Archive for October, 2010

Recuperation

Leafsong bowed her head, ducking as she entered the shelter beneath the stairs. Her eyes were focused on the slumbering man in the narrow bed, who had his eyes closed in some semblance of sleep. Bandages swathed his upper body, muscle built from decades of training with the bow, and his arm was encased in a cast. His cheek was marred with a cut that ran from his cheekbone down into his faded beard, and the wrinkles framing his eyes seemed to have deepened in the past few days. She crept across the confined space, stepping over stuffed animals, wooden figures and items of clothing belonging to various members of the family, a precariously stacked tray in her hands.

“I’m not asleep, there’s no need to to skulk,” said Ashamal quietly, his eyes giving off a muted amber glow in the darkness. She started, then smiled tentatively at him, her one good eye shining.

“Hullo. How you feelin’ this morning?”

He paused for a moment, appraisingly, before replying.

“Like saber shit. How are you feeling?” He looked her over, taking in the trailing bandages on her arms and the swollen face.

“The same” she echoed, the corner of her mouth curling upwards wryly. Perching on the edge of the bed, she lowered the tray to her knees and swivelled to face him. Carefully, her brow furrowed, she began to peel the bandages from his upper torso. He smiled at her, broken tooth flashing for a moment, reaching out a hand to touch her bruised knee.

“You don’t know how glad I was to wake up here.”

She gazed back at him solemnly, her hand moving to cover his fleetingly before reaching for one of the small jars on her tray. With fumbling fingers, she undid the lid and scooped up some of the pungent mint-green salve. Biting her lip, she began to smear the ointment over the raw pink wound that curved over his chest, lurid and vicious. He hissed through his teeth as the cut stung; she grimaced in sympathy, but continued to daub the thick paste over the broken skin.

“Hurts to help, ‘usband,” she reminded him sternly, shooting him a look from her good eye. He nodded, exhaling as she withdrew her fingers and wiped them on the grubby fabric of her trousers. She began to uncoil a fresh white roll of bandages, strands of hair falling over her face. As she wound them carefully around his torso, he let out a muffled snarl of pain. She winced, but continued to apply them determinedly. Once she had finished, she sat back and he looked down, surveying her work. As usual, her first aid skills were inferior, but the care and gentleness with which she had tended his wounds had soothed him more than any trained healer. He smiled at her once more, attempting to penetrate her gloominess. He knew that she was worried about his wounds and angry on his behalf for his treatment at the hands of the Sindorei; but her dejection unsettled him. It reminded him of the sullen, surly child she had been when he first knew her, embittered by the drudgery of her life.

“Come up here,” he said quietly, leaning back against the headboard. She hesitated for a moment, then lowered the tray to the untidy floor and crawled up to lie beside him on the narrow bed, her arms wrapping around his neck. He reached up to cup the back of her head and closed his eyes.

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“Is she up yet?”
“What do you think? She’s still in bed.”
“Still? Well, she had better get up. I’ve fed the oldest two, but the little ones need feeding, and I can’t help them there.”

Elurina Gladefall, eight thousand years old but as formidable as an Elder, emerged from the doorway of her cellar room with Mirae on her hip and Analith clinging to her leg.

“She’s still bawling up there?” she queried in her oddly refined tone, incongruous to the lowborn tongue of her Gladefall progeny.

Shyla nodded grimly from her position behind the counter, sorting through the week’s paperwork. Although she was secretly delighted that the onus of running the GHE: SW had fallen upon her, she was not too pleased with the masses of paperwork that came with the managerial position. The twins were in a bassinet beside her, making small snuffling sounds of hunger. Flora was chewing her brother’s forehead gummily. Elurina growled under her breath, shaking a squeaking Analith from her leg and depositing Mirae neatly on the sofa beside her prized mirror. “This is ridiculous; it’s been two days!” The family matriarch’s handsome, almost Highborne features were contorted into a snarl as she grabbed the bassinet and stormed upstairs to the master bedroom.

“Girl, you get out of bed right now, or so help me, I’ll throw you out the bloody window myself” she bellowed, bearing down on her granddaughter as she lay huddled on the bed.

