but aside from setting a basic bear trap here and there, they are unable to actually set off even the lightest of explosions for fear of alerting elves nearby or giving away the location of their hideout. Despite this, Phoenix learns the basics of munitions and delights in their lessons, finding Harris’ rhymes and ridicule of his brother, Henry, hilarious.
Phoenix is not exactly a natural with a weapon, and it takes her time to learn the different stances, parries and basic techniques. But one thing she does have is swiftness. And what she lacks in strength, she makes up for with flexibility and a graceful poise that impresses Trixie. Phoenix likes to spar without boots and gloves, allowing her arms to breathe and her tight-laden legs to stretch, to allow her to feel the nuances of the floor and step without sound. Trixie teaches her a fighting style focused on speed and rage, while Django has other ideas.
The troll is an enigma to Phoenix. His fighting style is unlike anyone else’s in the group, very natural and adaptable depending on the situation. He can coil and strike swiftly like a snake, using his fists as weapons, jump and move through the air almost like a gliding bird, and attack with the ferocity of a wild tiger or alligator, teaching Phoenix to pierce into skin with a blade and rotate to rupture and ensure a painful kill. He also teaches her the basics of hand-to-hand fighting and kickboxing. Some lessons, such as breaking someone’s neck, can only be explained rather than practiced, of course. But the troll spends more time teaching the ginger-haired elf about life outside of fighting. He urges her to adopt calmness in a bid to control her rage, teaches her about gods, spirits and fate. In particular, he talks about the beings trolls worship - the loa - including the loa of death Bwonsamdi. He plays with an old coin, running it through his fingers as he speaks to her, and says it brings him luck. He also tells her all about his influences and inspirations from his Gurubashi tribe and the jungle of Stranglethorn, which interests the elf.
But the one thing that Phoenix finds most fascinating is his belief in fate: that they are all on different paths converging towards the same destination. Incidents happen for a reason, and while people can weave and guide their own way around fate’s threads, they are ultimately bound to them. Phoenix becomes almost obsessed with the idea of carrying charms to create her own luck, in a bid to prevent her blackouts from worsening, and reads the few books of ancient history the group has amassed over and over.
Lastly, Falkor remains a mystery to Phoenix. She finds it impossible to converse meaningfully with the eye-less, ear-less, tongue-less little elf boy, but at the same time remains in awe of his magical powers, which she never truly understands. Instead, she does her best to talk to him with words unspoken, through nods, hugs and waves. She thanks him again for healing her, and he smiles and nods in return. But through his smiling face, she always feels an awkwardness from his unnatural-looking injuries. She wants to ask what had caused his scars, to find out who had tortured him and make things right, somehow. But she never has the courage to ask.
Falkor is most useful too. His conjured heat allows the group to cook from within the hideout and access warm water, and he seems genuinely happy with his life, not allowing his disabilities to affect it. On the contrary, Phoenix thinks he is more able - in other ways - than anyone else she’d met.
If only he had a tongue to speak and communicate with, perhaps she could learn from him, unlock the ways of magic and draw from the Sunwell herself more effectively. But then again, she thought, that was possibly not her fate.

Chapter XIII: The sinking night

One afternoon, after sparring with the crew, Trixie says to Phoenix: “Enough! Well done.”
Phoenix, out of breath and flushed, paces around the room for a while, before grabbing a flask of water and sitting down on her bed. With heavy breaths and the occasional swig of her drink, she leans back to recover, sweat dripping from her brow.
“Good,” Trixie proclaims, moving towards her. “We are making progress, you are learning, but there is still much to do.”
Phoenix, in between breaths, retorts: “Just please, no more today.”
Trixie pouts and stifles a wide smile. She jumps onto Phoenix’s bunk and leans back against the wall.
“There is one more fight you must have, I’m afraid,” Trixie trails off.
hoenix tilts her head up from her pillow and raises her hands, grimacing at Trixie with mock rage, before crashing back down again.
“Probably the toughest of all,” Trixie says, tapping the side of her head. “The one up here. A battle with yourself.”
“What do you want me to do, kick myself in the face?” Phoenix says.
Trixie titters. “No,” she says, nodding her head upwards. “I want you to spend the whole night up there. Alone.”
“And do what exactly?” Phoenix stammers, catching her breath now.
Trixie shrugs. “Get comfortable in your own skin. Embrace the shadows. Survive.”
Phoenix would sigh if she wasn’t slightly out of breath. Instead, she looks down at the floor and rises from the bed, before walking towards the table.
“I’m not done yet, redhead,” Trixie speaks with a raised voice. Phoenix had earned that nickname not only for the colour of her hair, but the rage that resides within.
Phoenix mopes and stumbles backwards onto the bed.
“There is an alley in the village here, near the tavern. It winds behind some homes and spills out onto the edge of the village, further down the beach,” Trixie explains.
“What of it?” Phoenix asks.
“You are to stay within it from dusk until sunrise,” Trixie instructs.
“What, why?” Phoenix asks stubbornly. “What’s the point of that?”
Trixie repeats herself: “Like I said, I want you to get comfortable with the night. You will only be going above ground at night for the foreseeable future - until we hear back from our captain, at least. You have the potential to make a good scout, like Seven. But you need to be completely confident at moving alone, in shadow, without fear. There may be occasions in the future that will demand it.”
Phoenix groans.
“No food, no drink, no weapons, no sleep up there. So I suggest you eat now and move out in a few hours,” Trixie says, leaping off of the bed and into the back room where some of the stores are located, not giving Phoenix the chance to reply.
Phoenix turns over and slumps her head onto her pillow again, facing the wall and thinking about overcoming her fears of being attacked, of the Steelfeathers, of being caught by the guards or being turned in by someone else.
Later, after eating supper with the rest of the group - some stew and sweet potatoes - Phoenix takes a long drink of water, gasping with refreshment from the day’s hard work.
She cracks her knuckles, and, feeling a wave of nervousness in the pit of her stomach, bids farewell to the group.
“You got dis mon!” Django bellows, smiling. “Fate got your back!”
As she takes the first step up the ladder, she looks back at the group. Django makes eye contact and flicks his old coin her way. She catches it easily, smiling, and turns it over in her hand. It looks very old and she cannot make out what the spirals mean on one side, or the bird on the other. But glancing at the strange winged creature makes her think of the way Django moves, like a swift and agile hawk. She slides the coin into her pocket.
“Oh,” Django says, taking out his pocket watch and throwing it her way too, under arm. His aim is off this time and Phoenix notices his eyes are bloodshot; he’s probably been taking his drugs again, she thinks.
Phoenix leans and just manages to catch the watch. She checks it and places it in her pocket. It’s 6pm.
She purses her lips and removes her blue boots, letting them fall to the floor. As she tilts her head to look up the ladder, for half a second she notices Trixie’s face looking towards her from the table, surprised.
‘Fate might look after me,’ Phoenix thinks to herself. ‘But my actions alone will get me to my destination, and the night is just beginning.’
Phoenix places the coin in her pocket and continues to climb the ladder, her tight-laden feet gripping silently onto each rung.
As she reaches the top of the ladder, she notices Emile asleep in his usual spot, guarding the hidden button. She switches it, closing the ladder’s opening.


Below, after hearing the grate shut, Trixie sighs wearily and looks across the table to Django.
“Do you think she’s ready, blue?” she asks.
“Somewhat. Competent? Not yet. Safe?” Django shakes his head. “But she needs to do it, Trix. She be silent and nimble without boots, too.”
Trixie nods reluctantly.
“She seems too confident,” the goblin adds. “Maybe it’s a mask. Without weapons she’ll be in danger. But ya right, she needs this if she’s to be independent. Aren’t ya going a bit overboard with this superstition stuff, by the way?”
Django scrunches his face up. “Do not insult de loa or my ways, Trix,” he says. “There is no overboard with any of it. It just is. She is interested in luck, in charms. If it helps give her confidence, what is de problem?” he adds, looking at Trixie’s eye patch.


Phoenix steps out into the night, with only her thoughts for company. The moon is high in the night sky; the last sight of the sun sneaks over the horizon as the waves crash gently onto the shore. There is life and vigour in the air tonight, a cold steel blanketing across the village, the choppy waters a far cry from the usual calm of the shore. Phoenix pulls her dark blue hood over her face and strides covertly towards the village, her feet barely making a sound on the sand.
Phoenix does as she’s instructed, believing fate has given her this task just as much as Trixie has. Phoenix does have a fear of being alone, of being caught. She wants to be able to run any errands with confidence, calmness and success. As she walks through the village, she tries to embed these qualities into her being, strutting casually, without consequence. Like a normal passing stranger, a nobody. There are some townsfolk around, finishing work or the last of the day’s trades, heading home for dinner. None so much as glance at Phoenix, and if they did, she wouldn’t care.
A false confidence looms over her, papering over the cracks of her blackouts, propped up by the backing of Trixie and the gang, as well as her initial training. Before Phoenix reaches the entrance to the alley, she passes the tavern she was so very nearly captured within. She glances towards the inn beneath her hood, while walking without hesitation. The door is open; the voices and lights from inside spill out onto the darker village road, but the fence beside protects the alley’s thick shadows. The dark unknown invites Phoenix into its heart, dangerously plucking at her curiosity, like a harpist using daggers to make the strings screech and snap.
The alley is about two elves’ high and wide enough for about four people to walk through beside one another. It is completely ensconced in shadow, making it difficult for Phoenix to see beyond the first few metres. Ivy has aggressively claimed the left-hand side of the alley, covering the edge of most of the buildings, and has stretched over towards the right, where it is overshadowed by trees. The leaves blanket the alley, brushing softly in a breeze. This creates some kind of natural tunnel, pooling the darkness further and making the alley more foreboding.
Phoenix takes a deep breath and saunters into the alley, starting her long shift. With the sun having disappeared over the horizon for good, a thicker black shadow blankets the alley. Trixie has impeccable timing, Phoenix thinks to herself, as her night watch - or night sitting, whatever it is - begins. As she steps into the shadow, the tights over her feet blanket her footsteps and the sounds of the tavern are mostly swallowed up by the mouth of the alley. Feeling a little nervous, she moves forward a few more metres, further into the blackness, and stops to look behind. She feels her almost-bare feet pick up some dirt and foliage from the cold stony floor at the left-hand edge of the alley and starts to think that leaving her boots behind was a bad idea.
The light from the tavern gives her vision of the village road some ten metres away, as does a street lamp on the other side of the road, off to one side. From within the alley, looking back at the road, she feels as if she’s another person. Instead of looking from a place of uncertainty to safety like she should, she feels somehow as if she’s in a place of relative comfort now, hidden from the world, looking at the danger of the inn’s light - and the potential of being spotted. The roles have been reversed somehow.
Phoenix leans back against the wall of ivy behind her, and waits.


At the other end of the alley, a dark figure climbs the building beside it. They reach the top of the building and walk along, until they have a view of almost the entire length of the alley, give or take some of its curves. The figure leans down onto their front, on top of the flat roof, and peers down into the alley, out of sight and out of mind. It’s difficult for them to see anything - or anyone - in the darkest areas, or through the alley’s winding roof of ivy but in the gaps they think they spot a slim figure leaning against the wall near the entrance by the tavern.


It’s barely been ten minutes since starting her task, and Phoenix’s mind starts to wander, her thoughts blocking out the mild sounds from the inn. What if she has a blackout? What would she do if someone approaches her? What if Alexandra walks down the alley right this instance?
Her heartbeat thuds harder for a few seconds and Phoenix darts her head towards her left, into the thick darkness of the alley, and to the right, the light of the road. She closes her eyes and tries to calm herself.
Another thought pops into her mind. She grabs the old coin from her pocket in her right hand and has to bring it closer to her face to make out the markings on it. She runs her left forefinger around the details of the coin, following the spiral on one side and, after turning it over, the bird on the other. She keeps the coin clenched in her right fist and pulls out the pocket watch with her left hand, looking down at it. 6.20pm.
‘Come on Phoe, play a game or something, keep yourself occupied,’ she thinks to herself.
She checks the pocket watch again and counts the seconds in her mind. She places it to her left ear, the quiet ticking giving her some kind of calm.
Voices echo from the depths of the alley. Phoenix retains her composure, keeping the pocket watch out, showing others that she is actually doing something, not just loitering in a pitch-black alley alone in the early evening, like some kind of weirdo.
The footsteps get louder, and under her hood, Phoenix eventually sees two couples walking into town for perhaps a meal or night out. As they pass her, Phoenix keeps her head down, focused on the watch. The lady nearest to her makes a surprised noise as she notices Phoenix, and halts for a split second, before continuing. The group stop talking, and after they pass, Phoenix hears them whispering to one another.
‘Yes, talk about me, how strange I am, how I have no life,’ she thinks to herself. ‘You have no idea. Enjoy your normal life, enjoy your friends, your family.’
Phoenix feels a surge of anger within her and walks deeper into the alley, fearlessly, buoyed by envy, by a mild, growing hatred of normal society, of people like those who just passed her, who were probably granted an easy ride in life, of aristocracy and wealth, or just plain normality. The inverted triangle appears in her mind, replacing the shadows with something to believe in. She sees the alley snaking to the left up ahead, stopping before it twists into further blackness, leaning up against the ivy-covered wall again. She is deep in shadow here.
For the next hour or so, Phoenix thinks about her early life, growing up in the inn, the fractured relationship with her mother, the absence of her father, the initial incident with the elf in black, and her head injury. The alley remains still and undisturbed, aside from the occasional rustling of some piles of leaves around the corner. Probably a squirrel.
Phoenix makes a few stretches and sits down, bending her knees and keeping her back to the wall. She glances at the watch: 7.34pm. Phoenix wonders if this is what it’s like to be homeless, like the drunk outside Silvermoon Inn who was terrified of her after what she did to Chrim. She stares into the murky shadows around her and loses herself deep in thought for a moment. Being a homeless nobody might be better than the life she’s living right now, Phoenix thinks to herself. There would be no worries of getting caught by guards, no need for training, no being robbed or beaten. If she found a nice snuggly spot, she could just forget the world.
‘And do what?’ Phoenix asks herself. Waste her life away? Her mind wanders to the group, to Trixie, to Django, to Seven. She smiles to herself. Such an odd mix of characters, people like her. Outsiders and misfits, but outsiders who have given her a chance for a fresh start, to be reborn and find a new path in life. She likes them. She bites her cheek and thinks about what they will do next, where she will go. Will she sail the high seas, become an adventurer, a sailor, a pirate?
She lays down on the hard concrete, scooping together a thick pile of leaves to prop her head up slightly. Phoenix allows her mind to wander, her right side touching the wall and her hooded face looking upwards at the tunnel of ivy above her and, in-between the leaves, the stars in the night sky. She daydreams of different worlds, of treasure, of happiness and sailing away from Silvermoon. She imagines all manner of different adventures, her and Trixie and the group becoming rich and living on an island somewhere far from here.
Several hours pass. Phoenix changes position now and then as her mind continues to think up all manner of possibilities for her future. The sounds of distant laughter from the inn beyond the alley’s entrance grow in volume, snapping Phoenix out of her half-daze. She sits up and looks at the alley’s entrance. Fog is creeping its way across the night air, clouding her vision. She is suddenly back in Silvermoon, her thoughts a million miles away.
Her mother’s face pops into her mind. In her mind’s eye, Amelia is staring at Phoenix blankly and mouthing the words ‘help me’ over and over again. Sadness washes over the shadowed elf like the patter of raindrops into a small stream.
“I will find you, mother,” Phoenix whispers to the wind. “I promise.”
An angry-looking Quel’Dorei suddenly enters another alley ahead of her, adorned in a majestic set of blue robes and wielding a large gnarled staff. He is walking briskly into the shadows of the alley and Phoenix panics slightly at the sight of him.
Phoenix turns to face the wall of the alley, still laying down, and pretends to be asleep. The elf, who she assumes is some kind of powerful mage, walks loudly into the alley, the echo of his footsteps breaking the silence Phoenix has got so used to. She keeps her head down as he picks up the pace and walks closer towards her, Phoenix’s heart beating faster all the while.
He rushes past her and drops a coin onto the floor as he does so, and the wind blows gently on Phoenix’s back from the force of his movement. He has passed. Phoenix breathes deeply and decides to remain in this position, boredom starting to creep in. She picks the coin up. One copper. How measly, she thinks to herself.
Phoenix checks her watch: 10.17pm. As the day sinks into night, Phoenix feels a little scared and doubt starts to creep in. There are still eight more hours to go. Can she do this? She ponders heading elsewhere, somewhere safer, or falling asleep right here. But Trixie would probably somehow know, she concludes, and feels a little safer with this thought.
Phoenix spends another hour flipping Django’s coin up and down, trying to run it through her fingers like the troll does. She eventually gives up practicing the latter.
Phoenix thinks of her mother again, and sees a vision in her mind that frightens her more than anything she’s imagined. Her mother is being beaten up by the gang in black, close to death.
Alexandra’s face pops into Phoenix’s mind, filling her with a deep hatred that curdles with the sadness for her mother. Phoenix clenches her right hand into a fist. She turns to face the wall and punches it, crying out in anger as she does so. The slight echo of her voice traverses the alley.
Phoenix feels the rage building inside her, the heartbeat inside her chest thudding harder. She stands and puts her hands on her head as she paces up and down the silent, blackened alley, doing her best to calm herself.
Phoenix takes a few deep, wobbly breaths and tries to think of the Sunwell to distract her mind with a different, nicer thought. She checks the pocket watch and stares at the second hand as it ticks away. It is almost midnight. She’s at the halfway point.
There are some loud shouts from the entrance of the alley, the last of the tavern-goers spilling out onto the street and talking noisily to one another. Phoenix hears the slurred voice of an elf threatening another for stealing his drink. She listens in on their nonsensical conversation and the elves start laughing hysterically at each other instead, sharing a joke that lightens the mood.
Phoenix looks towards the alley’s entrance and realises the tavern must have closed - the only dim light spilling into her vision now is from a lamp further down the road. Through the fog she sees the source of the noise, two figures shouting incoherent drunken babble at one another, laughing now and then. They dwindle towards the alley. Phoenix panics. And freezes.
If she lays still, in their drunken state they will surely stumble into her or notice her. She thinks about exiting the alley towards the beach side, but remembers the task Trixie set her to stay within the alley. Eventually, she decides she will walk further into its thick shadows, as it snakes to the left. And when the two drunks are about to turn the corner, she will move past them swiftly, and hope they don’t follow her back from where they came. But she spends too long thinking and miscalculates the time it’d take them to walk into the alley, and as she stands awkwardly, her hood gets caught in a vine of ivy, pulling it down. One of the drunks spots her.
“Who’s there hiding in the shadows?” one slurs, loudly and slowly.
Phoenix’s heartbeat races and she freezes again, looking further into the alley, her back facing the drunks. Her long ginger hair is on show, contrasting with her midnight blue outfit, making her stand out in the shadows even more.
“Ooh, a lady of the night!” the other adds, and the first repeats the “Ooh”. They laugh together.
The first elf says: “Come ‘ere, miss, we’ll play nice… how much do you charge?”
Fear stabs into Phoenix and her heartbeat races. She suddenly bolts further into the alley, and to her horror, the footsteps behind her double in speed and sound, close behind her.
“No you don’t,” one of the drunks booms.
Phoenix dashes further into the alley, following it round to the left. There is a chain-link fence on the right of the alley, separating it from what looks like a private building and garden area. In her panic she jumps onto it, abandoning her task to remain in the alley in favour of her safety.
The chain-links are awkward and too small for her to climb properly, and she makes pathetic progress. The links go blurry as adrenaline surges through her bloodstream. She thinks she hears a noise from above but disregards it. A hand grabs her right foot and Phoenix squeals with terror, though she instinctively wriggles her foot free and lifts it higher into the air before glancing down - her head now feeling groggy - and forcing her leg outwards into the face of the first elf with a sharp kick. Her tight-covered heel thwacks his temple and staggers him. He holds his head in pain.
“You bitch! She kicked me!” he complains to the other drunk, who has caught up with them.
Phoenix gives up on the fence and drops to the floor. She rises slowly, facing the two elves. Running is not an option, she decides. Plus, they are inebriated.
“That’s it, play nice now,” the second elf says, moving towards her. He has long, scraggly hair and a hard-nosed face half-covered with an unkempt beard.
“She’s already got her shoes off for us!” the first elf exclaims, still holding his temple. He is larger than his friend, and has a round, forgettable face. Phoenix worries about attempting to fight the pair of them with her bare hands and feet. She makes an overwhelming effort to stay conscious, her heart thundering in her ears.
“Leave now, this is your only warning,” she manages to say, infinitely more assertively than she actually feels.
“Shut up you whore,” the bearded elf says.
“I’m not a whore!” she lashes out at him, the thought of her mother’s profession and disappearance swelling her rage further, momentarily blocking out the fear. Phoenix makes a pre-emptive strike without consciously thinking about it, a roundhouse kick straight to the thinner, bearded elf’s frame, just like Django taught her. If she can take him down first, she may stand a chance. The kick knocks him over, winding him. Phoenix turns to the other elf, who looks surprised but pounces towards her anyway. Phoenix attempts to punch him square in the face but he’s moving too fast and his frame is impossible to avoid in the narrow alley.
Her punch connects but it’s not strong enough and he retaliates by pushing her up against the wall, headbutting her. Pain sears through Phoenix’s mind, the world crumbling away around her as the shadows and the figures in the dark mesh together like a living nightmare.
The larger elf forces her to the floor as silence surrounds her; he grips her neck tightly and shoves her head into the ground. She squeals with fright.
Feeling dazed and lost, all Phoenix can hear is her heartbeat as the elf rips off her belt with his other hand. She scrambles at him with her arms and kicks her legs as her heartbeat cracks loudly, blocking out the noise of the elf above her tearing the laces off her tunic, and his accomplice who is now pinning her arms down. But her struggle is futile and her fear overwhelming.
The bearded elf smacks her around the face with a clenched fist, attempting to stop her resisting.
In a single heartbeat, everything changes.


After climbing down the building nearby, Thirteen watches the situation unfold from the alley’s entrance. He studies Phoenix’s handling of the event and as things are worsening for her, decides to take action. He reaches into his pocket.
Two daggers whistle through the air, one piercing the back of the bearded elf and through his heart, the other tearing open a wound below his right shoulder, passing straight through an artery. He collapses forward onto Phoenix, blood splattering onto her face, which is now contorting with unrelenting fury.
Phoenix screams a loud guttural shriek, her mouth open and eyes blinded with rage, blood splashing onto her fair skin and into her fiery hair, turning her red like a demon. Her deafening shout and twisted face shocks the elf above her, who is stunned for a few seconds in disbelief, as she moves with unusual strength, pushing the dead elf away from her and flipping up onto her feet in an instant. She slams the other elf into the chain link fence and in a flash, leans up to his face. She digs her thumbs into his eyes sockets, her thumbnails pressing so deeply she feels one eye pop. The elf cries out in agony, a blood-curdling scream filling the alley as blood and the whites of his eye burst from his left eye socket. He swings wildly with his arms but Phoenix pushes further, gouging the other eye fully as the elf continues to howl with pain, helpless.
Thirteen, standing a few metres away, watches, somewhat mesmerized by the torture that is taking place in front of him.
Phoenix, grunting monstrously, continues to press through the eye sockets further into the head of the elf, who has now slumped down onto the floor, flailing his arms wildly. Blood and bits of eye have splattered onto her gloves, which move down to his belt. She whips it off and viciously pulls down his trousers and underwear as the elf struggles to the floor.
Phoenix lumbers over to the dead elf nearby and pulls a dagger from his back. She doesn’t hesitate or say anything, instead moving incredibly quickly and methodically, turning to the half-naked elf dying on the floor. She thrusts the dagger into his balls and up through the base of his penis, crimson blood soaking the knife and pooling into the floor around her. The elf is no longer screaming, the pain becoming unbearable. He spasms and dies swiftly, but Phoenix continues to withdraw the dagger and stab the elf in the groin, his balls, his penis, over and over again in a frenzy, her eyes masked with incandescent fury.
Thirteen unwittingly lets out a noise of revulsion, and Phoenix instantly turns her head towards the sound. She leaps towards him, with the knife in her hands, her clothes caked in blood, her face screwed up like some kind of possessed being, a terrifying monster from another world.
He runs towards the alley’s entrance in fright, at full sprint, with Phoenix close behind.
“Stop, Phoenix, it’s me, Thirteen!” he shouts.
He can hear her light footsteps frantically tapping so close behind him, and quickly realises he’s not fast enough to outrun her. Thirteen instinctively grabs another throwing knife from a holster on his right leg and swivels his head around as far as he can, while still running forward at full pelt. She is a couple of metres away - he will only have a split second to pull off the stunt but feels he has no other choice. He raises the dagger.
Thirteen takes a full breath before swivelling and kicking off the ground, turning to face Phoenix in mid-air. He holds the breath in his lungs, just like he has a hundred times before in training, allowing him to focus and see the world around him in greater clarity. At this moment, time seems to slow slightly, but Phoenix is moving so fast he struggles to keep his composure.
Thirteen looks at the dagger in Phoenix’s right hand as she runs, and waits a split second longer for it to rise a little higher. She is almost on top of him now, her knife an arm’s length away. He stares at the tip of her blade and, at the peak of his jump, throws his dagger with full force towards it, before falling down to the ground. He releases the knife with a slight curve from right to left, aiming the point towards the side of Phoenix’s blade.
The throwing knife leaves his fingers and ricochets into the side of Phoenix’s dagger with ferocity, knocking it flying out of her hand. Both knives go careening in opposite directions and skid across the floor. He lands on the ground and Phoenix, completely oblivious to the fact she no longer has a dagger in her hand, lets herself fall towards him, thrusting her empty knife-hand down towards his face. Her fist thuds into his left cheekbone and raises again to do the same. Thirteen blocks the attack with his left arm and forces his right arm across towards her with a wide arc, making a deafening slap across her left cheek and pushing her over. Phoenix lies on the ground, face-down, unconscious.
Thirteen slowly gets to his feet, shaking his head left and right. He looks her up and down scornfully with his eyes, not bothering to turn his head, which is facing his two throwing daggers on the floor, a few metres away. He picks them up and moves into the alley to collect his third knife implanted into the first elf’s lower shoulder, taking his time and catching his breath.
The pale, skinny elf then saunters towards Phoenix and turns her over onto her back.
“Fucking liability,” he mutters, staring at her blood-soaked face, tunic and gloves. Thirteen bends down to grip the lower part of her legs, one in either hand, and proceeds to drag her back towards the alley, a look of disgust on his face as her hood scratches along the floor, protecting her head.
Thirteen props Phoenix up sitting by the wall near the two dead bodies and leaves them there. He turns towards the beach-side entrance of the alley, splashes some water from a waterskin towards Phoenix’s face and jogs away, back up the building he climbed up earlier, taking the vantage point again.


After about a minute, Phoenix comes to.
She swallows and tastes blood in her mouth, before coughing, frowning and holding her head. The thought of being chased by the two elves comes flooding back, prompting her to open her eyes wide and she spots two unmoving bodies slumped nearby. Phoenix coughs, blinks and swallows, tasting death once again as she inspects the two men in the dark. The first is slumped painfully forwards, the blood patchy and difficult to see in the dark. Phoenix moves his right arm up to get a closer look and feels wet, sticky blood on her left glove as she holds his shoulder still to raise his arm. She spots the gouge there and another in his back, and wonders what caused them.
Then Phoenix shifts and spots the half-naked elf by the fence, her eyes widening in horror. She cannot bear looking at the elf’s mutilated lower half and, feeling sick, moves him down off the fence onto his front. Phoenix pats herself down, checking for injuries, and finds only bruised cheeks and a sore lump on the back of her head, along with her blood-soaked clothes and skin.
Phoenix drops to the ground on her knees and puts her head in her palms, leaning forward and curling up into a ball.
She does not cry, she does not vomit; she turns rigid in mild shock at her barbaric violence and allows relief to blanket her at the same time. Phoenix taps into the Sunwell and finds its soothing magic comes easier to her this time. She allows the pain and confusion to soak into her mind at the same time, and after ten or twenty minutes, it has passed. She stands, feeling stronger and confident. She finds she does not care - or fear - for the two dead elves one jot. The only thing she finds herself scared about is herself. Just like Trixie said.
Phoenix tightens the lace on her tunic and wraps her belt back around her waist. She then drags the dead bodies into the darkest section of the alley, slumping them beside the wall, in front of one another and on their sides, so they take up less space.
Phoenix sits beside them, not thinking, not feeling, just staring. Through the chain-link fence in front of her and feeling as dead as the two bodies nearby.
Over the next hour, a deep wave of tiredness envelops Phoenix, like a sleep spell has been cast on her. She suddenly feels hungry and thirsty, and thinks about breaking into the tavern around the corner for some food and drink. Phoenix closes her eyes as she leans up against the wall, with death around her. She opens them. Closes them again for a minute. Phoenix spasms with her hunger for sleep but forces her eyes back open and shakes her head, blinking rapidly to stay awake.
A silent nothingness creeps over her. The dazed elf sits still, her body tingling with… something. Perhaps with tiredness or her aching muscles. Pins and needles scatter around her body and she stands, taking a deep breath to counter them.
In her state of confusion and tiredness, Phoenix somehow hears mild footsteps and voices coming from the road nearby. She looks to the right, staring at the entrance to the alley, puzzled. The street is quite a distance away yet it feels as if she is upon it, beside the lamp some 30 metres away.
“But Norros wants them found,” one voice whispers. “We’ll probably have to scout the entire bloody Eastern Kingdoms before he’s happy.”
The other shrugs and sighs: “Whatever little daughter dearest demands.”
Phoenix tries to perk up and listen more intently, but the voices have stopped.
The glow of the Sunwell suddenly radiates Phoenix in warmth. She gasps with delight from its powerful embrace, but almost as soon as it arrives, it has dissipated, leaving her wanting more and breathing a bit more heavily than usual.
She looks right and sees the two figures walking towards her, entering the alley. In her emotionless, almost tranquil state, Phoenix does not panic. She simply stays standing, and presses her body to the wall as flatly as possible, turning the right side of her head into the wall, her arms to her side, long and trailing down towards the floor. Phoenix sinks into the shadow as far as possible and holds her breath.
She watches as the two figures, dressed in black, walk closer towards her, unflinching and unmoving. When they are a few feet apart, she closes her eyes, like she isn’t there, like nothing from nowhere, no one at all. They somehow pass without spotting her - but discover the two dead bodies inches from Phoenix’s feet.
“By the Sunwell,” one says to the other, leaning down towards them. Phoenix, still facing right, cannot see anything, she can only hear the conversation as it pans out.
The other elf says in disgust: “Who did this? What… what is this?”
He notices the dead elf naked from the waist down, face down on top of the other body, and repulses in shock, stepping away.
“Oh shit,” the first exclaims. He inspects the dead bodies with his foot, the top-most half-naked elf rolling off the other dead body onto the ground, face-up and staring blankly at the two members of the gang in black.
Phoenix opens her eyes slightly, ready for fight or flight.
‘Huh,’ she thinks to herself, unable to see her own right shoulder from her peripheral vision. ‘I must be well-encased in shadow, in the very darkest part of the alley.’
Phoenix looks down without moving her head and focuses hard on her shoulder. Or at least tries to. She still cannot see it, nor can she see her arm. Only the alley itself and its thick shadows. Phoenix feels drowsy, like some kind of floating entity. She starts to panic a little, the heartbeat in her chest rising as she blinks a few times. She sees her shoulder and her arm, like normal again. The lack of sleep must be making her delirious, she decides.
Both men shriek with fright and run out of the alley towards the beach. Phoenix, ready to fight, turns towards them only to see them pelting away, unsure whether they’re running from her - or the sight of the bodies.
Phoenix spends the next half an hour wondering what exactly happened. Was she sleeping? Was she dead? Was this some kind of purgatory reserved only for the most mentally unstable? Or was she just imagining things from sleep deprivation? She tries sinking back into the wall as she did before, pressing her slim figure tightly up against the wall and holding her breath and closing her eyes like before. But whenever she opens them, her shoulder and the rest of her body are still there.
Feeling deep hunger, her mouth dry and lips cracked with the blood of the two drunk elves, she pulls the pocket watch out and glances at it. 4:09am. Not much longer now.
Phoenix looks at the dead bodies and wonders what to do with them.
‘I can’t just leave them here,’ she thinks, and decides she’ll try to bury them in the sand.
Phoenix closes her eyes and looks up to the ivy and the early morning sky beyond it. She smiles again, anxiously this time, half-disturbed by her actions and half-satisfied by them, by her danger and effectiveness, oblivious to the fact that Thirteen had assisted her.
Phoenix checks the watch again - it’s just gone 5am. She begins dragging the bodies, one at a time, to the beach’s edge at the far end of the alley. She drags them without care or tact, letting them bump onto the hard floor and slide across it, grunting with their weight as she does so.
With the bodies at the edge of the alley, Phoenix sits beside the elf who died from a knife to the back, and looks at the sea from the light shadows of the alley, at the water gently washing onto the sand. A dim blue soon hits the horizon. She spends the next hour trying to hide the bodies in the sand. The small beach is generally quiet, so she hopes they will remain undiscovered until she tells Trixie about them when she returns to the hideout. The goblin told her to survive, she mentioned nothing about hiding bodies.
Phoenix, feeling incredibly thirsty and physically tired at this point, seems more awake than before, a second wind driving her forwards now she is past the point of tiredness.
When she gets to the shack, Emile the tramp is asleep as usual. She flips the hidden button in the corner and descends the ladder. She notices that no one else is awake just yet, the sound of four or five different snores filling the room, almost in battle with one another. The dwarves’ deep, heavy and loud snoring is at odds with the slow and steady snore of Seven and Trixie’s high-pitched rasp, which sounds like a little monster trying to scare away an attacker. Phoenix looks across the dark and thinks she sees Trixie’s mouth wide open as she lays in the hammock, a ridiculous sight that makes Phoenix - covered in blood like a mass murderer - giggle.
Phoenix grabs a nearby bottle and knocks the drink back. The wine is bitter and won’t help to properly quench her thirst, but at this point her mouth is so dry she will take any drink she can. Phoenix spots a few sweet rolls on the side and ravishes them, her munching blending with the noise of all the snoring as she leaves some messy crumbs behind on the table.
The elf wants to wash but, feeling exhausted, decides to just quickly change in the washroom. She changes from her blood-soaked blue clothes into her old brown outfit, to help mask some of the blood. There is some old water in the bath so she leaves her blue clothes to soak in it.
Phoenix does think about washing away the stinking blood from her skin and her face, but decides she wants as much sleep as possible, and hops into bed. She wonders what task will be next, or if she will ever see her mother again. Could Trixie set up a rescue mission? Feeling comfortable and at ease despite the ordeals of the night, she finds sleep fast, dreaming of shadows and the Sunwell.

Chapter XIV: Heart

Trixie rises from her hammock, taking a big stretch and rubbing her eyes. She looks over at Phoenix’s bed, then at Thirteen’s, and feels relief with a smidgen of apprehension.
She tip-toes towards Phoenix’s bed, leaning in towards her. Phoenix is sleeping soundly, her breathing rhythmically moving the bed covers; her face stained with blood.
Trixie climbs the bunk and sees Thirteen sleeping. He looks up at Trixie instinctively, half-dozing, sighs and collapses back into bed.
“Well?” Trixie asks.
“Two elves are dead,” a muffled reply emerges from underneath the covers. “I had to fucking kill one to protect her, the other she finished off herself.”
“Who were they?”
“Drunks. They tried to rape her. She did a half-assed job of trying to bury them in the sand. We’ll need to get rid of them…”
Trixie responds angrily, whispering loudly with a snap: “Oh great. That’s just great.”
As she steps down the ladder, she notices a bare foot protruding from underneath Phoenix’s bed.
Trixie places her head in her hands and moves across the other side of the room to Henry, who is laying in his bed and starting to wake.
“I need you to get rid of two bodies with Falkor” she says. “And get the blood out of her clothes.”
“More bodies and blood?! You know he doesn’t like doing this, Trixie,” he protests.
“Just get it done,” she snaps.
Over the next hour, the rest of the crew rise, except Phoenix, who remains exhausted from the night before. She sleeps through conversation, through laughter, through breakfast, even through a little ditty played on a lute by Harris.
Falkor has the unenviable task of removing the bodies - quite literally. Henry accompanies him to the beach and finds the bodies, as per Thirteen’s instructions. Falkor uses light magic to disintegrate the bodies into thin air. It takes a good half an hour and a lot of strain from the talented little elf, but the bodies and their bloodied clothes eventually disappear. The child doesn’t look happy to be using magic in this way, but he does it for the good of the group, for Seven, even for Phoenix, hoping at the same time her own luck will improve.


At around midday, Phoenix wakes. The taste of old wine and bread lingers at the back of her throat from the night before. She remains in bed, staring out at the cavern around her. Seven looks back from the table, where Falkor is teaching him how to play chess, and flickers an unsure smile her way. She returns it and, bringing a finger to her hair to brush it aside, feels the hard crack of dried blood that has stuck parts of her ginger hair together. She feels awkward in this state and rises a bit too quickly, her own blood rushing to her head.
“You okay, Phoenix?” Seven asks bluntly, masking his concern for her.
She turns around towards him and nods, her face flushing with mild embarrassment at the thought of having to tell him what she did to those elves. The flush is pointless as it is impossible to notice beneath all the dried blood flecking across her face, like she’s been in a warzone - and emerged victorious. Seven secretly admires this young woman, her bravery, her raw fighting style and bloodlust. Perhaps they are not too different, he thinks to himself.
“Talk in a bit,” she croaks, having not yet fully woken up.
She heads to the washroom for a soak and to remove the last of the blood from her skin. Once inside, Phoenix notices her bloodied blue clothes from the night before are gone. She takes her time to soak, get her head straight and scrub as much of the blood as she possibly can from the night before. By the end of her bath, the water is like a deep crimson. Phoenix feels a little sick thinking back to the mauled elf and what they tried to do to her, and all the warm blood on her face and clothes after her blackout. While she feels a little sick, she also feels a little proud at passing Trixie’s test.
Once ready, Phoenix leaves the room dressed in her old brown outfit again and looks forward to some late breakfast and a chat with Seven.
Instead, she is faced with Trixie. A smug, grinning Trixie, who rushes towards her with arms open. Phoenix crouches down and embraces the goblin, who kisses Phoenix’s cheek like a sister would to her younger sibling. Seven glances over from the table.
“You did it, ya passed our final test,” Trixie says jubilantly, grinning emphatically. “I knew ya would.”
Phoenix shrugs. “Just about, I suppose,” she replies. “I mean, I’m still here I guess.”
“I’m assuming you were attacked?” Trixie asks, pulling away from Phoenix to hold eye contact with her. “You okay?
Phoenix smiles awkwardly before replying, stumbling over her words. She says: “I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy, and I was scared, and I had to bury two bodies in the sand but -”
“Shh,” Trixie covers Phoenix’s mouth with a little green finger. “Come with me.”
Trixie grabs Phoenix’s hand and directs her through the main room and into a turning at the far corner. The room curves round here, leading towards a single door. It’s big enough for Trixie to fit through, but seemingly impossible for the likes of Seven, Django or the dwarves.
Trixie takes some keys from her jacket.
“Look away, redhead,” she smiles at Phoenix, who does so, turning her back on the goblin. It sounds like there are multiple locks in the door; Trixie works with efficiency and rhythm as she unlocks this pint-sized door. After a few moments there is a loud unlocking noise, the lock lifts and the door creaks open.
“Mind your head,” Trixie says, prompting Phoenix into the room with her.
Phoenix, who was already peeking a little, turns herself forwards and bends down to fit into the narrow doorway behind Trixie.
After shuffling through, the room opens up into a cosy makeshift office and storage space. There’s a writing desk up against the wall, covered in parchment and letters, with a couple of chairs beside it. A spyglass sits atop the desk, alongside an inkwell, quill and stacks of gold coins. There are drawers on either side of it; Phoenix wonders what secrets reside in this room.
There are several boxes and a few small chests scattered around, with what appears to be junk piling to the ceiling. There are some weapons, shields, mana crystals, trinkets, armour and other goods dotted around the room, which at first glance looks a mess, but Phoenix reckons Trixie probably has some sort of system to the chaos.
“Take a seat, kid,” Trixie says, tapping one of the chairs beside the writing desk and plopping herself onto the other.
“How did you get those chests through the doorway?” Phoenix asks, pointing at them.
“Don’t worry your little red head,” Trixie waves her comment away. “We got everything we needed down here, then closed up the entrance into a narrower space. And with the dwarves’ guidance, we can dig through and make new rooms if we wish.”
Trixie winks with her one eye, the other covered by her trademark eye-patch. She opens a drawer and rummages through, eventually pulling out a long piece of parchment that’s been folded over a few times. She slaps it onto the table and turns to face Phoenix.
“This is a list of our crew,” Trixie states. “We’ll need your name to officially add you to our ranks. Now, some don’t like to use their real names, they like to start afresh when they join us and leave their old lives behind. For them, we give them a number, or a different name. Hence Seven and Thirteen. Some older numbers become available as time moves on.”
Phoenix wonders if she means that happens when crewmates die, and she stares as she thinks about the danger she’s drawing herself into.
“Do you want a new name or not, kid?” the goblin asks.
Phoenix thinks hard about this and stares at the writing desk. She does want a new start... Could she take the number 16 after her age? Phoenix instead thinks about her current name.
She shakes her head at Trixie, deciding not to elaborate on her choice.
“Fair enough.”
The goblin dips the quill in the inkwell and writes ‘Phoenix’ eloquently at the bottom of the list. She draws a small heart to the left of her name. Phoenix notices an inverted triangle in the corner of the parchment.
“What’s your surname again?” Trixie asks.
“Uh, Dreamfoil,” Phoenix replies.
Trixie mutters under her breath: “Interesting name.”
“Sign here,” Trixie says, passing the quill to Phoenix and tapping her finger onto a blank space on the parchment.
Phoenix signs, without asking any questions, placing full trust in Trixie.
The goblin smiles at the elf, who smiles back. The pair embrace.
“Welcome kid,” Trixie whispers, her head nestled near Phoenix’s ear. “Now,” she adds, pulling away and raising her voice. “Your inauguration gift.”
Phoenix’s eyes light up as Trixie stands and moves to a makeshift arsenal in the corner, with swords and staves and other weapons lined up. There are knuckle-dusters, knives, cutlasses and different types of swords here.
“Oh that cutlass looks nice,” Phoenix says.
“Ah ah ah,” Trixie tuts at Phoenix and raises her hand in the air towards her. “The weapon selection is made by me and is named by me. You then have to grow into it. If it’s not working after a month or so, we go back to the drawing board.”
Trixie strokes her chin, staring at the blades on the wall, in thought.
“There is no real question here,” Trixie says. “No, none of these will do,” she adds, letting out an exaggerated sigh and raising her hands in the air, as if she’s playing out some sort of pre-planned sketch.
Trixie moves towards a humble-sized chest nestled between other boxes and piles of junk. It has been painted crimson red and has gold etchings and a padlock on it. She carefully lifts it out and, shoving some junk away on a nearby table, making room for it. Trixie takes the keys from her pocket and unlocks it, before lifting the chest’s lid.
She carefully pulls out an object, and raises it, her back still facing her new apprentice. Phoenix can see the gleam of a blade to the left side of Trixie’s small frame and a silver and gold hilt on the right. Excitement flickers inside her.
Trixie turns around slowly, grinning from ear to ear as she holds out the sword in front of her.
Phoenix has never really been interested in swords or weapons before, until now. The rapier is exquisite. Its silver blade is long, narrow and pointed and combines with the beautiful hilt naturally. It’s not like usual hilts, which often look as if they’ve been plonked on as a makeshift handle, a throwaway thought. The sword widens as it reaches the hilt, which is golden with a small silver pommel at the end. Above the hilt there is a curved semi-circle of silver, designed to protect the wielder’s hand from any attacks, standard for a rapier. There are a few golden spikes emanating from this semi-circle, complementing Phoenix’s jagged personality.
Phoenix doesn’t know what to say. She looks down at the sword and back up at Trixie again, her mouth parting slightly as she just stares. Trixie passes the sword to her and Phoenix slowly reaches out for it. She grips the hilt in her left hand and points the sword outwards. Phoenix lifts it again and slides her right forefinger from the tip to the base of the sword, tapping the point at the end. It is impossibly sharp.
As Phoenix is admiring the sword, Trixie pulls some more items from the trunk. She holds out a small bottle of oil and a cloth to Phoenix, and places them on the table.
“You’ll need to look after it, like a child,” Trixie says. “To keep it in check of course. Keep it in order and it will keep you alive. I’ll show you how to care for it.”
Phoenix nods excitedly.
“Thank you, thank you-” she starts, cut off by Trixie.
“We’ll need to name it before it’s officially yours.”
“Okay,” Phoenix says, half-ignoring Trixie, enamoured by her very own weapon.
Trixie puts her chin in her hand again and looks around the room.
“I did have a name for it,” Trixie trails off. “But I think it might have been too obvious. You have a rage burning inside of you, kid. We could have easily called this rage, or fire, or anger, or anything like that. But I think that doesn’t really capture the whole of… you.”
Trixie looks at the parchment on the table and the small heart shape she drew next to Phoenix’s name.
“You’ve got something that’s not easy to come by, a spirit, an honesty… coupled with pain.”
Trixie makes eye contact with the elf. “You’ve got heart, kid,” she adds.
“Heart!” Phoenix says aloud. “I love it, it suits it so well.”
Trixie nods, taking on a more serious tone. “More than you know,” she smiles.
The words are lost on Phoenix, who is enamoured by the blade.
“Oh, there is one more thing,” Trixie states. She leans into the chest again and pulls out a red leather scabbard, flecked with gold around the edges.
She throws the scabbard gently to Phoenix, who catches it in her right hand, places the sword up against the wall and attaches the scabbard to her belt.
“Two more things, actually. I don’t think that’s your colour,” Trixie says, eyeing Phoenix’s clothes. “And definitely not blue. Your outfit last night came back almost entirely red as there was so much blood on it. Why don’t we just save ya the trouble next time and dye your clothes that colour instead?”
Phoenix nods. “Whatever you say, boss,” she smiles.
Trixie creases her face up and says quickly: “Oh come on, ya don’t need to call me that.”
While Phoenix continues to admire her sword, Trixie moves to a low shelf beside the desk and scans her eyes across several bottles, before taking one. She then rummages through another small chest of clothes and different materials and pulls out a long piece of white silk. She grabs a pair of scissors from the desk and cuts a shape into the material.
Trixie turns to Phoenix, holding up the bottle of blood-red dye and the piece of silk. “Come on, redhead, let’s dye you,” she says.
The pair walk back through the main area to the washroom, Phoenix feeling in high spirits with her new sword by her side. Thirteen and the dwarves are nowhere to be seen.
Django is lying on his bed. At the table, Falkor has taken most of Seven’s chess pieces and moves his queen across the board, his blindness not seeming to affect his awareness of the board’s layout.
Seven grunts: “Ah, check. Again.”
“Where are the others?” Phoenix asks Trixie along the way.
“Out running errands, tying up some deals,” Trixie replies. “They’re our main eyes and ears in the day, you and Seven will work at night, as discussed. I’ve got something planned for ya both tomorrow. That’s why it’s important we get your outfit right today.”
Phoenix and Trixie enter the washroom and the goblin closes the door behind them. Trixie spends the next few hours helping to dye Phoenix’s blue clothes a crimson red, starting with her blue unbloodied boots she left behind the night before and moving to the tunic, hood and gloves, and finally the piece of silk. The belt is left alone as black leather, matching her dark tights.
As well as teaching the elf the basics of dying clothes, Trixie covers some techniques for removing bloodstains and offers advice on when and how to change her appearance.
“You know you really should dye your hair too,” Trixie says, her serious look turning into a smile, “but I don’t think I can bear myself to take that fire away.”
Together, they spend most of the day meticulously removing bloodstains and dying clothes, allowing them to soak and dry at different intervals with the occasional help from Falkor.
Eventually, Trixie hangs the outfit on the back of the door and leaves it to fully dry overnight, taking the piece of deep-red silk with her.
Phoenix tells the goblin about the members of the gang in black she spotted snooping around and speaks again about her remorse for killing Chrim. But aside from a smattering of serious talk, the pair are happy in each other’s company, sharing jokes and speaking about everything from the kind of jobs and payment Trixie has for Phoenix, the rest of the group’s history and how to care for her new blade.
Phoenix’s weapon gets tested thoroughly in the evening as she spars gently with her companions. The day is over in a flash.


