[Story] One More Chance XXX

The inn at the outpost seemed all right, if rustic — its stone walls were supported by thick roughly-hewn wooden beams, but the owners had hung a garland of northern flowers that convinced Vajarra that it was all right. More importantly, it was warm inside, a huge fire roaring in the hearth that took up most of the far wall. Vajarra paid for a room, and hurried over to warm herself up. She was certain that some of her tendrils had frozen off, and her hooves ached from the cold of the ground. She’d put something on to keep her heels warm, but it did nothing for the sensitive frogs of her hooves. Vajarra shed her heavy cloak on a chair, and settled down onto the blissfully warm stones of the hearth. Warmth… finally. She closed her eyes contentedly, hoping that her room might have a tub so she could have a hot bath when she got upstairs.

“Vajarra?”

Who was talking? It sounded like — Vajarra gave a little squeak of surprise as she turned toward the voice, one she was certain that she recognized. Malcos the night elf was sitting at the table where she’d dropped her cloak, staring at her with a brow arched. She could see the glint of metal in the dim light, and she scrambled up to her hooves.

“Don’t you stab me!” she hissed, her eyes searching the tavern for what might be a guard. He looked insulted by the suggestion, but she didn’t care anymore.

“I’m not going to stab you,” Malcos said, his ears lowered. “What in Azeroth are you doing here?”

Vajarra started to answer, but shut her mouth again. What was she supposed to say? If Malcos knew what she was really doing, he’d try to hurt Istahn. Instead she shook her head, looking at him darkly. “I should ask you the same thing. I thought you were working in Stormwind.”

Malcos shrugged, leaning back into his chair to watch her, that brow still arched, but he seemed more amused than anything now. Probably he was laughing at her. “I was reassigned,” he answered, and Vajarra grimaced at the hint of a slur in his words.

“You’re drunk,” she said, grabbing her cloak from the chair and backing toward the stairs.

“I’m off duty,” Malcos retorted, which wasn’t a denial. “And I’m not drunk.”

Vajarra snorted softly in disgust, turning to climb the stairs up to her room. “So what are you doing here?” he asked, watching her carefully. The question made her pause, her hand on the railing.

“It isn’t any of your concern,” Vajarra said flatly. She wished he would just go back to his table and leave her alone. He was going to ruin everything with his constant questions.

Vajarra shook her head, continuing up the staircase, but she could hear him following. “It’s way too dangerous for you here,” Malcos said. “You know that.”

“So? Since when do you care? Are you going to run and tell Vass what I’m doing?”

His gaze narrowed. “Oh, is that it?” Vajarra turned to go again, and he sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I told your sister we spent some time together. I was hung over and pissed off at her at the time and wasn’t exactly thinking straight.”

“Do you trust her, Malcos?” She stood in the darkened doorway at the top of the staircase, her eyes glowing dimly.

The question made him pause, that was for certain. After a moment, he responded, eying Vajarra icily. “More than I used to.”

Vajarra couldn’t tell if he really believed that or not. “She betrayed her own sister. What makes you so sure that she won’t betray you, too?”

Malcos lowered his ears, trying to rein in his temper. “By killing that bastard? He was probably just using you to get to her. She did both of you a favor.”

She pushed the heavy door open into her room, dropping her cloak onto the bed. Malcos still followed behind her, like an angry shadow. “I see you’ve swallowed every line she fed you,” Vajarra snapped at him.

The elf settled into a chair beside the door, sighing wearily. “I have no reason to believe what she told me about him is a lie. It just doesn’t fit.”

Vajarra stared at Malcos, incredulous. “Doesn’t fit her? How long have you known Vass?”

He lowered his ears further, staring across into the fireplace. She knew that she was upsetting him, wanted to stop and say she didn’t mean it, but the words still came. “How do you know she’s not cuddling up to somebody else right now?”

Malcos snarled back at her. “Why do you care?”

Vajarra shook her head uncertainly. “I suppose I don’t. I told you that if you wanted to ruin your life, I wouldn’t stop you. I’m just surprised, that’s all.”

He stood, his ears still flattened in anger, and strode out into the darkened hallway. “Then if you don’t care, just drop it.” Malcos closed the door hard, sending the door frame shivering and several petals fluttering down from the garland.

