It had not been my last, which I figured everybody knew. Of course, house arrest and supervision of my older sister Jenn proved to be fruitless efforts. After the last attempt where I made it into the dining room I snuck into the SI:7 facilities within the Old Keep two more times. Each one was stopped at the front door, as they were not foolish enough to leave any more windows open, despite the pressing heat of the summer sun holding Stormwind City hostage. After these two recent failures I was being shadowed.
Naturally, I was not observant or clever enough to realize it at the beginning, and was always genuinely surprised when Jasper appeared by my side every time, I ascended the marble steps to the keep. At first, I though he must be positioned somewhere in the shadows around the plaza from which one could enter the Champion’s Hall, the Command Center, and the SI:7 respectively.
However, it soon dawned on me that in fact, Jasper was keeping an eye on me, following me everywhere I went. I guess the SI:7 had grown just as tired of my shenanigans as my mother had. So, my mission changed from sneaking into their facilities to getting rid of Jasper.
I started taking long walks around the city at any hours of the day. On days when it was especially hot I preferred the Park, or the Mage Quarter, with their lush green gardens over the crowded Trade District, or the stuffy Dwarven District. On cooler days it was the other way around.
The Trade District offered large crowds in which I could vanish and, hopefully, lose my pursuer, which was never the case. It did not matter whether I entered a crowded shop and snuck out of the backdoor or blend into a large group of people. Being of short statue had some advantages which sadly did not work.
The Dwarven District with its clouds of smoke and dust, loud clanging and banging of smiths and welders, tinkers, and engineers, provided another set of possibilities to escape. Needless to say, I never got rid of Jasper there either. Even in the middle of the night he was always there. That man did not eat or sleep!
Despite my best efforts I did not set foot into the Old Keep for weeks. Much to my mother’s pleasure. I, however, was not as pleased, which was noticeable in my mood. Eventually, I stopped trying to escape Jasper’s watchful eye, but that did not mean that I had given up. On the contrary! I was more determined than ever. I would make my way into the SI:7, with or without Jasper following me!
“You should stop frowning. These wrinkles stay forever, you know.”
I was standing in the kitchen of the tavern, stirring a pot of stew on the fire. I had been mulling over my newest plans again, weighing my options and chances of success and then immediately discarding them again, after being deemed inadequate. To my left Stephen Ryback, the cook, was preparing thick chunks of pork belly.
“Who cares if I got wrinkles,” I muttered, staring blankly into the stew. Its steam of scented goodness hitting my face as I stirred. It smelled of thyme and beef.
At least the steam will give me flawless skin, I thought and chuckled. I could hear Stephen sigh. He was probably shaking his head. He was very much a man of appearances, valuing beauty over character. I did not like that aspect about him, although, he could be fun at times, and he was certainly a terrific cook.
“How long do I have to keep stirring?”
Stephen looked over my shoulder into the pot.
“Looks fine. You can go.”
Relieved I stepped away from the pot, dropped the wooden spoon on the counter next to it and hurried out of the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen door loud ruckus and voices were filling the room. The tavern was crammed with people. Not a single seat was unoccupied at the long tables. Even at the bar people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder like perfectly lined tin-soldiers. Within the crowd I could spot Jenn, and my mother hurrying across the floor serving people drinks and food. At the end of the bar stood my grandfather, leaning on the counter, talking to a man. He waved me over the second he spotted me, and I obliged.
“Branwyn, you remember Jasper,” he nodded at the man he had been talking with. It was Jasper, leaning against the counter, a mug of ale in his hand. Under his black beard he gave me a friendly grin; and I hated it.
“How could I not,” I huffed.
“Reese! How about another round?” A voice from the other end of the bar shouted over the chatter of the room. My grandfather excused himself and scurried off into the direction the voice had come from. I remained, standing across from Jasper, who took a giant swig from his mug.
“I remember the one time you tried to enter through the chimney,” he reminisced without looking at me. “A bold move, I must say. I was not the only one who was impressed that day.”
“Ah yes,” I replied causally. “My clothes were all black. Mother was not excited about that. It never came off.”
Jasper laughed: “You were as black as my hair. You couldn't have been older than eight. I believe.”
I did not reply. Jasper took another swig. With sway he set the empty mug down on the counter. Then he turned, directly facing me, leaning over the counter.
“I already knew back then that you had talent,” he said in a low and serious tone. “It would be a shame to waste it.”
My heart started racing as I heard his words. I tried to play it cool, but was not sure if my facial expression did not betray me. I was excited, but I also felt a little bit nauseous.
“Many would not agree. I know for a fact that certain people do not, but not everyone can or wants to see potential in others.”
He slid the hand into the inside of his shirt and produced an envelope. Carefully he placed it on the counter and slid it over to me with a slow motion of his hand. It was made out of crude parchment and bore a wax seal displaying a crystal vial.
“Here, bring this to Northshire and ask for Jorik Kerridan.”