Fan Fiction (World of Warcraft): The Greatest Gift, Chapter Two

Chapter Two
Unforgiving Winds and Ornery Beasts

Lyriah’s father explained they’d need to take three different wyverns, mostly because he had too many packs of tools to carry him, the equipment, and Lyriah, and her mother’s wyvern would also need to carry Vermilia. This meant, for the first time ever, she’d be riding a flying beast on her own. Her heart fluttered. She took a deep breath in through her nose and let it out shakily through her mouth.

She’d ridden the golden dragonhawks from the village nearest her home—Fairbreeze Village—to Silvermoon with her mother and father on various business trips, as well as for her training. They’d also taken the trip to Silvermoon to buy a mage portal to Undercity, much to the grumbling of her father. ‘Dalaran portals for 25 gold each—not in this lifetime! It’s cheaper to go to Undercity and take the zeppelin.’ But the trip between her home and Silvermoon was short, and in a place eternally visited by fair weather and gentle breezes. The Northrend landscape was another matter entirely.

The gusty winds whipped her cloak around her and Titian, and tried to take her unsteady feet out from under her. Thankfully, Vermilia padded next to her, and lent her heavy, muscular feline body as a backstop to keep her from flying into the deadly, spiked metal barricades between her and the elevator.

It might be better just to fall down the elevator than be impaled by the spikes, she thought, and gulped.

“Thank you,” she murmured to Vermilia, knowing the cat’s sharp hearing would pick up on her relief more than the words themselves.

Vermilia huffed, and then gave a few, small purrs when Lyriah scratched her thanks underneath the big cat’s ears.

As they walked, they passed various Warsong Battleguards, affiliated with the Warsong Offensive. Their cruel weapons, beaten armor, and gazes colder than the Borean Tundra itself watched the family’s progress. The Warsong Recruitment Officer, stationed right outside the elevator, caught sight of Lyriah’s mother, with her battle-hardened armor and wicked bow, and tried to catch her eye. Lyriah glanced between her mother and the heavily-armored Orc with his purple mutton chops, but her mother kept her eyes dead ahead.

When they were far enough away, her mother explained; “I have given years of my life, and parts of my body and soul I’ll never get back to the continued success of the Horde.” Then she looked down at Lyriah, her stony expression softening as she reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “My time, for now, is for my family.”

Lyriah wasn’t of age to understand all of what her mother said. Of course she’d seen the physical battle scars, but there were some scars you had to earn on your own to see them in others.

They finally reached the Wind Rider Master, a grey-furred Tauren with her hair in four different ponytails held in place by golden bands. She towered over Lyriah’s father by about a foot, and let out a mighty sneeze as the family approached.

“Pleased to meet you, I’m—achoo!—Turida Coldwind,” she said, and tried to inhale through her nose. Her armor was ornate, and druidic in Lyriah’s opinion, what with the large blue gems on her shoulders and feathers coming out from underneath her pauldrons. Of course, as fancy as her armor was, she still wielded a broom and a pail that looked suspiciously as though it contained some unpleasant leftovers from the wyverns.

Setting the pail down, Turida pulled out a handkerchief from underneath her breastplate large enough that it could have been fashioned as a long cloak for Lyriah, and still have been underfoot if she tried to walk. The tauren blew her nose, loudly, then tucked the snot-soaked cloth back underneath her breastplate. Lyriah frowned and scrunched up her nose.

Turida, of course, noticed. “This is the waif you need transported to Sholazar with you?” She snorted, as she looked Lyriah over.

Lyriah, not used to such scrutiny from an adult, blushed, which only made her angry; just like it did when the boys in Fairbreeze Village teased her. Lyriah was willowy, as most of her kind were, and not sturdy like the Tauren. She had her mother’s complexion and bone structure, but her father’s hair color and ears—which her parents reassured her she’d grow into.

“I’m no waif—I’m a hunter!” she said, taking a small step forward.

Turida considered her for a moment before letting out a deep low followed by a laugh. “You and that kitten trembling beneath your cloak might be hunters one day, but for now you’re a waif,” she said. Before Lyriah could argue further, her mother squeezed her hand. “And it’s my job to make sure waifs don’t get blown off the wyverns I’m responsible for, and tumble to their deaths.”

