Archive for December, 2010

Secrets

The large oak chest stood beside the crib, at once unassuming and threatening. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, inlaid with lighter wood panels and ornate silver filigree; a work of quality that reflected an age long past, where practicality took second place to aesthetic. It had been resting quietly there for seven days now, the elephant in the room; it had doubled as a table on which to brew tea, a fort for Analith to play on, a showplace for the Winter’s Veil gifts, but the lid had remained firmly shut.

Leafsong treated the chest like an unexploded bomb. She edged around it, always aware of its solid presence in her everyday life, both curious and guarded. Elurina, who seemed to be enjoying her granddaughter’s discomfort, studiously ignored the chest’s presence. Ashamal shot the occasional glance towards the chest, his lip curling. Whenever Leafsong caught him scowling, she cringed inwardly and turned away, her face burning. She would scoop up one of the babies, dandling them in his face, distracting him. Keep reminding him that you are the mother of his children she reminded herself, continuously. Don’t let him dwell on his mate’s dubious new ancestry.

Ashamal Shalah’aman’s oldest enemy – one that outdated Scourge, Qiraji or demon – were the members of that elitist caste who had dominated the society of his youth. His own family – though made wealthy through his father’s successful tailoring – were ranked as second class citizens in Suramar, continually looked down on by the so-called cream of society. He debauched them as heretics, hedonists, as every wicked thing under the moon; but the rest of the world knew them as the Highbourne. Ashamal’s hatred for these blasphemous traitors would be a recurrent theme for the next ten millenia of his life. It was a hatred which Leafsong had gladly shared with him, it being one of the few areas of common ground during the fraught early days of their partnership. He hated them for their idolatry, their hedonism and their avarice; Leafsong (who, like her parents, had known nothing but poverty and squalor) hated them simply for the fact that they were wealthy.

When the remnants of the Highbourne made their re-emergence from the dark and hidden places of the world in recent weeks; after the Cataclysm had revealed their secret hide-aways and unearthed long-buried Highbourne ruins, Ashamal had stalked the streets of Stormwind after dark with his hand on his gun, praying to Elune that he would catch one of those maligned arcanists alone and unwary. His disgust at their acceptance in modern Kaldorei society was such that it kept him up at night, writing long and venomous letters to various Darnassian officials; who were all younger than him and had no ancient hatred of these pale new allies, who brought new knowledge and magic with them.

Until a week ago, the presence of the Highbourne in Stormwind had made no impact on Leafsong; other than the time she had attempted to pick some extravagantly-robed old woman’s pocket in the Cathedral Square, and had been transfigured into an outraged sheep.

Then, the chest had arrived.

Much to the delight of the Explorers’ Guide and other budding archaeologists, the shifting of the earth during the Cataclysm had brought to the surface several hundred ancient Highbourne estates. The Darnassian government (under the influence of their pale new allies) had agreed to investigate any possible claimants to these ruins, to dissuade any looters. A particular set of ruins in the Stonetalon Mountains, near the coast, had been accredited to a particular Highbourne clan by name of Glen’fallien.

The Glen’fallien family had been notorious even among a society of sycophants for their crawling obsequious nature, their false flatteries and their parasitic attachment to those who they perceived could be valuable to them. They had hidden this repulsiveness beneath a veneer of culture; becoming somewhat known for composition of cloying verses and puffed-up love songs, all façade and no substance. They frequented Azshara’s court, though the great Queen had no time to spare for such insignificant toadying servants.

When the Highbourne had foolishly summoned the Legion into the world, the cowardly Glen’fallien family had fled; not caring enough for those they had flattered to stay behind and defend them against this terrifying new enemy. They had disappeared, and no-one knew (or cared) what became of them.

Now, it seemed, someone had found out what had happened to them – or at least to two of them, a pathetic couple named Ghonam and Livilla who possessed all of the Glen’fallien ambition but none of the guile. They had slunk around the hidden places of Azeroth for several thousand years; after the birth of their only child – a daughter – they lived with the arcanists in the hidden orifices of Eldre’thalas for several more. After Ghonam had been caught stealing magical artefacts and reagents to sell to the furbolg, him and his wife were blasted out of existence by a furious Prince Tortheldrin.

Their adolescent daughter fled, making her way up the coast of Kalimdor, fleeing the angry arcanists. The druidic stronghold of Nighthaven had seemed the perfect place for her to hide from their wrath. Without a family, an education, skills, personal charm or a single copper coin to her name; Elurina Glen’fallien had changed her name according to the Kaldorei style, taking on the cognomen ‘Gladefall’. The family Gladefall – most of whom were ignorant to their tainted ancestry – continued to live in obscure poverty for the next five thousand years. Lacking any talent, with no-one to flatter, they eked out a miserable living on the streets of Nighthaven. Elurina’s daughter took a greedy and ambitious mate, one Mel’arian Toadwhisper, who took her name to avoid detection for previous misdoings. They had three children: two boys, and a girl.

