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An introduction...Edit

This is a collection of stories written by Sastri, about the Broken Keel. The Keel is a neutral tavern, every sunday in Ratchet. Sastri was the original owner, but a new management has taken over until Sastri comes back:


BROKEN KEEL UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT!

Attention, my loyal patrons of Azeroth and Outland, both the Horde and the Alliance. It is my solemn duty ta announce that I, Sastri Rae'lyn, owner of the Broken Keel, will be keeling from my position as your server, barkeep, and cook for an unforeseen amount of time. There is a battle I must fight elsewhere, in a land that I've run from....for far too long. This battle must be my own ta either win or lose, but I ask you dun worry about me. I'll be fine.

The Keel will too.

Already, three or four saints have taken up the mantles as bartenders, cooks, and management for the tavern y'all know and love. I ask you show these fine gents and ladies the same loyalty and respect as you have shown me. And I have asked they show you the very same as I have shown you. The Keel will still happen once a week, though the days and times these doors open may change, depending on the new management's decision.

The same drinks and food will be available. You will still be able ta get your Flamin Ony or ya Threesome. But I encourage ya give the new management the chance ta make their own classic dishes and drinks for you to enjoy as well.

You know I love you all, and I will try my best ta return to you someday.

Bless

signed, in that usual chicken scratch handwriting:

Sastri Rae'lyn

WorgEdit

The scent of dark chocolate wafted out from the kitchen. Roasting duck, seasoned with an array of spices, cooked crisp to a golden brown, lay sizzling in a pot of its own juices in the pot-bellied stove. A chopping block across from it chuckled in a rat-a-tat manner as steady hands worked to dice tomatoes, apples, carrots, and broccoli into sizes fit for a stir fry pan. Music, rock hard and loud, blasted from a rickety goblin engineered soundbox in the corner, and Sastri screamed in time to the voices of his favorite band.

"STORM! Black clouds fill the sky!"

Carrots were tossed from across the room into the pan atop the stove. A vegetable chopping knife gleamed dangerously as the half elf stabbed that down, head banging to the music and his tone deaf yells.

"EARTH! I hear my battle cry!"

He rushed over, skid across the floor on his socks, a box of matches acting as his microphone as he slid to the stove, and nimble hands worked to add a flame to just under the pan.

"FIRE! Thunder we'll bring forth..."

The hot match landed in the washbasin with a dying hiss.

"DEATH! From the power of the Hooooooorde!"

____________________

Poor Blight. The obsidian wolf tried in vain to escape his companion's tone deaf singing--if one could call it singing. But even hiding on his furred side, under the table in the tavern, with his front paws over his snout and one ear smashed against the floor...even that couldn't save him from the horror that bled through the kitchen! The wolf growled, flipping to his other side and repeating the process, hoping maybe one ear was more deaf than the other. Curse him for having such amazing hearing!

Oh, but the smells....The smells! Sastri couldn't sing, but he sure knew how to cook. Shiryou and the half elf made quite a team.

"STORM!"

Blight flinched at the roar. Did he never quit?! Someone throw HIM in the stove along with that roasting bird and be done with it!

Oh...that bird...

That...yummy...drool-inducing bird...

Yes. Though he hated he could hear better than most, he sure would never complain that he could smell better than most as well. Blight lifted his head and took another plentiful sniff, greeted with an overwhelming scent of caramelized apples, roasted meat, and sugar. This meal was just one of the many he'd gotten the joy of sniffing that Sastri and Shiryou had been busying to perfect since yesterday. Stuffed Turducken, Juicy Bear Burgers, Fisherman's Feasts, Massive Rhinosteaks, Heavy Kodo Stews--just to name a few! These were the names Sastri and Shiryou had given them. All for the next Gut Buster tavern night. Blight didn't know the Orcish or Common words for any of those ingredients that made up those tasty odors, but he knew what a wolf would call 'em: DO WANT!!

But Sastri was particular on letting him into the kitchen. "A clean kitchen's a happy kitchen," he'd always say. "And that means dirty, hairy beasties stay out." Blight never understood why people didn't like having fur in their food. Then again, maybe his opinion was a biased one. He did--after all--lick his own privates. Sastri would constantly remind him of this whenever he'd protest, in his own wolfish way, on wanting to sample some of the delicacies his two-legged companions would make.

The wolf sighed. Ah well...

"TO THE POWER OF THE HOORRDDEE!!!!"

Oh, for the love of all that is sane and natural! Velvety ears flattened against a fuzzy skull. In disgust, the wolf got up, crawled out from under the table, and glared his golden eyes in the direction of the kitchen, from where that ungodly sound still tortured. If his companion wanted to play THAT game, fine!

