[[ Just one today. This turned out looooong! ]]
Being stabbed had only been incidental. He hadn’t really noticed how much it hurt until Latahlali walked back to her room at the inn, and he stood up to go home. It was then that he finally resigned himself to visiting the healer and allowing someone to look at it. She frowned and washed it, and told him to be more careful — as if you could avoid being stabbed by a kaldorei hiding in the woods — and sent him on his way. Raleth agreed that it was a small price to pay for such a lovely evening, altogether.
He’d tried to call on Latahlali at Andarthir’s house, early that evening. The old Highborne, looking more ragged and grouchy than usual, had informed him that she’d left. Gone.
“Left? You let her leave?” Raleth echoed, aghast.
“I’m not about to force her to stay here,” Andarthir replied, rubbing a temple. “If you wish to go after her, be my guest.” He told Raleth that the girl and her grandfather camped in the southern part of Ashenvale, in the hills. “Just be careful of the orcs–” Andarthir said, and then caught himself. “Oh, well I guess they shouldn’t be much of a problem for you. But still, be careful.”
Raleth had only been to Ashenvale once, when a unit of battlemages had been sent to assist the assault on Astranaar. He’d hated every moment of that trip, and had been all too eager to leave. But he still remembered how to open the portal there, and did so just out of town, where the war-camp had once stood. Correction: Where a war-camp now stood, as three orcs were now staring at him in slack-jawed surprise. He’d been prepared for this situation.
“Gentlemen,” Raleth said, bowing to the largest of them. “I was sent from Orgrimmar to provide reinforcements. What’s the situation?”
The big orc had a broken tooth and an ugly scowl. “No one told us reinforcements were coming,” he grunted.
Raleth twitched his ears and looked pointedly at one of the smaller ones. “I’m certain I sent a message. Perhaps one of your subordinates failed to deliver it?” The big orc scowled deeper, and shoved the one that Raleth spoke to with his boot.
“Idiot! Should have told me!” he roared, and the smaller orc cowered in deference. Raleth still had a difficult time believing these stupid savages were capable of causing so much destruction. He steepled his fingers and waited patiently for the head orc’s storm to subside.
“Just let me go and alert the other mages,” Raleth said, gesturing back toward the portal. “What orders should I give them, sir?”
For a moment, Raleth thought the orc might not fall for it, but then he unrolled the dirty map he held in his broad hands. “We go south at nightfall,” the orc leader said. “Meet up at Krom’gar Fortress.” The battlemage leaned over the map and stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“An excellent move, sir. I will go and gather the others.” The orcs stared at him, their expressions lying somewhere between horror and awe, as he conjured the magical steed. The savage races simply hated it, and it made Raleth all the more determined to conjure it whenever possible. It was really a clever idea, one he wished he’d thought of himself. An enterprising mage in Dalaran had written the spell, and the copies sold swiftly. It was far more economical — and flashy — than an ordinary windrider or gryphon.
He hoped the orcs believed him, urging the magical horse up over the tree-tops. It didn’t matter much now, he supposed, though they could come after him. But in their eyes, he was a member of their monstrous Horde, and would believe anything he said, so long as he said it was for that cause. Raleth watched the forest below, searching for a sign of a camp, for any clue where Latahlali might be. Andarthir had said their camp was on a small island in a river, so when he saw the glint of water, he steered the horse down onto a hill. It vanished with a shimmer of energy, and Raleth regarded the dark forest. He remembered the wolves and bears, but mostly the huge spiders. He thought it better to be safe, and formed an elemental out of the water from the river. Frost crackled over his form, forming a magical barrier against danger. Raleth touched the hilt of Tahl’erdeth, safely at his side, and that reassured him too. He froze the river’s surface in a narrow path, and walked across to the island.
It had been a camp at one time, but he couldn’t be sure if it was now. He made his way carefully, looking for anything that might point him in the right direction. The water elemental gurgled and moved off toward the center of the island. Raleth paused to watch it before he resumed his search. He frowned, pulling out the map he’d folded in his pocket, torn out of one of his books at home. The forest had changed since the Cataclysm, but he didn’t think it had changed that much.
And that’s when he was stabbed. Thankfully, he was wearing his battle-robes, and the icy magical armor deterred the blade further, but it slid far enough into his back to make him howl with pain. Clutching at the wound, he sent the water elemental toward his attacker. A bolt of rushing water knocked the assailant off his feet, and the next bolt froze him in place. It was a night elf.
“I’m not here to fight,” Raleth said in Common, fumbling for a bandage. “I’m looking for someone.”
The kaldorei blinked in surprise. “You speak Common?” Yes of course I speak Common, you idiot, Raleth thought, but he didn’t say that aloud. Not when he was still holding that knife.
He explained that he was looking for someone, a girl who’d run away from Dalaran. She needed to return to her studies, and everyone was worried about her. That was true, though it was mostly Raleth who worried about her. Andarthir didn’t seem concerned about his apprentice at all.
“You’re one of them,” said the kaldorei quietly, his expression darkening.
“No!” Raleth protested. “No, I came from Dalaran, I told you. My allegiance is to the Kirin Tor, I have nothing to do with those filthy orcs.” He wasn’t sure if the kaldorei believed him or not. Raleth dismissed the water elemental with a wave of his hand, so as to appear less threatening. The kaldorei stood and rubbed at his chest where the bolt had hit him. “Have you seen her?” he asked again. “She has long blue hair.” Raleth looked at the bandage, which had become soaked with blood. He found another one and pressed it to the wound.