The gravity of her words cut off Lyriah’s comments better than a hand-squeeze could have managed, and worry dropped into her gut like a heavy rock thrown into a pond.

“Now, what I’ll need to do is use an extra strap to keep you on the saddle,” she said, sizing Lyriah up. After a moment of thinking, where her gaze was on Lyriah, but distant, as though she was more present in her thoughts than reality, she nodded. “I know which wyverns will work out the best. Follow me.”

She led them around the elevator, through a doorway into the upper tower of Warsong Hold. For a few blissful seconds the winds died down to something close to bearable, and though it was only a minute difference, the warmer temperature of the room was letting her nose thaw out a bit. Then they walked across the room and right back out through another doorway into the cold. Lyriah groaned, but all the adults studiously ignored her.

Back out in the open, the wind kicked back up and she stumbled, but her mother caught her and helped her regain her balance. When she looked up to thank her mother, her surroundings froze the words on her tongue as readily as if she’d stuck it on an icicle.

There were at least twenty to thirty wyverns out on the deck, all of them varying sizes, colors, and temperaments. Some watched the group with serious eyes, while others reared back, and had to be restrained by a stable hand.

Turida walked them over to another Tauren, a male this time with tawny fur, dark brown hair in his mane with braids behind wicked sharp horns, and a large nose ring. After Turida made their group’s introductions he introduced himself as Tohfo Skyhoof.

“We brought some of the best and hardy wyverns out here to Northrend. Why, my great-grandfather—“

Turida cut him off with smooth practice, as though she’d done it a thousand times. “Another time maybe, Tohfo. This gentleman and his family are trying to get to Sholazar.”

Tohfo looked them over with slow, ponderous consideration. “I’d say Brokenfang for the lady, Kruzok for the gentleman, and Khrohne for the youngster.”

Turida nodded. “Those were my suggestions as well. Alright, ladies with me, and sir, you follow Tohfo.”

Lyriah wondered why they split up, and then she realized the wyverns were spit down the middle of the deck between male and females, much the same way the dragonhawk breeders did in Silvermoon.

“We’ll let you go first on Brokenfang,” Turida said. As Talonia began to protest—she wanted to fly behind her daughter to make sure all went well—Turida held up a hand. “Brokenfang is an alpha female, and won’t tolerate flying behind any other wyvern. We want her concentrate on getting you to your destination, rather than fighting the other wyvern. She’s the biggest one we have, and despite her ornery temperament she’s the best at carrying larger hunter pets in the travel cages,” Turida explained.

At the word ‘cage’ Vermilia grumbled, but acquiesced under Talonia’s firm hand.

“We’ll send your daughter second on Khrohne, our most seasoned and steadfast wyvern. Not much will rattle her, and she’s willing to fly behind another female. Your husband will go on Kruzok, a male, who is used to following behind the females and is very protective of them. It’s best he take up the rear in case any trouble should arise.”

“Are you expecting trouble?” Talonia asked, raising an eyebrow.

Turida shrugged. “You’re not going for a stroll through some fancy gardens here. There are various enemy factions, not even affiliated with the Lich King, not to mention the Alliance, all between you and Sholazar. It’s all dangerous territory.” She paused. “But I’m giving you the wyverns I feel will be your best bet to all make it there safely,” Turida said, confident.

After a moment, Talonia nodded. “By your word, then.”

Then the preparations began. Vermilia and Titian were loaded into their respective cages—which neither of the felines cared for—to be carried beneath the wyvern. It had a chain from each corner connected together beneath a thick, tough leather handle for the wyvern to grip with its hind claws.

Her mother’s wyvern—Brokenfang—was huge and irritable. It was the average tawny color, and covered in large, heavy plates of armor dyed a blood red. As per her name, one of her long, lethal fangs was broken, and had been sanded down and capped off with a red spike to mirror her other fang. When my mother approached, it reared back, and various stable hands moved forward to try and calm it, but Talonia jumped lightly into the air, grabbed the bridle and yanked it down. Blood Elves may look delicate, but when the creature’s jaw snapped close as she brought it all the way down to the cold, stone floor, while also nimbly avoiding the armor-covered horns, there was no denying her mother’s deceptive strength and agility.

