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Chasing Through Hell
Maurus yawned. Arianna's warmth against his chest and the swaying of the kodo beneath him were making him drowsy and it was a good thing the evening air was chilly enough to counteract it. Not that he needed to be very alert. Around them were almost two hundred others, most of them Ragetotem tauren, while the rest were mostly trolls and orcs. Mathias and Gregar were the only forsaken in the group, but considering their destination, that was for the best. Even bringing the trolls was pushing it.
Nonetheless, Maurus took a deep breath of the chilly air and his nose filled the scent of grass, spring leaves and a heavy, but not unpleasant musty smell of mushrooms. He let out his breath in a sigh of pleasure, glancing at the enormous mushrooms that clung to the hillside to his left and the verdant greenery that surrounded them.
Arianna made a lazy inquiring sound.
"Just wondering at the change," he said.
Arianna hummed in agreement before answering. "My esteem for the Earthen Ring and the Cenarion Circle have grown enormously these years. Though they can't take all the credit."
Maurus nodded amiably. Despite the destruction the Cataclysm had wrought, it had also breathed life back into many desolate areas of the world and nature magic had grown immensely in potency with the elements running amok. It had died down again as the world recovered, but the Earthen Ring and the Cenarion Circle had managed to take advantage of the time they had been given, despite the fight against Deathwing's forces.
Still, Maurus had never thought he would ever enjoy a visit to the Eastern Plaguelands, or Eastweald, as he would have to get used to calling it. But he was. He even felt safe, though that also had a lot to do with the people around him, even if a third of them would be little use in a fight.
He smiled as a tauren girl ran out in front of the kodo, holding up a braided ring of flowers in her dark-skinned hand. Her eyes twinkled with mischief when a thin, wispy-haired elf boy came running after her, jumping to get at her upraised hand.
"Father, look what Teran made," Killi said, though her eyes remained on the boy.
"Don't- Give that back," her adopted brother cried, his voice an embarrassed whine. Small and spindly as he was, he had little chance of reaching the flowers, but he didn't let that stop him, trying again as Killi walked backwards along the kodo.
"It's not a bad flower crown," Arianna said pleasantly. "What's the matter, Dear?
Teran looked back, his reddened face half-shrouded by his long, thin hair. "Mathias said it's something little girls and besotted maidens made," he said, pouting.
"You should pay less attention to what he says. Humans and forsaken are odd," Maurus said wryly. He pointedly touched the small braid he had for a beard and tilted his head, jostling the braids his hair was now kept in. "It's a braid. I've braided my hair, my siblings' and parents' hair and your mother's hair. And I've braided the odd plant. And I can tell you, braiding flowers is hard. I usually just ruined them."
Teran blinked, his blush fading.
"Aaaw," Killi whined, lowering the flower crown so Teran could reach it. "You ruined it. Now I have to think of something else to tease him with."
"Something I'm sure you will have no trouble with," Arianna said lazily.
A smirk much like Arianna's appeared on Killi's face. "I know who'll like this," she said, taking off running.
Teran's eyes became round and frightened and he immediately followed Killi, shouting after her. They passed Maurus and Arianna and vanished back into the center of the crowd.
"They've been running around like that all day. Where do they get the energy?" Arianna asked lazily, stroking the hand Maurus held the reigns with.
Maurus shrugged. "Would that they keep it. It's never bad to have stamina."
At that, Arianna snorted and Maurus chuckled when he realized where her thoughts had gone. "They'll sleep well tonight, that's for sure," he said, stroking a finger down Arianna's belly.
"Getting ahead of ourselves again, aren't we?" Arianna said.
"That seems to be the pattern with us, doesn't it? We did begin years before the ceremonies."
"Now who's thinking like the humans?" Arianna teased. "Though even they couldn't fault us now. The ceremony in Mulgore does count."
Something grey and black made Maurus glance to the side to see Mathias come up at their side. His grey wolf barely made any sound on the gravel, though even a heavier tread would have been swallowed by the buzz of conversation and the noise of hooves and feet around them.
"Bother someone your own size," Maurus greeted his friend.
Mathias adopted a lazy and entirely unconvincing expression of innocence.
A little more seriously, Maurus continued: "Don't put human ideas into his head. It's bad enough that almost everyone his age is almost double his weight. He does not need more reasons to feel unmanly."
Mathias tilted his head and made a thoughtful sound. Then he shook his head. "Nah. He needs to bull through it."
Maurus snorted at the choice of words.
"Maybe," he allowed. His friend had something of a point, though Maurus was hoping his adopted son would find some strength in Silvermoon. Hopefully, being with his kin for a fortnight would give him a little perspective and get rid of the ridiculous insecurity he harbored despite his growing aptitude for feeling the Light and the spirits.
They rounded a giant mushroom and a glittering lake came into view. It was one of the Scars, now filled with water that was safe even to drink, amazing as that sounded. Glancing at the sinking sun to the east, Maurus grunted in satisfaction. He hadn't quite realized that they had made it that far, but an early stop suited him just fine.
