True to his word, Edward did tell me what I wanted to know. Eventually. I had to remind him that his lifespan was now exponentially longer than it would be if I hadn’t brought him to Westbrook a couple of times and give up one of my healing potions, but he did talk. If he was that reluctant to talk to Shaw’s agents once they picked him up, he probably would have been better off with the Defias. At least they would just kill him.
Edward had given me the name of an exiled dwarfish stonemason by the name of Zoltan Brass. He was currently working with the Defias down in Duskwood near the old Yorgen farmstead. That was yet another tale of the Defias showing their true colours as nothing more than thugs and bandits. The original owner of the farm, Sven Yorgen, didn’t give the Defias the farm because he was a supporter. From what I’d heard, they’d located something they wanted on his land and killed Sven’s family and farmhands. The only reason Sven survived was because he’d been away on business at the time the Defias came down.
I don’t know if the Defias ever found what they were looking for, but they’ve held onto the farm all the same, and have been using it as a base of operations ever since. Back when I was still with SI:7 I’d been assigned to investigate scattered reports of bandit attacks originating from the area of the Yorgen Farm. Despite my findings, the fact that the Defias were still firmly entrenched spoke volumes about how much the nobles that controlled the army cared about the common man.
Night was rapidly approaching by the time I rode into Darkshire and while I knew the stories about the woods around the small town being cursed were little more than creative tales told by scared farmers, I wasn’t stupid enough to wander around at night alone. On my previous investigation of the area, I’d found evidence of a very large pack of worgen not far from the town, which would certainly account for a lot of the stories of disappearances and strange noises in the night. I’ve fought a worgen before and it’s not something I care to repeat if I can avoid it.
I set out in the morning a few hours before dawn broke. At that unholy hour, I reasoned I’d be relatively safe from the worgen pack as they tend to be more nocturnal hunters and even a few hours before dawn should see them retreating to the safety of their dens, plus they seldom strayed too close to the road. Worgen were cunning hunters and the pack here was smart enough to avoid doing things like snatching people from the roads. Doing so would quickly bring the wrath of the Night Watch militia down on them and even the legendary ferocity of the worgen wouldn’t be a match to the fury of the watchmen.
I approached the Yorgen farmstead by the road from the east. While the Defias squatting there might take notice of me, I counted on them not being dumb enough to attack every traveler on the road. Much like the worgen, doing so would bring the Night Watch down on them faster than they could scream a warning. I kept the hood of my cloak up and rode slowly, just another weary traveler trying to pass without incident. Of course, safe in the deep shadows of my cloak’s hood, I could busily scan for any sentries and guards and maybe get a rough count of numbers.
The thing about holding a large, open position is that unless you’ve got a truly staggering amount of manpower, it’s virtually impossible to seal up with any amount of certainty that no one will get in. Most people will stay away anyway, just to avoid trouble. The rest will stay way if the people holding that area are a group of thugs and bandits with a nasty reputation. Some people, though, say a thief looking for information from someone in that large, open position, realize that there is always a way in and they are going to find it.
There weren’t many sentries, maybe a dozen or so that I saw, hunkered down in amongst the undergrowth along the fence line. I’m sure they thought there were being sneaky, but they obviously hadn’t been contested in a long time, so they were lax and barely paid me any attention as I rode past. I made the turn south onto the road that eventually leads into Stranglethorn Vale, though I had no intention of riding that far. As soon as I was out of sight of the last sentry, I dismounted and tied my horse to a nearby tree. One thing that I had noticed both approaching and passing the Yorgen farm was the hilly terrain that backed up against the farm. I like hills. Hills are easy to sneak through and hide amongst. They’re also really hard to patrol properly.
I made my way through the hills well away from the farm, where it was easier to travel more quickly without having to worry about surprising a sentry or patrol. Once I got about to where I thought the actual farm buildings were, I started moving closer. I wasn’t too far off the mark, maybe a couple hundred yards at the most.
