The sun was setting on Stormwind, and Mathias Shaw couldn’t help but sigh in frustration. It seemed like every day was getting shorter and shorter, but the reality was even worse: there was just too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to get it done. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s rest.
Apparently, it hadn’t been enough to defeat the Legion. The forces of the Alliance and Horde had worked together for months without rest to drive back the demons, fight them on an alien world, and banish a literal god, and as soon as the dust settled? The Horde launched an offensive in Kalimdor. And suddenly, everyone was back at each others throats, as if nothing had changed.
“More reports from Darkshore, Boss,” Reznik said, dropping a pile of papers nearly as tall as he was in front of Mathias’ face. “The Night Elves are holding the line, but barely.”
“What about our operatives we dispatched behind the lines?” Mathias asked his goblin number two. Reznik just pointed at somewhere in the middle of the stack.
“Report’s in there, Boss,” he said with a shrug. Mathias sighed again and gripped the bridge of his nose.
“Sum it up,” he grunted out with exasperation. “It’ll take me two hours – at best – to work through this pile.”
“They’re doing what they can to sabotage the Horde’s supply lines, and wreck the siege weapons before they can reach the front,” Reznik replied. “But it’s not enough. There’s too many of them, and not enough of us to make any meaningful progress before the reinforcements arrive.” Mathias buried his face in his hands, and the goblin made his way for the door. “Don’t work yourself too hard, boss. You won’t do anyone any good if you keel over.”
Reznik shut the door behind him as he left, and Mathias went back to his mountain of paperwork with a sense of weary resignation. However, he didn’t get far before he was interrupted by a much more unexpected intrusion.
“You know...” a gravelly voice spoke up from somewhere directly behind Mathias. “For the leader of the world’s preeminent intelligence agency, your office is stupidly easy to get into.”
Mathias knew that voice, and didn’t even bother to look up from his paperwork. He was too busy, and didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
“Sheason Fisher...” Mathias grumbled. “To what do I owe this unexpected visit?”
“I was in the neighborhood,” Sheason said simply, silently walking around Mathias’ desk. “Thought I’d check in on my old friend, see how you’re doing.”
Mathias looked up from his work, and locked Sheason with a suspicious, questioning gaze.
Something was wrong. Sheason Fisher was one of the most effective black op agents that SI:7 had ever produced, and was a veteran of the First, Second, and Third wars. He had ‘retired’ warlords, exposed traitors, and toppled governments back in the day. Only a handful of people still alive even knew about the existence of his file in SI:7 records, and of those, even fewer had the clearance to access it; even then, half of the file had been redacted. But Sheason hadn’t been an agent of SI:7 – hell, he hadn’t been a member of the Alliance – for years.
He wouldn’t be here unless he needed something.
“What do you want?” Mathias asked, turning back to his mountain of paperwork. There was too much history between the two of them, that Mathias didn’t even bother trying to be subtle and just cut straight to the meat of things.
“How’s the Uncrowned holding up since I left?” Sheason asked, leaning against the nearby wall; the longer he stayed still, the more it seemed like he was blending in with every shadow on the wall.
“Officially, as leader of SI:7, I have gone on record condemning the actions of the extra-national terrorist organization known as ‘The Uncrowned.’ But, unofficially?” Mathias cleared his throat. “Not well.”
“Let me guess...” he began, chuckling grimly, but Mathias cut him off before he could actually guess.
“Garona and VanCleef had a bit of a... disagreement. Of sorts. As far as I’m aware, the Uncrowned haven’t actually met since the Legion was defeated at Antorus and Sargeras was imprisoned.”
“To be honest, I’m amazed it didn’t fall apart sooner,” Sheason said, chuckling one final time. “Do you think Vanessa is going to be a problem?”
“Fisher, is there a point to this? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a bit busy at the moment,” Mathias gestured to the gargantuan pile of paperwork cluttering every inch of his desk.
“Yeah, I heard about both sides restarting that stupid pissing contest,” Sheason said, stepping away from the wall. “I knew that was gonna happen. I tried to warn you before I left, but I guess you didn’t listen to me.”
“Yes I did,” Shaw said with surprising force, setting down the documents in his hand. “But if you recall, at the time, the war against the Legion was at its apex. We had our hands full, and I wasn’t going to burden King Anduin about the potential of a Horde attack based on the gut feeling of a man who is supposed to have been dead for years, and who technically doesn’t exist.”
“Fair enough...” Sheason shrugged.
“So, was it worth it?” Mathias asked. “Leaving Azeroth to chase after that half-demon witch, just when we could’ve used your talents against the Legion most?”
Sheason didn’t say anything at first. He honestly didn’t know how he could explain to Mathias what had happened the last few months in a way he could understand. Hell, even Sheason had a hard time believing some of it. Spaceships, planets exploding, different universes, a hated enemy becoming an ally, and killing a nascent Elder-God... it was all a bit much. Mathias would probably think Sheason had lost his mind.
Then again, Sheason started comparing that turn of events to the fight against the Legion, and it suddenly didn’t seem all that far-fetched.