And with all the spite and vindictive personality Sastri had taught him, Blight stalked out of the tavern, down to the old storage hut the staff kept their work clothes in, and lifted his leg on Sastri's fine linen barkeep's uniform. Stepping back to admire his handiwork, he would have grinned--if beasties could grin. Satisfied his companion would have to scrub good and hard to not smell like the underbelly of Dalaran while he served drinks and took orders this coming Sunday, Blight tilted his head upward, and pelted out a loud, proud howl! Let his companion know, here and now, that his terrible voice and piercing screams were nothing compared...

TO THE POWER OF THE WOORRRGG!!!

ConspiracyEdit

A gentle eye opened, then squinted against the rising sun's sharp glare. Eyelids, fuzzy and with the residue of sleep still in their corners, blinked five times, then six, gathering the strength to remain open for the day ahead. Morning already? It seemed like only hours ago the sun was bidding the horizon good night and the stars spoke in a thousand tongues about the future and the past. Well, time never ceased to amaze him. Its passage could be slow or rapid, but always flowing. A river upon which all things drifted.

Smiling, the druid placed his hand to the ground, gathering up a handful of earth, letting it flow through his fingers in a cascade of sparkling granules.

Yes. Another good day. The sweet serenity of bird song and rustling leaves could be heard even here, between the dirt washed hills of the barrens. Ratchet was a bustling bowl of business, cut away from the calm, primal savanna, but even here the wilderness spoke. Those with the patience to stop their busy lives long enough to listen would receive such a message from its wisdom if they'd only try. A simple reflection, a moment to sit and soak it all in...If more people did this, Nurath believed it could prevent many wars.

Though he'd just opened his eyes naught but two moments ago, he closed them again, ignored the murmur in the market below, and let it all fade, centering himself once more with his reason for being. Nature. She whispered good morning on the wind, her caressing fingers curling through his hair, tossing his mane back and forth upon his neck.

I am here, watching you, aiding you....Always...

Like a lover, giving thanks, she made the blades of grass kiss his legs, hands, and the massive wooden and steel polearm which leaned against him. Yes, the calling was accepted, like it always would be. He, a warrior of nature, a guardian of the heart of the earth, protector of all things born of dirt and clay, shook himself of the dust which coated his fur and stood with a mighty stretch. Another day to carry out Her bidding. Another glorious day. Nothing could ruin this peace. Nothing.

"Damnit, Nurath! Ya feckin could've stopped him!"

The tauren arched a dark brow in the direction of that Westfallian accent. Sastri's figure looked tiny due to the distance, the half elf stalking in the grass, kicking dirt, and throwing his arms up, snarling all manner of enraged Common words that druid decided he'd best not try translating. Something had definitely gotten his goat.

"Imma skin him!" shouted the boy, glaring up the hill to Nurath. No. Maybe even through him to the tavern behind him. "Imma skin me that pissy wolf and use his fur ta insulate my new uniform!"

Nurath merely smiled. Now he knew what this was about. "So Blight did what I feared he might, I see." It was not a question. There were no need for questions. The moon had already tattled on the wolf last night, so the druid knew. Not to mention he and Blight had had a heart to heart after the dirty deed was done. "I am happy to tell you that the wolf is apologetic for his actions."

"Oh? He toldja, did he?" Sarcasm dripped from Sastri's voice, but if only the half elf knew. Nurath let the comment slide. There was no need to take the bait of argument the cook would try dangling. Smiling and nodding always worked.

"Would you wish me to accompany him while you get your suit washed?"

"No! I feckin wouldn't wish ya ta accompany me!" With an indignant snort, the half elf stalked back into the storage hut, the echoes of his voice filtering back to further amuse the tauren as he listened. "Bloody hoofer probably is in on this lil conspiracy atween the wolf and my clothin..."

"For your information, I was not." Nurath closed his eyes again and returned to resting his head against the shingles of the tavern's outer wall. "I would suggest you not sing in Blight's presence anymore, though. The wolf does not like it."

Silence from the storage shed. And then an angry "Tccht!" of indigence. "My singin's bloody fine! S'as good as my cookin!"

"If you cook like you sing, then I wonder why this tavern remains and why I still have a job as protector of it."

"Scuse me?!" A golden haired head popped out from the storage shed's opening to glare blue-glowing daggers at the tauren up the hill. "Ha! Well...well no un needs ya, so...so ya can bloody feck off, just like that black-arsed mongrel with a bladder problem!"

Nurath smiled again, nonplussed. "Have a good day in market, Sastri. Remember, tomorrow is tavern night, so don't come back smelling like you do now."