Her mother said nothing, just challenged the creature with a look until it huffed in indignation and submission.

“Fine work. You’d make a decent Tamer,” Turida commented, not a little impressed.

Talonia smiled, and simply mounted the beast.

Lyriah’s wyvern was far calmer. Her fur was the paler blue like that of an iceberg they passed over on the zeppelin, while her mane was darker like blue steel. Her armor was violet, and her fangs and horns were duller, and yellowed from age. Turida encouraged Lyriah to give her a nice scratch, much the way she would with Titian, and the wyvern groaned in appreciation. Though Titian was not pleased, if the hissing from the cage were any indication.

Once they’d all mounted up, and Lyriah secured with an extra strap, they cleared the immediate area so the wyverns could lift off without any hindrances.

Lyriah’s heart pounded in her chest, and her stomach was doing backflips. She watched her mother take off, and the wyvern did a few circles to gather speed, and then dove down to snatch the cage containing Vermilia. They dipped, just a hair, then regained altitude as they circled higher again.

Now it was Lyriah’s turn, and as Khrohne beat her large, leathery wings, it jostled Lyriah in her seat. She swallowed a scream, and did her best to calm down as she held the reigns in a death grip. As Khrohne circled upward as Borkenfang had done, her stomach turned from backflips of nerves, to sloshing with nausea.

This was nothing like the smooth, undulating flights of the dragonhawks back home.

Khrohne swooped down and grabbed the yowling cage containing Titian, and they were off, following her mother who was a barely discernable figure in the distance. After a few moments, she chanced turning her upper body in her seat to check for her father. He was there, and waved at her, as the male wyvern carried his equipment in a large container beneath him. His wyvern, Kruzok, was greenish with a purple mane, and armored in blue.

She turned back around, the sensation giving her a moment of vertigo. She closed her eyes, and hunkered down in Khrohne’s mane, missing the view of much of the landscape beneath them. When she finally found enough courage to peek out from the wind-whipped fur, rolling hills of brown grass and a broken path rushed by beneath her, while they passed hot springs on the right. For a few tense moments they passed over a burned and broken caravan swarming with ghostly figures, followed by an Alliance airstrip.

Lyriah hoped that’d be the worst of it, not unhappy she might have missed other dangers to send her heart beating faster than it already was. However, her spirits lifted as she saw a ridge, and an expanse of green foliage beyond it.

That must be Sholazar! Though not happy with the travel accommodations, she couldn’t help the excitement that burbled up within her.

However, when she caught flashes of what looked like beams of fire between her and the ridge, her heart beat faster again, and this time it wasn’t happiness.

As Khrohne neared the intermittent rays, it became clear they were in fact fire. The old wyvern began to gain altitude again, making sure to avoid the danger, but a sudden updraft knocked into Khrohne’s right side, sending them veering off to the left. It would have been fine, as Khrohne was as steady as the tides, but Titian decided that was the perfect time to freak out, and display her considerable temper and fear upon the cage that dared to hold her. She knocked around, hitting the cage walls, yowling as she did so.

Lyriah looked over the side of the wyvern, calling to Titian to calm down, but the fear in the young Blood Elf’s voice did not have the calming effect she might have hoped. Khrohne’s grip on the cage slipped, and as she adjusted to retighten it, her altitude dropped, bringing them dangerously close to what was shooting the beams of fire: kobolds.

One of said kobolds caught sight of her, and gestured excitedly to the others, who joined the lone kobold at his location, which they would fly over momentarily. As Khrohne regained her hold on the cage, and tried to fly higher, the kobolds unleashed streams of fire at them.

Khrohne jerked to the side, doing a roll in midair that had Lyriah’s lunch revisiting the back of her throat, avoiding the fire, but causing her to lose any control the wyvern had of the cage. It slammed into the wyvern’s wing, and she roared out in pain. They were right at the edge of the cliff leading down to the jungle of Sholazar, but the unforgiving winds had one last blow to deliver to them, and slammed them one final time.

