Archive for August, 2010

Minibreak

Going away till Sat camping! Last holiday of the summer, honest 🙂

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Sofa

She lay on her back, on the threadbare woollen rug with the patch, in the centre of the shopfront floor. The shop was closed for inventory, the muted hustle and bustle of the Park barely audible through the reinforced front door. Although the windowless space was dim, only two of the wall brackets held melting tapers, the rest stood stark and empty; reflecting their owner’s strict frugality.

She lay motionless, surrounded by her children, arms spread and eyes half-shut. Analith was sitting on her stomach, gripping a picture book in two chubby hands, peering intently at the crude sketches as he turned the pages. Mirae was sitting upright, her back resting against Leafsong’s hip, babbling quietly to herself as she fiddled with the cotton hem of her white smock. Loredar was dozing face down, nestled in the crook of one arm; and Flora was lying against the opposite, watching a nearby scuttling spider with a leery expression. Mirae’s soft nonsense was oddly soothing, and Leafsong found herself begin to drift off to sleep, her lethargy a product of nights disrupted both by babies and husband.

She was interrupted abruptly by Analith banging her in the chest with the picture book, bouncing his small rear on her belly. She snarled at him, half-heartedly, opening her eyes.

Analiff. What?”

Mirae stopped babbling, and her smaller sister’s eyes swivelled from the spider up to her mother.

Analith pouted at her, reaching out to pat Mirae’s head.

Min’da, min’da. Annie hunger. Annie food.”

You just ‘ad your lunch!” she said indignantly, crooking her neck toward to peer at her little son. He frowned at her, banging chubby fists on her stomach.

Annie no lunch” he protested, as Loredar let out a snuffly yawn.

Analiff! Remember the dozen grapes and two rounds of buttered bread and four miniature sausages and big bowl of icecream you had thirty minutes ago? That was lunch.”

He imitated her tone of voice, small face contorting. “Analiff. Lunch. Food me, food me. I do it!”

She frowned for a few moments, then relented. “Alright. Alright. I’ll get some more food for you.” Analith, recognising the softer tone, gave a little smile of triumph that was alarmingly similar to his father. Leafsong wriggled her hips slightly, and Mirae gave a mewl of protest, crawling across the floor to retrieve the legless, faceless saber doll.

Move, Annie.”

As soon as Analith slid off her belly, clumsily, there was a sharp knock on the front door. Analith’s head swivelled; Mirae let out a little squeak of fright and began to crawl rapidly towards her mother, and the twins began to shift, unsettled.

Coming, comiiiing” yowled Leafsong, scrabbling frantically to her feet, while simultaneously rolling Analith onto the rug, scooping up a twin in each arm and depositing them in their cot-crib, then picking up the whimpering Mirae and clutching her tightly. “Coming.”

A moment later, the door was open, and what looked like a levitating, battered, sopping wet velvet sofa stood behind it. Mirae and Analith watched, wide-eyed, as a troop of delivery gnomes carried the sofa indoors, placing it alongside the only empty wall. Leafsong let out a cackle which made the hairs on Flora’s head stand on end.

Only two gold. Don’t your min’da know how to find a bargain, ehhh, babies? I found it dumped in the canal. It’ll dry out in a few hours!”

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Nighthaven

Last night, I dreamt that I was back in Nighthaven again.

It doesn’t happen every night (this dream); it doesn’t happen when my mate is lying beside me with his arms around me like an anchor, keeping me tied to Stormwind and to him. It doesn’t happen when the babies have a bad night and I drift in and out of sleep, one ear always turned towards them. But when Husband is away on campaign, and the children are sleeping soundly; I go to bed as mate and mother, but when I dream: I am a child again.

When I say Nighthaven, I don’t mean of course the wealthy Cenarion city on the banks of Elune’ara. My home shared its name with that wide-avenued haven, the clusters of lavender tiled buildings and stone temples, with druids preening on every corner. That was a place for those Kaldorei born with natural talent, natural skill; or the gold to cultivate it. Or for those lucky tradesmen who had managed to quash the competition through fair means or foul; and won their spot in the finest, richest city east of Darnassus.

