Beauty Never Fades by Junkie XL.
. . . . . . The small, sharp blade whistled through the air with the sweetest, softest ring, its movement so swift that its target only had enough time to perk a long ear at the warning before the dagger pinned its chest to the forest floor. The hare kicked twice and expired, its life blood pooling beneath it from the well-aimed thrown weapon.
. . . . . . Hooves no noisier than a doe’s carried the sturdy draenei female out of the bushes and to her quarry. She mumbled a perfunctory prayer to the Light for the animal’s soul, rote words with hardly more thought behind them than it took to form her mouth around the syllables. An ebon-gray hand, calloused with hard work and tipped with blunted, heavily-used claws, pulled the blade free of the corpse, and wiped it clean with a pale peach-tinted leaf plucked from the bushes. The dagger joined its twin on her leather belt, and she scooped up the hare’s corpse.
. . . . . . Whistling a tune to startle off any other predators drawn by the scent of blood, the draenei female headed back to the small lean-to in the woods she’d set up miles from the nearest settlement, and miles farther from the claustrophobic, Nether-blasted ship the draenei had landed here on. She settled her leather-covered rump on a fallen log and pulled a smaller blade from her belt, a flensing knife. With the deft movements of a practiced hand, the skin was separated from the corpse in one piece, the meat sliced free in perfectly-sized servings for two meals and set atop the bloodied skin. She got back up and laid out the sticks and larger pieces of wood for a campfire, then pulled a small pouch off her belt. Inside was a bundle of tinder and…
. . . . . . “Archimonde’s shriveled balls!” she cursed at the empty forest. “Where is my flint?” She searched beneath a rack of curing hides, inside her simple lean-to, all around the fallen log she used as seating, even took apart the campfire she’d just built. All to no avail. There was no flint to be found.
. . . . . . Continuing to curse, the draenei female known as Rosoe secured her campsite, bundled the meat up in the skin it had originally lived in, stuffed it in a pack slung over her shoulder, and started the long walk to the nearest settlement of Lailein on their latest chunk of rock in the Nether, a planet they called Spretomi.
. . . . . . It was twilight by the time her distance-eating strides carried her all the way to the outskirts of Lailein. The draenei shared the settlement with the native inhabitants of the planet, a brown-skinned, four-legged but otherwise relatively humanoid-shaped race that called themselves “akri.” Rosoe nodded respectfully to a passing akri as she headed for the draenei market in the city. Six-hundred-and-thirty-eight years on this planet and she still didn’t speak a lick of Akkrieh beyond how to ask for food and basic trade words, and she wasn’t especially inclined to learn more now. Knowing their luck, the Legion would show up soon anyway and render it a moot point.
. . . . . . She stood at a small stall – little more than a wooden frame with a cloth awning – and was haggling with the draenei woman tending the general goods trade there when a booming baritone echoed out over the market, “Kil’jaeden’s teat, Rosoe, have you come back among the civilized for a while, or are you only passing through?”
. . . . . . Rosoe grimaced down at the flint in her hand and completed her transaction, handing over two small purple crystals as payment, before turning around to level a glare at the heavily armored Shield of Velen not ten feet away from her and gleaming in the light cast by the teal light-emitting crystals set around the market. “Leaus.” Her tone could have just as clearly been applied to the words ‘elekk dung’ and been as fitting.
. . . . . . The tall, broad sky-blue-skinned draenei male in heavy metallic plate armor trimmed with gold to indicate one of the high-ranking vindicators assigned to guard the Prophet Velen himself seemed not to notice her tone – or if he did, he didn’t care. He stepped forward and clapped a massive hand on the draenei female’s leather-clad shoulder and grinned down at her, standing a full foot taller than even the relatively tall female. “I’m right, aren’t I? You’re here to socialize.” He sidled closer to slip his hand over and drape his arm around her shoulders, ignoring the annoyed growling sound she made. “Come, have dinner with me and I’ll show you my mace. It’s got some quite pronounced ridges on the handle.”
. . . . . . “Leaus, you are not a smooth-talker, so stop attempting it. It’s unbecoming. If you want a female to warm your bed, just say it.” Nimbly, the sturdy scout ducked backwards from beneath the weight of his arm and took a step back.
. . . . . . “Don’t be like that, baby,” came the vindicator’s cajoling voice as he held out his hands to her.
. . . . . . With a soft, bloodied squelch, a bundle of raw meat wrapped in fur landed in his outstretched hands. “Dinner’s on me. Enjoy.” Whistling a little tune to herself, she spun on her hoof and walked off towards one of the akri eating establishments with the disgusted wail of a prim and proper vindicator ringing in her ears.
. . . . . . Most draenei females would consider it something of a feather in their cap to be in Rosoe’s situation, but she was never much one for wearing hats anyway. Her arms were folded behind her head as she stared up at the ceiling and listened to Leaus clank and clatter while he obsessively cleaned his armor in the other room. The two of them weren’t fooling one another – she was too much a loner and he was too tied to his duties as a Shield for there to be much more than the occasional scratch of an itch between them. She was fine with that. Besides, Shields got some very nice digs, she thought as she wiggled happily against the soft sheets.
