Wednesday, October 12, 2011
No Such Thing as a Smooth Course
Written while listening to Times Like These (Acoustic) by Foo Fighters.
. . . . . Schwip... schwip... schwip...
. . . . . Waves lapped gently against the sturdy wooden hull of the schooner before Diyos's eyes. He tried to focus on the solidity of the boat instead of the constant motion of the waves, but it was no good. His stomach heaved again and he hung over the railing like a limp rag. They were only about six hours out from Menethil Harbor, but he hadn't exactly started the day on the best hoof. Still plagued by a vicious hangover ever since they'd pushed off in the early morning, it was all he could do to keep from toppling into the Great Sea.
. . . . . “Ooo, look!” came the far-too-cheery-for-the-hour voice of his baby brother by his ear. “I'm pretty sure that's a dragon up there!” After several rapid pats at his shoulder, Athos gave up and elbowed him in the ribs. “Degenerate,” he muttered with good humor.
. . . . . “Shut it, will you? I'm trying to find my sobriety.”
. . . . . “And whose overindulgence was that?” Athos peered down into the sea with Diyos, watching as the lapping waves seemed to slow their pace against the hull. “It was a small bronze dragon,” he explained.
. . . . . “Probably one of the dragons who started befriending adventurers last year, then.” Diyos clung to the railing for another few moments, then started to straighten. As he did so, the entire ship rolled and bucked under his hooves - a long, slow yaw port, then a gentle pitch starboard. “Urrrp!” was Diyos's only reaction.
. . . . . “Woah!” was Athos's response, followed by a sharp gasp. “What was that? Did we just pass over a huge fish? Maybe a shark? Or a whale? Do sharks get that big? Maybe it was a whaleshark!”
. . . . . “Athos, quit being such a nerd. There's no such thing as whalesharks. It was just a big wave.”
. . . . . His baby brother burbled along into another stream of consciousness about the properties of exceptionally large fish as Diyos pushed away from the railing and crossed the deck to stare starboard towards the barely-visible land on the horizon. He was no sailor and no better a navigator, but as near as he could figure it, they were drawing about even with Southshore before catching the northern current off the coast. An acid green flash along the smudge of land miles in the distance made him squint and press himself against the railing.
. . . . . “Magic, ho! Starboard!” came the shout of the tall, skinny human boy up in the crow's nest balanced at the top of the mast. While Athos dashed over to join Diyos at the railing, the crew left off their lounging in the easy breeze and started loosening sail lines and unfurling canvas. The captain set up a hue and cry from the wheel, ordering the ship's mage brought up and no, he didn't care if the man was still asleep and no, he didn't care if waking a sleeping mage might mean the sailor needed a healer afterward; “Just get that damned mage on deck now!”
. . . . . Neither draenei, nor any of the other passengers on the ship who had begun gathering on the starboard railing could see more than a hazy smudge and the occasional bright green flash against the clear blue sky. It occurred to Diyos, though, that the shade of green was too virulent for any nature magic he'd ever seen.
. . . . . “Ike,” the captain snapped out as a disheveled human in a long nightshirt stumbled on up from the cabins, blinking blearily in the late morning sun. “I need one of those hard arctic gusts and I need it three minutes ago. We've got a seaward wind coming in, and if it blows that Bli-...” The captain cut off as he realized more than half his passengers were on deck and listening, but it was too late. The hushed whisper of “Blight!” raced across the open deck. A steward and four sailors began escorting folks below deck rapidly.
. . . . . “Wait, what?” Athos asked, tugging on Diyos's sleeve as the elder twin went a sickly pale, washed-out indigo shade.
. . . . . “Not now, brother. Move it. We're going inside.”