But for every successful one there are ten who tried and failed, and five of these ten will fail again and again; and those are the people who live in my Nighthaven. Those dead-eyed merchants with empty purses were at the top of the pecking order in my Nighthaven; for at least they had been something, once. They were fallen men and women, true, but the very fact that they had fallen meant that they had started from a loftier position than the rest of us. They rubbed shoulders with us, who had never amounted to anything and most likely never would; us who had only their family name to call their own. The Knotweavers, the Tangleroots, the Gladefalls (related to the illustrious Gladefall scribes of Astranaar? Once, perhaps, a long time ago- but they would soon as acknowledge a succubus than recognise such a lowly branch of the clan). We who inhabited this alternate Nighthaven lived beneath a strange sort of curse: we had long life, but nothing to do with it. The trouble with a society in which people do not die a natural death, is that there becomes a surplus of labour. No society, however advanced, can support multipying numbers on finite land; and the priestesses can only help so many.

The humans think that we, the Kaldorei, are the night’s children and that may be so; but we are the true children of the shadows, us who contributed nothing and lived in the cracks and dark places of society. We were Kaldorei by name but in actuality our lives were so separate from the Druids and priestesses and Sentinels, that we may as well be called by a different name.

For millenia we (I use “we” to talk about the Gladefalls and the Knotweavers in general, I haven’t been alive for that long), we used to live on the fringes of the city; in ramshackle wooden dwellings clustered like warts on the hillside. They didn’t keep the rain out, they did nothing to stop the cold winds from Winterspring from tearing at the roof, and they offered no protection from the winters. My mother had lost six children, and though two had lived (my brothers), she was pregnant once more with me and my father knew that she would not survive the winter.

But Elune remembered us and smiled upon us for one brief moment; and offered us a respite. A Druidic barrow den on the outskirts of the city had become unsafe for use- part of the cavern extended beneath the lake Elun’ara and it was feared that the roof of certain tunnels might be unstable. The Druids and their attendants packed up their belongings and moved out; and we moved in. “We”, but there were only a few dozen habitable nooks in this subterranean labyrinth; and competition was fierce. My father killed a man to win us Gladefalls a place in that barrow den; and I believe to date that poor fellow is the only life my an’da has taken in his six thousand years (at least, with his own hands). When I dream of Nighthaven, I dream of that barrow den. The Druids had called it Fer’ethil, or Den of Deep Slumber; but we called it Aurome- or, “Our home”.

By the time I was a child of a few years, Aurome had become more than just a winter’s haven for several bedraggled paupers. It was still damp and leaking, the air was not clean, and it was crowded- but it had become something quite different from the quiet avenues and pavilions of the city above. I find it hard to describe, to put the experience into words.

Narrow tunnels twisting into the earth, lit in a hundred places with globe-like paper lanterns. At the major intersections, a brilliantly coloured glass mosiac lamp hung from rusted ceiling brackets; throwing speckles of shifting light on the damp walls. In an effort to keep out the damp, threadbare, gaudy rugs are hung across the top of the tunnel; often dangerously close to the wax dripping from the paper globes. Every nook and chamber is claimed, occupency declared through beaded curtains made from empty seed cases and discarded moonglow corks; old sheets blocking curious gazes, shadowy figures moving behind the thin material. In an effort to banish the musty smell of the damp earth, cheap incense- made from candle wax and moonglow residue- burned from improvised holders on every corner.

There were several branches that were devoted solely to trade, usually set up by those merchants who had failed to succeed in Nighthaven proper. They sat cross-legged on rugs or small stools, surrounded by their wares. Most of the goods had been obtained through dubious means- there would be trinkets plucked from pockets, seeds and nuts from sacks “fallen from the back of a saber”, spices from the Barrens and illicitly produced moonglow (and other substances). From sunset to sunrise, the tunnels resounded with the shrill cries of the merchants, their children offering up trays of
goods. The more successful ones had constructed recesses in the earth behind them, where they could hang lanterns and signs, better to attract the passing eye.

It wasn’t an easy life, even in the old barrow den . We never had enough to eat, we were sickly and frail; yet it was my life and home for so long. I do miss it, sometimes.

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first meeting pt 3



Want to see the shithole – (here, he pinched her neck as she muttered no, not really) – that the Darnassian government afforded to one of their oldest deployed soldiers? Classy, eh?” he commented sourly, tugging free the leather tie and lifting the heavy canvas entrance flap. The space within was spartan, only containing a padlocked leatherbound trunk, and a camp bed, lit by an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling pole. Leafsong craned her neck away, trying to see if any of the other soldiers were within hailing distance.

They probably gave all the good tents to the good soldiers. Ouch!” she squealed as he shoved her inside, both of them unable to stand fully upright. The small space seemed even more confined with the two of them inside.