Leafsong made a pathetic sight, unwashed for three hairs, her broken cheekbone distorting the right side of her face. Both skinny arms were swaddled in trailing, grubby bandages from shoulder to elbow, and one of her eyes was swollen shut. The other eye was pink and watery, watermarks cutting through the dirt on her face. Exhausted from bawling like an infant for incessant hours, she was now sobbing wordlessly, her small fists balled.

Although she hadn’t spoken about what had happened during that expedition up to the scourged land of Tirisfal to gather gloomweed, she had left there with her mate and returned, distraught and battered, without. Elurina and Shyla, after the initial shock (Ashamal had been older than all three Gladefall women combined and had had twenty lifetime’s worth of combat experience) had taken their young relative in and tended her wounds with a combination of GHE remedies and cheap local healers. After the first night, where she had screamed the house down for her mate; she hadn’t spoken a word or eaten a thing. Elurina was thoroughly fed up of it – her husband was surely dead, but she had known him but three years. A love of merely thirty months was nothing to weep this copiously over.

“Child, you look at me right now and stop being so bloody selfish,” She crossed to the head of the bed and grabbed her granddaughter’s pointed chin, tilting her face upwards. Leafsong eyed her sulkily, her mouth contorting. Elurina glared at her, the older woman’s still-attractive, fading features blazing.

“Your mate is gone, it’s very sad. Goddess knows, we’ll all miss that lucrative and wealthy man. But, you’ve done well- you’ve got children on him, four strong and healthy babies; and you’ve got his fortune. Wasn’t that what it was all about in the beginning, remember? Though I suppose it was too much for us to throw a silly little girl in with an attractive (and rich) man and expect her not to lose herself to him. Anyway – you don’t need to worry. We’ll help you with the babies, you know that. They’re Gladefall flesh and blood. But you are still their mother. You have to pull yourself together, girl!”

Leafsong sniffled wetly, her face crumpling as she dissolved into fresh sobs. Elurina raised her eyes to the ceiling, where a faded Florian poster was tacked to the beam.
“Gods-damned it, how is there any moisture left in you? Look, we’ve run out of bottled milk for them.”

She reached down to pluck a squirming Flora from the bassinet, lying the baby down in Leafsong’s lap. Flora began to instinctively burrow against her mother, pushing her chubby face against Leafsong’s grubby cotton shirt. Leafsong stopped wailing, and Elurina eased her tone slightly, encouraging the girl.
“That’s it. Look after your baby, Ashamal’s children”

Leafsong swallowed a hard lump in the back of her throat. Her limbs felt stiff as she sat up slightly, reaching to pick up Flora and hold her to her chest. Elurina sat beside them and reached out to open the front of Leafsong’s dirty shirt, allowing the baby to begin nursing, cheeks moving hungrily.

Leafsong wiped her nose on the back of her hand and looked down at the little girl, who was gazing intently up at her mother’s face as she fed, round eyes the same haughty amber as her father’s. As the baby settled into a contented rhythm, her young mother turned her head to look at her grandmother, who was soothing an impatient Loredar.
“They took me away from ‘im, Granny,” she breathed, her face as pale as her diluted grey eyes. “I begged ’em to let me stay, but they wouldn’t.” She swallowed thickly, her mouth twisting. “He looked- he looked like he had given up, he looked old, he looked -defeated. I wanted to stay with ‘im but they dragged me off. It ain’t fair!” she cried suddenly, her eyes flashing as she raised her head. “For someone so proud, so strong, to end his life in a crumpled heap on the floor, aged and alone, it ain’t right. How could Elune let that ‘appen, eh? He was her most loyal servant. I hate her, I hate her!”

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Post

She wandered across the Park, barefoot, absent-mindedly leafing through the morning’s post. Two druids shuffled hastily out of her path as she squinted at the crooked writing on a lumpen package, totally absorbed in deciphering the text.

 

“Bill, bill-” she muttered, recognising the distinctive brown envelopes and tossing them surreptitiously into the bushes. “Bill, ooh- coupons!”

