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ER Emblem Award

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- 07/03/07

Chapter OneEdit

The smoke curled up from the end of the cigar, resting in the ashtray where Tai had put it down. Kennia frowned, watching the smoke swirl up. With the chill in the night air, her shoulder was throbbing again, a dull, but constant pain. It was making it hard for her to focus. She couldn’t put her finger on it but she could sense that he was up to something. This sudden notion he had had of her overseeing the operations in Ratchet smacked of some plot.

Of course, she wasn’t worried that he was up to something inappropriate, but he might very well be getting her out of the way so he could head off on a job without her stopping him. And with all the recent trouble with Cleros’ gang, she was reluctant to leave Tai alone in town. Still, Tai had made a pretty convincing case that the goblins in Ratchet needed a reminder that the Tong was watching.

Later at the gryphon, Kennia climbed onto the winged beast. Tai leaned up against her leg, handing her the leather bag she’d packed for the trip. She enjoyed the warmth and pressure of him against her. She strapped the bag down and looked up as she felt Tai’s hand slip behind her neck under her hair. He rested his forehead gently against hers, smiling at her, his eyes looking into hers.

He pulled her gently to him, his mouth meeting hers. The kiss, gentle yet passionate, lingered. The gryphon master cleared his throat. Tai held her to him a moment longer and then placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. Patting her thigh, Tai said, “Nia, you know this is important – and I don’t trust anyone to get things right like I trust you.” She nodded, still a bit lost in the kiss. The gryphon’s large wings began to beat, and she flew out into the night.

As the gryphon disappeared, Tai paused for a moment, watching the night sky. He turned to the flight master and said briskly, “Booty Bay.” The man raised an eyebrow for a brief moment but began rigging up another gryphon. As he worked, Tai checked his bag. He’d packed light, figuring that this trip wouldn’t take that long … one way or another.

On the gryphon, Tai looked out into the dark sky. In the moonlight, he recognized the rivers as the beast winged south, south towards Booty Bay. Settling into the flight, knowing full well he’d have no trouble catching the morning sail to Undermine, Tai licked his lips once. It’d been a long time since he’d visited Undermine, and he wasn’t all that sure how several of the merchant princes would welcome him. Still, he knew that goblins had made some amazing advances in medicine – and, given the current condition of Kennia’s shoulder, Tai knew this was a gamble he needed to take. Anyway, there was an outside chance that he wouldn’t be immediately taken into custody and thrown into a cell …

Chapter TwoEdit

The door clanged shut behind Tai, and a lock fell into place. Well, he thought, that hadn’t worked as well as he’d hoped. He winced as he tested his wrist. The goblin thugs that had met him at the boat hadn’t taken any chances and certainly hadn’t extended any professional courtesy. Well, of course, he was still alive Tai thought – and ‘professional courtesy’ might be the only reason why he hadn’t been killed when they’d jumped him. Funny thing, being grateful that your still warm body hadn’t been disposed off of a wharf into the cold, dark waters of the sea. Still, that was the nature of doing business with goblins …

Assured that the wrist wasn’t broken, Tai scanned the room. Opulent by any standards, the room was a collage of crushed red velvet and dark cherry. The fire in the hearth crackled, the firelight glinting off the bottles of brandy and port along the well-outfitted dry bar. Tai raised an eyebrow at the ‘artwork’ draped on the walls, lovingly drawn scenes of cross-species buggery. Tai tilted his head, trying to determine where the centaur ended and the Tauren began …

A glint of metal caught his eye and Tai looked to the small writing table by the fire. A letter opener lay on the table, forgotten amongst the various parchments and missives. Glancing to the door, Tai strode to the table and slipped the long but admittedly dull piece of metal up his left sleeve. The odds weren’t good but he’d just increased them slightly for himself. He grinned, glad that so many took his outward appearance as a merchant at face value; few knew exactly how quick and deadly he could be. Hearing the door lock opened and the latch click, Tai moved to a painting. Forcing a broad smile onto his face, he turned to welcome the goblin coming into the room …

In Ratchet, Kennia frowned at the goblin customs agent. Since she’d arrived, she’d discovered that Tai had been right. Things had gotten sloppy, and the whip needed to be cracked. Despite arrangements with their associate in Undermine, the customs agent and several of the longshoremen were sitting on valuable Tong shipments. Shipments sitting in Ratchet weren’t making any money for anyone, Kennia had explained.