More silence. Then the hands went up again, this time clutching the piss-soaked linens. "Bah!!" In disgust, the half elf stalked down into Ratchet's rowdy streets. And though Nurath no longer could hear his cursing, he could see Sastri's mouth moving as rapidly as ever.

Yes. He would have to teach that boy how to sit, reflect, relax, and listen to nature some time. All that stress he puts himself under surely couldn't be good for business. Everyone knows that a cook eats his own food. If Sastri got an ulcer and people found out....well, rumors had a funny way of ruining a good tavern profit about as quickly as wolf piss could a man's good linen shirt.


The Future of the Broken Keel? It's Doomed! Edit

"Is he doin it again?"

Sastri deadpanned, staring across the table at Tethenar, who shrugged and continued cuddling the girl in his lap. The half elf set his jaw and didn't even bother looking when he heard the elf's exclamations seeping from the kitchen behind him.

"Oh, come down here, Mr Cup! I need you, and you're up there! Come down! Now!"

Sastri rolled his eyes. "It ain't gonna come if ya call it, Nez...." He had to wonder if the boy really thought it would. "It ain't a feckin hound."

"It's okay, Mr. Sastri! I can get it!"

"S'what I damn well hope, s'only three feet from the countertop...."

A hideous racket of shattering and wooden clunks made Sastri groan and plant his face firmly in his folded arms.

"I got! The cup!"

"Hoo feckin ray..."

Tethenar's chuckles only made things worse. "Are you sure you want that boy taking over for you?"

"Should he get this place, he’ll be workin with two or three others," Sastri murmured his smothered words. “I’ll make sure of it. I wanna come back ta a building—not a hole in the ground.” He didn’t bother moving from the heat and airless prison of his arms. Maybe if he suffocated himself right here and now, he'd not live to see his tavern turned into a Darkmoon Faire Circus act.

Another nasty clang. "Got! The plate!"

A rather bad Circus act.

"S'just hope he gets really chummy with the broom, then."

Teth looked at him funny. “You want a man who likes other men to get ‘chummy’ with your broom?”

Sastri thought about that for a moment. “...We’ll let Carthia, Bashirian, or Elkaiieth handle the broom work, then.”

"Here you go, Mr. Sastri, Sir."

The half elf poked his face from his shirt sleeve and looked over his nose at the plate placed before him. He had to admit. It smelled good. Seasoned steak, buttered biscuit, taters and gravy with all the fixins! At least it seemed the boy could cook without breaking some--

The fork Nez was lovingly placing down flipped from the lad's nervous hands and dropped into the mug. "Oops!"

Sastrl flinched as the sweet-smelling liquor spattered his face, some of it in his eyes. But it was such a sobering drink that it scarcely stung. He didn't know whether to be grateful for that or not. Nonetheless, he decided it best to sample that which had been set before him--because Nez decided to drop -that- on the floor as well. Tentatively, he plucked the fork from the flagon, dried it off, and dug into the taters. The flavor shock hit him hard, bombarding him with an array of salts, peppers, and cheeses. He stiffened, not expecting something that good to come from someone that naive.

"You don't like it!" The boy moaned, panicking, snatching the fork from Sastri while it was still in his mouth. "I'm sorry! I'll get you something else!"

"No, Nez!" Sastri jumped his plate before the boy could take that as well, guarding it like a lion would his meal. "You damn jumpy lil toad! Calm ya arse down!"

"I'm sorry, Sastri. I just...."

"Never hover." He glanced to the boy, who still bounced from one foot to the other just in his view. He leveled him with a darker look, one of more meaning. "Ever."

Nez just stood there, tapping his fingertips together in wait. He didn't get the message until Sastri quirked his brow. "Oh! Right. I'll just...be in the kitchen. Sir...Sastri...Sir!"

"Right. You do that." He sighed at the boy scurried off, and as an afterthought, screamed out: "And clean up the mess ya made back there while ya at it!"

Another crash. "Sas, do we have a mop?"

Sastri coughed. Tethenar chuckled.

And now the moment he was worried about. He closed his grip around the flagon's handle and tilted it toward his lips. The last time he'd drank Nez's brew, it was a few minutes ago. The kid had called it "Nezcafe". It was more suited for women than a masculine patron, and when he had heard about Nez's preference toward men and the lad's feminine mannerisms, the initial fear on Sastri's heart was the boy would turn his beloved testosterone-pumped pub into a gay bar.

But when the wash of flavors entered his mouth this time, the impacting punch from the liquor hit him hard, snapping him back into hours ago, leaving him dazed, confused, and out of breath. He found himself staring at Teth but not recognizing the man. The blood knight simply gawked at him, but the girl in the man's lap was just too worth his while for him to even bother helping Sastri as he....