The next morning, Phoenix awakes feeling excited about the thought of wearing her new outfit and accompanying Seven on the night’s mission. After breakfast and some quick exercises, Phoenix heads into the washroom to find the outfit stretched out nicely on the back of the door.
She runs her fingers across the deep-red tunic hanging up and takes a moment to pore her eyes over it, over the gloves folded over the hood and the boots on the floor. The tights have been replaced by red leather trousers. She feels enamoured by the outfit: something just feels right to her about the vibe and colour of it. Phoenix smiles at the thought Trixie has put into it and quickly changes from her older brown outfit into the red one.
There’s a knock out the door. Phoenix, who is now dressed and attaching her holster to her belt, opens it. Trixie’s beaming face is in the doorway.
“Can I come in?” she asks.
“Sure,” Phoenix smiles, feeling proud in her deep-red outfit.
“You whipped into your new outfit quickly I see,” Trixie says. “I wanted to put on the finishing touch and see what ya look like! May I?”
Phoenix nods with eagerness and curiosity.
Trixie takes the deep-red piece of silk from her pocket and holds it out to Phoenix. The goblin has made some adjustments to the material, which is now stitched together to create a loop, leaving a large gap in the middle for her head to fit.
“A mask, like Seven’s,” Trixie states, prompting the elf to place it over her head.
She does so, swivelling around like a model on a catwalk, throwing all manner of ridiculous poses at Trixie and placing the hood over her head. It covers the bottom half of her face, leaving her eyes showing.
The little goblin giggles. “Wonderful,” she adds. “You look like a proper bandit, like Seven; no one can see your face.”
As Trixie opens the door to leave, smiling, she turns to Phoenix and says: “Remember, it’s not just you we’re hiding. We don’t want any more people killed in this area if we can help it, we don’t want anyone picking up our trail, especially now the Steelfeathers are looking for us. You’ve been close to giving our location away before.”
Phoenix nods again.
“I won’t let you down,” she responds.
“You know you’ve been nothing but trouble, redhead, ever since I first laid eyes on ya in that cart-...cave,” Trixie smiles, correcting herself. “Time to start repaying us now.”
Trixie walks into the main room, leaving the door open for Phoenix behind her. The elf steps into it and freezes, a sudden confusion washing over her, quickly replaced by a nagging frustration. She pulls her bandit mask down.
“Wait a minute, what did you say?” Phoenix’s words cut through the air towards the goblin, a little louder than necessary.
Trixie spins on her heel and turns to look at Phoenix. Her eyebrows raise and she stares at Phoenix, at the aggravation in her eyes and the frown on her head.
“What, are you deaf?” Trixie laughs, trying to make a joke. “I said you’ve been nothing but trouble since I first laid eyes on you.”
Phoenix shakes her head.
“You said you first laid eyes on me in a cart. What cart?”
Phoenix walks slowly towards the little goblin, whose single eye darts around not knowing where to look. Phoenix’s confusion turns to clarity; her heart thuds fast in her chest as adrenaline kicks in.
“Did I say cart? I meant cave,” Trixie says. She’s good at lying, but not that good. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I heard you clearly. You’ve been following me, before we met, haven’t you?” Phoenix asks quietly, the words lingering in the air as she leans over Trixie. The rest of the group are still eating breakfast at the table, not noticing the exchange, except for Seven, who looks around and spots Phoenix’s aggressive body language.
Trixie cannot contain the lie. “Look, kid-”
“You stole from me, didn’t you!” Phoenix shrieks. The rest of the crew look around at the noise.
Trixie claps twice, loudly, commanding the group to come to her side. Seven is already there.
Phoenix continues: “You took my savings, my gold. YOU are the reason I was attacked and left for dead!”
“Phoenix, you need to calm down,” Trixie speaks serenely, tilting her head forwards and placing her hands out in front of her.
“No!” Phoenix shouts, stepping back into the doorway. “No. No! Not you as well. Not you. I trusted you. This is all a lie, this,” Phoenix stammers hysterically, starting to shake as she backs into the washroom. “Get away from me!”
The group are standing beside Trixie now, looking at her and awaiting their instructions. Phoenix is talking quietly now, speaking incoherently almost to herself.
Django, standing behind Trixie, leans down to one of her ears and says with a harsh temper: “What did you do dis time?”
“I gave away the fact I stole from her in the cart, alright? I slipped up!” Trixie turns to the troll raising her voice.
“For de loa’s sake Trix, tell her da truth!” Django booms. The dwarves, Falkor and Seven look at Django and Trixie. Thirteen scowls with contempt.
“Which one?” Trixie asks. Django just returns her question with an angry look.
Trixie steps into the doorway slowly, Phoenix pacing the walls behind the bath without thought or control. Tears are streaming down her reddened face but she is not weeping. They are cold tears of anger, of broken trust.
“Don’t come near me,” she whimpers, “I-”
“Phoenix, I did steal from you,” Trixie says, the group standing behind her in the doorway. “Just hear me out. The truth now.”
Phoenix loses balance, the cavernous walls around her blurring thickly. She leans into the wall and breathes deeply, the heartbeat inside her chest thundering at a great pace as she struggles to retain consciousness from the rising anger and emotion coursing through her.
“I stole from you because I am an opportunist,” Trixie says, calmly. “Some would say I’m a thief. You know this, I have told you so before. But we both know I am - we all are - much more than that.”
Trixie opens her arms and swivels, referring to the rest of the crew. Phoenix, snarling, closes her eyes and shakes her head, fighting with every breath not to lose consciousness.
“I had no idea who you were or where you were going,” Trixie adds. “The cart’s driver had stopped for a break, to feed the hawkstriders. While he was fetching water for them, I came up and went through your bag.”
Another tear on Phoenix’s face falls. The elf treads along the fine line between rage and control precariously, tempting the red mist of no return.
“As I was leaving, I turned back and saw the driver notice you there and feel pity, I think, as he left you alone.”
Trixie pauses, trying a dab of humour instead. “I bet you didn’t even know he stopped. Not looking or seeing again, huh?” she laughs.
Phoenix dives towards the green goblin with impressive agility and swings for her face.
The rest of the group dash towards Trixie, pulling her away and protecting her as Seven rushes to Phoenix’s side, grabbing her in a bear hug and lifting her aloft.
“Liar!” Phoenix snaps, struggling in Seven’s grasp. “You lied to me. All this time.”
Trixie walks calmly beside the angry elf, expecting her to fully see red and lose control at any moment. The uncertainty fills her mind with concern, but the goblin holds her composure.
“Lying is a part of life,” Trixie says, slowly.
Phoenix responds with more wriggling and shouts: “Let me go! You liar, you thief. You stole my trust. Let go!”
Trixie considers for a moment as the elf struggles in the orc’s arms. The rest of the group looks on with concern.
“So be it,” Trixie says. “You heard the girl, let her down, Seven.”
The orc looks at the little goblin, bemused.
“It’s alright,” Trixie confirms, nodding.
Seven slowly lowers Phoenix and loosens his grasp on her. She juts free and looks at Trixie with uncertainty, her face an inch away from the goblin’s. It is furious.
“What will attacking me achieve?” Trixie states, staring into Phoenix’s eyes of fire, of anger.
The pair stand off against one another, Phoenix precariously close to tipping over the edge.
“It’ll make me feel fucking better for one,” Phoenix spits.
But the words tumble through her head - and heart - and it’s now Phoenix’s turn to look bewildered. Trixie’s question, her logic, has caught her off guard. As her restraint is fully lifted, she hesitates, then steps backwards to get a better look at Trixie, still confused and furious, still tingling with anxiety and shaking with rage. But listening.
“You might injure me, but the rest of the crew here would at best restrain you, at worst seriously injure you,” Trixie continues. “For what? To release your anger? Make you feel better? We want to help you, redhead. The rest of the world doesn’t.”
Trixie caresses a strand of Phoenix’s ginger hair between her thumb and forefinger, like stroking a wild cat that could claw her at any moment. The elf is breathing slower now, her face a mess, her tear-stained cheeks puffy and her mouth quivering. Phoenix puts her hand into her pocket and grips the old coin from Django tightly.
“Lying is a part of life,” Trixie repeats. “But friends do not lie to one another. You were not my friend when I met you, but you are now.”
She pauses.
“Anyway,” Trixie continues. “I do not like the word ‘lying’. I prefer ‘withholding information’. And withholding it until trust is earnt. That’s an important distinction to make.”
Trixie looks up at Phoenix, her back to the others, and lifts her eye patch up for two seconds. There is one perfectly healthy looking eye beneath it, which winks casually at Phoenix before the patch covers it again.
Phoenix is even more puzzled now, her conscious mind so preoccupied with this new information, she just stands and listens to what Trixie has to say. She is breathing a little more calmer now, but still quickly, like a child who has been distracted mid-tantrum. She grabs Trixie’s shoulders and looks lost in thought.
For the first time since Phoenix started experiencing blackouts, this one looks like it’s been averted. Could Trixie be somehow taming the beast within the elf’s mind?
“Don’t lie to me - or withhold information - again,” Phoenix whispers, leaning down to the goblin’s face, a cold edge to her voice interlaced with desperation. “Please.”
Her eyes linger at Trixie’s faux eye patch as she wonders what it achieves. The goblin notices this and simply smiles back with an air of smugness. Phoenix’s breathing slows to a more normal state.
Trixie ignores Phoenix’s words, leans in further and whispers back, just so Phoenix can hear: “Some in our trade like to be faceless, I prefer to leave a lasting impression. Plus, this thing has brought me luck.”
The goblin places a hand on the side of Phoenix’s face, wipes a tear away and rubs her cheek gently with her little green thumb. She strokes her hair again and embraces the elf in a hug.
Phoenix remains in thought, kneeling down against the goblin as the pair share a moment. The rest of the crew leave them behind, Seven lingering a little longer just to make certain the situation is resolved. He closes the door behind them.
The elf is a ball of emotion; a rainbow of feelings curdle inside her confusingly. Anger, admiration, bliss and pain. Can she trust this goblin? What other choice does she have?
“Now, we won’t do this again, will we?” Trixie says, low and calm, speaking to the elf like a young child, like she’s the one who’s done wrong. “We’re your friends.”
The goblin has managed to turn the tables without once apologising to this broken young elf.
Phoenix shakes her head instantly, looking away, the thought of Trixie lying to her and stealing from her now just a grain of sand in the rough sea that is her mind. She feels she’s learnt a valuable lesson on trust, deceit, secrecy and self-control all at once. And she owes it to Trixie, doesn’t she?
Phoenix looks into the goblin’s eyes with expectation and wonder, like a lost lamb who has wandered into a bull’s field. Trixie smirks wickedly. Follow, or there will be trouble.
“As I mentioned, tomorrow you’ll do your first full job for me, with Seven by your side. Think you can handle it?” Trixie adds. “No more incidents. No more tantrums. No questions asked. Just a simple job, completed professionally in exchange for a few gold. How does that sound?”
Phoenix nods and replies: “Good.”
And her mind is largely set on this. But a little part of her is thinking about how she can escape Trixie and go it alone.

Part II: Burning bright

“I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe
I told it not, my wrath did grow”
William Blake

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
William Ernest Henley

Chapter XV: Going home

Trixie offers Phoenix and Seven a seat around the table, pours them each a mug of wine and offers them some bread. A large map of Silvermoon City and Eversong Forest is sprawled out across the table.
“There’s someone who’s attempting to prevent our trade of imported mana crystals in Silvermoon,” Trixie says with a mouthful of bread, while flexing her wrists. “Or at least take it from us.”
She makes eye contact with Phoenix and Seven, speaking coldly: “That does not happen on my watch.
“The guy’s part of the nobility, has connections with magisters, the whole shebang. Bought a box of powerful mana crystals from us, paid half of the fee up front, some 100 gold, but we haven’t received the full amount. And now he’s giving us the silent treatment. I’m starting to think he’s either turning us in, taking our trade, or just refusing to pay.
“It’s been a few weeks now and he’s ignoring the trader we’re using to sell in the city. I want you both to give him a… reminder… that manners are important. Take the crystals back and recoup whatever part of the payment you can. Find out what ya can about his motives.”
Trixie slides a large sack for the mana crystals along the table towards Seven.
“Wait,” Phoenix starts. “You want me to go back to Silvermoon? The place I risked my life escaping? I’m not doing that again.”
Trixie raises her eyebrows in mock shock at her authority being challenged.
“It’s no big deal, redhead!” she responds. “This time you’ll be moving in and out of the city while the elfgate is open. Plus, ya now have some muscle by your side.”
Trixie smirks proudly and flicks her eyes towards Seven, who sits silently. He wears an expression that seems to indicate his eagerness towards the mission. Phoenix wonders if he sees this as a challenge, keeping the crew’s new firecracker in check. She likes the orc, but sees no reason to go easy on him.
Phoenix leans back, sighs and turns to face Seven, as if reading his mind. If it wasn’t for him, she would probably flat out refuse Trixie’s orders and go her own way. Oblivious, Seven returns the look and simply shrugs in response.
“But I’m wanted by the Royal Guard,” Phoenix protests anyway. “What if I’m caught?”
“Then we get ya out,” Trixie promises. “Like I said, it’s no big deal.”
Phoenix bites the inside of her mouth before downing a few large gulps of wine.
“You’ll meet our trader contact, Hace, outside Fairbreeze Village inn tonight,” Trixie says, tapping part of the map with her finger before marking it up in black ink.
“He’ll take ya into Silvermoon in his cart before the gate closes this evening, along with the last of the other traders who will be setting their stalls up early tomorrow morning. He’ll also need paying.”
Trixie flicks a pouch of gold onto the table and begins tracing her finger along the map, through central Eversong Forest, past the entrance to Silvermoon, and into a courtyard by the Royal Exchange nestled within the city. She marks up the apartment’s location and writes the address on the map.
“The guy’s name is Thomassan,” Trixie continues. “He should be out tonight at a function. Lives in an apartment by the Royal Exchange. You should be able to get onto his balcony which overlooks a side street around the back.”
Phoenix interjects: “How do you know all this?”
“The day you met us, Henry and Harris had gathered the intel which led us to the sale,” Trixie responds, looking across at Seven - and back to Phoenix.
“You’ll also want to lay low until morning. Hace will arrange a meeting spot for the morning and you’ll leave shortly after sunrise, back the way you came, in the cart. In one piece. With the items.”
“Anything else we should know?” Seven asks in his gruff voice.
“Oh yeah, the guy is a magic user. Probably quite powerful. Oh! He has a golden sceptre too - ceremonial I think. Might as well bring that back with you.”
Seven seems mildly shocked.
“Good thing I asked,” he adds.
“Course, I was waiting for ya to ask,” Trixie responds, throwing him a wink and handing him a piece of magic-resistant dark iron. She passes another to Phoenix. The goblin looks at the young elf expectantly. “Questions left unasked can become problems left unsolved.”
Phoenix just looks back at Trixie, tilts her head back as she finishes her wine and firmly places the mug on the table. She buries the question she was going to ask, but another takes its place anyway.
“I’m assuming we get paid extra for jobs like this?” Phoenix asks, a little colder than she intended.
Trixie nods: “Depends on how well ya finish them.”
Seven adds to Phoenix: “She always pays well. We can trust her-”
As she hears the word ‘trust’, Phoenix pushes her chair back from the table and gets ready to leave. She starts by gathering her gear and sword.


Trixie watches as Phoenix prepares by herself, shoving some food, lockpicks, flask of water, rope, some lanterns and a grappling hook into her bag. If she feels fear at the thought of returning to Silvermoon, she does not show it.
Her body language towards the goblin is cold, after their argument, but Trixie does not take it personally. She’s sure Phoenix will succeed, come back in better spirits and forget all about their little ordeal.
Phoenix takes the map from the table and places it into her bag, along with a small vial of ink and a feather. She checks her pocket for something, and Trixie assumes it is one of the charms Django gave her, perhaps that old coin. Her face, while still young and naive, has a determination that was not there when they met. She’s still just a little elf, Trixie thinks, and yet she has shown the courage of someone twice her age.
Trixie smiles to herself, a smile that is ever so slight and fleeting it would be missed by anyone looking at her at that moment. She is proud of what Phoenix has done so far; she has only known the group for about a month yet she progresses well with her training. Tonight will be her biggest test, and yet Phoenix has barely batted an eyelid at the mission. Good, Trixie thinks. Phoenix will grow to be fiercely independent, she is sure of that. She has the potential to be an asset to the organisation, a trustworthy plunderer and swordfighter, perhaps even a future boss like her. Either that, or she will burn out like a bright, fleeting star, one rash decision or action made towards the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, resulting in an early death. There is no middle ground for her, she fears, it’s all or nothing. Phoenix’s biggest enemy is undoubtedly herself, Trixie decides, and that makes her future especially uncertain and difficult to predict.
‘Do not let me down,’ Trixie thinks to herself as the pair prepare to leave the safety of the hideout for the dusk of the overground.


“You coming, or what?” Phoenix asks Seven, her voice slightly muffled from the bandit mask covering her lower face.
“I’m looking after you, of course I’m coming,” Seven tuts.
Phoenix chuckles.
“Uh-uh,” she shakes her head. “I’m YOUR bodyguard, stupid,” Phoenix retorts. “I don’t need looking after.”
Seven and Trixie exchange looks; the goblin rolls her eyes.
“Not unless you see red…” Seven replies.
“I won’t,” Phoenix says assuringly.
“Let’s hope not,” Seven says, but his words seem to betray his feelings.
Harris suddenly chants loudly from a bunk bed towards the ladder: “She saw red, lost her ‘ead, that’s why we’ll all end up dead!”
Thirteen laughs out loud at this from a top bunk nearby, while Henry booms at his brother: “Oh, shut it ya rude little shit!”
Phoenix smiles at this, and turns to leave. She locks eyes with Trixie for a second, then moves towards the ladder without saying any goodbyes. Is it a false confidence that cloaks her again, or the real deal? She’s not sure herself, but feels certain she’ll return, so doesn’t see the need for goodbyes.
Seven follows her, nodding his head down at the goblin. Before leaving, he says goodbye to Falkor, who is sitting with the dwarves. He rests his large green hand on the boy’s shoulder and pats it, while the other hand pulls up the midnight grey-black fabric around Seven’s neck to cover his face. Falkor smiles.
As Phoenix reaches the top of the ladder, she walks out onto the beach, a little briskly than necessary.
Seven says: “Hold up, elf.”
She turns to face him, a little disappointed by his interruption.
“Come on, we need to meet this contact,” she says.
“Just hold up,” he repeats. “This is not a mission to go rushing in blind. I have experience scouting, do not let that experience go to waste.”
Seven pulls out one of his twin daggers from within his tunic and hands it to her.
“You know I’m not sure about using daggers,” she says.
“I don’t care,” he cuts her off, speaking gruffly. “This operation should be a simple one, but it requires tact. We shouldn’t even need to use this. Think of it as a last resort. These things are quicker and quieter than swords, and they cover your tracks better, as I’ve told you. You’ll never know when you might need to use it.”
She plucks the dagger from his hand and folds her arms, the weapon pointing towards Seven unwillingly.
“Okay, but I’m still bringing my Heart with me,” Phoenix says, tapping the side of her narrow sword scabbard.
The orc preempts her protests and says: “Fine. But we shouldn’t need to use it anyway. Look at us for Azeroth’s sake. We don’t want to create a scene.”
He throws his arms up at the ridiculousness of their partnership.
“A beauty and a beast,” Seven adds, a silly undertone belying the serious message beneath.
Seven poses like a model, implying he’s the real beauty and Phoenix the beast.
She lets out a natural laugh - and Seven does too. She places the dagger inside her tunic and walks, more slowly now, beside the orc. She couldn’t have been more wrong about these ‘monsters’ if she’d tried, Phoenix thinks to herself, and believes the friendship blossoming between the two could become the most genuine she’s had, if she doesn’t ruin it of course.
Phoenix glances up at Seven as they walk, and smiles at him before looking back at the sand. She stops walking.
Seven looks at her for a moment. He says: “Come on beast, we must meet this contact, like you said.”
“Yes, beauty, we must,” she replies. “That’s why I’m going to race you there.”


Seven watches as Phoenix begins cutting across the sand, giving herself a headstart. He feels he has no choice but to accept her challenge.
Seven’s humourous demeanor turns to indignation.
“Phoenix!” he says with a higher volume than usual, but restrains his voice so as not to draw unwanted attention. “Come back!” he adds, struggling to carry his large legs across the uneven sand at pace.
He grunts in aggravation, but as he looks up to see the dark red figure ahead moving swiftly through the night, with grace and naive daring, he cannot help but smile, his boar-like teeth pressing up against his face mask at either end of his mouth. But through his smile and his growing fondness for Phoenix, another feeling rises within him. A tension. Danger follows her, and while it is an exciting danger, it is uneasy. Perhaps he is just falling for her, he admits to himself. But if that’s true, why does he get the feeling this girl will be the death of him?
After Seven jogs to the edge of the beach, he decides to take on Phoenix’s challenge in earnest - and begins picking up the pace to close the gap between them. Despite the orc’s size and stature he is surprisingly swift and manages to keep up with the lithe elf ahead of him. The real challenge is following her in the patchy dimness of the early evening, amongst the trees and foliage of Eversong Forest. But luckily for Seven, her ginger hair is bright enough for him to follow. Every now and then she turns her head around to check he’s still there - her eyes and smirk full of mischief - and he sees a flash of red in the dark of the night.
The pair soon run the length of the small town and Phoenix continues on the central path which curves to the right, leading towards the small bridge where they met Alexandra. But she is still a relative newcomer to the area - unlike Seven, who not only knows it reasonably well but is especially familiar with it at nightfall. Plus, his experience as a scout means he’s well-suited to other terrains. This gives him an advantage over the lighter, faster elf.
Seven darts off the pathway to the right and into the deeper woodlands of Eversong Forest. He skirts around fallen branches, runs up and over a small leaf-covered hill and leaps across a stream running through the forest. After a minute his shortcut has put him ahead of Phoenix. Seven leans up against a large tree overlooking the main path, catches his breath and turns to look for the elf, but he cannot see her. Perfect, he thinks to himself.


“Seven?” Phoenix shouts, the trees blanketing her cries. “Where are you?”
Just as she begins to wonder if he’s lost, she turns a corner and sees the huge orc up ahead, in the centre of a cobbled path blanketed by the forest. He is lying on the floor, on his side, and lazily resting his head in his right palm. She lets out a noise of shock and fascination and holds out her arms in the air, mystified.
“What is this sorcery?” she asks playfully. “You’ve cheated! I didn’t see you...”
Phoenix realises what she’s about to say and stops herself, instead making her look around at the woods and think about how else the orc could have overtaken her.
“What slanderous accusations,” Seven responds. “No cheating or magic here - just raw talent,” he adds, flexing the muscles in his arm.
Phoenix slaps his fat head as she passes him and Seven retaliates by swinging around and sweeping out his leg to trip her up. Phoenix gets caught in his frame and pushes her arms to the floor as she falls, leaving the pair entangled.
“Get lost you big oaf!” she laughs, breaking free.
“It’s not possible for me to get lost in such a tiny little forest,” Seven says. “You, on the other hand…”
Phoenix holds up her hand to Seven’s face in a bid to shut him up, while catching her breath. She sits up and takes a swig of water from her hip flask. It is a peculiar sight, a slim elf in red and a large monstrous orc in grey-black leather, each sporting a bandit mask, one wielding a sword, the other daggers. They may appear dangerous to some, but right now they seem more like a pair of children playing out way past their bedtime.
After engaging in more idle chit-chat and silly banter, the pair soon arrive at Fairbreeze Village and head to the side of the inn. A hench-looking elf with long, dark green hair and a straw hat, is already waiting for them. He is chewing tobacco and leaning beside a large wagon with reins and a hawkstrider at the front. The cart is covered by a long canvas sheet, concealing its goods. As they approach him, he eyes them calmly and asks with a twangy country accent: “You Trixie’s lot?”
Seven and Phoenix nod in response and the man motions towards the cart.
“Hace, I presume,” Seven asays.
The elf nods. Seven hands a few gold to the trader, whose stare lingers toward the orc’s red eyes. Seven ignores him and proceeds to climb up onto the back of the long cart. It dips from the bulk of Seven’s weight, and barely shifts as Phoenix swings up to sit next to the orc.
“Shit, never said I’d be escortin’ some kinda demon into the city…” Hace says before spitting onto the ground and stepping into the driver’s carriage.
Seven frowns and looks down at the ground, saying nothing.
Phoenix feels a stab of anxiety. The realisation finally hits home: she’s really going back to Silvermoon.
“There’s a sheet in the back,” Hace adds, lifting the reins and getting ready to ride out. “When I say, get under it. And move some of the goods on top of you. Not sure I have anything to conceal someone the size of a tauren, though.”
Seven sighs: “Just get us into the city.”
“Yes - and you can keep your mouth shut while you’re at it,” Phoenix adds, not as quietly as she intended.
Hace stops what he’s doing, groans and saunters off the carriage onto the ground. He pauses for a moment and spits onto the floor again.
Seven turns to Phoenix and says quietly: “For our sake Phoenix don’t say or do anything that will get us into trouble. We need to keep a low profile.”
Phoenix responds: “But-”
“Look kid,” Hace says, cutting them both off. “This is my wagon, and I’ll do as I fuckin’ please. I don’t need to be doin’ this shit of an evening, I’d much rather be in that tavern right now, drinkin’ and gamblin’ and whorin’. So sit back, shut the fuck up and we’ll all be on our merry way. Do anything else and you can find your own way inside. Understand?”
Phoenix contorts her mouth and stares back at the elf in anger, her eyes cutting into him. But at the request of the orc she pushes her feelings to the pit of her stomach, bottling up any resistance - for now.
“Alright then,” Hace says, returning to his seat at the front of the wagon.
The bumpy ride is uncomfortable mainly due to the lack of space for Seven, who looks like a shark stuck in a puddle, but the three of them ride on in silence. It seems to take an age for Phoenix, who feels the occasional pang of worry but tries to calm herself with thoughts of her combat training, piece of dark iron and, of course, the protection of Seven. She attempts to speak to him a few times, but the cart and hawkstrider are noisy and it is hard to talk properly with the possibility of Hace getting annoyed and calling everything off.
Eventually, Hace says: “Alright, under the cover.”
Phoenix and Seven do as he says, pulling the heavy duty canvas over themselves and scattering a few tools on top of them, including some spanners, rods and other junk and gizmos. Seven makes them look light as a feather, but Phoenix feels awkward and uncomfortable as the tools dig into her light frame.
The cart soon slows to a gentle canter and as it rises up a slight embankment, Phoenix realises it’s the hill at the base of the inner elfgate. The same hill she raced down a month ago. Her heart throbs loudly in her ears as she digs her nails into her fingers.
She tries to stay calm, but after a few moments, a low, very slight noise escapes from her throat in mild panic. Seven turns his hand towards her and pats her on the arm for reassurance. But as he moves his hand away, Phoenix takes it in hers and grips it tight. The orc’s huge fingers envelop hers.
After a few moments, Phoenix’s harsh grip loosens and the pair remain silently holding hands for the next few minutes as the wagon passes through the open elfgate. They lie in silence, Phoenix’s eyes shut tight. The contentment Seven brings to Phoenix is slightly overshadowed by anxiety, but she finds comfort in the fact she is part of a crew, a family. Even if something went wrong, Trixie and the others would come after them. Right?
What seems like an age to Phoenix is actually just a few minutes; soon it’s over and the wagon is within the walls of Silvermoon City. Phoenix wonders where they’re headed and hopes it’s not outside the inn. After a few more minutes of the wagon bumping around corners and squeaking along the streets of the city, it comes to a gentle stop.
There’s a brief pause before Phoenix hears Hace step down from the driver’s seat and walk around the cart. He lifts the tools to one side and tugs at the sheet, revealing the eyes and bandit masks on the faces of Phoenix and Seven. The pair lean up and step off the end of the wagon onto the streets of Silvermoon.
Phoenix looks around. They are in a small garden area boxed in by walls. Shadows cover the grass and the bushes around them, the deep black of the night sky concealing the elf and the orc well. In one corner, a pathway leads back to the well-lit main streets of the built-up, beautiful city. Phoenix finds herself feeling surprisingly confident about setting foot at home once again and remains largely unaffected by the possibility of her being caught.
Seven looks at Phoenix as if he’s trying to read her thoughts.
“You okay, beast?” he says.
The silly name, which already feels like a term of endearment, catches Phoenix off-guard and makes her feel even more at ease. She lets out a short laugh and nods.
Hace covers the tools with the canvas. He turns to the pair and says: “Meet me back here at first light. We leave as soon as the elfgate opens.”
“Where are we?” Phoenix asks.
“In between the Walk of Elders and the Royal Exchange,” Hace answers.
Phoenix says: “No problem. Thanks for the route in and you best be on your merry way drinking and whoring. Oh, by the way, if you see a prostitute by the name of Amelia, can you let me know? We’re looking for her.”
Hace ignores Phoenix and steps back into the wagon. He sends the hawkstrider into a gentle trot and heads onto the main path.
“Jerk,” Phoenix mutters under her breath.
“He’s not a friend, Phoenix, just our ride in,” Seven reminds her. “Forget him.”
“You’re right,” she sighs, pulling out the map.
“Do you even need that?” Seven asks.
“Just getting my bearings, beauty,” she smiles at him, taking a quick glance at the mark before folding the map back down and placing it in her inner pocket. “What’s the plan?”
“I say we keep it simple,” he responds. “Climb up using the rope, pick the locks, break in, take the items we need and get out.”
Phoenix says: “You make it sound so easy.”
Seven grunts: “That’s because it is. Just keep the dark iron close to your chest. We don’t know if there are any magical barriers or traps keeping the place secure.”
Phoenix slides a hand into her upper shirt pocket and feels the crystal to be sure it’s there. She also remembers what Trixie said about it not being ideal for elves to have nearby for long periods of time, as it can block out magic from the Sunwell. She holds this thought and uses her other hand to grip Django’s old coin within a side pocket. She then takes a deep breath and pulls out some bread from her bag.
“You want to eat anything before we get started?” Phoenix asks.
Seven shakes his head. “Let’s just get this over with,” he answers.
“And then what?” Phoenix says, before taking a bite of the bread. “We’ll have time to kill.”
“Cross that bridge when we come to it,” he responds. “We lay low, like Trixie said. Why don’t you lead the way? It’s your place after all.”
“Sure,” she responds.
“Oh and Phoenix,” Seven adds.
“Mmm?” she mumbles while eating.
“Welcome home. You might not like being here, but at least you have a home.”
Phoenix thinks carefully about the orc’s words and says nothing as she pulls her red bandit mask up to cover her mouth and nose. Seven does the same.
When the pair reach the well-lit blue and silver streets near the Royal Exchange, they keep their bandit masks up, heads down and walk at a slow, casual pace, blending into the background as best they can while keeping a small distance between themselves. Not that it’s entirely necessary - while the city is relatively busy at this time of night, with bars, restaurants and street entertainers keeping the locals occupied - Phoenix avoids the main streets and instead takes the darker back alleys and longer routes to get to their destination. Their route is largely quiet and simple.
After a few minutes they reach the apartments. They’re of a pinkish cream hue, luxurious and grand, towering over a large, well-kept rectangular courtyard with flower beds, trimmed hedges and clean pathways. Unfortunately for them, the area is well-lit from street lamps and there are two private guards by the facade of the main building, which appears to be a reception.
After taking point in a darkened side alley leading into the apartment complex, Phoenix and Seven take some time to scout the area and work on their plan of action.
“Guess the front way in is a no-go,” Seven growls. “Not that it matters. Come on, beast.”
The pair skirt along the alley and follow the road around to another alley behind the eastern wall of the apartment complex, with Phoenix leading the way, her earlier anxiousness replaced by a little cockiness and swagger.

Chapter XVI: Turning the tables

“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.

Chapter XVII: Control

Phoenix is looking over at Seven as the elves dressed in black spring out. The orc is just returning eye contact with her as this happens; Phoenix watches his eyes gaze wide in shock, shifting her attention towards the people around her.
She freezes. Before she realises what is happening, the elf in front of her speaks. In the darkness it is hard to make out his face, but as he talks she realises she doesn’t recognise him.
“You are property of the Steelfeathers,” he says, calmly, in a hard voice as blunt as a club. “You either come with us quietly, or pay with your blood.”
Phoenix is tempted to drop her weapon and go with the elves, for the chance to rescue her mother. But she knows she would be heavily outnumbered and dismisses the thought as quickly as it first appeared. Her face is a ball of shock and uncertainty. Someone behind her chortles with glee.
Phoenix’s heart thuds and she glances over at Seven. ‘Now would be a great time for your assistance, beauty,’ she thinks, wanting to scream aloud but finding she cannot do anything but stay frozen. For she sees that Seven, now standing, is surrounded by three other lackeys himself.
Phoenix’s heart-rate thunders suddenly in speed and volume, its pounding filling her ears. She moves her right foot back slightly to keep her balance.
The world is still for a moment as the person in front of her steps forward, casting his face in the moonlight. He is an ugly, black-haired ponytail-sporting elf, staring Phoenix down, awaiting her move. He is not holding a weapon, though it’s possible it could be concealed.
‘No,’ Phoenix thinks to herself, blocking out the noise of her pounding heart. Like Trixie taught her, what good will the rage bring? She stands up tall, tilts her head a centimetre and just breathes. Deeply.
A long breath escapes her lips, warming the mask in front of her mouth. She swiftly darts her eyes left and right, without moving her head an inch so as not to make the gang attack first. Phoenix’s heart slows as she forces herself to think and quickly analyse the situation. To not only look, but to see. To find clarity, to understand.
She spots one bandit to her left, along with the flash of a blade, but cannot see for certain if another is on her far right or not. The laugh revealed there’s at least one person behind her, while her instincts tell her there’s probably one or two beside them.
So there are possibly at least seven of them altogether - three around the orc and four circling her. She thinks about using the dagger concealed within her tunic but opts for the sword, given the need for greater reach, plus the thought of wielding it gives her some comfort. The knowledge of the situation relaxes her somehow and she suddenly feels the light weight of Heart on her left hip, begging Phoenix to draw it and thrust towards the thug standing before her. ‘No,’ she decides, ‘That’s what angry Phoenix would do. We split these idiots into separate groups, breaking them up and dampening their numbers advantage.’
While it feels like a minute, this all happens in the space of a few seconds, and the tension rises in the silence.
“Oh,” the elf in front adds, breaking it. “And we’ll be taking that sceptre you have there, whatever option you choose.”
Phoenix ignores him. She quickly glances at Seven one last time before she makes her first move. They establish eye contact for a split-second and, like a pair of ticking clocks almost perfectly in time with one another, move together in relative unison. Seven roars, grabbing the nearest bandit to him and throwing him with devastating force towards the other two surrounding him.
As this is happening, Phoenix suddenly charges to her left, while keeping her head looking forward to beguile the enemy. She makes no such battle cry, instead remaining silent and swift. She twists her centre of gravity to fire all of her weight from her light frame into her left shoulder, which is targeted towards the figure to her left. As she tilts her eyes to see him as she charges, she notices he’s caught off guard and not reacting quickly enough to avoid or divert her blow. Feeling confident with the advantage, at the last moment she viciously juts her elbow upwards, aiming for his face. Her bony elbow connects with his teeth and upper gum, making a nasty thwacking sound as he sprawls backwards to the wall.
A dab of pain throbs through Phoenix’s elbow but she does not consciously feel it. She is utterly focused on the flow of the combat taught by Trixie and, milliseconds after her elbow has connected with the man’s face, her right hand is already drawing Heart from its crimson scabbard on her left hip, releasing it into the air while flicking its hilt down towards her, letting it rise into the air counter-clockwise. In one motion, as soon as her elbow has connected with the bandit’s face, her sword is rising up to meet her left hand, the blade slowly pointing towards the night sky. She grabs the hilt, aims Heart towards the person who was in front of her and swivels her body to face him and the other two still standing, breaking their circle.
The elf in front of Phoenix suddenly releases a small ball of fire towards her. Phoenix guides her chest towards the spell as the piece of concealed dark iron from inside her tunic nullifies the flame, extinguishing it into thin air.
Her assailant is left stunned, his mouth agape. Now it’s his turn to freeze. But Phoenix has no time to gloat.
Two other elves jump towards her, one with a machete; the other a dagger. Phoenix blocks the sword with Heart and continues to swish her blade towards the dagger-wielder in one movement. She feels it lightly tear through leather - possibly skin - as the assailant lets out a cry and jerks backwards in response. Phoenix uses her free hand to remove the sceptre from her belt and swings it haphazardly towards the machete-wielder - but he ducks. The weight of the sceptre forces Phoenix’s arm downwards and she releases the object onto the cobbled street with a ding.
Phoenix, conscious that the first elf she attacked may possibly rise to his feet, sidesteps quickly a few times curving around to her right. The three assailants are bunched together now, the magic-user at the back, making it impossible for him to attack her without also harming his friends. The fourth, whom she already attacked, is still lying on the floor, contorting and holding his face in his hands.
From this angle, Phoenix can see her trusted orc friend to the right-hand side of the alley, in serious action for the first time. Two gang members lie on the floor lifelessly beside him, each bloodied with a dagger protruding from their chest. The third is about to receive a hard-knuckled punch to the face from a very hard, very fast, green fist.
Phoenix suddenly hears the rush of footsteps and the crackling of magic behind her. Did she miscount the number of Steelfeathers? In the confusion of the fight, she panics and dives to her right. Someone rushes past her screaming: “Anar'alah belore!”
Phoenix feels the heat of a large naked flame flash before her and covers her left hand over her face as she turns away from the spell.
A devastating flamestrike spell is unleashed, the scorching inferno of pain lighting up the alley and instantly burning three Steelfeathers to cinders. Phoenix notices Seven’s surprise - he turns away for a moment as unbearable heat blankets the alley, lighting up his pig-like face for a few seconds. In a heartbeat, the rush of fire and severity of the spell is gone, leaving behind three smoking, blackened skeletons on the ground in front of them.
Phoenix turns left to see Solari standing there, out of breath, with his arms still outstretched towards the dead bodies. Thin, wispy smoke emanates from his fingertips.
The bandit first attacked by Phoenix moves his hands away from his bloodied face and looks up. He spots the three torched skeletons, two bodies in a pool of blood and another Steelfeather lying unconscious on the floor, beside Seven.
Solari stares at the bandit, who glances back at him - and Phoenix. The elf is soon surrounded in his own pool of natural substances, food and drink escaping from his bowels and bladder respectively.
Seven and Solari are scowling at him, but Phoenix is… starting to laugh. She picks up the golden sceptre from the floor, and waves it cockily in his direction. She can almost feel his fear. It gives her an odd kind of warmth, but the sensation is fleeting.
“Go on, off you go, shitbreak. Go tell the others about me, tell them they can’t have me” Phoenix laughs, sliding the sceptre back into her belt. “Especially her.”
The elf’s fear morphs into a morsel of relief.
Seven turns to her: “That is not wise, Phoenix. We should not let him leave.”
“What’s wise is sending them a message,” she retorts. “At least this way they may think twice before attacking us again.”
“Or just encourage them to double their efforts,” Seven says quiet enough just for Phoenix to hear, frowning.
The injured elf is already running out of the alley, past the orc and into the shadows. Seven closes his eyes and grunts in anger, kicking the unconscious elf beside him.
“Quickly, there is no time, you must leave here before we are spotted,” Solari says.
Phoenix looks over at the tramps by Seven. Astoundingly, it seems they somehow slept through the frackas. Though on second thought, they weren’t exactly noisy.
“What should we do with the bodies?” Phoenix asks.
“Leave them,” Solari replies. “I will handle it, I’ll say there was a fight that broke out outside the inn.”
“That’s kind of the truth, I suppose,” Phoenix smiles back at her old friend.
He stares back. “You’ve changed,” he says.
“My life has changed, I’ve had to change with it,” she responds assuredly, with a touch of sadness to her voice. “And there are more changes I need to make.”
She looks at Seven, oddly, before stepping towards the alley’s entrance.
Solari nods. He adds: “I will come and find you soon.”
She turns and smiles back at him.
“Thank you for helping me, and it was lovely to see you again, Solari, even if the circumstances were… a little more fiery than usual.”
Solari, stunned by the elf’s humour given what just happened, and the huge, concealed figure beside her, is left with a blank expression on his face. Phoenix and Seven turn to leave. They exit Murder Row and begin walking West towards the house Solari spoke of.
“Where are we going now?” Seven asks. “And who exactly was that mage?”
“An old friend - and I’m following a lead,” Phoenix answers as if nothing happened.
“Just stop,” he barks, halting in his tracks defiantly. After a few seconds, she stops too and turns to face him.
“We may have fought well and gotten away with our lives back there, but for fel’s sake we smelt death and came damn close to tasting it ourselves,” Seven says, angrily. “We’re lucky your friend was there to help. And now you’re talking like you’re alone in whatever errand you’re running, but you forget you’re part of a group now. A group who cares about you!”
“And you’re forgetting my mum is being held by a bunch of thugs against her will - the reason why I joined your fucking group in the first place!” Phoenix says, her voice rising. “Does this surprise attack not remind you like it does me? Trixie said we’d get her back and so did you!”
“Yes but not halfway through another mission!” Seven responds. “We can search for your mother another time -”
“Time is not something I am willing to squander! You heard the Steelfeathers, they are pissed off at us - at me - who knows what they will do to her? My friend gave me a lead, can you be my friend too and just trust me?”
The two voices echo loudly in the corner of the alley; luckily it seems no one is around to hear their sudden argument. Seven cools off as he considers Phoenix’s last retort.
“You already have my trust, beast, you should know that,” he says. “But friends don’t just blindly follow, they make sure their allies are thinking straight, they ask questions, they work together.”
“Then let us work together, beauty,” Phoenix adds, her voice simmering down to Seven’s quieter level as she accentuates the word ‘beauty’ for added sarcasm. Her eyes dominate his, a spark of fury and vigour flashing from her pupils. “Not question my every move.”
She begins walking again - and Seven follows.
“You are but a young sapling,” Seven says, “I’m going to question your decisions. Deal with it,” he adds, a slight air of humour running beneath the final three words.
Phoenix pouts but smiles within. “Ask questions all you like. I’ll just shoot them down. Deal with that, you... you... cantankerous cretin.”
Stunned by the strange insult, Seven looks at Phoenix and says, with his eyebrows raised: “Er, what?”
“You heard me,” Phoenix replies, deadpan.
“Cantankerous?” Seven repeats, finding humour in the insult, laughing a little, Phoenix joining him.
“Yes, and a cretin,” she adds.
“I’m only cantankerous because you are… impossible,” Seven says.
“My mind is a puzzle,” Phoenix responds. “I can’t figure it out myself. You’d do well to.”
Seven thinks about this for a moment and says no more.
The pair walk side by side through the dark streets of Silvermoon City, the argument over as quickly as it began, just a jot in their growing friendship. Phoenix leads Seven west towards the house Solari spoke of, almost forgetting the potential danger around them. After a while, they find themselves in Skulking Row.
The city is already quiet at this hour, past midnight, but Skulking Row is especially so. The street path thins to a muddy track rasping through overgrown grass, with a few cheap-looking houses up against the western-most edge of Silvermoon City’s golden walls.
The track disappears into a small garden area, long abandoned and growing wildly. It’s hard to make out in the dark, but a few unmarked graves linger nearby in what appears to be a forgotten burial ground. Beyond here lies a lone, abandoned-looking building, the size of a small house. There is nothing but the noise of crickets and the soft lapping of waves as a cool breeze wafts sea air over the wall and into the edge of Silvermoon. A single crow caws in the moonlight. The area feels cut off to the rest of the city and makes Phoenix feel uneasy.
She explains to Seven how Solari found his way here and, after scoping the place out carefully from distance, the pair cautiously move towards the building. At first glance there is no obvious entrance, but after walking softly around the edge of the building, they find a flimsy-looking wooden door around the back on rusted hinges that squeak noisily, no matter how light they turn. A note is fastened to the front of the door followed by the mark of the Royal Guard: ‘Off limits.’
Phoenix steps foot into the building first, and after checking for any obvious traps and listening closely for any movement on the other side, opens the door wider for Seven to follow. It creaks angrily.
The overpowering stench of bloodthistle fills her nostrils. Phoenix lets out a breath in disgust and lights her lantern again, making the dark room - and the hundreds of plants within it - visible. About one third of the leaves have been burnt to ashes, and the remaining ones appear wilt, like they have been recently poisoned with plant killer.
“A bloodthistle farm…” Seven says. “But with this now shut down by the authorities, it’s going to hit the Steelfeathers’ trade.”
“That may explain why they’re going after Trixie’s business,’ Phoenix thinks to herself. She says nothing as she walks around the room, looking for clues as to her mother’s whereabouts.
Phoenix cuts off a wilted leaf of bloodthistle and inspects it closely, sniffing it and closing her eyes. “This is stronger than usual,” she mutters, closing her eyes and wincing. “Likely laced or grown with some other illegal substance. No wonder it was shut down.”
She lets the leaf fall to the floor.
Phoenix and Seven take the time to meticulously inspect the abandoned bloodthistle farm. By the time they’re done, the first beams of morning sunrise glow through the broken window panes of this old building. There are some gardening tools scattered around the building and parts of the floor are riddled with burn marks. But aside from this and the dying leaves around them, there seems to be nothing of significance. No clues, no leads, no hope.
Phoenix’s calm demeanor splits like an atom. She cries out in frustration and kicks one of the plant containers sending it tumbling to the floor, soil and leaves littering the ground. Alexandra’s face enters her mind, laughing at her.
“Fuck you,” she spits, quietly.
“Phoenix…” Seven responds.
“You know what?” she says, turning to him. “I’m done. I’m done with these silly games. With this ‘training’. There are more important things than making coin from crystals and waiting around for some bloody sailor to return. My mother is out there, somewhere. She’s probably being abused right this minute, as we sit around here pissing about, if she’s not already dead!”
Phoenix tips one of the tables over sending it crashing to the ground as more stacks of dying bloodthistle rustle across the floor.
“What are you DOING?” Seven angrily cries, rushing to Phoenix’s side and grabbing her arm. “You’re leaving traces in a crime scene, making noise and you’re a wanted woman! Have you lost all sense of reality?”
“I don’t care anymore…” Phoenix responds, shrugging his arm away. “I do not trust Trixie, she wants to use me, she doesn’t care about finding my mother. But I do. And I’ll find her - alone.”
“She is not using you. And you can’t leave us,” Seven objects.
“Watch me.”
Phoenix turns towards the door. Seven blocks her path.
“What are you going to do, restrain me, like a lapdog to a little goblin?” Phoenix says.
The pair face one another, tension rising between the two of them again. Seven thinks about his words carefully.
“Of course not,” he says, offended. “Just listen for fel’s sake, and trust me.”
Phoenix shifts her weight onto her right foot and crosses her arms, waiting for Seven to convince her but feeling like nothing he says will do.
“We have an... important piece of information that will be revealed to you when the time is right,” Seven says. “I cannot tell you what it is now, but it’s significant. You being in the group is not just some strange coincidence. There are greater things to come and you need to be by our side when they are revealed. Think of it not as a secret, but a reward.”
Phoenix starts to say something but Seven continues.
“We will help find your mother, I promise. I don’t know when, as you’re right, leads are non-existent right now. But please don’t go. We are stronger together. Stay. For me at least.”
Phoenix thinks she detects desperation, even a little panic, in Seven’s voice. But there is honesty there, too.
“Why are you telling me this now? What else are you hiding?” Phoenix asks. Information, secrets, lies. Everyone seems to know more than she does.
“I asked you to trust me, didn’t I?” he responds, simply, from the heart.
Seven places his hand on Phoenix’s shoulder and grips it a little too tightly. Even though she is frowning sharply, the look on her face says she’s not going anywhere. Phoenix leans in to Seven and wraps her arms around his frame, closing her eyes. He hugs her back and says, almost to a whisper: “Why do you have to be so volatile, so infuriating? I have never met a person so impossible to predict.”
Phoenix locks eyes with the monster, saying nothing, and for a moment the air is awkward between them. Then she has a thought about something she can do if she returns to the hideout, and that calms her somewhat.
“Because life is impossible,” she eventually responds, pulling away from him, still feeling upset and frustrated, but less angry. She turns her back to him and tries her best to regain her composure.
“You’re telling me,” he says. “All the more reason for us to stick together. Damn it, Phoenix, I don’t want to lose you.”
She takes a deep breath and turns back around to face her friend. Her swelling rage has stilled.
Phoenix brushes her right hand across her lips, her half-gloved fingertips lingering in the air as she thinks. She stands on tiptoes and gently places her fingers onto Seven’s cheek. He looks down, flustered, avoiding Phoenix’s eyes.
“I’m glad I met you, Seven,” she says, withdrawing from him. She looks down at the tiny destruction she made of the table and plants, then back up at him.
She steps towards the door. “Isn’t it ironic?” Phoenix asks. “I wanted to leave home and escape from my mother. Once I get away, I want to be back with her again.”
Seven says nothing, not wanting to pursue a path that leads back to another argument.
“Come on, let’s go home,” Phoenix adds. “Before our driver loses it.”
She goes on to reveal her thought that calmed her: “I will talk to Trixie about my mother again and review the situation regularly. But if her plan of action is not to my liking, I’m gone.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Seven says, offering an awkward smile.
Phoenix’s fears are warranted. Somewhere out there, at this very moment, her mother is being beaten.