The sour face of the customs agent did not indicate much empathy for Kennia’s argument. Her shoulder sore, her brain running on too little sleep, her patience always a bit short with goblins, Kennia snapped, “Look you little shit; get off your fucking ass and wave those packages through to Orgrimmar.” As she spoke, she pulled her cape back to reveal the hilt of her long sword. By the Light, how she hated dealing with these little green bastards.

She realized a moment too late that the agent did not seem to be taking her threat quite as seriously as he should. As her brow knitted, she heard the goblins behind her a moment before they jumped onto her back; a trap! As she tumbled forward, she heard the customs agent shouting orders. She tried to roll with the impact to shake off her attackers, but their strong fingers held tight. By chance or by intent, one of the green thugs had her bad arm pulled up tight behind her back. Kennia winced in pain, as blackness closed in. Too cramped to draw her sword, she drew the sharp dagger strapped to her thigh and sunk it deep into someone. A goblin’s scream of pain gave her a moment’s strength and she slashed again and again with the dagger, trying to wrestle her arm free. Then a club thudded down across the back of head …

Chapter ThreeEdit

Tai’s smile almost dropped when he discovered that the goblin was Glizzlebok. Even among the notorious merchant princes of Undermine, Glizzebok had a reputation for exceptional treachery and greed – no easy task in Undermine. Unfortunately for Tai, Glizzle had a long and complicated past with Rigo Paxelfram – and therefore had never had any particular love for Tai or any of the Tong.

Paxelfram had edged Glizzle out of a variety of profit-making ventures, thanks primarily to the network that the Tong had built and maintained. Though Tai and the Tong didn’t interact much at all with Paxelfram (at least directly), the connection was real and important. So Glizzle had two reasons to have had Tai hauled here from the ship when it arrived in port (hell, Tai thought, he hadn’t even made it off the docks before Glizzle’s goons had made their move). First, disrupting the Tong would allow Glizzle to reestablish his own network of smugglers. Second, it would put a burr under Paxelfram’s saddle, and merchant princes seemed to enjoy nothing more than sticking it to each other.

Glizzle, enjoying the moment, smiled at Tai, and gestured to one of the comfortable chairs in front of the fire. The goblin, generous in his victory, poured two glasses of brandy. Waddling over, he handed Tai a snifter. Glizzle snickered, “So what brings the infamous Jiang to my town?” Tai looked into his glass, watching the liquor swirl. Options were quickly ticking away.

Tai looked up at Glizzle, “I doubt you don’t already know. Your information was good enough to know I was coming. I suspect it was good enough to know why.” The goblin, letting his plush robe fall open as he put up his feet, just smiled and nodded for Tai to continue. Tai sighed inwardly, “I came in hopes of speaking to some friends about medical treatment for my wife’s shoulder.”

Glizzle nodded, and then leaned forward his elbows resting on his legs, “It’s time to re-assess who your friends are Jiang. I don’t see that damned Paxelfram anywhere offering to get you the best in goblin technology for your wife’s injury. No, I don’t see him at all. All I see … is me.” Tai nodded slowly and then replied, “And what would it take to make you my friend? A friend that would offer such help?”

Glizzle smiled smugly, sitting back, “Right to the point Jiang. Good, no need to pretend that either of us is naïve. I’ll keep it plain. I want your network to adopt a new patron saint … me.” Tai’s eyes narrowed, and he took a long sip from the glass, considering the options. He stalled, “Paxelfram might take that badly.”