Thud.

About five or ten minutes later, Sastri opened his eyes to Nez's nervous face staring into his own. "Mr. Sastri? You...you okay?"

Blurred images of the tavern slowly came into focus, and the half elf groaned, his head throbbing, the room spinning. He found himself staring at Nez for the longest time but not truly registering the boy was blubbering.

"I'm so sorry! I didn't know the chairs were wobbly! You really look like you took a fall there. Should I help you up? Oh, no! They say never to move a person who was unconscious. You could have a fractured skull, or…or a spinal injury, or…a hangnail, or something even more fatal! And it'd be best if we don't risk—"

"What'd ya call that drink, again?"

"Oh. Heh. The Nezcafe Dimensional Ripper!" the boy said proudly, nodding.

"...I see." Well, no worries about the gay bar. He was gonna kill his customers instead. Sastri grimaced, pushing to sit, placing all his weight on his hands behind him. "Better than ya last one, I'll give ya that. And ya can cook, too. Ya waiting skills needs ta be buffed a bit. S'never good ta scream in a person's ear, especially if that person is an orc."

“I…thought he was deaf. He was speaking awfully loud himself.”

“That’s how orcs speak, Nez.”

“Ah, kay. Good to know!”

“Indeedy…So we will work on learnin ya all these lil details, aye."

"We can work on it? Does this mean you're giving me the position?"

Sastri smirked. Hearing that from a gay man made him uncomfortable. "Tavern's yours, long as I can see that ya handle it well come this Sunday."

"Brilliant!"

"Brilliant." Again he deadpanned, motioning feebly for the boy to move. "Hoverin! And make the world stop so I can get off."


WaitingEdit

Go here to read more about this story.


Blight nudged the Keel's door again. It creaked on its hinges, a loud screech, which hurt the wolf's ears. Yet, he did it once more, as if eager to torture himself with the sound, nosing the warped wood, whimpering as he did. Whenever he would do that, his two-legged companion would rush out of the building, snarling in that odd language he did when angry, and saying words like "Shut up!" and "Cut that racket, Am tryin ta cook!"

He didn't come now. Blight noticed that only the shadows rushed out to creep the ground toward him. Yet Sastri's scent lingered within the porous grain. Confused, the wolf lay down beside the door, his head resting upon his front paws. It confused him that things just didn't feel right.

The obsidian wolf sighed, churning a cloud of dust with his breath. And he waited. Minutes. Hours. A half a day, he stayed put, eating nothing, drinking little. Lirien and Ithralen had been entrusted with him, at Sastri's wishes, but the wolf had left the Ashfelas manor and returned to Mulgore with the help of Shiryou. Then they'd made the weary trip to Ratchet, and to the Broken Keel, Blight following a trail he was certain was Sastri's. Perhaps he had to see for himself that the boy was not around. Perhaps he had to smell and realize the scents were days old.

Where had he gone? When would he return? Golden eyes looked to the dusty road and the ship's dock at the end. Any day now...

Any day his two-legged pack member would come walking toward him from this road, a grin on his furless face, a spring in his step.

Blight had never understood how anyone could choose walking upright over going on all fours, but right now, the wolf wouldn't question his companion's motives. Fel, he'd make a promise, right here and now, to not lift his leg on any of his companion's clothes if the two-legged youth would just return to him!

His ears needed scratching...and though Shiryou could do it well enough, he wasn't Sastri.


Role ReversalEdit

"Doin better, Carth!"

"You think so? Lani says it tastes like poop."

"Lani's too young ta appreciate the head of a good beer. Hopefully it's years afore she even appreciates the head of anythin--if ya get me."

"No men will touch her if I can help it."

The fact that she was an undead child didn't even seem to cross either of their minds. Doubtful she'd have to worry about things like sex and the horniness of men. In fact, would she even ever age? They didn't, did they? She'd stay a child, able to remain in that state of innocent bliss, forever. In a way, Sastri couldn't help but envy that. Bliss. Innocence. Never having to grow up. Never having to worry of the things that would kill most mortals. Surely Lani was better off than any living adult, and most definitely she'd not have the guilt that most death knights had to drag around, but still, like two older siblings caring for their little sister, Sastri and Carthia worried.

But Sastri's responsibilities took him into the gunk and grime of yet another soul he cared for--though he was certain this soul would rather he not. Smirking, he dumped yet another bucketful over the demoralized wolf's head. Blight glared forward as the water splashed down, each liquid stream making high pings into the pool he sat in. Eager to be rid of this offensive soggy feel, the beast started to shake himself off, but was stopped by the half elf's reassuring hand to his neck.