 

It was early enough that the district was still quiet, the tavern doors shut tightly against the stark light of morning. Several Kaldorei students were gathered on the benches beside the pond, listening attentively to an early morning lecture. A year ago, the sight of the young scholars would have caused her to pause and watch in jealousy; but now she just ambled on, idly sifting through the bundle of letters.

 

Clambering onto one of the vast stone boulders that circled the pond, she thrust her letters into the pocket of her masculine work-coat and swung around a carved wooden pillar. She was about to hop down onto the grass, when a leather-clad hand reached up to her.

 

“So you cannot even leave me to go get the post on my ownsome! One would fink I were a tiny, tiny infant, unable to even walk fifty feet unaided ” she observed archly, raising a quizzical eyebrow. He didn’t respond to her attempt to provoke him; she relented, hopping down without the aid of his hand and landed squarely on the grass with a grunt.

 

“I told you, I’m not letting you out of my sight while these quakes are still occurring,” he said after a moment, following her across the grass. She grinned at him over her shoulder, waving the coupon booklet like a banner of triumph.

 

“Twenty percent off infant clothing at Kaldorei Baby. BOGOF on socks!”

 

“BOGOF” he repeated, catching her up with several quick, long strides and sliding his arm around her skinny, boy-like waist. She tipped her head to him, nodding solemnly. “I’m goin’ to buy so many socks, they will have a pair for every day of the week.”

 

“But baby feet grow so quickly. Analith has already outgrown the booties you bought the other month.”

 

She scowled, linking her arm through his as they ascended the ramp towards the GHE.

 

“Then I’ll stretch ’em.”

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Leafsong’s Diary 21.10

Leafsong’s Diary 21.10

 

Oddly enough, the babies seem to have become more accustomed to the earthquakes than I have, now. In a way that’s comforting, because it suggests that they still feel safe in the presence of me and my husband, despite the fact that the earth is rocking beneath them. It doesn’t comfort me, particularly, since I don’t even feel safe in my own presence. So far, I’ve fallen into the canal (twice) and had a building partially collapse on my head.

 

Not even the solid companionship of my mate is reassuring, though I do appreciate how he shields me with his own body during the tremors. It’s very kind of him. The GHE’s reinforced structure seems to be holding up well, we’ve only had a few accidents with spilt vials and smashed glasses. The cupboards are study and have a good seal on them. Shyla has given the job of mixing the more concentrated GHE alchemical concoctions over to me, the utter wimp. Just because she accidentally spilt some SHE Liver Tonic on herself and it gave her a slight burn. I’ll have to pick up some more of those industrial strength gloves from the engineering market.

 

One good thing – perhaps the only good thing – about this horrid quake, is that business has gone through the roof. I’m not sure how effective these GHE anti-dizziness drinks actually are (since it’s just a mixture of Tranquilitea and migraine tablet), but perhaps it’s psychological. They were queueing from half past five in the morning yesterday, and Shyla had to open a half hour early. The bad thing about sleeping in a shelter beneath the stairs is that, well! you’re practically sleeping on the shop front itself. We were all woken by shuffling feet, low muttering and the jangle of coins in pockets – usually the sweetest sound in the world to me, was most unwelcome at such an hour. Especially since the babies (who would usually sleep uninterrupted until ten) are then woken, and insist on constant attention. Analith is getting rather bored of the cramped sleeping conditions beneath the stairs, he keeps demanding to go upstairs. I’ve not let them be taken upstairs ever since I fell from the balcony in the grocery store.

 

Ah, but there’s nothing else that we can do! Even Darnassus has begun to feel distant rumblings. Nowhere is safe, except Outland – horrible thought! Didn’t the sundering of that planet begin with the quaking and trembling of the earth? What if Azeroth is tearing itself apart? Where would we go? I may have only lived on this world for less than two centuries, but it’s precious to me. I don’t want to travel to other worlds to live, I’m no Draenei! I must talk to my husband about my worries.