I’m sure it’s more comfortable than whatever the Expedition set you up with.”

She hissed, pale eyes flashing, turning on him and planting her hands square on his chest. “Let me go! Let me go, I ain’t done nothing. Let me go!”

Ashamal looked over his shoulder at the shadowy figures of his comrades huddled around the fire. Although they were all veterans who had seen and heard far worse during the course of the war, he would still prefer to avoid undue attention. Reaching across, he tugged headband down from the chaotic mass of hair and over her mouth, grabbing the material tight at the back of her head. She almost choked as the cotton cut into the corners of her mouth, fear glowing at the back of her irises as he looked down his hooked nose at her, contemptuously.

Do you want me to bind you further?” he asked her quietly, his face as still as a statue, eyes blazing. “I have no qualms about returning you to the Cenarion camp missing a limb or two. You shut that big mouth of yours, or I’ll break your legs and leave you here.”

Her muffled protests gradually faded away as she took in his intent, her eyes searching his and judging the threat to be genuine. Slowly, never taking his eyes from hers, he loosened his grip on the headband, letting it settle around her neck. She swallowed, touching the corners of her mouth where the cloth had cut in. Lowering his voice, he slid his hand into his pocket and brought up his coinpurse, jangling it mockingly before her.

Then again, if coin will make you comply better, so be it. I seem to remember that it did, once upon a time.”

She cast her eyes to the floor in bitter humiliation, her voice – when it came – barely more than a whisper.

I don’t do that no more. And it were only you, you know that! I weren’t no whore.”

Very well. You’re free to go.”

Her eyes shot back to his in disbelief, and she stepped back a pace, gauging the distance between herself and the tent entrance. He was looking at her, still and watchful, as a cat might watch a cornered mouse.

Really? You won’t- come lookin’ for me?”

I might. Get moving.”

She didn’t wait for him to tell her a third time. Lunging forward, her satchel crashing against her thigh, she shot towards the tent entrance. As she passed him he reached out to grab her by the neck, pressing a square cotton pad against her mouth. She inhaled reflexively, then gagged, her eyes bulging as she felt her limbs begin to stiffen. Losing her balance, she stumbled forward and nearly fell forward out of the tent, the satchel dropping to the floor. He reached down to hook an arm beneath her skinny knees and swung her off her feet as her eyes rolled back in her head. Temporarily paralysed, she made a choked gurgle as he carried her over to the campbed and dropped her abruptly. Her head bounced against the coarse linen pillow and she blinked, numbly. Drawing up the trunk, he sat down on the leather and reached for his rifle, resting it lightly on his knee as he ran his eyes over her prone form. As the effects of the chemical wore off, she coughed hoarsely and turned her head, grimacing as she felt the stiffness of her shoulders.

So,” Ashamal commented in a conversational tone. “How about I tell everyone how your business was really started? That it had nothing to do with genius management or entrepreneurship, and everything to do with a convenient lump sum?”

She struggled to raise her shoulders, propping herself up on bruised elbows as the temporary paralytic wore off. As she shook her head frantically, her loose hair tangled in a cloud around her pale, anxious face.

You can’t! We won the Circle contract on the basis of our “success story”! Please, noone else knows about the money.”

He grinned at her savagely, leaning towards her, face framed by the greying curtains of navy hair. Touching her cheek, he dug his finger painfully against the bone. She cringed, dropping her eyes; though he could tell by the stillness of her face that she was not defeated, merely calculating the next move, the next manipulation. He held his finger there for a moment, face solid as a marble Suramar bust, when something in his eyes softened and he exhaled. For a moment, it was if they had been carried back ten years by a member of the Bronze Flight, and they were back in Hyjal; the street urchin and the exile. He withdraw his hand and lowered the rifle to the floor, shaking his head irritably. For a moment, he appeared every one of his eleven thousand years.

I have another idea,” he said oddly, and she realised that the war had driven him slightly mad. “You need some education before the Circle would even consider taking you on as a druidic student. And I wouldn’t mind some company on the road- my term of service ends soon.”

She raised her eyes, the rabbit invited to dinner by the wolf. There was some commotion outside, an argument quickly escalating to a muffled altercation; but the atmosphere in the darkened tent remained taut as an overtightened bow string. Her voice was quiet but level as she posed the crucial question, her fingers compulsively twisting the strap of her satchel.

Why?”