Chapter XVIII: War

Seven and Phoenix carefully make their way back through the streets of Silvermoon to the relative safety of the small garden where they were dropped off earlier.
Hace is sitting on the earthy ground, his back to the wagon, asleep. His snoring is loud and buzzes through the air like a saw, his straw hat on the floor beside him.
Phoenix, no longer bothered about offending the stubborn man and in no mood for wasting time, leans over him and slaps him around the face a little harder than necessary. She smells the stench of beer on his course face, rough with stubble, as it grimaces and groans.
“Enjoy your drinking and whoring did you? Well, time to get us out of here now,” she commands with a quiet yet forceful voice, feeling more confident and in control following the fight. Seven dumps the sack of mana crystals into the wagon and looks on apprehensively. The thought of taking goods, fighting off assailants and being a wanted woman in the city makes Phoenix feel a little giddy with delight. And she doesn’t want this driver to ruin things.
Hace, moving like a sloth and slurring like he’s drunk a tavern full of ale, has other ideas. He turns his head towards Phoenix’s face but fails to focus on her eyes, instead looking up at the clouds.
“Oh there you are Marina, my beautiful Marina…” Hace sings.
He’s stone drunk.
“Now listen here,” Phoenix says, suddenly grabbing his collar and pulling him tightly towards her, “I’m not your Marina, and I don’t care if you’re too sozzled to look straight. You could have a damn plague and I wouldn’t care, there’s no way I’m staying here all day. You’re going to sober up and drive us out of the city. You hear me?”
Hace thinks about this for a moment, a contorted smirk spreading wide across his face. He begins to titter in a silly, high-pitched noise.
Phoenix stamps the heel of her leather boot at the point between the bottom of Hace’s left shin and his foot. He reacts faster than a sloth this time, crying out and leaning towards the ground.
Seven intervenes, moving between the pair of them and gently guiding Phoenix away from the elf. He glances down at the sorry sight of this drunken fool, who is beginning to laugh again, and looks at Phoenix with uncertainty, in search of answers.
“We could get him a remedy to sober him up?” Seven suggests unconvincingly.
Phoenix begins unfastening her red tunic.
“Get in the wagon, Seven,” she states. “I’m not mucking about wasting time with this idiot any further.”
Seven sighs. There is no room for negotiation. He clambers into the wagon and sits up, watching Phoenix with curiosity.
With her back facing the orc, Phoenix removes her tunic and throws it towards Seven, revealing her still-developing teenage body, smooth peach-coloured skin and bra underneath. He looks away, shyly.
Phoenix removes her gloves next, kicks off her boots and begins to forcefully pull off Hace’s shirt.
“Oh! Marina,” he enthuses, leaning up towards Phoenix. She pushes her tight-laden foot into his shoulder, forcing him back to the ground as she wraps his alcohol-soaked shirt around her body, turning her nose up. Next, she pulls Hace’s trousers off and places her own legs into the brown, baggy garments, tightening her belt around them. She removes the sceptre and throws it onto the back of the wagon.
“You’re not...” Seven starts.
“I am,” Phoenix cuts him off, pulling her red face mask off and throwing it at him. “We’re finishing the job. You can be a good little beauty and hold Hace’s hand.”
She smiles at him with cutting sarcasm as she picks up the straw hat from the floor.
“Okay, beast,” he replies. “You know how to ride with one of those things?” he asks, pointing at the Hawkstrider attached to the front of the cart.
“I’ve been in enough of these carts to know,” she says, placing the hat on her head, which is far too large for her frame. “The innkeep used to drive me around in one when I was a little girl. He let me take the reins once or twice.”
Seven pauses. Then speaks from the back of the cart: “Are those clothes… comfortable?”
“Yes. I mean no, they aren’t. Go on, laugh it up while you can.”
He doesn’t laugh, but she bets he’s probably holding it in. She could hear the humour in his voice when he asked her the question. It’s true, the clothes are far too big for her. But in the dimness of the dawn light, with the hat covering her face, she’ll get away with it, surely. Plus, Seven is too big - and too green - to take Hace’s place as the driver.
Phoenix lifts Hace, with effort, onto the back of the wagon.
As she lays him down, he tries to kiss her. Phoenix carefully jabs him in the nose and Hace lets out a whimpering yelp as he lies back.
Seven pulls the canvas sheet over Hace and himself, as well as the bag of crystals and the sceptre. He turns to Hace like an unwilling lover and gently pats him on the head.
“Have a little rest, sir,” he half-whispers, half-growls at Hace rather persuasively, ruffling the elf’s hair.
Hace snuggles up to him and closes his eyes, smiling contently but at the same time wincing in mild pain and moving his fingers to his nose.
Phoenix puts her boots back on and takes a deep breath. She jumps into the seat at the front of the wagon and takes the reins. The Hawkstrider looks around at her menacingly and chirps a questioning chirp.
“Move,” Phoenix commands, pulling at the reins. The hawkstrider turns its head forward again. It moves.
It takes what seems like an agonisingly long moment before the wagon begins trundling forwards, but once it gets going, the momentum builds and the cart moves at a slow and steady pace.
Despite the weight of Seven and the tools in the back, the hawkstrider pulls the wagon with relative ease, and to Phoenix’s relief, responds to her controls well. She steers the wagon calmly through the streets of Silvermoon towards the Inner Elfgate and, once reaching the Bazaar’s market plaza, joins a handful of other traders making their way out of the city in their own wagons.
Following this route once again reminds her of the day her life changed forever. She pictures herself sprinting through the streets in a frenzy and imagines several guards keeping pursuit close behind. Just thinking about it again makes her feel out of breath and queasy. A knot of dread rises in the pit of her stomach. She swallows and tries to brush it aside, forcing herself to focus on staying calm and just steering them out of the city. Phoenix thinks to herself: ‘You are one lucky girl you made it out that morning.’
They trot past the golden statue of Dath’Remar Sunstrider and this time Phoenix does not worry about her future as she looks at the determined expression sculpted into the statue’s face. Her life now may be filled with danger but it is infinitely more interesting than what it was before. She just prays her mother is safe.
When they reach the open, grassy clearing leading up to the elfgate, Phoenix’s heart gets caught in her throat. As she spots the sight in front of her, she gasps and almost pulls the reins to a shuddering stop.
There are a few hundred elven troops lined up in strict formation, preparing to leave the city. Some are adorned in stunning silver armour and armed with long ornate shields and double-bladed swords, while others carry bows and arrows. Among the warriors and rangers, there are also battle mages and wielders of the holy light: healers to keep the troops going. Some of the magic-users are firing up small spells, drawing energy from the Sunwell for practice. They light up the sky and make crackling sounds like fireworks.
The troops at the front are climbing onto large wagons and are beginning to leave the city. One general by the open elfgate door is barking orders at the troops, organising them into efficient regimented formations.
‘What on Azeroth is happening?’ Phoenix wonders. ‘Could we be assisting the humans with their monster problem?’
Lost in thought, Phoenix almost crashes into the trading wagon in front of her, which has stopped some 100 metres from the elfgate doors. She tugs on the reins sharply and turns, her hawkstrider shrieking as it narrowly avoids stumbling into the cart in front.
“Stop moving!” a general shouts at the top of her sharply-pitched voice. Fuming, she glares at Phoenix’s wagon and approaches it casually. “Traders may leave after the troops, once the signal has been given! How many more times must I say it?”
Phoenix shrinks back into her seat and hides her face under the large straw hat, tipping it down over her forehead. She can feel the stare of the general but does not make eye contact. Instead she looks down at the floor and hopes she can move again quickly. Her hawkstrider ruffles its feathers and kicks its talons into the ground in frustration.
“Do you understand the rules?” the general asks Phoenix, her voice condescending - and much closer now.
Phoenix’s heartbeat kicks up a notch. Fuck the rules, she thinks to herself but keeps her mouth firmly shut. She nods once, twice, without looking up, as if the possibility of making eye contact will somehow get her arrested on the spot. She thinks she can hear Hace half-yawning and half-groaning in the back of the cart and winces under her hat. But the noise of the troops and all the wagons trundling along drowns it out - and the general moves on.
Phoenix watches as the troops slowly move out of the city and into the woods of Eversong Forest. She has the feeling something big is happening, but is also aware that it’s just a small portion of the high elf army that are marching out. Perhaps some Amani trolls have been brave and the elves are sending out a party to shut them down? But she feels that helping the humans is a more feasible explanation, given what Seven told her about his kind’s invasion of Azeroth.
Eventually, Phoenix steers the wagon through the elfgate with all the other traders and into the safety of Eversong Forest. The troops are far ahead and out of sight at this point; Phoenix passes the river where she cleaned her bloodied hands that fateful morning.
She quickly realises she has no idea where she’s going from here and pulls the wagon into a secluded area shrouded by trees, not far from the river. She pauses for a moment to check for any passers by, hops out of the seat and down to the ground.
“Coast’s clear, Seven,” she says, before hearing some muffled movement towards the back of the wagon in response.
Seven sits up, on alert.
“What happened back there?!” he asks.
“Troops. A good few hundred of them marching out of Silvermoon City. We had to wait for them to leave before we could.”
He looks concerned.
Phoenix starts: “Listen, I -”
“Why don’t…” Seven utters at the same time. He looks up at her and looks like he wants to laugh at her oversized clothes. “...we get some rest?”
She nods: “You took the words out of my mouth. I don’t know where I’m going from here, we’ll need the fool to drive us back when he wakes up. Nothing more we can do til he’s awake.”
“Agreed,” Seven replies. “Plus, we need not worry about us being spotted with such a convincing disguise.”
She detects a note of sarcasm carving through the end of his sentence.
“Shut up and get your beauty sleep,” Phoenix says dismissively.
Seven laughs: “Yes, boss. I mean, beast.”
Phoenix glares at him, unimpressed, but admires the orc’s sense of humour.
The orc laughs and lays back down; Phoenix returns to the driver’s seat and loosens the reins. She whistles quietly, grabbing the hawkstrider’s attention.
“Have a rest, go to sleep,” Phoenix says.
The bird looks at her inquisitively, and upon feeling the reins go loose, bends its legs and curls up in a sleeping position.
Phoenix lies back, her feet just about hanging over the side of the wagon. She can hear Hace snoring loudly in the back and the trickle of water from the nearby river. She stays awake, staring up at the trees and the dawn sky above for about an hour, keeping watch, before finally surrendering to sleep. Her dreams are scattered and wild but she does not remember them.


Around noon, Phoenix and Seven awaken to the sound of retching. Hace has clambered out of the wagon and is puking his guts up onto the grass.
Phoenix thinks about laying into the idiot with a string of insults, thinks better of it, then settles on something a little less insulting.
“So nice of you to join us again in the land of the living,” she says, with mock interest, still lying down and looking up at the bright sky.
“Fuck off,” Hace replies, groggily.
“Gladly,” she retorts. “Take us close to the West Sanctum and we’ll be out of your hair. And away from your silly straw hat.”
She tosses it in his direction and Hace, keeling over, realises he is half-naked. He pats himself down feeling for his clothes in a panic. Seven chuckles at this.
He asks: “Where are my clothes? Where are we?”
“I’m wearing them, as you couldn’t be relied upon to do your job, so I took matters into my own hands.”
Phoenix jumps out of the wagon and gathers her clothes from the back, explaining to Hace where they are and changing back into her own outfit. Looking embarrassed, Hace takes them to West Sanctum without saying a word. Phoenix sits up in the back of the wagon this time, feeling confident enough not to hide, and taking the time to eat some rations. Seven, meanwhile, remains low, the cover concealing his orcish features and unusually large frame.
When they arrive near the hideout, but not too close as to break any cover, Phoenix says to him: “You know, Trixie will not be happy with your little boo-boo back there, nor will she expect you to receive the full amount for that reason. I could choose to withhold that information from her, of course...”
She holds out the palm of her hand towards him, and he swears under his breath, reaching into his pocket to give Phoenix two gold coins. Phoenix raises her fingers up and down, with her palm still stretched out, asking for more.
“Get the fuck outta here,” Hace says, and Seven does his best at sneaking off the wagon before it rides away from them.
Seven - his green skin almost entirely concealed under his grey hood, clothes, gloves and bandit mask - smiles at Phoenix and places his arm on her shoulder as they walk back to the hideout.
“You did good, beast,” he says. “We got the crystals back, the sceptre, plus a whole bunch of other goodies and gold. Just a shame we left some dead bodies, and left without a reason for the guy’s motives.”
“Yes,” Phoenix responds, smiling underneath her bandit mask. “A real shame.”
The pair make it back to the hideout in good time. Before going down the ladder, Phoenix takes the dagger from her tunic.
“Oh,” she says, passing him the weapon. “This thing isn’t for me.”
Seven raises one brow. “Could still come in handy?”
Phoenix shakes her head, smiling. “I guess I’m just a sword gal.”
“Fair enough,” he says, taking the dagger. “But as you’re a beast, shouldn’t you be using your teeth instead of a dagger or sword, anyway?”
“Just get your fat green arse down the ladder,” Phoenix retorts, rolling her eyes. He grins at the fact he made her bite and she decides she quite enjoys lumping friendly little insults his way anyway.
When they get down into the safety of the hideout, the rest of the crew are in good spirits. They are singing a sea shanty together, swaying together and drinking wine and grog.
Trixie turns her head towards Phoenix and Seven as they step down the ladder and continues singing, raising her drink in their direction and chugging it down. She merrily slams it down onto the table and turns to them both.
Phoenix makes herself appear to be happy. She buries the thought of another secret being held from her beneath the surface - for now. She doesn’t want to create another scene, and decides to wait until she is alone with Trixie before pressing her.
“Well would you look at that, our valiant heroes are here!” Trixie cries. “And just in time to join us in song!”
The rest of the group cheer, as Seven waves away the suggestion of him joining in. They are all smiles, and Phoenix smiles at the upbeat goblin too. She forces herself to be pulled into the hubbub by the little green arm around her waist, even though their argument from the other day is fresh on her mind.
‘We haven’t even told her how the mission went, yet she is acting like we have succeeded,’ Phoenix thinks to herself. ‘Is it blind faith - or am I simply blind to her motives? Or perhaps we are both wearing masks.’
Phoenix knows this song. She joins in with the chorus reluctantly; Seven collapses onto his bed and heaves the sack from his shoulder onto the floor. Falkor is dancing on the table.

Oh I, oh I, can’t be apart
The sea, it has my heart
Oh I, oh I, submit to thee
I give my heart to the sea

After singing another verse and chorus, loud and proud, the two dwarves begin to bang their fists on the table, making a drum beat. But it is not loud - more a gentle rhythmic tap that quietens the crew’s vocals to a soothing melody. The song slows and continues to quieten, though its meaning grows, and by the end of there seems to be genuine harmony and togetherness within the ranks.
Django, Henry, Harris, Trixie and Phoenix - even Thirteen - exchange pleasantries, patting one another on the back and chinking their drinks together. The dwarves start singing another song, prompting Django to join in.
“What’s the good news, then?” Phoenix asks Trixie over the noise.
“The repairs on our ship are complete!” Trixie cackles ecstatically.
“Your ship?” Phoenix asks. She had almost forgotten all about it, since Trixie first mentioned it during their initial meeting. “Where is it, anyway?”
Trixie takes another drink and just smiles back at Phoenix, her tipsy visible eye offering mischief in the elf’s direction.
“Well?” Phoenix smiles back.
“That depends on how well your mission went,” Trixie states, her eyebrows rising in challenge.
“You might as well promote me to first mate right now,” Phoenix responds, taking the sceptre from her belt and waving it around Trixie’s face like it’s a wand.
Trixie nods slowly, a grin spreading across her cheeky face. She turns and walks towards the far corner of the room away from the table and the music, her scarlet cloak and black hair following her.
“Seven,” she calls, without turning her head towards him. “Bring the goods, will ya?”
The orc rises to his feet and carries the sack of mana crystals and gold with him. He takes a seat on a large crate in the corner: Phoenix sits next to him, her legs not quite reaching the floor like his are. Trixie pulls up a chair, turns it around and sits on it back-to-front facing her comrades, her arms hunching over its back.
The goblin nods at Seven. He opens the bag, revealing most of the crystals that were sold to the elf in Silvermoon, plus a few ornaments, gemstones and some gold pieces. Phoenix doesn’t mention the extra coins she pocketed for herself, or the ones she blackmailed from Hace.
Trixie takes one of the ornaments. It’s a beautifully sculpted marble statuette of a magister. She feels its weight in her hands and nods in appreciation at the pair, proudly.
“Any incidents involving the red mist?” Trixie asks.
“None,” Seven answers happily. “Little red held her own. A little attitude here and there, but no trouble at the apartment. Though... we were ambushed by some Steelfeathers, who tried to take Phoenix. Said she’s their property now, like her mother. But they were swiftly dealt with.”
Trixie frowns, thinking about the situation.
“Did you leave behind any evidence?” she asks.
Seven shakes his head. “Only what we stole. And one of the Steelfeathers… got away.”
Trixie waves dismissively at this, as if they needn’t worry about the gang.
“Uh…” Phoenix starts.
Trixie turns to her, raising one eyebrow, her visible eye squinting at her.
“I left him a message,” Phoenix continues.
“You did what?” Seven cries.
“I scratched the word ‘naughty’ into his writing desk.”
Trixie stares at Phoenix for a few moments, then erupts into laughter. Seven breathes a sigh of relief as the goblin continues her whooping. She pinches Phoenix’s cheek endearingly, who smiles embarrassingly and chuckles quietly.
“I love ya, redhead,” Trixie adds, her laughter eventually calming. She takes a pouch of gold from her back pocket and passes a heavy handful of coins to Phoenix, before doing the same to Seven.
The orc grins. “See, I told you beast, the boss always pays well - we can trust her.” He turns back to the goblin: “Thank you, Trix.”
She raises her head and closes her eyes for a moment in acceptance of his thanks. Phoenix says nothing, shoving the gold coins in her own pocket.
“And finally, what about the reason for our customer’s sudden silence?” Trixie asks the pair.
Seven looks awkwardly at Phoenix and back at Trixie. “We, uh, didn’t find that I’m afraid boss,” he says. “We had to get out quick, the guy returned once already and I took the initiative to get us out safely.”
There’s a flash of disappointment in Trixie’s eyes that would be missed by the sharpest of surveyors. She responds: “That’s okay, the most important thing is -”
A crumpled note appears on Trixie’s head.
“We did find it, actually,” Phoenix says, quietly, moving her hand away from the goblin’s head. Seven looks at her half-frowning, half in surprise. She withheld the note until now not as a bargaining chip with Seven, but just to be stubborn. To show him that she can do the job, her way.
Trixie, puzzled, takes the note and begins to read it, learning about this other trader who is attempting to undercut her and take her smuggled goods off the market, while painting her as a villain and untrustworthy dealer.
The note is signed off with the letter Z.
Trixie’s delight turns to aggravation.
“That mother fucker,” she says, standing, but still barely half the size of her sitting compatriots.
“What is it?” Seven asks.
“They’ve placed protection over our customer. And are likely doing the same to others.”
This time the question comes from Phoenix: “Who?”
“Who do you think?” Trixie replies. She holds the letter up and turns it at a right angle, the Z becoming an N.
“Norros and his band of sodding Steelfeathers.”

Chapter XIX: Fate

Later that evening, Phoenix and Trixie sit next to one another on the golden sands of Tranquil Shore. The calm waves stroke the surface of the shore, a cool breeze occasionally floating by. The moonlight glints off the large bottle of rum in Trixie’s hands and twinkles in her eyes. She passes the drink to Phoenix, who takes another gulp before handing it back to the goblin.
Phoenix laughs as the pair share a joke, the fire of the rum trickling down the elf’s belly, temporarily patching over the cracks in her relationship with Trixie and removing her inhibitions.
Trixie leans her head on Phoenix’s shoulder. “Oh, redhead, you did very well last night. Were you okay with Seven?”
Phoenix nods.
“I like him,” she says. “He told me about his past, how he came into contact with you all. He’s a good… person.”
“That he is,” Trixie adds, “And I’m glad I put you with him. I didn’t think you’d get along from your first meeting - you both seemed terrified of each other.”
“What?” Phoenix asks, shocked. “I was scared of him! Why would he be scared of me?”
Trixie doesn’t answer. Instead, she looks out to sea, as if her mind is on something else.
“You are special, Phoenix,” Trixie adds. “We must keep you safe, you have great potential I feel. And I’m not just saying that, ya know.”
She turns to Phoenix, a more serious look on her face that quickly transforms into a wide smile. She whispers: “Don’t tell the others, but I think you’re becoming my favourite.”
Phoenix doesn’t believe her. It kills the jovial mood. She half-smiles anyway and now it’s her turn to look out to sea. There is a small sailboat out late, slowly making its way back to shore. Phoenix decides now is the right time.
“Listen, Trixie,” she tarts. “I’m not sure I can stay here with you all.”
Trixie leans back, frowning and stuttering slightly from her tipsiness, or from shock. “You don’t mean that.”
“I don’t want to leave,” Phoenix continues, “But I feel I must. My mother - ”
“Will be reunited with you,” Trixie cuts her off. “I gave you my word, little red, didn’t I?”
“Yes, I know, but I don’t want to delay any longer,” Phoenix responds, holding her hand out for the bottle once more, prompting the goblin to pass it to her. She takes a large gulp for extra courage, passing it back to Trixie. The taste is deep and she doesn’t find it nice as such, but it is warming. Almost comforting. It is growing on her.
“My mother could be in serious danger. Every day that passes is another day we won’t get back. Another day I could spend searching for her, taking me closer to her. I’m afraid I will never see her again.”
She turns to Trixie: “I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity you’ve given me, but if we do not focus more on finding my mum, I must leave.”
The goblin leans back and sighs. “I get it kid, I promise ya I do,” she says, the bottle of rum cutting off the sentence sharply as she takes another swig of alcohol. “And I’ve been working on tracking your mother down. Thing is, no one knows where the Steelfeathers are hiding out. Just as they don’t know where we stay. But...”
Phoenix listens intently. Trixie pauses and hiccups.
“I have a lead on some of their bloodthistle farms. While my crew’s safety is a top priority, we could torch them. Send a message. Threaten to burn more if they don’t hand your mother over.”
Phoenix nods slowly - she likes the idea.
“Some of their other places were flushed out a while back and they’ve taken off elsewhere,” Trixie carries on. “I’m guessing their base is to the east or south of Eversong Forest, but I can’t be sure. The only way would be to follow one of them back. Even then, those guys have been known for having several hideouts - with only a few senior members knowing where the family resides. It’s incredibly dangerous for us to attempt, so I’d suggest disrupting their farms - and their trade for now. When the boss - my boss - returns with the proper force of the full crew, we could stage a proper rescue mission -”
“No,” Phoenix interjects. “I want some signs of progress before then, I’m not waiting around. Let’s torch the farms. If that doesn’t work, I go alone. Once I have my mum back I promise I will return to you and work. Heck I’ll even pay my way out if I have to.”
Trixie sighs again, the rum on her breath reaching Phoenix’s nostrils.
“Kid, I couldn’t let ya go. I mean, I can’t stop ya, but while you’re doing well with what I’ve set you so far, you don’t stand a chance against them by yourself. I hate to say it but you’ll end up dead. We must stick together. Farms first. One step at a time.”
Phoenix thinks back to the encounters she’s had with the Steelfeathers so far and recounts what happened at Silvermoon with Seven. It’s clear the Steelfeathers have taken a different direction since Phoenix bit - and embarrassed - Alexandra.
“Listen,” Trixie says, her eyes flickering with a new idea. “You have more than proven yourself, Phoenix… even if you are a little rough around the edges. Very rough, actually. Some say I’m mad to keep you.”
Phoenix fakes a gasp towards Trixie and pretends to slap her hand; the goblin giggles lightly.
“Why don’t we head down to the ship tomorrow, you can meet her? Get to know her. Make a new friend, as a fully fledged member of my ship’s crew.”
Phoenix raises her eyebrows, tempted. Trixie continues further: “And while we’re there, we’ll look for some information, maybe some more muscle to help us find your mother.”
It’s enough to sway her. The elf leans in and squeezes Trixie tightly with respect and affection.
“Aw, stop that,” the goblin says, coy. “I do mean the best for ya, kid,” Trixie says. “Don’t forget that.”
Phoenix smiles. “I know,” she says. But deep down she is still not certain of that. “There is… something else.”
Phoenix feels a little nervous hearing the words aloud, but the alcohol gives her the courage to press on.
“Now why does that not surprise me?” Trixie jokes.
Phoenix studies the goblin’s face, as her own takes a more serious edge, telling her boss this isn’t a time for jokes.
“I know you are keeping something from me.”
The words hang in the air.
“Well, ya can’t have all the booze at once!” Trixie says awkwardly, avoiding the statement.
When she notices Phoenix is not laughing, she coughs and looks down at the sand, then back up at the elf, the evening breeze flicking her red hair. Phoenix forces herself not to react to Trixie’s joke, to wait for a proper response.
“Listen, kid, it’s nothing personal,” Trixie starts. “Of course there are things I will withhold from you, from the group, from people we do business with. Like I said to ya the other night, some information is withheld until trust is earnt. So come, build that trust!”
Trixie grins widely and holds out the bottle of rum to Phoenix again. She takes it reluctantly, and knowing she will get nothing more out of the goblin, drinks several large mouthfuls of the alcohol. Trixie’s grin seems to widen with each gulp. Phoenix suddenly withdraws the bottle, before coughing and spluttering.
“That’s the spirit!” Trixie laughs. She leans in and kisses the fiery hair atop Phoenix’s head. “Go on, get some sleep ya silly redhead, we’ve got a big day ahead.”
Phoenix smiles, nods and gets up too quickly. She stumbles and crashes back down into the sand again, her wobbly, drunken legs unable to prevent herself from falling. The pair erupt into laughter again as Trixie rolls onto her back, spilling some of the rum onto the sand in the process.
Phoenix might be laughing now, but come the morning, the anxiety and uncertainty will return. Phoenix needs to find answers, somehow.


The next morning, most of the crew leave the hideout at Tranquil Shore early and make their way to Sunsail Anchorage, a harbour and bustling market area built for trade. Thirteen and Seven are left behind to guard the base.
The morning is crisp, so Phoenix wears some of her old clothes on top of her red garb, including her old brown hood, for added warmth. Her head aches from last night’s booze.
Trixie, Django, Phoenix, Henry, Harris and Falkor - who is sitting on Henry’s shoulders again - head south along the seafront before crossing a short but narrow rope bridge to reach the western edge of Sunsail Anchorage.
Just after climbing the ladder, Trixie pulls out a small, crude-looking piece of goblin engineering - some sort of handheld radio device. She flicks a switch and speaks into it: “Guys, do you read?”
“No we told you we can’t read, boss,” a crackly voice responds. It sounds like Trixie’s, but deeper.
She responds in deadpan sarcasm: “Ha. Ha. Quite the humour. We’re on our way, I hope it’s looking spick and span, unlike you lot.”
There is some muttering that can be heard through the tiny speaker, then the line goes dead. Trixie chuckles to herself.
As they walk, the crew discuss Seven and Phoenix’s antics from the other evening, the Steelfeathers and their possible motives and the ship.
Harris occasionally sings some odd ditty, repeating the lines ‘We’re off to see a ship, we’re off to sea in a ship,’ over and over again, much to Henry’s ire.
Django walks alongside Phoenix at one point and smiles warmly, the tusks on his pale blue face looking stronger than ever.
“Seven tells me you held your own in Silvermoon…” Django says. “Dat coin proving to be lucky, uh?” he laughs.
Phoenix nods, gripping the coin within her pocket tightly and pulling it out for her and Django to take another look.
“Thank you for letting me borrow it,” Phoenix says, passing it back to Django. On the surface her action seems natural, willing even, but deep down she feels reluctance and hopes she can hold onto it. She’s grown quite attached to the faded thing.
“Nah mon, you keep it,” he says, squinting slightly and holding his hand up. “I have a feeling you will need it more than me. Besides, I have enough charms and trinkets back at the hideout for an entire tribe!”
Phoenix feels shy for some reason and thanks the troll again. She looks down at the coin as they walk, looking at the bird on one side and the spiral on the other.
“What are these symbols supposed to be?”
“Ahh,” Django replies. “I thought you’d neva ask. Dat coin is supposed to be ancient, tousands a years old. From de Zandalari tribe. Da bird you see there is apparently de loa known as Aviana, da mother of flight.”
Phoenix looks closely at the coin and realises why she thought the bird looked odd before. It appears to be half-bird half-woman. Seeing it in this light also makes it look like a phoenix, which only heightens the young elf’s love of the coin.
“And the spiral?” Phoenix asks, turning the coin over.
Django shrugs.
Phoenix looks at him, intrigued.
“Ey mon, I don’t have all de answers ya know!” he grins.
Phoenix smiles and places the coin back in her pocket.
The six members of the crew reach Sunsail Anchorage by mid-morning. After crossing the narrow rope bridge carefully one by one, with Falkor holding Trixie’s hand to cross, they walk up a curving hilltop path towards the harbour.
Phoenix, Trixie, Django, the two dwarves and Falkor stroll casually towards Sunsail Anchorage, and as they reach the peak of the small grassy hill, the harbour comes into view below them in all its splendour.
Four or five enormous ships lay docked in the harbour, which curves outwards into the open sea. The cobbled paths around the water’s edge are teeming with the bustle of merchants and ship-goers busily going about their business like ants in a colony. Seagulls caw overhead as sunlight glimmers off the salt water. The fact that the harbour is so close to the forest’s edge adds to its magnificence, making it seem like some kind of secret wonder or mirage, hidden away by the trees themselves.
On the opposite side, a faint sea mist envelops a ship a few hours out from port.
Phoenix, stunned by the sight of the anchorage, stops to soak in the view. She doesn’t know where to look. The elf feels excitement from not only the thought of exploring the harbour at her will, but for the anticipation of discovery, the boats and activity below challenging her to set sail on a maiden voyage. She also feels a twinge of disappointment that she has never set foot here until now. At this moment, the world of Azeroth is at her feet - she could go anywhere she likes with the crew - and the freedom is almost overwhelming.
Trixie, noticing the wonder in Phoenix’s eyes, turns to smile at Django and the dwarves, then leans in to Phoenix and places her palm on Phoenix’s back, guiding her forward.
“Go on, knock yourself out kid,” Trixie says, and Phoenix smirks with delight at the goblin. She ties her hair back and pulls her hood over the top of her head, leaving her bandit mask lowered around her neck, before half jogging, half skipping down the hill towards the traders market to explore the area.
As the ground levels out and she approaches the harbour, the bustle and noise of the market grows in volume, the smell of freshly caught fish and ale filling the air.
There are food stalls, merchants offering fish and other sea creatures, fishing shacks, an outdoor bar and traders bartering with one another over crew, trips across the water and for ships themselves. A small, solitary tavern is situated right by the shoreline edge atop a short, sharp cliff.
Phoenix doesn’t know where to start. She begins walking towards the inn by the water’s edge.
“Delicious, cooked fish!” a bearded merchant exclaims, attempting to make eye contact with Phoenix, distracting her. “Care to try some? You won’t find better in all of Silvermoon!”
“Don’t listen to him, miss, why do that when you can catch your own?” another voice cries from the stall next to the first merchant, and Phoenix spots a smiling elf holding two fishing rods aloft, poking them towards Phoenix.
She pulls her hood down further over her face and ignores the merchants clamouring for the attention of buyers. She, rather contrarily, looks left instead.
Through the din of the market, past the traders’ tables and back towards the tip of the forest’s edge, there is one stall that does not try to grab her attention, but does so anyway.
The dark grey tent is out of the way of the others, raised above them on a short hill. It’s to one side, like an outsider that knows it does not belong. There are no signs outside it either, just a small, single marquee with a solitary flag on top in matching grey. It shouldn’t, but it immediately grabs Phoenix’s attention. She finds herself staring at it, looking around, then back at the tent again. A shiver runs down her spine. She must have stared at the tent for a good minute or so, feeling uneasy but curious at the same time.
“Come on redhead,” a squeaking voice says beside her. “Let’s see what we came here for!”
Phoenix feels Trixie’s hand take hers and guides her back the way they came. Phoenix’s eyes are still glued to the tent - it’s not until she’s fully facing the other way does she snap out of her vacant gaze. Trixie directs Phoenix towards the docks, where she sees the others standing beside a ship, smaller than most of the other large vessels anchored in the quay.
“You know, it was Fate that brought us here,” Trixie says to Phoenix. She looks up at the ship. “And it’s Fate that will take us back to Stranglethorn.”
In front of them resides a beautiful-looking mahogany sloop, or sailing ship. It has a single mast and sails set along the line of the keel - the blade sticking into the water on the underside of the ship. On the side there’s the word ‘Fate’ painted in a deep black fancy font that looks like a form of calligraphy.
This type of sailing vessel, a fore-and-aft rigged boat, is smaller and not as sturdy as some of the other larger ships and trading vessels docked at Sunsail Anchorage, but it’s a shape favoured by pirates and smugglers for its maneuverability. The wood has been varnished extensively, a deep reddish-brown with a shiny sparkle that makes it look brand new.
The sight of Fate gives Trixie a spring in her step and she smiles proudly at the ship, to Phoenix, and back again.
There are four cannons aboard - two on each side - with everything else a ship should have: a crow’s nest, helm, anchor, upper deck and lower deck. Because of its size, Fate does not require a large crew, perhaps six to ten or so: a few deckhands and cannoneers, a navigator, chef, the captain plus any others that might be required.
Phoenix wonders what each member of Trixie’s crew does at sea. As she imagines this, a couple of greasy-looking male goblins emerge from the deck and one shouts down to Trixie: “You coming aboard or what?”
“No, I’m going to sit here and play cards… of course we’re coming aboard! We want to see if your repair work is still up to scratch, for one.”
The goblins look at each other with an expression that says ‘no rest for the wicked’.
Trixie winks at Phoenix and begins walking up the wooden gangplank that connects the ship with the dock, the other members of the crew following her close behind. Standing on a ship for the first time further intensifies Phoenix’s hunger for adventure, her curiosity for travel and the discovery of secrets that Azeroth may be hiding.
The two goblins show their handiwork to Trixie, having repaired some parts of the rigging, hull and deck, and she nods in approval. The outside of the ship is impeccably clean and in good shape, but the same cannot be said for the interior.
The crew proceed to the lower deck and Trixie shows Phoenix the sleeping quarters (where a couple of other goblins are dozing), the mess room (aptly named on this occasion due to the various tools scattered around), humble kitchen and another small room with a desk and a few chairs. In the latter there are several pictures of various boats on the walls - everything looks very professional here, more so than usual. All except for a crudely-constructed radio device of some sort. There’s a porthole in here too; Phoenix can see a crowd of people and one of the market stalls through the glass. It is surprisingly quiet below deck - the noise from above is all but drowned out.
“This is where we conduct our ‘business’,” Trixie says to Phoenix, looking into the room from the corridor outside. “You know, the whole reason we’re here,” she says with a mysterious undertone.
Phoenix’s face paints an unsure expression.
“Repairing other ships of course!” Trixie adds. “We are a company of expert repairers and tinkerers, specialising in quality construction and goblin engineering.”
Phoenix raises an eyebrow, unconvinced.
“Yes, quite,” she responds.
Trixie closes the door and tries the handle on another nearby one, which does nothing. She taps a few other locked doors and leans up to loudly whisper in Phoenix’s ear (but doesn’t reach): “A little bit of extra dealing in the business of storage and couriering never hurt anyone, of course! Though we keep most of our goods in the hideout until we need to sail away again.”
Phoenix nods and smiles, placating Trixie. She imagines the goblins here look after the ship, while Trixie and the rest of the crew remain hidden with their smuggled goods in the cave at Tranquil Shore. Phoenix thinks she sees a barely visible inverted triangle in lighter varnish above the handle on one of the locked doors, but doesn’t have time to inspect further as the rest of the crew move past her, ushering her back upstairs.
Above deck, Phoenix leans on the railings and looks out over the docks, lowering her hood behind her head and letting her hair down to gently billow in the wind. Her eyes search for the grey tent again and struggle to find it.
“How are ya getting on, wee lass?” a thick Dwarven voice asks beside her.
“Hello Henry,” Phoenix smiles. “I’m fine, thank you.”
For some reason she feels inclined to turn up her level of politeness around him, as he seems to be the most well-mannered of the group.
“It’s strange,” she adds. “I have lived in Silvermoon my whole life but today is the first day I’ve ever set foot here at the anchorage. It’s beautiful.”
“Aye, that it is, miss,” Henry replies. “It makes him think of my home, in a way. The city of Ironforge, and the great snow-capped mountains and sweeping valleys of Dun Morogh. My people might be impossible at times, but the scenery and the architecture at Ironforge, that is something to be truly cherished… it’s not the same as here, mind. But home is home.”
Phoenix smiles.
“I have been travelling for most of my life,” Henry continues. “And I enjoy it. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Ironforge. Perhaps someday you will see it, and if we’re there together, I can give you a tour. I’d probably be the least grumpiest tour guide you’ll find there, that’s for sure.”
“Unless Harris is there with us,” Phoenix giggles.
“Oh I’ll make sure that won’t happen - he can stay outside and make conversation with the bloody wild boars, they’re more his level!” Henry smiles.
Phoenix hears Harris making some annoying noises in the distance and turns around to see him pestering some of the goblins.
“Trix, get this idiot out of my hair!” one shouts down at Trixie, who is still downstairs.
“For the sake of the Gods, leave them be, brother!” Henry cries.
“Green skin everywhere, the smell of B.O. in the air, enough to make you vomit n’ swear -” Harris starts.
Henry trundles towards him and swings an arm his way, muttering: “Shut up, just shut up would ye! I’m trying to have a nice conversation with Miss Dreamfoil.”
Harris fires a retort back and the pair begin squabbling with one another.
Phoenix turns back towards the docks and looks for the grey tent again. She takes a deep breath and attempts to ignore the noise of the dwarves, of the market traders on the land in front of her and seagulls cawing overhead. A strong, sudden gust of wind catches Phoenix’s face, forcing her to blink. When she readjusts herself, she sees the tent for a moment, its small flag flapping in the breeze.
Phoenix snaps out of her gaze and sees Falkor standing beside Django, who is bartering with a nearby trader. The man looks scared to see a troll in the area, but as harbours like this draw races from all over Azeroth, past rivalries are often overlooked for coin. She turns around and spots Trixie in deep conversation with one of the goblins.
“I’d like to take a look around some more, Trixie,” Phoenix says, above their chatter.
Trixie, looking a little flustered with the other goblin, stops her sentence short and turns to Phoenix for a second. “Sure kid, go enjoy yourself.”
Phoenix pulls up her hood again. She finds herself walking off the gangplank, past the traders and through most of the dock, drawn to the tent like a moth to the flame.