 

The following part was added later, in a scrawl

 

I read over my entry for today and decided that it sounded far too depressing, so I’ve copied out the lyrics to Florian’s new lullaby. All the girls in Darnassus are humming it. He’s performing at the Blue Recluse tavern next week – must find way to persuade mate to come!! He can’t miss the chance to see Florian in person!

 

Under a Milky Moon (written and performed by FLORIAN, Kaldorei singing sensation)

 

Lunar lunar lunar

Your love turns me into a

Fool (ah!) fool (ah!) fool (ah!)

 

Milky moooooon.

White like my face

When you spit on me

 

Milky moooooon

Why can’t you see

You’re the one for me

 

Milky moooooooon

I want to howl and rip you apart

With my ray of light

 

MILKY

MOON

 

MOOOOOOON.

 

 

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“Would you like. Another. Cup of tea?”

Leafsong nodded reflexively, being physically unable to deny any service offered to her for free. This would be her third cup of human-style tea in as many hours, and she was uncomfortably aware that she might have to leave the warmth of bed and seek out a bush soon. Not that the bedroll was exceptionally comfortable- by the time she had been ferried over from the Old Town by stretcher, all of the Kaldorei/Draenei sized mattresses had been taken up. Earthquake triage had been set up in the antechambers of the Cathedral, the priestesses concentrating on those with life-threatening wounds; while the novices undertook the role of nurses.

Leafsong, on her unconscious arrival, had been labelled as NE-F-8 and assigned to the care of an enthusiastic older novice who had bandaged the broken wrist and bathed the cut head. Leafsong had woken an hour or so later, feeling vaguely nauseated, but in only mild discomfort. The novice, on hearing the Kaldorei’s broken and disjointed Common, insisted on speaking to her slowly and loudly, her mouth contorting with every word. On one hand, Leafsong found this vaguely insulting; on the other, she did find the woman’s Common easier to understand.

She sat up slowly, looking around at the other victims of Discount Groceries’ disintrigation, most of them sleeping or sedated. She had been gratified to spot the paladin who had made an effort to help her, resting on a bed beside some bookshelves. His priestess friend, however, was nowhere to be seen.

“Leafsong. Leafsong!”

Her head snapped upright and rotated to the arched doorway. Her husband was shoving his way past an outraged priestess, who was holding a clipboard and parroting “Name? Name?”

Leafsong waved her good arm at him frantically, sending a shower of dust and flakes of plaster onto the blanket. He spotted her instantly and, on seeing that she was sitting up and appeared relatively uninjured, closed his eyes for a moment, mouth moving silently. A second later he was crouched at her side, gripping her by her shoulders, his face grey. He looked every one of his eleven thousand years.

“Gods, are you hurt?” he demanded breathlessly, taking in the neatly stitched cut and the bandaged wrist. She shook her head, thinking of those next door with the priestesses.

“No-oo, just- I broke my wrist.”

“I saw. My poor child,” he breathed, brushing some of the plaster dust from her dirty fringe. “Has it been healed?”

She shook her head once again, her brow furrowing.

“No, there’s a- a priority service for that. You gotta either be rich or half-dead.”

He growled quietly, still inspecting her grubby form for any hidden injury.

“We’ll have that seen to. My Goddess, Leafsong, they told me that a building had collapsed on you.”

“It did,” she said, absurdly proud. “I guess I’m tougher than what you give me credit for.”

He scowled at her, disabusing her of that misguided belief.

“I’m not letting you out of my sight until these damned quakes cease.”

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Grocery 2

Avoiding the seventh step, which she had put her foot through on her last visit, she padded cautiously out onto the creaking balcony. The floorboards gave a groan of protest as she added her weight to the stacked boxes and crates, and she grimaced. “ONE PATRON AT A TIME ON THE BALCONY” read a hastily scribbled sign, tacked up over the boarded-up window.