The last thing Lyriah saw were large, green leaves rushing toward her, before the plunge caused her to black out.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fan Fiction (World of Warcraft): The Greatest Gift

Chapter One

The air was bitingly cold, and Lyriah Moonstrider’s breath misted out in front of her. She shivered, and snuggled her face further down into the soft, brown wool scarf wrapped around her neck. It had been a gift from her mother and father in preparation for her father’s most recent business trip to Northrend.

A low yowl sounded at her feet, and Lyriah looked down at her shivering companion.

“Oh, Titian,” Lyriah said, and huffed out a laugh.

The little lynx’s black tufts at the end of her ears, and mane of reddish-brown hair moved with the gusts of wind. There were flakes of snow caught in it, which she shook off in annoyance. She had her oversized paws tucked underneath her, and her short tail circled as far around her as she could manage. Her glowing, green luminescent eyes, the same color as Lyriah’s were closed, and the lines of black fur that ran from them around her muzzle looked like dark tears.

Lyriah sat down cross-legged on the cold, wooden planks of the Wind Rider Master’s landing deck, setting her simple, but lovingly crafted bow down at her side. She opened her heavy coat and pulled the little lynx onto her lap, and wrapped her jacket around the chilly creature. The lynx snuggled down, and began to purr, the rumbling going through Lyriah’s chest.

A low, disapproving chuff came from nearby, and Lyriah glanced up from the top of Titian’s head to her mother’s lynx, Vermilia.

“Hush now; she’s only a kitten,” Talonia Moonstrider chided the larger pet.

Vermilia twitched her tail, and then began cleaning her paws, ignoring Talonia’s admonishment.

Talonia chuckled. “Stubborn creature.” Her mother was tall and thin, as most Blood Elves were. She had long, onyx-black hair pulled into a high bun at the back of her head; ‘You don’t want hair in your face, spoiling your shot.’  Since she wore no makeup, the light dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks were visible against her lightly tanned skin. She also wore no jewelry; ‘Running through the brush with jewelry on is a good way to get an earring caught on a branch.’

Mother and daughter wore similar outfits of dark brown leather, from their boots to their helms, while their hooded cloaks were a drab, olive green. Her mother’s were finely made, having won them through perseverance and countless battles with enemies ranging from ogres to elementals, while Lyriah’s were crafted to look like hers. They had also been a gift after Lyriah’s beginning hunter training was complete.

It was Talonia’s bow, though, that Lyriah admired. The grip was covered by an ornate shield with the Blood Elf crest on it. The limbs of the bow were painstakingly carved wood of phoenix heads facing the shield, while further down they were embedded with gems, and glowing with an eerie Fel light. The tip and recurve were made of two talon-like protrusions on each end, swirling with the same vivid energy, with the bowstring connecting two of the four talons that pointed back toward the wielder.

Lyriah glanced at her own bow, and though she loved it—as her mother had made it for her—she couldn’t help but wish for her mother’s. Though as a newly minted hunter, as well as only just turning eleven, there was a snowball’s chance in the lava flows of the Searing Gorge that would happen.

The wind picked up momentarily, and when it dropped her father’s voice drifted over to the pair. He was negotiating their passage with the Wind Rider Master to Sholazar Basin. Though he’d been given coin upfront for travel expenses, An’dras Moonstrider was not above negotiating to bring the price as low as he could manage. It was a habit he’d picked up from one of his colleagues, a Goblin by the name of Baxraz Copperblast; ‘Never pay full price.’

The patient Tauren’s low voice wasn’t audible, even to Lyriah’s long ears and their sharp hearing. Though from her father’s gestures, he wasn’t getting the calm, yet stubborn, woman to budge. Talonia was tolerant of her husband’s acquired quirks, but it was always easiest for Lyriah to gauge her mother’s moods by the body language of Vermilia, whose tail was now thrashing the air. Vermilia let out another low growl, this one far more annoyed. Her father turned and caught sight of the lynx. His long, platinum blonde eyebrows shot up to his hairline. Though they couldn’t see his eyes behind his engineered goggles with their scope on one side and glowing magenta glass on the other, she had no doubt they widened in alarm.