The wolf grunted in disgust, glaring at Sastri with his golden eyes. As he shivered in the luke warm water, his fur clinging to his body in clumps like thousands of drowning sewer rats, he didn't even bother to blink. The water, in all its soapy glory, trickled down past his eyes and over his muzzle, no doubt burning as it entered his pupils, but still he kept that piercing gaze on the one who victimized him. Oho. If looks could kill, the mongrel would never have to even think about the problems or benefits of undeath. There'd be nothing left of his body to raise....

"Wanna know why I'm washin him right in front of the tavern?" Sastri plucked at the more matted pieces of fur, ripping them out with barely a worry of the wolf's discomfort. "Because people have been complainin he smells of [censored], and I wanna make sure they know that I take care of my own!" He aimed this yell directly down the street to an innocent passer-by, who happened to catch sight of the situation. "S'the matter witchoo?" he snarled down at the gawking human. "Ain't never seen a mongrel wash his wolf afore? That's right! I feckin take care bout my own!"

Carthia chuckled. "Sastri, I want your honest opinion about the lager. Don't sugar-coat it."

"Mostly I liked it." Sastri snorted, the passer-by rushing off, and the half elf continued to mash more bubbles through Blight's shaggy mane, getting in deep with his fingers to clean what the hair might hide. "I think ya could add more hops, though."

"More?" Footsteps, and then Carthia's shadow engulfed them both as the death knight stood over them to watch the two, a flagon in either of her hands, one half-empty."I put almost three pounds in already, though!"

"Ya hafta consider, we're dealin with the Horde here. If ya brewin for pansy humies and those damn tea-tottin kaldorei, then ya just add two pounds." He grinned over his shoulder at her before turning back to set Blight's ears atop the wolf's head, giving the humiliated beast a certain curled perm by wrapping his index finger around each clump of hair. "But we're dealin with massive tauren, body-buildin orcs, and deaders who never fear alcohol poisonin. Oh." He shuddered. "And dwarves...."

"Dwarves?"

"Dwarves."

He grimaced again, and piled a healthy amount of suds atop Blight's head, affixing a sad crown of bubbles. The wolf's tail curled in annoyance, but the half elf shrugged it off, scrubbing away. "They'll drink ya outta tavern and table, but if ya can get past that, and how terrible they tend ta smell, they'll be probably ya best customers. They'll pay good, and ya dun really need ta talk ta em. And if ya talk with em, ya dun need ta speak Common or whatev ta communicate with em. Mostly cause most who do speak Common already canna understand the poor shorties anyway."

"But...I will have to serve them?"

"If they come ta the tavern, ya bloody well will!"

"Ooh..." The death knight's voice darkened. "But they pay well, you said?"

"Carthia, if ya can make a brew that gets them sh.it drunk--which I doubt--they will become ya sex slave just for the prospect of you givin them the recipe." He rinsed off Blight's head with the goblin water-pressurized hose, the wolf flinching with each spray. "But mostly they'll pay you top coin for a good brew. And wut dun kill them, they consider a good brew." He nodded. "They've even been known ta siphon the gasoline from the engineers' motorbikes just ta get a good buzz."

"They seem scary....I'm really not sure I want to deal with them...."

Sastri couldn't help but smirk. A death knight, afraid of a dwarf? Yes, he'd seen it happen before. You just don't mess with a dwarf! Coming between a stunter and his ale is just as suicidal as trying to mount Malygos and ride him bareback round the Nexus, with Illidan, the Lich King, and Kael'thas watching. There will be blood. Oho. There will be blood.

"I don't think I want to deal with them," Carthia repeated, seemingly adamant.

"Just keep em well-stocked of their liquors and they wun be no threat. Most will love ya, others will hit on ya, some will smack ya arse, a few will kiss ya, but the vast majority will just fall asleep on ya. I ain't never seen a dwarf pull no weapon on me if Am servin them a pint."

"Ah. That's good to know then." Carthia still seemed hesitant. "Are you done with Blight?"

The wolf looked like a drowned rat now, thin and pathetic. After all the dirt had been scrubbed away, Sastri realized Blight didn't weigh as much as he'd initially thought. He studied the beast, touched the shiny coat, and gave it yet a final rinse before standing to admire his handiwork. "Neh...He needs some ribbons."

The wolf growled and jumped from the tub at that, shaking himself off, knocking into Sastri's legs, tripping the boy backwards. The half elf yelped as he slammed rear-first into the oily, swirling waters. He hollered a slew of curses, in all of the five languages he could fluently speak--all of them death threats, should they have been translated. But the wolf had fled with his wet stick tail tucked and dripping, and as Sastri tried to pull himself from the basin to give chase, anger in his eyes, he felt a bucketful of freezing liquid slam down on his head.