Glizzle’s nasal laughter bounced off the walls of the room; “That, of course, is at least half the reason I’m suggesting this.” Now it was Glizzle’s turn to narrow his eyes; the laughter stopped. He said slowly, “Anyway, we both know you have limited choices. Aside from treatment for your wife’s shoulder, there is the question of whether you walk out of here if you refuse.” Tai simply nodded, feeling the weight of the letter opener in his sleeve. Still, that would accomplish little. He could kill Glizzle but he’d never make it out of his mansion.

Tai looked up from his glass, “So I have few choices but don’t think your threatening my life is relevant to my decision. If the Tong switches allegiance to you, with the same conditions we have with Paxelfram, I will need to see that Kennia’s shoulder is completely healed. Once that is accomplished, I will do as you ask.” Glizzle smiled toothily, “Of course – I will let you go home and bring her back here. But … you will be accompanied by four of my finest bodyguards.” Tai grinned, “Worried I’d double cross you?” Glizzle didn’t bother answering, instead taking a large swig of the brandy and then calling in a servant to make arrangements for Tai to head back to Stormwind to get Kennia.

In the hold of the ship, Kennia came to, her head throbbing. She tried to move but found that her wrists and ankles were bound. The smell of goblin filled her nostrils. She took a breath, collecting herself. She was at sea, and by the feel of it, the open sea. She groaned, feeling a bit seasick or maybe just aching from the beating she’d taken.

She didn’t know where she was going, and worse yet, she figured that the Tong and Tai would have little idea where she was being taken either. Certainly Tai had had no idea just how bad things had gotten in Ratchet. She put her head down, trying to not think about the pain, and tried to get some rest. Whatever was coming, she’d likely have to face it alone so it would be best if she were prepared.

Chapter FourEdit

Tai climbed the gangway, two thick goblins in front of him and two behind him. Somehow their presence was not particularly comforting. On the deck, Tai glanced back. There on the pier, Glizzle was keeping a watchful eye on his new business partner. Tai put on an obviously false smile and gave one wave. This wasn’t the goblin Tai wanted to work with, but there were hard choices to be made. And anyway, Tai tried to convince himself that one goblin was good as another.

He sighed a bit, as he went below decks. He wasn’t looking forward at having to explain this to the Tigers. Once he explained the deal, he figured the other Tigers would support the decision. Explaining it to Kennia would be harder. One, he couldn’t let on the reason for the change of partners in Undermine. Two, he’d noticed that Kennia was not overly fond of goblins so the escort would not be a big hit. She should be back from Ratchet now anyway …

The goblins clumsily hauled Kennia up from below decks, her hands still tied. Her shoulder slammed into the cabin. She wanted to yell in pain, but she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Her teeth ground as she glared at them. She slumped against the wall, seemingly defeated. As one came over and sneered at her grabbing at her, she came to life, launching a knee into the goblin’s groin. Before he crumpled to the floor, she had already launched herself in a headlong charge at the next thug. Leading with her good shoulder, she caught him under the chin and slammed him hard against the wall. The third goblin started up the stairs, but one of Kennia’s long legs lashed, knocking him back down. As he tumbled down the stairs, he looked up, just in time to have Kennia’s booted foot knock him senseless.

She surveyed the wreckage. It wouldn’t be long before they woke up. No time to work on the lashes around her wrist. She moved up to the deck. The light blinded her for a moment. Squinting, she looked around. A surprised goblin crewman yelled at her. She dashed to the gang way. If she could get to shore, she hoped she could get help from those ashore … Wherever she was, she figured she had to get a warmer welcome ashore than she would on board the ship.

As she bumped into a surprised goblin longshoreman, she looked around … seeing a sea of goblins. Where the fel was she? She paused, frozen for a moment – a moment too long. A hollering goblin jumped on her back, followed by three more. She tumbled forward under their weight and momentum. They crashed to the pier. It was an uneven contest and Kennia was soon pinned by several irate and bruised goblins.

