"Pack your things, Jadaar. We're going to the Faire."
The Faire. I'd heard of it, of course. Who hadn't? A ragtag band of rubes and charlatans, swindling innocent folk out of their hard-earned coin with freakshow displays and sideshow games. Fixed, no doubt. Never staying in once place for too long, always moving on before anyone could get too attached...or return to complain.
I didn't respond right away, just looked at the kid and raised an eyebrow, and my mug. The kid wasn't too bad. A little naive, a little arrogant, but he had a good heart under that sheen and polish. The mug, on the other hand, was nearly empty. A real shame.
"The Faire?" I asked, watching my partner over the tankard's frosty rim. "Why the sudden interest, Asric?"
The kid grinned, a cocky, know-it-all smirk. Back in the day, I would have wanted to rub it out with my fist. Now it was just routine.
"There's something funny going on with the Faire, Jadaar," he said, his grin lighting up the dim taproom like a full moon in a charcoal sky. "Something really big! I can feel it."
He leaned in close, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. I sighed but obliged, shuffling my chair in closer. The kid could be so dramatic. Part of his charm, I suppose.
"The Faire's been doing quite well lately," he said, looking over his shoulder for any would-be eavesdroppers. "So well, in fact, that they've gotten their very own island! Bought and owned by old Silas Darkmoon himself, and they run the place top to bottom, coast to coast."
I sipped my ale patiently, waiting for him to dish up the rest of the goods. So far the kid hadn't said anything worth the fuss, but I knew he liked to string things along. He'd get to the point eventually. Sometimes it just took a while.
"Well, one of their workers contacted me looking for help. Seems that someone went missing without a trace a few days back! And get this - it's not the first time this has happened! Since the island opened for business, six people have vanished into thin air, and they have no idea why." He leaned back and spread his hands with a flourish, flush with anticipation.
My missing eye throbbed slightly. Not a good sign. My own personal little warning system. I rubbed the socket gently, adjusting the patch until the ache subsided.
Sensing my reluctance, the kid's cheshire grin faltered. "Look, I know it's a little weird, and maybe a little dangerous. But these are good people. Okay, maybe not good, and kinda strange, but they're okay. We should help them out, don't you think? Plus, they'll pay well if we can find their missing folk."
I leaned back, thinking hard. Outside, the city screamed its silence, violet spires hanging voiceless in the sky. Not much left here now that the war was over. Just a couple has-beens drinking the days away, reliving old memories.
Life sure was quiet. The kind of quiet that could eat a man alive. Could be that it was time for a change of scenery.
I tossed a few coins down on the table and stood, bones creaking like a rusty hinge. Didn't really have a choice. Someone had to keep the kid outta trouble.
"Greetings, friends! Welcome to the greatest show on Azeroth!" crowed the elderly gnome, an explosion of color and enthusiasm. "Silas Darkmoon, at your service!" Barely knee-high, but his personality touched the clouds. A spark in his eyes, too, and not just because he was happy to see us. Some real cunning behind those crinkled lids. Best be watchful, he didn't seem like the type of fella to miss much that went on around him.
"Greetings, Master Darkmoon," said the kid, all smiles and civility. "My name is Asric, and this dour fellow is Jadaar. We are investigators, here at the behest of one of your own, to look into your recent string of mysterious disappearances."
Darkmoon winced, though the smile never left his face. "Ah...I see," he said. "Well, head on in then. I do hope you are able to find our missing people. We're like family here at the Faire, and it's been just dreadful not knowing what's become of them."
The old man's hired muscle shot me a glare as we walk through the gate. Big fellow, ogre, arms like anvils. Looked strong as they come. I could tell he was sniffing for a fight. They always are. I stared back, looked him right in his bloodshot, beady eyes. No reason to show my tail this early in the race.
We walked on, taking in the sights. The moon was full overhead, but the Faire was ablaze with activity. Oil lamps and torches were distributed every few feet, ensuring that visitors could partake in the Faire's attractions in full illumination.
I had been surprised when I had learned that the new Faire was only open at night, but suddenly the pieces all fell together. The Faire was well-lit, while outside the light's perimeter lurked a deep, impenetrable gloom, unknown and dangerous. Not only did this add to the Faire's spooky allure, but it also made the fairegrounds seem like some sort of safe haven, a beacon of warmth and security in the darkness. Pretty smart bit of marketing.
