The Best of What's Around by Dave Matthews Band.
((I’m not totally pleased with this, but as it’s been several months since I last wrote something, I’ll take what I can get.))
. . . . . “She’s dead, Jim.”
. . . . . The draenei anchorite who’d just voiced this statement of fact for the fifty-third time thumped his head back against the thick hide of the elekk lying behind him on the deck of the Elune’s Blessing. For his part, the elekk – named Jim – curled his trunk around to his side and appeared to give his draenei owner a comforting pat on the hip…until it became clear that he was actually tugging on the small pouch of acorns tied to the anchorite’s belt.
. . . . . A platter-sized indigo hand swatted at the elekk’s gray trunk. The elekk snorted, blowing clear snot all over the right hip of the anchorite’s brown trousers.
. . . . . “Thanks, Jim. Good to know your opinion.” The anchorite’s voice was dry as he elbowed the elekk in the side to get him to settle down.
. . . . . A shout drifted down from the crow’s nest of the ship. The glittering crystal spires of the Exodar were just visible on the horizon. He was almost there.
. . . . . The new cook at the Valiance Keep inn gritted his teeth. That damned tapping sound was back. Taptaptap. Tap. Taptap. Tap. It was coming from the other side of the wall behind the fire pit, which was impossible since there was nothing back there.
. . . . . He was wrong, of course. There was a tiny janitor’s closet accessed from the landing back there. Sitting at a cramped desk more suited for a dwarf’s dimensions was a draenei female. Owing to the excessive heat of mid-summer in the Borean Tundra and a room behind a working cooking fire, she was stripped down to a sleeveless off-white shirt and sturdy, dark blue pants. Although it was exceptionally hot in the small closet, her scarred, ashen gray skin gave off no sweat – only a fine sheen of rapidly melting frost.
. . . . . She sat in one chair at the desk. The other was shoved under the handle of the door to make it impossible to open from the outside, since the door swung inward. The sharp lines of her skeletally-thin shoulder blades stood out beneath her shirt as she bent closer to the small metal tripod set upon the desk. A deep purple crystal no bigger than a human’s index finger was captured in the tripod, although small shards of it were carefully arranged by size on the desk.
. . . . . Before picking up another shard of the crystal with her tweezers, the draenei female used the tip of them to draw an intricate rune in the air. The design glowed with an icy blue light for a moment and frost reappeared on her skin. “Zat is better,” she sighed in relief.
. . . . . The tweezers captured another shard of the crystal and swiped it through a clear, gelatinous substance before carefully placing the shard within the larger piece. Wielding a small hammer, she carefully tapped the shard into place. She was almost there.
. . . . . Leaving the last handful of acorns behind to placate Jim, the draenei anchorite left his elekk in the care of the handlers above-ground outside the wreckage of the ship which had become a small city for the draenei people. With a set to his wide shoulders that welcomed no smiles or friendly greetings, he descended the ramp to the wreckage-turned-city below-ground.
. . . . . The Exodar always smelled like fizzy grapes to him, what with the constant arcs from the arcane-tubes and the flashes of lambent energy dancing between the exposed coils and crystals. He tugged the dark cowl he had donned after disembarking from the Elune’s Blessing tighter around his face to help muffle the grape fizz scent.
. . . . . Would the Exodar ever feel like home to him? He knew many of his people had decided to settle permanently in and around the wreckage, but he’d never much been one for sticking around the ships after they landed. Planet after planet, he’d been among the first to help form a metropolitan settlement. After crashing on Azeroth, he and his brother had been quick to head off on adventures, learning about this new planet and coming to love the quirky mix of intelligent races living on it.
. . . . . But the Exodar…always felt like failure and despair to him.
. . . . . Maybe it was because he only ever came here for training or advice, never just to be with his own people. Perhaps this time he would stay a while and meditate in the Vault, remember what it meant to be an exile and a man of the Light. Maybe find peace.