Ashamal Shalah’aman had known his mate for three years, yet he had been blind to the clues to her ancestry that were hidden in her face and body. The pale skin that was almost translucent, showing the veins beneath; the long nose and white hair, the skinny limbs.

When Elurina, smirking, had finally revealed the secret which she had kept hidden for so long; Leafsong had refused to believe her. It had seemed too incredible; she could not imagine any heritage other than the penury and beggary that seemed synonymous with the name of Gladefall. It had seemed too cruel, that in addition to the scorn that was heaped upon her for being part of the underclass; she should carry this additional stigma- to be related to a nest of the worst kind of Highbourne, sycophantic cowards!

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Opera

The busty human female flung her arms wide, expelling the air in her expansive lungs in a high-pitched yowl; which almost lifted the roof off the gazebo. The audience, arrayed in their best clothes (which offered little protection against the cold Winter’s Veil Eve wind) on a semi-circle of stone benches, shivered and applauded dutifully. The trees surrounding the outdoor concert area at the rear of the Cathedral wore a snowy coating that periodically dripped onto the necks of those seated beneath them. The annual Winter’s Veil opera performance had been written by a Gilnean playwright this year; a calculated honour which had political as well as cultural implications.

As the woman collapsed dramatically onto the stage, her head in her hands; a Kaldorei well-wrapped in furs leapt up and began to punch his way through the grumbling audience. He was summarily grabbed and dragged forcibly back to his seat by a Kaldorei girl no shorter than him, but half the breadth.

“There’s another act to go!”

“I can’t stand much more of this,” snarled Ashamal, his eyes frantic. “Is this how humans entertain themselves? No wonder they are half-mad!” He made a second attempt to extricate himself, then caught sight of his mate’s expression. She was gazing at him solemnly, her grey eyes pale and anxious. Uttering a curse beneath his breath, he settled back down on the frigid bench and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, ignoring the mutters from a chilly human matron behind.

Leafsong, grateful that he had insisted on covering her one good dress with the unseemly but functional furs, kept her hands on the rough burlap sack containing the presents they had bought for the children that afternoon at the Winter’s Veil market. Although the sparkling jewels that dotted the audience like an earthly constellation suggested that the other opera-goers would not be interested in a humble wooden tram; Leafsong remained alert. After all, she thought to herself, who would expect someone like me to be attending a fancy event like this?

The woman on stage picked herself up with effort, despite Ashamal’s loud exhortation for her to “Stay dead!”. She was joined by a trio of plump dwarves, who promptly broke into a jolly baritone trio. Ashamal groaned and bowed his head, turning to his wife and twirling a strand of her curly hair around his finger. She had recently stopped dying her hair with the lurid grass-based dye, and had reverted to her natural white. It suited her, he thought to himself idly, trying to ignore the squalling and bellowing on stage.

“e My heart beats like a tiny swallow’s fluttering wing! This Winter’s Veil night!Love ices my heart, like a frosting of snow e ” howled one of the dwarves, sinking to his knees. Ashamal snorted and continued to fiddle with his wife’s hair, plucking indiscriminate strands out of the coiled braid she had spent hours forcing her unruly curls into.

Just as he felt himself falling asleep (no mean feat in nearly sub-zero temperatures), the three dwarves and the woman fell onto their knees, tossed back their heads, and howled. The jaws of the audience dropped as one. Leafsong turned to Ashamal in confusion. He let out a grim cackle.

“How characteristic of our new allies. They’ve changed the ending – the heroine and her companions have turned into Worgen!”

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Winter’s Veil

“Up a bit. Up a bit. Down a bit. Now to the right. The right. Not your right, my right! Can you make it a bit more – droopy? It’s not droopy enough. It’s taut. It looks like a tripwire. It’s supposed to be draping in a festive manner. Pull it out a bit, no, not that much-”

“F*ck this!” cursed Ashamal, tossing the bundle of stringed lights to the armchair and striding across the room to the front door, which was promptly slammed in his wake. Mirae, who was drawn to sparkle like a magpie, immediately grabbed two fistfuls of cheap decoration. Leafsong shot him a rude gesture and bent over, untangling the lanterns from the baby’s small hands. Mirae let out a petulant yowl. Leafsong – thinking quickly – swooped upon a gleaming silver Winter’s Veil bauble and handed it to the eighteen-month year old. Vain Mirae instantly fell silent, simultaneously fascinated and horrified by her distorted reflection.