Chapter XX: Visions

Phoenix leaves Fate behind and strides towards the grey tent, away from the clamour of the market and towards the border of the thick forest.
The tent is eerily alone, still in the breeze and calls out to her somehow, without words or lights or sounds that are usually used to draw someone’s attention. Something clicks in Phoenix’s mind. She knows what this is. Her mother had told her the story just a few years back.
Phoenix lingers by the entrance to the marquee, which is folded shut. A small ‘open’ sign hangs at the front.
Her fingers brush the edge of the tent’s old thin fabric, and she gently parts the two layers to create a small opening. It is dark inside; there is a flicker of candlelight. Phoenix peers at the inside of the marquee while keeping her distance; she tilts her head for a better view without making a noise.
“Do not dither child, come in, come in,” a deep, whispery voice beckons.
The story was true, it seems.
Phoenix parts the tent entrance further and steps inside with confidence, pulling her hood back. The hubbub from outside seems to dissipate as if she’s in a place far away.
An incredibly old elf is sitting alone by a small but thick rectangular glass table, inlaid with runes. There is a large tome open in front of him and a candle either side of it. He looks at Phoenix without expression, his long white hair falling to his waist and a beard that flows to his chest. Thousands of years of wisdom echo across his narrow, wrinkled, proud face. One eye is milky white, the other a pale blue. He glides one hand through the air, beckoning Phoenix to sit at the empty chair opposite him, and closes the book with the other.
She takes the seat, curious and engaged. Is this really a former magister of Silvermoon? A sage, apparently cast out by the others because they deemed him a madman in his old age, for having increasingly bizarre visions and too many wild, unreliable predictions.
“And what is it, you seek?” the old seer asks calmly, his voice clear, peeling back the years as he pronounces the consonants with crisp clarity.
Phoenix gazes into his eyes, thinking about all the wisdom he has gained, the memories made, secrets kept and fortunes told to hundreds, possibly thousands of travellers from across Azeroth.
Her life suddenly feels somewhat insignificant, trivial even, in his presence. She continues anyway, speaking before thinking: “My life is not what I thought it would be -”
A noise escapes his throat in humour as he raises one eyebrow.
“I mean,” Phoenix carries on. “It has changed so much in the last few months. And I…”
Phoenix struggles to find the right words. Should she ask about Trixie’s withheld information, or the whereabouts of her mother? She finds the correct decision quickly, pushing her selfish thought aside and shaking her head.
“I just want to know if my mother is safe.”
After he asks for more information, Phoenix explains the situation, leaving out details of her own crimes and passes a locket to the man which has a photo of her mother inside.
He folds his arms outwards and rests them on the table, his palms facing upwards, rings of various shapes and metals adorning his withered fingers. He moves them towards Phoenix, prompting her to hold his hands. The locket remains in his left palm.
Phoenix hesitates, and reaches her hands out to his. She places her fingers onto his palms and looks surprised when he doesn’t close them.
He shuts his eyes and Phoenix does the same. After a few seconds, he says: “She is… alive. But her health is not good. I cannot say she is safe, I’m afraid.”
He tightens his eyebrows in concentration, long furrows forming in his brow.
“Her life expectancy will fall, drastically, if she remains in this state.”
Phoenix hastily interjects: “Where is she?”
The man opens his eyes and pulls his hands away from Phoenix.
“Please do not interrupt me like that. And I only answer three questions, I’m afraid.”
Phoenix pauses in acknowledgment.
“Is that your second question?” he reiterates. “Or do you want to try again with the first and actually allow me to give you a more meaningful answer? Though it will count as your second.”
Phoenix replies: “I would like to ask where she is as my second question.”
He nods and returns his hands to the table. Phoenix touches them again and he closes his eyes in concentration once more.
For about a minute, they sit in silence and complete stillness. Phoenix feels her heart rate rise a notch, she shifts awkwardly and peeks one eye open. He has the same pained expression on his face in concentration. Phoenix wonders about the state of his own health.
“Here,” he says, almost making Phoenix jump. She closes her eye again.
“She is here, in Eversong Forest. I’m afraid I can do no more, I cannot pinpoint an exact location.” He pulls his hands away, opens his eyes and leaves the locket on the table, before sliding it towards Phoenix.
Phoenix takes a deep breath as a mix of relief and disappointment wash over her. Her mother is alive at least, but she is no closer to finding where she or the gang in black are located. The forest is huge - she could be anywhere.
“Is that all?” the old elf asks.
Phoenix’s eyes flicker at him, the candlelight twinkling in her eyes, bringing forth her third and final question.
“Can you tell my fortune? What will become of me?” she asks, worriedly.
He sighs.
“They always ask at least one difficult question and always leave it til the end,” the former magister creaks to himself with a sneer.
“I know,” he laughs, again to himself, before suddenly frowning and turning his head ninety degrees, staring at the side of the tent as if Phoenix is no longer in his vicinity.
Phoenix’s eyes bulge at the elf’s unusual behaviour. She begins to understand why the other magisters decided to cast him out.
He slides his chair back and stands, turning towards a closed-off section behind the table. As he lifts the drape, Phoenix identifies part of a bed and a bedside cabinet in the back room.
She hears a drawer being opened and shut. The aged elf returns with a large deep blue pack of tarot cards, cracked with water stains and an image of a sword on the cover.
He sits and opens the pack, shuffling the cards with speed and force, as if he’s done it a thousand times before. There are some other larger cards in the pack he takes out and proceeds to shuffle too. The fortune teller holds these out and asks Phoenix to pick one of these first. She taps one, at complete random.
He places the card gently onto the table, face up towards Phoenix. It’s a picture of a skeleton in black armour on horseback - the mare a frail, pale skeleton of a horse.
Phoenix’s eyebrows narrow in concentration and she immediately looks back at the old elf. She asks: “What does that mean?”
“Do not be alarmed by death, child,” he assures her. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to die tomorrow, or next month, or next year, no, you need not concern yourself with that. Not until you’re my age,” he smiles, his warm but gruff voice slowly coasting through the air like a ship across an ocean.
“The death card can signal new life, new beginnings, a change, rebirth…”
Phoenix nestles her chin with her hand, in thought. “But what does that mean to me, exactly?” she asks.
“It means… you lack patience,” he smiles again, speaking slowly. “I am not finished. There are three more cards yet. Those will determine what this card means, and what it means to them, to your potential destiny. I ask you not to react to each one, and for us to hold hands again once they are drawn. Then I can give you a full reading, rather than try to guess what each card means, when in fact it’s how they all attune together that counts.”
She nods, eager and curious.
He shuffles the smaller pack of tarot cards one more time, and spreads them out in his gaunt, wrinkled hands in front of Phoenix.
This time she thinks. She’s not sure what she thinks, exactly, but takes her time, moving her hand gently in front of the cards, her forefinger pointing and ready. She lets her subconscious take over.
She taps one card, three from the left.
“Take it,” he says. “Put it face down on the table… and don’t swivel it sideways.”
Phoenix lifts it away from the other cards and presses it gently onto the table, below the larger death card.
She looks up and scans her hand across the cards again. Rather than make a childish rhyme or count to ten in her head to choose at random, she tries to place meaning in her choices, tapping the card only once it feels right to her.
She takes the second card, one third from the right-hand edge of the pack, and places it next to the first chosen card, face-down on the crystal-clear glass table.
The room is so still as she moves to take the third and final card, she can hear the aged elf breathing opposite her. The candlelight makes a rogue flicker as she suddenly stops her hand on the third and final card, almost confused by her choice and in deep thought.
Phoenix rests the card next to the other two, the card of death towering above them.
“Ready?” the fortune teller asks, holding his arms out to Phoenix with his palms upwards again. She nods, feeling tense.
“As I say, do not dwell on each card, child,” he says. “Turn them over one-by-one, have a glance, then commune with me.”
She starts with the left-hand card, her hand hovering above it in anticipation. Phoenix gradually turns the card over to reveal a man looking over his shoulder, struggling to carry five swords. There are two more swords on the floor beside him.
‘Seven! Seven swords,’ Phoenix thinks to herself with excitement, her eyes lighting up.
“The next one,” the fortune teller gently commands.
She turns over the centre-most card, below death. It displays five elves, with one stave each. It looks like they are holding them aloft and crossing them over, but not on purpose as such - they seem to be in the midst of a conversation or some kind of dance. Phoenix cannot make much sense of that.
Her hand hovers over the last card and slowly turns it over, the flipping of the card in her fingers seemingly loud in the silent tent.
Phoenix frowns at the picture, unable to make it out. She soon realises it’s upside-down. She tilts her head for a better view. The card appears to show two figures in a small rowboat, with six swords standing impossibly by themselves at the front of the boat. The figures look like… a mother and daughter.
The heart in Phoenix’s chest thuds.
“Th-this one’s upside down,” she blurts.
“We don’t swivel them around,” the fortune teller replies. “It stays as it is. Do not dwell.”
He holds out his hands and shuts his eyes.
Phoenix, feeling tense, forces her eyes shut and places her hands in his. This time he closes his fingers around hers as he attempts to read her troubled mind.


The fortune teller focuses and his mind is flooded with a myriad of possibilities. Several visions come to him from the distant future: a circle of thorns; a rookery full of crows; a bar in Bilgewater Harbour.
More paths emerge in his mind, crossing over and under, creating a complex web of possibilities. A demon in the void. A sword made of shadow. A dark, hooded androgynous figure eating a banana. The joy - and pain - of a promising but ultimately fleeting friendship.
Darkness. Death. Though for whom he cannot tell.
The energy from Phoenix and her potential is almost overwhelming. The former magister shifts and attempts to visualise the more immediate future rather than what could lie ahead for Phoenix in decades to come.
He sees a ship in his mind, two elves of similar height engaged in combat on deck. A recurring vision of a beautiful woman decayed by bloodthistle, pale and alone, keeps coming into his mind, as does a cave by the coast of Stranglethorn. He also sees Silvermoon under attack by hordes of undead, one of his regular visions, though this time sees Phoenix desperately struggling to fight off a group of skeletons encircling her.
The feeling of both love and hatred emanates from Phoenix, with too fine a line between the two. The fortune teller sees several visions of Phoenix losing control, consumed by rage. Eventually, this bubbling anger forces him out of her mind.
He gradually draws his hands away from Phoenix’s and slowly opens his eyes. Phoenix does the same and looks at him expectantly from across the table.
“I am sorry, child,” he starts. “Your life will not be easy, at least not for a while.
“You are young, there are too many possibilities for me to pin down a precise future for you. I saw many visions, most of which were hard to make sense of. But one thing is certain: there will be conflict, betrayal and death.”
Phoenix looks uneasy and strokes her hair in thought. “What kind of visions?” she asks.
“You were fighting someone on a ship, an elf your height. I saw another woman, repeatedly, she looked like you, but pale, she suffered some sort of addiction. Another time, you were helping to defend Silvermoon from a horde of undead. But I am sorry to say, its fall is inevitable.”


Phoenix soaks the visions in, finding it hard to believe the latter.
“Mother…” she whispers to herself.
“Then there are the cards,” the fortune teller adds, pointing to the tarot cards between them. “The death card in this instance represents a new beginning for you, but also that someone close to you may die, I’m sorry to say,” he explains, Phoenix fearful that he may be referring to her mother.
“The seven of swords card, this signifies the betrayal I mentioned earlier. Someone may be deceitful and lay a trap for you, so be aware of this. Then there’s the five of wands… representing some sort of disagreement or conflict. You seem quite pained about something, angry and tense. This will result in some kind of confrontation.
“Then there’s the six of swords, the mother and daughter on the boat. When upright this card hints that you may be undergoing a transition or rite of passage… but it was upside-down. This means you cannot move on - there is baggage that needs to be sorted before you can.”
The fortune teller sighs, his milky white eyes looking at Phoenix with pity.
“Something is holding you back, child, and until you resolve it I’m afraid your pain and anger will continue. On a more positive note, you have real energy and potential. You are young and have time to grow and learn. Do not take my reading entirely to heart.”
He smiles and gathers the cards up, placing them back into their deck.
Conflict, betrayal and death. Phoenix feels the pit of her stomach churn with fear and anxiety. She tries to bury these feelings.
“Thank you,” Phoenix says with meaning, removing her coin purse and taking a gold coin out for the fortune teller.
He waves her away. “I do not do this for coin,” he states. “I have enough of that. I get to see so many lives from across Azeroth who come to this harbour, it gives me meaning to assist and offer guidance. Now if you don’t mind, the last few readings have left this old, mad elf rather tired,” he croaks.
Phoenix smiles at this and stands up to leave, placing the coin back into her purse. As she moves towards the tent’s exit, she turns around one last time, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Magister,” she says, feeling unusually confident around a stranger. “Why did they cast you out? You are still wise.”
“Ohh,” he dithers and frowns. “No one calls me that these days…! The others didn’t like what I foresaw,” he manages to stutter. “They believe Silvermoon is eternal. But they are blind.”
Phoenix feels troubled by the certainty in his voice. She is conflicted whether to believe him or not.
“What is your name?” she finally asks him.
“Phoenix,” he replies. “Go, I am tired now,” he says, stepping into the back room, not giving her a chance to respond. “Oh and flip the sign outside will you? I’m closing.”
Unsure whether he’s referring to her, or if he shares the same name, or perhaps both, she decides it doesn’t matter and smiles anyway. Phoenix opens the tent to leave, before turning the sign around. She will continue down the path of crime, of finding herself, of searching for her mother. Her fate has not yet been sealed, but of the multiple paths that lie open before her, very few are without hardship and heartache.

Part III: Embers and ash

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.”
Janet Fitch

“Fire in the heart sends smoke into the head.”
German proverb

Chapter XXI: Time

Over the coming year, Phoenix grows ever closer to Trixie and her crew. Bonds are deepened, friendships blossomed and skills sharpened.
In particular, Seven and Phoenix become a formidable force, led by the direction of Trixie, the astute and opportunistic leader of her crew. This unlikely duo makes for an extremely efficient pairing built not on method or organisation or even natural togetherness, but on solid layers of trust. Phoenix’s impulsive, emotional and at times reckless demeanor - a far cry from her shy, anxious former self - somehow meshes brilliantly with Seven’s cautious, honest and level-headed approach.
So close they grow, they teeter on the edge of love. Neither one really knows what to do next, how to express their fondness for the other, nor are they truly brave enough to strike an interracial relationship that could jeopardize the crew’s mission, their friendship, or raise unecessary eyebrows. They are both still young, innocent and while not entirely naive, have not courted before. They are incredulous, almost blind to their closeness.
Django carries on teaching Phoenix about the ways of his culture, of the loa, including Bwonsamdi, the loa of death, of charms and fate and being streetwise. Henry, Harris, Falkor and Thirteen continue to show loyalty to Trixie, though the latter grows increasingly frustrated with his position and wants to see the world, despite the many bountiful and successful missions the crew complete around Silvermoon.
Trixie stays true to her word and, with her leads and the work of her crew, they successfully locate a couple of the Steelfeathers’ bloodthistle farms. On both occasions, Phoenix forms a small scouting party in the early hours of the morning and takes pleasure in being the one to set alight the farms herself, using her recently-gained knowledge of munitions from the dwarves to light sticks of dynamite and make a few explosive cocktails to boot.
This of course infuriates the shady Steelfeathers, who do not meet the crew’s demands to hand Phoenix’s mother over. The events of the last few months wreck any truce Trixie once had with the Steelfeathers and an inevitable gang war erupts, consisting mainly of small skirmishes.
In the face of danger, the crew also embark on a number of adventures together, stockpiling coin, trading smuggled goods and dicing with death. Heists, bounty hunts and other missions are carried out, including the aforementioned sabotage of a couple of Steelfeather operations, much to their anger and increasing resentment towards Trixie’s crew.
Phoenix relishes these adventures which only adds to her infamy. The crew take on a few newcomers, none of which really cut it, but a few lasting acquaintances are made which help the group here and there. They even bring on board some hired muscle from Sunsail Anchorage - some bovine-like Tauren from across the sea - but a search amounts to nothing and they eventually seek work elsewhere. Phoenix writes to Solari a couple of times from Sunsail Anchorage, but with no new leads and his job at the inn to think of, he is unable to properly assist her.
Trixie occasionally sends some of the crew away on the ship with the goblins, to trade and smuggle goods and complete other simple errands she asks of them. Sometimes she joins them, leaving the goblins to look after the hideout in her absence. Phoenix grows to love the little ship and quickly learns the basics of tending to it, aided by the experienced deckhands of Django, the dwarves and Trixie.
However, the little green goblin grows increasingly restless and impatient as time ticks by. There is still no word from her captain, yet still she remains at the edge of Silvermoon, unquestionably loyal and expectant to the end. She has long begun to fear the worst, but with no solid leads to go on, searching for her captain and his ship, the Fortune, would surely lead to madness, or death. She has the safety of her crew to consider too. At first she takes each day as it comes, keeping the business and the safety of her crew her top priorities, but after a few months she seriously considers seeking his whereabouts.
The dwarves and goblins expand the hideout by the waters edge at Tranquil Shore, digging down deeper and adding a few more rooms to stockpile growing treasures and cargo. A hidden winch and lift is added to the entrance to allow them to transport and hide more goods, with the upper floor of the hut converted to a makeshift lift that is only used in the middle of the night.
Phoenix, despite getting one up on the Steelfeathers, despite Trixie’s intelligence and despite bringing on board some hired muscle, comes no closer to finding her mother. The places where she manages to track Steelfeather thugs are usually temporary bases - and their gang, like Trixie’s crew, cover their tracks well. After some time, all word of the gang in black Phoenix once feared starts to dissipate. Leads die and any sign of the Steelfeathers’ black market, drug trade or other criminal activities dries up. A different group rises up to take their place in and around Silvermoon and Trixie keeps her distance from them.
Near the human kingdom of Stormwind, far, far south of Silvermoon, the orcs continue their advance, securing human settlements like Westfall in a bid to finally invade and claim Stormwind for themselves.
The year flashes by in the blink of an eye.
Phoenix, now 17, once willing to drop everything to find her mother, starts to accept the worst - that the Steelfeathers have moved away and taken her with them, or that she is dead, perhaps long so. The sadness and pain of being torn apart from her mother swells, but the distractions of the crew help her cope.
The missions she completes take her mind off the larger situation, the cocktail of adrenaline, alcohol and accomplishment placating her mind and numbing her rage, for the most part. While she still has a few incidents here and there, with increased combat skills and the crew around her, she feels more in control of her mind. Seven, in particular, helps her remain calm, focused and keeps her anger in check. But it always threatens to erupt at any given moment.
With each day that passes, it becomes harder for Phoenix to even think about leaving the crew behind and embark on a wild goose chase to find her mother, especially as there are no leads to go on. Or so she thinks.

Chapter XXII: Deep waters

Phoenix is watching Thirteen and trying not to laugh. It’s the third time that day his breakfast came up to say hello.
Thirteen is hunched over a railing vomiting his food into the ocean again, the young pale elf riddled with seasickness and nausea.
Seven is laughing heartily at his companion, as is Harris, whose whooping is almost melodic. Phoenix stifles her laughter.
Thirteen quickly gave up telling the rest of the crew to fuck off whenever they laughed at him puking up, the constant shifting of the boat clearly making him queasiest member of the crew. Phoenix wonders if he’s also given up on trying to soak magic from the Sunwell to stop the vomiting. She watches as he spits the last of his sick into the sea and sits up against the railings again, silent. For someone who wants to see the world, he’s incredibly susceptible to seasickness, Phoenix thinks.
The crew had stopped off at the shores of Stranglethorn Vale for a week, seeking news of Trixie’s captain, but to no avail. Instead, they traded some fine elven fabrics with the goblins of Azeroth’s well-known Booty Bay, while picking up large quantities of cigarettes, exotic fruits, rum and other alcohol to trade back in and around Silvermoon.
The hull is packed full of cargo and, the crew, while disappointed at the lack of progress in finding their true captain, are largely in good spirits. Some have been drinking a few of the bottles they picked up, including Phoenix, whose mild seasickness seems to be quelled by rum. She passes a half-drunk bottle to Thirteen, who weakly bats it away. He just carries on looking almost lifelessly at the water stretched beyond the boat as far as the eye can see.
“Suit yourself,” Phoenix says to him, turning away to stare out to sea. She has never really liked him, anyway.
The sun is shining in full force and the sweltering heat is almost ungodly. Sweat drips from Phoenix’s brow - she wipes it away with the sleeve of her cotton shirt and looks at the open sea once more. She catches a glimpse of a beautiful blue macaw diving through the air in the distance. In a blink it’s gone, and the deep blue sea is all there is to view. It should be getting boring, but to Phoenix she relishes these trips Fate offers her, standing proud and feeling the strength of the rum burn her throat and oesophagus.
The sea is incredibly calm, the gentle waves stroking the hull of the ship soothingly. With barely any wind, Fate is moving along at a snail’s pace and the crew know they have a very long journey ahead. They are not dressed in their usual garb on the open seas - apart from Trixie. Her boiled leather clothing, red scarlet cloak and eye patch seem to suit every occasion, but most of the others have traded their leather tunics, trousers and boots for simple cotton shirts, vests and light shorts to keep cool. Most are barefoot, much to the aversion of Phoenix’s eyes - especially when it comes to the dwarves. She didn’t think it was possible for a foot to have that much hair on it.
Swords and daggers are in holsters, as are a few guns - Trixie takes no chances when sailing the seas of Azeroth, especially when making a long trek like this from Silvermoon to Stranglethorn and back.
Only a few of them are on the upper deck at this time. Thirteen, Phoenix, Seven and Harris are enjoying the weather and keeping an eye on their given duties. Seven has the helm, Harris is manning the sails and assisting Seven with navigation, while Phoenix and Thirteen, the runts of the crew’s litter, are still the ‘do anything’ deckhands. They clean, assist the other officers, do simple repairs, carry cargo, sometimes help Henry cook and occasionally act as powder monkeys, assisting the dwarves, Seven and Django to fire the cannons (though this activity is a rare last resort).
Henry is up in the crow’s nest, topless, the beam of the sun shining down onto his shiny bald head. He is fanning himself with one hand and sipping water from a flask with the other. The flask is getting light - he’s almost finished the last of the water in it already and only topped it up a couple of hours ago. Henry uses a spyglass to occasionally scan for ships and land on the horizon, shouting down to Seven and Harris with any news. Up in the crow’s nest Henry can feel every little movement of the ship, every bob and tilt. Today, there isn’t much - the water is calm.
Trixie is downstairs counting gold and writing on the ship’s ledgers, updating them with the haul they collected in Stranglethorn, while Django - the crew’s first mate and Trixie’s right-hand-troll - is in the kitchen preparing some food for the meal later that day, chopping up and sniffing some spices, and occasionally snorting his white powder. Falkor is soundly asleep in the crew’s quarters.
Phoenix, aside from having to listen to Harris hum an annoying tune, is feeling good. She won a reasonable sum of gold back in the Salty Sailor Tavern, gambling on card games that Django had taught her. There, she struck up a relationship with the bartender Nixxrax, the pair sharing stories and jokes.
Almost as if reading her mind, Seven calls across to Phoenix: “Yo beast, you’re looking kind of smug there.”
She slowly turns to face him, across the deck, leaning back on the railings.
“You know you just got lucky back there to win that gold,” Seven adds.
“It was all skill,” she grins, taking another sip of the rum.
“Yeah you keep telling yourself that. Where was the skill against Trixie the night you didn’t know when to quit?”
Phoenix sticks her tongue out at him and takes one of the many gold coins from her pouch, throwing it at him carelessly and arrogantly.
He ducks instinctively and the coin goes skidding across the deck, plopping into the water below.
“At least catch it,” Phoenix moans.
“If you want to throw your money away, that’s your problem,” he retorts.


Up in the crow’s nest, Henry is looking through the spyglass, content to be away from the antics below. It’s quiet up there and he can barely hear his brother’s nonsense. As Henry turns 180 degrees to face behind the boat, back towards Stranglethorn, his peacefulness is smashed to pieces like a blunt club to the face.
Henry thinks he sees something on the horizon: black and red-striped sails. He lowers the spyglass and for a few seconds, sits there hoping it not to be true, biting his lip. He raises the spyglass to his eye again and notices the sails are still there, wobbling in and out of focus. A feeling of dread washes over him as he forces himself to take a deep breath and lean over the edge of the crow’s nest.
“Bloodsails!” Henry bellows, the nervousness seeping into his deep voice as he repeats: “Bloodsails on the horizon. Get Trixie up here now!”


She hears the words on deck and panics. Knowing it’s not something Henry would joke about, Phoenix races past Harris, whose musical mumblings have immediately been cut short by the news, down to the lower deck. Nervousness sinks into her stomach, clashing with adrenaline.
“Trixie!” she shouts, running to the captain’s quarters. “Boss!”
She opens the door without knocking.
“Trixie,” she repeats, quieter now, catching her breath for a moment as the goblin looks up from her desk and back at Phoenix, wide-eyed.
“Bloodsails,” Phoenix says, quietly.
Trixie stares back at Phoenix and her face drops. She says nothing as she puts her quill down, hops from her chair and walks calmly but swiftly past Phoenix.
Django, hearing Phoenix’s cries, leaves the kitchen - with his apron still on - and sees Trixie briskly stomping her way to the top deck. He glimpses eye contact with Phoenix and looks pained. He follows.
“How far, how many?” Trixie calls up to Henry, the rest of the crew looking on expectantly.
“Just one, boss, but it’s big. It looks like a galleon,” Henry calls down to her, while trying to stop the spyglass in his hand trembling. The ship is a little clearer to see now, it’s closer and appears to be moving fast. He concentrates hard and sees oars on the ship’s sides. “A gall… A galley, mam.”
The power in Henry’s voice fades. “It’s a galley,” he says quieter, not wanting it to be true. “At full speed it could be here in half an hour.”
Trixie closes her eyes and strokes her hair with one hand, the other rubbing the eye under her patch. In that moment the other crew members don’t know where to look. They are on the open seas, barely moving, a sitting duck to any huge vessel - especially one that has oars and a large crew to catch up with them. And especially the Bloodsail Buccaneers, a group the crew are all too aware of. The bloodthirsty pirates are notorious for ransacking ships, stealing goods and not leaving any survivors. Trixie growls: her contacts had assured her the Bloodsail Buccaneers were away from Stranglethorn, but they must have returned earlier than expected.
The silence - a calm before the storm - is deafening. The gentle creaking of the boat, the sea slapping into the hull and the gorgeous blue sky overhead does nothing to calm the crew’s growing anxiety.
Trixie taps her foot on the deck, seemingly in thought. All eyes are on her, awaiting her orders. Phoenix tries to imagine what Trixie is thinking. Hiding below deck? Nah, not her style. Using the rowboat to escape with the crew… and leave the cargo behind? No chance. Surrendering? The thought makes Phoenix shudder.
“Any other ships out there?” Trixie calls up to Henry, calmly, breaking the silence.
Henry looks back into the spyglass with despair, scanning the horizon as he turns around a full 360 degrees.
“I’m afraid not, Trixie,” Henry says, deflated. “Nothin’ but open water. It’s just us and them.”
Henry looks back at the Bloodsails. “They’re moving towards us fast,” he adds.
Trixie begins loading her gun. “Seven,” she says, turning to the orc behind the wheel of Fate, while spinning the chamber of her pistol and locking it with a click. “Turn us towards them.”
For a few seconds, nothing is said.
“What?” Django interjects, stepping towards the goblin. “We cannot - ”
Trixie glares at him, her eyes beaming a stare that would quite probably scare the wildest of wolves away. Phoenix acknowledges it as a stare that says in equal measure, do not dare defy me and do not dare spread doubt amongst our ranks.
Django takes a breath and looks around at the crew, smiling confidently - on the surface at least.
“You heard what the captain said, Seven,” Django says, his smile fading as he takes off his apron. Seven shakes his head and turns the wheel, the ship drifting about face.
“Suit up, arm yourselves, load the cannons,” Trixie says to the crew, not taking her eyes off her own pistol. “I want everyone on deck, standing tall,” she says with defiance. “Now!” she turns and shouts at them with authority. The crew gets to work, charging below deck to gather their weapons and change into their usual attire. Henry returns to the deck with Falkor, who looks like he’s just woken up.
A sloop against a galley, this is surely madness, Phoenix thinks to herself as she prepares the cannons. She tries her best to place trust in Trixie’s plan, in whatever crazy idea she has.
When the crew returns to the top deck, the Bloodsail Buccaneers’ galley can be seen clearly by the naked eye. The sight of the huge red and black sails screams danger, like the colouring on the abdomen of a deadly venomous spider. Phoenix is glad that Falkor cannot see it.
“Load all the cannons with grapeshot,” Trixie commands.
Seven and Django prepare the cannons on the starboard side, while the dwarves take the port. Phoenix stands beside the former, raising her red bandit mask to cover her face and bringing her left palm down to rest on the hilt of Heart. Her right hand touches the linstock in its stand, ready to light the cannons when ordered. She forces herself to adopt a calm clarity, burying feelings of panic and terror. Thirteen, meanwhile, does the same with the cannons on the other side. He moves over to the dwarves, slowly, his face looking a little better as the sea is a lot calmer now.
Trixie paces the deck, an angry look smouldering across her face. She stands on the top of the deck, by the wheel. Falkor sits nearby, he appears to be meditating.
The Bloodsail Buccaneers are closer now and the crew can hear the shouting and whooping from the pirates in the distance. Trixie keeps her eye on the huge boat in front of them, taking them head-on. A few minutes pass; the crew stand in silence, awaiting their fate. The enormous galley keeps sailing in their direction, the small green goblin keeps standing defiant, watching them come closer. If this situation continues, the galley will simply smash Fate into smithereens. Phoenix realises Trixie is probably playing a game of chicken with the Bloodsail Buccaneers. This is not going to end well, she thinks, as a sudden pang of fear rushes through her body, the adrenaline sweeping through her veins.
Trixie stands facing the Buccaneers, the huge ship looming over her tiny sloop, and she does not turn to face the crew.
Phoenix turns and sees the huge ship rushing towards them. She is itching for Trixie to turn the ship so they can fire their cannons and get the first hit in. While she is ready to light the cannons, part of her is ready to leap into the water and swim away with her friends.
The laughter of the pirates can be heard loudly now, their galley less than a minute away from ramming into Fate.
The pirates are all shouting over one another. One barks from across the water: “Ahoy there, it’s death here, pleased to meet ya!”
Another says: “We won’t be swift, or merciful!”
Others start chanting towards Trixie’s crew: “Jump, jump, jump!”
“You’re dead anyway, might as well jump,” another laughs.
Phoenix does her best to block out the noise, the nonsense from these bloodthirsty fools. She faces the ship again and realises they are about to get crushed by the front of the galley. Phoenix and Seven exchange a worried, desperate glance at one another.
Trixie stands defiantly, still facing towards the galley.
Fate suddenly sways and Phoenix winces, bracing for impact, but she realises the movement is from the waves being pushed in their direction, not wood smashing into wood.
The galley turns at the very last moment, moving to pass Fate’s starboard side. Trixie spins Fate’s wheel sharply to the left. The huge galley passes Fate’s starboard side, looming high above them, most of the pirates shouting and laughing down at Trixie’s crew from the galley’s upper deck, with others hanging onto the rigging. Most of them are humans, but there are a few goblins and high elves amongst their ranks too. They could easily swing down onto Trixie’s boat, but remain where they are, laughing and shouting obscenities down at the crew. They are toying with them.
Thirteen rushes across the ship to the starboard side’s left-hand cannon beside Django.
As the pirate vessel passes Fate, some of the pirates spot Phoenix, her shiny ginger hair flowing halfway down her back.
“There’s a fine young woman we have for us, lads!” one pirate shouts. His words are met with a chorus of disgusting cheers, hooting and wolf whistles. Seven bares his teeth. Phoenix tries to force herself to stay calm and not lose her cool.
Having narrowly missed collision, Trixie rolls the wheel to the right to level the boat up, so that the back of Fate doesn’t hit the rear end of the galley. But the pirate vessel is so huge, its rear still looks like it’s still going to tear into Fate as it turns. The galley levels up at the last moment, missing Fate by an inch. Trixie winces as the black wood of the pirate vessel narrowly misses her ship. She wastes no time in issuing her next order.
“Fire the starboard cannons!”
Phoenix leaps into action, striking the linstock to light it and shoving it into the rear of the cannon beside her. This silences the wolf whistles. Thirteen does the same on his side. Both Phoenix and Thirteen cover their ears and step away from the cannons as Django and Seven make the last few adjustments, aiming for the top of the pirate’s deck.
Both cannons go off almost simultaneously, thundering loudly through the air. Most of Django’s cannonfire misses as the fast-moving galley has already sailed past Fate, but some of the grapeshot hits the rear of the vessel, knocking one pirate dead into the water and ripping part of the ship’s edge to splinters.
Seven’s cannon strikes true. It smashes into the top deck, the arrangement of round shot firing in different directions like a giant shotgun. The different shots rip through wood, rigging, part of a sail and a handful of pirates, killing them or seriously maiming them. Wood and smoke and screams fill the air.
A confused series of shouts go up from around the vessel. Trixie turns her ship to face the Bloodsail Buccaneers. Phoenix is unsure what will happen next - the galley will just ram them, surely?
“Prepare to board!” Trixie shouts decisively, and most of the crew leave the cannons to start climbing the rigging, Phoenix joining them. From the rigging, she turns around to see Henry, who is hesitating. He is looking down at Falkor, who is smiling at him. Phoenix doesn’t know how the kid can smile in a situation like this.
“Up we go, wee lad,” Henry says, eventually lifting Falkor up onto his shoulders.
Phoenix looks ahead as she climbs, to see the giant vessel turning around, preparing to come back at them. The crew are already near the top of the ship now, ropes in hand, ready to attempt to board the galley as it passes them next.
Falkor begins moving around uncomfortably above Henry. The elf boy is blowing air out of his mouth repeatedly, like he’s out of breath or panicking. Henry looks distraught.
“Henry, up here!” Trixie shouts. “Let’s kill them and take their ship!”
Phoenix is not sure whether Trixie really means it or is just displaying outward confidence to inspire her crew. It works a little; a spark of hope lights up inside of Phoenix. Then she considers the odds - they are still outnumbered maybe six to one - and her positivity slinks away again.
Falkor is moving about more uncontrollably now, making some whimpering noises and blowing air out again. He is pointing to the crow’s nest.
“Steady, lad,” Henry says to Falkor, as he struggles to climb the ship’s rigging, Falkor’s arms tight around the dwarf’s neck. “I’m moving.”
Eventually he gets near the top, and Falkor attempts to wriggle free.
“What are you doing?” Henry asks him, and Phoenix and the rest of the crew are probably thinking the same thing.
Falkor makes some murmuring noises, points at the crew and back to the deck below. He then pats his chest and points up repeatedly. He then blows again and again.
On his fourth or fifth blow, a sudden almost unnatural gust of wind raps fiercely towards Fate and Django almost loses grip of the rigging. He cries out, but just manages to hang on. Phoenix has a sturdier grasp of her rope, but remains stunned.
A look of realisation flashes across Trixie’s face.
“Henry, put Falkor in the crow’s nest! Seven, take the wheel! The rest of you, below deck, now!” she barks.
Henry looks at her puzzled. He looks to his right and sees the Bloodsail Buccaneers’ ship facing them, moving towards them fast.
“But,” he starts, then stops. There is no time, Phoenix thinks as she slides down the rigging, wondering what on Azeroth is going on. Henry plonks Falkor into the crow’s nest and pats him on the arm, but recoils slightly as he does so.
The crew do as Trixie says and head below deck, with Seven remaining behind to steer Fate forwards, Trixie holding a mast tightly on deck and Falkor sitting in the crow’s nest.
The winds overhead kick up violently, swaying the ship. With nothing between him and the sky, Falkor channels his magic more clearly, pockets of clouds forming overhead, dimming the skies.
“Turn us around, away from those bastards, Seven,” Trixie orders the orc, her voice harder to hear over the noise of the howling wind around them.
Falkor uses all his concentration to call forth the wind without brewing a dangerous storm. He is shaking violently now, his face tensed up, ripples of magic brimming beneath his skin.
Seven turns the ship just as a powerful gust fills the sails. Fate moves sharply through the water, the sudden movement almost toppling the light, small ship overboard.
Trixie is knocked off her feet.
“Steady!” she screams at Seven, who is holding tightly onto the wheel.
Fate straightens up and begins to sail away from the galley behind them. Seven, his back to the pirates, cannot see what is happening. Trixie’s scarlet cloak and black hair is whipping wildly in the strong winds around them. Holding on to the ship’s rigging and looking behind them, Trixie watches as they gain some distance between them and the pirates, who are some 50 metres away.
Falkor, whose mind is already in pain from the might of his magic, attempts to twist the spell even more dangerously in an attempt to save his crew.
He uses all his concentration to keep the wind strong - but contained - around Fate. He then begins a separate, similar spell, summoning the wind in the larger areas outside of Fate’s vicinity. He feels some of that outside wind hit a larger object and knows it must be the pirates. Then all of a sudden, he reverts the second spell to move that wind in the opposite direction.
Falkor yelps in pain.
Trixie looks up at the crow’s nest with worry.
Falkor cries at the top of his voice to help manage the flow of magic, the complexity of his conjuring and channeling of the sunwell, his body becoming a font of powerful magic to keep the spells in unison.
“It’s working, Falkor! You’re creating distance between us!” Trixie shouts up at Falkor excitedly, her eyes closed, the wind almost deadening her voice.
Then she sees the pirate vessel turn, and her jubilation turns to desperation. The ship has stopped chasing them and is opening fire instead. “Watch out!” she shouts instinctively.
An explosion flashes from the galley. It fires its port cannons towards Fate. The huge cannonballs hit the water around them, some further in the distance, one just a few metres away. Seven hears the loud splash of the cannonfire and turns around to see the vessel, its port side turned towards Fate.
While there is now some distance between the two ships, there’s still the chance Fate will get hit. The cannons fire again, a thunderous boom filling the air. They miss, hissing passed the small ship into the water.
Falkor focuses and continues the twin spells for about a minute - as long as he can possibly hold both spells together. Then he lets the second spell go, and feels some of the pain from his mind lessen.
The vessel is still firing, despite being far away, cannons hissing into the water. One cannon strikes through Fate’s main sail, tearing it. Trixie rushes below deck and brings Harris up to repair the sail, who gets to work quickly, climbing up the rigging using needle and thread to keep the sail together temporarily.
Luckily, the wind is strong enough to keep Fate moving, and before long the pirates are out of sight. Falkor sits in silence over the next few hours, keeping up his concentration on the first wind spell until the crew reaches land.
Trixie remains on the top deck with Seven, guiding him with her deep knowledge of Azeroth’s seas back to land - and the relative safety of the human city of Stormwind.
They smiled in the face of death that day - and lived.
Little do they know they will be staring back at it again soon.

Chapter XXIII: Thirteen

The crew, shaken by their encounter with the Bloodsail Buccaneers, are in need of rest and recuperation.
Falkor, in particular, is exhausted. The boy elf drinks almost two flasks of water following his heroics, plus some fruit and bread, before falling straight back asleep. He looks like he’s aged a year. Trixie tucks him in and kisses his forehead, before leaving him with several mana crystals for him to draw from.
Communication is awkward between crew members, but as usual, it is Trixie who steps forward to lighten the mood - and fix the problem. She praises the courage and performance of her crew in a dangerous situation, pride beaming from every pore on her little green face.
“Come on, we’ll all feel better after filling our bellies with a drink and some food!” she smiles. “The beef and beer here are incredible.”
As the crew walk up deck to follow her, Phoenix stays behind for a moment with Seven, who of course, is unable to show his face outside. The same goes for Django, whose kind has a bad history with the humans. He is lying in his hammock in the room next to Phoenix and Seven, facing up at the ceiling, having snorted a line of white powder to help him feel good after such an intense, frightening experience.
Phoenix and Seven stand awkwardly next to one another outside the sleeping quarters for a moment, Phoenix eventually leaning in slightly towards him. She raises her arms and the pair embrace. Phoenix turns her head and rests it on his chest, closing her eyes, as he closes his. She can hear the strong pulse of his heartbeat and is so glad to hear it, keeping him alive and well, after their ordeal.
Their brush with death had reminded them of their feelings for one another, and neither wanted another moment like it, though knew it was probably likely.
After a minute or so, Phoenix utters the words, quietly: “Nice shot…”
“Nice firing,” he responds.
“It was all me, to be fair…” Phoenix jokes.
Seven lets out a muffled laugh, the deepness of it vibrating through his chest and the side of Phoenix’s face, who is still hugging him tight, her head leaning on his chest.
“Admit it,” she jokes, pulling away from him to face him, eye to eye. “You were shitting yourself.”
Seven screws his face up, wounded. “I was not!” he responds. “I was ready to fight.”
Phoenix laughs. “I saw your face when the ship was about to smash into ours.”
“And I saw yours - you were the one shitting yourself!” Seven chuckles.
Phoenix smirks, trying to throw another jab back at him. “What about your face before the cannon fired.”
She thinks back. It was a face that was determined, not scared. Phoenix was the one that was terrified. She realises her teasing has no truth to it and changes the tone of the conversation.
“You were scared of what they might do to me,” Phoenix says seriously.
Seven looks away bashfully. Phoenix loves him for it. How can a ‘monster’ so big and strong be so sensitive and shy?
He says, quietly, facing the door next to him: “And what is wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” she whispers.
The air between them grows a little awkward so Phoenix reverts to banter once again, slapping his arm like a good friend.
“I’ll bring you something tasty back,” she says. “What would you like?”
Seven turns to her and grins. “Now you’re talking my language. Bring me anything - something meaty perhaps - just make sure there’s lots of it.”
“I’ll bring so much you won’t be able to move,” she smiles.
As Phoenix begins walking upstairs to the top deck, she stops for a moment. She wants to turn around, to make him promise he would never do anything irrational to protect her in the future. She realises that wouldn’t be fair - and changes her mind. As Seven turns his head to see why her footsteps stopped, she begins walking again, out of sight.
The ship is anchored and the crew are waiting for Phoenix when she reaches the top deck. Trixie is sitting on a bollard, facing the city, her back to the ship. She doesn’t look impressed by the sight of Stormwind. Phoenix thinks it’s probably because she’s not a fan of humans. But the harbour is safe - guards patrol the area, keeping an eye on the docked ships and looking out for any trouble. Trade is important to humans and the king, Llane Wrynn, protects his kingdom with a fierce devotion.
Stormwind is a striking city. Its beauty is different to that of Silvermoon, the elegance and splendour of the elves’ city traded for a more simple, stocky type of grandeur here. Stormwind Keep rises above the harbour in the distance, its castle walls and spires looking down on the rest of the city. Trade is bustling around them, stalls and taverns, inns and shops and markets are busy and the cobbled, stony streets are smart and clean and inviting. Its future is prosperous, but there is an anxious uncertainty in the air, no thanks to the orcs raiding the lands outside the city.
Some of the elven troops that Phoenix spotted when escaping Silvermoon for the second time can be seen around the keep, along with a few dwarves here and there, mingling with the humans.
The crew heads into the nearest tavern, grabbing some drinks and food. They bring a feast back for Seven and Django.
For the rest of the day, Trixie and most of her companions spend their time on the boat and in the tavern, eating, drinking, napping, gambling and talking through their brush with death. Harris, meanwhile, spends half the day properly repairing and replacing part of the sail that was damaged in their fracas with the Bloodsail Buccaneers.
Slowly, the crew’s spirits lift. In particular, Thirteen seems a different person. The pale, skinny elf, usually quiet and moody, seems to have been awakened somehow by the encounter with the pirates. He gets talking to a couple of humans at the bar and is soon laughing and joking with them for most of the evening as if nothing has happened. Phoenix still can’t figure him out. Despite his jubilance, the atmosphere in the human city is not calm. There is uncertainty, quiet and a tinge of fear in the air.
From the conversations she overhears in the tavern, skirmishes between the humans and the orcs have been bloody and testing for both sides, but it is the humans who have lost ground. The orcs have taken areas like Westfall, south of Stormwind, and look to take Redridge Mountains. People are worried about an all-out attack and what may come of their city.


The next morning, as the crew prepare to depart and head back towards Silvermoon, Thirteen makes a request.
“Trixie, do you have a moment, alone?” he asks the goblin, her face a ball of surprise. The elf barely talks, let alone asks questions, so she knows it must be important.
“Of course,” she smiles, leading him downstairs. “Let’s talk.”
They enter the room with the desk and pictures of ships on the wall and Trixie takes a seat behind the desk, prompting Thirteen to sit opposite. He does so.
“Thank you for being a good captain, for teaching me...” he starts trailing off, but Trixie already knows where this is going.
“You want to stay here in Stormwind, don’t ya?” she asks.
He smiles at her and nods. Trixie thinks it’s the first time she’s seen him smile at her with genuine happiness.
“Ya know the crew is already small and tight. Finding people I can trust is hard,” she says. “And you are contracted for another half a year…”
“I’m happy to pay off the remainder - and help you find someone,” he cuts in.
Trixie leans back and crosses her feet, her boots resting on the edge of the desk as she contemplates Thirteen’s offer. The elf is difficult to get along with, that’s true, but he is reliable - and dangerous with a knife. She will miss him, but considers his bad seasickness and the general spirit of the crew and makes her decision.
“Ya know we won’t be able to come and save your ass if Seven’s old friends invade?” she adds, slicing the conversation into a tangent. “We don’t take any sides but our own.”
Thirteen stares at her for a moment. “I know,” he says reluctantly, like a child might reply to a nagging parent.
“Okay, on one condition - I want you to find two people to replace you,” she says. “One that’s an all-rounder, good with the ship, one that’s skilled with the blade, like you. Dwarves or elves if you can, goblins are okay, humans only if they’re exceptional - and cheap. You know Django’s feelings towards them - and mine.”
“Deal,” he says instantly, reaching out his hand. She takes it in hers and shakes, nodding once.
“It was a pleasure having you with us, even if it was brief,” Trixie says.
Thirteen says nothing. The air is a little awkward between them. The goblin stands.
“When you’ve found them, send a letter to my mailbox at Sunsail Anchorage with their names and details and your new address. I’ll consider and write you back, we can then arrange a ship to bring them to Silvermoon,” she adds.
“Yes, yes,” Thirteen says impatiently, counting out some gold and placing it on the table. Trixie opens a drawer and pulls out the crew log and contracts, skimming down the list to Thirteen’s name. She takes a quill and dips it in ink, crossing out his name and signature, and writing her own signature next to it.
As she looks up to say goodbye to him, he’s already turned to leave the room. Trixie is left with the brief sight of his back as he leaves, his blunt and rather rude behaviour annoying her slightly.
On the upper deck, Thirteen makes an awkward departure from the rest of the crew. He doesn’t even say goodbye to Seven, Django and Falkor, who are in the mess room eating breakfast.
“See you,” he says to the dwarves and Phoenix, quickly.
“Where are you going?” Henry asks, as he saunters past them, turning around briefly.
“Don’t know exactly where I’ll end up just yet, but I am staying here in Stormwind,” Thirteen responds, bluntly.
Henry goes to say something else, but hesitates and ends up nodding at the young elf.
Phoenix, confused, doesn’t get a chance to think about what to say to Thirteen. When she does think of something, he’s already off the boat and among the harbour crowds.
“I’ve never understood him,” she says, turning to Henry.
“Aye,” Henry responds. “He was always pretty ru-”
Harris cuts him off, blurting out melodically and dancing a little jig: “Thirteeeen.”
The peculiar dwarf twitches, adding: “Unlucky for some. Some, lucky for none.”
Henry sighs. Phoenix wonders if Thirteen heard the dwarf’s comments.
“Lass, some people cannot be figured out,” Henry continues, watching Thirteen disappear into the crowds. “It’s hard enough figuring oneself out, let alone worrying about others.”
Phoenix did not worry, but perhaps she should have. It would not be the last she saw of him.

