Thursday, November 26, 2009

If the Sky Can Crack

Written while listening to Electrical Storm (William Orbit mix) by U2.
((There is little precedent for draenei drinking alcohol, but there is some. I figure the tavern was built and staffed by another sentient race on the planet. My draenei are degenerates it seems.))

. . . . . A bright peal of laughter and the rapid clatter of hooves on the tile floors of the ship’s corridors were all the warning Shield Crusos got before the little girl came barreling around the curve in the corridor and straight into him. Luckily, that was enough warning for him to jump nimbly out of the way, despite the heavy plate armor he wore. “Sorry!” the girl shouted as she gained speed down the straight part of the corridor, waving a piece of paper over her head with one ebon-gray hand. Crusos shook his head and smiled, turning to go on his way and report for the day’s duty guarding the Prophet. A large boy on the far edge of adolescence rounded the corner at a full gallop and crashed into Shield Crusos, sending them both sprawling to the floor with a deafening clang of plate.

. . . . . “Naaru’s sake, child, you nearly ran into a Shield of Velen! This behavior must stop! It is not ladylike – it’s not even appropriate for males of our noble race! And stop tucking your skirt into the waist like that!” Anchorite Omii continued to scold as she grabbed for the girl child in front of her and tugged the back hem of her skirt out of the front of her waistband.
. . . . . The girl tried to squirm away. “It helps keep my skirt clean!”
. . . . . “It does not. All it does is expose your hooves in an unseemly fashion. Stop it.” She lightly cuffed her daughter on the right side of her head, just behind the arch of her horn. Grumbling, the child stopped squirming while her mother fussed with her skirt. “There. Now go apologize to your brother for stealing his letter.”

. . . . . “Stop, stop, stop,” the girl groused as she stomped off to the cafeteria of the ship to find her eldest brother. “Don’t run, don’t play, don’t have fun. I don’t think she was ever a child.” Balled up in one hand was the paper she’d run down the corridors with. She impatiently ran the other hand through the long, pale brown tangle of her hair, making a disgusted noise when her fingers snagged halfway down. As she walked towards a table on the near-side of the cafeteria where a half-dozen adolescent boys sat, she was so busy trying to extract her hand from her tangled hair that she tripped over the hem of her skirt. The laughter of six boys rang across the cafeteria as she caught her balance before she toppled over.
. . . . . “Ooo, look, has Miss Valee-belly been sent back to make amends finally?” the largest of the boys cooed, a grin on his face.
. . . . . The girl narrowed her bright blue eyes and held up the ball of paper clenched in her fist. She looked at the other five boys as she dropped a bombshell into the middle of their laughter. “Zunaadrin wrote a love poem to Xerte.” One of the boys in the group turned lavender with a blush of embarrassment as the largest boy turned violet with rage.
. . . . . “I will end you, Valdiis!” he shouted as he leapt for the girl. A grin shot across her face as she tossed the ball of paper into the crowd of boys, hiked up her skirt, and ran like the Burning Legion itself was on her hooves.

. . . . . “Oh come off it, Val. Zun had every right to chase you down,” said a thin, gangly sky-blue-skinned boy as he wiped blood from the scrape on her knee. “He didn’t want Xerte to know that he liked him that way.”
. . . . . “Well he shouldn’t’ve – ouch! – left his stupid poem out in the – hey, not so hard, that hurts! – family room for anyone to happen by, then.” Valdiis sat on a bench in the back of the engineering room, her skirt tucked around her thighs so her brother could tend her scrapes. “Besides, if he ever paid any attention, really, he’d know that Xerte thinks he’s cute too. Ow! Not that Xerte would write such awful poetry about it…”
. . . . . Rulaam, only a bit older than his youngest sibling, clucked his tongue as he dabbed the damp rag along a cut just underneath her eye. “Honestly, though… Did you have to give the poem to the rest of Zun’s gang?”
. . . . . Her bright peal of laughter echoed off the power crystals. “You should have seen the scramble for it! It was completely worth it.”
. . . . . “Yeah, just remember that when Mother gets a look at this black eye.”