. . . . . . It was dark in the room, well before dawn, when a noise broke her from light sleep: a door opening, followed by the gentle click of it closing. She kept her eyes closed, listening with ears well-practiced at picking up tiny sounds in the forest. There was a scraping noise of one wooden thing being dragged across another – a drawer opening she identified it as. A rattle and then a clunk – something being placed down on something else. Two snaps and a creak – probably a box opening. A crystalline clinking, and then…
. . . . . . “Leaus reporting in,” the spoken words were in Eredun, but Rosoe was not such a youngling that she did not still remember the old dialect. However, she hadn’t heard it in thousands and thousands of years, because their people spoke a new dialect now, an updated version of their native tongue that reflected how different they had become from their Man’ari enemies. “I have good news for you, dread lord. I have been detailed to Velen this next four risings, so I will be close to him as early as suns-rise tomorrow.” To be hearing Shield Leaus speak Eredun so casually, and the words she was hearing… This was very bad indeed.
. . . . . . Her heart thumping erratically in her chest, she listened to Leaus confirm the details of an assassination of the Prophet – “Glory to Sargeras! The Legion shall prevail.” – then heard the clinking of what was assuredly a communication crystal being replaced in the box. Mustering every ounce of control she had, she evened out her breathing and appeared to be sleeping when Leaus rejoined her in the bed. As soon as suns-rise…as soon as she left, she had better inform someone fast.
. . . . . . “Ruso, was it?” The lavender-skinned and obnoxiously bureaucratic female in the ivory robes of an acolyte tried to look down her nose at the unkempt scout before her, but it was hard to do when the scout was five inches taller.
. . . . . . “Rosoe,” the scout corrected through gritted teeth. “And it’s very urgent. Get me to a member of the Hand immediately.” The close confines of the temple in Lailein were making her twitchy, and – indeed – the tendrils set behind her ears swayed in agitation, sending the strings of crystal beads twined around them clattering faintly.
. . . . . . The bureaucratic acolyte sniffed haughtily and took a step back. “Unfortunately, all of the members of the Hand are still asleep; it is very early in the morning, after all. Perhaps you can leave a mes-…”
. . . . . . “Not all of the Hand is asleep, Phaiera,” came a grumbling tenor voice as a slender but broad-shouldered draenei male stepped out of the temple’s inner sanctum and into the nave.
. . . . . . Another sniff. “Diyos,” the snooty female said in an icy tone.
. . . . . . “Anchorite Diyos, Phaiera.” He turned his indigo face towards Rosoe and bowed to her, placing his closed fists together at chest height in a gesture of equanimity. “And member of the Hand of Argus. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
. . . . . . Rosoe cast a wary look at the acolyte as she took a seat in the nave and stepped closer to the anchorite. “A word? Privately.”
. . . . . . “Of course. Follow me.” The anchorite led the way back into the sanctum he’d stepped out of. Amid the soft glow of the crystals inside, there was a low bench for meditations. He sat down with an expansive gesture to the rest of the bench, indicating she should sit too.
. . . . . . Instead, the scout began pacing back and forth agitatedly in the small sanctum. The walls were too damn close! Get a grip. She took a deep breath. “Anchorite Diyos. I’m here with information about a Man’ari traitor.” She paused at his unusually stricken expression, then shrugged and went on, “I’ve evidence that a Shield of Velen is corrupt, in contact with the Legion, and plotting an assassination as early as a few hours from now.”
. . . . . . “A few hours?” The anchorite stood, which only served to make Rosoe feel more crowded. She backed up a step, then snarled at herself and stood her ground from there. “Urgent indeed,” Diyos seemed to mutter to himself. “What’s your evidence?”
. . . . . . “I overheard a conversation he had during the night while he thought I was sleeping. Over a communication crystal.” She hadn’t dared try to filch it from the room before she left that morning.
. . . . . . The anchorite leveled a somber gaze at her. “Hearsay.”
. . . . . . “No! I can take you to his quarters among the Shields and we can retrieve the crystal.”
. . . . . . Diyos frowned. “I can’t go just on that. We need something more solid.” He let out a breath on a sigh. “Will you consent to a search of your memories?”
. . . . . . The ebon-gray scout blanched, her face turning ashen. He was one of the Concealed – the shadowy interrogators hidden in the palm of the Hand. Naaru’s sake, was she in the right or not? What was there for her to be afraid of? Practicality quickly beat back her concerns and she considered the anchorite before her. “Consent given. But, the memory may be…intimate.” A grin spread across her lips as she watched a violet blush creep over the draenei male’s indigo cheeks.
. . . . . . A sibilant hiss echoed against the crystals in the sanctum as the anchorite wrapped the shadows around himself and reached his slim fingers for her temples.
. . . . . . Rosoe accompanied the anchorite and a squad of four Shields of Velen who insisted on being present while the quarters of one of their own was being searched. It was rather a blessing that Leaus had never been exceptionally bright; the drawer and box were not even locked. A shiver went down her spine as the anchorite pulled a sickly fel-green crystal from the box, a grim expression on his face. “You’re free to go, ma’am,” he said with a short nod her direction. A heavy sigh escaped him and his voice was low as he continued, “And you should probably pack your things…”
. . . . . . As she hurried from the building housing the Shields of Velen, she pulled her own crystal from a pouch at her side, a small blue piece that was linked to about forty-five similar ones – the scouts and loners and individualists among the highly communal and social draenei people. “Journeyers,” she spoke quietly into one of the polished magical facets, alerting them all at once. None of them answered to any particular authority, but with the suddenness of past experience, they found ways to stay in touch else they get left behind in this very sadly recurring event. “Recall time. Hoof it to the Nether-blasted ship.”