“Where an’da?” asked Analith eventually, tiring of gnawing on his picture book. Leafsong resisted the urge to say something insulting. Analith, at two, was becoming increasingly sensitive to heightened emotions.

“He’s just gone to fetch more – pies.” she lied, smiling through clenched teeth. Analith fixed her with a piercing umber stare that was disconcertingly similar to his father’s hawklike gaze. “You like pies, Annie.”

Analith did indeed like pies, and the thought of eating his sixth mincemeat pie of the day distracted him sufficiently from interrogating his mother. Leafsong sighed, rubbing away some of the condensation on the lead-lined window with her sleeve. The sky was grey, and snow had been predicated by the elaborate calculations of the city horologists. Leafsong had heard the dwarves complain that they didn’t need any fancy arcane machinations to predict the snow; they could detect it by the frost forming in their whiskers. Leafsong did not like snow; she had an antipathy to being cold and to being wet (hence her weekly bath), and snow combined the two horrors. The navy rooftops of Stormwind, only a stone’s throw away from their small two-roomed cottage, were already decorated with an icy shimmer.

“Leafsong. ” Elurina ducked through the entrance of her small back-room. She was clutching a plump twin in each arm. They were both wearing new knitted costumes; Winter’s Veil gnomes, one in red and one in green, complete with felt hats. Leafsong beamed and clapped her hands in delight.

“OH! They look so sweet!”

Elurina grumbled, placing them down in the armchair. “They look ridiculous. Why are they so fat? You were never so rotund as a baby.”

Leafsong scowled at her grandmother, maternal hackles rising. “Because we didn’t ‘ave no food, that’s why. Don’t say mean things about my babies!”

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Winter’s Veil (pt 1)

She hung the wreath over the fireplace carefully, adjusting the angle until she was satisfied. The ivy-bedecked hoop, studded with opalescent Darnassian blooms, glowed pleasingly in the candlelight and she smiled, stepping down from the hastily-dragged chair.

“Min’da” said Analith, from his position by the fireside. “Min’da, what is?” He elevated a small finge towards the wreath; too young to remember the previous year’s Winter’s Veil. Leafsong knelt on the rug beside him, cupping the back of his small head with her hand and kissing him on the cheek.

“It’s a – wread.” she said after a moment, pronouncing the Common word with hesitance. Across the room, Ashamal looked up from the parchment he was perusing.

“Wreath.”

“WREATH” Leafsong repeated, untangling Flora’s legs from the skeins of ribbon which Mirae had wrapped around her. Mirae let out a distinctly un-Mirae-ish cackle, then looked surprised at her own loudness. The little girl, now eighteen months old, was beginning to outgrow her chubby babyishness, her limbs elongating and her chubby cheeks refining themselves; developing a beauty that neither of her parents possessed. The odd Highbourne features that hinted themselves on the mother’s face were far more pronounced on the daughter, something which Ashamal was beginning to recognise in the girl’s high-browed, solemn expression. The question of Leafsong’s ancestry was something that had gone unspoken between them, due to Ashamal’s violent antipathy towards his most ancient enemies.

Loredar, on Ashamal’s lap, was repeatedly batting the parchment away from Aphel’s hands. Ashamal made a vain attempt to continue reading, then sighed and folded the missive away. “Loredar, my son. Stop fidgeting.” Loredar ignored him, reaching out to grab a hunk of groomed, greying navy hair in his chubby fist. The clock above the fireplace began to chime the ninth hour and Leafsong clambered to her feet. Analith looked up at her with an expression of dread.

“Bedtime.”

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Speedbarge

Leafsong had been to some unusual places in the three years she had been travelling at the side of Ashamal Shalah’aman; but the Speedbarge definitely ranked in the top three. They had arrived on the peculiar vessel earlier that evening, but only now had they managed to navigate their way to what passed for an “inn”. The haphazard collection of beds, garishly decorated with embroidered pineapples, was crammed at one end of an extensive tavern area, separated only by a flimsy curtain. Leafsong had paid the innkeeper, a scantily dressed woman by the name of Daisy, and taken charge in finding an unoccupied bed. Her mate had been struck dumb by the changes in the landscape, after ten thousand years of continuity. Even two hours after their arrival in the swamped Needles, he had remained grim-lipped and taciturn, a scowl deepening the lines on his forehead.

There came a guffaw from the other side of the curtain; the high pitched chortle of a gnome. It was accompanied by the clinking of glasses and a loud belch. Leafsong grimaced and rolled over beneath the pineapple-patterned blanket, bumping up against the metallic wall of her husband’s chest. She bared her teeth at him invisibly in the darkness.

“Why don’t you take your mail off?” she complained, untangling a curl from one of the metal links. He let out a dry, humourless laugh.

“In this brand of establishment? Are you mad?”