. . . . . And maybe Jim would learn to fly.
. . . . . His hooves clattered to a halt just past the crystal-lined hall leading into the Vault of Lights. A small class of fresh acolytes in red and white robes followed a senior anchorite in the distance as she led them to one of the lecture halls. In the distance, the highly-advanced arcaneograms of Legion enemies flickered and moved in silent battle poses. Holy light seeped from the peach-tinted crystals along the top of the Vault, hushing the sounds in the cavernous space like a falling snow hushes a forest.
. . . . . In this quieted atmosphere, it was easy to startle a body if you were careless. Krysion always was careless. “Diyos!” a baritone voice rang against the carved floors and walls around the anchorite as another senior anchorite in robes of charcoal grey and burgundy came down the steps towards him from the Mystics’ Hall.
. . . . . After he’d managed to peel his claws from the crystal-lined vaulting and resettle his robes back on his hips, Diyos tugged his dark cowl down around his neck and eyed the approaching senior anchorite. “Krys, can you not scare the Light out of me every time I come here?”
. . . . . “Maybe if you came here a little more often,” Krysion drawled, “you would be more used to my voice. A’dal’s sake, you have not visited since the mandatory training months back. One might think you did not like your own people, Diyos.”
. . . . . The anchorite being scolded waved his hand dismissively and fell into step beside his comrade. “I like the exiled ones well enough and you know it; I have just been…busy.”
. . . . . “Ah, so you have been out getting into trouble and are now here for my advice.” Diyos spluttered, which only made the senior anchorite grin wider. “I knew it. Come, then. The chapel is open.”
. . . . . The heavy, titansteel pauldrons set carefully atop the chair under the door buzzed. Her startle reflex numbed by years of undeath, the draenei female working on putting the shards of crystal back together did not jump. She simply looked up slowly, then uttered a quiet curse in her native tongue, “Kil’jaeden’s teat, what now?”
. . . . . Setting aside the tweezers she’d been working with, Valdiis stood and reached for her armor, lifting the right pauldron to pull a small gnomish communicator from its clip between the bladed arches of the armor. A dial on the top turned the volume up enough for her to hear the inane chatter of bored death knights bickering over who would take fire watch in a city they were mostly supposed to be staying out of anyway.
. . . . . She sighed. The communicator buzzed again. Switching the active channel to an officers’ line, she let her voice slip into a neutral tone as she asked in heavily-accented Common, “Vhat is ze problem, sir?”
. . . . . A human male voice answered, tinny over the line, “Get those Knights active again, Commander. I’m tired of listening to them whine.”
. . . . . The corners of her eyes crinkled slightly with amusement; she could tell the Colonel was faintly annoyed, but only because she’d been around him enough to pick up on the subtleties. “Still off-duty, sir?”
. . . . . There was a small delay before the response, and she thought she heard the sound of a page turning. “Yes, Commander. And now you are not. Get to it.”
. . . . . “Understood, Colonel.” She scowled at her communicator for several moments before switching the active channel back to the unit’s general line. “Knights!” she barked into the communicator, “Just because you have a fresh set of orders to assist in guardink ze Midsummer fires does not negate your previous standink orders from ze General. If you are not actively on vatch at one of ze four fires, I vant you to head out to Zoram Strand to investigate ze talk of cultists out zere.” She paused for a moment to let that sink into their rotted brains. “I vant you reportink back to me in person at Valiance Keep once you have information. And do not all come at once.”
. . . . . The communicator clicked to indicate the end of her transmission and she set it down on the table next to the crystal she had been piecing back together. “Later,” she mumbled to the crystal in Draenei as she picked up her breastplate and snapped it around her torso. “I will finish fixing you later.”