He snorted, standing from the trunk with a stretch and a grimace. “This damned city stinks. You’d think that the refugees had left their sense of hygiene behind, along with their other possessions.” Fumbling inside one of the tent’s inner pouches, he pulled out a stick of violet-shaded incense, half-burnt, in an elaborate silver holder.

Where’s the damned flint-”

Looking around, his lip curling (quick to anger, she thought), he hissed a muted curse as one of the brawlers crashed against the outside of the tent. Elbowing the bulging canvas viciously, he turned back to the bed to come face to face with Leafsong. She stands no less than tall than I, he thought irrationally for a moment as she shot him a somewhat mocking look, holding up a small, red-headed match. As he opened his mouth, she reached forward and neatly struck the match off his front teeth; handing it to him as he swallowed the faint taste of sulphur. Handing him the little flame, she folded her lanky frame back down onto the campbed, bringing her knees beneath her chin.

Why d’you want me?”

He didn’t look at her, concentrating on fixing the incense holder to the hanging oil lamp. His voice, when he answered, was neutral.

Why shouldn’t I have a happy, young companion at my age? Someone to entertain me, to remind me not to be so damned cynical. Elune knows, with what I’ve been through, I should have turned to drinking by now! But I’m strong.”

Letting out a cackle, he turned to face her and reached down to stroke her ear possessively with two fingers, hinting at a somewhat less innocent side to his request.

Ignoring his insinuation, but not moving her head, she paused for a moment, before gathering her thoughts and replying.

You ain’t been nothing but ‘orrible to me. And do I look like a happy youth?” She shot the last part at him sarcastically, then jumped as the brawlers outside momentarily crashed against the canvas at her back. Glancing over her shoulder, she slid further towards the edge of the bed, away from the wall, then startled as her knees collided with his. He had pulled the trunk closer to the bed, taking advantage of their similar height to position himself alongside her, face to face, a few inches air between them. She drew back a fraction, warily.

You’re developing into a fine young woman,” he said thickly, in the practised murmur of the serial womaniser. His expectant grin was met with a frigid stare.

Your charmin’ words won’t work on me,” she muttered, lowering her face to the floor once more. “I only speak in business terms.”

He drew back slightly, raising his voice.

Ah, a businesswoman! That’s why you took my money, and used it to start up your little business. You did, didn’t you? Tell me the truth.”

She paused for a moment, watching him through the gloom of the tent, gauging the market value of sincerity. Finally, she shook her head, her voice faint, as if she was speaking from the bottom of a deep hole.

I ain’t allowed to speak about that.”

He leered, triumph in his eyes as he watched her rub the back of her grubby hand over her face, wearily. “So. Do you want to be my student then? My thero’shan?” After he noticed her shoulders slump with helpless acquiesce, he relented slightly. “You know, you’ll be paid. I’ll pay you twice as much as the Expedition is paying you. Write to your family, tell them that you’re starting new work.”

Something flickered in her eyes and she looked up at him, uncertainty mingling with disbelief.

Twice as much? ‘Ow do I know you’ll pay up?”

He bent his head forward and kissed her neck unexpectedly, rubbing his thumb over the damp mark he had made.

I promise that I will. I never break promises.”

She snorted, shaking her head, awkwardly.

You better not. I’ll cut your balls off in the night with my ‘erb cutter.”

He let out a rare laugh, reaching up to adjust the angle of the incense holder. For a moment, they both watched the purple smoke curl around as it hung lazily in the air above their heads. Leafsong, unused to the richness of the fragrance, stifled a sneeze.

Excellent.” Ashamal said after a pause. “Our first lesson will begin tomorrow. You can stay behind in the military camp while I’m on the front.”

She swallowed, her fingers fiddling nervously with the buckle on the front of her satchel.

And you’ll pay me every week in cash. With a receipt.”

Two hundred gold a day,” he said, watching her closely. “Yes.”

She gasped, her eyes as round as pennies as she stared at him, incredulous.

Two ‘undred- you’re letting me rob you a second time!”

Not really.”

Are you a fool?”

He frowned at her, but curbed his instinct to react angrily. “I’m no fool. I know that the money will help your family. I just want you.” His fingers reached out once more to touch the angular slash of her high cheekbone, made prominent through years of malnutrition as opposed to natural bone structure. “For company and such.”

And you won’t say nothin’ about your part in the GHE,” she clarified, her strange, pale eyes glowing dimly in the faint light thrown out by the dying lamp.