 

Smiling triumphantly over her shoulder at a customer who had ascended the stairs a fraction too late, and had to descend with a scowl, Leafsong crouched down and began to rummage through the trays of jumbled tins. The best bargains were always in the most obscure places, she knew from experience, her fingers expertly sorting the diamonds from the dross. With a triumphant cackle, she pulled out a slightly dented tin of Stranglethorn white peaches (a delicacy, normally a gold per tin), for only fifteen silver. She would be able to serve it up with the murloc fin soup from yesterday for dinner, and the peaches could be mashed and fed to the babies. Mirae, who had a sweet tooth (six of them), would be especially pleased. Humming to herself happily, crossing DESSART off her list, she turned around to inspect rows of slightly bruised fruit.

 

She was just holding an apple in each hand, inspecting them for worm-holes; when the building gave an eerie groan from its foundations, a sound of protest that seemed to come from the walls themselves. Almost immediately afterwards, there came a menacing rumble from somewhere deep below, rolling up through the layers of earth like an ocean swell. Discount Groceries, one of the oldest buildings in Stormwind, gave a protesting lurch. A moment later, there was a crack, hollow and piercing as a gunshot.

 

The apples fell from from her hand, along with her basket , as she stumbled. The floorboards beneath her pitched, like the deck of a ship caught in the throes of a storm. Barely registering the cries and shouts from the floor below, she lost her balance and pitched forward into the tray of fruit, sending the contents tumbling to the no-longer horizontal floor. The balcony structure gave an anguished creak, the fastenings beginning to tear away from the wall. Leafsong clutched at the wooden railings, hanging on for dear life, peering down between the slats to the floor below. The shopfront, so familiar to her, had been transformed into something unrecognisable. With horror, she realised that she could see straight into the basement below. Broken floorboards edged the cavernous opening, the counter had vanished completely. The thunderous sound of the earth shifting drowned out most of the cries, only the hysterical shrieks of the priestess were audible over the cacophony.

 

Stupidly, Leafsong spotted her discarded bruised bananas sliding towards her on the angled floor, and grabbed for them. There was a sickening crack as one side of the balcony broke away from the wall, and the floor beneath her dropped away. She felt herself drop and flung out her arms, her fingers locking around a broken beam, nails gripping in. She hung there for a moment, desperately trying to channel strength into her scrawny limbs, her body like the dead weight of an anchor. She was too absorbed in clinging to her splintered lifeline to realise that the shuddering of the earth had stopped. A warm trickle down her cheek left a salty taste in her mouth, plaster coating her hair.

 

Now the true destruction began, as weakened foundations subsided and broken joints failed, several dozen city structures entering their death throes. The deafening rumble had died away, to be replaced with a far more terrifying sound; the pathetic cries of the trapped and the moans of the injured. Leafsong gritted her teeth, clinging on to her beam, unable to muster the strength to pull herself up. Below her, the old paladin was crumpled in the door frame, his golden sword still sheathed. The knight was slowly coming back to his senses, his first thought clearly for his priestess companion as he looked about him in bewilderment. Absurdly, Leafsong watched him, distracted from her own precarious situation. To his credit, he seemed to compose himself in moments, hauling himself to his feet. She called out to him in Common, her voice hoarse from the dust that coated her throat.

 

“Hallo, hallo..”

 

He looked upwards, as if in a daze, not seeming surprised to see her hanging there.

 

“Where’s everyone gone?” he asked, his voice slurred, as if awakened from deep sleep. She shook her head helplessly, gritting her teeth as she hung there.

 

“Gone, gone.. please, ‘elp.”

 

Discarding his sword, which had proven to be useless, he avoided the gaping chasm in the floor and attempted to reach her. She was about to release her grip on the beam to drop into his arms, when the house gave one more sickening lurch, caught up in the throes of an aftershock. The paladin lost his balance and fell between the broken floorboards, arms flailing, a curse on his lips. Leafsong let out a wail of horror as the beam tore itself away from her fingers, her stomach lurched and she felt herself fall away into space. The broken shop front spun around her in a whirl and she felt something metallic strike her forehead. The chaos instantly muted itself and she felt herself sinking into a quiet peace, her vision shrinking to a black dot.

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Grocery

Basket in hand, Leafsong hummed tunelessly to herself as she clambered up the crumbling stone steps of Discount Groceries, pushing her way inside the crowded shop-front. Although the shop, located in a tucked-away corner of the Old Town, was not the most convenient location to buy food (being on the opposite side of the city from the Park), it had the lowest prices; and for low prices, she was more than prepared to walk a little further.