The dreary forest was starting to grow slightly lighter; morning must have been well under way by that point. I’d been here before but at that time I hadn’t known just how similar Duskwood was to the Ghostlands. The land and trees weren’t infected by the Scourge, but something dark had twisted the forest here. Nothing was as it should have been, despite the fact that the trees, vegetation and animals were all healthy, after a fashion. It was like there was a perpetual gloom in and around the forest that kept the entire area in a state of twilight during the day and darker than the furthest reaches of the Twisting Nether at night. Most people preferred to avoid the forest for just that reason. Truth be told, so did I, however, the darkness tended to be my ally when I was working, so I couldn’t complain overmuch.
I left the corpses of two sentries in my wake as I approached the farm complex. Evidence of the Defias digging in and fortifying the farm was much more evident here. All the windows had been boarded up, leaving only arrow slits for seeing out, not that they would have to worry about that too much. Barricades half as tall as a man had been set up around the doors, manned by at least one guard outside and probably another inside. The farm buildings were arranged in a rough semi-circle, which the Defias had completed with further barricades manned by over two dozen men. Whatever they were up to here, it was apparently very important that it be well-defended.
Crouching behind a dense bush, I was able to make a pretty good survey of the farm without being disturbed. Given the early hour, there was little activity, just the guards manning the barricades and doors, though I was fairly certain that would be changing soon as more people woke up. I wasn’t so much concerned about the Defias as I was about where I would find Zoltan Brass. Of course, there was also the question of why a stonemason was on a farm in what was effectively the back end of nowhere, but that was less important than which building he was in.
I figured the bunkhouse was as good a place as any to start. There was a good chance the bulk of the Defias were housed there, as that would be the most logical place. Of course, the inherent problem with that would be that the bulk of the Defias would be housed there and would probably be waking up soon. Just given the sheer number of men I’d seen around the farm as sentries and patrols, not to mention the men on the barricade, chances were pretty good the bunkhouse was full, one man leaving the bed as another crawled in. That also meant that the few sentries I had killed would probably be missed when the man they replaced in bed noticed they weren’t there. Yeah, I could have thought that through a little better.
I briefly thought about masquerading as one of the Defias, but tossed that idea due to the fact that everyone here would probably know each other pretty well and any new arrivals would have been very easy to pick out and I doubted anyone would buy my story about being the new guy who arrived in the middle of the night. I had to move, a small group of Defias were heading this way, probably the replacements for the guys I’d already taken out. I slipped from shadow to shadow, moving around to a better position. The three Defias stood around talking very near to the bush I had just vacated.
Brilliant plans, when they strike, should be seized upon, examined and then enacted, usually in that order. Fail to seize the plan and the opportunity may pass. Fail to examine the plan and you’re likely to miss any critical flaws. Obviously, failing to enact the plan is just plain failure. I managed two out of the three. I figure it’s pretty obvious which step got left out of mine.
Getting the drop on the three Defias wasn’t hard; they weren’t exactly looking for a man coming out of the shadows with knives for hands. Okay, so my hands weren’t knives, but it sounded good. One of my throwing knives found the throat of the man on the right, at this range it was almost impossible to miss. Less than a second later, I’d buried a dagger near to the hilt into the chest of the man on the left. Stunned by the sudden attack, the third stood there gaping long enough for me to get around behind him with my arm around his neck, dragging him off into the gloom of the forest.
“Zoltan Brass, where?” I growled.
The Defias struggled against me, trying to get free of the arm wrapped tightly around his neck. He calmed remarkably once he felt the dagger poking into his crotch. Of course, he still wasn’t answering.
“There’s plenty more where you came from, jackoff, so if you wanna keep breathing, start talking.”
Apparently, that was finally enough encouragement for him to speak. Nothing like reminding someone of how expendable they are to motivate them.
“The stables! The dwarf is in the hay loft in the stables!” That was an added bonus; he knew exactly who I was talking about. That meant my real target was still here.
I threw the guard to the ground hard enough he wouldn’t be able to recover quickly or easily. I snarled down at him, “Unless you plan on getting killed, you better run as far and fast as you can. And don’t even think about raising an alarm.”
He got the message, scrambling away on his hands and feet until he could finally get to his feet and run away. I pulled the other two bodies back around a tree, where they wouldn’t be easily seen. I got my knives put back where they belonged and drew my swords. Sneaking into the stable wouldn’t be easy, but at least it wasn’t the bunkhouse where I’d have to cut a swathe through the Defias to get to the dwarf. Despite that, there was still bloody work to be done.