. . . . . “But what if I could study this pheno-”
. . . . . “NO!” Diyos roared, bodily shoving his slighter twin before him towards the hold. “You are not studying it. I've met a veteran of the Wrathgate before, and I guarantee you that neither of us is equipped to deal with that.” Pushing his baby brother before him, Diyos followed the rest of the passengers as they were herded down into the hold, while the ship's mage summoned up a cone of rough, frigid air to boost the unfurled sails. The schooner lurched awkwardly forward, jerking through the water like a child's wooden toy on a pull-string. Everyone was discussing the possibility of Blight, spreading all the wild and baseless rumors that had sprung up in the year or so since it had taken Bolvar Fordragon and many stalwart Alliance soldiers. Diyos knew enough to know that most of it was crazy talk - “Don't worry; the Blight isn't airborne!” - and some of it was not - “I heard it can melt your very flesh into a puddle of goo!” - but he also knew that he didn't know nearly enough about the stuff to join in the conversation. He just wanted some of that terrible, thick, bitter ship's coffee and maybe some ear plugs; Athos was launching into a disease pathology discussion with the ship's surgeon.
. . . . . “Yazmina is a tyrant,” Diyos moaned as he pulled back a wooden chair at the table and slumped into it, making his best overly-dramatic whining face at his twin brother. It had the desired effect - Athos began laughing, and it was infectious, helping Diyos pick his mood back up.
. . . . . “Don't tell me she's run out of bandages again,” Athos said, leaning back in his chair as the barmaid brought dinner over with a smile and set it down on the table. True to form, Athos was entirely oblivious to the sauciness in that smile, and Diyos was uncharacteristically too tired to catch it. The barmaid shook her head as she headed back to the kitchen.
. . . . . Diyos picked up his fork, well-practiced now at holding the small human utensils after several years worth of classes in human culture, and attacked the hearty mashed tubers on his plate. It was several moments before he responded, pulling another comically dramatic face as he did so, “'More bandages, Diyos! Get to purifying those scraps!' Honestly, I think it'd be faster if I shredded the lot and wove new whole cloth for her. Is it my imagination or are these potatoes a blessing of the Light itself?”
. . . . . Athos laughed again, nodding assent as he kept working on his own dinner. “Oh, by the way,” he said between mouthfuls of turkey, “we're finally getting ships from Menethil Harbor again. The first one came in today. Arcanist Ike is pretty excited about the opportunity to get to head home, but the stories from those sailors today...” As his mouth was full, Diyos let his raised eyebrow ask the question. “The harbor's a mess!” Athos explained. “There was this massive wave which washed away part of the docks and flooded right over the retaining walls. It was the afternoon of the same day we left!” Athos waved his fork around wildly. “And a dragon attacked Stormwind! A huge, massive dragon! It destroyed a lot of the city. I hope Kreli is alright. We should go ba-”
. . . . . “No,” Diyos interjected, stopping his brother's stream of consciousness mid-chatter. “We came up here to explore the north, and I think we should do that. The ships will still be having trouble for some time, and they don't need unnecessary passengers right now. Besides,” Diyos threw out the hook on his coaxing line, “Dalaran University.”
. . . . . It worked. Athos was reeled right back in. “Dalaran! You know, McGoyver says his flying machine can get high enough that I could see the spires from here. I think I just mi-”
. . . . . “Woah! Oh no you don't!” Diyos practically spit out the mouthful of berry pie he'd been chewing, then swallowed fast so he could put some caution on this line of thinking before Athos got too far out of hand. “I've never seen a gnomish invention that didn't malfunction eventually, and if it malfunctions that high in the air...”
. . . . . Athos settled a droll look on his twin. “Overprotective,” he said warningly, something he'd been accusing Diyos of being rather often lately.
. . . . . “Fine, but at least bring some feathers with you. If it starts misbehaving, levitate out right away.”
. . . . . Athos rolled his eyes and pushed back his chair. “Of course. A package came for you on today's boat. It got a little damp. I left it up in our room.”
. . . . . Diyos pulled a small, leather wallet-like pouch off his belt as Athos began to leave and threw it at his brother's shoulder. “Feathers!”
. . . . . Worry over the news from Stormwind was heavy on Diyos's mind as he climbed the stairs in the inn at Valgarde to the room he and his brother had been renting out for the last month. What had been destroyed? Was anyone hurt? Had the bakery survived? Was Azsh-. Stop that. He wasn't allowed to fret over her anymore. It was time to get over her. She certainly wasn't worrying over him. If he had a spare leg he wasn't using for walking up the stairs, he'd use it to kick his own tail for still mooning.