There hadn’t been an quake since the previous evening, the tremor hitting just as she and her mate had been preparing for bed. They had fallen together into the shelter which had been rapidly constructed beneath the stairs, bringing the hanging door curtain down with them. Only Mirae and Analith had been woken up, both of them sitting up dozy-eyed in their shared crib. The twins, slumbering beside them, had barely noticed the shuddering.

Leafsong slung the blanket onto her other arm, pushing her way through the crowd (mostly human) gathered before the counter. Ruptured water pipes and interrupted delivery schedules had led to mild panic and mass buying; and tonight it seemed as if the entirety of Stormwind’s poorer population had flocked to Discount Groceries to stock up. Fortunately, the less than salubrious owner had means of obtaining goods other than through the disrupted official channels. An ageing human woman, her face lined with wrinkles like a young girl peering through a lattice window, sniffed at various lumps of cheese. A paladin, looking somewhat uncomfortable, stood restlessly beside a pretty priestess. The golden-haired woman was surreptitiously inspecting bottles of cheap wine, eyes flickering nervously.

Clutching a bunch of rather battered bananas in her hand, Leafsong gazed at the rabble before her and briefly contemplated popping them straight into her basket. Her hand hovered for a moment, before she decided against it. She wasn’t willing to risk being banned from the cheapest food source in the city. Scowling as she surveyed the dented pyramid of tins, she raised her voice to call across to a harassed shop clerk.

“Where soup? Where soup?”

The man, whose hair was practically standing on end, jerked his thumb towards the stairs. Leafsong nodded, making good use of her bony elbows as she navigated through the crowd, her jaw set. Nearly losing a sandal as she tripped on the first step, she caught her breath sharply. Was it a tremor that had caused her to stumble, or a wave of nausea-induced dizziness? She was terrified of getting sick. Pausing on the bottom step, she tucked a dirty curl behind her ear, completely still. The ground remained solid beneath her, and she clambered up the rest of the stairway with trepidation. The building, as if reflecting its contents, was shabby and cheaply built; the upper storey almost seemed an afterthought, tacked on with nails and string.

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Leafsong’s Diary 12.10

What have I done, Elune? Did I do something terrible in a past life? Commit some atrocity? Torture? GENOCIDE? I can’t think why else I am being punished by you. Hasn’t my life been hard enough? Hasn’t it been a trial? Have you give me three years of happiness as some cruel torture, to make it hurt all the more when you take it away?

If my mate reads this, he would say that I was being melodramatic. He’d say, ah- typical adolescent angst from my silly young wife. There’s nothing to worry about, just some- natural phenomena.

But I don’t see how he can be so calm, so composed; when the walls of Stormwind are literally crumbling around us! This terrible shuddering known as an “earthquake”, which has come to torment us so recently. Over and over, several times a week. It’s almost worst than the Scourge. No, it’s definitely worse than the Scourge. At least with the Scourge, there was some warning. There was an enemy to take up arms against. With this faceless earthquake foe, there is no time to prepare your defences. It strikes suddenly, without warning, for twenty terrifying seconds you are utterly at its mercy, noble and beggar alike, life hanging by a thread. You can’t fight it, you can’t ever hope to defeat it. You can only hope that you’ll still be alive when it’s over.

Why is this happening now? Now, with Analith toddling off out of sight to hide every few minutes, and the twins still so tiny and vulnerable. Flora has a cold. When the earthquake hits and we’re at home, I don’t have time to grab up the twins and Mirae and dig out Analith from wherever he’s burrowed. Vials crash down with little explosions of glass, the furniture rocks, my husband’s gun rack topples to the floor. Thank Elune that we have only been outside during one tremor, and noone was badly hurt. Poor Analith got a bump on his head from a falling vial, but luckily it was only from the counter and not from a higher shelf. My husband insisted that we leave instantly for Ironforge, believing that the underground city would offer some protection.

