Elwynn Forest, the East Road, Approximately 28 Years After the Dark Portal
Jonah Salter stared down the East Elwynn Road like a man heading for the gallows, and in a way, he was just that. His brother James might very well kill him when he saw what was in the wagon, and Jonah wasn’t sure he’d try to stop him.
Two years he’d told them. Two years and regular visits. He’d promised. And here he was, almost a decade late and no visits, ever. He gazed back into the cage lashed down in his trusty old wagon and mutely observed the snarling animal penned inside. And what I am bringing back is not that with which I left, he thought grimly. Not for the first time, he doubted his current course of action. His compatriots had all told him he should keep what they’d found locked away, at least until they could observe it. Mathias Shaw almost made it an order, but in the end he had relented. Jonah had promised to watch over Goldie, and he’d failed. The least he could do was bring him home, let his parents know he was alive. In a manner of speaking. Once again, he looked back. Goldie, his nephew, covered in filth and crouched like a beast, snarled through the bars of the cage, then retreated to the far corner to observe him with a wary eye. What in fel had that bastard Whalen done to him, thought Jonah for the thousandth time. Driving his horses slowly down the old road, he relived it all again.
Jonah and Mathias had been on the run for more than 7 years. Ever since Tolar Whalen had framed them and made SI:7 his own. Whalen had hoodwinked Varian into believing his most loyal men were plotting against him, so Varian put a price on their heads. The few loyal members of SI:7 remaining had scattered, doing what they could to strike at Whalen and protect the Kingdom.
Then tales had begun to circulate about an assassin Tolar was using. He was known in hushed whispers as Northwind. Whalen was always theatrical, thought Jonah through his reverie. Anyone Whalen wanted removed, met Northwind. He never missed, it was said. The mention of the name made people cooperate.
Well, it had taken a lot of work, but after years of searching they had discovered where Whalen kept his deadly pet. Pyrewood, on the border with Gilneas. Made sense. Bastard was from there.
A jolt to the wagon knocked him from his reverie. Frowning, he saw the deep ruts in the road. Years of the wrong people whispering in the King’s ear had left things going to rot. He turned to inspect his cargo again; was met only with a dead stare from those familiar golden eyes. Spooky to see those eyes full of hatred but no life in them. Sighing, he turned his attention back to the road.
So he and Mathias had made their way to Pyrewood. Other Stormwind loyalists met them there. This was it, this was when they would turn the tide and save the Kingdom. While the others staged a mock-assault on the town, Jonah and Mathias had made their way to a secret door, one that led to subterranean catacombs running all over beneath the town. Some said they connected up with the dungeons of the Keep on the hill overlooking the town. They moved through carefully, but lucky for them Whalen’s people had taken the bait and headed above ground to fight off the assault.
In the deepest dungeon, they found the door they were looking for. Engraved on it was a rune meaning “cold wind”. They readied their weapons and swung it wide, prepared to defend their lives. They needn’t have bothered. In the very center of the room was a small cage, and in it, a figure crouched like an animal, its face lifted to sniff the air. Mathias, seeing the opportunity, pulled out a dwarven pistol and prepared to end the creature. It was at that moment that the thing had turned to them and fixed it’s eyes on them. Its glowing golden eyes.
Before Mathias could fire, Jonah struck his arm and sent the shot wide. Mathias had turned to question him, but the look on the man’s face made him hold his words. Jonah inched closer. Beneath the filth, it was him. That pale blue skin, that white hair, and by the gods, those ears!
“Goldie?” The thing in the cage lunged forward at the word snarling like a rabid wolf and reaching through the bars. Jonah fell back and scrambled away. Mathias raised his pistol again. “Shaw, no!” Mathias hesitated. He trusted Jonah with his life, but his look said he better explain fast. “Mathias, it’s my nephew. You remember? The strange elf-like kid that came in for training. He disappeared just before Whalen made his move.”
Hesitating, Shaw nodded and replied, “I remember.”
“It’s him, Mathias, I found him.”
“Your nephew is Tolar’s assassin? This is the dreaded Northwind?”
“I don’t know what he is, Mathias. I don’t know what they did to him.”
Peering into the cage, Mathias added, “Northwind, the Chill Wind. What did those Quel’thalas refugees call him? Forsil?”
“Forosuul. Means Northwind in Thalassian.”
Grunting, Mathias said, “So what now?”
“I have to take him home.”
“Are you daft? Look at him, Jo! He’d as soon kill you as look at you!”
“Maybe he should. He’s in there because of me, Shaw. I swore I’d look out for him.”
Looking over the situation, Mathias remarked, “Ok, Jonah, you’ve earned some leeway, I guess. Send the signal up top, start the real assault, bring in all reinforcements. Once the village is clear, we’ll haul that cage up and drag it back.”
And so they had. And after a lot of arguments, they’d let him take the feral boy with him. Months that was, now. He’d made his way slowly south, using only the back roads and avoiding all settlements for fear of Goldie getting free. Mathias and the remaining loyalists were busy closing the net around Tolar Whalen, but Jonah would be missing the end game there. He had more important matters to attend to. And here he was, almost on it. He’d be at his brother’s place tomorrow. Maybe he would die tomorrow. If it erased his sins, he would accept it gladly.
The next morning Jonah Salter drove his wagon down the path leading to his brother’s land. Just a mile or two more to go. He hoped that the site of his parents would break Goldie out of whatever they’d done to him. One of the SI:7 doctors said he’d seen something like it before. Conditioning, he called it, but he’d never seen anything so profound. He’d said they probably triggered him somehow, maybe with a phrase or something. Jonah was convinced that when Goldie saw Emma, he’d come out of it. He had to.