I promise.” he repeated, rubbing his fingers over the bridge of her long nose. “You’ll find my company quite pleasant. I’m not nefarious, I just get what I want.”

You’re a grumpy old man with violent tendencies” she countered, as his fingers progressed down the other side of her face. He shook his head, thoughtfully.

I wouldn’t beat you,” he said after a pause, nodding. “Unless you gave me a very good reason.”

She gnawed on her lower lip, then spat on her palm and offered it to him to shake. “It’s a deal, then.”

He gripped her hand, pulling her off the camp-bed and onto his knee. “Come here.”

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first meeting pt 2

His hand gripping her arm, he began to steer her through the crowd, a hard expression on his face. She dragged her heels, her slight frame unable to put up much resistance.

You don’t even know what my name is!” she protested as he guided her towards the elevator, looking sorely tempted to shove her over the edge.

Twiglet,” he said, sucking air in through his teeth as he squinted over the edge, impatiently. “Though I doubt that’s your real name, you little liar.”

She scowled at him as the elevator rose to meet him, and he thrust her onto it, along with a crowd of tutting Draenei priestesses.

Why’re you constantly insultin’ me? You don’t know I lied about my name!”

No, but you said I didn’t know your name. Which implies that the one you gave me was not accurate.”

The elevator began to sink, lowering them towards the bustle of the city’s central ring, the smell of the Lower district wafting to meet them. Ashamal wrinkled his nose in disgust, keeping his fingers wrapped around her elbow.

Anyway,” she said defensively, quickly moving on from the topic of her name. “I used the money you gave me to – to feed my starvin’ family! You got a problem with that? Aah!” She nearly stumbled as the elevator shuddered to a halt, and Ashamal swept her off along with the crowd. He led them off the main thoroughfare and down a shadowed side ramp, leading towards the poorest district of the city.

If they’re starving, why are you here in Outland where you can’t feed them?”

I’m a member of the Cenarion Expedition,” she replied, ducking her head as they passed beneath a low archway. “I send my wages ‘ome.” Her tone, although earnest, did not sound entirely sincere.

At the mention of the Cenarion Circle’s Outland branch, he let out a derisive snort, lip curling.

Those druidic fools? They have no logical reason for being on this planet. Those damned Tauren lovers make me sick-”

She took advantage of his momentary distraction to wrench her skinny limb from his hand and, clutching her satchel, make a desperate break for freedom down the ramp. She made it five feet before he drew a length of chain from his belt and swung it at her departing back. The metal links coiled around her ankle and she tripped over, falling heavily onto the paved walkway. Her satchel flew to the floor, spilling “G-H-E” branded products over the pale stone. Swallowing a sob, she rose to her knees and began to gather the vials and containers with fumbling hands, scooping them back into the bag. Ashamal, his teeth bared, brought his plated foot down on several labelled bottles, spilling their pungent contents.

‘Ow dare you!?” she hissed at him, lank strands of hair hanging over her reddened face. “’Ow dare you destroy my- the GHE’s products?!”

What the hell is the GHE?” spat back Ashamal, sending a vial into the wall with a vicious kick.

The- the Gladefall ‘Erb Empire,” Leafsong mumbled after a pause, her eyes round with fear. “Just some herb shop.”

He narrowed his eyes down at her, reaching down to wrap his hand around a chunk of her tangled hair, with mock tenderness.

I thought you worked for the Expedition.”

She scrambled to her feet defensively, her hair hanging over her face. “I -do. I’m a dr-druid.”

He guffawed, watching her closely. “You?! A druid? That’s the silliest thing I’ve yet heard from you this evening.”

Why shouldn’t I be a druid? Just ’cause my family are low born!”

He released her hair, not bothering to disguise the disbelief and contempt in his eyes. She stood before him, wild-eyed and twitching, like a cornered rabbit.

Alright then, little miss druidess. Show me what you can do” he challenged, a sneer contorting his lips.

She stared at him blankly for a moment, then quick as lightning slipped her hand into her pocket and whipped something through the air towards him. The cheap gas would evaporate into Ashamal’s face, causing his eyes to sting and tear up. She used his momentary disorientation to make a second attempt to escape, haring off down the narrow passageway with hair and satchel flying. “Buy GHE!” she tossed over her shoulder, triumphantly, confident of her escape.