It turned out to be a dreadful mistake, the shocks actually came more frequently in the dwarven capital. They seem to be less intense, but I grew so distressed at the thought of being trapped beneath thousands of tons of rubble, that my mate had to take me and the babies out to Kharanos. It’s ridiculous though, we can’t hole ourselves up in some poky little mountain town. The twins won’t be able to take the cold temperature.

I want to go home to the GHE. Clever cousin Shyla is already replacing the shelves with cupboards, reinforcing the ceilings with girders. She’s already producing labels for a new “Anti-Nausea: Quake-dizziness preventative” tonic. Perhaps it is a good thing that she’s taken over, she seems to be far more business minded than I ever was.

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Tram 2

Leafsong stood there for several minutes, nonplussed, while passengers attempting to board the tram elbowed past her. The satchel strap slid down her narrow shoulder, hanging uncomfortably in the crook of her elbow. Overhead came a tinny announcement through hidden speakers, a nasal gnome reciting the departure schedule in a bored monotone. The dirty underground station was gloomy and polluted, soot tinted the brickwork a dingy grey and cobwebs hung from the garish overhead lighting. Most of the passengers had departed by this time, leaving a detritus of discarded ticket stubs and luggage labels in their wake. A single gnome was sweeping up the litter, whistling tunelessly, broom in hand; but she was the only traveller left standing on the platform. Where was her mate?

She shifted her weight, standing on one skinny leg, unsettled. The night sounds of the city drifted in from the gratings above, distant raucous cries and drunken laughter, along with the dull thudding of guard patrols. Though Stormwind was further south than Ironforge, the underground city was insulated by its natural geography and the vast forge at its centre; the human city seemed far colder by comparison. Her husband’s white shirt had been stuck to her back with sweat earlier; now the dampness had dried out and the material felt uncomfortably clammy. Where was he? She was beginning to grow annoyed, her jaw stiffening.

As the screech from the departing tram’s brakes echoed around the manmade hollow; she felt one leather clad arm slide across her belly and another across her collarbone. A body pressed up against her back and warm breath mingled with the belch of foul smelling smoke dissipating around them.

“You left me all day,” came the familiar irritable growl in her ear, the arms tightening across her chest. “You said it would only be the morning.”

She squirmed and he loosened his grip, allowing her to turn and face him, his arms crossing the small of her back. He had begun to weave the crescent bead into his hair again, she thought, spotting the pale bead gleaming against the faded navy-grey. He glowered down at her, lined brow furrowed, eyes scanning hers with the perceptive instinct of a marksman.

“I’m too old to be worrying about you all day,” he said shortly after a brief pause, releasing her and taking the empty satchel from her shoulder. “Next time give me more than a moment’s notice and I shall accompany you.”

They turned towards the exit with the synchronity of couples, Leafsong’s head rotating towards his, indignantly.

“I didn’t have more than a moment’s notice myself. I didn’t even get to put my Ironforge boots on!”

She pointed to her feet, which were black with the soot and ash that littered central Ironforge. Aphel grimaced, steering her away from the convoy of night deliveries blocking the gangway. The two Kaldorei, matched in height but one half the breadth of the other, stood back in a cramped brick alcove to allow the wagons through.

“I missed you very much” he said without looking at her, his fingers moving to rub circles on her neck. She smiled widely, then scowled as he added: “The babies are too much for one person to handle.”

“Is that the only reason you missed me?” she asked, her pale eyes flashing at him in the gloom. He shook his head slowly, surveying his tired, dirty mate as she stood beside him, head bowed.

“No, it’s not the only reason,” he said eventually, his voice low. His leather clad fingers edged inside her (his!) shirt as he turned her chin to his, kissing her without pause until she gasped for breath.