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[Story] One More Chance XXIX

Vajarra had never been so cold, never before and she was certain never again. The forests of Terokkar that surrounded her home were mild and lush, and even when she had traveled to the mountains of Azeroth, she was sure it had not been this cold. It was like a living thing, a cruel and merciless beast that stole the warmth from your very breath, sending its claws of ice right into your bones. She shivered again at the thought, glancing down to the water again, where little rafts of ice clanked and rattled against the ship’s hull. On the first days of the journey, Vajarra had gone beneath the deck to try and escape the cold. But it was no warmer, and the ship’s relentless rocking made her feel ill. The crew had told her to go back up on deck, that watching the horizon would cease her seasickness. It had helped, a little, but she still felt a little queasy, and she still was sure that she would freeze to death here upon the deck before she ever even reached the northern continent. Vajarra watched a fleet of dark sea-birds burst up from the water’s surface, disturbed by the ship’s ripples. She had taken a long trip on a ship once before, when she had come with the other survivors from their little island. She had felt so scared, and so alone, wondering where Vassanta might be, and praying that she might see her mother and father again. This journey wasn’t really so different then, for all of those things were true, but she felt hopeful that she might find answers when this ship found its dock.

The letter was pressed against her, in the pocket inside of her traveling cloak. It had no address, no directions where she might find him, but she was certain that Istahn would be waiting for her, somehow. Not at the outpost, though, there were no naaru here to hold anyone’s blade; here his kind were still the enemy. Certainly Vassanta and her shiftless elf believed so, that he was irreparably evil and nothing would save him. Vajarra still held onto the hope that they were wrong about that, and she touched the letter briefly, like a talisman.

Just when Vajarra had given up hope of ever seeing land again, she saw the coastline, creeping out from the cloak of heavy mist. Even the land seemed dreary, the colors pale and leached out by the cold, the sky a dull slate grey overhead. Vajarra never imagined she would miss the gaudy gold and red towers on the Scryer’s tier, but she almost did now. The crew began to stir as they approached the docks, readying the ship for its landing. Vajarra was surprised to see that the camp was really a small town, complete with shops and stone buildings. There were some tents too, and a few of her own kind here. That encouraged her a little, if they could find hope in this dreadful place, so could she.

[Story] In Southern Sun

Grandpa said once that the word in Common was “wanderlust”. The word came to her again, trodding the sun-dappled path that wound through the deep, ancient woods. Mia understood the first part of the word, but “lust” meant an urge, a passion, and when she wandered she felt none of that. It was simply her nature, simply the way she was and had always been. Whenever she met a person — which was admittedly not often — Mia tried to guess what sort of spirit they were like. It was like a little game, but she didn’t usually tell the person about it. Sometimes they found offense in it, but most of the time they just didn’t understand. It was more for herself, to tell her how to act when that person was near. Her grandpa was an earth spirit, which might seem a little contradictory because he was a master of flames, and she’d even seen him make ice before. But her grandfather Daaro was steady and reliable, content to anchor himself in a comfortable place, but still allowing new ideas to sprout like fresh spring leaves. Mia was an air spirit, quiet and gentle at most times, but powerful if roused — and free to roam wherever she liked.

If pressed, she would say that she had gone to the continent of Kalimdor because it was simply too cold anywhere else; the long grey days made her shiver and she hated having her hooves wet from the rain. But more than that, it was somewhere new to see, new paths to walk, and that was reason enough for Mia. The ancient forests of Ashenvale were home to earth spirits whose memories stretched almost beyond imagining, and Mia would sit atop a mossy log and listen to their tales, in their slow creaking voices. There were water spirits too, in the pristine lake that surrounded the elven town, bubbling curiously around her. And though she loved them all, Mia felt a special kinship with the air spirits, and missed their playful breezes. So now she walked again, toward the great open plain that was said to lie to the south — surely some air spirits must be there.

As the road widened, a tall tower came into view, and Mia remembered another thing that her Grandpa had told her: Stay away from the buildings with spikes. He’d explained that sometimes those buildings had orcs inside of them, or other people who might try to hurt her, because of her “association”, he said. Mia had argued that she didn’t have any association, she belonged to no group or clan that she knew of, but he’d given her a hard look and made her promise. So she was sure to give the tower a wide berth, going off through the prickly brush instead of the perfectly good road.

Mia was struck by how like Nagrand it looked; though more dry, the gently rolling plains were speckled with trees and she could see herds of animals moving over them. In a few lower places, the dry yellow and brown erupted into bright green, and Mia know there must be water there. But it wasn’t water that she sought right now, it was air — a high overlook would be ideal, and she scanned the horizon for a place like this. She saw some hills, rising above the oases, but there along the edge of the broad slow river, she saw a spire of red stone. It looked steep, but if she could find a path, it would be the perfect place to look for some air spirits.

Huge armored creatures lounged in the shallow waters of the river, and Mia could see the rows of sharp teeth that lined their jaws, even from a distance. She left those be, wading across the murky riverbed, the mud clinging to her hooves. On the far bank, the earth was a rich, deep red, and the plants were sparse and thorny. The spire of rock stood not far beyond, and Mia thought that there was the hint of a path at its base. As she drew nearer, she saw a strange smooth black stone had been placed there; and now she was certain of it. The path was really more a ledge, and at some points she had to cling to the sides of the rock for balance, its surface warmed by the sun. The wind nudged at her, tugging her cloak, impatient. “Soon,” she assured the air spirits, and turned around what had to be the last bend of the path, for she could see that she was almost at the top of the stone spire.