He chuckled nervously and turned back to the Wind Rider Master. Then he ran his left hand through his short, spiky hair, and handed the coin over to the Wind Rider Master with the other. She counted the coin, and nodded to An’dras. At the Tauren’s smile, it didn’t take a rocket engineer to know the steadfast woman had won, and likely still would have, even without Talonia’s annoyance.  Lyriah hid her own smile in Titian’s mane.

Talonia turned an amused look down at Titian at her daughter’s movement. “Worry not, kitten. Where we’re going, you’ll be plenty warm, if not in excess.”

An’dras strode over to them, rubbing his gloved hands together, either from nerves at his wife’s mood or from the cold. It was difficult to know which. His clothing was a hodge-podge of leather, patched here and there by her mother. He’d often come home from a lab accident, with holes burned through by fire, acid, or whatever concoction he and Baxraz were attempting to perfect. Such a substance was the reason they were on this trip in the first place.

He’d come home one day, grinning from ear to ear, his hair still smoldering at the ends.

“We’ve done it!” he said, and lifted Lyriah up, spinning her through the air.
She’d been dizzy when he sat her back down. Titian growled at her father’s exuberance when Lyriah stumbled and had to catch herself on the edge of the table.

“Done what, dear?” her mother asked calmly, handing him a damp towel to extinguish his hair. She was well rehearsed in this routine.

“We’ve finally come up with a substance to combat the humidity damage experienced by machines! Weslex will be pleased,” he said, and laughed.

Her father and Baxraz were top-notch mechanics and engineers, who also dabbled in concoctions to help their machines and weapons run better, faster, and smoother. It was a side-business to their primary one, to be sure, but it seemed to bring them joy, not to mention numerous injuries and the need to reconstruct their lab every couple of months.

“And Weslex was…?” her mother prompted him. He had so many clients, ranging from both factions, it could be difficult to remember them all.

“The flying machine mechanic and flight master for Hemet in Sholazar Basin.”
An’dras didn’t take note of the cutthroat flash in his wife’s eyes at the mention of Hemet’s name.

Lyriah sucked in a breath and her eyes widened at her mother’s predatory smile. Even Lyriah, as new to being a hunter as she was, had heard of Hemet.

“Hemet, you say?”

At the inquisitive tone in his wife’s voice, An’dras froze, just now realizing his mistake.

“Uh,” he started, and thought—only briefly—about trying to take back the name, but there was nothing for it. “Yes?” he said, hesitantly.

“Hah!” she exclaimed, and hit a fist in the palm of her other hand. “I can finally shut that loud-mouthed braggart up for good.” Then she looked down at Lyriah, her grin still feral and triumphant.

“Time to pack, dearest. We’re heading for Sholazar Basin.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tales of the Graveyard Shift: The Greasy Goblin, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

Apparently, supernatural bars didn’t have to worry about pesky human laws regarding alcohol, because it was still flowing freely around the tavern. I sipped my cranberry juice as the conversation flowed around me. People had started filtering out of the tavern as dawn approached, and those remaining cast disapproving glances toward our rambunctious group.

There is an exhausted giddiness people succumb to when working overnights; when you stay up beyond when you should have gone home and fallen asleep. You get loud and not a little obnoxious, but the others were having fun and most of the other patrons were leaving anyway. I nibbled on my food—some kind of appetizer I didn’t have the courage to ask about. None of it really had any taste, as I tried to turn over a plan in my mind to get Celinwel alone, as well as confess to Strib’s murder.

Easy peasy…

Odella stood, as though to leave, when the Sphinx called out to her.

“Not going to leave us with a song tonight are you, Odella?”

There was a split second of silence, and then a cheer went up through the tavern. Odella smiled a small, pleased smile, and then she turned to me and winked.

“Listen closely, and maybe you’ll learn something interesting.”

She sashayed up to the bar, and those still there made room for her, removing bar stools and people too drunk to move themselves. She took a seat on the bar with a graceful hop, and she hovered in the air for a moment before settling lightly as though gravity meant nothing to her.