Every day of this trip, Jonah had spent time speaking to his nephew. Usually when he made camp for the night, but sometimes as they bumped and tossed down the back paths. He never got more than a growl for his trouble. Was the boy still in there? The thought weighed on him as he crossed the last mile to the little farm.
Jonah was shaken from his thoughts by the shout. Looking up, he saw his brother James running full-tilt at him, a wheat thresher raised as a weapon. Time seemed to slow for Jonah for a few moments, and he could only think that his brother had aged terribly in the past decade. A chiding voice in his head whispered, Of course he did. You took his son away, lost him, and never had the courage face him. He’s spent the past 10 years without no idea what might have happened. He watched James move closer, preparing to swing the wheat flail at his head, and thought, here it comes. But at the last moment he realized he had more yet to do.
Rolling from the driver’s seat, Jonah hit the ground at a crouch. He shouted, “James wait! I’ve brought him home!” A split-second later, the thresher crashed against the wagon, sending wood splinters flying as the footboard cracked under the assault. The horses were screaming and threatened to bolt. Ye gods, though Jonah, he may look frail, but that old man hasn’t lost a step. Again he cried out, “James, please! I’ve brought him back!” He received no answer, nor were there further attacks on the wagon or himself.
He waited a moment, listening, then carefully poked his head around the front of his horses as he stroked their necks and soothed them. James stood there, at the end of the wagon, staring. He had dropped his thresher, and stood, mouth agape, trembling, at the sight of his son in the cage.
“Jimmy?” said Jonah quietly.
Broken from his stupor, James looked at his brother and rasped, “What the fel’d ye do to him, ye bast’rd?”
“Light, Jimmy, it wasn’t me! He was taken from Stormwind years ago. His kidnappers did this.”
“So much fer yer word to look out fer him.”
Letting his shoulders drop, Jonah simply replied, “I don’t have any excuses for you, James. I found him and brought him home. That’s all I’ve got for you.”
James simply looked back at his boy, covered in filth and growing like an animal. “Can we get him out of th..”
“James, whats going on?” cried out a woman’s voice. Hearing the voice, Jonah perked up. It was Emma, she’d heard the commotion and come out of the house. James turned to her, about to answer, when the beast in the cage locked his eyes on her.
Those glowing golden eyes.
Shaking, Emma stepped towards the cage. Weakly, she said, “Little one?”
In the cage, her son just crouched, staring at her without recognition. For a moment, Jonah thought, this is it, this is where Goldie will come back, but then Emma rushed forward shrieking “Goldie!” at the top of her lungs. As the word rang out, he saw Goldie tense, ready to pounce.
The trigger. It could be a phrase, they said. Or maybe a word.
Emma was at the cage before Jonah could move. She reached up and unlocked the intricate latching mechanism. Events suddenly seemed disconnected to Jonah. As his sister-in-law unlatched the cage, he thought, where did she learn how to work one of those while another thought shrieked his name is the trigger!
The door of the cage yawned opened. The animal inside became a blur. In a blink, Jonah watched his nephew fly from the cage with staggering speed and grace. He had transformed from a rabid dog to a trained tiger. As the indistinct form sped by his still-trembling father, one arm reached out – almost like an afterthought – and deftly twisted the old man’s head. Jonah heard the sickening crunch as his brother’s neck was shattered. With an appalling thud the boy thundered full force into his mother, taking her down into the dirt of the road. Emma shrieked, calling out her sons name, which only seemed to make things worse. His limbs moved too fast to follow, and it seemed there was an explosion of crimson that fountained up from the prostrate form of the tiny woman, washing over her son, her murderer, bathing him red.
After a moment, his motions slowed. He sat astride the ruined form of the woman who had loved him as her own. Something was happening. His body began to tremble, and he held his hands in front of his face, his glowing golden eyes staring at the scarlet glove each hand wore.
Beneath him, breathing her last, Emma Salter choked out her final words, “My boy…my little one…wherever you go, always…” As the light faded from her eyes, it finally dawned again in Goldie’s. Seeing what was beneath him, he began to scream.
Jonah stood to the side, unable to move. It had happened so fast. Everything he’d done had come to this. James had always said he’s bring ruin on the family. The old bastard had been right. He’d let everyone down. Got everyone killed. After a while, he was not sure how long, he realized something had changed. Oh, it was the boy. He had been screaming for a while, and he was hoarse now and had collapsed over his mother’s shattered corpse. Goldie lay there now, wheezing, tears streaming down his face. Jonah could see it in his eyes, he knew what he’d done.
Tolar Whalen’s little parting gift. A final trigger. Using his own name.
A week later, the wagon was going north again. This time the cage was gone. Goldie was not in his right mind, but he was no threat. He sat, staring at nothing. He didn’t speak, didn’t react. If Jonah put food in his mouth, he chewed and ate, but that was it. Something in him had broken. Jonah spoke to him constantly as they rode, just as he’d spoken as he dug graves by that old oak on the riverbank, and while he’d laid his brother and sister-in-law to rest there. He never stopped, and Goldie never answered. But he was not going to give up. Goldie was all he had left. Fixing him up, somehow, was the only way to make up for all his failures.
“You take as long as you need, boy,” Jonah said to his nephew. “I’ll be here when you come out of it.” He snapped the whip, turning the wagon to take the road towards Redridge. “And when you do, we’re gonna find Tolar Whalen. With help or alone, I don’t care. You and me, were going to find him, and we’re going to kill him.”
Unseen by Jonah Salter, the barest whisper of a smile played around the edges of his nephews mouth before his face went slack once more.