. . . . . During the very long lecture on manners, decorum, ladylike behavior, and the nobility of the draenei people, the memory of five boys scrambling for a ball of paper helped Valdiis keep her tongue still. However, when she smiled to remember that Xerte – in the end – had gotten the poem, her mother cuffed her on the side of the head again. “Pay attention, girl! And don’t smirk at me like that. I know you’re not listening.”
. . . . . Valdiis looked down at her hooves, only about four and a half feet away, and nodded. “Yes, Omii. I promise not to steal Zunaadrin’s poems again.” Provided he doesn’t leave them lying around, she silently added.
. . . . . Anchorite Omii made a sound of annoyance and threw up her hands. “Valdiis, I am your mother. Please show a little more respect and stop using my given name when you address me.”
. . . . . “Yes, Mother.”
. . . . . An ebon-gray hand patted the top of the girl’s brown hair. “I know you don’t think so now, but one day you’ll make a wonderful mother yourself,” Omii mused, not looking at her daughter’s bruised face. “If you can just learn to stop fighting with your brothers all the time…”
. . . . . “I don’t fight with Rulaam!” the girl protested. “Besides, I don’t want to be a mother. I want to be an engineer.”
. . . . . Omii just sighed at this pronouncement and chased her daughter off to bed for the night.

. . . . . It had been nearly four thousand years since the last planet they had landed on before the draenei landed on another. This one was a tiny, frozen ball of ice covered in a strange blue foliage that thrived in the frigid temperatures. For the nearly adolescent Valdiis, this was the first time her hooves touched land; she had always been aboard a ship in the Twisting Nether. Thusly, this frozen ice ball was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm by her than by all but one or two other children on the ship.
. . . . . Eleven-thousand years, so far, the draenei fled before the Burning Legion. Maybe this planet – inhospitable as it seemed – would be a respite. Rulaam – born on the last planet they’d been on, a place they called Taraatho – had experienced ice and snow there, so he taught Valdiis how to pack the snow into clumps and they had snowball fights lasting hours on end.
. . . . . Omii clucked her tongue in disapproval as her two youngest children returned to the ship most nights soaked through, chattering with cold, and their hooves so dry they cracked. “That is enough, young lady! If you crack your hoof one more time, I will just make you walk on it without healing it. Stop this nonsense!”
. . . . . Valdiis limped off to her room, grumbling something that sounded much like “stop, stop, stop…”
. . . . . The next day, the blacksmiths among the artificers on the ship were quite startled to find a young girl – not even quite an adolescent yet – with a hammer almost as large as her head and a piece of iron she was trying to hammer flat cold against the top of one of the anvils in the forge area. One of the blacksmiths, a wiry woman with arms that seemed almost as big around as the arcane pipes to the warp core, took pity on the child. “You have to heat it up first before it will move,” she explained, moving over to pluck the hammer from the girl’s hand. “Here,” the blacksmith said as she picked up a pair of tongs. “Let me show you.”

. . . . . Glimmers of sickly green fel energy flickered through the sky above the icy planet they’d named Cerbeuus. The Legion was near. A mere thirty years of peace, of staying in one place…and retreat again. Always retreat.
. . . . . They departed the planet, but Valdiis did not give up her odd habit of wearing metal shoes on the bottoms of her hooves. Only the warriors among them – Vindicators and Shields and such – wore metal shoes on their hooves to stave off cracks and warping from impacts in battle - warriors and one bizarre little girl who learned blacksmithing just so she could rely on her own skills to tend to her hooves.