Stands of ghastly souvenirs fought for attention with vendors hawking cheap baubles and gaudy trinkets. While the kid paid a few silver for some kind of hideous sugar-coated fruit on a stick, I watched the crowd flow around us, dreams of prizes and bargains twinkling in their eyes. A river of broken dreams that just didn't realize it yet. Part of me wanted to laugh at their optimism. Part of me was a little jealous.
"Did you see those lights?" asked the kid abruptly. I shook my head. I'd been watching the people, not the scenery. He was staring out past the tents, squinting. "Hmm, I thought I saw something glowing out there, but it's gone now. Must have just been something from the Faire, or a bit of moonlight."
We stopped at a dull green tent that looked exactly like all the others. The kid went right inside, so I leaned back against the fence to wait. This was his show; I was fine handing over the reins and enjoying the ride.
As I waited, I glanced over my shoulder at the woods beyond the well-lit fairegrounds, looking for any mysterious lights. Nothing. Just darkness and shadows, black as the Deceiver's heart. Nice place for a stroll...if you're a ghoul.
I turned back when I heard my name. Kid stepped out of the tent with a human girl, young slip of a thing, frail and thin. Pretty enough by human standards, but it was obvious she'd been living hard. There was a weariness about her that only comes after life's kicked you around a little.
She introduced herself as Kerri Hicks, the 'Strongest Woman Alive', and reached out a friendly, tiny hand. Turns out appearances can be deceiving, because the little lady had a grip of iron. I tried not to let my surprise show, but I think she knew, judging from her cheeky grin. She and the kid exchanged look and laughed, like peas in a pod. Brats.
The little charade broke the ice, though, just as planned. Sure enough, within a few minutes the kid's got her talking. He's what you might call a people person. I'm not.
They talked, I listened; the usual setup. The kid asked her all sorts of questions about her missing friends, sympathetic and grieving, the picture of compassion. He was good. Real good. She spilled the beans, everything she knew, what she saw, what she didn't see. Forgot I was even there, which is what we wanted.
While the kid was busy being her new best friend, I paid close attention to her words, studied her reactions and mannerisms. It's funny what people reveal when they don't realize they're being watched. A flutter of the hands, a tightening of the mouth, even a little sideways glance. Minor things, easy to overlook. But oh, the stories they can tell.
No hidden tale here, though. Far as I could tell, the girl was shooting us straight. She trusted us, or rather, she trusted the kid. You could tell by the way she looked at him. If she was playing false, she played it well, better than anyone I'd ever met. And I've met some real jokers.
Turns out that ever since the Faire had set up shop on the island, people had been going missing. At first, old gnome Darkmoon figured they had just gotten tired of the life and headed home, but after a few more people vanished, things got real serious in a hurry.
According to Hicks, some of the missing folk were lifers, with no homes to return to and no family outside the Faire. Made no sense for them to up and leave, especially now that the Faire had stopped its nomadic lifestyle and was settled in for keeps.
The latest person to go missing was a female tauren her age named Arlon, she told us, voice all aquiver. They'd grown up in the Faire together, and she swore that Arlon loved the Faire with all her heart, and would never abandon them or run away.
I could tell they were close. I guess with an upbringing like that, they'd feel like sisters. Poor thing was distraught with worry. I wanted to pat her on the shoulder and tell her everything was going to be alright, but I didn't. I didn't want to get her hopes up. Been doing this long enough to know that the second you promise something, the opposite comes true. Then you're a liar and a failure. I'd rather be just one, given the choice.
It was the same story with the other missing workers. Six people in total, all of whom were perfectly happy and content, gone without a trace.
We spent the rest of the night combing the grounds for clues or witnesses, but came up empty. No signs of any struggles, no evidence of any animal attacks, nothing. It was like they just walked away into thin air.
I woke up in the next evening to a pale mist floating through the tent, hanging over my head like a shroud. I knew something was wrong. Call it intuition, call it a sixth sense, but I just knew.
Looked over at the kid's cot. Empty. Could be he was already up poking around. Or it could be something else.
I went around the grounds, asking if anyone had seen him. Vague replies and confused shrugs were all I got in return. My eye started to ache, and it felt like someone was playing a two-tone recital down my spine. Fear and dread were knocking, but I wasn't going to open that door just yet. Time enough for that later.
I had all the questions in the world. Just didn't have any answers.
Then I remembered the lights.