A moment later, an arrow whistled past her neck and embedded itself in the soft stone wall in front of her. She fell to the ground in terror, hands over her head. The rough action would cause the neckline of her cheap jumper to tear at the back of her neck, revealing a clumsily inked name scrawled possessively across the cheap fabric. GLADEFALL, LEAFSONG. After a pause, he reached down and yanked her up by the collar, his lip curling.

So, Leafsong Gladefall. You used my money to fund your family business?”

Her eyes went as round as pennies as he clutched her to him, so close that she could see the individual blood vessels in the paler parts of his eyes. She shook her head frantically, her hair whipping from side to side. Her voice had become a high pitched squeak.

The GHE is a well respected business! A famous success story! From ‘umble beginnings to a chain spreadin’ over northern Kalimdor!”

With the help of my money,” he said sarcastically, rubbing his thumb over her cheek. “I’m sure your investors would be interested to learn that your father wasn’t the entrepreneur he no doubt assured them he was.”

She swallowed, the remaining colour draining from her face as she shook her head. Her words, when they came, were thin and unconvincing.

It’s got nothin’ to do wiv you, or your money. We did it ourselves!”

I’m sure.”

We did!”

He snorted to himself, steering her down into the bowels of the Lower City. The busy, purposeful buzz of the upper region was replaced by a lethargic apathy, lazy traders rubbing shoulders with refugees of all races. He shoved her through a crowd of stinking Arakkoa, ignoring her coughs as she got a faceful of dirty feathers. In the shadow of the city wall, several dozen small tents had been erected; a grubby banner indicating that these were the temporary dwellings of the auxiliary Sha’tar troops. Ignoring the several off-duty soldiers who were in various states of dress and pose around the barracks, Ashamal guided her through the narrow alley of tents until he paused outside a particularly small and grubby one.

((tbc))

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first meeting pt 1

(( Set two and a half years ago, in Shattrath City ))

The Kaldorei girl sat cross-legged beside the shallow green pool on the Aldor Rise of Shattrath City, eyes closed; attempting to distance herself from the bustle and commotion that surrounded her. Men and women of all races, in garb suggesting a variety of statuses and profession, flocked between the several Draenic buildings constructed on the rocky outcrop. Several of them were conversing in a low, foreign tongue; others were carrying stretchers, in the far corner an elekk was being loaded with several crateloads of weapons. Shattrath City was a city at war, and there was not a moment of stillness or calm to be found within the stone boundary walls. The girl, whose name was Leafsong, was used to the tranquil, dull monotony of Nighthaven; and she was wholly discomfited by the swarming determination of the crowd around her.

A Quel’dorei of the Shatar, distinctive in their purple and orange colours, accidentally clipped one of Leafsong’s long ears with the hilt of his mace as he strode past; giving her a nod of apology as her eyes flew open. His apologetic grin quickly turned to an open-jawed expression of shock as she flicked up two fingers and said something unrepeatable. He carried on, shaking his head, as she turned back to her reflection. Her stomach released a petulant rumble and she reached for her satchel, the leather still stiff with newness, and began to rummage through it. Retrieving a slightly battered sandwich, she began to chew on it deliberately, head bowed.

Ashamal Shalah’man shoved his way through the crowd, a distasteful curl to his lip, with the grim, purposeful stride of a man who had to prove himself to past enemies. The crumpled colours of the Shatar were rammed in the corner of his pack, and war orders were clutched in his metal-gloved hand. He had just forcibly moved an ambling Draenei female from his path and was heading for the stables, when his attention was caught by a muttered utterance in an accent more often heard in the city slums, than high up on the prestigious Aldor Rise.

I hate ’em!”

His ears pricked, with the knowledge that eleven thousand years of life brought, he immediately located the geography of the speaker. Moonglade, Nighthaven. Low-born. He followed the path of the sound to its origin- a girl of his own species, who – from behind – appeared no more than a scrap of a child. She was hunched over the pond, devouring a sandwich with fixated gusto, a licked finger swooping down to scoop up dropped crumbs unashamedly. With idle curiosity, he stepped forward far enough to glimpse her reflection in the water’s surface. She was older than he had first thought, he realised with slight surprise, between one and two centuries. He had been mislead by the narrowness of her shoulders, the knobs of her spine prominent beneath the crumpled cotton of her top; the limbs which he had believed childish, were the result of years of stunted growth due to malnutrition or illness. She was slender, and taller than he had thought, her poor posture and hunched seating disguised a height which would not be far from his own – she was probably taller than most Kaldorei males, and carried her height with awkward gracelessness.