When camp had been set up and the smell of food was beginning to fill the air, Maurus found himself standing at the edge of the Scar, staring down at his reflection. Even compared to others his age, he had few wrinkles, only the barest hint of crows feet but his scars marked the years almost as well. His muzzle was crooked from more than one heavy blow and there were several lines in his fur on the top of his head and the side of his face. His nose was still ugly, the cleft from his nose ring still making his nostrils almost one. But all the other scars paled compered to the ones he had gotten in Outland. Both cheeks had large scars where the fur had never quite grown back, revealing ugly scarring and he still thought he looked unbalanced without his horn.
He absently prodded at his missing teeth with his tongue. He was satisfied with the evidence of his history, proud of what he had endured and accomplished. And he was always relieved when he looked at himself and saw reddish-brown eyes rather than the pale blue glow he had seen when he had carried a frozen sword rather than his axe. Amazingly, he had forgiven himself for that time. The tauren he had been years ago would not have been able to do that, but he had changed. He would not forget, but he had matured enough to realize that there was no point in beating himself up over the past.
Beside his reflection, Arianna appeared, meeting his eyes in the water. She had her share of scars too, a crooked nose, scattered dents and most noticeably, her glowing eyes remained sunken, surrounded by red, lumpy heat-scarring.
As with his own scars, Maurus refused to see the scars as anything but marks of experience, even if his heart ached at the thought of where his supposed death had driven her. But she had not let the volatile mix of vengeance and her craft consume her completely, to some degree thanks to Mathias, Widget and the others and ultimately, she had recovered. Now the scars gave a wild edge to her fine features and with the brightness in her eyes and the curve of her lips, she was beautiful.
Maurus smiled, curling an arm around her.
"Brooding again?" Her tone was light, clearly not truly asking that question, but it was still an inquiry.
"Wondering again," Maurus answered amiably.
"Very thoughtful, lately."
Maurus shrugged. "Big events makes one think."
"It's just a show. Mulgore was binding and I hardly need the elven ceremony," Arianna responded. She glanced around, eyeing the tauren and trolls. "The party will be one to see though."
Maurus smirked. "True."
"No," Maurus said. It was almost true but he had never been to Quel'thalas nor met much of Arianna's House. With the Scourge Onslaught and the Cataclysm, there had been little time for social calls.
Seeing Arianna's raised eyebrow, he admitted: "A little bit."
"Do you see the bull I see?"
"Maybe. I am rather satisfied with whom I see. And the lovely little thing in his arms."
"Good," Arianna said firmly, stroking his arm. "It's just a wedding. We've had one already and that went fine."
"I seem to recall you being a little nervous too," Maurus murmured, thinking back fondly to how she had looked, for once attired in something very like traditional tauren garb. It had been a lovely ceremony and he was honestly looking forward to seeing the elven variant.
"Fine, you're right, it is understandable to be a little nervous," Arianna admitted. "Though I will assure you that there is no threat of torches and pitchforks. Nor of poison."
"Thank you," Maurus muttered dryly. "It's very reassuring that you thought it necessary to mention that."
"If they hadn't accepted it, they would just have pretended we didn't exist. Instead, we're having a feast with a couple of hundred people."
Maurus smiled softly.
"Being nervous does not mean I'm not looking forward to it, Love," he said, shifting his arm and turning so he was facing Arianna. "Finally seeing your home after all you've told me is worth a little discomfort. As is rubbing our relationship in the faces of your stupider relatives."
He bent down and kissed her, muzzle meeting lips that were far smaller than his. As different as he and she were, their kisses had never stopped being somewhat clumsy, messy affairs, but he would not trade them for the world.
I don't know what to feel. I should feel accomplished, but it is a very mixed feeling ending this. This story marked the start of my attempts at writing fiction and now it is over. I am happy though.
Thank you, all who have read and in particularly everyone who have reviewed. I would love to hear what you think and in particular what you can say about the story as a whole, now that it's done. I would really like to hear what you think worked and what didn't. I think I might have thrown up too many things that never really got more screentime, like the traitors among the Horde and the fact that Dreadlords could impersonate people and disrupt in that case. But on the other hand, I am happy to have implied that a lot is going on and that Maurus and Arianna aren't the ones who have to solve all the problems they observe.
I know the cliffhanger in the previous chapter may have given the impression of another installment, but I'm done now. I want to focus the time and energy on original writing, despite how much I enjoy these characters. And the events I imply here are ones that I just don't think I can do justice without dedicating far more time and effort than I want now. That effort is something I want to put into original stories.
I might still post one-shot scenes here and there, but proper stories won't happen. Not having to think things through too much and not having a a larger arc might even make me write a bit more freely and so maybe get a few more scenes here and there with these, but no promises.
Again, a million thank yous to you all who have read my stories. It was a privilege to write for you and I will probably drop a line if I ever get something published.
P.S. You may have noticed that I have gotten a profile picture. That's my attempt at drawing Widget and there may appear other characters on my Deviantart, Phage-Marrowice. It is named for a great character from another fanfic on this site, Unlikely Heroes.