A goblin, wearing a dark vest and a scimitar on his hip, approached. He stuck a dirty fingernail in his teeth and picked something out, flinging it away. He nodded with a grunt to the goblins holding Kennia, “This the one who stuck her nose into our business in Ratchet.” Kennia sneered at him, “You should be more careful about who you mess with. The Tong doesn’t take kindly to abductions of its own.”

At this, the goblin stopped chuckling, and took a closer look at Kennia. He ran his black tongue over his dirty teeth. Without taking his eyes from Kennia, he asked the goblins, “Any of you geniuses get the name of this woman before you packed her up for shipping?” The other goblins glanced at each other, unsure. One tentatively spoke up, “I heard one of the dockhands, not one of ours, call her Kennia.”

The eyes of the goblin in charge went wide He hawked and spit off to the side, “Well, get her to Glizzlebok, and I’d make it snappy. The boss isn’t going to like this, not one bit. Boys, you may have just snookered the old man – and he ain’t gonna’ be happy. Blondie here is near and dear to our newest partners.” He hawked again and spit a green glob in an arc out into the dark ocean water.

Chapter FiveEdit

The gag bit into Kennia’s mouth and the rough rope cut into her wrists. The flat of a blade rested against her back, prodding her forward. The crowd on the docks parted before, most avoiding eye contact. In Undermine, where merchant princes constantly vied for supremacy, it was better to at least appear to not care. Where was the profit in that?

Still, at least one goblin took note of the passage of the captive. There was no mistaking Glizzlebok’s cadre of goons. Nor could there be any doubt about the identity of the striking blonde woman, at least to the eye of Jarkil. No, Jarkil was one of Paxelfram’s lieutenants and went abroad often to deal with various matters. The woman was unmistakably the companion the Tai Jiang, a man Jarkil often dealt with. To become one of Paxelfram's lieutenants, one had to be quick-witted and calculating. Jarkil knew that if Glizzle had the woman then he had Jiang at his beck and call – and that was something Paxelfram would want to know immediately.

Meanwhile, Kennia was being taken to Glizzlebok’s compound. Her captors took her around the back, where Kennia stopped at the door, waiting for one of the guards to open it. The leader spoke in a low but intent voice to the guard, who shot a glance at Kennia while he listened. The guard nodded and hurried inside. After a few moments, the guard came back down and beckoned them all in. The goblins urged Kennia forward. The door closed behind her and Kennia wondered if she’d ever come out.

Glizze looked up from some papers as his men escorted the woman in. Recognizing the woman, Glizze leaned back in his chair, drumming his thick green fingers on his desk. The woman, despite being bound, gagged and bruised, stood there, her chin up and defiant. Glizzle sighed and closed his eyes, thinking. His strategy had been two fold: undercut Pixx by taking control of the Tong but also preemptively take over a couple of the Tong’s established points of control.

On paper, it had made sense, good sense. It would hurt Paxelfram and make the Tong reliant upon Glizzle. What were the odds that one of the take overs would ensnare the woman that Jiang loved? Kill her and dump her body? Too risky – would just piss of Jiang if he ever found out. Let her go and hope she let bygones be bygones? One glance at her convinced Glizzle that wouldn’t happen – her eyes were on fire. Play this all off as part of the plan? He’d sent Jiang to Stormwind to retrieve Kennia but maybe he could spin this as a change of plans. Now that might just work he thought …

Chapter SixEdit

What Glizzle had not figured on was that Paxelfram and his men were not standing still. Jarkin, the lieutenant, had wasted no time getting word back to his boss that Glizzle had captured Kennia. His boss, in turn, had wasted no time alerting several of his field agents. It was time to reach out and touch someone.

Khary flipped through the sheaf of notes Lurne had handed her. She sighed. This was not the most glamorous part of being a smuggler, standing here in dusty Gadgetzan with a pile of paperwork. These were the last month’s collection of forged bills of lading, and ironically it was important that even the faked books could be balanced. As she turned to go, she almost collided with a goblin. The goblin, dressed in black leather and smoking a cigarette, eyed her, asking “Khary Grey?” She was about to lie when he asked, emphasizing the first word, “Vanguard Khary Grey?”