Her face was pale and fox-like, her nose long and her mouth slightly too large for her pointed jaw. Her hair was in a loose cloud around her head, curling, tangled and in need of a wash – he noted with some amusement that it had been poorly dyed the same diluted grassy shade as the colours she wore. Her best feature were her eyes, which were large and pensive, the pale and muted grey of winter cloud; but they were overshadowed by inherent suspicion, and the general sullenness of her expression. As he watched, she spat into the pond, cleaning out a corner of her gums with a small finger.

The gesture tugged at a memory which had been buried for a decade in the head of Ashamal Shalah’aman; buried beneath other recollections of his time in exile, his writings from that period, interwoven with strands of biting resentment. The girl, shorter then, dirtier, her hair longer and in a thin braid down her back; spitting into a Hyjal stream and rubbing her mouth with a bitten-nailed finger, while the pattern of ivy leaves was reflected on her narrow, naked back. The remembrance hit him solidly, like a dull arrow to the chest, and brought others with them. She called herself Twiglet – a ridiculous name, he had thought at the time, and probably not her real one. He stepped closer, his fingers loosening around the roll of parchment, orders temporarily forgotten. She had white hair back then, and she didn’t wear any shoes. She was sullen back then too, wore the most repellent expression you ever saw on a female. She..

She stole my money and disappeared!

With a swiftness that belied his age, he stepped forward into a crouch, gripping the girl’s sharp chin between his fingers. The remnants of the sandwich fell from her mouth as he twisted her head round and brought his face an inch from hers. Her brows drew together and she wrenched her face back, her expression contorting in anger.

Oi, mister, what-”

In that moment when her pale gaze first met his amber one; he knew her, and what was more, he knew that she knew him. She froze, and he saw disbelief and then horror flicker across her face. In an instant it was replaced by the cool disdain of before, retreating behind the armour of sullen adolescence. He reached out for her, the parchment dropping forgotten as he gripped her face between gloved hands, wholly without affection.

Twiglet,” he said, then repeated the name disbelievingly.

She recoiled from him, visibly, then cursed inwardly. If he had been unsure of himself before that moment, her reaction had proved him irrevocably correct. A cold smile crept over his features, and she felt her hands begin to shake imperceptibly, fingers clutching the strap of her satchel. A gent would step back and give a lady some room she thought to herself furiously, trying to control the nausea rising in her gut. He didn’t give her an inch, his horrid face glowering into hers. He hadn’t changed she thought to herself irrationally. He did not look the eleven thousand years he had claimed to her, though the fixation with keeping his body in prime physical condition had probably helped. It had been ten years with no picture to remind her of his face, and yet his features were branded on her memory. The fine-boned Highborne cheekbones and beard peppered with grey; the sunken, bruised tawny glare. His face still bore some resemblance to the handsome, ruthless youth he had been, but it was an old man who owned those features now. In Hyjal he had been clothed in worn robes and clutched a staff; now he was covered in armour and was wielding several menacing looking weapons, but he was unmistakeable. He was wearing gloves of black steel, but she could draw every line on the back of his hands from memory. She had only to close her eyes, and she could picture it resting lightly, possessively on her thigh.

She thought all of the above in a fraction of a second, before her overwhelming instinct for self-preservation took over, and she assembled her features into a blank stare.

I don’t know wh-what you mean. Now, unhand me, or- or I’ll call my Cenarion bosses! They’ll ‘AVE you!”

He kept his gaze on hers and his hands on her face, a coldness forming over his expression.

You’re in Shattrath, Twiglet. I’m in the Sha’tar. Your Circle can’t do anything for you here.”

As he spoke, she reached down to crumple her tabard between her fingers in an attempt to disguise the distinctive sewn logo of a tree with crossed branches. He looked down at her dirty-nailed fingers, then grabbed at her ear and yanked her cruelly to her feet. She let out a gasp and would have stumbled forward into the pond, if not for his pincer-like grip.

Agh! I’m with the Expedition-! They’ll ‘elp defend me from- from strange madmen!

You owe me my money back,” he said balefully, twisting her ear. “Or something else.”

Her face contorted and she struggled for a moment, he loosened his grip a fraction as he noted several curious stares from passers-by.

What money? What money? I don’t owe you no money, mister. You got the-the wrong girl!”

He brought his mouth to her ear, his breath hot on her neck, smelling faintly of gun oil. “I remember the whores I’ve had.”

