Sissonne Cropped-Ears is a Kaldorei adventurer.
Jahzoolay’s Scallops, often called simply “Joolies,” were once one of the great delicacies of Azerothian cooking. The rare little animals are known to thrive in only one place: the rocky surf on the far eastern coast of Stranglethorn Vale, south of the Zul’Mamwe ruins.
Joolies took their name from a jungle troll who, 300 years ago, turned what had been a local Skullsplitter dish into a global business. Working together with some goblins, Jahzoolay and his descendants shipped their scallops -- at first fresh or live, later canned or magically frozen -- to all the wealthiest human, dwarven, and elven houses. Chefs everywhere raved over Joolies’ succulence, tenderness, and flavor.
Harvesting Joolies was dangerous. The rocks they fasten themselves to are sharp, the waters around them turbulent, and the Joolies must be gathered by hand. Only a few Skullsplitters were brave enough, and sure-footed enough, to do the work, and Jahzoolay’s company paid them handsomely.
Around the time of the First War, the goblins thought they had a better idea. They killed the troll workers and burned their seaside camp. Then they brought in flying machines. The machines were meant to hover above the waves, and pick the scallops from the rocks with steam-powered cranes.
As goblins’ plans often do, it all backfired. A few machines crashed. The noise and smell of the ones that didn’t drove the scallops away from the shore, out into rougher surf that was even more dangerous to navigate. After a few months of trying, the goblins packed up and left.
My name is Sissonne. To tell my whole story would take weeks. Suffice it to say that, three years ago, I was alone in the world and looking for easy gold. I’d eaten my share of Joolies over the centuries, and idly wondered what happened to them when they disappeared from the market, but never knew their story or where they came from.
Then in a Booty Bay flophouse, I overheard two jungle troll exiles -- one Skullsplitter, one Bloodscalp -- arguing about their tribal foods. The Skullsplitter was bragging about Joolies’ superiority over the shellfish on the western coast of the peninsula.
My ears perked up. I asked the troll if she’d take me to the place where Joolies grew, and she said that for a gold piece she could. I decided it was worth it, and we rode there straightaway. On the trip she told me the scallops’ history (with many embellishments).
We arrived at the beach while the tide was low and still ebbing. It seemed to me the perfect conditions to begin Joolie-harvesting myself. The troll, whose name was Zabrinka, was petrified that I would die. She warned me that two of her tribe had perished doing just the same thing -- attempting to rebuild Jahzoolay’s business after the goblins ruined it. I assured her that she had her gold piece already and no need to worry.
I was unconcerned myself. If a two-toed troll in a grass skirt could maneuver these outcroppings, certainly I could. I’d watched countless sunrises while exercising on similar rocks along the coasts of Darkshore and Feralas. I waded out, then leapt from rock to rock, dodging wave after wave. It took a good portion of my strength, agility, and quickness to reach the places where the Joolies were stuck -- but only a portion. Within a few minutes I had a bandana full of scallops, bubbling and squirming in the air.
For three years, then, that beach is where I lived. Zabrinka stayed with me to pack and sell our product, and to pay off the local trolls; we split the profits 50/50. At low tide, I picked scallops. At high tide, I slept, or went into town and caroused. I lived by Elune’s rhythms, and was happy, as I had not been in some time.
Then everything changed.
Yesterday morning I awoke in a strange bed, with no memory of the night before. That in itself was not so unusual. Typically when I awake in such circumstances, it is with a splitting headache, and often a need for a pail, while yesterday I felt fine, even well-rested. But that in itself was not so unusual either.
The bed was large and comfortable. I looked around. I was in the stateroom of an Alliance naval vessel. It was not a contemporary model. The room was clean and almost empty, with none of the usual trappings of an Alliance sea-captain. There was only my bed, an outdated map on one wall, a hammock near the door, and a huge solid table in the center of the room.
A human woman was sitting grumpily in a chair at this table, holding a coffee cup, with her legs crossed.
“Good morning, Cropped-Ears,” she said as she took a sip.
I hate that name, but other than Sissonne, it is the only one that’s ever stuck. I got it when I was still a juvenile, and the tips of both my ears were clipped off by a torturing satyr.
If she knew that name, this woman must know me, and that was a fact about her that I hadn’t known before. And she said it was morning. By the light through the portholes, I judged it to be several hours past dawn. The ship was barely moving, and I figured we must have been at port or at anchor. But it was far too quiet outside to be Booty Bay. Still, by the heat and humidity of the air, my guess was that we were still in the waters around Stranglethorn.
