I Shall Be Free by Kid Beyond.
((I never did end up with a good title for this series...))
. . . . . Farahlon was burning. Blue and red splashed the ruined walls of the city. On the side of a building, a large blue handprint, and then a long smear, as if the hand’s owner had used the wall to prop himself up long enough to keep going. The stench of sizzling meat drifted through the air with the smoke clouds, passing by the noses of the few left whom it really could not bother as much.
. . . . . A small phalanx of draenei men and women – only four of each – stood tall at the edge of the ruins. The woman at the point of the formation, nearest the carnage and battle, watched the green-eyed demons advance through the wreckage towards her position. Tiny flames danced harmless across the tops of her horns; sweat dripped down her face from her temples. Her robes were beyond saving - torn, scorched, stained with the blue blood of her people and the red blood of the advancing demons. The women behind her all looked similarly battle worn.
. . . . . The rubble of the city of Farahlon was slowing the advance of the demons – “Sindorei!” they yelled at times, and so “sindorei” she thought to name them – and giving them a few precious minutes to gather strength. She looked to the men beside her. The one standing closest to her wavered on his hooves, his staff slack in his massive pale blue hands.
. . . . . “Just a little more, Geroom,” she said, her voice a soft, lyrical tone. “Just keep it together a little more.” She spared a glance behind them at the massive ship several hundred yards away. The stream of fleeing draenei was slowing to a trickle. “They’re almost there, Geroom. Keep it together. Your wife needs you.”
. . . . . The man – Geroom – nodded wearily and planted his staff on the ground, using it to prop himself up. “I don’t have much left, Habii. And the demons are nearly upon us…”
. . . . . Habii turned forward again, the flames along her horns leaping in synchronicity with the agitation on her face. “It is time. Remember, the one-two. We have to do this.” The pack of sindorei was mere dozens of yards away, just out of leaping reach. Habii lifted a sooty hand to wipe sweat from her neck, smearing soot across her sky blue skin.
. . . . . “Now!” All four women lifted their hands, fire blossoming in their palms and then bursting out in a shockwave of heat. Three of the women vanished as the shockwave knocked the approaching sindorei down. Geroom and the three men behind him stamped their staves on the ground in unison. The air crackled as a wave of ice engulfed the fallen sindorei, holding them fast to the ground.
. . . . . The three images of Geroom vanished as he crumpled to his knees. Habii let out a cry and caught him under the arms with one arm around his chest, fear and urgency lending her temporary strength to steady the large man. She slapped his cheek so hard her hand stung. “MOVE!” she shouted, her voice no longer as lyrical, harsh with panic. Her arm tightened around his chest and she blinked them both towards the ship forty yards.
. . . . . It seemed to be enough to allow Geroom to get his hooves under him. They ran.
. . . . . Their hooves pounded up the ramp, and then slid down it as it closed while they were still on it. Habii and Geroom landed in a heap on the floor of the ship. “Ughhh. Get off me, Geroom. What will your wife think?”
. . . . . A tall, stately older draenei woman coughed delicately. Geroom looked up as he flopped onto his back on the floor. “Ah, hello dearest…” he addressed her with a weary smile. The ship rumbled deeply as it lifted off, the inter-dimensional engine engaging.
. . . . . “Mama!” Habii had barely made it to her hooves before a gangly, coltish teenage girl barreled into her and enveloped her in a bear hug. She dropped her head to plant a kiss on the girl’s wiry black mane. “Little cat…” she murmured, wrapping her arms around her daughter. It was a rare moment her daughter didn’t push away from a hug from her mother with a grimace, so Habii savored it while she could.
. . . . . It was not until her little cat was safely in the keeping of her grandparents, Habii washing up in their quarters on the ship, that she allowed herself to feel the pain. Her husband would never return. Their home was gone. They were fleeing…again. The mage braced a sky blue arm on the sink and wept.
. . . . . They had several weeks of peace before the next attack. It must have taken the sindorei that long to figure out how the inter-dimensional drive worked, and then how to break it.
. . . . . Habii’s daughter made an endearing nuisance of herself, asking polite questions of the ship’s operations crew, the cooks, the Vindicators, the medics, the mages… She left no one alone, inquisitively poking her head into cabins and quarters and workrooms.
. . . . . No one, that is, except the anchorites. Curious Little Cat never asked questions of them. She hid whenever one passed her in the corridors. The anchorites knew; they simply let the girl be, trusting her grandparents and mother to know what the child was about.
. . . . . Two weeks passed since they fled Draenor before the Little Cat came to ask questions of the Broken. Chakaa sat on a rug with two apprentices, giving a lecture on how the wind feels and how to listen to its whisper. She took great care to place her hooves quietly as she approached, but Chakaa looked up and paused his lecture anyway. A purple flush covered the Little Cat’s cheeks, embarrassment at being so rude as to interrupt. “R- revered one,” she stammered, using an honorific common when addressing an elder, “I was curious. M- may I listen?” Chakaa’s two apprentices frowned, but Chakaa shook his head.
. . . . . “I knew you would show up sooner or later,” he said, his voice scratchy but kind. “You have been all over the ship asking questions.”
. . . . . “That’s why Mama calls me a cat!” she blurted, then turned a deeper violet at her second interruption of the elder.
. . . . . Chakaa merely smiled. “No, Xeremuriis. You may not sit in on my lessons. You are young yet, and Omii would not have it.” As the Little Cat frowned in dismay, Chakaa looked at his two apprentices. They were only a few decades older than the awkward girl before him, a blink of an eye to their people. He closed his eyes, Seeing clearer that way.