Chapter XXIV: Harvest

The crew head back to the western edge of Eversong Forest and there, over the coming months, they prosper.
Unburdened by the presence of the Steelfeathers, the crew relaxes and finds a steady, almost easy line of work trading with the elves. They continue importing goods from Stranglethorn - and vice versa - though Trixie begins paying for items to be transported by other ships following the scare with the pirates.
Thirteen writes to Trixie regularly and keeps her informed of his work in Stormwind, as well as the goings on there. He tells them how he found some unlikely work in the building trade, joining the Stonemasons Guild and says he is receiving good pay. Thirteen speaks highly of its leader, Edwin VanCleef, whom he seems to respect dearly.
Thirteen also passes the crew tip-offs, jobs and more smuggling work, in exchange for a cut of earnings. He picks up various jobs in taverns around Stormwind - some of which pay very well. While he does not get involved with smuggling directly, he acts as a middleman, allowing Trixie to liaise and strike deals with people she wouldn't otherwise have met. It proves extremely lucrative for the crew to have a trusted informant on the other side of Azeroth’s Eastern Kingdoms. As well as giving them jobs, Thirteen also keeps them posted on the orc’s invasion and the increasing skirmishes between them and the humans.
Trixie urges Thirteen to stay safe and to arrange safe passage out via ship, should he need to escape quickly if the orcs launch a full-scale attack against Stormwind’s walls.
Ironically, the crew grow closer than ever to Thirteen despite him living a great distance away. He seems to come across more friendly and helpful in his letters and it’s clear to Trixie the elf is happy. They get to know him much better a world away than they ever did when he was in the hideout with them.
The crew’s coffers grow and, as such, they are able to afford better equipment, clothing and food. Inspired by Trixie’s own cloak, Phoenix purchases a similarly beautiful garment with some of her gold, a rich, deep red piece of clothing with finely stitched golden embroidery that is warm yet light.
One day, Trixie receives another letter from Thirteen, this time with a task that’s different from those that have come before. As she reads it on her desk, her brow furrows for a moment, before relaxing again. She walks out from the tiny door of her room and back into the main living area, the lanterns around the walls gloomily lighting up the cavern.
As the goblin enters the room, Phoenix swears and angrily throws the two playing cards in her hand onto the table, much to Django’s delight. The jack of clubs and the queen of hearts. He drops two aces face up and begins scooping up a large pile of gold from the centre of the table into his pale blue calloused hands, chuckling mischievously.
“Phoenix, Seven, job for ya,” Trixie says, passing the letter to Seven, who is sitting on his bed. He leans back and begins to read it.
“Good, mon,” Django says. “I be needin’ more of your gold for you to lose to me,” Django says to Phoenix, who responds with a blank stare that is cold enough to cut through the air like one of Thirteen’s throwing knives. The troll stares back, raises one eyebrow and guffaws, leaning his head back and running a few gold coins through his fingers as he does so.
“Fuck you and your pocket aces,” Phoenix says to him, shoving herself back from the table and sulking in her seat.
Django’s continued laughter becomes a cackle. He looks at Phoenix’s moody facial expression, a face that has just lost a lot of money and it makes him laugh even harder.
“Dat face!” he cries.
He whoops and struggles to catch his breath properly, coughing and laughing uncontrollably as he keels over and thumps the table with his fist. “Dat be da face of a sore loser mon!” Django points and laughs. Phoenix’s eyes burn holes in the troll’s forehead.
“Okay, okay, simmer down, blue,” Trixie says to the troll. “Bugger off to your bunk for a bit.”
Django, still chuckling, takes the gold in a bulging purse and leaps onto his bed, stretching out and taking a bite from a half-eaten fruit.
Trixie pulls up a chair and makes eye contact with Seven, who has finished reading the note. She bops her head to the right, motioning for Seven to pass the letter to Phoenix. Still scowling, the elf snatches the piece of paper up and begins to skim-read it.


I trust you and the crew are well. Thank you for your recent delivery of Westfall cider and the elven silk you shipped across. More gold is on its way to you in a separate shipment due in the next week.

I have another job for your lot, should you wish to take it. Not a usual delivery, this one.

I was in the Pig and Whistle tavern the other evening when a friend of a friend poured their heart out to me and some of my friends. Turns out their sister had got into trouble and ran away from Stormwind, looking for a new life in Silvermoon.

They haven’t heard from her in over two weeks, despite usually sending letters to each other as soon as they receive one, every few days. They’re worried about her - their parents would like to arrange her safe return back to Stormwind. They’re pretty rich and are paying well for this, upwards of 50 gold if she’s brought back well and is convinced that returning home is the right thing to do. I told them about my links with Silvermoon and they seemed very keen indeed. I’ve marked up her last known address for you (PTO), let me know if you decide to take this up and I’ll let my contacts know.

The girl’s name is Sandra by the way, she’s human, late twenties, blonde hair.


“Someone running away, looking for a new life… sounds like me. And I’ll be running away again if that git keeps on robbing me at cards,” Phoenix says, looking across the room at the troll.
Django responds by raising one hand and giving a thumbs-up.
“Phoenix,” Trixie starts, a little uncertainly. “Given the circumstances I’d like you on this one. The girl sounds like her life is in transition and she has some difficulties, maybe you can talk some sense into her and speak about what you’ve gone through.”
Phoenix nods. “You okay, Trixie?” she asks.
The goblin’s big eyes settle on Phoenix as she frowns.
“Yeah, of course, I’m always okay redhead,” Trixie responds. “Guess there ain’t much to go on this time round.”
Phoenix laughs, almost forgetting about the money she lost to Django. “What do you mean? We’ve got the girl’s address, her name, appearance. What more do we need?”
Trixie flicks her eyebrows up and yawns. She seems a little bored from their recent jobs.
“I suppose you’re right,” she says. “I dunno, our work here just seems so easy nowadays with Thirteen trading goods and throwing us bones… not that I’m going to complain!”
She flicks a gold coin up into the air and follows it with her eyes, letting it fall to her mouth as she catches it between her teeth and winks at Phoenix.
“That’s the spirit, boss,” Phoenix responds, smiling. “It’s an easy job. And I need some money to win my gold back from that toerag over there.”
In the corner, the blue troll can be heard letting out a light chuckle.
Trixie flicks the coin from her mouth into the palm of her hand again, and spins it on the table as she talks.
“The address is on the other side of Eversong Woods, on the Eastern coast, not far from Silvermoon,” Trixie continues. “It’s a few hours’ ride from here and I know you both work well together. It’s up to you how you get there, walk or see if you can hitch a ride. Maybe make camp in the woods, away from the main paths, away from any unwanted interest, especially now the orcs are enemies of pretty much everyone.”
The coin’s momentum slows and noisily spins to a stop after bumping into Django’s pocket watch. Seven sits patiently as Trixie talks and looks at the watch. It’s 7pm.
Trixie glances at Seven and adds: “Not that I need to tell you both that of course. Oh - and take this.”
The goblin places a small radio device on the table.
“If ya need to get a hold of me,” Trixie says.
Phoenix nods and puts the transmitter in her bag along with some provisions. Before she heads up the ladder with Seven, Phoenix turns back to Trixie and, grabbing a nearby bottle of booze, slams it down on the table near her.
“Cheer up boss, it might never happen.”
Trixie half-smiles, half-frowns, swats Phoenix away and wraps her fingers around the bottle.
“Thank you redhead, I’m glad my cockiness has rubbed off on you,” she says. “Now off you go, now, there’s a good crew,” Trixie adds jokingly, turning to one side, leaning back and raising her legs onto the table, her expensive-looking black boots resting on the wood.
Phoenix and Seven say their goodbyes to the rest of the group and head up the ladder, leaving no time to waste. As they reach the top, they’re greeted by a light autumnal breeze, which carries both the scent of smoke from a nearby campfire and the salt of the sea water nearby. Phoenix and Seven pull up their bandit masks - red and grey respectively - in response.
Emile is sitting up, smoking a cigarette, his hair dishevelled. Some empty mugs of beer and a bowl of half-eaten boar ribs are next to him.
“Mornin’,” he murmurs sarcastically.
“Hey Emile,” Phoenix smiles.
“Beautiful evening,” he responds, staring out to sea.
Phoenix and Seven follow his gaze and see the wondrous sight for themselves.
The sky above the Tranquil Shore is a gorgeous dash of red and orange, interspersed with tinges of purple and twilight blue. Phoenix thinks it’s one of the most beautiful vistas she’s laid her elven eyes on.
“Red sky at night, sailors delight,” Seven says, stepping forwards and staring out to sea.
“Yup, though this has been like this all day, since morning” Emile replies, sighing, before coughing a smoker’s cough. “Happens around this time every year, always so suddenly. Harvest time. After crops are harvested, good weather and good food always follow.”
Emile puffs on the cigarette and blows out smoke casually into the air.
Phoenix looks down at him and frowns, a little jealous of his utter laziness and easy living: “Don’t you ever get up and y’know, walk around? Do your legs even work?”
“Phoenix,” Seven adds in a disappointed tone.
Emile cackles. His beard is looking particularly rough and untidy. “Only when you’re all away or someone else decides to take a shift, Henry is nice, he sometimes comes up here and takes my place for a bit. Gives me some rest from looking after you all.”
Phoenix scoffs at the thought of this bony tramp looking out for them, but soon feels ashamed for not having offered before. She soaks in the view one last time, not wanting to move. Another sea breeze kicks up, flicking ginger hair over her red tunic as her cloak billows behind her.
“See you tomorrow Emile,” Phoenix says, not looking down at him, unable to shake her stare from the red sky ahead.
“Catch you later, red,” he responds, tapping his cigarette onto some old newspaper beside him.
It would be the last thing he ever said to her.
Phoenix’s leather boots sink into the sand as she walks against the breeze, Seven falling in beside her. The pair walk silently for most of the way towards the nearby inn, confident and comfortable in one another’s presence. There, Phoenix hires a wagon to take them as far east as possible, to the address with no questions asked, while Seven keeps his skin covered and face masked by his grey hood. They pay over the odds for a straight trip there, for the driver to wait outside and for agreeing to allow Phoenix to drive on the way back. After Phoenix and Seven sleep and eat while on the wagon, it’s the driver’s turn to get some shut eye as they inspect the property.
Phoenix leaps off the wagon and cracks her neck, jumping on her toes a few times to get the blood flowing. The scruffy, feathered hawkstrider at the front of the wagon turns its head towards her. Seven is much slower, yawning heavily and lurching off the wagon reluctantly.
It’s mid-evening again, the sky having turned a darker shade of red, with streaks of pink flowing throughout. The house in front of Phoenix and Seven is a humble-looking building, small and old. One window is boarded up, the other functional but looks like it’s about to fall apart. There are some flower beds in the front garden, which look freshly planted. The gate is creaking as it swings gently in the breeze. The edge of a sea cliff lies a few metres beyond the building.
The house is at odds with itself. It seems like someone has attempted to spruce it up half-heartedly.
“Who on Azeroth would live so close to the edge of a cliff?” Phoenix asks.
“Sandra would, apparently” Seven responds, sharply. The way he says it is humorous and Phoenix can’t help but smile. She feels content as she walks along the gravel pathway and knocks on the door.
“I’ll do the talking, okay,” she says, looking around to Seven.
“Go nuts,” he replies.
Phoenix responds by pulling a face like she’s losing her mind. He elbows her gently in her side, looking ahead, ready for the door to open. It doesn’t.
Phoenix knocks again. No answer. Phoenix sighs and starts walking around the side of the building to inspect further.
“Wait,” Seven says, placing his large hand around the handle and turning it.
Phoenix turns back to see the door opening.
“Hmm, it’s unlocked,” Seven says, before pushing the door wide open and stepping into the house.
It is dark and musty inside, as if it hasn't been entered in a while. At the other end of the room, there’s a table next to another couple of boarded-up windows. Someone is sitting on a chair at the table, facing away from Phoenix and Seven, towards one of the windows.
“Hello?” Phoenix says, walking into the room cautiously, her boots patting loudly on the wooden floor beneath them.
Phoenix squints and sees the hooded female figure spasm suddenly. She is wearing a red robe and her right leg is showing. Phoenix keeps walking, apprehensively, Seven close behind her.
She looks at the person’s bare leg and stops. She holds her arm up to Seven, stopping him in his tracks. He stands beside her, faithfully, looking at Phoenix and back at the figure in the darkness in front of them. Something seems strangely familiar, but something else doesn’t feel right. Phoenix pauses to inspect the person properly.
“Sandra? Are you oka…”
Phoenix’s mouth goes dry as her heart gets caught in her throat. She realises the person is not sitting naturally, it’s as if her hands are tied to the seat, concealed by the robe she is wearing. She hears a faint muffle escape from the figure and starts to panic.
Phoenix looks back towards the half-open door, grabbing Seven to turn with her and dash towards it. But she barely takes a step before the world falls away beneath them. A trap door opens up and Phoenix and Seven tumble down into a dusty stone pit some three metres deep, lying in pain from the fall.
“Phoenix!” Seven blurts out, alarmed.
Stunned, Phoenix tries to clamber to her feet but a sharp pain shoots through her left knee and she collapses.
A shadowed figure steps from a corner in the room above and throws a couple of canisters of thick sleeping gas into the pit, hissing loudly like a couple of metallic snakes.
Phoenix and Seven lie in a crumpled heap, unable to respond quickly. Phoenix rolls away from the orc and lifts one canister up to throw it away from them, accidentally breathing in a mouthful of gas as she catches her breath. She wheezes nastily, dropping the canister and falling back to her knees. In the corner of her eye, she notices her bag of provisions and rifles through it quickly, searching for the radio transmitter. When she finds it, her shaking hands almost lose grip, but she manages to hold it up and flip the switch.
“Trixie, come quickly, it’s a trap!” Phoenix splutters, her consciousness fading. But there is no static, no noise at all - the device must have broken when they fell.
While this is happening, Seven grabs the canister and throws it with full force back into the room above them. It smashes into the ceiling and almost falls back down into the pit, narrowly avoiding it. He fumbles for the other canister, but it is too late. The gas has already filled their lungs. Trixie’s formidable duo soon collapse helplessly, trapped like a pair of flies in a spider’s web.
Seven succumbs to slumber first, his aching bones from the fall giving in to the gas quickly, while Phoenix follows a few moments afterwards. She takes his motionless hand in hers and looks at his closed eyes in desperation, before losing consciousness herself.

Chapter XXV: Twisted fate

Flames dance in her eyes as she watches the bloodthistle farm burn to the ground.
Phoenix had thrown the last of her explosive cocktails towards the far end of the large greenhouse, rupturing the glass and spreading flames across the plants towards the rear of the farm.
Seven had just finished splashing oil across the floor, for Phoenix to do the honours and gently release her lit torch, before watching fire consume the area.
Now they stand, together, at the entrance, watching their destruction unfold. A few Steelfeathers lie unconscious behind them.
Phoenix feels like smiling, but the fire and smoke has distracted her, so she retains her neutral gaze and enjoys watching the spectacle before her. The scent of bloodthistle had never smelt so sweet to her as it does right now.
She relishes the moment, red mask on her face, red fire in her eyes, as she watches drugs worth hundreds of gold go up in flames. She can hear the anger of the inferno burning the plants to cinders. She manages a smile.


Phoenix stirs. She is lying on her back on a cold, damp, stony floor. She kicks her leg out and it hits a wall. Her arm scrapes across the rough, dirty ground and she instinctively places her palm to the floor and forces herself to jolt upright into a sitting position, pushing through her exhaustion to scan her surroundings.
Her head is groggy and her mouth is dry, the bitter taste of the sleeping gas lingering at the back of her throat. She can’t have been asleep for longer than a few hours. She’s not sure what’s worse, waking up from such an enjoyable dream or finding herself in a prison. She quickly decides the whole situation is shit.
Phoenix is in a dark prison cell, large enough to comfortably fit three or four people. There are bars in front of her, blocking her exit. Through them she can see another symmetrical cell opposite hers, its door open, with an incredibly narrow walkway in between. She stands, slowly, her left knee flaring with pain from the fall, and she places her gloved hands around the bars. Her body feels lighter than usual, she is without her sword and her bag of provisions is nowhere to be seen. She looks around and notices dirty walls either side of her and behind her.
“Good morning,” a faint, light, almost gentle voice rises in the dark ahead. A match is struck and a single candle is lit on the wall at the back of the open cell opposite hers. In the dim light, Phoenix spots two figures ahead of her. Who are they?
One appears to be the robed lady from earlier, who is sitting on a stool, tightly bound to it with rope. A sack is over her head. The other is harder to make out beneath a black hood, but they have high elven ears. She is sitting on a chair next to the robed woman.
“Who are you?” Phoenix blurts out, her voice echoing slightly around the small, bare prison walls. “Where am I?”
There is a pause. “Shhhh,” the voice responds, gently. “You don’t speak unless spoken to.”
“Seven!” Phoenix shouts, rattling the bars. There is no response. She looks from the tightest angles in her own cell to see as much as she can of the room outside the bars. To her left sees a door, probably the entrance to the prison. To the right there is another cell, next to the one ahead of her. Perhaps there is one next to Phoenix too, on the other side of the wall to her right?
She hears the voice ahead of her sigh.
“I would keep your mouth shut if I were you,” the faint female voice murmurs low, a commanding undertone warning Phoenix not to test her.
“And why is that?” Phoenix responds boldly.
“Because you might not like the consequences,” the voice replies, louder now, more coherently. It is sharp and cold, like a deadly knife in the dark. Phoenix recognises it instantly and her heartbeat thunders in response.
“And don’t bother calling for your friend, he’s going to be out for quite some time,” the voice spits.
The figure in black leather pulls her hood back to reveal a head of long, white hair, curled at the tips. Grey-blue eyes glint in the candlelight, burning with hatred. The feather tattoo on her neck is skewed and scarred from a bite mark.
Alexandra Steelfeather smiles wickedly in the candlelight. “We’re going to play a game,” she says.
“Fuck you,” Phoenix snaps, instantly. “When I get out of here I’m going to kill you!” she screams.
There is a silent pause. Alexandra suddenly swings at the robed figure beside her with a violent punch to the gut. The woman lets out a muffled groan. With one hand, Alexandra removes the sack slowly and lets it fall to the floor, while her other hand gently strokes the bruised and battered face of Amelia Dreamfoil.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Alexandra adds, turning to Phoenix’s mother. “Will she?”
Amelia shakes her head instantly, looking down at the floor.
“Mother!” Phoenix cries out, as her face screws up like a frightened child.
Amelia, facing Alexandra, does not turn her head. Instead, her eyes roll slowly to her right, making eye contact with Phoenix for a second before closing her eyes tightly. Her chin wobbles and a single tear races down her cheek, smearing her make-up. Her face is a painting of deep sorrow and fear. Months of torture and abuse make her look like she’s aged two decades in just over a year.
Alexandra laughs a little and breathes in deeply to catch her breath.
“What a lovely little family reunion,” she says mockingly, laughing a little. “All thanks to our accomplice in Stormwind.”
As the realisation sinks in within Phoenix’s mind, her fear rises, bordering on panic. Thirteen has betrayed them. But why? She hears Seven’s voice in her head urging her to remain calm, as he has done so in the past. Phoenix struggles.
“Now my father and I will join Trixie’s little gang, as promised,” Alexandra continues. “That little green piece of phlegm asked for two more to join her merry band of fools, right? Well here we are! What a nice surprise. My father will be joining her soon. He’s probably already on his way there now, with some others, just in case she wanted more.”
Phoenix’s hands tremble and her head drops. Alexandra’s pleasure in the situation heightens as she notices Phoenix’s wide-eyed panic. She laughs in pure, wicked delight.
Phoenix wants to scream at Alexandra, to challenge her, to threaten her, to wipe that smirk off her smug face. But she knows it could result in her mother being hurt again, so she bites her tongue instead.
“That traitorous shit,” Phoenix blurts out instead, the last word rising in volume as she thinks of Thirteen.
“Uh-uh,” Alexandra responds. “You lash out, you say anything I dislike, I lash out at her,” Alexandra instructs Phoenix. “Do you understand?”
Phoenix grits her teeth, anger and fear swelling within her. She makes a half-arsed nod at Alexandra and hates herself for doing so.
“I said, do you understand?” she repeats herself, wrapping her fingers tightly around a tuft of Amelia’s hair.
“Yes, I understand,” Phoenix responds louder, more subserviently this time.
“Good,” Alexandra responds, releasing Amelia’s hair.
“As I said, we’re going to play a game,” Alexandra repeats. She undresses Amelia, taking off her robe and letting it fall to the floor, leaving her in her underwear. Her body is malnourished and there are bruises and cuts across it. The rope is wrapped tightly around her ankles and the feet of the stool, while her arms are behind her back, her wrists bound to the chair.
“Mother…” Phoenix whispers to herself.
Alexandra picks up a plank of wood from behind her and knocks it three times on the ceiling above her.
“Truth or death,” Alexandra continues. “Oh, daddy and I like this game!” she claps her hands together sarcastically and giggles.
Phoenix feels physically sick at the state of her mother and what’s about to play out. She pushes herself away from the bars, turning to face the wall to her left to maintain her composure in some way. It doesn’t work. Her heart is racing, her head is pounding and the queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach only worsens. She hopes with all her heart this is just a nightmare, but the taste of bitter sleeping gas and bile tells her otherwise.
“Are you ready?” Alexandra asks Phoenix from the open cell opposite her.
Phoenix shakes her head.
“No,” she lets out like a squeak.
“I would reconsider your answer... unless you want me to strike out at your mother again, of course,” Alexandra instructs.
Phoenix starts to cry, quietly.
“Yes,” she says suddenly, her voice cracking as her crying turns into a sob.
“That’s the spirit! But, aw, don’t cry now,” Alexandra says with disappointment. “We haven’t even started yet!”
The door to the prison swings open, as a series of convulsive gasps escape from Phoenix’s lips, who tries to silence her sobbing. A member of the Steelfeather gang dressed in black steps towards the dingy cell Amelia and Alexandra are in. He hands something to Alexandra, with care, through the open cell door.
“Thank you! Thank you,” Alexandra says with mock delight, taking the item. “Now kindly fuck off and leave us to it, won’t you? There’s a good chap.”
The man grunts annoyingly in response and swiftly leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
Phoenix attempts to see what Alexandra is holding in her hand, in the shadows. Part of her doesn’t want to find out what it is, but her curiosity just about outweighs her fear. Phoenix smells it before she sees it - the scent of hot metal fills the musty, cold air. Tears run down her face.
Alexandra waves a small, hot iron poker gently through the air in her right hand, holding it up to get a good look at it. She circles her left hand around the poker a few times and clicks her fingers, sending a spark of fire magic onto it, heating up its end even further, turning the iron from red to a bright white. Like the difference in colour between Phoenix’s hair and Alexandra’s. Amelia closes her eyes tight and keeps her head down.
Phoenix’s fear rises another notch and in her mind she tells herself to comply with whatever Alexandra asks. The elf is not only capable in physical combat, she is a wielder of magic too, not to mention clearly deranged. Phoenix’s helplessness makes her feel like she wants to be sick; she covers her face in her palms, wishing there was some way to escape, to rescue her mother.
“Now,” Alexandra says, placing the poker dangerously close to her own face and taking a deep breath, turning to face Phoenix. “Why is your boss still here in Eversong Forest? Why has she not left with the rest of her crew yet?”
Phoenix apologises to Trixie in her mind. Her mother’s life is worth more than this knowledge.
“She’s waiting for word from her captain,” Phoenix says, calmly. “We have not received word in over a year.”
Alexandra just stares at Phoenix.
“He must be dead, but Trixie refuses to-”
“Enough,” Alexandra says. “Where are the rest of her crew? Where is her captain?
“I - I don’t know,” Phoenix responds. “They never told me.”
“Wrong answer,” Alexandra says. She jabs the poker into Amelia’s right shoulder and twists it deep into her skin.
“No!” Phoenix cries.
Phoenix’s mother lets out a blood-curdling scream as her skin begins to sizzle and melt around her shoulder.
“Stop, I beg you! I’ll do anything!” Phoenix adds, hysterically. She bangs her hands on the bars.
Amelia’s agonising howls continue long after Alexandra pulls the poker back. With no way for Amelia to cover the wound or even bat a hand at it, smoke emanates from her skin and the smell of burning flesh fills the room.
“Stop, please stop,” Phoenix adds, in between sobs.
Alexandra turns to her. She says something but it is drowned out by Amelia’s screaming. Alexandra leans in towards her victim and presses her finger to Amelia’s face. She flinches in horror. Alexandra says: “Shhh.”
She stands and turns to Phoenix again, as Amelia’s yelps turn to quieter sobs.
“I’ll ask again. Where is the captain and the crew?” Alexandra asks.
“I don’t know, I swear,” Phoenix responds. “Please, I’m telling the truth.”
Amelia pauses.
“Okay, mummy’s turn,” she says, stifling a laugh. “Why don’t we talk about family now?”
Amelia, who is no longer screaming, but ibbering silently to herself and shaking from the unbearable pain, turns her head towards the wall.
“How many children do you have?” Alexandra asks, keeping her eyes locked with Phoenix’s, gauging her reaction.
Amelia, for a while, says nothing. Alexandra waves the poker in the air, in a slow, flowing figure of eight, toying with the idea of burning her again.
“Two,” Amelia mutters.
“Pardon? I didn’t quite hear that,” Alexandra says.
“Two,” Amelia states, loud enough for Phoenix to hear.
“You’re making her say this, I’m an only child,” Phoenix says to Alexandra, choosing her words carefully.
Alexandra smirks, finding humour in Phoenix’s ignorance, but also vehement hatred towards her.
“And who is your other child?” Alexandra asks, staring at Phoenix, grinning.
Amelia shifts nervously as Alexandra patiently waits for the answer.
“You are,” Amelia responds, deadpan.
A puzzled expression flashes across Phoenix’s face. She finds herself utterly disgusted at the thought of Norros being her father. No, that can’t be true. This must have been planned, she thinks to herself, a staged interrogation.
“That’s right,” Alexandra says. “We’re sisters. What a lovely surprise.”
Phoenix, in disbelief, says nothing.
“Why don’t you tell the full story, mother?” Alexandra spits.
“I had Alexandra with Norros, a few years before I met your father, Phoe,” she says, low, in between shallow, tearful breaths.
“When she was born, we had a disagreement. He took Alexandra from me, didn’t want me bringing her up at the inn… then he went away for a while, I didn’t see him anymore. I thought he had left for good.”
She sniffs.
“Then, I met your father… we had you. It was a one-night stand and I haven’t seen him since. I decided to keep you.”
Alexandra interjects: “Liar!”
She holds the poker close to Amelia’s red, sweat-drenched face, the heat of the white-hot iron making her wince. “The truth.”
Amelia sobs.
“I… wasn’t ready to have another child. I looked at options...” she continues, between breaths. “I’m so glad they didn’t work. I’m glad you were born, Phoe. Sorry.”
A tear falls from Phoenix’s right eye and rushes down her cheek. She thinks to herself: If she wasn’t born, maybe her mother would not be facing torture right now. Phoenix wishes she was dead, and a rage grows inside her, fighting against her fear.
“The usual potions didn’t work, so as it got closer and closer to my due date, I couldn’t find it in me to persist. I decided to keep you - and keep you secret,” Amelia continues. “I didn’t tell your father. I couldn’t anyway, he never showed his face again. I was bedridden for months and built up a large debt with Chrim, but I didn’t want the same thing to happen again, should your father ever return. I couldn’t bear losing another child. We made up a story that you were adopted by Chrim, an orphan child. Only Chrim, Solari and myself knew the truth.”
“Who is my father then?” she blurts out.
“Silence!” Alexandra shouts, pushing the poker towards her mother. “It’s my turn to ask questions!”
Her face is a mesh of hatred, anger and self-pity. She points the poker back at Amelia and asks: “What happened next, of my father?”
Alexandra continues, reluctantly: “A few months after Phoenix was born, Norros returned. He asked me to marry him, leave my life of public prostitution behind and live and work for him, as a private courtesan for wealthier individuals. He promised that if I said yes, he would reunite me with you, Alexandra. But... I couldn’t say yes. I couldn’t let him find out about Phoenix. I didn’t know what he might do if he found out. I made excuse after excuse, and he grew more and more restless. He paid me regularly for sex, he beat me, he scared me… in the end he took me by force, using a drug debt as an excuse.”
Alexandra suddenly shoves the poker aimlessly into Amelia’s face. It connects between her nose and upper lip, burning her flesh instantly. Amelia screams in horror and pain, instinctively flinching backwards from the poker and tipping the stool backwards. She falls into the wall and the stool tips further, losing its grip on the floor, sending Amelia crashing to the ground. One of the stool’s legs jabs into Alexandra’s foot.
“Ow!” Alexandra yelps, before kicking Amelia in the stomach. “You bitch!”
“Stop!” Phoenix cries. “Please stop hurting her! Why are you doing this? She is telling the truth! She was scared of your father, she wanted to see you!”
“Shut your mouth!” Alexandra shouts in Phoenix’s direction, suddenly rushing out of the open prison door, before stepping into the narrow gap between cells. She lunges towards Phoenix’s cell in an instant and thrusts the poker in-between two bars. Phoenix tilts her body to one side, dodging the blow. Her heart thunders in her chest.
Alexandra swiftly pulls the poker back through the bars, and Phoenix wishes she could go back in time a few seconds earlier, so she could knock the poker from Alexandra’s hand. But it’s over in a flash and her opportunity has passed.
Alexandra is breathing heavily on the other side of the prison bars; Phoenix is pressed up against the wall behind her, scared her supposed half-sister might thrust the poker back in her direction. The two elves remain frozen in place for a few more seconds, the tension in the room reaching boiling point. Phoenix can smell a deep, musky perfume on Alexandra’s black, boiled leather outfit.
The silence is broken when Alexandra forces an evil smile upon her lips.
“Your death is going to be so sweet,” she whispers at Phoenix. “Long and drawn out, but oh so sweet.”
She turns around and closes Amelia’s prison door, before taking a set of keys from her pocket and locking it, leaving Amelia strawn across the floor uncomfortably, her two burn marks clearly visible. Then she turns back towards Phoenix and smiles, slowly and widely.
“Your turn to ask questions, sister,” Alexandra states, passing the cool end of the poker between her hands. “I’m a fair jailer.”
Phoenix takes a breath and clears her throat, thinking very carefully to ask questions that distract her sister, that do not offend her and perhaps reveal information that could be valuable - if she gets out of this hellhole alive.
“Why did Thirteen sell us out?” she asks.
Alexandra snickers.
“We paid him handsomely, plus he seemed to hate quite a few of you,” she says. “It really was a simple trade. What a stroke of luck it was, him falling into our laps.”
Phoenix, feeling more and more vexed, thinks of Thirteen and how he was with the group. Her disregarding him as just a difficult, moody but harmless elf was arguably her biggest mistake - and one she vows she will not make twice. She promises to herself in this moment she will enact revenge on Thirteen should she get out of here and see him again. She notices Alexandra is still smiling, the candlelight spilling her shadow across the prison wall.
“Why are you doing this?” Phoenix finds herself asking next, without putting much thought into it. “By the Sunwell, she’s still your mother.”
Alexandra’s smile fades.
“One - because you took my mother from me, and my father from her,” she responds, hastily. “Two - because you have killed several members of my family and my gang. Three - the actions of you and your little team ruined our businesses here in Silvermoon, forcing us out to Stormwind for a new life. You shamed us. Burnt our operations down. And four - because I hate you. My father and I must teach you a lesson. I will enjoy making you suffer.”
Her smile returns. She turns her back on Phoenix and faces Amelia.
“When I found out you were my sister, that day you bit me like the dog that you are, I was so angry at myself that I didn’t just kill you a day earlier,” Alexandra says sharply, with venom in her voice.
“But then you became a challenge, a mongrel for me and my father to hunt, a trophy to claim. Revenge to seek. And why kill you quickly when I can savour it? After you’re dead, your mother will have to love me - and my father. And work for us, as one family. Oh her loyalty has grown the past year, don’t get me wrong, but once you’re out of the picture it will flourish.”
Alexandra turns back towards Phoenix, leaning on the prison bars and pressing her face up against them. Her dainty nose sits in between two bars as she changes tack.
“Our mum has proven to be a rather loyal plaything,” she continues, her voice whimsical. “She’s very good as a living target for throwing knives, and in the bedroom... all the boys have taken turns on her. She’s not as good as she once was though…”
Phoenix fights back the urge to smash her fist into the bars, for the slim chance of connecting with Alexandra’s nose. Something, anything to shut this vile individual up, to teach her a lesson. She’s thankful she has managed to control her rage over the past year, with the help of Seven and the crew. It surely would have resulted in her death now. But today, she fights with words instead.
“You can kill me. You can beat her,” Phoenix says, quietly, with anger brimming in her voice. “But she will never, ever, love you.”
Alexandra’s smile fades.
“You misunderstand me, I don’t want her love,” Alexandra says with a sharp twinge in her voice, but her face belies her words. “She simply belongs to us, a part of the business that she too will share the spoils of. A commodity that can be used to bring our family back to the status we deserve. A debt that she must honour.”
Alexandra stares at her sister, with loathing.
“Your family knows nothing of honour,” Seven’s deep voice crackles, from the far corner, in the cell to the right of Phoenix’s.
Surprise and hope flicker within Phoenix; an inner pride shines as her friend speaks, pushing her fear away - if only momentarily.
“You are not worthy of cleaning the mud from the bottom of my boots,” the orc’s deep voice continues. “You are a shame to the elven race. A shame to Azeroth. A pathetic excuse for life.”
Alexandra frowns and steps towards Seven’s cell, thinking of a suitable response but unable to come up with one quickly enough.
“Your very presence disgusts me,” the orc continues. Alexandra grabs the piece of wood from the floor and taps it on the ceiling again.
“I would not even spit on you, for it would be a waste of my own saliva,” Seven continues, ignoring her. “And when I get out of here, when I break your bones with my bare hands, I’ll be the one who will enjoy inflicting a painful death, not you.”
Phoenix smiles for a second, but it vanishes when she looks ahead at her mother crumpled on the floor in front of her, writhing in pain from the burns on her face.
“You’re not supposed to be awake yet,” Alexandra says, stuttering slightly, a twinge of fear in her voice. “We administered a tranquiliser -”
“You can’t administer shit,” Seven retorts. “I am stronger than you think. Now bring me some food.”
Alexandra, flustered and shocked, stares into Seven’s cell. She sneakily checks the door is locked, before turning around and checking the other cells are locked too.
“That’s right,best double check there’s no way for us to get out and break you,” Seven continues.
“Shut up,” Alexandra quips. “You want another lesson? I’ll give you another lesson.”
She swings the prison door open and storms outside the room, before slamming it behind her.
“Oh beauty, that was… beautiful,” Phoenix says, smiling widely, almost forgetting where she is for a moment. The mention of food reminds her of her own hungry stomach and dry throat.
“Are you okay? How bad are your mother’s wounds?” Seven asks.
“I’m fine, my left knee is aching though,” Phoenix says, as Amelia speaks at the same time: “I’ll live.”
“How much did you hear?” Phoenix asks.
“I woke from the screams,” Seven replies. “I didn’t want to say anything to jeopardize the situation, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer.”
Phoenix hears the bars on Seven’s cell rattling.
“I think I can maybe break these bars, but it won’t be easy,” the orc says.
“Alexandra had some keys. If we could goad her into getting close enough to one of our cells, maybe we could try to take them,” Phoenix says.
“We should -” Seven replies, but he’s cut off by the door opening and a couple of Steelfeather gang members walking through. One, with ginger hair, unlocks Amelia’s door and lifts her and her stool back up, before straddling her. He moves his face close to hers and licks her cheek disgustingly, looking over at Phoenix as he does so.
The other, a more muscular type with a bald head, walks across to Seven’s cell.
“You shut your fuckin’ mouth until you are spoken to by the boss’ daughter,” he says. “Or I’ll cut your pig tongue out, do you understand? I ain’t afraid of you.”
Seven says nothing.
“As for your food,” the guard continues. He tips something from a small pot in his hand. Nuggets of wet human feces spill into Seven’s cell and onto the orc, who attempts to bat them away.
The guards laugh at this. They leave the room, the second one blowing a kiss Amelia’s way before passing Alexandra in the doorway as they leave and closing the door behind them.
Alexandra enters the room, slowly, an air of danger following her every step as the spurs on her boots - the same ones she took from Phoenix during their first encounter - jingle. She looks at Phoenix with contempt, and walks over to Seven’s cell. She spits on him through the bars. He grunts in disgust.
“Your strength is wasted with this bitch and her group,” she says, flicking her eyes at Phoenix and back towards Seven. “But you are right to keep your saliva and your energy - as you won’t be drinking anything for quite some time. Maybe some more shit, if you’re lucky.”
She adds, calmly: “You will keep your mouth shut, until spoken to. Unless you want to be the one responsible for your friend’s death - and her mother’s.”
Seven says nothing this time.
Alexandra turns towards Amelia’s cell and slams it open, pulling out the poker iron and lighting the end with a little magic again. Dread nestles in the pit of Phoenix’s stomach.
“Where does your leader keep the details of her captain’s location and dialogue with him?” Alexandra asks, looking at both Phoenix and then to Seven.
“I don’t know, I swear,” Phoenix responds.
Alexandra shoves the poker close to Amelia’s heart. She presses very lightly on the soft elven skin, slowly burning it. Amelia flinches back and begins to groan.
“The boat, and the base,” Seven responds, quickly. “I’m not playing games,” he adds, “there are papers and plans in Trixie’s rooms. You’ll need her key for these, she usually keeps them on her.”
Phoenix places her head in her palms as Seven details the locations. This is all news to her.
Seven continues: “The boat is at Sunsail Anchorage-”
“Good, good!” she adds, beaming, lowering the iron poker. “See, you can play this game after all,” she addresses Seven. “You just needed a little warming up, that’s all.”
She steps away from Amelia and closes the door to her cell, locking it behind her.
“Our boys are already on their way to kill your friends, I guess I’ll join them tomorrow, it will be a simply delightful rendezvous!”
As she speaks, her voice rings with sick notes of pleasure. Anger suddenly rises in Phoenix to bursting point.
Alexandra leans towards Phoenix’s cell.
“Thirteen… lucky for some, eh?” she says, smiling.
Phoenix lets out a guttural scream as the red mist envelops her sight. She bangs her fists and head on the bars, violently smashing her body into them.
Alexandra just laughs as she watches Phoenix harm herself unintentionally.
“Phoenix!” Seven shouts. “Phoenix, stop! Calm down, I’m here.”
At the sound of his voice, her consciousness slowly returns as she sees Alexandra step out of the room. Pain throbs in Phoenix’s head and her fingers. She looks down at her hands, which are scuffed and bleeding.
The two guards enter the room again, to watch over their prisoners.


At the West Sanctum, the brunt of the Steelfeather gang descend silently down the streets, towards the Tranquil Shore. There are fifteen of them, outnumbering Phoenix’s friends - Trixie, Django, Henry, Harris and Falkor - by three-to-one.
The Steelfeathers are led by Norros, the long silver-haired elf and father of Alexandra. Armed with Thirteen’s insider information, he is walking straight into Trixie’s hideout and plans to catch her crew by surprise.