She signaled to a man on the opposite side of the room. He was as out of place here as a fish out of water, wearing a button down shirt of Oxford blue, with an almost scale pattern of lines that shimmered dully in the low light. The pants were black, pressed, and fitted perfectly to his lean, almost slender frame, with a wide, brown leather belt cinched snug over his hips. His shoes were black leather Oxfords, and he moved much in the same way Lia did. Like water given life, all grace and flow.

As her name crossed my mind, I turned to look at her, and was met with an expression that moved between various emotions faster than flood waters: longing, disgust, sadness, and hope. I had to turn away from such turbulent emotions, as they had the feeling of something not meant to be witnessed so openly without invitation.

When I turned back to the man, he was watching Lia with an equally intense expression, though far more sad. His eyes were a blue so light they were nearly white, set in a diamond-shaped face with cheekbones that stood out prominently above sunken cheeks. His hair was so pale it bordered on translucent, and was longer on top, carelessly brushed back and curling at the end. The rest was short, fading to a length that was shorn to his skull the last inch or so.

He broke eye contact with Lia, though he’d never broken his stride, and made his way to the bar. The man didn’t join Odella on the bar itself, but bowed to the wildly clapping and howling crowd, and produced a violin from thin air with a flourish of his hands.

Just like magic, Primal Brain noted.

You don’t say, Rational Brain added, sarcastically.

Shut up, Primal Brain said sullenly.

Odella cleared her throat. It was nothing more than a small sound, barely audible, and yet it commanded the entire room to fall silent, and set everyone on the edge of their seats in anticipation.

Odella then murmured something to the man, who nodded, and brought the violin up into a ready position.

It only took a couple of notes for me to recognize the tune: Go Tell it on the Mountain, which I found to be an odd choice for a vampire. But what he was playing was not the lively song I’d been raised with, and was almost set to a funeral march pace, the strings almost weeping as he drew the bow across them with aching slowness.

Then she began to sing, her voice clear as a bell and sorrowful as death.

 

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

 

While the lyrics were different, I was still unsure why a vampire was singing something so obviously religious…

Then the man dragged the bow across the strings, the screeching wail setting all the hairs on my body at attention.

 

That everybody’s dead

 

Until the last line.

My eyes widened, though she kept hers closed as she sang.

 

The man came to the village

And charmed all the women

They started disappearin’

One by one

 

They searched for days and weeks, but

Their husbands could not find them

Their mothers were a-mourning

For their daughters’ souls

 

They found where he was hiding

Deep inside the forest

He’d dug them all a grave

And, laid the girls to rest

 

When the day was over

And darkness fell around them

The women all woke up, though

They were not the same

 

Time for a feast, girls

Time for a feast, girls

Time for a feast, girls

Drink until they’re dead

 

The villagers were screaming

Their throats were all ripped open

Fangs flashed in the moonlight

And the blood, it fell like rain

 

One of the women

Came to her senses

Her husband’s lifeless body

Laying in her lap

 

She ran through the forest

Back toward the village

She went right to her house

But could not enter there

 

She called out for her children

But they would not come near her

They sensed something was different

With their mother, drenched in blood

 

She fell to her knees, there

Her red eyes full of tears

Hollow words, they passed her lips

Her voice so harsh and raw

 

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

That everybody’s dead

 

Leave upon the sunrise

Faster than the Spring winds

For if the man catches you

You’ll both be dead, as well

 

Then the man appeared, and

He pulled her up and held her close

With one last look at the children, said

“Catch me if you can.”

 

The children did not answer

And waited for the dawn, then

They ran down to the church

And, crying said the words

 

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

Go tell the preacher

Everybody’s dead

 

I hadn’t known I was holding my breath until the last bittersweet note died on the air as Odella had all those year ago. The despair, which had the weight of centuries behind it, was dizzying, and too much for my brain to handle.

“I can’t breathe,” I whispered hoarsely, as someone asked; “Are you alright?”

“Bathroom,” was all I managed to get out, my throat closing around the words as my stomach heaved.

“Down the hall,” the same voice said, the words faraway.