. . . . . Zunaadrin loomed impressively in his black and white robes over his brothers as he intoned a prayer to the Light and called the Naaru’s blessing upon them. A senior anchorite took their vows. Omii, now an exarch, one of the most senior priests among her people – although still well below Velen, laid a golden chain with a symbol of the Light dangling from it around each of her son’s necks. On benches in the chapel the draenei had built on Spretomi, a planet they’d had a good six hundred years on, Omii’s two youngest children leaned their heads together and appeared to be paying no attention to the ceremony. As Valdiis, now a young woman – and quite disrespectfully in pants – made a stabbing gesture while she talked with Rulaam, Omii cleared her throat and raised her voice in prayer. Her youngest children looked up, Rulaam’s face impassive while Valdiis’s took on a faint dark violet blush over her ebon-gray cheeks.
. . . . . Whatever rude and barbaric conversation they were having was halted, so Omii continued with the consecration ceremony for the forty-two new anchorites.
. . . . . After it was over, Rulaam and Valdiis left their seats and went to the door of the chapel, retrieving their swords before they even congratulated their brothers. Eyes narrowing in her ebon-gray face, Omii crossed her arms over her chest and snarled at her children, “Could you have at least waited until you were leaving to pick those up?”
. . . . . “No, Mother,” rumbled Rulaam as he buckled the sword’s sheath back onto his belt. “We’re not even supposed to take them off here in the chapel, except that we do it out of respect for you.”
. . . . . His words did little to mollify her, and she focused her eyes on her only daughter. “And Valdiis, couldn’t you have worn a nice dress? This is your brothers’ consecration ceremony for Naaru’s sake!” Behind her, her pale-skinned husband, anchorite Arkun, stepped up and placed a quieting hand on his wife’s shoulder.
. . . . . “Omii, I haven’t worn a dress in two thousand years. As much as I love Diyos and Athos, they’re not worth me starting now.” As she looked towards them and caught their eye, she threw a little wave their way. “Besides, they don’t mind if I wear the uniform of my station as is proper.”
. . . . . “Don’t you lecture me on propriety!”
. . . . . Valdiis didn’t respond. She simply walked away, following Rulaam over to clap her brothers – the newest anchorites of the draenei people – on the back and laugh as Rulaam offered them a drink at the tavern after all the ceremonial mess was done.

. . . . . To casual observers, it might have seemed odd for a lone female draenei to sit and drink with four males, but only a moment or two of observation more revealed that she fit right in with their loud, boisterous, carousing ways. “To the Light!” cried the largest of them all, a pale-lavender-skinned and almost monstrously large draenei with a single, thick facial tendril descending from his chin. Zunaadrin lifted his mug, sloshing the alcoholic drink inside it, and toasted with his brothers and sister.
. . . . . One of two males who appeared the same age and very similar in appearance to his brother leaned forward over the table and said something that had the others falling back in their chairs with laughter. As Diyos wiped his eyes from laughing at his own joke, a curvaceous barmaid came by to replace all the drinks at the table. He winked at her, while his fraternal twin brother rolled his eyes. “Diyos,” chastised his twin, “you’ve not been an anchorite five hours and you’re already returning to lechery?”
. . . . . Diyos patted the barmaid’s behind as she left and grinned. “Someone in our brood ought to get some tail. We all know you and Zun won’t be giving our dear parents grandchildren.” Athos and Zunaadrin both scowled, but – drunkenly oblivious – Diyos kept pushing his hoof farther into his mouth, “And you two are too busy dancing with swords to find a mate. It is up to me to carry the family forward!” He puffed out his chest impressively. He looked impressive for about four seconds before the open, ebon-gray palm of Valdiis landed on the back of his head. “Ow! Val… You’re so violent…”
. . . . . “Our ‘dancing with swords’ as you put it still allows us plenty of time to enjoy the company of others,” she said with a grin. “Rulaam here has met a little fire mage…” She jerked her head towards the sky-blue male draenei next to her at the table. His cheeks went slightly purple. “Gone dancing with her yet, brother?” She grinned at him.
. . . . . Looking uncomfortable, he harrumphed his disapproval and tilted back his new mug of ale. “I’ve only known her a few days, Val. Give me a break.”
. . . . . Zunaadrin laughed. “Yeah, Valee!” He leaned his elbows on the table. “Unlike you, he doesn’t fall into bed with just anyone on the first date.”
. . . . . With a snarl that showed a great deal of pointy teeth, Valdiis lunged across the table at Zunaadrin and slapped him across the left cheek so hard that all chatter in the bar halted at the sound. At the large male’s glower, everyone turned back to their own conversations. “Outside. Now,” he gritted through his teeth.
. . . . . “Gladly,” his sister replied. The whole group of siblings stood – it had been a few centuries since they last witnessed the spectacle of the eldest and the youngest having a good brawl. Diyos tossed a handful of the purple crystals used as currency on the table, winked at the barmaid, and hustled out after the rest.
. . . . . Outside, behind the tavern, a very drunk Zunaadrin was prodding his little sister’s temper. “It’s the pants, you know. You’re practically advertising your assets to all those barbarians you dance with all the time. They know you’re easy. A real lady would never-” That was as far as he got before the much slighter but quite muscular woman barreled into him and knocked him back into the outside wall of the tavern with a loud thump. She didn’t waste her breath speaking; she just planted a fist in his midsection and danced back out of his reach. With a roar, he threw a right-hook towards the side of her head.
. . . . . In a semi-circle around the two fighting siblings, Rulaam and the fraternal twins conferred quietly, their eyes on the brawl. “My odds are on Zun,” said Diyos. “Even drunk, he’s always had a mean streak.”
. . . . . Rulaam shook his head as he watched his sister dart to the side and kick a hoof into the center of Zunaadrin’s back as he passed her. He sprawled on his face in the dirt. “He’s still just a priest. You forget that she’s been training with warriors. Besides,” Rulaam watched his sister crouch to leap at her fallen brother; he kept his voice very quiet, “Val’s pretty sensitive about the fact that she doesn’t actually have all that many lovers.”
. . . . . Athos stroked the short crop of tendrils on his chin thoughtfully. “Zun has the advantage of age and size, but Val is certainly very quick and very angry tonight.”
. . . . . Zunaadrin pushed himself up out of the dirt and lowered his head to charge Valdiis. She danced to the side again and planted her hoof on his behind this time. He pushed off the wall he had been heading towards and fell backwards towards his little sister, turning as he fell to face her. Surprised by this, she didn’t move fast enough and he landed on her, pinning her to the ground. She snarled and bucked upwards, trying to throw him off. The larger male laughed and grabbed her short light brown hair, yanking her head backwards and exposing her throat. “You fight like a girl, Valee…”
. . . . . Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Do I? Then I guess I’ll have to use a girl’s move.” Her knee shot up into Zunaadrin’s groin. His eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp, groaning with pain. After some considerable effort, she pushed him off of her and stood up. She faced her three other brothers and smiled. “I win.”
. . . . . Rulaam pointed behind her as Zunaadrin pushed himself out of the dirt again and tackled Valdiis from behind. She half-turned as she followed her brother’s pointing finger, and – forgetting everything she had learned about falling – shot out her left arm as she went crashing to the ground to attempt to stop her fall.
. . . . . The sickening snap of her forearm was louder than the thump of both draenei hitting the ground. Athos lifted a hand to his mouth and looked slightly green under his indigo skin. Rulaam growled darkly as he hauled Zunaadrin off of Valdiis and tossed him against the wall. “Dick move, Zun. Dick move…”
. . . . . The young female warrior lay on the ground, her left forearm bent where it should be straight, navy blood pooling around the wound where a piece of bone glistened out of her ebon-gray skin. While she was breathing heavily and very pale, she made not a sound. Diyos helped her sit up, while Athos held her left hand gently to keep her arm from dragging. Slumped against the wall, the normally pale Zunaadrin looked almost bone white. “Kil’jaeden’s foul teat, Val… I didn’t mean to.”
. . . . . She finally made a sound, snarling wordlessly at him. Her eyes closed and she swayed. “Help me up, Rulaam,” she said after a moment. “I don’t trust Zun to heal it.” Her eldest brother looked down at the ground in shame. “I want Omii or Arkun.” Rulaam helped his little sister stand up, a bit proud of her that she didn’t even gasp. He opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off. “Despite the lecture I know I’ll get, brother. Just get me to a healer already.”