I surreptitiously felt around under the bedcovers for my flash powder. It wasn’t there. Then I felt for my backup flash powder, which I carry in a very intimate place. It wasn’t there either.
“Good morning,” I said warily, sitting up in the bed. “Do I know you?”
She didn’t answer right away. I could see the large table better now. Everything I’d been carrying -- daggers, powders, poisons, money, trinkets, and much else -- was laid out there, with military precision.
“I don’t know,” she responded flatly, sipping again. “Do you?”
I looked her up and down, without recognition. She was middle-aged for a human, perhaps older, with straight black hair in a tidy ponytail. She wore utility pants and a simple tank-top. By her clothes she might’ve been a dockworker, but by the muscle tone of her exposed arms and shoulders I judged her to be a fighter of some experience. With a swarthy complexion, and dark smoky eyes, she must’ve been beautiful once. Even now….
“Did we…?” I made an obscene gesture with my hands to indicate my meaning.
“No,” she scoffed.
Now I noticed a ring on her finger. I am no expert in jewelry, but it seemed to be a Qiraji design, such as I had seen long ago in the War of the Shifting Sands. And I smelled her coffee. I’ve visited cafes all over Azeroth but the smell of hers was not familiar. How was she drinking coffee in this climate? And then I noticed the clip in her hair. It was unmistakeably draconic in origin. This was certainly no dockworker.
“Look, what is this?” I asked. “Am I free to go?”
She snapped. “This is how you spend your life, Sissonne? Boozing? Waking up in strangers’ beds? Destroying nature’s creation for sport and money? To satisfy the degenerate appetites of Stormwind’s corrupt elites?”
Her words infuriated me. I threw back the bedcovers and crouched on the mattress, preparing to leap. The woman, too, jumped up from her seat, knocking over her chair, and assumed a defensive stance.
But she did not reach for a weapon. Did she have one? Quickly I surveyed the room again.
There it was. Tucked away on a shelf next to the hammock -- where the woman must’ve slept, guarding the door, ready for combat if I awoke. And … it was no ordinary weapon. In fact I recognized it. How had I not noticed it before? What was it doing here? How did she…?
“Who the ___ are you, ____?” I spat. My words were filthy.
Surprisingly, the woman relaxed. She smiled, almost laughed. She called out: “Ekuhree, get down here. She’s awake.”
Ekuhree. That was a name I knew well.
“I’m coming,” he said -- a deep, familiar voice. He sounded exhausted.
There was a loud sigh. On the wooden deck above the stateroom, slow and heavy hoofsteps landed. The woman and I watched each other as the hoofs clomped across the deck, down the ship’s ladder, and through the hall. The cabin door opened and the massive tauren entered.
“Sissonne, you --” he started to say.
I could see that Ekuhree had worked himself up to be angry at me. But anger was not in his character; he could not sustain it for more than a moment after opening the door. He saw me with his big brown eyes and the anger melted into affection. In a flash of green light, he transformed from tauren into cat, dashed across the stateroom to my bedside, and flashed back into a tauren again. “Are you alright?” he asked, reaching out to touch my arm.
I brushed him off. “I’m fine.”
He stepped back before continuing. “It wasn’t easy to find you. But I feel already that it was worth it. It’s good to see you.”
The human cleared her throat and stepped toward the door. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said.
“Hey, could I have a cup of that coffee?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s not coffee,” she said, hurrying out.
Ekuhree was still gazing at me.
“Perhaps I wasn’t anxious to be found,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “And I know why you left. But you must understand: What happened in Ashenvale was not your fault.”
“You have no idea why I left.”
He breathed, then continued. “I know how you loved the forest, as much or more than any of us. And I know how it pained you to watch it being destroyed. But you cannot give up so easily. The fight in Ashenvale is not over. We need you there, with us.”
“Who needs me?” I asked. “When you say ‘us,’ who do you mean? Who sent you?”
Ekuhree looked down, uneasily.
I pressed on. “You know I was no fit for Tyrande’s Sentinels. And an even worse fit for the Cenarion Circle.”
“That isn’t true,” he interjected.
“It is and you know it. Are there humans looking for me? SI:7? Is that why she’s here?” I pointed toward the door where the woman had walked out.