A girlish scream flew from his startled mouth, and he stiffened, back arching, gasping, the hunt for Blight paused before it began.

"The feck!""

Your turn." Carthia's sing-song voice announced behind him. "It's your final day. And with that hair of yours, I was seriously considering getting you a part time job of greasing machine cogs for the goblins." She knelt before him and started to smear soap into the fussing mongrel's hair, dunking him under, all but drowning him while giving him about the same demoralizing treatment as he'd given Blight.

The wet wolf stood on the hill and seemed to be grinning. Justice! Revenge! Retribution! He howled his victory then padded over to sit just feet from the disgusted youth. Just out of arm's reach. Just to [censored] him off further.

Sastri glared at him. "You're dead." But Carthia's grip was far too strong to wrench from. Damn death knights were overpowered! Nerf them already!

And to the passers-by, Carthia waved a sud-soaked palm and cried, in her best Sastri impersonation: "S'the matter witchoo? You ain't never seen the dead wash her mongrel afore?" She curled her finger around his hair and fashioned a cute little perm there.

Sastri grunted in disgust.


One Fateful MorningEdit

An hour past midnight. The Sun had long ago gone to bed, the world with Him, and the vigilant Moon would later tell Her brother of the explosion He would as a result miss.

The sudden explosion trembled Ratchet's lazy port. Goblins with the sleep still creaming their eyes, staggered, tripped, and scrambled from their homes to locate the disruptive source. Had another blender malfunctioned? Perhaps that blasted blast-o-matic demolition body suit had backed up again and claimed another victim? When they saw no rain of blood, and everyone they knew answered when they called, their concern for others whom they didn't know had them shrugging and returning to their doorways. It wasn't clear whether it was Grandma Gizzmutter's new and improved Binocular 200 spectacles that pinpointed it, or if one of Uncle Fitzhussler's mechanical Kaldorei bimbos caught a glimpse of it with their keen, sniper-optic eyes. But whoever first did notice it, it wasn't long before everyone was looking at it.

Up the hill, a red-dirt road led a winding path in the town's center of commerce. The road was now thick with red mud, pools and pools of it, filled with water from an uncertain fount. Everyone in Ratchet knew of the healing properties of Barrens dirt, as well as the structural integrity of buildings, made from bricks formed from it. Well, for sprocket's sake! Sin'dorei women would pay a fortune just to soak in a bath of the stuff! Perhaps it was just coincidence--oh yes, perhaps!--but it just so happened that at the same time, each goblin was staring with gold coins in their eyes at that massive mud puddle miracle just dumped in their town. And at the same time, each of their minds reminded them they did not believe in miracles, so there had to be a logical reason they were not yet seeing.

At the same time, they followed their gazes further up the hill to the stream of water drizzling and shimmering from the dusty path leading toward one of the biggest main business buildings, The Hub. As many as fifty small stores and more than ten larger corporation headquarters were located at the Hub, so now the interest had risen. Which business had caused this flood? They first reached the collective decision that Dwight Dizzler's Dog Drool Simulator must have gone haywire. But then, at the same time, they looked upwards and saw the oil-black smoke oozing skywards. Fire. At the Hub.

Shrieking, they all poured up that hill, rounded that corner, their hearts in their throats, prayers to the Almighty Cog on their lips. An explosion was rarely good for business! Especially if some poor schmuck with lotsa cash ended up getting exploded in the process! Wait, no. That wouldn't be too bad. If the cash didn't get incinerated along with the poor schmuck, it wouldn't be a tragedy. In fact, if they turned this area into a mineral mud bath where people would have to pay twenty gold to get the free, once-in-a-life-time chance to bob for useless buried treasure, it might even end up profitable!

Yes. They could see it now! Get customers to pay even extra for a breathing apparatus so they could stay under the mud longer and maybe even find the poor schmuck's scorched bones among the earth. They wouldn't have to know those bones weren't ancient. They could let their kids search too for half price! Yes! What an excellent way to cash in on someone's death. But still....uh yes. An explosion was rarely good for business! Yes yes, now uh...back to panicking!

They were panicked, if the previous paragraphs did not already convince you. So they rounded the corner to the Hub, their hearts in their throats--panicking--convinced yet?--and fearing what they might find when they'd get there. Please don't let it be their business that was hit! ...But when they located the source, saw the felled rickety water tower and how it had crashed with such graceless grace onto the Broken Keel's roof, they bowed their heads and sighed. In relief.

Ah. Was only the Keel. Sucks to be the mongrel!