. . . . . Chakaa’s eyes opened again, his gaze focusing on the Little Cat’s disappointed face. “Give it time, child. You will see.” His gaze slid towards a nearby alcove. “You should go ask your grandfather to give you something meaningful to do. It will be good for you. Now run along, Xeremuriis, before your grandmother comes by.”
. . . . . The Little Cat scowled in that way of all teenagers caught between being treated like a child and being given the duties of an adult. Remembering her manners, she bowed deeply to Chakaa and both of his apprentices. “Revered one, thank you for your advice. You honor me.”
. . . . . Her shoulders slumped as she turned away. She missed the Farseer’s gentle smile at her back.
. . . . . “Xeremuriis,” rumbled the older draenei, an expression of fatherly concern on his face. “One of the engineers tells me you have been wandering and pestering for weeks now. Are you not able to fill your time appropriately, child?”
. . . . . The Little Cat gazed down at her hooves, her cheeks purpling. “If you have a task for me, grandfather Arkun,” she mumbled, remembering the Farseer’s advice, “I would not object to being given something meaningful to do.”
. . . . . Arkun considered the situation, his pale white hand stroking a graying beard. After several moments, all he could think of was to apply the same discipline given to apprentice anchorites: labor. “Find the cleaners, Xeremuriis. I’m sure your uncle Zunaadrin could use another hand in keeping the Exodar tidy.”
. . . . . The Little Cat groaned. Arkun waved a hand at her, shooing her out of the family quarters. “Go.”
. . . . . To the Little Cat’s deep disappointment, the Exodar cleaning crew was almost entirely anchorites. Her eldest uncle, Zunaadrin, was in charge of the crew. When she reported to him, he smiled, murmured a blessing at her, and handed her a broom.
. . . . . She found that sweeping floors made her nearly invisible. Invisibility allowed her an unusual amount of freedom, so long as she was not as clumsy as to trip over her broom. The floors around the Crystal Hall in the Exodar became entirely spotless.
. . . . . During a lecture on drawing down lightning, while both his apprentices were occupied with practicing the instructions given, Chakaa looked up. The Little Cat was in the alcove, her eyes closed as she swept the same spot for ten full minutes. Chakaa smiled and continued his lecture.
. . . . . Everyone in the family quarters was asleep. Habii, sharing a room with her daughter, slept facing the wall. The Little Cat sat cross-legged on her bed in the dark. She tried to think of the rains of Zangarmarsh, the heaviness of the clouds; she tried to draw that feeling into herself, to open her heart to the clouds and hear them.
. . . . . The snores of the twins on the other side of the wall kept interrupting her concentration. She scowled into the darkness and tapped her fingers impatiently against her knee. Another of Chakaa’s lessons about holding attention to a thing echoed in her memory. Her fingers stilled on her knee and she closed her eyes. Concentrate… Listen…
. . . . . Her uncles’ rumbling snores became the rumble of thunder in her mind. Her mother’s ever-present scent of ash mellowed to the tang of a freshly-lightning-touched mushroom. Please! She beseeched the clouds, wanting to hear, wanting to listen, wanting to understand…
. . . . . The Little Cat lifted her hand towards the heavy clouds in her mind. Please?
. . . . . A spark jumped between her fingers.
. . . . . Eventually, the sindorei figured it out – or perhaps they simply drained enough energy from the drive that it failed. The Little Cat didn’t understand exactly what happened, only that it was catastrophic.
. . . . . As bad luck would have it, she was sweeping the floors of one of the residential corridors. Nearly all the families were about their own duties on the ship. She swept around a corner and leaned down with her dustpan as the alarm began screaming. Ordinarily a soothing lavender shade, the light-giving draenethyst crystals around her turned an ominous red.
. . . . . The Exodar lurched to the left. Her broom clattered to the floor as the Little Cat fell against the wall. A thought – nothing clear and verbal, just a concerned jumble tinged with heat and panic – brushed against her mind.
. . . . . Below her hooves, the floor rumbled…then exploded upwards. Tiles flew, crystals shattered, and the Little Cat’s head slammed into the ceiling. As the residential unit broke apart and turned sideways, the fire crept towards the unconscious girl lying on the wall-which-was-now-floor. It stopped inches from her, washing her in heat…and then retreated, leaving the curious girl who tried so hard to listen unharmed.
. . . . . “Xeremuriis! You survived! Thank the Naaru…” A stocky draenei man was bent over her prone form as she came to. A pale blue mark of Light was fading from his forehead, and her fingers were still tingling from the touch of the Naaru which had awakened her. “Someone had said they'd seen you in the residential corridors,” the man continued, giving the Little Cat a hand up. She wobbled on her hooves, her eyes unfocussed and bleary. “Come, let’s get you to a healer. You’ve got a huge lump on your head. We only have a Farseer here,” his voice betrayed distaste, “but they can still do something.”
. . . . . “Don’t be snarly,” the Little Cat gently chided. She let her rescuer lead her by the hand towards a larger piece of the wreckage where several draenei were gathered. One of her hands lifted to her head, brushing back her wiry black hair. She hissed as she touched the bump on her head. Her fingers followed the line of her right horn back, tracing over it – now shorter than it had been, the tip broken off. “Ow…” she muttered, led as far as the triage area before the world swam up behind her and pushed her forwards into the blackness again.