“Yeah, it worked out in the end,” he finally said, before adding “More or less.”
“So, does this mean you’re here for a job?” Mathias asked. “My offer from a few months ago is still on the table, after all. We could use your specific skill set, now more than ever. Especially after that failed Gathering in the Arathi Highlands...” Mathias cleared his throat. “Say the word, and I’ll have your Operative status reinstated.” Mathias paused, and then added with a morbid chuckle: “...assuming you get that Horde tattoo taken off your arm, first.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Sheason said, flexing his right arm and clenching and un-clenching his fist several times. “I had to get that arm replaced, and it didn’t really feel right to re-do the ink with Sylvanas on the throne...”
“... replaced?” Mathias asked, unable to hide his confusion. Sheason cursed silently under his breath. Mentioning that he stopped by a planet with a Rejuvenation Clinic before returning to Azeroth might - no, would - definitely be too much. After all, he’d had most of his organs replaced, the cartilage in all his joints was repaired, his bones were strengthened, his muscle density was enhanced, and he even got a pair of fresh eyes. The procedure had probably added thirty or forty years to his life, at the very least.
“It’s... a long story,” Sheason said simply. “It’s not important.” Mathias narrowed his eyes, obviously suspicious, but he decided not to press the issue.
“Right...” Mathias muttered, before returning to his paperwork. “Either way, the offer is still open.”
“What’s wrong?” Sheason asked, folding his arms across his chest again. “You’ve never been this thirsty for me to come back to The Agency before.”
“I’m just... a little stressed,” Mathias gripped his forehead, and started to rub his eyes. “The way things have been going lately, all-out war could break out within the hour. And here I am, stuck behind a desk, polishing a seat with my ass, unable to do a damn thing...”
“That’s the best place for you,” Sheason said, as diplomatically as he could muster. He had a sneaking suspicion where this was headed, and he didn’t like it one bit. “In all the years we’ve known each other, I’ve never met anyone else as talented as you at deciphering enemy intelligence. You’re able to see patterns in troop movements that other people just can’t...”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Mathias replied, refusing to look up at Sheason. “But even so... I just feel like I could be doing more, if I could just get out there...”
Sheason carefully placed both hands on Mathias’ desk, and fixed him with a gaze made of ice water. Mathias, uncertainly, looked up.
“Okay, you and I have been friends for a long time, so I want you to understand that what I’m about to say is for your own good...” Sheason began. “Shaw? You are utter shit at field work.”
Mathias did a double take, and looked at Sheason in shock and indignation, momentarily unable to formulate any kind of response. So Sheason continued.
“Do you remember what happened the last time you got a bit restless, and thought you could do more ‘good’ closer to the frontline? You should. It wasn’t that long ago. Do you remember how it ended? Because I certainly do, I had to help clean up that mess. You were captured by the Burning Legion, impersonated by a Dreadlord – for months – and one of your best agents was murdered, inches from her goal, as a result.”
Mathias finally found his voice.
“Death is a risk we all accept as part of the job, Fisher...” Mathias growled, getting up from his seat and matching Sheason’s angry gaze. “Amber Kearnen knew those risks, same as the rest of us. You should know that better than anyone.”
“It was an unnecessary risk, and you know that, Shaw...” Sheason growled back. “If you hadn’t gotten restless... if you hadn’t presented such a juicy target... if you had just stuck to what you’re best at... then Detheroc – using your authority – would not have ordered her assassinated, and Amber Kearnen might still be alive. Her blood is on your hands, all because you got tired of sitting behind a desk. And you should never forget that.”
The two of them glared at each other for several seconds, before Mathias finally backed off, and sat down behind his desk once more.
“So that’s a ‘no’ to my offer, I take it?” Mathias asked. Sheason sighed, removing his hands from Mathias’ desk and standing back up straight.
“Look, no matter what... I’m always going to be your friend, Shaw. We’ve got too much history for that not to be the case. Hell, I still remember the day Pathonia handed you the reigns to The Agency. But... I’m no patriot for the Alliance. Not anymore. I can’t return to SI:7, because these... these old hatreds between the Horde and Alliance are never going away. If working together to beat the Legion once and for all couldn’t get both sides to finally lay down arms, then nothing will. And I can’t be part of that madness any more.”
The room was silent for several seconds.
“So why even come back to Azeroth at all?” Mathias asked. “As far as I can tell, you had a way out, and the means to never come back. I mean, if this ‘madness’ is inevitable, as you say...” Sheason didn’t answer for several seconds. Eventually, he shrugged.
“Like I told you before, I just wanted to check in on my old friend.” Sheason replied. “And I guess... you might say I was feeling a bit homesick.”
Mathias sighed, shook his head, and turned back to his paperwork.
“You won’t be able to stay neutral, you know,” Mathias said, trying to inject as much gravitas into his words as possible. “Not with this storm billowing on the horizon, and not with Azerite starting to crop up everywhere. Everything is going to get swallowed up by it, and you'll be forced to pick a side...”
Mathias looked up, only to realize that his office was now completely empty.
Sheason was long gone.