Download full image
Expanded Universe

The Jade Hunters

by Matt Burns
Download

Queen-Regent Moira Thaurissan requests yer presence. Immediately.

Fenella Darkvire lingered before the massive oak door to the royal chambers, repeating the words in her head. She licked dry lips, wiped sweaty, soot-stained hands across her metalworking tunic. She'd been hammering at an anvil in the heart of Ironforge when a royal advisor delivered the message. She wished she could've had time to change into something more presentable.

But one did not make Moira wait.

Fenella knocked.

"Enter," a muffled voice replied from within.

"Stay here, Koveth." Fenella turned her head slightly, enough to see the enormous golem looming behind her. A mountain of metal, sorcery, and Dark Iron ingenuity.

"Affirmative," the construct rumbled.

The door creaked as Fenella pushed it open. She'd never set foot in the royal chambers. Very few had. Fine dwarven tapestries depicting historic events covered the walls. Moira sat, back straight, behind a wooden table that looked big enough to pass for a merchant ship. Broken quills and scrolls lay scattered across its surface, the casualties of battles waged with promises, threats, and half-truths. The war of politics.

Fenella swallowed, wondering whether she should be the first to speak. She had met Moira on a few occasions. Once was after Fenella had finished construction of the now-famed Ruby Crystalarium in Shadowforge City. Still, being in the queen's presence made her nervous.

"Fenella," Moira finally said, donning a relaxed smile. She cradled a small object in her hands: a statuette of deep jade, carved into the shape of a spiraling serpent.

"Yer Highness."

"Thank you for coming. I presume you know these lads." Moira gestured to one side of the chamber.

Fenella had been so focused on the queen that she hadn't noticed the other dwarves in the room. One was a Bronzebeard—a freakishly large Bronzebeard, two heads taller than the rest of his kind. The second was a burly Wildhammer with tawny skin marred by dozens of blue tattoos. A giant hammer hung from a strap on his back. He grimaced when he saw Fenella.

"Can't say I do, Yer Highness," Fenella lied, more to spite the other dwarves than to deceive her queen. Of course she knew them. Ever since the Wildhammer, Dark Iron, and Bronzebeard clans had reunited, Ironforge had become oversaturated with masons and smiths, most of them megalomaniacs who believed they were destined for fame and glory. Every day, she saw these two roaming the Great Forge as if they owned the place, belittling everyone else's work.

"Then introductions are in order," Moira said.

Unease flitted through Fenella. Why had she been called here? Why were they here?

"This is Carrick Irongrin." Moira gestured to the Wildhammer. "A blacksmith and miner of legendary strength. I've also heard that he can speak to the stones. That is true, Carrick?"

"Course it is."

"And here we have Fendrig Redbeard, the 'Hand of Khaz.'" Moira turned to the Bronzebeard. "A member of the Explorers' League. He has mined the depths of Uldaman, the Borean Tundra, Bael Modan, and many other dangerous locations. By all accounts, his bravery is without equal."

Fendrig let out a long sigh, as if his presence here were an utter waste of his time.

"Lastly, Fenella Darkvire of my own Dark Iron clan…" Moira paused. "A mason, a smith, an engineer, and an accomplished architect."

And the daughter of a traitor. She had skipped that part. Not that it mattered. Everyone knew Fenella was the offspring of Fineous Darkvire, the late chief architect of the Dark Iron clan. A dwarf reviled for how he had cheated his way into the coveted position. That, at least, was the story.

Carrick muttered something under his breath. Fenella ignored him. Being both a Dark Iron and the daughter of Fineous, she was accustomed to scorn. It did not bother her. She had learned long ago that she worked better alone. It made things easier for her and for everyone else.

"You're wondering why I have called you here." Moira twisted the statuette in her hands. "I have handpicked all of you for a special team—a job that requires the best masons in Ironforge."

"A team?" Carrick exploded. "With these two?"

"Ye expect me tae lead them?" Fendrig guffawed.

"No." Moira nodded to Fenella. "I expect her to."

Fenella's stomach tightened. She nearly shouted in protest before biting her tongue to hold the words back. Nothing good would come from openly disobeying her queen.

"A Dark Iron? Out o' the question!" the Wildhammer bellowed.

"On that I agree." Fendrig shook his head in disgust and made his way for the door. "I've got better things tae do than waste me time as part o' this fool's errand."

"I'm sure Muradin will be interested to know what you think of this idea—an idea he wholeheartedly supports," Moira said.

Invoking the name of the Bronzebeard clan's leader brought Fendrig to a halt. He turned slowly.

"The Council of Three Hammers has unanimously agreed to this venture," Moira continued. "I have been tasked with overseeing the details." The queen carefully set the serpentine statue aside and then unfurled a long roll of parchment. She beckoned the masons forward.

Fenella and the others crowded around the desk, jostling for position. The seals of Muradin, Moira, and the Wildhammer clan's leader, Falstad, were clearly marked at the bottom of the paper. So were the three masons' names, written in thick, black, permanent lines.

"Me name… I didn't agree tae anythin'." Carrick scowled. "What's this nonsense?"

"This is a chance to prove our greatness to the Alliance, to show that we are no longer a nation of bickering rivals but a people united. And if you refuse…" Moira leaned forward. "This decree will be a record that you opposed the council's struggle to forge a new future for all dwarves."

Fendrig crossed his arms and drew his brows together. "Stinks like blackmail tae me."

"Blackmail is a gamble. A tool used by the desperate." Moira smiled wider, but her eyes were daggers of ice. "I deal in absolutes, lad. I included your names because I knew that you would not be foolish enough to put your own petty animosities over the greater good of our people."

The queen's gaze moved between Carrick and Fendrig, daring them to prove her wrong. The Wildhammer shifted on his feet but stayed silent. So did the Bronzebeard. Moira then looked at Fenella. As much as the idea—the very thought—of working with a Bronzebeard and a Wildhammer sickened her, what could she do? Moira was her queen, her clan's guardian.

Fenella forced herself to nod, all the while hoping this "assignment" would be a quick one.

"Good. Now that we have that settled, we can move on to the specifics." Moira plucked the jade statuette from the table as she leaned back in her chair. "How much do you know about Pandaria?"

The Jade Hunters