. . . . . The package was sitting in a small puddle on the nightstand between the two beds in the room. “A 'little damp'?” he asked the quiet room, huffing with indignation as he picked it up. If Menethil Harbor had flooded, this package must've still been awaiting pick-up when it happened, because it was thoroughly soaked - even after the boat transport here - and smelled strongly of seawater. Even the address to him was only barely legible, the exceptionally neat printing of a trained scribe.
. . . . . Diyos quickly gave up fumbling with the swollen knot in the twine and pulled his sewing kit off his belt, found the scissors, and cut the string free. Inside the box was a folded note and a wooden carving of a wolf. To someone trained in the magical enchantment of objects, the thing was clearly imbued with...something...but he couldn't fathom what. The note squelched a little as he unfolded it, and it was tragically beyond useless. Seawater had caused the ink to bleed into a thick blue smudge on the parchment, so smeared he couldn't even discern what the original language might've been. He had a terrible feeling it was explaining the wolf's enchantment, and damned if he didn't really wish he knew who it was from.
. . . . . Grumbling under his breath, he stuffed the wolf carving in a pocket of his robes and took the letter with him back down into the tavern proper for a bracing drink.
. . . . . About three mugs of ale in, Diyos finally felt like bringing the carving back out of his pocket to study it. It was clearly a wolf, but also rough and rustic - almost primitive. Humans tended to be more exacting in most of their work, and dwarves definitely so; no gnomes he knew of worked with natural materials, and he didn't know anyone among the Horde who would send him anything. That left either a draenei or a kaldorei to send him such a thing.
. . . . . His eyes watered suspiciously and he put the carving down in favor of several more gulps of ale until he'd chased off the sudden case of sniffles. Azshariel was a wood carver... But no, this wasn't her work; even though she had a tendency towards more rustic designs, she was still more exacting in form. Besides, she had no reason to send him anything. Ever. Except maybe a letter bomb. A sudden resolve to drench all his packages from now on in case they needed defusing struck him. More ale.
. . . . . The carving sat forgotten on the table for nearly an hour that evening while he slouched in his chair, getting good and drunk to keep him from being a sad sap or charging outside to save Athos from flying machines. He'd gotten himself well into slurring territory by the time he gave it another go, picking the carving up and trying to get a sense of the enchantment that had been placed on the item. It was strong, the sort of thing which was either quite lasting or was holding a lot of potential. Diyos had just decided to surreptitiously hold the carving up to his nose and see if he could use his thauma-synaesthesia to smell the type of enchantment when the barmaid returned.
. . . . . “You want another round there, mister?”
. . . . . “Ah? Zsshure. An' maybde ahn-... Hic! Anoztherr pie.” He realized he probably looked very strange with this wolf carving practically up his nose, and the barmaid's expression confirmed it. A dark navy blush spreading over his cheeks, he put the wolf back on the table and gave it a few nervous strokes behind the carved ears.
. . . . . When the barmaid returned, she shook her head as she put the pie, mug of ale, and a cup of coffee on the table. “Last one for you, y'hear? It's all coffee after this.” She waved away Diyos's complaint. “Barkeep's orders. Coffee.” Disgruntled, Diyos settled down to enjoy his last alcohol of the evening, alternating sips of ale and coffee in an attempt to prolong this good drunk he had gotten. From where he sat, he could see out through the tavern's open front door. It was a fairly tolerable mid-November night in the north, which meant that while it was cold enough to see one's breath outside, the fire was going well enough that fresh air was welcome in the stuffy tavern.
. . . . . Somewhere out there, Athos and McGoyver were likely preparing to shower Valgarde with machine wreckage. Somewhere out there, Yazmina was probably using up the last of the scraps he'd purified and sewn together today to patch up more of the soldiers who'd been trickling in from the frozen peaks ever since the Citadel's fall. Somewhere out there, Doc Laurenhall was supposedly helping grow a tree. Somewhere out there, a huge dragon was reportedly tearing up cities. Somewhere out there, a ghost of a wolf was definitely walking...through...the...tavern door. What.