I swung once, twice, a one-way ticket to oblivion, sealed and delivered. Hit nothing but air, though. She drifted closer, a twinkling, luminescent apparition on the night breeze, her once-beautiful features contorted into an obscene, nightmare grimace. She shrieked an impossible cross between screeching metal and a broken heart, a lonely dirge of sorrow and despair, and it bowled me over like an angry clefthoof.
Desperately, I scrambled away from her grasping claws, holding my mace before me in a futile warding gesture. Ghosts. I hate ghosts.
I backed up against the ancient, withered tree, heard the cages hanging overheard rattle and clatter their skeletal contents in greeting. Six missing people, six cages, six sets of bones picked clean and locked inside. Now, I'm no engineer but that seemed like pretty simple math to me. Poor saps saw the the ghost's glow deep in the woods and took it for torch or lantern light. They went to investigate and and never came back. I didn't look forward to breaking the bad news to Miss Hicks, assuming we lived long enough to tell her, that is.
Darkness crept its hungry claws toward me, barely held at bay by the sputtering lantern in my left hand. The kid lay on his side a few yards away, pale and weak, but alive. I could tell he was outta the fight though, by the glassy haze in his eyes and the slack in his limbs. The ghost had been vamping him something fierce when I arrived, pulling his life right outta him like a fisherman gutting his evening catch. Couple minutes later, would've been nothing left of the kid but a well-dressed corpse.
Course, that's not to say we were safe and clear. Still the little matter of a vengeful spirit out for blood, and us without a holy man. I shifted my grip and lunged forward, swinging the lantern. Maybe fire would work where cold steel had failed.
The flame fluttered wildly as it swung forth, then passed right through her without any effect. Should've known it wouldn't be that easy. Before I could step back, she surged forward and plunged a phantom hand deep into my chest.
Her touch hit me like a winter squall. Felt like I'd just walked across Northrend in my birthday suit. I staggered back, suddenly breathless and numb. My fingers twitched, cowardly soldiers deserting a lost battle, and my lantern and mace thumped to the ground.
Dead fingers, pale and cold, wrapped around my throat, and I gasped as the spectral ice froze my skin and filled my lungs. I clawed weakly at her hands, the only part of her that seemed remotely solid, but her grip was locked in good.
Her eyes, pits of endless darkness and fury, bore into mine as she leaned in close. I looked into those spiteful orbs and saw the Nether staring back.
"This is our ourrrrr land!" she keened, a sibilant hiss slithering through the air. "All trespassers will be punishhhhhed. You will not stop me. You cannot stop me..."
She leaned in close, putting her mouth near mine. I heard her inhale deeply, and felt my legs go weak, the strength draining out in a gushing, helpless flood. The kiss of death. Can't say I was a huge fan.
"Hold on now, sweetheart," I said through chattering teeth twisted into a grin that would've made the kid proud. "Everyone knows you don't go to the Darkmoon Faire...without bringing a little Light."
I grabbed her wrists, ignoring the razor chill that shot through my veins. Instead, I concentrated hard, thought back to what the old man taught me all those years ago, back when the universe was young. Never really was my thing, but I paid attention, locked it away inside myself for later. Always knew that bit of juice would come in handy. Just didn't know when.
She shrieked as my hands started to glow, and started thrashing and writing like an angry elekk, trying to break loose and escape back into the night where she could lick her wounds and find easier prey. But it was too late. She'd made her bed, and I was gonna make sure she used it.
I sunk my fingers in, stabbing through skin that wasn't quite there, digging deep. Felt pretty strange. A little like jelly, if jelly were made of hate and evil.
I watched the Light run down my arms, little golden embers that danced like fireflies, tingling and soothing where they touched my skin, chasing away the rime and frost.
It flowed through my fingers, right into her hollow, translucent bones. She screamed again, but the malice and rage had been replaced by pain and desperation. I never heard a sound so sweet.
Her body fought me, but her soul drank it in like a man dying of thirst. It lit her up like a lantern on Hallow's End, burning her up from the inside, blasting out of her mouth, her eyes, her skin. Smoke rose from where my fingers were plunged into her ghostly flesh, sizzling and hardening, then crumbling like a stale cheese.
The oily night retreated, chased away by the brilliant glow. Probably the only touch of hope this forsaken forest had ever known. Flickering shadows leaped around us, fierce and angry, but they kept their distance. They knew what was happening to their wretched sister, and they didn't want any of it.