A person was crouched there, and Mia very nearly stumbled back in surprise, but in a moment she recognized it as one of the people from the jungle. A troll, now she remembered the right word. He was blue all over, like a draenei, his hair the color of bright moss and it stuck out all over his head like a tuft of grass. He had long tusks that swept like those of an elekk, away from his face. He was crouched at the top of the spire, or he was, until he heard Mia’s hoofsteps. His small, bright eyes went wide and he uttered a cry that was unmistakeable in its alarm.

Lying beside him on the rock was a large hammer, and he reached for this, crouching like a great wading bird. Mia’s mind raced to remember the words she had learned from the orcs, so long ago in the plains, but they wouldn’t come to her. She raised her hands to show her palms, taking a step backward, and the troll paused. Behind him, she could see a rough metal brazier, with smoke slowly coiling from it, and beyond that what had to be a totem. Mia’s fright changed to excitement, and she gestured to the totem. The troll shifted again, backing away from her and settling back onto his lanky thighs in a crouch. His head was cocked, watching Mia closely, but she could see the wariness in his expression. She gestured to the totem again, marveling at its rough wooden carving, the feathers and trinkets affixed to it; then to one of the air spirits that hovered nearby, as if observing the meeting.

She was certain that he could see it, and she was right. The troll’s face broke into a wide grin, and he laughed loudly. He patted the rock next to him, and Mia understood, moving forward to sit beside him before the brazier. He began to speak, but she did not think it was to the spirits, the way he rambled and gestured, it seemed that he was talking to her. She didn’t understand, but she listened closely all the same, to see if there were any words she might recognize among the jumble. The troll’s eyes wandered back to her, and he suddenly halted, blinking. He was gesturing to her mace, and he seemed to be asking a question. Where did you get that, maybe.

Mia had found it in the old ruined troll city, when she had gone on her adventure in the jungle. The leader of the trolls — the “chief”, she remembered the word — had been pleased with her for helping them to fight their enemies. He had bright blue hair and one of his tusks was cracked, but all of the other trolls in his clan listened to him. When they went into the ruins, he’d given her the book — the one she sent to Grandpa — and this mace. She liked it because it felt ancient, and because it was carved into the shape of twining snakes, but she understood that it must be more significant than that. Especially now, the way that the troll was pointing and staring at it.

The troll was asking again, his brows furrowed together, and she could not tell if he was angry. Maybe she ought to just give it to him. It would be a sign of friendship, she reasoned. But then the troll did something strange. He stood and pointed down across the river, to the plains. A herd of creatures was grazing there on the banks, creatures that Mia didn’t recognize. They looked like a cross between a talbuk and the stocky creatures that the humans rode. “Horse” was the word, she remembered it now. The troll pointed at the creatures, then to her mace. Mia was puzzled. Did he wish her to kill one of the creatures?

Perhaps sensing her confusion, the troll took hold of her hand, leading her down the path. His skin was warm and rough, like the rock, but Mia didn’t feel afraid. They went down to the river bank, and the troll pointed again, his voice low. The animals stopped grazing and lifted their heads, their ears turning toward them, watching. He lifted a finger to his lips, Shhh. Then, he crouched in the grass and set a totem there, the wind rattling the strand of beads upon it. A moment later, the earth shifted, rumbling up around the hooves of the animals, becoming rocky and difficult to walk upon. The herd squealed and broke in alarm, but one of them was held fast, and it seemed that one was enough.

The troll took a rope from his belt, uncoiling it deftly, and looped it over the animal’s head. He handed the end of the rope to Mia with a hasty bow, and then gestured excitedly toward the mace again. Mia blinked, puzzled. Did he mean to trade this animal for the mace? She could see that he wanted it very much, but she was not so sure that she wanted this animal. Still, he had been so kind to her, and she was sure that a troll would appreciate it much more than she would. She unhooked it and handed it to him with a small smile, and the troll grinned back eagerly. He bowed to her again, giving a sweep of his great tusks, and he raised his arm to wave goodbye.

Mia looked back at the animal, who was snorting in annoyance and stamping its hooves. What was she supposed to do with it? She knew that humans rode ones like it, she supposed that it might be good for that, but this was a wild one, and hadn’t been kept in a stable. But she was wild too, wasn’t she? Its hide was striped, like it was lying beneath palm fronds, and it had two horns in its forehead. Its delicate hooves were split, just like hers. Like the troll, it smelled of dust and sunshine. She decided that she liked it, because it reminded her of this place, and gently she reached up to pat its broad shoulder. Its hide twitched a little at her touch, but then the creature seemed to relax beneath her hand, lowering its head to snuffle curiously at her. Maybe they would get along after all.