My vision narrow, and not able to see too far in front of me, I stumbled my way down the hall and into a door that had a big ‘W’ on it, which I hoped didn’t mean something else in supernatural taverns.

I barely managed to make it into a stall before I started heaving, my body trying to physically purge what my mind would never be able to.

I don’t know how long I knelt there in front of the toilet, the cold, hard tile floor digging into my knees. The door to the bathroom opened and closed as few times while I was there, but the last time the soft footfalls ended right outside my stall door.

“You going to be okay?” Odella asked, her usually upbeat, somewhat manic voice was softer, and full of concern.

“How could you go on?” I choked out, tears running down my face, my forehead resting on the corner of the chilled, metal toilet paper holder.

Clothing rustled as she made some small movement, perhaps a shrug. “How could I not? Those first years you are dedicated to your Master. Even though I’d broken free for only a moment, to warn my children, that wasn’t the case from then on out. It was nearly a century of blood, and of course death, before I left him. By then, time had dulled the pain to something more bearable, though of course I never forgot.”

A heavy silence followed her words, and belied the nonchalance she was trying to project.

“What were their names?” I whispered.

“Balfour was my son, and Myra was my daughter. My husband’s name was Tobias.” Her voice was hesitant and quiet, as though if the words left her lips they’d fly away with the memories of them, never to return. In that moment she’d shared something deeply personal with me, and though I forgot names as easily as women lost bobby pins, I held onto the names with everything my mind had.

“I have to leave; dawn approaches. Will you be okay?” she asked.

“I’ll be fine, you can go,” I croaked, but made no move to get up just yet.

“Okay. Get some rest, and sweet dreams,” she said, and laughed, the sound like shattered glass.

The door opened and closed, though I didn’t hear her footsteps. It was a long moment before I heaved myself off the floor, which in retrospect was now really creeping me out, because public restrooms were not known for their cleanliness.

I flushed the toilet, and left the stall to wash my hands. I was still shaky, but judging by the noise outside of the bathroom, everything had returned to normal. I slipped out of the bathroom, and looked both ways down the hall. Some small flicker of movement caught my attention. It was at the end of the hall, and of their own accord my feet began moving that way.

You’re acting like every girl in horror films with too much curiosity that we make fun of, Rational Brain warned.

It wouldn’t hurt just to peek, Primal Brain said.

Ration Brain threw up their proverbial hands. Morons, the both of you.

I tiptoed down the hallway, and as I passed the men’s room and grew closer to a corner, raised voices filtered in between the music from the tavern.

“Not what—“

“—swore you’d follow through!”

“You didn’t say—“

I made it to the corner, but I didn’t dare take a look around it. One of the voices was Celinwel’s, and boy was she ever pissed. The other voice I didn’t recognize, was brushing Celinwel, and her concerns, off.

“Look, he’s dead. What does it matter?”

“It matters because whoever killed him didn’t leave any evidence behind!”—I wondered briefly how she knew that—“Which means they’re going to suspect me now. I gave you what to plant on his body after he was dead so someone else would take the fall.”

“I don’t know why you’re so upset, jeez. Just calm down.”

“Calm down?!” she said, her voice a strangled screech. “When that great green lump has his healers do a thorough examination of Stribs, they’ll find the sedative that I gave him. Without the other evidence, it all just looks like me!”

“You don’t know that. Stribs used to do all kinds of drugs. Why would this be any different?”

At this point I took a quick glance around the corner, and Celinwel had her hands balled into tight fists at her side, looking up at the other woman. Nothing struck me as particularly supernatural about her: she had an oval, plump face, framed by thick, dirty-blond hair in a side part, held back from her face with two marbled black and brown clips. Her nose turned up slightly at the end, which she held in the air in a rather haughty nature, and looked down it at Celinwel. She raised a single, thin, pale eyebrow at the angry Gnome.

“Because it’s not a drug you take for any reason, except when a healer is doing a healing on you.”

“So?” the other woman asked, and shrugged her meaty shoulders. She shifted her weight to jut out a fleshy hip, and moved her long, forest green cardigan out of the way to rest her hand there. Her medium rinse jeans with stylish holes and tears were tucked into knee-high, burnt umber boots. When she tossed some of her hair over shoulder, it revealed an ample chest barely contained beneath a dove gray top.