Chapter XXVI: Web

Back in the Steelfeathers’ hidden prison, the two guards each bring a chair into the room. One, a relatively slim elf in his thirties with messy ginger hair, places his chair in between Phoenix and Amelia’s cells. The other, a middle-aged bald elf with a large frame and muscles almost matching Seven’s, sits opposite the orc’s cell.
The first says to his friend: “Look Dirk, I’ve got a mother and her daughter both wanting a piece of me!”
The bald-headed elf laughs and glances at Seven, saying: “Why do I always attract the weird ones?”
The pair laugh. Phoenix crouches on the hard, scratchy stone floor and leans up against the bars, with her back to the guard. She curls up into a ball, bringing her knees up, leaning her head in between them and wrapping her arms around them. A wave of tiredness and hunger rushes over her. Her left knee aches with pain.
The first guard, the slim one, unlocks Amelia’s door and unties her from the stool. Her wrists crack as she stretches them and she gasps with pain. The guard lingers, watching her uncomfortably.
“The boss’s daughter wants you to wear that robe again, but if I had it my way you’d be without your clothes. Tell you what, I’ll come in here later, you make me feel good and I’ll bring you some food.”
He winks at her leeringly. Phoenix frowns as she hears his words, glancing around to look at him. He has a baton and a sword in his belt. Amelia just ignores him and his eye contact, and pulls the robe over her body before inspecting her wounds. She cries out as the robe touches her burn marks.
“Can you bring me some water and bloodthistle please, Arun?” she asks the guard through the bars. “I need to look my prettiest. I am in pain.”
He looks at her doubtfully and almost caringly for a moment, nods and exits the room, leaving her cell door open.
Amelia looks across at Phoenix, who senses this and turns her neck to face her mother properly in a more calm situation for the first time in years. Amelia smiles genuinely at her daughter. A pained expression flashes across Phoenix’s face, before a thin, forced smile spreads from her lips. Deep down she is stinging from the admission that she is a mistake - and responsible for this entire situation.
“Don’t worry Phoe,” Amelia says, as if reading her mind.
“No talking to each other!” the bald guard shouts loudly in the small space, his deep voice booming. He swings a metal baton into some nearby prison bars, making a deafening noise ring out inside the small prison. Phoenix cringes. She blinks and lies down, staring at the ceiling. She realises her mother has no idea about her training or current situation, and decides there’s no reason to mention it. Her mother would only end up asking questions, with the guards taking any answers to Alexandra or her father Norros. Plus, she is tired and feels helpless to do anything but sleep.
The ginger guard walks back into the room, with a bowl of water and a bloodthistle leaf. He pushes them through the small gap under the bars of Amelia’s prison cell.
“Thank you,” she says to the guard, before applying water to her burn wounds and crying out in pain as she does so.
She rolls up the bloodthistle leaf and lights it using the candle behind her. As she smokes it, that horrible stench Phoenix hates fills the air, and it reminds her of all the times her mother would do so when she was younger. Right now she understands Amelia is smoking it to help with the pain, but she still despises it nonetheless.
The ginger guard sits on his chair and properly notices Phoenix - who is facing up with her eyes almost shut - for the first time. His eyes scan her body, her legs, her small breasts and long fiery hair, ogling her.
He turns to his friend and clicks his fingers at him to grab his attention.
“Oi, Dirk, what say you?” the ginger elf speaks, before nodding his head down at Phoenix’s direction, making lurid gestures. “Reckon she’s better than her mum?”
The bald man sniggers.
“Alexandra said not to harm them unless they broke the rules,” he says.
“Yeah, so?” the ginger elf, Arun, replies. “Who says it’ll harm her?”
“I do,” Dirk responds, smirking. “I don’t do any of that gentle shit. I give ‘em what they deserve.”
The pair laugh wickedly.
“Well, you could just watch and guard the door, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid,” Arun says.
Phoenix, about to drift off to sleep, gets a surge of fear and adrenaline as she catches the gist of the conversation.
Dirk considers his friend’s offer.
“Can do,” he responds, his deep voice almost a growl. “It’ll cost you five gold though.”
“You wanker,” Arun says.
“That I am,” Dirk says.
“Three gold,” Arun offers.
“Four,” Dirk counters.
“Done. Let’s wait til she’s asleep then we’ll do it while she’s weak. Grab the table and let’s play some cards in the meantime.”
Dirk pulls a small table from outside Seven’s cell towards the middle of the room, and takes a pack of old cards from his pocket. Arun takes four gold coins and places them on the table for Dirk to collect.
“Boys,” Amelia starts. “Please, use me. Do not touch her, she is young and inexperienced.”
“Shut up, whore” Arun says. “We’ll do what we want, and you will watch and enjoy it. Plus, we’re getting bored of you.”
Phoenix cannot sleep after what she has heard. She feels a mixture of terror and rage coiling within her. She begins tapping her finger almost inaudibly against one of the bars in her cell.
There is a pause. Phoenix repeats the tapping again. This time Arun hears her. He smashes his baton against the bars, nearly hitting her finger, which no doubt would have broken had it connected.
“Cut that fucking tapping,” he says.
She finishes her tapping for a few more seconds and he stands, looking down at her.
“What are you, dumb?” he says.
“Sorry, involuntary spasms. I do it when I’m scared,” Phoenix responds. “Did your boss’s little spawn not tell you I’m mucked up in the head?”
“She did actually,” Arun responds. “Anyway, no more talking.”
He sits down and plays cards with the other guard. Phoenix closes her eyes but does not allow herself to fall asleep. As she hears the cards folding and coins hitting the table over the next few hours, she goes over every possibility in her mind of Arun entering her cell and what she can do to escape. Phoenix thinks of the different possible outcomes and whittles down to the few that are most likely to be successful.
She’s not too concerned about dealing with the skinny elf, it’s his partner that will cause problems. The room is small and Phoenix will stand no chance against a huge thug like him in close quarters. She will have to injure Arun as quickly as possible. She weighs up two possibilities in her mind, one she’s confident of pulling off but a slower action, leaving her open to attack from Dirk. The other, she has not practiced on a live target before, but tries to replay Django’s lesson over and over in her head. She closes her eyes and allows her breathing to enter a slow sleep-like rhythm, tossing between the two options in her mind. She decides to make the call in the heat of the moment.
After a few hours of gambling, Dirk says: “Right, I’m knackered. Hurry up and do what you want with her, then I’m gonna sleep. You can take the first watch when you’re done.”
Arun stands up and quickly unlocks Phoenix’s cell door. Phoenix, facing the wall, pretending to be asleep and feeling exhausted, feels a shot of adrenaline course through her veins. It is happening fast and she will need to act decisively.
Arun steps into the cell and leaves the door open. Dirk stands beside it, leaving Seven unattended.
Arun unfastens his belt and unzips his trousers, before leaning down over Phoenix. He begins unfastening her belt. Phoenix pretends to wake up and feigns dread. She goes limp, allowing him to exert his dominance over her. She moves her arms to embrace him but he slaps them away.
“Don’t fucking move,” he says, pulling her trousers down.
Phoenix’s eyes flash towards her mother. She’s asleep.
“Please,” Phoenix adds, moving her arms wide, gently.
As Arun positions himself over her, Phoenix’s arms slowly embrace him again, and this time he allows it. He moves his head closer to hers, preparing to kiss her. Phoenix allows him to come close, wrapping her hands gently around his head. She kisses him and strokes her right hand across his face, down to his chin, while her left hand touches the top of his head. As he moves to enter her, Phoenix shoves her right palm hard into his chin and twists the back of his head towards his right shoulder, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Django would be proud.
Phoenix feels relief and satisfaction from the surprisingly quiet cracking noise but it evaporates instantaneously as Arun’s body slumps over her, his weight stifling her and hurting her injured left knee. She shifts him off as quick as possible to the right.
It happens so fast, so quietly, that Dirk almost doesn’t realise what is going on until he hears a screeching noise from Seven’s cell, distracting him. He turns to the orc’s cell. Phoenix hears the bars being bent.
“Hey!” Dirk shouts, smashing his baton into the bars and Seven’s fingers, waking Amelia. Phoenix, rising from her cell and quickly pulling up her trousers, positions herself behind Dirk. She hoists herself up into the air using her left hand to grab Amelia’s bars and her right hand to grab a bar from her own cell, before drop-kicking into Dirk’s back with her right leg. The bald elf thunders into the wall, head-first. Dazed, he turns and charges into Phoenix, slamming her into the door.
Seven uses all his might to try and bend the prison bars, shaking with strength as they squeak and move slightly.
Dirk towers over Phoenix, punching once into her stomach, before attempting to swing a harder punch in the same spot. She rolls to one side and Dirk strikes the floor, causing his knuckles to bleed. Phoenix rises fast, but Dirk has already turned around and grabbed her around the waist.
“Get off her!” Amelia cries. “Phoe, be careful! Stop it, stop it!”
Phoenix twists but he tightens his grip on her, repositioning himself so they are both facing the door. He begins to constrict her, his huge arms crushing her abdomen, stopping her from breathing. In the struggle, she tenses up and attempts to shake him off but it’s no use. He tightens further, and Phoenix feels like her ribs are about to break.
A large green fist grabs the Steelfeather’s bald head and smashes it violently into the prison bars on his left. Dirk loosens his grip on Phoenix, who slumps over to catch her breath, and tries to turn around to fight the orc, but Seven’s rage erupts as he slams Dirk’s skull back into the prison bars, again and again. There is a loud crack and Dirk goes limp, slumping to the floor, his head a mushy mess that reminds Phoenix of Chrim’s face. She shivers as she catches her breath, pain throbbing throughout her body.
Seven bends down and takes the cell keys from Dirk’s body, as well as the sword and baton. He holds out his hand to Phoenix, who takes it and is hoisted up on her feet by her trusted friend.
“You okay, beast?” Seven asks.
“I need a moment,” she says, shaking and waiting for the tearing pain to pass. “You?”
“I’ve been better. The fall wasn’t too bad for me. But I am tired. And I smell of shit.”
Phoenix smiles through the pain and moves to Arun’s body, taking his baton and sword. As she’s doing that, Seven unlocks Amelia’s cell and asks: “Do you know where we are? Where did they take our weapons?”
She gives him a confused, fearful look and takes a step back, into the wall.
“I am your daughter’s friend, I go by the name of Seven,” he adds, holding out his hand, realising they haven’t met.
Phoenix steps around him and says: “Mother, we don’t have time for this, we need to leave, fast. Our friends are in danger.”
“Okay Phoe-” she starts, looking anxiously at the orc.
Amelia seems stunned by what is happening. She is still half-asleep, and having smoked some bloodthistle, also looks stoned. Her eyes are bloodshot and she seems to be in a state of shock and confusion.
Phoenix suddenly flings her arms around her mother, who winces from her burn wounds.
“Oh, sorry,” Phoenix starts.
“No, come here,” Amelia responds, holding her daughter’s face in her hands and kissing her emotionally on the cheek, twice.
Despite the urgency of the situation, Phoenix feels a sudden impulse to hug her mother tightly again. After all this time, she is alive, and they are together at last. Phoenix feels shame for believing she may have been dead. Now she fears for the rest of the crew’s lives instead.
Amelia turns to Seven. “Thank you for helping us,” she says.
Seven grunts, dragging Dirk’s dead body into the orc’s cell and letting his head fall onto some of the shit that was originally thrown at Seven.
“I just backed up Phoenix, her actions got us out of here,” Seven says. “Your daughter is a fearsome warrior.”
Amelia blinks. Phoenix feels like blushing.
“We still have to get out of here. Where are we exactly?” Seven asks, turning his head towards the women.
“In the passageways underneath the house they sprung the trap on you,” Amelia responds. “There will likely be two more of them up there and one patrolling the corridor outside this door.”
“Why don’t we wear the guards’ clothes?” Seven suggests.
“And what do we say when they ask why we’re escorting the prisoner out?” Phoenix interjects. “Especially with our voices? And your fat ass.”
Seven raises an eyebrow.
“No, fuck it,” Phoenix adds, “we fight our way out.”
“Language, young lady,” Amelia states.
“You can tell me off later,” Phoenix says, taking the sword from her belt and swinging it gently through the air, feeling its weight.
Heavier than my usual, she thinks to herself, but it’ll have to do. The thought reminds Phoenix of her narrow rapier, Heart, and their other provisions. Amelia looks at Phoenix worriedly.
“Do you know where our stuff might be, mum, like Seven asked? Where they took our weapons?” Phoenix asks.
“I’m not sure, but this is a small hideout, they can’t be far,” Amelia answers. “Please be careful. I would rather die than bear being taken from you again.”
Phoenix nods, trying not to get emotional. “Stay between Seven and I,” she says. “I’ll lead, Seven will follow close behind us.”
She leans up against the door and listens. Phoenix can’t hear a thing. She twists the handle and opens the door gradually, before peering down a narrow, dark corridor. Phoenix checks to the right and sees another empty hallway, leading to a door. She sneaks down here, leading the others and opens the door at the end. It creaks open to a guard sitting on a chair reading an adult magazine. There are goods and boxes stacked around the small room. Phoenix notices their weapons and bags of provisions in the corner.
Phoenix quickly presses her sword to the guard’s heart and he instinctively raises his arms in the air, shocked and scared.
“Make a noise and it will be your last,” she says, as Seven rummages around the room, gathering all their things. He also takes a few extras for good measure, including provisions such as skins of water and bread. Amelia also takes a white woollen shawl from a wardrobe and wraps it around her. When they’re finished, Phoenix demands the keys to the room and locks the guard inside.
The trio make their way up the stairs down the other end of the corridor, and Phoenix and Seven run ahead, catching two gang members sitting at a table off-guard. They make light work of them, killing them both, before making their way outside with Amelia alongside them.
Alexandra is nowhere to be seen. Neither is the person who gave Phoenix and Seven a ride here in their wagon. Luckily, there are a few hawkstriders outside the house, their Steelfeather owners either dead or locked inside. Seven takes one of the hawkstriders, while Phoenix rides the other, with her mother sitting behind her, dazed and stoned. Before setting off, in the early light of the morning, the trio take a moment to have a large drink of water and some bread. They set off and make haste, riding through Eversong Forest without rest.
Phoenix feels generally okay, buoyed by adrenaline. The pain in her knee, knuckles, head and back has faded somewhat, but her ribs ache with searing pain. And she knows that her lack of sleep could cause her to make mistakes, or worse yet, see red. She thinks about the latter and decides that although her bloodlust could turn the tide of a battle, being out of control in this situation - if what Alexandra says is true - could be fatal. Seven is in better shape, while Amelia is in desperate need of rest and to tend her wounds. But that can wait.
Phoenix rushes through the forest and Seven does his best to keep up with her.


Back at the Tranquil Shore, Norros and his gang approach the shack leading to Trixie’s hideout. He sends an accomplice to scout ahead and enter the shack, easily slitting Emile’s throat in his sleep, murdering him instantly and almost silently. Trixie and her crew, sleeping soundly below, hear nothing.
Phoenix’s fortune teller was correct: Death is coming.

Chapter XXVII: Death

Norros Steelfeather and the brunt of his gang walk quietly across the golden sands of Tranquil Shore, before stopping outside the shack as planned.
Norros enters and steps over Emile’s dead body, grinning and looking for the hidden lever. He knocks over a bottle but picks it up again quickly, minimising the noise and getting some of Emile’s blood on his fingers. After shuffling about a little, he finds the level and steps on it, opening the grate.
Norros turns to his gang, places his hands on his waist and inhales a deep breath of sea air, before breathing it out pleasingly. The elf’s unsavoury, pockmarked face is full of arrogance as he flicks his long silver hair out of his eyeline. He clicks his fingers twice and points at the hole to the hideout, silently commanding two of his gang to lead the way.
One takes several sticks of dynamite from his bag and passes some to the other. They light them and throw them down the shaft into Trixie’s hideout below.


Henry, asleep in the bunk closest to the opening, is woken by the sticks clanking against the rungs of the ladder. He looks up over his bedcover towards the ladder, but doesn’t notice the sticks on the floor below his eyeline.
Small flames hiss along the wicks of the sticks. It is the last sound Henry hears.
A series of deafening explosions send the dwarf’s body flying across the room in several chunks.
Harris, in the bunk above his brother, is a little more shielded by the blast thanks to a metal board at the foot of his bed. But he is still hit.
The explosions rattle the bed, knocking it over along with Harris, who is not only sent sprawling painfully onto the floor, but set alight as the red-hot twisted bed frame crashes to the ground beside him. The dwarf instinctively rolls over to put out the flames, but the damage is done. He cries out in agony; his flesh is burning; his clothing is scorched.
Part of the underground hideout caves in immediately following the explosions. A couple of sticks of dynamite roll towards the direction of Falkor’s bed, in between the dwarves bunk and Trixie’s bed. While it isn’t close enough to harm Falkor when it explodes, it loosens some rocks nearby, creating a small chasm below, quickly filled by several falling rocks - as well as Falkor himself who is tipped from his bed. The elven mute falls into a gap made by the explosion and, through sheer luck, the rocks that fall on top of him are balanced by other debris, leaving the boy trapped in a small alcove, where he lay shielded by the carnage and collapsed room above. He is not crushed, yet has no room to move.
Falkor, now smothered in darkness, can hear the faint muffle of Harris’ piercing screams above as he suffers extreme burns. These sounds mingle with frantic footsteps clattering down the rungs of the ladder. His friends are in great peril and while he has the power to try and lift the rocks away, he feels helpless. Hopeless. Terrified. Falkor cries out in panic, howling into the room above, but his cries are barely audible to those nearby.
Trixie and Django, nearer the far end of the hideout, are woken instantly by the explosion and the squelching pieces of Henry sent flying into objects around the room - the table, chairs, beds and walls. The body part that once was Henry’s knee hits a bottle and sends it smashing to the floor. They shield their eyes from the explosions and hear the falling of the rocks, looking up only to see Harris briefly on fire, before he rolls on the floor and the flames dissipate, leaving the dwarf smoking from the burns cooking through layers of his skin. The room is almost pitch black but the noise, the smell and the shaking ground assault the senses. It is pandemonium.
Django, who is shirtless and almost naked save for a pair of long shorts, instinctively grabs a spear and blowdart from under his bed. In the sudden chaos that ensues, there is barely any time to equip concealed weapons like daggers, light lanterns or make any verbal orders.
Trixie - who had fallen asleep in her usual clothes and scarlet cloak after a heavy drinking session the night before - unsheathes her sword and faces the thick smoke and scurrying of footsteps in front of her.
The Steelfeathers rush into the darkness, huddled together, using their numbers as an advantage. Some of them hold aloft torches to light their way. The light catches Trixie’s face for a moment, showing her bewilderment and anger all rolled into one.
While the Steelfeathers have the element of surprise, they do not know the layout of the room like Trixie and Django do. The first couple that pelt out of the smoke are struck swiftly by the troll’s sleep darts as he hears the Steelfeathers approaching. They fall to the floor mid-run, dropping their torches and leaving the crew still hugely outnumbered by thirteen to four, with one of Trixie’s comrades trapped and another in serious pain.
Trixie quickly drops her sword and kicks it over to Harris, before grabbing a spare from beside her bed. Harris, with tears of pain in his eyes, hears the weapon clatter beside him, urging him to get up and use it. Trixie knows the joker of the group struggled with his training and is not a fighter, but by Azeroth he needs to try to be one now. Harris cries out and, with great effort, forces himself to grab the sword’s handle with his right hand. But still he remains painfully sprawled across the floor, motionless, as he tries but fails to muster any inner strength. In a freak way, it works in his favour - the four Steelfeathers that come bundling into view think he’s already dead.
One moves around the table to Trixie’s right while the other three run towards Django in an attempt to overwhelm him. The blue-skinned troll barely has time to fire one dart before the other two are upon him. He fires and in the relative darkness it luckily pierces the skin of one gang member, who slumps to the floor, but the other two are quickly upon him. The first drops his torch onto the table and charges with a sword. Django waits until the last moment before thrusting his long spear upwards into the assailant’s neck. It is not a clean thrust, however, what with the attacker running quickly as he’s struck, meaning the spear goes through his neck and out between his eye and nose, sending blood spraying everywhere. The spear is lodged in his mangled face as his dead body falls to the floor, keeping the weapon out of Django’s reach.
The other gang member swipes his sword at the troll, who, now weaponless, is forced to dodge instinctively, his blowdart device out of ammo and the spear out of reach.
The cave is dim: the torches on the floor beside the fallen bodies mainly light up the blood on the ground, but some light is better than none for Trixie’s crew.
Meanwhile, as the smoke starts to clear, five more Steelfeathers advance into the room with haste and urgency. While Django dances around his attacker, Trixie jumps onto the table with a pre-emptive strike towards the torch-less thug who approaches her. She drops back down to the floor on her right, pivoting 180 degrees through the air and jabbing her sword underneath her left arm to pierce the elf’s stomach with her back to him in the dim hideout. It’s a risky move but one that catches her enemy by surprise, unguarded and unprepared, as he collapses to the ground dead.
Trixie looks up and sees three of the new Steelfeathers almost on top of her and jumps backwards, but not quickly enough. Flames from two of their torches allow her to see their angered faces in the darkness for a moment. A thrusting sword pierces the skin on her left shoulder slightly, and she recoils in pain. Blood seeps against her boiled leather jerkin, staining it a brown crimson. In the corner of her eye she sees two others rushing to Django on her left, who is already struggling without a weapon. It’s hard enough fighting whilst severely outnumbered, let alone being caught by surprise, in the dark, while hung over. Agonising doubt begins to etch into Trixie’s mind.
One thug launches towards her with an aggressive thrust of his sword directed at the little goblin’s face, but she parries it instinctively, striking back with swiftness, aiming for his knees. She cuts through one leg deeply to the bone, but another two are upon her before she can deal a fatal blow. The elf falls to his knees and cries out in pain, as blood pours down his leg and onto the floor. One Steelfeather sidesteps sneakily to her right and pulls out a dagger, attempting to use his other arm to pull her close and stab her; the other keeps his distance and begins summoning an arcane missile spell. Trixie does her best to hold them back.
As this is happening, Django punches the nearest to him in the stomach and then the face, sending him crashing onto the table as two newcomers approach the troll, who has no time to grab a weapon but instinctively dodges again and hopes to prize a sword from one of his assailants. At that moment, with great pain, Harris raises his charred leg at the perfect time, tripping up one of the two heading to Django. The Steelfeather tumbles to the floor and lets go of his sword, allowing Django to dodge a swipe from the other and pick it up the fallen blade in one movement. As he’s doing so, his attacker turns his head to see Harris standing behind him, about to swing Trixie’s rapier across his chest. The strike is weak and only injures him slightly as the blade is not able to pierce effectively. However, it’s enough for Django to finish the task and gut him with his new sword, up through the lower belly and out his upper back. This time Django’s strike is clean - he withdraws the sword quickly and kicks the dying elf away from him straight afterwards.
Django hears crackling sounds near Trixie, to his right. Pink sparks light up the darkened room as an arcane missiles spell continues to be cast. But there is no time to pause; Django turns to his right to see the man he knocked onto the table, now recovered and about to strike him. As Django deflects the elf’s sword strikes, he can see Trixie is in trouble, caught in a struggle with an assassin trying to stab her. The troll sidesteps slowly to his right as he parries the attacks, attempting to close the distance between himself and Trixie. Meanwhile, the tripped elf is now back on his feet and turns to attack. The dwarf does his best to parry two strikes through the pain, but he is no match for the elf in his state. The Steelfeather stabs Harris with his sword, once, twice, three times through the heart, ending the dwarf’s agony for good. He slumps to the floor, still sizzling from the explosions of the dynamite.
With one arm, the assassin caught in a struggle with Trixie grabs the goblin’s sword arm and holds it down, while raising his dagger in his other. The defiant leader grips her attacker’s wrist to prevent him from bringing the dagger down towards her neck. At half his size, it is exhausting for her to keep this up for long and she slowly leans backwards, losing ground.
While Django is still struggling with his own attacker, he also sees Trixie getting lower to the floor. Instinctively, he uses his foot to flip a chair towards the assassin. It careens with the attacker, who stumbles backwards and loses his grip with Trixie. As he does so, four deadly arcane missiles vault from the magic user’s fingers through the air, lighting up the cavern like a flashing firework. One misses, causing the wall to crumble slightly behind Trixie, a line of small flames - not enough to start a fire - left in its wake. Two others head directly towards Trixie, but the dark iron crystal underneath her tunic protects her and they dissipate into thin air. One may have hit the assassin if not for Django’s chair launch. The fourth missile veers wildly off target into the path of Django’s right arm.
Not only does the magic burn the troll’s arm, it also hits him like a brick. The impact breaks Django’s right arm instantly, bending it backwards unnaturally. The troll shrieks and, in a desperate attempt, drops his weight onto the swordsman attacking him. They fall to the floor towards Harris’ murderer and both of their swords clatter loudly onto the rocky ground.
Django punches the elf underneath him with his good arm repeatedly three times in the face, knocking him out cold. He tries to roll away from the Steelfeather standing above him, who killed Harris moments ago, but isn’t quick enough. The elf rakes his sword across Django’s back, who cries out again as blood is drawn across his sky blue skin.


Norros, meanwhile, still in the shack above, looks out at sea. With most of his gang downstairs attempting to end the crew’s lives, he orders the final three Steelfeathers to descend the ladder, leaving him alone. The gang’s leader is smoking one of Emile’s cigarettes. He speaks to the dead body calmly, above the noise of the shrieks and swords clashing below.
“Yes, it’s all over now,” he says, blowing out smoke into the air.
“Taking a while though aren’t they? Must remember to leave a few for my daughter.
“Maybe I should remind them myself.”
Norros throws the cigarette onto Emile’s dead body and descends down the ladder.


Trixie, now recovered save for the aching wound in her left shoulder, swipes at the assassin quickly and quietly. He dodges a few of her strikes, but is soon struck by her sword and mortally wounded, collapsing to the floor. He lays dying on the ground, blood pooling from his own wounds and the elf next to him, whose deep gash to his knee and thigh keeps him rooted to the floor, unable to stand.
Three more Steelfeathers, the last of Norros’ gang, enter the room, quickly, quietly, without torches. Their leader follows them.
The mage fighting with Trixie realises her anti-magic protection will do him no good and backs off quickly, scampering towards the ladder. The goblin charges towards him blindly, her eyes focused on her target. She looks at the mage’s back but does not see the newcomers emerging from the shadows near the ladder. One thrusts a blade towards her left ribcage, piercing her skin, puncturing a lung and narrowly missing her heart. The pain and shock is too great. The green goblin stops in her tracks, cries out, drops her sword and clutches the wound, falling to her knees.
Django, at the other end of the room, rises and blocks a sword thrust with his bare hand. The sword goes right through the troll’s palm, slicing through his veins, but Django pushes his hand into the blade further, roaring as he does so, allowing him to get closer to his opponent, his tusks and wild red hair coming within touching distance of his attacker. With his other arm broken, all Django can do is headbutt the elf. He does so with ferocity, crunching hard into the man’s nose, breaking it. Django juts his face forward again, his tusks piercing the man’s face. Blood spurts onto the blue troll’s face and sticks to his tusks.
One of the three new Steelfeathers, a woman, walks casually towards Django, who is unaware of her presence. She slices at the troll’s legs and feet, inflicting more pain to the troll’s increasingly mutilated body. He collapses to the floor, bleeding from several wounds.
Django knows today is probably his last. But at least it will offer him the chance to smile in the face of death one more time. He starts to accept his fate.
Another Steelfeather approaches Trixie and points his sword to her bare neck, drawing it back slightly as she coughs up blood onto the floor from her chest wound. Her left lung is filling up with blood.
There are two Steelfeathers standing beside Django and four around Trixie, including their leader Norros. Another is greatly wounded, his knee gashed open from Trixie’s attack and unable to walk.
Trixie and her crew have lost.
Silence falls across the cavern, broken slightly by the heavy breathing of Trixie and Django, stung with pain and serious injuries. The green goblin and her second-in-command may be beaten, but they leave the Steelfeathers with significant losses, having thinned their numbers from fifteen to eleven. Of those eleven still alive, three are unconscious from the sleep darts and two are seriously wounded, leaving six standing in normal condition. Their captain would be proud.
One Steelfeather spots a lantern on the wall and uses one of the fallen torches to light it. Others join him, lighting the other lanterns around the room, casting light across the cave. The smell of blood and smoke fills the chamber.
Footsteps from the shadows at the back of the room, near the ladder, come into the light. Norros walks up to Trixie and squats next to her, meeting her at eye level and smiling at her. She remains on all fours, hunched over in pain and does not look at him. A string of bloody saliva hangs from her mouth and connects with the floor. Norros carelessly flings her sword towards the wall. He asks her: “Where is this captain of yours?”
“Eat shit,” she snaps, instantly.
Norros stands gently and walks a few paces away.
“I’ll ask again,” he says, before turning towards her and taking a short run up before kicking her square in the side of her face, knocking her over onto her back. Trixie whimpers and stares up at the ceiling, her vision swimming from faintness.
“Where is your captain? And the keys to your ship’s cabins?” Norros repeats angrily.
She doesn’t answer. Like Django, Trixie begins to accept her fate too.
Norros begins handling her, roughly patting her down and feeling for any keys on her body.
“We’ll be taking all your goods and reclaiming our place here in Silvermoon now,” he says.
Trixie wants to shout at him, to defy him, but everything is a great effort and she feels tired. It’s becoming difficult to breathe as her lung fills with blood.
Instead, she says carefully: “Even if I knew where he was, I wouldn’t tell you. And the keys are not here.”
“Liar!” Norros shrieks, placing his boot on Trixie’s heavily wounded chest and pressing his weight onto his foot.
She gasps in agony and tries to roll onto her side, letting out a deep moan.
Django, who can hear the exchange but cannot see it, turns onto his left side, leaning on his good arm, the blood from his gashed hand pooling onto the floor and trickling down his body. He looks underneath the table and can see Norros and Trixie on the other side of it. His weary eyes follow the robed mage walking past them over to the Steelfeather who Trixie left unable to walk. The blood is seeping freely from his leg, the bone still showing. He struggles to keep in control, shaking and in mild shock. It comforts Django slightly to see the mess they’ve caused to the Steelfeathers, against the odds.
The man with the bloodied nose scurries away from Django and sits on one of the beds, while the woman who cut up Django stands nearby, keeping an eye of the troll. The other three stand behind Norros, facing Trixie.
The Steelfeathers glance at the still bodies of Trixie’s crew now and then, with a mix of malice and respect, making sure they are definitely dead. In the chaos of the fighting, some Steelfeathers are still not aware some of their compatriots are actually asleep from Django’s darts, rather than deceased.
Falkor, upon hearing Trixie cry out in pain, cannot hold his terror inside and begins groaning in fright again, sporadically. This muffled noise from beneath the walls surprises the Steelfeathers.
“What the fuck is that?” Norros yells, turning away from Trixie, giving her a moment’s respite. “Who is that? Is that a hidden room? Find it! Bring me whoever it is,” Norros commands the three beside him, who immediately spread themselves around the room in search of the noise. They quickly get as close as they can to Falkor’s wailing and peer into the rubble, looking for a way through.
Trixie wants nothing more than to console the child right now, to call out and tell him everything is going to be alright, to embrace him. To check if he is okay. But she doesn’t want to give anything away to the Steelfeathers. Lying still, approaching death, her thoughts drift to her captain.
‘Where are you?’ she thinks to herself. She can feel Norros’ presence nearby again and closes her eyes, hoping death will claim her rather than having to spend another minute with her gloating enemy. She does not resist death’s grasp, on the contrary she embraces it.
As she’s passing from life to death, Norros suddenly grabs the goblin around the neck with one hand, lifting her off the floor and slamming her into the wall, choking her. Her muffled, almost lifeless scream is followed by more distraught cries from Falkor. Her wheezing scream is cut short as Trixie takes her last breath.
Django, reeling from the pain, cannot watch. Nor can he properly hear what Norros is saying anymore. He looks back towards the entrance and thinks of the after-life, as he starts to close his eyes, urging Bwonsamdi to claim his soul. Perhaps he will join Trixie and his friends in whatever’s next, he thinks. This brings him some comfort.
Before he shuts his eyes, Django sees movement from the back of the room near the ladder. He is the only one in the room looking in that direction and thus the only one that notices it. Ah, it must be Bwonsamdi, the loa of death coming to claim his spirit, he thinks. But… Bwonsamdi is supposed to have deep eyes of fire. Ghoulish markings on his skin. And a staff. Django frowns for a moment, then his lips spread into a faint smile. For a moment he forgets his pain.

Chapter XXVIII: Red

Phoenix springs from the shadows, a flash of red shrieking with a battle shout so piercing and sudden, it is enough to sow panic around the room. Her screeching voice echoes off the rocky walls with fury, with venom. Falkor closes his mouth. The Steelfeathers stop in their tracks as the red-haired elf lunges towards Norros, who barely has a moment to turn his head and loosen his grip on the goblin, letting her dead body fall to the floor.
Norros stretches to avoid Phoenix’s violent sword stroke, before thwacking her sword hilt away with his palm, knocking the weapon onto the floor. In a blind chaotic rage, Phoenix punches the leader with spite and hatred, then follows up with another strike, crunching her fist into his temple, knocking him out cold. He is sent sprawling, landing near the injured Steelfeather and the mage, who turns towards Phoenix as she picks her sword up from the floor and growls at him.
The woman beside Django dashes towards Phoenix, followed closely by the Steelfeather with the broken nose, while the other three looking for Falkor turn to one another apprehensively before shuffling over to her with uncertainty. Phoenix continues her attack on the mage. He casts a quick spell which is nullified by Phoenix’s dark iron in her pocket. The ginger elf moves to swipe at the mage, who steps aside. But Phoenix’s jab is a feint, and she instantly returns with a proper strike towards his head. Her rapier goes straight through his left eye and halfway into his head, blood and gunk spurting everywhere. The Steelfeather lets out a bloodcurdling scream, which is cut short as Phoenix removes her rapier from his eye socket and kicks him with her heel square into the wall, before thrusting the sword into his neck and withdrawing forcefully, making sure of his death.
In this moment, Phoenix may well have been Bwonsamdi himself. Death is swirling around the room and the elf is the instigator now. The woman who heavily wounded Django is now upon Phoenix and swings her sword towards the red-haired elf, who is glaring back at her, incandescent with fury. Phoenix parries the blade, but the other three Steelfeathers approach her from behind, while the elf with the broken nose moves into the corner and raises his sword, forming part of a circle that surrounds her.
Everything Django has taught Phoenix, all the training, the advice, the encouragement, comes down to this one moment. She is outnumbered five to one and, even now, so close to her blind rage, knows the odds would usually not be looking good. But she is not alone.


The monster of Draenor, Phoenix’s best friend and outcast of his orcish clan, Seven, stumbles down the steps, breathing heavily and struggling to keep up with the one he loves.
He sees her near the far corner of the room, moving her sword faster than he has ever seen, deflecting blows with ferocity and wounding her assailant with a stab to her arm. The four others around her, while cautious, move to attack too. Phoenix turns at the last moment and instinctively falls to the floor near the injured woman, quickly turning the movement into a cartwheel. She carefully tilts her sword at the last moment to balance along the contours of the floor so it doesn’t drop. She ends up on the other side of the table, near Django’s dying body, creating distance between the five Steelfeathers.
Three of them start to run towards the ladder to approach the other side of the table and cut Phoenix off, but clamber into Seven along the way. He snarls and guts the one closest to him with a mortal strike of his dagger. The other two, startled, step back, but Seven offers no respite, grabbing one and throwing him into the wall with full force, shattering the elf’s bones. The third cowers and steps back.
Seven uses this moment to glance at Phoenix once more, who is now battling with the woman again. Her attacks force Phoenix to deflect them, but the Steelfeather keeps moving forward, forcing Phoenix back towards the other corner, beside Seven’s bed. The elf with the broken nose also advances towards her. Seven leaves the cowering elf and rushes towards his accomplice. As soon as he does so, the elf scampers underneath the table, joining the Steelfeather with the broken leg.
The two Steelfeathers who are advancing on Phoenix are making life difficult for her. The female Steelfeather, adept with the blade, is close to finding an opening. While the redhead shows no signs of tiring, deflecting attack after attack, she is backed into the corner, and is forced to begin dodging and parrying attacks from two fighters, as the elf with the broken nose begins swiping in her direction too. Seven is almost there to give Phoenix backup - but Django is lying on the floor in his path, unable to roll away quickly enough.
Phoenix turns towards her second attacker and cries out in anger, thrusting her sword twice - the first blow is deflected but the second cuts into the elf’s armpit. He screams and releases his sword, falling down, but Phoenix is still facing the man, and in her rage, seems to be becoming less aware of the woman’s incoming attack from her side. At that moment, she has a clear shot of Phoenix’s heart and repositions her centre of gravity before preparing to thrust forward with a mortal strike.
Seven, who is milliseconds away from reaching them now, sees the impending attack and realises he is a fraction of a second too late. With Django in his way, he cannot feasibly attack or even delay the woman. His plan to attack her from behind is thwarted, as his dagger would only connect with her body after she has struck Phoenix. Instead, he makes a desperate attempt to launch himself in-between the female Steelfeather and Phoenix in a bid to protect his friend - and deflect the blow at the same time.
Seven dives through the air, over Django, turning to face Phoenix’s assailant and swiping his dagger towards her sword at the same time. Everything is moving so fast, it is nearly impossible to pull the move off successfully.
His dagger barely misses the sword. Seven just about makes it, his body lunging in front of Phoenix to protect her, but the timing is awful - as is his luck. The Steelfeather’s blade aiming at Phoenix’s heart jabs forward, but goes through Seven’s instead, while he is diving in mid-air. The sword becomes lodged in his chest and is pulled from the female Steelfeather’s hand. At the same time, the force of Seven’s dive knocks into Phoenix, whose sword scrapes her friend’s back. Phoenix clatters into the wall on her right; the impact and the sight of Seven shakes away her rage a little and she gains clarity in the fight.


Phoenix properly spots the distracted, unarmed woman and, without hesitating, shoves her sword into her throat, before withdrawing the blood-soaked blade. While she is aware of Seven on the floor beside her, in the heat of the moment she does not look down and does not see his sword wound.
Phoenix easily finishes off the man with the broken nose and armpit wound. She glances around the room for any other survivors, but her attention is grabbed like a moth to the flame when she hears her friend cry out in pain on the floor next to her.
As Seven turns over, he pulls the blade from his chest and groans. His heart collapses. The hole in Seven’s vital organ seeps with deep pain. Seven roars. The sound of his agony wrenches at Phoenix’s heartstrings, immediately snapping her out of her rage, to turn to her friend.
“Seven!” she shrieks, leaning over him.
Her eyes fall to his eyes, to his blood-soaked chest and hands, back to his eyes again, their confused flicker confirming her worst fears. There is a muffled noise in the background but Phoenix cannot hear it. Seven, her best friend, her loyal companion, the only one who truly understands her, is dying.
Phoenix presses his hands with hers, over his chest, desperately trying to stop the lifeblood seeping from his body so quickly and relentlessly. It slows a little but there is so much of it. She is utterly distraught, her face twisted with torture and shock as she looks back up at his eyes. They are calmer now. Gentle. Understanding.
“Phoenix,” he speaks, with effort, in a low growl. “It’s okay.”
It’s not okay. But even now, in his final moments, as he lay dying, he reassures her. Even in death, he wants to bring her comfort. Even with fear, he shows none.
Seven smiles. Phoenix scrunches her face up.
“No, you can’t -” she starts. A lone tear races down her face.
“I love you,” he declares, suddenly, with honesty, with integrity, with purity.
Phoenix barely makes a noise as more tears fall from her eyes, pained with sorrow and disbelief.
“Please, don’t die,” she pleads, desperately. “You can’t… you’re all I have. You-”
“Thanks for all you have shown me,” he interjects, with greater effort. He lets out a hacking, bloody cough, his voice becoming a wheeze. “You are a great warrior. Knowing you are still alive, and that I did all I could to save you… I could not die with a greater honour.”
Phoenix’s heartbeat pumps faster, so fast it might burst, as Seven’s slows. She hears the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears and wishes she could transplant it into his body somehow, to swap places with him, to rescue him as he saved her.
“I love you,” she whispers, as she leans in towards him.
Phoenix and Seven close their eyes together. They kiss for the first, and last, time. As their lips part, Phoenix opens her eyes, but Seven does not open his.
He lays lifeless, unmoving but for the thick blood continuing to pool from his chest to the floor around him.
Phoenix cannot bear to see him in this state. She stands, turns away and cries out almost as loudly as her earlier battle-cry. Her shriek cracks and creaks, long and drawn out, an audible manifestation of the many feelings flooding her mind. Her voice is raw with sorrow, with grief, with confusion, with shock, with anger, with spite, with loathing, with hate. Hatred towards Alexandra, hatred towards the Steelfeathers, hatred towards Thirteen, hatred towards her mother, hatred towards her father, hatred towards Trixie, for sending them on this stupid suicide mission. She sees the goblin’s body at the other end of the room and, feeling so angry at the moment, doesn’t even want to check if she is alive or not. Phoenix’s cry morphs from sorrow to anger and back again, a thousand emotions running through her body, her mind, her soul.
She leans her head into the wall and sobs, uncontrollably, as she suddenly contemplates suicide. I should have died here too, she thinks to herself. I should not even have been alive to begin with. She is ready to give up, to end her own life, to relieve herself of her misery.
She hears a muffled noise again. Phoenix turns and sees a Stealfeather trying to sneak up the ladder to escape.
Like a bull antagonised by a matador waving a red cape, the mist instantly descends upon her mind again like flipping a switch. She charges without thought, without noise, without a second’s hesitation, towards the helpless elf. She doesn’t notice Django’s body as she runs past, she only sees her victim - and will not stop until she sees the red of his blood.
He spots her and cries out, trying to clamber up the ladder faster.
Phoenix grabs his leg and almost rips it from its socket, sending him sprawling to the ground. She straddles him and punches him square in the face to stop his squirming, once, twice, again and again and again. And again. Relentlessly. With fury, with hatred, without mercy. This continues for a while after the elf is dead.
At the end of the ordeal, after Phoenix has regained some composure, the Steelfeather’s face looks worse than Chrim’s. But this image does not haunt her - it makes her feel a little better.
Phoenix, out of breath, her fist wringing with pain, rolls off the Steelfeather, her consciousness returning once more. She feels utterly exhausted. As she catches her breath, she hears another muffled sound. Is that… crying?
“Falkor?” she shouts, thinking of the little mage. Thinking of his healing abilities...
“Falkor!” she cries, almost with joy. “Is that you?” she asks, again. “Keep talking to me buddy, where are you? It’s okay it’s me, Phoenix, I’m coming to get you.”
He makes some more groaning noises and Phoenix stands, looking around. She quickly realises he’s hidden outside the room somewhere. She follows the calls of his voice and for the first time notices the caved in section near the beds closest to the entrance. She leans in and, hearing his muffled cries from beneath the rocks, begins pulling up the rubble as fast as she can.
“It’s okay, I’m here, I’m here,” she says, almost trying to reassure herself following the ordeal she’s just been through.
Phoenix begins lifting smaller pieces of rubble aside to try and begin clearing a path towards the young elf, while continuing to talk to him. After a while, she manages to clear the debris to reveal a small gap and pulls a large rock that’s blocking her path into it, creating an opening large enough to peer down. Grabbing a torch, she holds it aloft the hole and sees a couple of ears poking up at her from the shadows and rocks below.
Desperate hope brims inside her. Could it be possible? The thought makes her feel like knives are spinning inside her stomach.
She encourages Falkor to hold up his hand and leans over, being careful not to fall in on top of the boy, hurting him and getting wedged herself.
She leans over with a stretch and reaches her arm out as far as it will allow, her red sleeve tearing against a sharp rock. After a few seconds she feels a small hand in hers and grips it tight, turning her body slightly to try and lift him up, out of the narrow gap. The angle is awkward and it requires great effort, but the boy slowly rises. He uses his other free hand to hoist himself up over the top of the rubble. He regains his balance and Phoenix grabs him with both arms around his waist, lifting him up and out to safety.
Despite being well aware of the death around him, using the Sunwell and his magic to sense the situation and the bodies around him, he looks utterly relieved to be in Phoenix’s presence and freed from the rocks. He smiles widely and innocently and makes a noise of contentment, attempting to look towards Phoenix, holding out his arms again to hug her. While she is pleased he is alive, she cannot think of anyone but Seven right now - and the possibility of bringing him back. She wastes no time, giving Falkor a brief hug and quick peck on the head, before taking his hand and leading him hastily and firmly - almost too forcefully - towards Seven’s body.
As Phoenix guides the blind boy around Harris and Django to avoid their bodies along the way, she hesitates and looks down at them, as more pain, sorrow and disbelief scratch into her mind. Everything has happened so fast in the past few minutes, she hasn’t had time to properly digest the situation and the loss of life all around her. The smell of death makes her feel disgusted, not only that there is so much wasted life around her, but that she herself has cheated death somehow. She pushes her earlier thoughts of suicide away now that she has Falkor again - and with him, a chance. Still, she looks at the bodies beside her. Harris’ burns are horrific, while Django is cut to ribbons with a contorted, broken arm, lying in a heavy pool of blood.
The troll stirs. Phoenix’s eyes widen. He is not dead yet.
She spins around, in shock, looking for any other signs of life. Other than Django’s shuffling, there is no other movement, no sound, save for her own breathing, Falkor’s and the gentle flicker of the torches on the walls.
Phoenix faces a true dilemma. A rare moment in one’s life where every second counts and her actions could make the difference between life and death. Time seems to slow as she considers what to do: ask Falkor to heal the troll, the person who taught her so much, about fate and luck and combat, about self-belief… or to try and bring Seven back to life, her love, her companion, her best friend. What about Trixie? She brought her into this hideout, to the crew, to Seven. She taught her how to survive, how to develop her abilities, grow as a person. At the same time, she can’t help feel like she was used by her. Phoenix’s sudden halt brings Falkor to a stop as she weighs up life and death and the value of her friends.
She looks back at Seven and her heart calls out to her achingly. Her decision has already been made. She steps over the troll, pretending she hasn’t noticed he is still alive, selfishly trying to fool both the boy and somehow even herself.
Phoenix pulls Falkor’s arm towards Seven and leans down to his level. She puts her hands on his shoulders and speaks quickly and firmly.
“Falkor, listen to me,” she starts. “I’m going to ask you to do something now. And I need you to try the hardest you can. We must be quick. Seven has collapsed and I need you to bring him back. Can you heal his wounds, return him to life?”
Falkor stutters and takes a moment to consider this news - and the request. A request so significant, with such meaning, too much for a young boy to bear on his shoulders. He frowns and looks overburdened with the task at hand. He lets out a questioning murmur.
Phoenix shakes him.
“Please, Falkor we don’t have time.”
She guides his hands to Seven’s chest, to the wound, bloodying Falkor’s hands. He flinches and recoils, letting out a disturbed sound.
“Heal him,” Phoenix demands.
Falkor turns to her and starts to make an objecting sound.
“Heal him!” she shrieks, losing her cool in an instant. “Save him, damnit! You have a talent, use it!”
Falkor, scared, turns to Seven, crosses his legs and closes his eyes. He places both palms on the orc’s body and Phoenix begins pacing up and down beside them, doing her best not to look at Django and his small movements as he squirms on to life.
Falkor breathes in deeply and concentrates. After a few moments, he looks tired and makes a sobbing noise. He releases his hands from Seven and places them on him again. He makes another noise and lifts one hand up. Phoenix forces it back down onto the orc.
“Keep going!” she blurts out, before trying to calm herself a bit. “Please.”
Falkor shakes his head and starts to cry, making a noise that she knows Trixie would make sense of.
“Just heal him!” Phoenix starts again, hysterically, and Falkor begins wailing. She joins him, quietly weeping.
Phoenix suddenly turns and flips the table in anger, sending it crashing over onto the floor.
“Give a troll one last request, uh,” Django croaks.
Falkor jumps. Guilt washes over Phoenix as she turns to her dying friend, trying to pretend she didn’t notice him earlier. It is replaced by deep pity and desperation.
“Django!” she blurts out. “I thought you were…”
He chuckles, through the pain. “Not quite yet, my friend. I guess ya get to take back all dat money I won off you after all. Fate… fate can do one, ya know?”
Phoenix would usually smile at such a remark.
“It can,” she says, looking back at Seven slightly. She tenses up and squints.
“Quickly,” she says to both Falkor and Django. The boy elf hurries over, but is met by the troll’s raised hand.
“No,” Django says. “It be too late now mon, don’t fret over me. I cannot be saved - and truth be told I don’t want to. What am I gonna do, become a criminal cripple? Look at me arm, mon!”
He grins and waves his severely deformed and broken arm around like a skeleton doing a funny dance. Phoenix wants to find it funny but cannot. She suddenly feels a huge wave of sadness crash over her, mingled with helplessness and tiredness. She frowns again as her mouth curls down and another tear forms underneath her right eye.
“Don’t cry, mon,” Django says. “I know it be hard but it is my time. Bwonsamdi be near. Fetch me my dust, won’t ya?”
Phoenix wipes a tear from her face and springs up to Django’s top bunk. She has never been up here herself before - rifling through his stuff seems somehow inconsiderate, even though he requested it himself. She finds his tin of drugs and grabs the sack of gold and his long dagger as well, bringing them to him.
Django, still laying down on his side, rolls onto his back before taking the dagger in his left hand and the pouch of gold in his right. He takes out a few coins and spreads them around his body as an offering for the loa of death, giving the pouch back to Phoenix.
Falkor steps towards Django and opens his arms. The troll embraces him. Falkor leans up against Django’s body.
“Here, take some more gold,” Phoenix says, putting her hand into the pouch.
“You keep it,” he says, “I have enough here. A humble amount will suffice.”
Phoenix nods and lifts the tin to Django next. He takes it in both hands and removes the lid, revealing the white powder within.
The troll takes deep snort and sighs. He takes another. And another. Phoenix starts to say something - and stops herself.
“Oh, dat be good mon,” Django says. “I needed that. I be thankin’ ya.”
“It’s nothing,” Phoenix responds. “Django I want to thank you for everything you have taught me,” she adds, fighting back more tears. He smiles wearily.
She fumbles inside her pocket and pulls out the old lucky coin Django gave to her, returning it to him.
“Stop giving me stuff mon,” he says, shaking his head. “I gave you dis, it is yours now. Plus, it worked didn’t it?” he winks at her.
“Thank you,” Phoenix repeats, placing the coin back in her pocket.
“I need ta give ya somethin’ else,” Django continues. “Dere is somethin’ you should know. Take da key to da boat from Trixie’s room and read the letters in the drawer there. One of the rooms on the boat has something that belongs to you. Promise me, you will find it and take it.”
“I… promise,” Phoenix answers, her curiosity piqued.
Django curls his finger up and down, beckoning Phoenix closer. She leans in and he whispers in her ear: “Those scum aren’t all dead, ya know.”
“I know,” she responds, speaking low. “Norros is only knocked out.”
Django shakes his head once.
“Your boy unda da table, he be fakin’ it,” he whispers. “Dese three here, dey be darted. Dey will wake in a few hours. Have fun girl, you into the grey now.”
Django’s eyelids flutter and Phoenix shoves the tin back towards him helplessly. The troll takes a couple of sniffs, and his eyes roll back as his head slumps onto the floor.
Falkor continues cuddling his friend, as if he were still alive, as if he’s just sleeping peacefully.
Phoenix rises. Very, very slowly. She wants to hit someone, very hard, and very fast.
Her panic, her sorrow, her adrenaline, all begin to fade. Hatred flickers like the torches on the wall. A longing, an aching for revenge, forces its way into her mind. Anger is not there - yet. It is the calm before the storm.
Knowing that five enemies are still alive around her does not scare her one jot. She cannot possibly go any lower than she feels now. Her disdain and carelessness for those around her breeds an arrogant kind of courage.
Silence spreads throughout the cave once more, the torches barely making a sound. Phoenix rests her left hand on Heart, her sword, and looks under the table, staring coldly at the Steelfeather that lies there. He is face down, his knee a bloody mess, the bone protruding from his flesh.
She steps a little closer, barely making a sound, looking closely at the elf’s back and frame to see if he is breathing. It is moving very slightly. Phoenix sneers. Django’s last words echo in her mind. Sod the grey - what the Steelfeathers have done is enough to push her right into the black. Like them.
Her blank, fearless stare at the injured coward beneath the table is broken as she turns back to Falkor. He has been through enough and does not need to hear anything more. Phoenix grabs some food and water nearby and places them into her pack. She leans down to Falkor and strokes his back, gently. She’ll return here and finish the job once he’s out of here.
“Come on, little one,” she says. “It’s time to go. My mother is back upstairs, she would love to meet you.”
Falkor, silently crying, lingers by Django’s body a little longer. He then leans up to Phoenix. She quickly wipes the blood from her sword on the duvet of a nearby bed, then wraps her arms around Falkor and carries him across the room. They step over the myriad bodies, her and Falkor the only movement of life among the dead and sleeping. She carefully climbs the ladder with him and upon reaching the top, introduces Falkor to Amelia. The hawkstriders are still there, outside the shack.
“Take a hawkstrider and move along the shore, east, away from this shack,” Phoenix says, barely allowing the two to get to know one another. “Alexandra may return. I want you to head to safety, away from prying eyes. At the edge of the village nearby, there’s a cave, you’ll be safe there.”
Amelia looks puzzled and distraught as Phoenix runs through the directions, staring at the blood on her clothes and the eye-less boy with deep concern.
“You’re coming with us?,” Amelia says, half a request, half an instruction.
“Yes,” Phoenix responds. “But I have something to do first. I will find you in an hour or so. Here’s some food, water and blankets. Get some rest, wash the boy, let him heal your burns. I will find you both soon.”
Amelia takes the provisions with uncertainty and places the boy’s hand in hers.
“What if they find us first?” Amelia asks.
“There’s only Alexandra left, stay off the paths and away from this shack, you’ll be fine,” Phoenix says with confidence.
There is a pause. The wind from the choppy sea whips Phoenix’s hair and her mother’s; the sky is awash with pink and red again.
“Where is your friend?” Amelia asks.
Phoenix ignores the question and turns away.
She heads down the ladder once more, glancing at Emile’s body, a mild rage burning inside her.