Ekuhree shook his head, genuinely bewildered. “No. Nothing like that,” he said. “I know little of your history with Cenarius. But whatever the views of the current leadership of the Circle, there are many of us druids -- and others who share our beliefs -- who want you, and others like you, back in Ashenvale. You have … skills, and … experience, that we don’t.”
I leaned back. “Ah,” I said. “Now I think I get it. It’s not so much my daggers they’re looking for. It’s my moral flexibility.”
He smiled slightly. “Your words, not mine.”
His honesty gave me comfort, and I smiled back. “It’s good to see you, too, Ku.”
“Well, then,” he said. “There’s no time to waste. We should leave for Kalimdor at once. I trust there’s no one here that you need to say goodbye to?”
I stood up. “Give me a hug first,” I said. We met at the foot of the bed, arms open, and embraced.
As he released me, I grabbed my blinding powder from the table. In an instant, it was in his face.
“Gah!” he screamed. “Dammit, Sissonne!” Ekuhree clutched at his eyes, rubbing vigorously with his huge furry hands.
“Forgive me, friend,” I said, as I hurriedly gathered my most important belongings. “You I trust, but very few others.”
“Astrid!” he yelled -- not at me. “She’s running! She’s blinded me!”
So Astrid was the human’s name. It wasn’t familiar to me. From the deck above I heard a muffled “bitch!” followed by running footsteps.
I squatted next to the heavy table. With all my strength, I heaved it up onto its side and over against the door. Seconds later, I heard Astrid struggling from outside to get in.
While Ekuhree fumbled around for something to wipe his eyes with, I flew to the shelf by the hammock. I plucked up the weapon and quickly examined it. I had not been mistaken; this was the real thing. I strapped it to my back.
“No hard feelings, I hope,” I said to Ekuhree. And with a quick leap, and a single flip for style, I jumped out the porthole and into the water, some 15 feet below.
I had been right about our location. The ship was at anchor, perhaps a quarter mile from one of several nearby islands, all covered with the vegetation typical of Stranglethorn Vale. In a few quick kicks I was 30 yards from the boat. Ekuhree was calling for me, and I guessed it safe to look back.
He had managed to fit his enormous horns through the porthole, but there was no hope for his even broader shoulders. I couldn’t help but laugh; he looked like a mounted hunting-trophy. I supposed he was trying to shift into a water creature, and then to swim after me, but he was still struggling with the effects of the blinding powder.
“Sissonne!” he called. “Don’t forget what I said! If you change your mind, make your way to Ashenvale. Leave a note in our old tree if you’d like. You remember the one?”
“I remember,” I called back. “Goodbye, Ku.”
But now I heard another voice. “Elf!” Astrid was yelling. “I see what’s on your back. Flee if you must, but I cannot let you keep that. Deposit it on the shore if you’re afraid to return to the ship!”
I decided I’d best keep swimming. “Sorry, kid!” I yelled. “You wanted moral flexibility, and you got it!”
I thought my parting words were rather cute. But now Astrid was holding her right hand up, at the level of her head, with the palm facing up toward the sky. A golden beam of light, first dim, then brightening, was shining down from heaven into her grasp. As I watched, still backstroking away, the light began coalescing into the shape of a divine hammer. “Don’t make me do this!” she screamed.
Astrid was a Paladin? Suddenly all of this was making even less sense.
I did not wait to test her aim. I took a breath, swam deep, and disappeared, as only a few of us know how.
That was yesterday morning. I hid the rest of the day on one of the nearby islands, then made my way under cover of darkness toward a place where I thought I could find passage to Auberdine. It was too dangerous to return to the old Joolie camp -- I’ll write to Zabrinka later. Now the sun rises, and I’ll hide again and rest before traveling farther.
Astrid was right, of course. I abandoned everything I loved, picked up every bad habit, broke every vow. She and Ekuhree had been wise to spirit me away in a drunken stupor; I never would have left voluntarily. This is the clean break, perhaps, that I needed -- if I take advantage of it.
Ekuhree was right, too. What befell Ashenvale in the Third War was not my fault. It was selfishness, pure egoism, for me to imagine otherwise. I still love my homeland, and I know it is not yet lost.
Ekuhree and Astrid were also wrong. There’s no place for me in any Alliance regiment, not even an informal one. I’ll fight the Horde destroyers in Ashenvale alongside the Alliance, not within it.
But first, I have a delivery to make.