She shifted as far away as possible from him, her fingers curling over the edge of the bed. In the next bed over, the goblin occupant caught her eye and giggled, drunkenly crooning a bony green finger.

“Size ain’t everything, elf girl. Want to test the recoil factor of these bedsprings with me?”

Leafsong retreated back to her husband’s chest so rapidly that her head made a metallic clunk as it collided with the titanium mesh. Unhappily, she wrapped her arms around her belly and brooded.

“I miss the babies,” she whispered eventually, her cheek pressed into the grubby cotton pillow. Ashamal Shalah’aman exhaled, rubbing a finger over his greying beard. It went without question that he wished his children were with him, he loved them with a fervour previously saved for his Goddess. However, he didn’t understand this constant longing that his young wife had for their offspring; the hollowness that she complained of when the babies were further than a stone’s throw away. Ashamal knew that their children would be only a hindrance on such a long journey. With a grunt, he raised himself onto his elbows. His dislodged mate plunged into the pillow as he unbuckled the chestguard and carefully lifted it over his head. Settling back down, he wrapped his arm around her narrow shoulders and rested his chin on her scruffy head, keeping a watchful eye through the gauzy curtain.

Leafsong mumbled something into his neck, though he could not discern the words. She had lost some weight, he mused, fingering the prominent knobs of her spine. He had been so (understandably) preoccupied with the second Shattering and the reappearance of his father; that he had not been keeping the usual close eye on the mother of his children. He held her close and resolved to add extra oats to her porridge the next morning.

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Old Enemy

Far in the distance, the Cathedral clock chimed three in the morning; and Ashamal Shalah’aman had not returned. Leafsong, forbidden to leave the house, had worn a circular ring in the rug as she prowled the front room impatiently; pausing only to give the dying embers in the fireplace an impatient prod. She held Flora in the crook of one arm, the restless baby refusing to sleep nicely beside her docile, slumbering twin. The rented farmer’s cottage, which had seemed so private and quiet when they moved in, suddenly felt horribly isolated.

A flash of ethereal blue passed the window frame for a moment, but Leafsong had grown used to the spirit beast’s patrol and didn’t startle. Her eyes flickered between the little silver clock on the mantle, and the firmly locked front door.

Not that it mattered that the front door was locked, Leafsong thought to herself grimly as she perched on the edge of the bed, Flora’s head on her shoulder. Their enemy was not thwarted by locked door or bolted shutter. Why should he care for mere physical impediments, when with a wordless incantation, he could traverse the Nether and materialise at any spot he desired? Leafsong shuddered as she looked down, trying not to awaken the now snoring baby, her bony fingers twitching with nerves.

She remembered the moment when he had finally revealed himself, earlier that evening. There had been rumours for weeks that Illosian Shalah’aman had returned. Leafsong, out of denial that the patriarch might reclaim the family fortune, had ignored them. Ashamal had said nothing, a deeper line etching itself on his forehead. But neither of them had seen the man- the creature- until that evening. She remembered how she had sprawled backwards, a blanket clutched around her shoulders, as the emanciated figure flickered into being at the foot of the bed. Ashamal had stood there beside her, his features contorted into something bestial.

Illosian bore some similarity to his son; the intense amber gaze and the hooked, predatory nose. They both wore their hair long, with neatly maintained beards. But where Ashamal’s greying hair still was recognisably navy; Illosian’s was the pure white of a frostsaber pelt. His skin had lost the darker tint that Aphel’s still had, and was more akin to Leafsong’s pallid hue, like the Highbourne he had envied. The arcane had saturated him for so long that his physical form seemed to have been drained of all colour and vigour. The musculature that characterised the Kaldorei had wasted away, replaced by mean leanness. In physical resemblance, he appeared more a father to Leafsong, than to Ashamal. When he turned his shifting gaze upon her, he had paused momentarily. Sitting on the bed, her face unnaturally still, the skin on her lanky limbs so pale that the faint blue etching of veins could be seen at her wrists, her sharp cheekbones like blades across her pointed face. He saw the white at the roots of her garish green hair, and wondered. Then he had lost interest in her, turning his gaze upon his wayward son.

Leafsong closed her eyes briefly as she remembered the ugly, short skirmish that had followed, the lunge that had resulted only in a broken window and a cacophony of frightened baby cries. Then there had been some other presence, a snarl and a beating of bronze wings, and Illosian had fled. Ashamal, pausing only to tear his gun from the half-finished rack, had pursued him.

Leafsong tucked Flora in beside her brother, replacing a missing sock, folding the nursing blanket and automatically making the little adjustments that come instinctively to a mother. Barely noticing that she was now tucking in a stuffed toy saber, she brooded darkly on the evening’s events, her fingernails bitten to the quick.

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