Chapter XXIX: Phoenix

As Phoenix steps off the bottom rung of the ladder and her boots hit the floor of the cave, she thinks she hears a shuffling sound.
She freezes in place and scans the room. The elf that was underneath the table is no longer there. She walks slowly into the room, into the smell of death, into the hell that once was a home, a memory which will haunt her for years to come should she get out alive. Where did he go?
Her eyes fall to Trixie’s dead body, slumped painfully on the floor.
The goblin’s words ring in her ears as if everything is normal again.
‘You look but ya do not see.’
Phoenix, frustrated, angry, upset and determined, counts the bodies and looks carefully at the nooks and crannies in the room. She starts to look vertically, rather than horizontally, and an idea pops into her head.
She spins around and presses herself to the floor to glance under the bed beside her.
The elf is there, his eyes closed, his face a manifestation of fear. It’s the same Steelfeather she let live back in the alley after being ambushed.
“Get out,” Phoenix demands, casually, reaching to grab him.
“Please, don’t hurt me! I was just following orders,” he whimpers.
Phoenix reaches for him but he squirms back towards the wall and avoids her.
She rises and pushes the bed aside. It scrapes harshly on the rocky floor, leaving him without cover. The Steelfeather tries to move back under the bed but his kneebone is still exposed and he cannot move properly.
“I’ll give you your fucking orders,” Phoenix says.
She pulls him up violently and pushes him into the wall. As the foot of the elf’s bad leg touches the ground, he cries out in pain. Phoenix grabs his right wrist with one hand and begins to strangle him with the other.
In the struggle, the elf’s panic rises, in sync with Phoenix’s anger.
There are no words to be said. Only hatred and the willingness to seek vengeance are all Phoenix wants to focus on right now. Seven will not return, the crew will not return, but avenging them may ease her suffering somewhat.
She watches the elf’s face turn purple as her grip tightens; he swipes at her face with his free hand but she evades him. As his suffocation deepens, his will to fight ebbs away. Just as he looks like he’s starting to lose consciousness, Phoenix lets go.
The elf slumps to the floor, facing up, desperately choking in breaths of air as he fights for life. Phoenix grabs his right arm and positions herself so her left foot is by his head and her right knee crunches into his armpit. She pulls his arm back sharply so his elbow hits her knee. The top of his arm snaps loudly as it breaks. He screams in terror.
Phoenix lets the crooked arm flop down, before doing the same to his other arm. There is some kind of sweet, ironic delight in breaking his arms as Django had one of his own disfigured earlier, using a move the troll had taught her during her training. The elf’s agonising screams echo around the chamber but Phoenix only hears the throbbing heartbeat in her ears as her adrenaline spikes.
She is tempted to break the elf’s good leg too, to crush a fourth limb, but he can barely breathe and the arm breaks send him into shock. Not to mention the blood-loss from his knee and its protruding bone following Trixie’s earlier attack. As he lay dying, Phoenix rises again. She feels nothing. No remorse, no satisfaction, just emptiness. The bristling anger, her red mist, her greatest weakness and her greatest strength, a part of this nothingness.
‘You do what you must. You build the pain into your story, until it isn’t pain anymore, it’s just another piece of who you are.’
Trixie’s old lesson echoes in Phoenix’s mind.
‘While there is such a thing as fate, you can mould it and make it your own…’
Just words, Phoenix thinks to herself. Fired up from the assault, she turns her attention to the other Steelfeathers scattered around the room. Her determination to be the last person standing, to ensure that Trixie and her crew will be avenged, despite the odds, is utterly unwavering.
She glances at Norros’ unconscious body and leaves him for last. She begins checking the pulse of the Steelfeathers around the room, before dragging the three thugs still alive but unconscious to the wall furthest from the ladder. She then throws four chairs towards them, being careful not to disturb the corpses of her friends in the process, before sitting each Steelfeather upright in their own chair. She ties their legs and hands to the chairs, tightly, using rope.
Phoenix paces a little, thinking about what to do next. She can’t bear to look at Seven or Django, or Harris, or even Trixie in the state they are in. But she wants to see them, to remind her what the Steelfeathers have done. Just as she wonders if Henry managed to get away, she notices a few charred body parts beside the table and looks away in horror.
She thinks back over Trixie’s words: ‘It is good that you have anger, that you have fear… But never show your fear.’
“Instil it in others,” Phoenix whispers, almost taking on the role of Trixie’s persona as she does so. Telling herself to act, as if it’s someone else giving the instructions.
She thinks back to her protests, that she would never murder innocent people and hears the goblin’s voice in her mind as if she never left.
“These are not innocent,” Phoenix speaks.
She walks over to Norros and gently drags him to the other Steelfeathers slumped by the far wall, being careful not to wake him.
Phoenix repositions one of the chairs to face the other three unconscious Steelfeathers. She rests Norros here and ties him up to the chair, like the others.
“Be good to find out where Thirteen is,” she says aloud, quietly, before hearing Django’s voice in her mind. It says: ‘Make dem pay.’
Phoenix nods and pulls the sleep darts from their necks. She pulls out her rapier and begins stroking the end of it sharply across the leather jerkin of one Steelfeather, drawing a thin line of blood as she goes.
She pauses, and moves to a bunch of boxes in the corner, before rummaging through one. Phoenix takes some duct tape and uses it to tape up the mouths of the three Steelfeathers facing Norros.
She turns to their leader and opens her coin pouch. She shoves a gold coin into his mouth, then another, and another, one by one until there are ten gold coins resting on his tongue.
“There’s your fucking toll for the bridge, paid in full,” Phoenix mutters to herself, before adding three more coins and taping up his mouth. “With interest.”
Phoenix gently touches his chin with her thumb and forefinger and slowly tilts his neck back.
A couple of the coins move to the back of his throat, making him gag. He comes to and starts coughing and spluttering, leaning his head forward as his eyes dart left and right. As he cannot open his mouth, he begins to choke.
Norros tries to move his right hand to his mouth but it’s tied to the chair. Two hands grip his shoulders tightly.
“Don’t die yet,” Phoenix’s voice commands.
She jerks his head forward and pats the back of his neck, hard. The thirteen coins move to the front of his mouth and the leader of the Steelfeathers breathes deeply through his nose.
Shock and realisation dawn on him, his face a contortion of anger and embarrassment. Phoenix walks in front of him and sits on the lap of the gang member opposite Norros, before removing her red face mask.
He looks at her, seething, unable to speak.
Phoenix stares back, blankly, deciding her next move.
A moment later, she pulls her mask back up, stands and walks over to Django. She leans down and takes his sharp, deadly dagger, turning it over in her hands.
“Thank you, friend,” she whispers, picking up the weapon and returning to the remaining Steelfeathers. She takes some flasks of water and splashes it onto their faces, giving them a few good slaps to wake them, making sure Norros sees everything. The three of them turn their heads left and right before seeing the chaos around them, and then the elf in red, her mask up, her eyes brimming with hatred and anger. Their own eyes, in comparison, are wide with fear as they watch her hold the dagger over a torch on the wall, before lowering her mask again so they can hear her voice clearly.
“You know, your bitch daughter,” Phoenix says, calmly, as if she is talking about something mundane like the weather. “She thought it would be a good idea torturing our mother with a hot poker.
“But made the mistake of talking a load of crap, for too long,” Phoenix continues, holding the dagger in the flame, turning to look back at Norros. “I won’t make that same mistake.”
As Phoenix walks towards Norros, he begins struggling, trying to talk through the tape over his mouth.
“Shhh,” Phoenix responds, approaching the Steelfeathers while holding the red-hot dagger. She wants Norros to see his gang suffer, the way Django and Trixie saw theirs suffer because of him.
She steps towards the Steelfeather furthest on the right and asks him: “Where are your gang based in Stormwind now?”
He shrugs.
Phoenix doesn’t give him a second chance. She slices the burning hot dagger through his throat. It gets stuck halfway through his neck, blood splattering outwards like a fountain, onto the floor. The elf’s head hangs backwards, no longer properly supported by his half-wrecked neck. Phoenix removes the dagger, causing the Steelfeather to spasm as he dies and blood continues to gush from his mortal wound.
The Steelfeathers next to him let out muffled screams, their eyes wide with terror. The one in the middle closes his eyes and begins to shake. Urine shortly flows down his leg into a small puddle on the floor. Norros closes his eyes tight and turns away.
As Phoenix inflicts fear on those around her, she feels power mingling with her nothingness, her anger. For a moment, the mix of colliding emotions within her are tempered.
The thought of torturing them for longer runs through her mind, but she knows Alexandra may be here at any moment, so she quickly dismisses it and moves to the Steelfeather in the middle of the three.
Phoenix rips the duct tape from his mouth.
“Please,” he gasps.
“I haven’t asked you anything yet,” Phoenix says, in a composed manner with cold undertones, not unlike her half-sister.
She shoves the dagger into the wood of the dead elf’s chair, between his legs. Instead, she pulls her sword, Heart, from its scabbard. She strokes her rapier gently across the middle elf’s face and down his cheek to nestle beside his neck, like a snake waiting to strike. The elf trembles.
“Where. Are. You. Based. In. Stormwind,” she states, pausing between each word, as Alexandra once did to her, back when she interrogated her by the bridge a few years ago.
The elf swallows and responds urgently, looking at the floor, too scared to look at Phoenix, or his boss.
“There’s only a couple of us left there,” he says. “With Thirteen. They live in the Old Town, they have a room in the building next to the leatherworkers. They also frequent the tavern by the docks. I don’t know…”
The elf stops ranting and gulps quietly; sweat is dripping down his brow. Phoenix lowers her sword, feigning mercy, before leaning in to him.
“It’s okay, please continue,” she whispers.
“I - I don’t know… where Thirteen lives,” he adds. “That’s the honest truth, I swear. He works with the Stonemasons and Edwin VanCleef.”
Phoenix stands upright again and smiles blankly at the elf, nodding.
“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” she says. “WAS IT?” she shouts, swapping between calm and furious in a heartbeat.
“No,” he responds, trembling.
“And there you were thinking I would kill you…” Phoenix continues.
She looks at the three of them, two gagged, one petrified sitting in his own urine and the fourth dead, his neck massacred, his vacant stare towards the ceiling creating a juxtaposition that is almost comical. Phoenix starts to snicker. If she doesn’t laugh, she’d cry again.
“It’s funny, really, this situation, is it not?” she says, eloquently, turning again to the middle elf, who doesn’t know where to look or how to respond. Phoenix lets out another laugh, mockingly this time.
“Come on, it’s funny, laugh with me,” she says to him again.
He starts to let out a fake laugh that comes out more like a frightened warble.
Seven’s unmoving, lifeless face flashes into Phoenix’s mind and burning anger flares up inside. She wants to kill this Steelfeather right now for laughing at him, for laughing at her true friend’s death. Another voice inside her tells her to stop, to not harm someone begging for mercy, to show humility for his compliance.
But something else triggers like a spark in her mind. Revenge, retribution, retaliation is all she can think of. This happens in a matter of seconds. And Phoenix, the once shy and good-natured young girl, forced to waver into morally grey waters over the past few years, teeters dangerously into the black for the first time as she raises her sword and thrusts it clean through the elf’s cheek, into his mouth and out his other cheek, breaking a couple of teeth in the process, but narrowly avoiding his tongue.
In her mind, Phoenix sees Django smiling, the way he did when he taught her how to wield a blade.
The elf lets out a muffled cry, the sword inside his mouth preventing him from moving his jaw or even screaming properly. Phoenix lets go of her sword and knocks his chair forward, before dragging it towards Seven’s body. The sword is still stuck between his cheeks as it clatters and scratches along the floor, making a mess of the elf’s face as blood fills his mouth quicker with each bump. But fury clouds Phoenix’s judgement; the state of her sword is the last thing on her mind.
“You find this funny?” she spits with fury, with venom. “Laugh! Go on, laugh at him, we’ll see what other holes we can make through your body!”
Phoenix leans down and grabs the hilt of her sword. She pushes it, slowly, further into the elf’s cheek as he gurgles in terror. As the blade passes through, it becomes harder to push it further, and so she twists it as she applies more pressure. It suddenly splurges forward, ripping the elf’s face open. He cries out in agony and turns what’s left of his face to the left, too scared to lay his eyes on the orc’s dead body.
To Norros and his lackey sitting opposite him and slightly to his left, Phoenix probably appears insane. An elf devoid of rational thought, with no room for mercy, extremely rash - and irrational. She decides that she doesn’t care what they think.
Phoenix rises, the blood from the encounter seeping into her red tunic and gloves. The reason Trixie died her clothes red in the first place. She leaves her blood-soaked sword next to the elf on the floor, who is still tied to the chair laying face down, awkwardly, blood pooling from his face onto the floor. He moans with flooding pain.
Phoenix pulls the dagger from the chair to the right. She thinks of Alexandra and the fact that she may be here soon, prompting her to pick up the pace. She steps beside the last Steelfeather opposite Norros and plunges the still-hot dagger into his heart. He chokes and struggles, as blood leaks from his chest - and then his mouth. His death is swift; he barely lets out a sound.
Phoenix, unarmed, turns to Norros. One of the last remaining Steelfeathers in the cavern, the father of her half-sister, the elf in black that once haunted her dreams, the one responsible for this entire mess.
His eyes are unflinching and show little fear. This disappoints Phoenix. She asks him a question, not out of serious interest, but mild curiosity.
“Do you know who my father is?”
Phoenix never felt anything but resentment towards her father, for leaving her and her mother. Though she did not care about him before, she now sees him as part of the catalyst for this whole mess. Knowing his whereabouts to talk it through in person, or get his side of the story, may give her some kind of closure.
Norros shakes his head instantly, obviously unable to speak. But despite this whole ordeal, he does not show fear, like the others. Phoenix hates the fact she admires him a little for that.
“Do you know where he is, or what he does?”
Norros shakes his head again, this time more slowly.
Phoenix sighs as she walks to the other side of the room by a bundle of clean clothes and picks up a peg. She returns and barely looks at the leader of the Steelfeathers as she carelessly places the peg over his nose, blocking his airways.
Phoenix begins walking over to Trixie’s body in search of the keys to Fate’s cabins.
Norros, unable to breathe with his airways blocked, struggles. He shakes his head fiercely from left to right, trying to loosen the peg. His movement rocks the chair from side to side, sending it tumbling to the floor, with him still tied to it. It falls to the right, near the other remaining Steelfeather in the cavern, not far from her sword.
Phoenix, inconvenienced by the noise of the falling chair, by being interrupted, looks over her shoulder to see Norros turning his head towards the floor, knocking the peg from his nose. He breathes in deeply through his nose and begins wriggling in an attempt to free his hands and grab Phoenix’s sword.
She stays calm and checks over Trixie’s slumped body, unperturbed by Norros’ attempt to break free. Phoenix trusts Trixie’s rope tying techniques she taught her and feels confident they will hold the head Steelfeather in place.
Phoenix looks at the face of her own leader. The goblin’s eyes are closed - she looks as if she is sleeping, at peace, but her green skin has turned a sickly light purple around her neck and parts of her face, a sad reminder of her death and strangulation at Norros’ hands.
A deep wave of sadness rocks Phoenix’s heart, as the weight of the situation begins to sink in. Though she never truly trusted Trixie, she cannot deny the impact the little goblin had on her life. She taught her so much, gave her the confidence to fight back, to survive and, through her deception, inadvertently taught her not to trust too quickly. She led her to adventure, to Seven.
There are no tears left for Phoenix to cry. Not because she does not feel sorrow, or guilt for not getting to the hideout fast enough to save her crew, but because the cold nothingness has swept over her again. Perhaps it is her way of dealing with a situation she has no idea how to accept, or perhaps she is just cold like her sister.
Phoenix pats the goblin down and finds nothing on her. She thinks to herself, those bastards attacked while they were sleeping, so why would Trixie have anything on her anyway? But the goblin was never one to easily figure out...
The sound of the wooden chair knocking against the ground over and over distracts Phoenix. It annoys her more than it worries her. She blinks several times in frustration but does not allow Norros to halt this moment immediately.
“Goodbye, boss,” Phoenix whispers to the goblin. “I’m so sorry.”
She rises and walks back towards Norros, briefly glancing over her shoulder towards the ladder for any sign of Alexandra.
Phoenix hears the chair rattle against the steel of her sword. Norros is desperately trying to squirm his way out of the tied rope, and has inched himself beside Phoenix’s sword, but she looks down at the rope and it is holding fast to the chair, as expected. She smiles at that, as she kicks her sword away from his reach. Phoenix holds her expression as she straddles Norros and the chair, at the thought of enacting revenge on him. He avoids eye contact with her. The elf who tortured her mother, killed her friends and put her life on this dangerous course. The man has been brought to death’s door by a blow to the head and some tape, and can’t even look at the eyes of the person that bested him. To think Phoenix once feared him so. Pathetic.
Phoenix’s smile suddenly fades as she grabs his nose with her hand and squeezes it tight. He does not deserve a quick death, she decides. Norros struggles harder, banging his head backwards onto the ground to try and shake free from Phoenix’s grip, wriggling left and right with all his strength to break the rope’s ties.
He makes a muffled noise of exertion; it’s his turn for his heart rate to accelerate as he struggles for life. Some snot spurts onto Phoenix’s fingers, but she remains focused, unfazed.
Norros begins moving his head in wide circles and he slips free of Phoenix’s grasp for a moment, sucking air in deeply through his nose. Phoenix, angered, repositions herself and brings her knee over his neck, stopping him from moving, while choking him at the same time. She squeezes his nose again. His will and focus begins to break; the coins in his mouth tumble towards the back of his throat. One gets stuck, forcing Norros to swallow it. But it is no use for him and, after a few moments, his movements start to wane. Phoenix crushes the life out of him, strangling him with her knee over his neck. It takes longer than expected for Norros to die - more than a minute - Phoenix thinks he may have been drawing in energy from the Sunwell. But she takes every second to look into his eyes, to watch him fade away, so that in the future, when she has nightmares about this day, this is the memory she will hold. The moment when she watched her enemy die, not her friends.
Deep down she knows it is wishful thinking. When Norros eventually slumps dead, Phoenix is aggravated that he barely showed any signs of fear. Just desperation and complete focus on survival.
Phoenix stands, without so much as even glancing at him. She picks up her sword, wipes the blood and flesh from it using the cloth from her pouch and re-holsters it. She realises sword-mouth’s moaning has ceased, so she quickly checks his pulse and finds there isn’t one. Phoenix makes her way towards Trixie’s room.
She examines the neatly varnished, small wooden door and eyes a set of two different locks. One keyhole is large, inset on a piece of metal, while another is smaller and horizontal, below it, carved into the wood.
Phoenix frowns and pulls out her lock picks. She easily navigates the large vertical keyhole and picks the lock, before getting to work with the horizontal one, which proves much more tricky.
After a few minutes, trying different sized lock picks, Phoenix stops and takes a deep breath. She steps back and inspects the door a little more closely, thinking about her options. She decides to place her ear up against the door as she picks the horizontal lock, listening carefully for the tumblers. One is almost silent as it raises in place. She closes her eyes, focusing hard, and continues with the tumblers. There is a large click and Phoenix feels relief.
She turns the handle and pushes. Nothing happens. She pulls the handle. And pushes the door again. It must still be locked. She bangs the door a few times with her fist to make sure.
Phoenix can hear Trixie’s voice in her mind: ‘You look, but ya do not see.’
The elf lets out a frustrated moan as she shoulder barges the door, which holds steady.
Phoenix thinks again of Trixie’s words and, like the lever above the hideout, wonders if there is something around the edge of the door she hasn’t seen. She thinks back to the time Trixie took her to this room and asked her to look away before she unlocked it. Her boss wouldn’t have done that if there wasn’t an unusual or hard-to-see lock, surely.
Phoenix drops to the floor and inspects the door’s edges. She sees a handful of impossibly small holes in the door and at first, wonders if they are woodworm. But they wouldn’t be lined up like that, surely. She places a lock pick in one and looks with surprise as she feels it raising a tumbler, but it gets stuck. She does the same for another hole and it gets stuck again. She attempts to pull this pick out and ends up snapping it.
“Oh, for…” Phoenix mutters under her breath. Trixie must have some tiny keys somewhere.
She gives up trying to pick the door and returns to the main room. She has a quick check of Trixie’s bed and finds nothing but a bottle of rum under her pillow. Phoenix decides to take a swig of this and moves to return it, but ends up pausing halfway before placing it in her own bag instead.
She thinks about searching Trixie’s body again but decides to search some of the Steelfeathers instead. She finds a few sticks of unlit dynamite, and adds them to her bag. She gives up looking for the keys. She doesn’t have time.
Phoenix pulls the table towards the ladder, before returning to Trixie’s door. She lights one of the smaller sticks of dynamite using a nearby torch and rolls it towards the door, before taking cover at the other end of the room behind the table. The single explosion shakes the ground and sends wisps of smoke into the cavern.
Phoenix checks the entrance to Trixie’s room and the door has been blown off its blackened hinges, leaving the rocks around it charred and loosened. Phoenix steps through the doorway.
“I don’t need to look, or see,” Phoenix says. I’m doing this my way, she thinks to herself. Sometimes you gotta make a door.
As Phoenix walks into Trixie’s cluttered yet cosy office-come-storage room, she decides she quite likes the smell of explosives mixed with the taste of rum still on her tongue.
Phoenix’s eyes scan the messy room; she wonders where Trixie keeps her keys to the boat. Maybe she should have asked Django while she had the chance...
Her mind wanders. She has the urge to search the room from top to bottom - there must be valuable treasures in here. Not that they matter. Phoenix thinks again of the keys to the ship and finding them before Alexandra. She starts with the writing desk against the wall, covered in papers and maps. She slides her hand across the desk, skimming through notes and being nosy.
Phoenix begins opening the drawers in the writing desk and her eyes fall to the list of Trixie’s crew. Sorrow descends on Phoenix again as she thinks about keeping the parchment as a keepsake of her life here - and a reminder to kill Thirteen. She pulls the parchment onto the table, taking a seat. She just wants to sleep, but pushes through her exhaustion.
Phoenix reads the list of names, along with each person’s age, the date they joined and when their contract ends. There are many crossed-out names as crew members have come and gone over the years. Ages have also been crossed out and updated as the years have passed.
Phoenix’s name is near the bottom. She is surprised to see that Thirteen only joined the crew two months before her - and Falkor three months. But she is more surprised by something else. Something she didn’t notice the first time she scanned the list of names. Her eyes sharpen as she reaches the bottom.

Trixie Merriweather, 42
Django Bur’Kett, 31
Henry Hinklebottom, 37
Harris Hinklebottom, 37
Seven, 26
Falkor Cloudstrider, 8
Thirteen, 22
Phoenix Bloodheart, 17

Bloodheart? What? Her surname is Dreamfoil. And why is there a little heart doodle to the left of Phoenix’s name? Maybe Trixie had planned on giving her another nickname? She frowns, feeling confused and folds the parchment into her jacket pocket.
Phoenix places one hand on the top of the writing desk, brushing it lightly in thought. Her red fingerless gloves tighten as she tenses her hand into a fist and releases again.
She grabs a random piece of paper from a stack on the writing desk. It is an old letter from Thirteen, detailing one of their previous smuggling jobs. Traitor, she thinks to herself, her blood boiling for a moment. She puts the letter in her pocket, a reminder for revenge.
Phoenix snatches another letter and reads it. This one is from a merchant in Stranglethorn concerning smuggled goods. Others are from traders, sailors and friends and associates of Trixie - nothing that stands out.
Next, Phoenix begins searching through the drawers of the writing desk. There are four on either side of the desk - three normal-sized ones and a larger drawer at the bottom. She opens them in quick succession. The first holds a dagger and some coins, the next some pieces of dark iron, the third is a drawer full of Django’s drugs in several envelopes. Perhaps this will sell well, Phoenix thinks to herself, pocketing them into her bag. Despite what she’s been through, she has no temptation to take the drugs herself - her mum’s bloodthistle addiction has been enough to put her off for life. The larger, bottom drawer, is empty.
She slides open the drawers on the right and finds mostly junk. There’s a stack of parchment and ink in the top-right drawer, plus other items of little value in the next two: a pack of cards, some rope, a slightly rusty harmonica.
Aha, there they are. Phoenix wraps her hands around a set of keys on a chain, one of which she recognises as the key to Fate’s cabins. She shoves them into her pocket.
Phoenix drops her hand down to grip the handle of the final, larger drawer at the bottom, but shifts in her seat when she realises it doesn’t have one to grab.
Not again, Phoenix thinks. She gets on the floor for a closer look at the drawer. It is shaped similarly to the one on the opposite side of the desk, tidy and decorative, but has a small heart-shaped keyhole in the centre instead, with a crudely brushed line of red paint around it.
Phoenix takes the keys from her pocket and looks at them carefully. One is tiny, with a heart carved into its teeth. It is inlaid with what appears to be a small ruby in its ornate handle.
She carefully slides the key into the heart-shaped hole and finds it moves quite a way into the drawer. She twists it and the drawer protrudes half an inch, allowing Phoenix to slide it open fully.
There are many letters inside the drawer, neatly stacked, plus several candle stick holders lined with dried wax and a tatty-looking diary. The letters are addressed to Trixie, to a mailbox at Sunsail Anchorage and are written in thick, black, elven calligraphy.
Phoenix reads the top one, dated over a year ago, the crisp note crinkling in her hand:


The time has come. As you know, tomorrow we set sail for the fabled Dragon Isles. We have prepared so much for this and it is finally coming to fruition. This is the greatest and most perilous journey we’ve embarked on but it will also be the most lucrative. Fortune is fully stocked and loaded and she is ready to sail.

Again, I am sorry you cannot be by my side for this, there’s no one else I’d rather have with me as we move through uncharted waters. But we need to keep the money coming in and operating as usual to cover these steep costs, and there’s no one else I’d trust to get that job done.

I don’t know how long this journey could take, or when I will be able to send you a letter again.

As agreed, should you not hear from me in the next two months or so, I will repeat this again so your stubborn mind understands it. Do not come after me. Keep my daughter and the crew safe, stationed by Silvermoon. That’s an order.

You have done so well finding her in that manner. It must have been fate! I wish I could sail to you right now and meet her myself, but time is short and the crew have been paid upfront to sail tomorrow.

I will be in touch again soon.

Your Captain,
Leonidas Bloodheart

Phoenix blinks. She hastily grabs a handful of letters from the pile, skim-reading parts of them:

...Phoenix, what a wonderful name!..

...I want to say I cannot believe that the courtesan has told her nothing about me, but given the circumstances I am not surprised...

...So she has a temper like her old man? That’ll be the fire in her hair, like mine no doubt…

...I am glad her training is going well. I still can’t believe she has joined you all willingly. That is beyond my wildest expectations. I can’t wait to meet her myself…

Phoenix gently places the letter back in the drawer and stares into space, in thought, as what she’s read sinks in.
Trembling, Phoenix takes the oldest letter at the bottom of the pile and accidentally knocks the rest over, sending them sliding around the drawer. She leans back into the seat and holds the paper up as she reads it.


I am glad to hear you have docked safely at Sunsail Anchorage and found a suitable location for a base of operations.

Be discreet. Have someone snoop around the inn, get eyes on the girl if she’s still there, get to know her and report back to you. Remember, the rumours are she has my hair. She should be around 14 years old and have no memory of me. If you are certain she is mine, you are to watch over her without drawing attention, as discussed, and report back to me while I decide the next steps.

Phoenix pushes the paper to the desk, her finger still in contact with it, before taking a deep breath. After a moment, she stands. This must be the piece of withheld information that Seven mentioned back in Silvermoon.
She thinks about leaving the room, about forgetting these letters ever existed. Ignorance is bliss, Phoenix. Leave the information here in the desk where they will reside, untouched, forever. It’s impossible. She sits back down and continues reading.

While you’re looking for my alleged daughter, I want you to recruit some local elves to our cause. As always, only take on those with talent or exceptional potential, who respond well to orders. Trust can be built in time.

You know me… elves may take a little while longer to integrate into the crew. Be patient, as you know we are a proud, difficult species but with great competency.

Speaking of me, I’m off on this next job over the next few days. Hopefully it will bring in enough coin for us to hire the last few crew mad enough to embark on this trek.

Finally, and as always, find some trade and start forging relationships with merchants and others in the area. I trust you will bear me some good news soon.

Your captain,
Leonidas Bloodheart

Should she take the surname Bloodheart? Phoenix doesn’t know how to feel. First the trap, the ordeal with Alexandra, reuniting with her mother, then losing almost all her friends... so much death and pain and change. And now this.
‘You being in the group is not just some strange coincidence,’ Seven’s words ring in her ears.
Phoenix starts to feel faint. She blinks a few times, trying to hold her consciousness. She forces herself to move, to focus on something and thinks again of Alexandra making her way here soon. She cannot afford to faint.
She spots a few bottles on Trixie’s desk - some wine, whiskey and rum. She grabs the rum. Shaking, she opens the bottle and takes a few large gulps, sitting back and trying to remain calm. The rum settles in her stomach and she takes a few deep breaths. But she takes them quickly and feels tingles in her arms.
Shaking, Phoenix picks up all the letters and folds them hastily into her bag, along with Trixie’s diary. She decides to read them in detail later on, once she has time to, once she’s digested everything that’s happened over the past day - if she can stomach it.
Before leaving Trixie’s room, Phoenix has a quick snoop around, picking up a few valuables and pouches of gold, but not having the clarity of thought to properly inspect them. Before departing, she looks at the weapons on the wall and those scattered around the room, and considers taking some. But she’s not in the right frame of mind for clarity, for decision making. She touches the hilt of Heart. This sword is a part of her now, it has done well by her and she has no intention of abandoning it.
Phoenix skulks through the main room, trying her best to ignore the death around her. She considers springing a trap on Alexandra. But she cannot bear to be in this room any longer than she must, for madness would surely take her already splintered mind. No - let Alexandra see her father like that, let her see what her followers have done and let her wonder where Phoenix is. Let her feel fear.
She heads up the ladder and doesn’t look back. There are questions her mother needs to answer.

Chapter XXX: Bloodheart

There is a faint, cold snap in the air at Tranquil Shore as the morning sun rises on a new day.
High elves often say ‘Anu belore dela'na’ (‘The sun guides us’). Today, as Phoenix looks up at the sky, she feels she’s in desperate need of guidance herself. She steps onto the sand and takes a careful look around for her half-sister. Once she feels safe she’s not around, Phoenix heads to the cave where she first met Trixie. It seems like a lifetime ago.
As she walks briskly through the woods to the cave, avoiding the main paths of the road, Harris’ voice pops into her mind: ‘She saw red, lost her ‘ead, that’s why we’ll all end up dead!’
Laughter echoes in her mind. It’s replaced by Henry telling Harris off, his gruff voice comforting her in some way. She can picture Trixie’s devious smile, Django’s scruffy hair, Seven’s hulking presence. The thought of her friends' mannerisms, their voices, how they were, reassures her slightly. But this comfort is intertwined with pain and a desperate yearning for the impossible, for them to come back. This yearning will eventually turn to grief. But not today.
Phoenix soon reaches the cave. She notices the circle of stones outside and thinks back to her interaction with Trixie in this exact spot, almost two years ago. Phoenix takes a coin from her pocket and flicks it into the circle, as the goblin would have done. It bounces onto a stone and falls outside the circle. Phoenix bends down and reaches out to it with her fingers, to slide it back within the circle, but changes her mind. She herself is outside a circle. In a way she always has been. Perhaps this is her fate.
Phoenix lingers, staring into the circle, at the coin outside it, contemplating the fate of her friends. That cruel mistress, fate. Is this what fate had in mind for her? For her friends to be murdered, so she just has to deal with it? She wonders again if it’s her fate to end her own life too. To join her friends. But then, what of her mother - and father?
Phoenix rises and walks into the cave, casting shadows across its rocky walls, a predator in search of answers. For a moment she thinks that her mother and Falkor may have gotten lost and not found their way here. But as her eyes adapt to the darkness, she realises Falkor is lying asleep in the corner, underneath a blanket. Her mother is sitting next to him, keeping watch. She looks up at the silhouette in the cave mouth.
“You took your time getting here,” Amelia says.
Phoenix wants to lash out at her. To swear, to throw her bag across the cave, spilling its contents, to scream at the top of her voice and let her rage ebb. No, she will lock her anger inside for now, let it simmer.
“I had to take care of a few things,” Phoenix says, deadpan, not making eye contact, locking her swirling bitterness away.
The silence shimmers between them.
“What happened to this poor child?” Amelia fills the silence awkwardly, turning to him.
“I don’t know, and I probably never will. Trixie most likely knew, but she’s dead now,” Phoenix responds, pacing the walls of the cave. “They all are - except her. Perhaps when he is old enough to want to share the details, we can try to figure out a way to learn from him. But he cannot write, just as he cannot speak.”
Amelia’s eyes follow her daughter again as she paces. She says: “He’s remarkable. He healed my burns and I am no longer in pain. Though it made him tired.”
Phoenix turns to look outside the cave mouth, at the circle of stones again. She answers: “He is remarkable. He is very lucky to be alive. Him and I are the last two from the group still alive.”
Amelia looks down at Falkor, then back to her daughter.
“Phoe, by the Sunwell, what have you got yourself into…?” she asks, standing. “These past few years, what happened down there just now. Please, tell me everything.”
Phoenix takes a step forward towards her mother, speaking softly, curtailing the pain, the fire inside, not to wake Falkor.
“What have I got myself into? What have I done?” she asks, slowly pacing the cave again, turning her head to face her mother through the darkness. “No, no. You don’t get to do that. This is all your doing,” Phoenix adds, pointing at her mother aggressively. “From your whoring, to my birth, to the fucking thistle addiction, your kidnapping, to all the secrets that have been kept from me. Like my father, and my horror of a sister. And the other secret you kept from Norros - me. This is all on you. So tell me, what have you got me into?”
Phoenix folds her arms. Amelia blinks and sighs.
Phoenix doesn’t give her a chance to respond, throwing another question her way: “You can start by telling me about Leonidas Bloodheart.”
“How did you know…?” Amelia whispers, stunned.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Because he leads a life of danger,” Amelia responds. “Because I have spent my whole life trying to keep you from him, from heading down a similar path.”
Phoenix laughs, with disbelief and sarcasm.
“Are we not already on this path?” she asks, opening her arms before folding them again.
There is a silent pause, followed by a sudden outside gust of wind that howls gently through the cave mouth.
“I don’t want us to be, can’t you see that?” Amelia answers, her voice cracking as she begins to weep.
“I found out about ‘dad’ about half an hour ago,” Phoenix adds. “I stumbled across some letters he had sent to Trixie, the goblin who took me in. There, you happy now? He was Trixie’s boss and he has been looking for me. Apparently I’m in his image.”
Amelia wipes a tear away.
“You are,” she says, forging a weary smile. “Leon would sometimes dock at Silvermoon and visit the inn,” she explains, finally revealing the truth to her daughter after 17 years of her life. “We… had you. He’s the captain of a ship, he smuggles, he fights, he sails to distant lands. His crew are ruffians. I wanted to protect you from that life.”
Amelia turns away, facing the cave wall in shame.
“So I kept you from him, from Norros, from the world. I pretended you were adopted,” she continues. “In trying to keep the lie strong and avoid rousing suspicion from others, I didn’t want to show too much affection to you, to do too much with you. I know now that was a mistake.”
Amelia turns back to her daughter, breaking down again.
“I am sorry, Phoe, I wasn’t there for you!”
Part of Phoenix wants to embrace her mother, somewhat understanding her predicament, but she remains, arms folded, stubborn and hurting for being left in the dark for so long.
“I promise, there is not much else I know about your father,” Amelia adds, between sobs. “He’s charming, funny, brave… but greedy. His hair is summer fire, like yours. I can tell you about some of the places he told me he’s been to, the trouble he’s got himself into.”
Phoenix shakes her head.
“Another time, perhaps,” Phoenix says. “Anyway, he’s probably dead. Or lost at sea. Trixie hadn’t heard from him in months. Last she heard he was setting sail for somewhere called the Dragon Isles. Never heard from him again.”
“Can you see now why I did what I did?” Amelia asks. “That could have been you on that ship.”
Phoenix strokes her chin at that suggestion. If not for being reunited with her mother, her life would be as good as over. Why not embark on some kind of suicide mission, to take the slim chance of seeing the face of her father, to explore uncharted territories?
“Phoe, you being on that ship would not be a good thing,” Amelia adds, as if reading the thought process on her face.
Phoenix looks back at her mother, with defiance.
“Wouldn’t it?” she asks. “If my friends were still alive -”
Amelia interjects: “Were they really your friends, Phoe, or were they criminals?”
“You would know, wouldn’t you,” Phoenix replies, her voice rising. “Living with the Steelfeathers. Not all criminals are evil like they are.”
Amelia responds: “From what I heard, your lot were no better than them.”
Anger, pain and helplessness mingle within Phoenix. Her anger rises as the conversation takes a difficult turn - and Phoenix does not want to go along with it.
“Well, you heard wrong. I’m not having this conversation with you,” Phoenix says, but continues anyway, her voice rising with anger. “This past year and a half, I’ve been desperately trying to find you. I thought you were dead. Now I have you again and my friends are the ones that are dead!”
I wish you were dead instead of them, Phoenix thinks to herself in the heat of the moment. The thought hurts part of her and she knows it is wrong to think - and to say - so she keeps it on her tongue. She knows it will pass. But at this moment, she feels it nonetheless. A faint silence returns, broken quicker this time.
“I’m sorry Phoe, that was a little cold of me. I did not know them… I should be dead myself,” Amelia starts. She has stopped crying now. “What they did to me…”
“And so should I,” Phoenix replies, louder now.
Falkor stirs.
“Yet here we are,” Amelia says, looking down at Falkor and back at her daughter. “Thank the Sunwell.”
A thought crosses her mind; her face takes on a serious look as she speaks softly to Phoenix.
“Why don’t we say goodbye to them, properly? Together?”
“What do you mean, send them off?” Phoenix asks.
Amelia nods.
Phoenix thinks for a moment. It’s not as if they can just wheel a wagon-full of bodies into Silvermoon and lump them into a graveyard there themselves. And she doesn’t like the idea of Alexandra or anyone else coming across the bodies. It’s a good idea, she decides, perhaps it will even bring some closure.
“Yes,” Phoenix says, looking at Falkor asleep and feeling exhausted herself. She touches the keys to Fate in her pocket and feels reassured Alexandra cannot take the ship for herself.
“Let’s get some rest, wait until nightfall. I have some provisions with me, you must be starving, as am I.”


Back at the hideout, Alexandra discovers the bodies and chaos below. Upon seeing the death of her father and her friends, she does not shed a single tear. She knew she should have gone straight to Trixie’s hideout, but needed to head home to gather some provisions first.
Like Phoenix, a rage festers inside her. But unlike her sister’s, it is coiled with deep hatred and a lust for revenge, to make Phoenix truly suffer. She also wants to rectify her own mistakes: she should never have left Phoenix alone at the prison or stopped off at home to recover, before heading to Trixie’s hideout.
Alexandra wants nothing more than to end this once and for all. After reading some of the notes and letters in Trixie’s room and failing to find the key to her ship, Alexandra leaves the hideout and walks across the sands of Tranquil Shore to scout the surrounding area and nearby inns in search of Phoenix. She takes her father’s body back to the Steelfeather’s hideout and leaves him there. She will return to bury him properly once this is all over. She has one last location in mind.


Phoenix hadn’t heard the voices of her friends since seeing her mother again.
While dragging their bodies across the hideout and into the lift, she thinks she can hear whispers in her head, but can’t make out the words. As someone all too aware of the volatility of her mind, Phoenix tries to ignore it. Instead, she lets the numb nothingness sweep over her again as she takes her fallen friends out of the hideout and up into the sands of the Tranquil Shore.
The main feelings she can’t ignore are those of anger and hatred as she steps over the bodies of the Steelfeathers. Their eyes are shut and Norros is nowhere to be found. As expected, Alexandra has been here, and must have taken him with her. Phoenix doesn’t care. Let the other Steelfeathers rot down here, Phoenix decides. She contemplates filling in the hideout’s entrance to prevent anyone from giving them a proper burial or cremation. The other feeling she experiences is nausea, when taking what remains of Henry - a lump of charred meat - up onto the beach.
Phoenix, Amelia and Falkor gather sticks and logs from the nearby woods, using the hawkstriders to carry plenty back to the beach. They arrange a funeral pyre in front of the shack, looking out to sea.
Despite the circumstances, it is a beautiful evening in Quel’Thelas - one of the prettiest Phoenix has witnessed. There is a full moon in the twilight sky blanketing the horizon and the clean, dark waters are almost perfectly still tonight.
Falkor, in his brown robe and Amelia in her white shawl and robe, sit on the beach next to one another, holding hands. Amelia’s outfit flutters in a gentle breeze; Falkor’s face is somehow both cheerful yet juxtaposed with deep sorrow.
Falkor, unable to see, and Amelia, having not met Phoenix’s deceased friends in life, remain sitting, leaving Phoenix herself one last opportunity to bid farewell to those she would deem family.
Her stomach flutters as she slowly walks towards the pyre to say her final goodbyes. As she gets within touching distance of her friends, the words disappear. She looks longingly at the face of each, instead, before closing their eyes and moving to the next. Phoenix gently takes the golden inverted triangle brooch from Trixie’s boiled leather tunic. A slightly louder wave brushes onto the sand as she does so.
When she reaches Seven, she lingers and, out of respect for her dear friend, decides in the moment to respect one of his wishes. Phoenix takes the orcish dagger concealed within Seven’s mighty frame and passes it through her own belt, its hilt resting just above her waistline. She smiles, a little forcefully, a little awkwardly, before closing her eyes and turning back towards her mother and Falkor, fighting back the tears. It barely lasts 30 seconds, but ends up being the longest and hardest walk of her life.
Phoenix sits next to Falkor. The boy holds out his right hand and she takes it, the three of them connected, like an inverted triangle, strong and resilient. Bar one, they are all that’s left of this whole bloody ordeal.
They fought so we shall live, Phoenix thinks to herself, as she looks at the pyre. She wants to give a speech, to honour their lives, to give them a deserving send-off, but it is too painful to speak aloud and the words remain stuck in her throat. She closes her eyes and tilts her head downwards. Falkor notices this. His soft grip tightens ever so slightly in both his hands, as Amelia and Phoenix feel sudden warmth in his palms.
The pyre catches alight, gently, easily, with purpose. It spreads relatively quickly; flames dance across Trixie and her crew, caressing them. The fire is not angry, or harsh, or violent. It glows and grows in the night with nakedness, with purity. Smoke rises into the sea air.
Phoenix looks up. The flames flicker in her azure eyes, mirroring the water in front of her. She will never forget this moment, this image, for the rest of her life. But tears do not fall. Anger swells.
She breathes deeply. As her friends burn, she does a different kind of burning inside. She should be on that pyre too, she thinks to herself. She’d be with her friends, without pain, without torment.
Falkor feels the sweat on her palms. From the heat of the pyre, perhaps… or from her own volition. He sends a little calming energy her way, and she resists at first, but gradually accepts it.
As the hours pass and the night deepens, they sit together, in calm silence. Grey clouds waver overhead.
Phoenix pulls Trixie’s diary out of her bag and flicks through it. The most recent entry was written a few days ago. Phoenix skims through the page, not bothering to read it properly in the darkness, with the nearby fire occasionally lighting up parts of the text.
It reads:

Life is good. Thirteen sent another letter and another job for us today, with the promise of more gold.

I am over the captain now… I think. I have long accepted that he is not returning and to just build on what we have here. My ship Fate and his, the Fortune, will not sail together again. That makes me deeply sad.

Maybe I will suggest we move back to Stranglethorn over the coming months. I’ll have a good think about it. Silvermoon is not safe for Phoenix, Django or Seven. Booty Bay will be open to us, giving us more opportunities.

But for now, I will continue to grow the coffers with business here. Part of me wanted to find him, but I will not disobey him and the danger is too great. Perhaps with more crew… no, what am I thinking. Life goes on.