Lurne cleared his throat. Considering the goblin, Khary put her hand up letting Lurne know it was alright to go. The elf nodded, giving the goblin only a glance, and headed to the cool shade of the inn. Khary tilted her head, raising an eyebrow , waiting for the goblin to speak. He smiled, “Ah, discrete, of course. I have been sent by Paxelfram to get a message to the Tong.”

Khary frowned; she knew the goblin merchant’s point of contact was Tai and suspected this was a scam. Again the leather-clad goblin smiled, “Again, I admire your discretion but for reasons you’ll soon understand, you are our first point of contact. Shall we find some shade and have a drink so we can talk some business?”

Khary nodded, still suspicious. The feel of the blades on her belt was comforting, but you could never tell with goblins. She declined the drink offer; better to suggest a location on her own. She smiled and said, “No, let’s go see what’s up for auction. Never know what you might find and it’s usually pretty empty this time of day.” The goblin nodded agreement and the two went into the shade of the bazaar.

Chapter SevenEdit

Kennia glared at the goblin, dressed in finery, sitting behind the desk, appraising her. Her head was pounding and her bad arm was sending a knifing pain into her side. She wasn’t sure who the goblin was or why she was here. She did know that this couldn’t be good. And the particular stink of goblins filled her nostrils, which flared unconsciously, like a mare preparing to rear up.

The goblin frowned for a bit but finally leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk. His face slipped into a false smile, “Ah, Miss Silvercrane. My apologies for the rough trip but it seems there was some misunderstanding.” He paused for a moment, as Kennia snorted at his use of the term ‘rough trip’. The goblin glanced at a guard, who then undid the gag in her mouth, letting it fall down around her neck.

The goblin continued as Kennia stretched her jaw, getting feeling back, “I am Master Glizzlebok, a Merchant Prince here in Undermine and a good friend of your husband’s.” Without meaning too, he stuttered a bit through this lie. Kennia frowned, “You always beat the Fel out of your ‘friend’s’ wives?”

Glizzle cleared his throat, uncomfortable and trying to push forward, “Now, now … I’m sorry about that business in Ratchet but my men tell me it was all a misunderstanding. They were told to escort you here safely so you could get some help for that arm …” Glizzle emphasized the last bit, nodding to her arm, “Well, I’m told that before they could help it, a tussle had broken out.”

Kennia nodded slowly, seeming to think this version of events over. She let Glizzle continue rambling, her own hands now working. She had noticed something on Glizzle’s desk – something that might or might not back up Glizzle’s story – in an ashtray on the goblin’s desk was the end of one of the cigars that Tai particularly flavored (cigars rolled in Thunderbluff by a Tauren family). That meant Tai had been here – but didn’t mean necessarily that he and Glizzle were friends. Kennia needed to be sure that Tai would know that no matter what Glizzle was telling him that Tai would know Kennia was in trouble as soon as he saw her.

As her fingers completed their hidden task, Kennia nodded as Glizzle spoke of how Tai wanted the best medical treatment for her. Thinking her quietness meant he was convincing her, Glizzle smiled at her and offered her some brandy. Kennia nodded, still silent. Glizzle poured out two glasses of the amber liquor and came around the desk. He leaned against the desk, offering her a glass.

She smiled at him and he missed the spark of fierceness in that smile. She nodded to her captors, “Well, I’d accept but my hands …” She shrugged. Glizzle paused a moment and then nodded to the goblins. One began to loosen her ties. As soon as she felt the binds fall away, Kennia launched herself forward, a tigress pouncing on Glizzle. Her good hand shot up and closed around his throat, her other hand grabbed the offered glass, brandy spilling everywhere.

