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Chapter Ten: Allies

October 31, 2008

Blade Edge Mountains

She drifted lightly on a bed of clouds, the breeze gently rustling her feathers. Far below the battle field glowed in a fiery haze. A strong gust of wind lifted her sharply and the scene fell away. Banks of clouds floated past, the light of the setting sun drenching them in color. The beauty and tranquility seeped into her soul banishing the fear. She relaxed into the current and let it carry her higher. Here, among the clouds, she was safe at last.

“Sharpclaws, wake up!” The imperative was accompanied by a rough shake. She opened one eye then shut it quickly,

“Just five more minutes, Don. Just five …”

“You said that five minutes ago.”

With a groan she opened both eyes and peered pitiably up at him,

“Does this mean I’m not dead?”

“Not yet, dear. Now get up. It’s your turn to make breakfast.”

She had half a mind to tell him exactly what he could do with his breakfast and go back to sleep. Anticipating this, he reminded her of their urgency.

“Sunrise was an hour ago. We have to get moving soon or we’ll lose the trail.”

Memories of the last few days flooded back and she was suddenly very much awake.

“I’m going for water, will you be all right?”

“I’ll be fine. Just hurry back.”

She rose and gingerly took a step toward the fire. Every muscle ached and painful blisters had formed where her leather boots chafed the soft skin. A simple healing spell would have relieved the pain, but after days in the wild resources were scarce. What mana she had left was needed for basic survival. Worse than the physical discomfort was the fear that wrapped itself around her heart. She couldn’t give in to it now. Lives more precious than her own were depending on her. By the time Don returned, breakfast was ready.

Throughout the long day they followed the trail left by their quarry. It was slow going. The terrain was rough and they were forced to move cautiously so as to avoid unfriendly wildlife. Late in the afternoon they entered a narrow ravine. There was little shelter to protect them from the elements or unfriendly eyes. As night drew its shadows across the ground, Don came to a stop. She could tell he was uncomfortable in this place, but he dared not risk losing the trail in the dark.

Grateful for the chance to rest, she sank down and removed her boots. They were stained with blood from the ruptured blisters. She wrapped bandages around the sores and wished again for a mana draught. Seeking a diversion from the pain, she studied Don as he built the fire.

Accustomed the rigors of the wild he had fared much better than she. He was tall for a human and well-built, his muscles hard from years of wearing plate armor. He carried his sword with the easy grace of one accustomed to battle. His features were strong, his gaze direct, his eyes surprisingly gentle for a fighter. The light from the fire caught in his golden hair and reflected off the polished metal of his armor. Even after all these years the sight of him still made her heart turn over.

They ate their meager dinner in silence, both too tired for conversation. At last she summoned the energy to ask the question that haunted her,

“Do you think they are still alive, Don?”

There was a long silence. She had learned long ago that he never spoke without thinking, never gave an answer without considering it carefully. When he spoke it was with conviction,

“I do.”

Her spirits lighten ever so slightly.

“Get some rest, Sharp. I’ll keep watch.”

Too tired to argue, she curled up beside him and closed her eyes. He ran his hand lightly over her hair.

Long after she had fallen asleep he remained at her side. His heart ached for her. A healer unaccustomed to the rigors of the wild she had suffered much but she never complained. The wind had picked up; the fire was beginning to die down. He removed his cloak and tucked it closely around her, then rose in search of more wood.

As he approached the shadows outside the firelight, he saw the outline of two figures in the darkness. Reflexively, he drew his sword and lit the ground with a ring of holy fire. The light revealed two night elves standing before him. The taller one had long flowing white hair and appeared to be roughly the same age as Sharpclaws. She held a crossbow loosely in one hand and the other rested lightly on the head of a tiger. The other elf was young. Tattooed lines marked her face. Her form was shrouded in shadows the light could not penetrate. He eyed them warily.

The taller elf addressed him in the common tongue,

“My name is Teaka and this, she indicated her companion, is Kess.” Her gaze flickered to Sharpclaws who lay sleeping beside the fire. “We do not often encounter others of our kind in this place. May we offer you some assistance?”

Her voice was gentle, her eyes kind. His instincts told him she could be trusted.

He lowered his sword and the ring of fire dissipated.

“It has been a long time since we encountered friends. We would be grateful for any assistance you can provide.”

As Don and Teaka conversed in hushed tones, Kess shivered in the chilly night air. Keeping an eye on the sleeping elf, she approached the fire. Standing in its circle of warmth she studied the elf. Her hair, a deep shade of blue, fell in a long braid over her shoulder. One foot peaked out from under the cloak that covered her. Seeing the bandages, Kess drew closer.

At that moment, Sharpclaws awoke. Finding a shadowy figure standing over her, she bolted upright brandishing her staff.

“Evil spirit! I’ll send you back to the abyss.”

She swung wildly at the girl whose hands began to glow with dark energy. Brotherdon quickly stepped between the two.

“She’s a friend, Sharp, not an evil spirit. Her name is Kess.”

Sharp continued to stare at the girl with mistrust and Teaka stepped forward, extending her hand in a gesture of friendship.

“We are here to help, we mean you no harm.”