Caught a glimpse of the kid out of the corner of my vision, his eyes wide with surprise, mouth gaping like a beached murloc. Couldn't really blame him for being shocked. I never told anyone about this little trick, not even him. We've all got secrets. We keep 'em for a reason. After all, you gotta have a trump card.
My hands were numb and my breath was gone, but I didn't care. Only way I was letting go now was if one of us was dead, and I didn't plan on that person being me. After all, the kid was counting on me. Wasn't my time yet.
With a final cry, she swelled and burst into hundreds of tiny motes of silver and azure light. They floated down slowly to the forest floor, gently illuminating the small clearing like a flood of fallen stars.
I sank to my knees, spent, and crawled over to the lantern. The kid was struggling feebly to rise, but it looked like he still didn't have any strength in him yet. I dragged myself and the lamp over next to him, and leaned back against the trunk, wheezing painful breaths and waiting for one of us to recover enough to get the hell outta there.
"Why not...heal...Light?" said the kid through twitching lips.
"C-C-Can't," I shivered. "All I h-h-had. T-t-tapped out." It was the truth, too. I felt the raw, jagged hole within me, empty and gaping. My soul probed at it like a loose tooth, searching for its familiar warmth, but it was gone. Spent. Nothing left but a sad memory of what used to be.
"You...you used your last bit...of the Light...to save me?" murmured the kid, quiet and solemn. He'd risen gingerly to his feet, swaying like a boozehound after a long night of business. He wavered over me, stretching, taking in the battered cages and the lost souls within. A shudder ran through him. Thinking about one's own mortality always takes the spring out of your step, and this one had been close. Way too close.
"Thank you, my friend. Sincerely. I owe you."
"Forget it. That's what partners d-do," I chuckled through clattering teeth. I paused for a second. "...but you DO owe me, and don't think I'll ever let you forget it."
The kid laughed and threw me an arm, and we began the slow trek back to the Faire, just a vague purple horizon barely visible through the treeline. Behind us, the macabre monument and its ghastly contents faded away, the smoldering remains of the killer dwindling into tiny pinpricks in the night's boundless tapestry.
As we limped out of the woods, I thought about what I had lost. First my eye, now the Light. Little pieces of myself, gone forever, never to return. Deep inside, I wondered how much I still had left, and what would happen when it was all gone.
But hey. The kid and I were both still breathing, so that's something.
Some days, that's all that matters.
Show/Hide Letter Notes
That being said, I thought about it and realized that there was some potential here. After all, Jadaar and Asric WERE showing up at the new Darkmoon Faire/Island in 4.3. Not being on the PTR, I had no idea what they were doing there (probably nothing of note) but it didm make me wonder *why* they might be there.
The answer was pretty straightforward - they were originally Shattrath authorities investigating the possibly-illegal swindles of Griftah, and what is the Darkmoon Faire but a bunch of games and sideshow acts that - if they're like most carnivals - nothing more than cheap tricks and swindles? It made a lot of sense for these two "cops" to be there checking things out, making sure things were on the up and up.
Or at least, this WAS my plan, until I discovered Mia's great blog post about the hidden ghosts of Darkmoon Island. Investigating a swindle is all well and good, but here was a REAL mystery for them to tackle!
Who is the murderous ghost? And is that actually part of the real Darkmoon Island? First of all, there ARE ghosts on the island (see the above link) but no, they're not some murderous creatures out for vengeance. I just made up the angry ghost part to fit the story. As for who it was? I'm leaning towards the island being part of the old Night Elf territory, before it broke away in the Sundering. So a Night Elf ghost.
As for the tone of the Letter...I honestly don't remember what made me want to make it all Noir-ish. I think maybe it was the relationship between the two where Asric is clearly the junior member of the pair, combined with how I've been listening to the incredible Bastion narration videos on Youtube, and could totally mentally hear Jadaar calling Asric "kid" in the narrator's voice.
In fact, my mental voice for this whole letter was the Bastion narrator. He's so, so awesome. Seriously, just listen to him:
I'd never tried writing anything in this style before, and as someone who's never really read Noir fiction or watched Noir movies, it was kinda weird to get into. I'm not sure how authentic it sounds. I also read Liala's Orc Detective series for a little inspiration.
It was a surprisingly difficult Letter to spit out. Partially because of the style, partially because I was sort of making up a mini storyline, too. Overall though, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.