Phoenix flicks back to random pages through the diary, for mention of the captain, for mention of herself. She wears a frown as she reads.

...She fights like him. But her stance is less stable, her fighting more wild. She has potential, but her weakness is herself - and I have made her aware of this...

...She won’t like me keeping this secret from her. But when she meets him, I hope she finds it in her heart to forgive us...

...I’ve kept her gift from her father in the locked room on the ship, safe until his return, so he can give it to her in person...

“Phoenix,” Amelia’s voice cuts cooly through the air.
Her daughter turns her head to face her; Falkor is still nestled in between them but they are no longer holding hands. A piece of wood crackles loudly on the pyre.
“There’s something else you should know,” Amelia says, distracting her from the diary.
“Oh goody, more surprises from the locked box of my life,” Phoenix throws her hands up before closing the diary and placing it onto the sand. “It seems I’m always the last to know about myself.”
“I wanted to tell you when you came of age,” Amelia says, calmly. “But I didn’t get the chance to when I was kidnapped.”
Phoenix sighs in anticipation of what else she could possibly learn after the past 48 hours.
“When you were a little girl,” Amelia starts, “the day Norros swung you off his back onto the table…”
“I remember,” Phoenix says, facing the sea. “Though I wish I couldn’t.”
Amelia continues: “You were knocked out cold. The impact to your skull was so great…”
Falkor listens to Amelia as she speaks.
“We were so worried about you. I paid for one of the best doctors to look at you - he conducted tests and monitored you while you were unconscious. He thought we might lose you, or that you could have entered some kind of long-term coma. So I was relieved when, after two full days, you woke. But you weren’t the same.”
Amelia blinks and sighs, her face wearing a sad, helpless look. Phoenix listens.
“Your personality changed. Your inquisitive, happy nature turned into anxiety, to shyness. You would quarrel more, close yourself off. As you grew up, we grew distant. You were harder to connect with.”
Phoenix looks down and fidgets with her fingers.
“I know,” Phoenix says. “I hated your profession. The bloodthistle. I didn’t want to go down that road. I felt trapped in the tavern.”
Amelia ignores this.
“The doctor continued to monitor you for some time while you slept in the evening. He diagnosed you with severe brain damage. Said your personality may shift further, that your behaviour may become more erratic. He said your head injury would probably cause you to lose control of the part of your brain that handles fear and anger.”
Amelia looks down. “Knowing you now, I see that he is right,” she adds.
Phoenix says: “And why are you telling me this now?”
“I didn’t want to add to the problem, I wanted you to be a child, without extra worry on your shoulders.”
“Well,” Phoenix considers. “I have already learnt about it myself. And I have gotten better at controlling my anger recently - my friends helped me handle it. But who knows how I will cope without Seven around now? I do not fear things as I once used to, but the blackouts… they are frightening.”
“Blackouts?” Amelia asks.
“When I get extremely angry, or scared, or even confused, my mind… shuts down. I blackout. When I wake, I am often surprised or terrified by my own actions. But it doesn’t happen as often as it used to.”
A look of concern dawns over Amelia.
“I had the first one after you were taken by the Steelfeathers. Chrim showed me the note they left him. The next thing I know, I’m standing over his dead body.”
Amelia, stunned, says nothing. A wave washes onto the shore.
“Phoe, I’m not going to lie, this worries me deeply,” Amelia says. “The doctor said your brain damage would affect you in some way, but I didn’t expect this. People will hurt you in life. But your anger could hurt others even more, or worse, as you’ve just told me. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Falkor moves his right hand towards Phoenix again, reaching out to her. She takes his hand in hers.
“Falkor tried to look into my mind, I guess to heal it, when I first met him,” Phoenix says, looking from the little elf to her mother and back.
“He treated some minor injuries I had. After I ran away from the inn, from Chrim, to escape the city, I was ambushed by Norros, Alexandra and the Steelfeathers not far from here. They robbed me and she beat me up. Afterwards, Falkor healed my wounds. But as he was finishing, I felt a sharp pain in my mind. Like a bolt of electricity. It stopped him too,” Phoenix explains, looking back at Falkor. “Even our little magician here couldn’t fix my fucked-up brain.”
Amelia grimaces at the swearing. The boy, meanwhile, smiles in Phoenix’s direction, his head moving towards the sound of her voice. If he had eyes, Phoenix is sure they would be looking at her warmly, with kindness and a willingness to help. Falkor raises his left hand, inviting Phoenix to sit opposite him again, like they did when they first met.
“Do you want to try again, Falkor?” she asks him.
He nods, still smiling. Phoenix moves to sit opposite him and Amelia watches them with concern, with hope. The pyre crackles gently nearby. Falkor holds out his left hand and Phoenix holds it, entering into some kind of communion with the child again.
The force startles Phoenix and her eyes are forced shut, like last time. Falkor focuses, his smile fading from his lips. But unlike last time, Phoenix does not resist. She loosens her body and mind, wholly trusting her friend. The aches from Phoenix’s recent fighting dissipate. The healing energy flowing through Phoenix’s body slowly moves up towards her brain.
The flames flicker on the pyre beside them; the water laps onto the shore. A hawk cries overhead. Falkor’s head spasms as he enters a deep state of concentration.
A shiver rises from Phoenix’s lower back, up to her spine and into her mind. Where she felt burning pain before, she starts to feel clarity this time, even pleasantness. The tension from the magical bond eases into a wave of warmth as Phoenix senses her mind is being healed, albeit very gradually. She sees her life flash before her, backwards. The faces of her friends pop into her head, followed by her times with them, her training.
Phoenix is being carried in Seven’s arms again. She hears Trixie’s voice as if the goblin is still alive.
‘We should not stifle her anger, it’s a strength that should be encouraged.’
Phoenix turns around in her vision and sees Alexandra there smiling, instead of Trixie. She punches Phoenix in the face. Shocked, Phoenix gasps and pulls backwards, struggling to open her eyes, to withdraw her hands from Falkor’s.
She tumbles backwards onto the sand and Falkor cries out, startled by the interruption.
“What happened?” Amelia asks, concerned. She rushes over to Phoenix and lifts her up to a sitting position again. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Phoenix says, dusting the sand from her red top. “I’ve never been better,” she smiles at her mother, at Falkor.
The boy looks forlorn and confused.
“Don’t worry,” Phoenix says to Falkor, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It was working. But I chose to stop it.”
“What? Why?” Amelia asks.
Phoenix turns to her mother. She’s not sure she would understand.
“My mind may be a weakness,” Phoenix says, “But it is also a strength.”
She stands, looking at the burning funeral pyre.
“I realised, I am going to need my bloodlust, the red mist as Trixie called it, if I want to defeat Alexandra. It’s a risk, I know, but I feel it’s one I have to take.”
Phoenix stares blankly into the red and white flames in front of her.
“To use my rage as a weapon. Against her.”
“Phoenix, please don’t,” Amelia says, her voice wobbling with worry, stepping beside her daughter.
“And if I don’t,” Phoenix replies, turning to face her mother, “she will be allowed to torture, to make others suffer again. How long until she puts together another gang and controls Silvermoon’s underworld? She will come after me. After us both. I will live my entire life on the run, scared, with regret. And so will you.”
Amelia says nothing. Phoenix knows she can’t argue against that.
“We can hire someone to deal with her,” Amelia suggests. “Tell the guards? Get her arrested.”
Phoenix shakes her head.
“I’m also wanted by them. I’m going mother, and you can’t stop me. This is my fight,” Phoenix responds.
Amelia interjects, somewhat angrily: “She’s still my daughter!”
“No, she’s not,” Phoenix says calmly. “She’s Norros’ daughter, brainwashed by him to turn against you. A daughter doesn’t torture her own mother. She doesn’t allow her to be raped, to be-”
Amelia turns away, embarrassed, her face red with distress.
“Mother…” Phoenix says. “I will try to make her see reason. If she says she will change - and she has to properly convince me - I will let her live. I promise.”
Amelia nods.
“Please don’t kill each other, for the Sunwell’s sake, for my sake… You’re all I have left.”
Phoenix embraces her. She says gently in her mother’s ear: “And when I return, Falkor can finish what he started. Once and for all, my mind will be right again.”
Amelia stares into her daughter’s eyes. There is hope in Amelia’s eyes, mingled with fear, with a mother’s concern. She nods.
“I know where she will be,” Phoenix says. “I must not waste any more time. Wait in the cave with the boy again. I will return by tomorrow morning.”
Amelia does not fight. She does not argue. She simply hugs her daughter again, briefly, with urgency. Phoenix packs her things and pats Falkor on the head as she walks away from them, towards Sunsail Anchorage.
“See you soon, little one,” she smiles.
Falkor gurgles back at her.
After ten paces, Phoenix stops. She turns around to see her mother smiling worriedly back at her, as the flames and smoke rising into the grey sky behind her.
“Would you say I’m more a Bloodheart, or a Dreamfoil?” Phoenix asks.
Amelia says nothing. Her smile remains but part of her face takes a sad turn. They both know the answer.

Chapter XXXI: Blood and water (reprise)

Darkness has fallen and she walks alone, her black boots stomping hard into the sand. Alexandra is determined to seek out any information of the captain’s whereabouts from the ship, to take whatever goods she can from it and outright steal it if possible.
The slim elf, dressed in black leather with white curls tumbling down her back, looks up, the moonlight twinkling in her eyes, filled with hatred. The old, unwelcoming ship, anchored by the water’s edge, ignores her.
The twilight sky blends with the midnight blue water below, perfectly still and calm, the tide lapping gently onto the shore. Grey clouds loom overhead.
As she takes her first few steps onto the wooden deck, the spurs on her boots ring gently across the ship. She pauses, as her instincts take over. It is too quiet. Alexandra listens to the creak of the ship, the stroke of the waves onto the shore. She feels a spit of rain on her forehead. These noises evaporate as a whooshing sound rushes towards her.
She instinctively dives to the side, narrowly avoiding Phoenix’s surprise attack from the crow’s nest. The ginger-haired elf had used her cloak to wrap around a rope and swing down towards Alexandra. But she misses. Phoenix hits the deck hard and rolls forward, cushioning her fall.
The two half-sisters rise in sync, turning to face one another. They are of similar height and frame, two silhouettes locked by fate. Like the water below shares itself with the entire sea, unwittingly, they share their mother’s blood with one another, unwillingly.
They stand still in silence, as fresh rain begins to fall, lightly tapping on the wooden deck beneath their boots. They stare into each others’ eyes with disdain, the moment lingering and tension growing as each elf considers when to make their move.
Rage bubbles slowly inside one, hatred in the other, as they begin to circle one another.
Phoenix speaks, through her red bandit mask, with spite and anger: “After all you’ve done, you dare to set foot here as well.”
Alexandra responds with a sarcastic curtsy, the grin on her pale face belying a lust for violence.
Anger swells in Phoenix. She pulls Heart from its red and gold scabbard. Alexandra follows, removing her lightweight rapier from black boiled leather.
“I look forward to the small ounce of joy your death will bring after what you’ve done,” Phoenix adds, her voice quivering. “You have taken so much…”
The patter of rain on wood grows more frequent as it continues to fall, slightly heavier now.
“And you from me,” Alexandra replies. “But I shall take it back tonight, and kill you,” she adds, a smile curling the edge of her lips upwards as the words linger, masking her own hatred and sorrow. “Just like the others.”
The rage boiling beneath red leather reaches the surface and Phoenix bellows in anger, her battle-shout hanging in the air as she strikes forward, forcing her enemy into a parry. The pair lock swords and deflect each other’s blows in quick succession as the sound of steel on steel breaks the peace of the water’s edge.
Phoenix’s rage is flowing freely now, her mind losing consciousness, completely seized by the red mist of fury that glazes over her eyes. Her subconscious mind is now in total control of her actions. The rainfall gradually transitions into a downpour.
Phoenix loses herself in the moment as the pair fight. Steel on steel, blood on blood, elf on elf. Everything goes black.


The next thing Phoenix knows, her head is throbbing. When she returns to her senses, Alexandra is on top of her, straddling her.
Phoenix looks up to see a face twisted with envy and loathing, and a fist slamming down towards her, right between the eyes.
For a split-second she wonders how she got caught up in such chaos and danger. Phoenix braces for impact, moves her arms up in front of her face and closes her eyes. Her life flashes before her.
Alexandra’s right fist connects with Phoenix’s palms. Her left fist bypasses them, a sharp hook jutting into her cheek. Her right fist is back again before Phoenix can react, this time an uppercut to her jaw. Pain rings across her face.
Phoenix has to act quickly. She raises her knees into a bridge and uses her core strength to push her hips up. This moves Alexandra forward and she is forced to keep her balance by holding her arms out and letting her palms fall to the floor, keeping her upright. Phoenix quickly pulls Alexandra’s left arm towards her, knocking her off-balance again, before turning over onto her knees. This turns the tables, putting Alexandra below her.
This movement means Phoenix isn’t in the same position as Alexandra was moments before. Now, Alexandra’s legs are on either side of Phoenix’s hips, rather than below them. While this gives Phoenix more control, it also extends the distance between her face and Alexandra’s, making it harder for Phoenix’s punches to connect. Regardless, it’s Alexandra’s turn to raise her hands in defense, with her half-sister on the offensive.
Phoenix uses the opportunity gained from the surprise move to take a quick look to her left, as she throws a punch towards Alexandra’s face with her right hand. The elf below moves her head to the side. Phoenix sees her sword, and Alexandra’s, lying on the ship deck a few feet away to her left, just out of reach. Distracted, her punch connects weakly with Alexandra’s ear.
Looking back towards her enemy, Phoenix throws a left hook towards Alexandra’s face, and another from her right. The left connects; the right is blocked by a palm. Phoenix continues to punch, left and right, in violent harmony, attempting to connect with Alexandra’s face or skull to do any kind of serious damage she can. Alexandra does well to shield most of the incoming blows, but a few stray punches connect. A spit of blood hits the deck, quickly washed up by the heavily falling rainwater.
The physical exertion from Phoenix’s blackout and all the arm swinging begins to ache. Alexandra begins wriggling left and right as she attempts to flip on top of her sister again.
Frowning, Phoenix rolls off her sister and towards the swords. She gets to her feet and grabs her own rapier, as Alexandra rises. The other sword is at an awkward angle - its hilt is furthest away from her than the blade - and the few extra seconds it would take for Phoenix to pick it up puts her off from doing so. She turns quickly, pointing her sword outwards towards her target, forcing Alexandra to take a few backsteps. She bumps into the beam of the ship’s mast.
Alexandra suddenly conjures a minor fire spell and propes it towards Phoenix. The piece of dark iron nullifies it, as does the rain water, and Phoenix realises her foe must only have a basic aptitude of magic. Still, the sudden display of magic shocks her. Phoenix tries to stay calm, holding her sword out, walking slowly towards her arch enemy. Alexandra quickly pivots and dashes towards the wheel of Fate, running up the ship’s left-hand stairs to get to it. She holds the ship’s helm in her hands.
Phoenix continues walking cautiously towards Alexandra. As she begins walking up the steps towards the wheel, she says: “You take your filthy hands off that wheel. You’re not fit to even clean it.”
Alexandra says nothing. As Phoenix walks up the left-most steps towards the wheel, Alexandra slithers her way down the steps on the other side. Phoenix sees what she’s doing, trying to keep a safe distance from her, and swiftly moves in the opposite direction, back down the left-hand steps and towards the right-hand ones. Alexandra moves herself back behind the ship’s wheel again, safe from Phoenix. She handles the wheel this time, on purpose, rocking it to the right and left to anger Phoenix.
It works.
Phoenix cries out in frustration. She starts running up the right-hand steps towards her half-sister, who pelts down the left-hand steps towards her own rapier.
Realising her mistake, Phoenix does what she shouldn’t: allows her rage to cascade. She turns on her heels and dashes past the mast’s wooden beam towards her target, Heart in hand. Alexandra reaches her own sword and lifts it with poise and grace, turning to her sister - just in time. Phoenix makes a lightning fast swipe but Alexandra just manages to kiss the steel with her rapier, deflecting it. Phoenix pivots and steadies herself, breathing heavily. She holds her sword aloft normally, trying to catch her breath and calm herself. Her breaths lengthen and slow slightly as she circles her sister, the pair of them on the centre of the ship’s deck.
Alexandra, on the other hand, has greater control. Her breathing is quiet, her mind is focused and her stance composed. She lifts her rapier up at 90 degrees, then raises it slightly higher than usual, before pointing it downwards towards Phoenix. She holds her stance proudly, patiently. It is an arrogant pose and further aggravates her sister, who lashes out with a series of sword swipes, expertly deflected by Alexandra.
Phoenix moves to mirror her sister’s aggressive pose. As she’s half-way through changing stance, Alexandra quickly lunges forward, catching Phoenix off-guard. She manages to evade the attack by squeezing her body one way, avoiding the point of Alexandra’s rapier, which would have impaled her upper arm.
Alexandra attacks again without mercy a few more times, putting Phoenix on the back foot, forcing her to parry. Phoenix steps backwards as she goes on the defensive, steel ringing against steel as rain continues to fall. Alexandra attacks with control and balance; Phoenix uses her strength to focus and whip her sword in retaliation, blocking the blows. She watches Alexandra’s free arm and looks at how it’s moving in relation to her sword arm. Her style is not easy to read; she doesn’t follow the traditional techniques Trixie taught her. Nervousness creeps in.
Phoenix backs away again, getting flustered but holding steady. She realises she is close to the edge of the boat and must change pace. She deflects an attack then attempts a risky swipe of her own to the base of Alexandra’s sword, in an attempt to destabilise her and buy a few seconds of time. She misses, and Alexandra swipes again towards Phoenix’s upper torso.
Phoenix ducks and swivels at the same time, narrowly avoiding the attack. Alexandra’s sword cuts through some of the ship’s netting. She withdraws for a moment and considers her next attack. In the dark of the night, for a split second moonlight catches the side of Alexandra’s face. Phoenix notices the malevolence and loathing there and her heartbeat kicks up a notch.
Phoenix steps back, putting a bit of distance between the two. She feels a minor pang of fearful determination within her heart. She cannot lose this fight. She must win for her mother’s sake, for Falkor’s sake. Alexandra would surely come after them if she kills Phoenix. Then there’s the crew’s legacy and, dare she think it, her father’s. These are reasons to fight, they are motivation, but they are also a weight on Phoenix’s shoulders, they are pressure. She is still confident, but it is buoyed by her faith in the crew’s training and her inner rage, it does not come truly from within. It is not natural courage. But still, she places faith in her anger.
Alexandra, on the other hand, has nothing left to lose. Her arrogance is natural, Phoenix decides. It is a part of her, just like the scarred tattoo of the feather on her neck, a flawed quality but one that has endured for years.
The arrogance strikes at faith. It holds. It parries. The arrogance swings again and again. The faith taps against it and parries once more. It can withstand it, but fighting back against it is difficult. The arrogance is still. It bides its time, waiting for faith to strike. It does not. It knows that’s what the arrogance wants. So it remains still too.
During this brief moment of solace, the arrogance smirks. Faith is resilient, but a little helpless. The nervousness churns upwards in Phoenix’s stomach again, her rage fading. It is quickly replaced by fear.
There is no time to think. The arrogance lashes, like flames being fanned, as if it can smell fear. The fear recoils, standing up against it. The attacks come swiftly now, forcing fear to do what it can not. To focus, to use every drop of knowledge absorbed from training, to study its foe, try and learn and better its fighting style, to deflect and think about attacking, to fight, or take flight. All while carrying the weight of vengeance on its shoulders. The arrogance does none of this. It just assumes. It assumes it is the better fighter, the superior being, the one who will win the fight. The fear rises still, drowning out the rage.
Doubt creeps into Phoenix’s mind. She realises Alexandra is the superior swordfighter. She has probably been skilled with the sword most of her life, Phoenix just under a couple of years. But yet, she holds her fear, tries to steady her concentration and just focus on deflecting and evading, while looking for an opening. She is struggling to deflect Alexandra’s blows. She is losing the fight. And that angers her.
As the rage is lit again inside, it reminds Phoenix why she is fighting. Of her dead friends, of her mother’s kidnapping and torture, of Phoenix being robbed by the Steelfeathers and their unwarranted hostility towards her. Of Thirteen’s betrayal. She sees his disgusting, cocky face in her mind and for a moment feels like she is fighting him, not Alexandra.
The rage flickers into life. Phoenix takes two quick, long side steps away from Alexandra, who stops and watches, then continues forward. The rage surges. The fear shrivels. But the arrogance still assumes. It is surprised.
Phoenix pirouettes away and sweeps her sword wide, through the narrowest of openings between Alexandra’s sword and her body. Heart comes dangerously close to the heart beating in Alexandra’s chest. She recoils and attacks with hatred. But the distance between the pair is great and Phoenix can study the attack with deeper insight. She moves an inch to her left, allows the attack and brushes it aside. Phoenix invites Alexandra - who is keen to reestablish dominance in the swordfight - to strike again. She parries this attack once more, but this time does not step back. Alexandra ends the move within touching distance of Phoenix, who makes a purposefully weak stab of her sword. Alexandra easily swipes it aside and pushes Phoenix with her free hand.
But Phoenix wanted this to happen. She moves back before Alexandra’s hand connects with her body. Alexandra stumbles forward and hastily brings her sword down towards Phoenix in a desperate lunge. Phoenix, still standing in the same spot, leans back, easily deflects the blow but does not block its momentum. Instead, she allows the force of Alexandra’s swing to continue. Phoenix raises her rapier above Alexandra’s and pushes it in a downward motion. Alexandra, still stepping forwards unwillingly, brings her sword hand close to her sister to defend herself.
Phoenix grabs Alexandra’s hand and pulls it towards her, along with her sword, underneath Phoenix’s armpit. She uses the sword in her other hand to help riposte and prize her sister’s sword free, taking it for herself in her right hand, spinning around and turning to face Alexandra with two swords. Her satisfaction from the manoeuvre is ever so brief - Alexandra instantly pulls a shortsword from within her black tunic and swings it down towards Phoenix in the same motion.
Phoenix, forced to wield two rapiers for the very first time in real combat, holding one in each hand, instinctively crosses them over and lifts the hilts up. This makes the blades drop, catching Alexandra’s sword in a single makeshift net of steel, deadening the blow.
Alexandra retracts the weapon and Phoenix immediately makes a double attack with the two rapiers. Alexandra easily blocks the two with her shortsword and goes on the attack again towards Phoenix, forcing her to defend. The pair near the front end of the ship.
As she has barely practiced with two swords at once in the past, uncertainty enters Phoenix’s mind again. She forces herself to think of Thirteen, to keep her anger flowing and her attacks come more naturally as her confidence grows. She swings with one sword, jabbing with the other, sometimes cutting both through the air one after another in a heavier attack, before spinning around with the force of it. Alexandra is forced back and to respond quicker with her single blade.
Phoenix’s fighting style is wild and unorthodox. To Alexandra it may look impressive, Phoenix guesses, but in truth, she is relatively incompetent. Her will, her anger and her luck all combine in this moment to make her appear a steadfast, experienced fighter with both rapiers. The arrogance in Alexandra is surprised, almost sated by her opponent.
Phoenix throws a flurry of attacks towards Alexandra, a mix of single jabs, double-swings, testing jabs and simple cuts. The speed and ferocity of the blows make it difficult for Alexandra to deal with. Phoenix makes another double swing and while Alexandra blocks the first sword with her own, the second slices into her left arm, her free arm. This wound slows the parries and swings of the shortsword in her other arm, and Phoenix finally gets the better of her.
The wooden deck, slick with rain, makes it harder for the elves to move quickly and maintain their grip. Alexandra deflects another blow, loses her footing and is struck by Phoenix again, this time chopping a layer of black leather and skin from her stomach, drawing blood. The wound is not deep, but it is enough to bring Alexandra to the deck.
She looks up at her half-sister, with further surprise and, for the first time, Phoenix thinks, perhaps it is her turn to feel fear. She says nothing, holding her small wounds, in pain. Phoenix stands over her, breathing heavily, holstering her own blade and holding Alexandra’s aloft, pointing it towards its owner. With slight arrogance herself, she motions it to the left, prompting Alexandra to slide her own shortsword away, out of reach. Phoenix points the blade at her sister again.
The pair remain in this moment for what seems like an age, but is only 10 seconds or so. Phoenix, despite all her rage and her determination, hesitates. She brings the sword closer to Alexandra’s neck, implying an impending death blow is about to follow, but in her mind she takes a moment to think as she catches her breath, her ginger hair wet with rain, stuck to the back of her red tunic. In the darkness and the wet, it is difficult to see where her hair ends and the tunic begins.
Humility ebbs her rage away. She thinks about her mother’s words, her plea not to kill Alexandra. We are still sisters, Phoenix thinks to herself. I may have changed, but I am still the same person I was years ago, before mother was taken. What would the young Phoenix think of me right now? Killing a killer, stooping to her level. Perhaps I could just maim her, make her incapable of using her hands, so she cannot attack or threaten or torture ever again.
“You’ve lost,” Phoenix says, withdrawing her blade. “Get out of here, leave this life behind and do not ever find me or my mother again. If I see you, I will kill you. There will be no second chance.”
The rain angrily lashes down.
“Do you understand me, sister?” Phoenix adds.
Alexandra remains in place, sitting up on the deck of the ship. She watches the rapier as it’s lowered and looks down at the rain splashing onto the floor. Her eyes glance upwards at her sister’s for a second, before looking down again. Phoenix sees her mother in Alexandra for the first time. Her ugly nose is her father’s, but her eyes, her contours, are similar.
Phoenix holds out her hand. This was not part of the plan, Phoenix thinks to herself.
Alexandra hesitates. She looks at the hand, the red fingerless gloves, the fingers themselves. They are younger, smoother than her own. Phoenix knows she has shamed her again, taken her dignity, her pride, and she knows that will make Alexandra hate her even more. But she’s giving her a chance to make amends. To live. A better life.
Alexandra reaches out, reluctantly. She takes her sister’s hand. As she stands, she pulls Phoenix’s hand back down with all her strength. Phoenix, unprepared, a teenager with a light frame, still naive despite all her trials and training, is punished for showing mercy to a calculated and cunning fighter. As Alexandra rises, Phoenix falls. She hits the deck and in her panic, tries to recover, to twist herself upright, to move away from Alexandra. She slips.
Alexandra thumps the back of Phoenix’s head with her tightly closed fist. The blow is not unlike the time Phoenix was thrown head-first into the table back at the inn as a little girl, years ago. Another Steelfeather, another time, another knockout.
Fate groans.

Chapter XXXII: A silent call

Phoenix is sitting in the tent of the old fortune teller at Sunsail Anchorage. It is silent and shrouded in darkness, save for a lone candle on the table in front of her, which is almost at the end of its wick.
The table is not the opulent glass one she sat at before. This is old, small, circular and wooden, ridden with splits and cracks, making the surface rough and uneven. A rat scurries across the floor.
There is no chair like before, either. Phoenix is instead sitting on a wobbly stool. She thinks there is a seat opposite her, but it’s far away from her and she cannot see clearly in the darkness. The tent seems larger than before, too.
Despite all the differences, Phoenix knows this is the fortune teller’s tent. But she is by herself, accompanied only by three cards face-down on the table in front of her.
She turns over the one to her left. Phoenix frowns, she cannot make out the image. It’s not for the lack of light, it looks faded, etched and pale, almost glowing. She thinks she can make out something golden with some jewels in it. There is possibly a sword nearby but she can’t be sure.
Phoenix suddenly becomes aware it is raining outside. The water pelts onto the fabric of the tent. She feels sheltered, safe, warm. But there is a sickly, foreboding smell.
It takes her a while to turn over the middle card. Something is holding her back. She is also distracted. There is a figure sitting opposite her, in the darkness, she is sure of that now. Though she cannot see it clearly, she feels certain it has beautiful golden hair and a finely embroidered shirt. Its presence is familiar, soothing even.
She turns over the middle card.
Again, the card is extremely difficult to make out, it is so faded. She thinks there is a small rowboat and someone on it… the mother and daughter. This time it is not upside down, it is upright. Hope flickers inside Phoenix, but for what, she is unsure.
Phoenix flinches. She feels something tapping on her head. She looks up and cannot make out the top of the tent, it is so dark, but it seems like the rainwater is getting in, there must be a hole in the tent. The rain sounds louder now. She doesn’t mind.
Phoenix feels an urgency to turn the third card over and so she does, quickly. This one is much clearer than the two cards which came before it. The image is of... a golden cup. Overflowing with water.
She hears the tent ripping above her and more water gushes in. The rain seems torrential, but she doesn’t mind. It soaks through her clothes as she sits in the tent, trying to make out the figure opposite her. He is clearer now, smiling at her. She tries to focus on his face, but it is a blur.
She thinks she can hear something else, above the noise of the rain. A voice?
The candle struggles to remain alight as it reaches the end of its wick, the drops of rain largely avoiding it so far, but threatening to snuff it out. Yet still it burns.
The voice is Seven’s. A flood of emotions race through her as the rainwater continues tapping away on her head. Grief, love, excitement, fear, hope. He is calling to her - and she desperately wants to come to him.
There is another. His voice is joined by Trixie’s… and Django’s. All of the crew in fact. They are calling her name, but they are dead, aren’t they?
The figure in front of her is saying her name too, but his voice is not his own. It is the combined voices of her crew.
‘Phoenix’, the voices repeat, softly, in whispers, over and over, like a collective unyielding consciousness.
There is another voice, cutting through the others, sharply, painfully, like a knife scratching across a chalkboard. It is Alexandra’s. She is telling her to get up.
The ceiling collapses; rainwater smothers Phoenix.
Somehow, the candle is still burning.

Chapter XXXIII: Heart and Hate

“Get up,” Alexandra says harshly, in anger.
She has won the fight, though she didn’t do so fairly. That annoys her somewhat.
Phoenix is also not as light as she seems. Alexandra has never found dragging bodies fun, but she needs to move her to a secluded place before spilling her guts and ensuring her heart beats its last.
She gives up lifting Phoenix by her armpits and moves her by her feet instead. She begins dragging the body towards the door to the lower deck. The thought of throwing her unconscious sister overboard to drown is wickedly tempting, but ultimately foolish. A drowned body full of water is a heavy body, and she is heavy enough.
She will be out cold for hours, so I will have more than enough time to break open the door and move her to a quiet place first, Alexandra thinks to herself.


A normal mind may have been knocked out for hours. But Phoenix doesn’t have a normal mind. Hers is fractured, imperfect.
Free from her dream, Phoenix blinks and feels the water soaking through her clothes. Reality comes crashing towards her. She gasps and realises where she is.
Phoenix kicks her left foot, followed by her right, towards Alexandra.
Stunned, her sister falls forwards to the floor and grabs hold of Phoenix’s neck with her hands. She begins strangling Phoenix, gripping her neck tightly, her eyes an inferno of intense hatred.
Phoenix chokes. She tries to punch Alexandra in the face, but she evades it easily and sits back, keeping her arms stretched out as she strangles. Phoenix desperately looks for her weapon and cannot see it.
No. She looks for it, but while her rapier is not there, she sees. She doesn’t need to find her rapier. Because she sees, she remembers, and hope flickers, despite her vision swimming, her breath failing. For one of the first times in her life, without looking, she properly sees. There is no rage here now, just a calm, assertive realisation.
Struggling, Phoenix sneaks her left hand beneath her tunic, and grips. She removes it again, with great effort and determination - and thrusts Seven’s dagger deep into the heart of arrogance, of hatred, above her.
Alexandra lets out a sharp cry of pain, followed by a sharp intake of breath, as she releases Phoenix. Her lifeblood swims onto her sister, onto the deck as blood blends with water. Phoenix twists the knife and pushes her off to one side.
Alexandra breathes her final breaths. She remains still as death comes for her quickly. Too quick a death for someone as evil as her, Phoenix thinks to herself, as she coughs and catches her own breath, face down on the watery deck of Fate.
She pulls herself up, soaked, tired and physically and mentally drained. As she leans on the edge of the ship’s wooden railing, she thinks about all of the needless death and loss she has experienced over the past couple of days, including her own dicing with death. She sheds a single tear, which is swiftly washed away by the rain. Her sadness is replaced with immense relief.
Phoenix walks to Alexandra’s lifeless body and leans over her. She pulls off her brown leather boots, rather forcefully.
“I think these belong to me,” she says, finally reclaiming what was taken from her the day Alexandra and Norros assaulted her on the outskirts of Eversong Forest.
Phoenix looks down at her own red boots, dyed by her and Trixie. On second thought, she thinks to herself, she prefers what she has now. Maybe she will keep her old ones as a spare pair. The mundane thought distracts her mind from her brush with death. She drops the boots. Her eyes fall to something else on the deck: Alexandra’s rapier. She walks over to it and picks it up, holding it slightly aloft.
Phoenix never had a chance to look at it properly before. Not that she’d want to. But curiosity gets the better of her. She studies it and finds herself angered by its mere presence. Like an extension of Alexandra, the blade feels arrogant in her hand. Spiteful, with hatred. It is more ornate and shinier than her own. The silver guard above the hilt is brash and bold, coiling around itself multiple times, like a snake. On closer inspection, there are gaps within the thin circular guard as it circles around itself, leaving the user open to attacks to the hand, Phoenix realises a little late after the fight. The rapier’s handle is wrapped in black leather. The sword is pompous and cocky. She doesn’t like it. And yet. If she is to improve her swordfighting in the future, she should practice dual-wielding. And if she doesn’t like it, she can always sell it. She’s sure it could fetch a decent price.
Phoenix forces herself to slide the sword into the left side of her belt. Part of her feels wrong for doing so, another part tells her it is right.
Her mind traces back to Trixie’s advice - that every weapon needs a name. This one falls easily into Phoenix’s mind.
Hate. There can be no other word for it, bar arrogance, but that’s a little long, she thinks to herself. And it doesn’t capture its previous owner’s entire nature. She picks up her own sword up from the floor and it feels more comfortable, satisfying even. She withdraws it into her scabbard.
Heart and Hate. Two swords, perfectly at odds with one another.
In taking her sister’s blade, she knows she is taking part of her sister with her. ‘Alexandra’s hate will live on through me’, she thinks to herself, and though she doesn’t like the thought, she feels it is necessary somehow.
Is hate so different from the anger that fuels her in battle? Life is not always what you want it to be, she understands. In having this sword by her side, it will act as a constant reminder of this, a reminder that with the good comes the bad. Perhaps understanding this, with both swords by her side, it may help give her some kind of bitter harmony. A jagged sort of balance. A way to overcome whatever tribulations life - fate - may throw her way.
She looks out to sea, the rain falling hard onto her hair, her face, her clothes and her swords. Though she doesn’t quite feel reborn, she feels as if she’s been granted a second chance.
Curious as to what lies below deck that Django hinted about, she heads down the steps and uses Trixie’s key to unlock the door, before opening it and softly clicking it closed behind her. She walks quietly down more steps inside the ship and along the corridor, through the mess room.
A goblin awakes, startled. He makes a sudden movement in surprise and stares at Phoenix, a bloodied, messy elf in red.
She lowers her mask and rings her hair, gently, sending water and blood dripping onto the floor. She does so with confidence, as if the goblin isn’t there, but she spots him as she does so.
He lights a torch by the wall and she turns to look at him again.
“You’re Trixie’s girl,” he says. “What are you doin’ here?”
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” she responds.
A few other ship repairers begin to stir. They listen to Phoenix’s full story as she relays it honestly and painfully. She shows them the letters, Trixie’s inverted triangle brooch and her new sword, gaining their trust.
After telling the story, she throws the keys of Fate to the first goblin who awoke.
“Sorry, miss,” he says, looking down at the keys. “As much as I’d like to sell the ship and take the coin for myself, it’s not mine to sell.”
He throws them back to Phoenix, underarm, and she catches them awkwardly, before looking up at him again.
“With Trixie dead, and the captain gone, you’re the next in line,” he continues. “Ship’s yours. As are we - as long as you pay us of course.”
She doesn’t outwardly react. But inside, despite everything, a flutter of hope rises. A chance to make anew, start over again.
“Tomorrow, we set sail for Stranglethorn. I want a list of everyone who knew my father,” she says.
“Yes captain,” the goblin responds.

Chapter XXXIV: From the ashes

Phoenix returns to the cave, carrying Alexandra’s body with her.
Her mother and Falkor are sitting by a fire in the centre of the cave. They look up as she enters and Amelia’s first emotion is one of grief.
Amelia looks battered by emotions as she tries to take stock of the situation. She looks at Phoenix again, who is wearing a golden brooch and has her sister’s blade by her side.
Amelia smiles through the tears.
Phoenix knows running through the specifics of what happened is not necessary. But she accepts she must do one more thing - her mother deserves it.
“I tried, mother, but she wouldn’t listen…” she starts. “Why don’t we say goodbye to her, properly?”
“Together,” Amelia adds, nodding.
The trio return to the pyre at the Tranquil Shore. All that’s left of her old friends at this point are ashes and embers.
She asks her mother to gather the ashes as she’s not sure she could do it herself.
Amelia obliges, placing them into a large, curved sea shell, which holds them well. Phoenix and Falkor sit together on the sand, in solemn thought.
Once they are cleared, Phoenix gently rests her half-sister atop the pyre, and the three of them gather wood once more to relight it.
As darkness turns to light, as night turns to day, as the grey clouds shift and the sun beams across the horizon, a new chapter dawns in the story of their lives. They sit together, in relative silence, as Phoenix contemplates the past and worries about the future.
Phoenix speaks for a moment, telling her mother and Falkor about the ship and her plans to sail to Stranglethorn - without them.
He holds his hands out to her, implying another attempted healing session and Phoenix shakes her head.
“Sorry, little one,” she says. “I changed my mind. I need to accept who I am. My mind is a hazard, but it’s mine to deal with. It’s also a strength. I need to be aware of that and take care of it myself.”
He nods in understanding. Amelia starts to protest, but seems to change her mind and stops abruptly. Phoenix hugs both of them, with love, real love, and is genuinely sad to be leaving them. But she knows what she must do.
Phoenix leaves her mother with a generous stash of gold, taken from Trixie’s coffers, more than enough to rent an inn room for a few months or so while she finds her feet. Phoenix encourages her mother to lead a life without prostitution, without drugs. Amelia agrees to try her best, to take care of Falkor with a clear mind.
Phoenix assures them she will stay in touch, to send them a letter soon with an address they can use to reach her should they need.
“I promise I will return,” Phoenix says, hugging her mother one last time.
Amelia runs her hand through Phoenix’s ginger hair and brushes her cheek, before kissing her gently on the forehead.
“You better,” she says.
Falkor makes a sad yet buoyant noise and hugs Phoenix. She embraces him and strokes his head.
“Take care of yourselves.”
And with that, she leaves.
She is glad to be rid of Silvermoon, to be away from her own kind. When she thinks of other high elves, she thinks of Alexandra, of Thirteen, of her mother - and father. Of arrogance, of betrayal, of lies and addiction. It is the start of a series of events that would see her grow to deeply resent her own kind.
It’s true that Trixie and the crew kept things from her as well, but they also gave her belief, hope, friendship. If her father hadn’t gone missing, she’s almost certain they would have reunited sooner and would have given her the truth. At least that’s what she tells herself.


Back in Silvermoon, a royal guard is putting up a wanted poster on the wall of an inn. It is that of an angry-looking young elf, quickly sketched, with the following words stamped above and below the image:

Wanted: Dead or alive

Phoenix Dreamfoil, female, teen

Extremely dangerous and unstable outlaw

Wanted for murder, theft, arson, fraud, assault and battery. 100g reward

In all the death and misadventure, Phoenix had almost entirely forgotten she was a wanted woman. Something she will be painfully reminded of in the years to come.
Following the deaths of the Steelfeathers and most of Trixie’s crew, the door is open for other opportunists and criminals to fill the gap they left in their wake. New gangs and peddlers rise up to secure their share of the black markets and Silvermoon’s underbelly, though over the coming months, tales of a young woman in red would sow fear amongst thieves and other criminals.
Unbeknownst to her, Phoenix would become somewhat of an urban legend in Silvermoon, that should any criminals commit acts of evil that upset the elf in red, then they would risk unleashing her fury - and their deaths. There’s a sweet irony of a wanted fugitive unknowingly keeping other criminals in line.
Phoenix returns to her Fate and makes preparations to depart for Stranglethorn. Later that evening, as her curiosity gets the better of her, she goes below deck alone and unlocks the door marked with a black inverted triangle. It is a small store room and, at first, she feels disappointment wash over her. It appears devoid of anything relevant to her.
Then, after lighting a candle and rummaging through odds and ends, she finds a large box with a slip of paper wedged inside, spilling out. ‘Phoenix’ is written on the paper, in Trixie’s hand. This must be what Django mentioned.
Phoenix lifts the box - which is ordinary and unassuming - and the paper falls to the floor. She sets the box on a nearby shelf and opens it, slowly.
Something glints in the candlelight as she opens it. She looks inside and there are two objects facing one another, a decoration of gold, red and white. It’s not until she lifts one out does she see it’s a beautiful set of shoulderguards.
The guards are perfectly symmetrical. Each one is a piece of plate armour carefully shaped into the face of a bird. A phoenix.
The shoulderguards are deep red, with a gold trim, and the eyes of each phoenix appear to be diamonds. They are utterly beautiful.
Though Phoenix does not visibly react to what she holds in her hands, she is enamoured by them. Her eyes drink in their splendour as she turns them over and examines them closely. When light hits them, they do not glint brightly like a well-polished shield; they shimmer dimly like a forest fire burning in the distance. They almost feel warm to touch, as if they have been somehow infused with the heat of whatever forge they were crafted in, though Phoenix expects it’s probably just because this room is stuffy and sickly warm.
She loves them. They are easily the most expensive items she owns and the most wonderful gift she has received. Though they are heavier than she would like, and a little large, she’s sure she’ll grow into them. And of course, the deep, warm, shimmering red complements her fiery nature.
She wears them instantly, with pride, with optimism. She is just sad she cannot thank whoever gave them to her. As she’s about to close the box, she realises there’s something else inside. A note. It reads:


This is the gift I mentioned for Phoenix. Made fresh from the fires of Ironforge. I want you to look after this until I return so I can present it to her in person. Maybe find a nicer box too.

Train her hard, treat her well.

Leonidas Bloodheart

So few words, Phoenix thinks to herself, but there’s so much more beyond the writing. She folds the note and adds it to her stash of other letters.
Phoenix walks to the upper deck of the ship. As she emerges from below, the goblins above deck look at her and the shoulderguards with wonder, though they do not show it.
The gold on her shoulderguards and Trixie’s brooch have changed her appearance greatly, giving her an air of importance. They blend strangely with her slightly tatty-looking red outfit and bandit mask. Like Trixie, the mix of normal and expensive-looking clothing is somewhat jarring. The twin rapiers add an element of danger, a rawness and volatility.
“Let’s depart,” she says, her ginger hair flowing in the sea breeze.
It’s only two words, but the tone of her voice and her manner speak to the crew in other ways. Her orders are not barked or brash, they are encouraging, warm, accepting of the crew, implying they are all together as one, not just individuals hired to do a job or follow a leader, even though they barely know each other. Still, they are orders nonetheless, and the goblins follow.
At that moment, they seem to take to her instantly. Perhaps she reminds them of Trixie, or of her father. While she can never replace them, she is still in charge. All the same, while she is her own person, in a way those departed live on through her now.
Trixie’s cunning, Django’s courage, what she has learnt from them, she will keep with her always. The dwarves’ spirit. Seven’s strength. Even Alexandra’s hate and Thirteen’s deception have left a mark on her. Of those still alive, the wisdom Falkor has shown her and, for all her flaws, her mother’s empathy and love (and a little of her selfishness too). Chrim and Solari seem like distant relatives or forgotten friends now, but she will keep them with her too. She wonders if Chrim had a worthy funeral and if she will ever see Solari again.
As the ship sails away from Sunsail Anchorage, a magpie lands on the railings, as if to say goodbye. Phoenix tries to ignore it. She takes the urn, the ashes of her friends and scatters them to the sea. They are gone, yet they will always be a part of her. She misses them dearly. The lone magpie watches her, twitching its head.
Phoenix Bloodheart leans over the railings and looks out to the night sky as the ship passes through a thick mist. She grabs Django’s old lucky coin in her pocket and thinks of her father, and also of Thirteen. She shivers.
Shrouded in darkness, cloaked by the mist and enveloped by the Sunwell, for a moment Phoenix feels just as she was down the alley a few years earlier. Empty. Light. Delirious. While she feels like nothing, she is many things. A rogue, a fugitive, a lone wolf perhaps, without its pack but still hungry for the hunt.
The magpie caws and flies back to land, joining a flock of five others. The goblins no longer notice Phoenix. She is inconspicuous, out of their eye line, a part of the ship. To anyone sailing past, they would not see her.
As she sails into the sinking night, she feels like nothing from nowhere, no one at all. Like a ghost, or a bright, fleeting star burning out earlier than anticipated, its chemicals struggling to accept their near destruction.
But like a phoenix, she will rise again.

“Always remember that our people are not defined by tragedy, but by our ability to overcome it. From the ashes of the past, we carry the flame of hope into the future.”
Lor'themar Theron

“Like a phoenix ignition
Like a crematorium
Like the swelling volition
From the barrel of a gun
From the ashes and the ambers
Like a rocket I'll ascend
Like a cry gone up for a fallen friend...
No regrets
Just rebirth
Move forward
And ignite
A new renaissance
A new fire each day”
Dustin Kensrue

The Chronicles of Phoenix Bloodheart
II: The Dragon Isles

To be continued...

♥ Thank you ♥

Thank you so much for reading this, I really appreciate it.

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Shorel'aran (farewell),


About the author

Dom is an award-winning writer who works in the esports industry.
He graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
A keen League of Legends player and WoW RPer, he has written for a range of publications including Games TM, Nintendo Official Magazine, games industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games.
He currently works as full-time content director for the British Esports Association and in his spare time runs Esports News UK.
He lives in the UK with his wife and three children.
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