When Celinwel didn’t answer immediately, she continued. “Won’t that just mean it’ll implicate who you wanted to in the first place? Who knows, maybe he really did do it?”

“Even if he did, what makes you think he’d tell them that?”

“Some misguided sense of love for you, maybe?”

Celinwel snorted.

At least she has some kind of self-awareness to know she’s not an entirely likable person, Rational Brain observed.

But if it wasn’t her…Primal brain said.

“Point is, we had a deal. I take care of your ‘problem’, and you take care of mine.”

“And I still say it was taken care of, even if it wasn’t how you wanted it done.”

“I—“

Someone behind me and out in the bar area dropped a glass, shattering it, and it caused Celinwel and the woman to look over toward me. All eyes widened, and my brain scrambled along with my feet to get back down the hallway.

I severely underestimated how fast Gnomes were.

She hit me right behind my knees and tackled me to the ground after barely more than two steps. A small hand grabbed my shoulder, and turned me over, slamming said shoulder into the floor. Pain jarred through my shoulder and rattled my teeth. I bit my tongue and tasted blood.

When I opened my eyes, a dagger hovered a mere inch away from vision. My breath wooshed from me faster than the air from an over-filled balloon punctured by a fork wielding toddler.

“Have you been eavesdropping, little Ord?” she growled.

It shouldn’t have, but the whole situation must have finally rattled some morbid humor loose from my brain, because I laughed.

“’I ain’t been droppin’ no eaves sir, honest,’” I quoted, and giggled like a madwoman.

Celinwel’s dagger-free fist connected with my chest in a quick, powerful downward punch, and knocked the wind from me, chasing away my amusement as quickly as it’d found me.

My eyes watered, and I looked up at the Gnome straddled over my chest, dagger still more than an idle threat not far from my left eye.

“Celinwel!” someone barked from behind me, and her head jerked up. It sounded like the Sphinx, but I wasn’t risking a glance to see for sure.

“What?” she spat, annoyed at the interruption.

“She has eaten and drank beneath my roof. By our law I am honor-bound to protect her from all threats, up to and including killing whatever is threatening her if said threat cannot be dissuaded. I already smell her blood, Celinwel. Do not test me.”

The dagger dipped a mere centimeter at the speaker’s pronouncement, which sounded as though he was quoting something, and I swallowed a lump in my throat. He didn’t sound particularly motivated on my behalf to kill Celinwel, but his honor seemed like it’d be reason enough.

Won’t do me much good if we die before he can get to us, Rational Brain squeaked.

She considered his words, emotions flashing across her face faster than the rapids of the waterfall in springtime: anger, fear, defiance, and finally grudging resignation. She’d weighed the potential threat to her life against that of killing me, and I suppose she didn’t like her chances.

The dagger vanished to locations unknown, and she turned her attention back down to me.

“This isn’t over, Ord,” she growled, placing emphasis on ‘Ord’.

“It sure isn’t if you don’t stop calling me Ord,” I mouthed off before I could stop myself.

I didn’t need to see, or hear, the Sphinx shake his head. Disbelief at my stupidity was as palpable on the air as the smell of ale.

He and Knight can start a, ‘Why are we protecting this nitwit’ club, Primal Brain snickered.

If looks could murder, I’d have been dead twice over and once more for good measure. Celinwel was none too happy, but she moved away so fast I wasn’t actually sure if she’d jumped or ran. She was next to the other girl, whose eyes I could now see in the low light of the hallway were a baby blue with a glint of crazy. Much in the same way a pond looks safe before a gator breaks the surface and drags you to the bottom to drown you.

I might not have been able to picture her as the murdering or murder-for-favor type until I saw that look in her eyes.

“We’re leaving,” Celinwel said, and they headed back down the hallway to where they’d been arguing. A moment later the backdoor slammed, followed by a gust of cool dawn air.

As I lay on the floor, not quite willing to move so soon after my near-death experience, I wasn’t sure the situation could get much worse unless someone had called my parents to come pick me up.

“I had Thea call Knight.”

I was wrong.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~