Teaka’s feline companion gently rubbed against Sharpclaws who relaxed and tentatively stroked the creature’s soft coat. Teaka continued,

“We have a shelter not far from here. May we offer you a warm meal and a safe place to rest?”

Sharpclaws smiled brightly, all memory of evil spirits forgotten.

“That would be lovely, dear.”

***

It was evident that Teaka and Kess had fared well despite the inhospitable region. Their shelter proved to be a spacious cave, well insulated and nearly invisible from the outside. Soft animal skins lined the floor and there was an abundance of fresh meat. For the first time in many weeks, they ate their fill.

Afterward, Brotherdon shared their story.

“We were part of a small band fighting the Legion in Shadowmoon Valley. We had taken heavy losses and were trying to recover when we were attacked by a Pit Lord. Our band was destroyed, only four of us escaped.”

He paused, emotion clouding his deep blue eyes. Sharpclaws squeezed his hand and picked up the tale.

“My brother fights with another group in Outlands. The last I heard, he was in Netherstorm. We headed that direction, intending to join him. We got as far as Blade Edge Mountains when we were attacked by a band of Dark Trolls. Don and I escaped, but our two friends were taken. We’ve been tracking them for two days.”

“Tracking Dark Troll?” Kess was incredulous. “It’s a wonder you are alive. You should thank Elune you survived this far and get out of their territory as quickly as you can.”

Sharp shook her head,

“We won’t leave them. We have lost so many that we love in recent days. We will not lose these also.”

“What you are attempting is suicide. The dark trolls are feared even among their own kind. They worship dark magic and sacrifice their victims to evil spirits – no doubt the reason your friends were taken. If you pursue this course you will share their fate.”

Brotherdon met her gaze firmly,

“We will not abandon our friends when they need us most. If that means we share their fate, then so be it.”

Kess looked at him in exasperation. “Are all Paladins bent on self destruction, or is it just the blonde ones?”

“Kess!”

“I’m sorry, Teaka, but this talk of tracking Dark Trolls and mounting suicidal rescue attempts for friends who are probably dead, is ridiculous.” She turned back to Don, “You are a fool to attempt this, and worse than a fool for allowing Sharp to accompany you.”

With a faint hiss her form dispersed into shadows. For a moment her eyes glowed in the darkness, and then she was gone.

Teaka sighed,

“Please forgive my friend. She is not herself these days.”

Brotherdon smiled kindly,

“There is nothing to forgive. It has been a long time since anyone cared about our fate.”

Teaka studied him in the firelight,

“Please consider carefully what you intend to do. Kess was not exaggerating about the Dark Trolls. If you pursue this course, it will most certainly be your end.”

***

Kess sat alone in the predawn hours. She relaxed in the darkness that wrapped her in its folds. She drew comfort from the silence that remained unbroken save by the soft sounds of the night creatures. During her time in the wild, she had learned to greet the night as a friend.

She sensed rather than heard Teaka’s approach. They sat together in silence as they so often did, both wrapped in their own thoughts drawing comfort from the other’s presence.

At last Teaka’s gentle voice broke the silence,

“They are determined to go through with their rescue attempt.”

“I’m sure the Trolls will be delighted.”

“They don’t stand a chance without our help, Kess.”

“They don’t stand a chance even with our help, Teaka! If they are foolish enough to throw their lives away, that’s their affair. There is no reason for us to do the same.”

“You’ve done things even more foolish for the sake of friendship.”

“That was a long time ago, Teaka.”

“Not so very long. There is another reason we should help them.”

“What’s that?”

“Sharpclaws brother, the one they were going to join, is Sorinn.”

It had been ten years but the images were as clear as the day they met.

The cold stone corridors, a frightened child crying alone, his hand extended in friendship.

Through that first agonizing year at the orphanage, he had been at her side. In time she came to love him as she had the brother she lost. After completing his training at the Academy, he joined the battle against the Legion. Eventually, she joined him. In the years that followed they served together through countless battles, healing side by side. Though responsibilities often kept them apart, the bond of friendship formed in those early years had never wavered. It bound her still.

She sighed in defeat,

“Alright, Teaka. I’ll do it for him.”

Her one consolation lay in the knowledge that Dark Trolls never left survivors. This time, at least, she wouldn’t be left alive to face the memories.

***Commentary on Chapter Ten***

Sorinn is Don’s brother in real life. Sorinn was one of the earliest members of our guild and has long been a dear friend. At his suggestion, Don and Sharpclaws (a married couple) joined us after their small raiding guild broke up.

Don has a brilliant mathematical mind and I rely heavily on his theorycrafting since, as I’ve stated before, I have no skill in that area. Don and Aleathea are the only Prot Paladins in the guild and we have shared many pleasant hours discussing strategies, gear and all things tankadin. Ironically, Don and Aleathea look like brother and sister in game. Both are blond haired blue eyed humans with almost identical gear.

Sharpclaws is one of those people who everyone loves to be around. She is the “guild mother” and the one everyone goes to when they need to talk. She is also one of our core healers.

Don is one of our raid leaders and both are officers in the guild. They are also two of our dear freinds. Sharpclaws often jokes that she is in love with Romer and I always tell her I have a crush on Don.

Don and Sharp attended Blizzcon this year which put them ahead of us in geek points. We hope to even the score next year.

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