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Tram

The late evening Ironforge-Stormwind tram was (unusually) running on time. The gears creaked and the steam pistons pumped, the mechanisation less than a decade old but already outdated. In recent years, Gnomish technology had experienced an upsurge in development; aided by greater communication between the races and increasing contact with the goblins of the salubrious Steamwheedle Cartel. Despite being antiquated, the tram was still by far the most popular method of transport between the two major Alliance cities. It was too lengthy and dangerous a journey to take mounted or by coach, and the gnomish aeroplanes were only good for those who had a death wish (and a more effective way to fulfil that desire was to go up north and fight against the remnants of Arthas). The tickets were cheap, the trams were somewhat reliable, and the accident rate had been greatly reduced since they had installed brakes on all of the tram carriages, rather than just the rear two.

Leafsong Shalah’aman was sitting in the corner of the second-last, second-class carriage. She was still grumpy over the fact that there wasn’t a ticket cheaper still; and even more annoyed when they had found her crouching in the baggage carriage, trying to clamber into a suitcase. Most reluctantly she had handed over the fifteen silver for a second class ticket, and took her seat as far away from the other inhabitants of the carriage as possible. Most of them were male and human, middle-class merchants and second-tier officials from the look of their dress. There was a dwarf sporting low ranking military insignia and a scowl and a single, twitching gnome. None of them looked too happy when the skinny Kaldorei female dressed in what appeared to be men’s clothing barged her way into the tram, hauling a very odd smelling carpet bag. Clutching a ticket tightly between dirty-nailed fingers, she had stamped through the carriage and slumped into the furthest seat at the back. The other inhabitants grumbled and shifted restlessly, as an unusual, chemical odour drifted from the rear half of the carriage. One of the more fussy traders had turned around to open his mouth, only to be met with a beady-eyed glare.

Now, sixty minutes into the two hour journey, Leafsong was not in the best of moods. She had been woken up at five that morning in Stormwind with the news that her usual Ironforge delivery man had come off worse with some kobolds, was recuperating in bed and unable to do his rounds that day. Feeling sick and uncomfortably late for her monthly cycle, she had dragged herself from bed and onto the early tram. A day spent trudging around the pollution and noise of Ironforge had done nothing for her bellyache, and hauling around several bulging satchels. The first few journeys on the tram had been terrifying, but repetition had replaced the fear with just a mild distaste. Unlike many Kaldorei, Leafsong didn’t mind the tram all that much. She had a practical mind, and could appreciate the time and money that it saved.

The pernicious trader in front of her was getting thoroughly fed up of having a pair of dirty feet resting on the headrest behind him. They had gone up on the headrest the minute the engine started up, and hadn’t budged an inch since. They weren’t even attached to an attractive Kaldorei, he reflected gloomily, raising his pocketwatch to eye her reflection on the lid. She was dirty, she smelt of some particularly foul herbal concoctions, and she had been chewing nuts and spitting out the shells for the past half-hour. A small sea of pale husks littered the floor around her. Even as he thought it, a tiny missile hit the back of his head and he let out an exclamation, turning around.

“Wrynn’s teeth, do you have to spit?!”

She stared at him for a moment, her jaw hanging open unattractively. He continued to glower at her, beard bristling with indignation. A shell fell from her mouth and dropped into her non-existent cleavage.

“Don’t you speak Common?” he persisted when she made no reply, rolling her eyes at him with infuriating adolescent indifference. A repeated enquiry only elicited a vague mumble from the elf female, incongruously dressed in a baggy shirt and boy’s shorts, her curly hair tied back in a wiry plait. The trader gave up after a few moments, muttering darkly to his fellow passengers, who tutted in agreement. Leafsong hunched her shoulders, expression dark, and began to pick her teeth grumpily. The water beside them flashed by, offering glimpses of marine life, kept out by walls of reinforced glass.

Forty five minutes later, the tram arrived in Stormwind ahead of schedule. With a hiss of steam and a screech of brakes, the carriages came clanking to a halt, the engine releasing a belch of smoke. This prompted a less than elegant disembarkation for many of the passengers as they coughed and spluttered, eyes streaming, feeling for the door handles. Leafsong, who had been forced to pick up her scattered shells by an angry gnome porter, exited the tram several minutes after the rest. She clutched her empty satchel and stepped out onto the dim platform, squinting futilely against the bright station lights. She couldn’t see her mate, who had promised to come and meet her, anywhere.

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