. . . . . He blinked a few times down into his coffee and looked back up. The ghost was closer. In fact, it was having a seat in front of his chair and leveling an expectant stare at him. It smelled like dirt and ozone, which now that he thought of it, was a lot like what that carving smelled like. Well, the carving had a lot more wood smell. Why was there a ghost wolf staring at him?
. . . . . With an impatient exhalation, the ghost wolf backed up a few steps and elongated and solidified into a half-naked, pierced and tattooed draenei male in a kilt with a very grumpy expression on his face. Diyos gave him several dumb blinks in response to this transformation. “You summoned me,” the gruff draenei said in their shared native tongue, folding his arms across his bared chest. It was framed as a question, but didn't carry the tone of one.
. . . . . “I did no such thing,” Diyos blurted, though it came out more like “I'd nno zssuch 'ing.”
. . . . . The fellow in the kilt pointed at the wolf carving. “Yes, you did. The Exarch will speak with you.”
. . . . . “The wha'? Nno, m' brozer's 'ere an' I zsstay.” Diyos figured out finally how terribly drunk he sounded and knocked back more coffee in an attempt to sober up faster and not sound like such an idiot. From the expression on the other male's face, there was no saving this first impression.
. . . . . “You will. You summoned me. I went to the trouble of answering, so you will go to the trouble of speaking to the Exarch.”
. . . . . “What is this? I have no-” Diyos broke off as the kilted draenei made as if to haul him out of his seat. “Woah, woah! Hang on. Let's talk this over.” He picked up the parchment and its watercolor smear of blue ink. “Did the Exarch send this?” The coffee was starting to break through the comfortable fuzz of ale, and it was starting to dawn on him that one typically did not deny such a high-ranking personage among the exiled ones.
. . . . . “It belongs to the Exarch,” came a response which was absolutely no explanation at all. “Now, come.”
. . . . . Diyos held the letter up in front of his face as he tried to think fast. Was he in trouble with the Hand of Argus? Had word of his resignation from the Modan Company reached his handlers and someone had misplaced his request for leave to explore the north? “I'll need to tell my brother when we're leaving,” he said, stalling.
. . . . . “That would be now, so you can do it on the way.” Big, Blue, and Tattooed was implacable. Irritatingly so.
. . . . . “Fine, fine. Keep your skirt on.” Diyos looked around for his last mug of ale, which he'd been splitting with the sobering sips of coffee. He wouldn't have quite believed it if he hadn't seen it happen, but within seconds of his quip about Big, Blue, and Tattooed's kilt, his mug of ale was off the table and in the kilted male's hand. “Hey! That's mine!” He was out of his chair, snatching for the ale...and found himself shoved out the tavern door. He blinked at the chill night sky. “Crafty bastard,” he muttered.
. . . . . Herded towards the dock as surely as if he were a docile sheep, Diyos was sobering up enough to figure out that this was probably very big trouble if he didn't go along. He spotted Athos and McGoyver bent over a blessedly grounded machine on the shoreline and threw a hand up. “Brother!” he yelled, “I've been called back for a bit of business. I'll be back in a few days, and I'll keep in touch!” He tapped the chest pocket where he kept his communication crystal and got a distracted nod from his twin in response. Well, with luck, the machinery would keep his brother busy for a few days and he'd be back from this meeting with... “Which Exarch are we speaking of here, anyway?”
. . . . . “Get on the boat.”
. . . . . “What, this summoning thing doesn't work in reverse?”
. . . . . “Pulling you through the astral realm with me would require me to hug you.”
. . . . . Diyos looked over his shoulder, making sure that he exaggerated the assessment in the expression. “I would've thought a male in a dres-”
. . . . . “It's a kilt! You're in a dress.”
. . . . . “Am not. These are robes.” Diyos smoothed the very same garment as he walked up the gangplank. Lucky for them the steamboat to Stormwind was casting off this evening. He grinned as he realized that he'd just figured out how to get Big, Blue, and Tattooed's ire up. This trip was going to be fun.