In a flash, she’d pinned him on the desk and smashed the glass, now a jagged stem, a makeshift glass dagger. She aimed it at Glizzle’s throat and he made a small sound of fear but before she could act … the goblin guards had grabbed the arm with the glass and were struggling to pull her back. As she turned, no one noticed that as she released Glizzle, she let a small dark green ring fall from her hand. The ring fell silently on the rug in front of Glizzle’s desk – her flag of distress.

She smiled as her makeshift weapon sank into the arm of one of her guards. There were too many and she was unarmed so she took what satisfaction she could from small victories like this …

Chapter EightEdit

The next day, Tai sat in the same seat where Kennia had been. Glizzle, wearing a high collar to hide his bruised throat, nodded with a small smile a Tai. Tai, on the other hand, sat a bit slumped in the chair, somewhat dejected and clearly resigned. With each word he spoke, Glizzle had to work harder to hide the toothy smile that otherwise would have spread across his green, wrinkled face. The guards around Tai sensed Glizzle’s glee and relaxed a bit themselves. Each had expected a sudden and deadly attack ever since they’d been assigned to Jiang. The Tong had a reputation for a reason.

Tai sighed and spoke softly, “I have no idea where Kennia is Glizzle. We looked everywhere in Stormwind and asked around.” As he spoke, worry creased Tai’s features. He leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees, looking directly at Glizzle, “Look, to have the Tong work for you, I asked for your help healing Kennia’s shoulder. I want to renegotiate.” Tai paused, collecting himself and looking down. Glizzle waited expectantly. Tai, low and grim, continued, “I will still bring the Tong to you, to work for you, if you help me find Kennia …” Tai clenched his hands together, pausing a moment careful to contain his emotions.

Glizzle grinned widely, “Well, Jiang, we’ll see what we can do. I’ll get my folks working on this right away.” Now it was Glizzle’s turn to pause, uncertain how the next bid would do; “Of course, you understand … she might not be alive.” The room was quiet for a moment before the goblin continued, “If we make this effort, I expect you to complete the deal regardless of the fate of your wife.” The large clock ticked away loudly in the now deathly silent room. Tai raised his gaze directly to Glizzle’s and spoke low but intensely, “Let us both pray that she is alive and well then.” Tai raised his hand slowly and deliberately and the two men shook. Glizzle smiled outwardly now; with this agreement, the power in Undermine had noticeably shifted and Glizzle could not wait for Paxelfram to come crawling to him …

Through the negotiations, Tai had worked hard to hide his knowledge that this scum, this conniving bastard, had taken his wife captive. He’d gotten word from Khary who’d heard from Pixx’s agents that Glizzle had abducted her. Still, he couldn’t charge in. He had no idea if Kennia was alive or dead or much less where she was. Fel, Glizzle could have her anywhere. As much as it pained him, he had to play this out and see if he could get Glizzle to play a few more cards.

It was when he looked down that he saw the green ring, sitting at an angle deep in the rug’s material. He would know that ring anywhere. The sight of it told him that she’d been here! Still, his elation was tempered by his utter lack of knowledge of where she was or what condition she was in now. Tai had paused a heartbeat longer, collecting and containing his emotions. He ran his tongue along the back of his teeth, deliberately letting his breath out through his nostrils. When he looked at Glizzle and spoke, he wondered if the goblin had any idea that Kennia’s condition only decided how quickly he died – but that his death warrant had been signed long ago.

Chapter NineEdit

Glizzle was feeling very, very good about things. Since the meeting with Jiang, a number of pieces had fallen into place. As Glizzle had hoped, Paxelfram had requested a meeting. Glizzle and Paxelfram both knew Paxelfram didn’t have a leg to stand on but there were still some finer points to resolve as Glizzle picked over the bones of Paxelfram’s empire. As tradition demanded, the meeting was to be held in a public place. Glizzle had opted for one of the city’s oldest tea houses.