. . . . . The bone healed cleanly, although Omii declined to do anything about the scar along the top of her daughter’s forearm. “You ought to have some reminder of what unladylike behavior gets you,” she scolded. The relationship between the eldest and the youngest sibling didn’t heal so cleanly. While they’d never gotten along wonderfully, their interactions were chilly at best for centuries afterwards.
. . . . . After the draenei landed on what the Naaru told them was the last planet – K’ure was too ill to keep the ship going, and D’ore was all but killed in the crash – the family followed a small collective of anchorites to the damp, heavy swamps of Zangarmarsh. Thousands and thousands of years among their own people in close quarters had given them all a desire to find a smaller community, a little less of the boisterous socializing the draenei were known for.
. . . . . Rulaam settled his wife and baby daughter comfortably in Telredor. Zunaadrin spent most of his time with a crew dedicated to the upkeep and repair of the town. Diyos and Athos split their time between leading prayers at Telredor when their parents were too weary to do it, and leading prayers for the Vindicators defending the Twin Spires from the occasionally-hostile orcs. Valdiis and Rulaam – their skills with weaponry not useful to the anchorites and not holy enough for the Vindicators – joined a unit of warriors guarding the marshlands surrounding Telredor.
. . . . . Perhaps, finally, they were safe. Perhaps, now, the Burning Legion would not find this refuge. Perhaps, at last, peace.

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