___________

The very next day, someone hammered a notice on the Keel's door. Considering it was a private-run establishment, we can assume the one who hammered that notice was most likely the owner, as no one else in Ratchet would care enough to be hammering no stinkin notice on no stinkin door unless they received something out of the deal. But the notice was hammered, and the writer--probably also the owner we can assume, by process of elimination--had explained in such a beautifully versed and powerful explanation of just what happened to the Barren's beloved eatery.


FU**ING DEATH KNIGHT BLEW UP THE FU**ING WATER TOWER!

As a result, the fu**in inn no longer has fu**in running water, so you can f*** off if that's all you're looking for. Repairs'll hopefully be done by the end of this week. Have a fu**in good day."


Ah...Those words. So profound. What a poet.

Just Another Public AnnouncementEdit

*A notice on the road-facing wall of the building closest to the Keel*

ATTENTION KEEL CUSTIES!

Thanks to a fu**in death knight, we're under construction. Due to this, we regret to inform you the Keel's serving hall will be closed until further notice. However, we will still be taking customers and have set up a lovely picnic table atmosphere outside. For food and drink, show up at the window and order from there. We will still be prompt--sorta--about serving you. But the Keel's interior will not be accessible.

Apologies.


If this was too long for your tiny brains and shorter attention span to follow, I've included a shorthand version just for ya readin pleasure.

"Hammer time. We go rebuildy. Water tower bye bye. Piss. The f***. Outta the buildin. Keep on the grass!"


An Unwelcomed CustomerEdit

At around half eight on Saturday evening, the Void Storm reached the Barrens. Fortunatly, the residents of the Keel were out at the Darkmoon Faire when it passed across the Broken Keel.

Strange runic glyphs have appeared on the walls and ceiling, glowing and pulsing with an ominous, chaotic energy. The whole building emminates a strong demonic presence and will have to be cleansed by a proffessional before it is restored to normal.

Although not immediatly dangerous, the glyphs do invoke a feeling of longing and desire when stared at for too long.

_____________________


Sunday morning: 6 am.

He felt it the moment he started up the path to the doors. Sastri slowed his steps, then stopped altogether to stare, unease creeping cold down his spine and furrowing brows. Not a piece of board upset. Not a nail out of place, but that was only on the outside. Those not sensitive to such energies might see this lack of disturbance as a promising sign. They might convince themselves nothing was wrong. He too could claim that all he wanted, could even try believing it--wanted to believe it! But he knew different.

Was afraid of this....

Grimacing, he rushed forward, barging through an entrace that he'd usually find welcoming, skirting down the short lobby and rounding that corner to the supping hall, his heart in his throat, his only lung hammering a knotted stomach. Please don't let it be what he thought it--

He saw the runes before he smelled the air. An acrid burn, like sulfur. Like demon.

Like fel....

He hissed a curse and glared at the symbols. They'd been seared in as if brandings, still sizzling in areas, the wood around them scorched, the floor hot in places, bubbles a clear evidence of now cooled but previously molten terra cotta. Pursing his lips he studied each glowing design. The same, the very same, he'd seen on Logok's hand. This was what the orc had warned him of. It had come, like they'd feared. Logok had told him to close the Keel for a few days, perhaps a week, but Sastri understood that with such a business he'd lose too much if he did that. There'd been a possibility it'd pass right over them, and he couldn't shut his doors until there was a guarantee it'd hit. But what had his stubborness cost others?

"Hello?!" He glanced around. No one in the hall. A closer inspection proved no one in the kitchen either. He found more runes, however, shattered glass and fel-warped wood, some corners more affected than others. A feral rage oozed hot and intoxicating through him, dizzying him as might a good whiskey. He fought it, understanding what it was and where it came from. and staggered from the kitchen toward the back of the Keel, where the rooms and most importantly his customers, resided.

"Anyone?!" He flung open door after door, wide-eyed as he scanned each room. All empty. His nostrils took in the taint of burnt skin and hair in some, and all bedsheets had been reduced to piles of flakey charcoal. As had been the case with the kitchen and supping hall, some areas of the inn section were worse than others, some rooms obliterated, while others still seemingly pristine. The more he saw the irregular damage, the more he agreed with the article he'd read: this storm, was sentient. It had goals, targets, preferences in what it took and what it left behind. Such destruction. It had carved a vicious path.

But had it killed? Was this all that remained of a full house? Where those runes downstairs the epitaph of his hard-working staff, the burnt flesh he smelled the result of something more gruesome than he'd feared? Another curse shot from his mouth as a gasp. His knees buckled, tripping him to slam hard against a blistered wall. He felt sick. "Please...." He begged, but who or what he aimed it at, even he didn't know. "Please, let this not be what it looks like...."