Of course, no one trusted anyone in Undermine. Both Glizzle and Paxelfram’s men had checked the place out. Glizzle nodded to the doorman as he went in, the lanterns sputtering but lighting the entrance. Glizzle was fashionably late and smiled at the thought of Paxelfram sitting, waiting and annoyed …

Meanwhile Tai crouched in the darkness, his supple leather softly rubbing. He held his finger to his ear, listening to the quiet, intense whispers of other Tigers. Silently his team moved into position …

From the moment he’d spotted Kennia’s ring, Tai’s mind had been hard at work, trying to solve the puzzle of where she was and how to rescue her. And in Undermine, it was essential to have allies. And it came down to this: an assault on Glizzle’s compound under cover of darkness. They were here not because they were sure Kennia was here but because they were pretty sure she wasn’t anywhere else in Undermine, at least alive. They wouldn’t have a second chance, and it was essential that the meeting with Paxelfram went as planned.

Tai gave the go signal over the comm, his voice firm but his concern apparent. All at once, several Tigers slipped into Glizzle’s home. Some guards never heard a thing, until a blackjack snapped against their skull. Others never felt a thing as a razor sharp wire slid through their jugulars. Tai wrapped his hand across the mouth of the guard near his doorway and slipped his knife across the green throat in one smooth, deadly motion.

The Tigers crept through the house, silencing each guard they encountered. It was only a a matter of time, though, before an alarm was raised. Tai hurried to the heavy door to the basement. He knelt and dug for his lockpicking tools. When the door opened and the large goblin started through the doorway, it wasn’t clear who was more surprised. The goblin, the thick and agile goblin that had spotted Kennia on the docks, recovered quickly; he drew his scimitar and lunged at Tai.

Tai grunted as he tried to move aside in the cramped hallway. Tai dodged the arcing swing but the goblin was on top of him, trying to pin Tai down and keep him from drawing his own blade. Tai made do with what he had; with one hand clamped around the goblin’s neck, Tai brought the lockpick down with his other hand hard, sinking it deep into the goblin’s eye. The goblin screamed and struggled but Tai would not let go, pushing the long tool further and further in … until the goblin was still.

He pushed the dead goblin off of him and took a cautious step into the basement. The sight of Kennia, tied to a chair in the middle of the room, dissolved his caution. Tai sprinted across the distance, and knelt in front of the chair, feeling for Kennia’s pulse. As he held her wrist, Kennia groaned. Tai needed to let the wave of emotion, the tremendous relief and sudden realization of how close he came to losing Kennia, before he could speak into the comm, “She’s alive! She’s alive. I have her now …” Despite his efforts, the Tigers could hear the relief in his voice. When the other Tigers got to the basement, they found Tai in the middle of the room on the floor, cradling Kennia in his arms.

Chapter TenEdit

Across the city, the waiter listened for a moment to a whispered message. When he went into the room where Glizzle and Paxelfram were talking, he remained silent but did nod once subtly to Paxelfram as he filled the men’s teacups. Glizzle was smugly going on about the percentages that Paxelfram would pay him on all the protection rackets in Ironforge, but when Paxelfram saw the signal, he smiled ever so slightly. He picked up his tea and sipped it slowly, listening. When he put the cup down, he tapped it twice against the saucer – the signal for action.

Glizzle’s two guards never saw her – much too busy with the sudden attacks of Paxelfram’s two guards. Paxelfram never moved, but simply sat, looking into Glizzle’s eyes. Glizzle, for his part, never saw nor heard Sunya. Glizzle’s eyes went wide and slid down to his chest, where the tip of a wakizashi now protruded from his chest. Glizzle tried to speak but now words came. His eyes went back to Paxelfram, who only smiled. Glizzle fell forward, and standing behind him was Sunya, dressed in midnight black. With two flicks of her wrist, her throwing knives ended the lives of Glizzle’s two guards.