“Where’s the other one?” the kaldorei asked quietly. “The Highborne.”
“Oh, he’s still — wait, you know about him? So you do know her!” Was this Latahlali’s grandfather? It would make sense, if this was their camp. If so, where was she?
The kaldorei’s ear twitched slightly. “Why did she leave?”
Raleth shook his head. “I don’t know exactly, just that it had something to do with her teacher.”
“Her teacher?” the kaldorei echoed. “What was he teaching her?”
He didn’t even stop to think before he answered. “Simple transformations, usual beginning apprentice things. Though if you ask me, he was far too hard on her.”
“Magic,” said the kaldorei, and Raleth realized his mistake too late. He’d forgotten, for a moment, that race’s irrational fear of the arcane. He hoped he hadn’t just caused more trouble for Latahlali. “Come here,” he said, more loudly, and Raleth blinked as the girl came out from inside the hollow tree-stump behind them. He’d passed right by it and he hadn’t seen her, how did she do that? When she saw him, she smiled, he was certain of it.
The older kaldorei’s scowl had deepened. “I did not send you to Dalaran to make reckless decisions,” he said to Latahlali, crossing his arms.
“Sir, she wasn’t reckless. She was supervised at all times,” Raleth protested, but the old kaldorei’s look silenced him. Maybe it was better that he just remain quiet.
He turned to stare at Latahlali again. “You know better than to play with magic, girl. Have you lost your senses?”
“I wasn’t playing with it,” she said. “I was learning it.”
Raleth was afraid that he might stab Latahlali, too. If he tried to, he could bring the elemental back. But he didn’t. He shot Raleth a dark look and then tried to take Latahlali’s arm. “Come on. We are leaving.”
She shrugged out of his grasp. “No,” she said quietly. The old kaldorei’s expression wavered ever so briefly.
“Then do not return here,” he said, and he turned to wade across the river, disappearing into the surrounding forest.
Latahlali watched him go, and then turned to look at Raleth. “Oh!” she gasped. “You’re hurt! Did he do that?” She went to look at the wound, and he didn’t stop her.
“It’s nothing,” Raleth said. “He was just startled.” Surely he didn’t mean to try and kill me. Right?
She sat down on the rock and started to cry. Raleth blinked at her uncertainly. “What’s wrong?”
“He doesn’t want me to come home,” Latahlali sobbed. “I can’t go back to Dalaran. Nobody wants me there.”
That’s not true, Raleth thought. That’s not true at all. “At least in Dalaran you’d be warm, though. And you could wash up?”
Latahlali wiped her eyes and looked at her arms, grimed with mud. “Could we go back?” she asked quietly.
Raleth waited at the park while Latahlali went up to her room and changed. He hadn’t forced her to come back, he’d made that very clear. If she had wanted to stay in the forest, he would have left — reluctantly, yes, but he would have. He wanted to offer her the chance to study with him, but what if she refused? What if she didn’t want to study magic anymore at all?
When she came back, she was wearing the purple silk gown from the other night. It didn’t show anything, but it was still alluring, something about the way it hung on her figure, the way the embroidery accented–
“He was right,” Latahlali said, sitting down beside him on the bench. “My parents wouldn’t be proud of me now.”
Raleth frowned. “I don’t think that’s true. You’re doing what makes you happy, aren’t you?”
She stared glumly at the statue of Antonidas that floated in the center of the park. Truthfully, she didn’t look very happy. “Being a mage?”
“What’s so bad about being a mage?” Raleth asked. “You can go anywhere you like, making food doesn’t mess up your kitchen, you get to wear the nicest robes…”
He thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile. “Do you really think I could?”
“Yes,” he said, and he meant it.
“But I haven’t got anything right,” Latahlali sighed.
“You’re just learning. It takes time. No one can be expected to know everything right away.”
She picked at the end of her braid. “Would you teach me?” she asked, and Raleth could hardly breathe.
But he had to tell her. He thought she knew, but what if she didn’t? “I want to,” he said quietly. “But there might be a problem.”
Latahlali furrowed her brow. “Oh, I promise I won’t blow up anything else. Or ruin any of your books.”
Raleth shook his head. “No, that’s not it. It’s just that I would always be thinking about wanting to kiss you.”
She didn’t laugh or scream or run away, so that was good. Latahlali said nothing, and that was less good. She was regarding him thoughtfully. “I shouldn’t kiss my instructor,” she said.
“Why not? Besides,” Raleth pointed out, “I’m not your instructor yet.”
“It’s improper.” Latahlali was picking at her braid again. “Everyone would talk.” He couldn’t understand why she’d say that. She certainly wanted to kiss her other instructor. Was it because his beard wasn’t big enough?
“I don’t care,” Raleth said.
Latahlali considered this for a while longer, and then she leaned in and kissed him. It wasn’t exactly as he’d imagined — the way he imagined, he was far less of a coward and had professed his feelings in a far more poetic way — but it was wonderful all the same. She rose from the bench. “I should get back,” she said.
Raleth twitched his ears. “Was it that bad?” He hadn’t thought it was, but maybe she had. Maybe she wanted more beard.
“No, it’s just that I didn’t get much sleep today. I’m very tired.” He hadn’t considered that. He nodded, and kissed her gently again before she turned to leave the park. On his way to the healer, he stopped at the flower cart and had a bunch of wildflowers sent to her room at the inn. He hoped when he woke that the wound would still be there, if only to prove tonight had really happened.