She gasped, the pallid cheeks flushing as she winced at the harshness of his words. “I were not. I were not! I-I’m a respected business woman. I don’t know you!”

He scoffed as her eyes shone with false sincerity, flickering like a lizard. His lip curled hatefully as she cringed, unable to keep up the pretence. He leered, touching her cheek with mock tenderness.

You should know me, after what we did every weekend that summer.”

Two points of colour appeared high on her cheekbones as she gazed at him in horror, then dropped her eyes to the floor. An Aldor anchorite, who had been observing the odd couple for a while, approached and coughed delicately.

Is there a problem?”

No,” replied Ashamal coldly, dismissing the man with a nod. He tightened his grip on Leafsong’s arm until she let out a hiss of pain, her eyes blazing with antagonism.

F-ine, fine- perhaps we d-did know each other. For a bit. In the past. Now let go!”

You’re going to shut up and play by my rules now, so don’t f­-ck with me, or I’ll take my compensation now. I paid you enough gold to sink a damned frigate.” Here, he pointed a metal-coated finger at her, the black tip an inch from her nose. “And I didn’t get shit for it. Now, normally I give to the poor willingly, but I do not value criminals or those who break promises.”

She jumped as he slammed his fist into the palm of her hand, in a brutal gesture at odds with the refined drawl of his speech. The churning in her gut escalated as he muttered something to himself, dark and indistinct.

I- I fort it were a gift, like. Um- you said you’d been exiled! What’re you even doing ‘ere?”

He stopped mumbling and scowled at her, slackening his grip slightly.

I’m fighting the demons on the rim of this planet. I’m here in this city because I need rest from the hells I’ve seen.” Determined not to be distracted, he took hold of the cheap woollen collar of her threadbare jumper and turned her to face him fully. She flashed the familiar pale eyes at him before lowering her gaze to the floor. After a moment, she raised her face once more, resentfully.

You said you’d be confined to Winterspring and ‘Yjal forever. You liar!”

I was given the chance to win back my freedom by fighting in this war,” he responded after a moment, folding his thin lips together. She growled at him through her teeth very quietly, before forcing a bright, false smile onto her features.

Lovely. It were – lovely to see you again, but I’m a busy woman. Expedition stuff- better g-get goin’!”

Oh, no. No, no,” he replied swiftly, pinching her cheek without affection. “You’re coming with me.”

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((Writing a story!))

I’m in the process of (i.e. barely started) writing a short story based on Aphel and Leafsong’s first IC meeting in Shattrath, which occurred sometime in February 2008. Obviously a lot has happened since then, both IC and OOC, and both of us have developed our characters and their backstories a lot more. Especially Leafsong, who was actually my first character on an RP server – for quite a while, when we first began to RP together, Leafsong was a monstrosity in BLACK MAGEWEAVE (SHAME! SHAAAAAME) who used to speak perfect Common, carry on intellectual conversation, had a perfectly normal upbringing and occasionally used to flip out and headbutt people into the canal in bear form.

Actually that last part was awesome!!!! I do miss being able to kick ass on Leaf nowadays. She has 0/0 combat skill.

But anyway as time went on, I created more of a proper backstory for her – her background of poverty, her lack of education, the family herb business, the terrible Common and her slightly peculiar accent. I also ditched the black mageweave and begun to kit her out in more humble attire. Aphel and I also worked out more of their mutual backstory, i.e. them meeting in Hyjal when he was an exile and she was picking herbs for her father to sell on a blanket.

During that time, the creation of the GHE was funded entirely through the gold Aphel gave to this moody urchin he used to see every few weeks on the mountain trails of Hyjal, who referred to herself as Twiglet – until she disappeared without notice or a word of gratitude. Ten years later, Aphel (reprived from exile and now struggling to salvage his reputation fighting with the Alliance against the Legion on Draenor) bumps into “Twiglet” in Shattrath, older and better-clothed, wearing a tabard embroidered with the words Gladefall Herb Emporium; a successful chain of herbalist stores best known for their lucrative Cenarion Circle contract.

None of the above backstory actually existed when Aphel and Leafsong first met in Feb. 2008, but since it’s a storyline which just involves two characters, we’ve decided to go back and “retcon” their first meeting; or, roleplay it out again, with all the additional characteristics and backstory we’ve added to them over the months (years!). It should be pretty fun, and I’m going to take a billion screenshots in the hope that I can locate the right folder later on (VISTAAAAAA!) and write it up into a proper story.

Edit: for the shame!!!! vvvv

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