Sunya grimaced as she put a foot on Glizzle and pulled her sword out of the now dead goblin. She glanced up to the ceiling compartment where she’d been hidden away, and stretched her neck. The space had been cramped and the wait long – but the job was done. She nodded to Paxelfram, “I’m glad you were right about the meeting location. After that wait ...” Paxelfram smiled back at the night elf as he casually picked up his cup, “Glizzle was predictable to a fault; this is the finest tea house in the city and many powerful goblins have met here.” Paxelfram took a long sip of tea, savoring his victory. Sunya simply nodded.

As she understood it, Paxelfram had personally requested that she be the Tiger secreted away. It seems that her reputation preceded her and that didn't make her all that comfortable with Paxelfram ...

EpilogueEdit

It had been a week since the events of that night. All the Tigers had been enjoying the luxuries of Paxelfram’s estate, but none more than Kennia. Aside from simply recovering from her various wounds, Paxelfram had made good on his offer to the Tong; Paxelfram had brought in a specialist to help heal her shoulder. Through a combination of exercises, medicine and massage, Kennia’s shoulder had already markedly improved.

Since Jarkin had contacted Kennia, the Tong had been working with Paxelfram to defeat Glizzle. The meeting between Tai and Glizzle had been a ruse, an opportunity to gain information and nothing more. They had coordinated the assault on Glizzle’s estate with the meeting between the two goblin merchant princes, and it had all gone to plan. The Tigers were pleased with how this had resolved, but of course in Undermine nothing was free.

Paxelfram had summoned Tai, but also Kennia and Sunya to his gardens. Paxelfram was trimming his bonsai when the three Tigers came in. The goblin put his tools down and smiled at them, indicating they should sit.

Once they settled, Paxelfram looked to Tai, “I assume you are content with the deal you have made.” With this, he nodded to Kennia and spoke to her softly, “I understand your shoulder is improving.” Kennia nodded but said nothing. Paxelfram returned his gaze to Tai, waiting for a response. Tai replied deliberately, “I am most satisfied and I and the Tong are in your debt.”

Rigo Paxelfram smiled, his teeth showing, “Ah, the debt.” Paxelfram folded his fingers and paused a moment before continuing, “Mister Jiang, we have tied our organizations together more tightly than before, haven’t we?” Kennia and Sunya glanced at each other, as Tai nodded. Paxelfram continued, “And I think we’d agree that now the success of the Tong is as important to me as to you.” He glanced up.

Tai paused, but again nodded slowly. Paxelfram grinned, looking at Sunya and Kennia, “Well Mister Jiang, I’m glad we agree that we should do what’s best for the Tong. And, I have two personal favors to ask …” The phrase hung in the air a moment, before Tai cleared his throat. Really, after all Paxelfram had done, he had no choice; Tai said quietly, “Of course.”

Paxelfram smiled, and looked to Kennia, “My people tell me that Miss Silvercrane here would make a fine Tiger Master – brave, bold and strong.” Paxelfram leaned back in his chair while Kennia sat stunned. Paxelfram continued, “And after seeing Sunya in action and getting to admire her work up close, I have had my men do a bit of investigating of her.” The goblin smiled as he appraised Sunya, “Given your … vast experience, I am confident you would also make an excellent Tiger Master.”

The two women had been caught off-guard. Tai didn’t disagree with Paxelfarm's assessment of either of them but was also running through the angles on this, trying to suss out if there was a larger agenda here. Kennia would owe him for her shoulder, of course, and it was always good to have a grateful partner. The suggestion of Sunya was harder to figure … Tai realized he really had little choice given the Tong’s debt to Paxelfram; and, to be honest, Tai thought they were excellent choices. That didn’t mean that he believed for a minute that Paxelfram’s ‘suggestions’ were anything but self serving. But sometimes in business, interests overlapped … at least for a time.

Tai smiled broadly, “I couldn’t agree more. Consider it done.” With this Tai extended his hand. Paxelfram took his hand and the two men shook firmly. Tai held the goblin’s hands a moment longer and added, “Of course, that settles our balance.” Paxelfram looked to Kennia and Sunya and then back to Tai, grinning, “I suppose it does.”

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