"It isn't."

Ryder's voice behind him snapped his attention over his shoulder. The young rogue leaned against the door lintel with arms folded as per his usual stance. He was shirtless and casual, but something about him was different. His face lacked the common smirk, replaced instead with a grimace of pain. He breathed heavier than normal, and Sastri feared he might drop dead on him--another casualty to a poor decision.

"Ryder..." Sastri whispered his name in shock, pushing from the wall to go to him. The rogue shrugged off his help, adopting a forced smirk that made him look more himself.

"Ye worry too much, mate. Just caught a few 'its from that thing as we emptied the place. "

"'We'?"

"Veyha and I." He forced himself to better stature, nodding. Sastri could now see a bandage on his side, another wrapping his shoulder. "Showed up fast, i' did. Not fast enough to lick us."

"...Does that mean--"

"Everyone, aye." He nodded as if knowing what Sas was thinking. "They're all safe. Nideret 'elped us file everyone into 'is lab. You know, the one by the Keel? The underground idden' one that no one's supposed to know abo't?" He grinned, then swayed, and this time Sastri caught him. "Eh, well, I do't think i's a secret no mores."

"And Veyha?"

"Also safe. 'urt bad, but she'll live. Same as I."

The mongrel's face darkened in concern and his struggle with the fel around him. He was more susceptible to it than others. He could feel it reacting, his mind fogging over with the corruption. Fight it! He couldn't. The fel was winning out, and his brain was losing clarity. "If everyone's out and alive, then good." His relief was short-lived as he saw his comrade's expression. Ryder would need attention. "But if we dun leave soon, we might not be s'lucky. S'all I can do ta resist, Rye..."

The rogue looked at him, and Sastri could see in his expression--however calm it was--that he understood. Sastri had killed in the past due to fel corruption. It could happen again if they weren't careful. The two helped each other down the stairs, through the tavern, and out the door, and by the time Sastri exited, he was already gripping Ryder tighter than he wanted.

It didn't come with a warning this time. Usually it did, but apparently he'd been corrupted by the fel more than Verenar, the mage who'd tended him, had had him believe. His world swayed, faster and faster until he felt himself letting go. He heard Ryder cursing and calling his name. And then nothing.

_________________________

When he came to, it was to see Nideret standing over him, his brother's face one of forced amusement, though Sastri had known the paladin long enough to see the concern in those eyes. Someone was in a fit of barking coughs and wheezing gasps behind him, and Sas didn't have to ask to piece things together.

"...I did it again, huh."

Nideret nodded. "Nearly strangled Ryder." He forced a chuckle. "Dude, you can't even kill a human right. You fail like...real bad. You know that, right?"

Sastri rolled his eye, moved to punch him, but felt his fist held back. He glanced down to see the chains that bound his hands behind his back, and he understood enough of the situation that when he felt the tree he pressed against it didn't surprise him. Nid was still staring at him in meaning.

"Like...really really fail, man."

"Shaddup."

"No, seriously. If I was to stop trying, I'd still fail less than you. In fact, if I were to cut off my legs and arms, I'd still not even come close to the faildom that is you. Because that is how hard you fail. You are the king of failure. You'll go down in history as a failure to even all those failures who counted on you to fail less than them and show them that it was okay to fail as long as you failed in style. You can't even fail in style, man. You failed out of style. You're a failure that can't even set a fashion of failure. You're an out of date failure that not even my grandma wouldn't wear and go out in public with. They don't even make the fabric for your failure anymore, man. They like just...don't."

But Sas wasn't listening to his brother's jeers. He was staring at the Keel that he and Ryder had been hauled away from. It looked completely fine now. Not a piece of board upset. Not a nail out of place, but that was only on the outside. Those not sensitive to such energies might see this lack of disturbance as a promising sign. They might convince themselves nothing was wrong. He too could claim that all he wanted, could even try believing it--wanted to believe it! But he knew different. They all knew now.

And they all knew until it was fixed, they couldn't let anyone in.

"You would fail at showing people how not to fail, cause if they failed like you, they'd be worse than a failure. They'd be--"

Sastri closed his eye and blanked his brother out. A bit of latent rage flared in him, and when he lifted his lid and let himself see again, Nid had stopped rambling, and lay on the ground clutching his nose. Sastri lowered his foot and smirked in satisfaction.

"Nid, you fail at telling me how bad I fail, man. Now get up, and find us a shaman. Or better yet, get me an exorcist....Or better yet!" He grimaced, narrowing his gaze at the tavern and the memory of its familiar, yet longing, aura. " ...Get me Her lover. Get me Logok."

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