. . . . . “And she just stood there on the water, like this was the most normal way in the world to have a conversation with a man in a boat, and she spoke in that dry, emotionless voice and gave me a concise version of what has happened in the last twenty-five years and I know she left things out because I could see the pain in her soul and she is dead, Krys, and every time I remem-”
. . . . . A lavender-pale hand popped over Diyos’s mouth, cutting him off mid-stream-of-consciousness. “Breathe, Diyos,” the senior anchorite advised calmly before he dropped his hand. He watched as Diyos took several deep breaths before he spoke again, “So your sister is a death knight. Have you been living under a rock, Diyos? There are unfortunately many of them, but they are not – for the most part – evil if they have control of themselves once more.”
. . . . . “You do not understand, Krysion, my sister is an abomination! It is unnatural!”
. . . . . The senior anchorite leaned back on the bench in the small room at the back of the chapel reserved for the anchorites who worked with the Hand of Argus. He folded his arms across his chest. “You are telling me that to die and yet to walk around is unnatural?”
. . . . . “Of course!” Diyos appeared on the edge of frantic, plunging his indigo hands into his thick curls.
. . . . . “Forget your resurrection spell, then. Forget how to see a soul tethered to a body.”
. . . . . “That is not the sa-!” Diyos cut off again as Krysion leveled a withering look at him. It was several moments before he came up with a response. “An anchorite’s resurrection is a Light-given ability. It is not the same.”
. . . . . “And the death knights are any less Light-blessed than you simply because they had to endure death and forced servitude?”
. . . . . Diyos sputtered and gave Krysion an incredulous look. “Of course they are! Look at them! They are rotting in their bodies! They cause diseases with a touch! They have no emotions!”
. . . . . Krysion unfolded his arms just long enough to reach out and pop his friend and junior anchorite on the side of the head. The sudden violence jolted Diyos out of his frenzied ranting and left him staring blankly at the senior anchorite for a moment. Krysion figured this was as good a time as he’d get to make his point. “Oh, grow a spine, Diyos. Did you know there are several death knights that work here at the Exodar now? Some of them have been tasked as Peacekeepers. Some mine for the busted crystals alongside the Broken. Two are guardians of the Farseers in the Crystal Hall.” Krysion took a breath and kept going, “I know them. I interact with them. Yes, they are suffering under an unnatural condition, but it is no more unnatural than you or I as Concealed. We have talents that lend towards the shadow, but we have not given ourselves over; it is the same for these death knights. They have some terrifying abilities, but they have turned their backs on the shadow of death.”
. . . . . “But what abou-”
. . . . . “Shut up. You are just trying to come up with excuses for not accepting that your sister is returned to you. If you do not want her back, just admit it already.” Krysion stood and turned his back on his friend. “You are such a coward, Diyos. Choose how you want to feel already and get back to living.” The senior anchorite made a disgusted tsking sound with his tongue and left the meditation room, leaving a stunned-to-silence anchorite staring after him.
. . . . . The last shard of the crystal tapped into place and Valdiis gave a stiff grin at her work. She leaned back in her too-small chair and began the wait for the adhesive to dry. Once it was done, she was going to have to go seek out her brother to re-attune the formerly-shattered crystal to his so that she could use it to speak to her brothers from afar. While she waited, she gathered up the reports she’d written on the Twilight’s Hammer activity. She’d leave these for Colonel Orill when she went to the Exodar. There were some very intriguing pieces of intelligence among all the mundanity, and she might as well investigate a few of them herself while she was not so far from Ashenvale.
. . . . . Valdiis picked up the repaired crystal and wrapped it in a few strips of mageweave to cushion it. Although it hadn’t turned out to be a safe place to keep it the first time, she was lacking any better, so she slipped the wrapped crystal into the chest pocket of her black gambeson. This new titansteel armor she had should prevent the sort of crushing blow that had shattered the crystal the first time.
. . . . . Once more through the familiar, laborious process of donning her plate armor…unstick the chair from beneath the door handle…sheath the sword on her back…grab the reports…
. . . . . And she was off.