A MEETING IN THE WILD
A World of Warcraft tale

by Stephen R. Sobotka / © 2008-2009

DISCLAIMER : This story is an original prose based on situations, settings, places and themes from the MMORPG game "World of Warcraft", by Blizzard Entertainment Ltd. All characters that appear within - with the exception of all original characters created by the author and the author's friend, Jessica - are the property of said licenses, and are used here without knowledge or permission of same.

This story is the rightful property of the author; all original characters and the plot depicted within are protected by copyright law. This story was produced to entertain fans of the original game, and is in no way, shape or form intended to be published for monetary gain. Please do not sue.

AUTHOR'S NOTE : This story is the result of a request from a good friend, who wanted to see her character and her mate's meet my two characters from WoW. It was a fun trip, though the muses were very fickle - took me the better part of a year to finish. I need to be more productive. ^^;

Anyway, enjoy the story. Please note that this does not tie into my main story "The Praxeum Chronicles". Consider this an alt-fic. ^_^ - S.

Seeing a dark-haired, leather clad human in the wild was hardly something that would attract the attention of most souls in all of the kingdoms of Azeroth.

Seeing that same human in the wilds of the Eastern Plaguelands . . . might raise one or two points with some members of the Horde, who deem these territories part of their domain, and thus out of bounds for any who are on the side of the Grand Alliance.

However, seeing this same human, standing watch over a lone kaledorei female - also guirded in hunting leathers - one would have to wonder just why these two were in the Plaguelands to begin with. Even though Humans and Night Elves were on the same side of the Alliance, it was often rare to see lone members of either race working together. Though with the nearly-intimate, companionable way that these two spoke to each other, one didn't have to wonder just what the extent of their partnership was really all about.

"You nearly done down there, you elf?"

"Keep ahold of your knives, rogue," the Night Elf said, working the edge of a long knife under a rather stubborn segment of earthroot; tugging it out from the hollow she'd dropped down into. "This isn't exactly like picking Peaceblooms in Elwynn."

"Feh, as if I'd let you drag me out into the Plaguelands, just to stand guard while you pick some wild flowers, Jhess."

Jhessill laughed. "Vic, you'd follow me, even if I said I needed to go into Un'goro to train devilsaur pups to become pets for bored Highbornes." Scrunching her face as she dug a knife into the tough soil under the herb clutched in her fist, Jhessill grunted as she sawed at the part still stuck in the ground. "Almost nearly . . . there!" she said, rising up as the thick, starchy root came free. Turning the piece over in her hand, she smiled to herself before she placed the root into a pouch on her belt. "Got it, Vic. Is it still-?"

"Clear for now," Vic Corleone said, taking another look around at the bleak, forrest-strewn landscape. "Though, we're pushing things if you keep finding more herbs to scrounge."

Starting to clamber up the side of the rocky depression, Jhessill muttered, "Blame our friend. She needs these for her alchemy work. It's getting harder and harder to find plentiful herbs back in our home territory, ever since the inscriptors started harping for more materials for their inks."

Vic snorted. "Words on paper . . . Gods, since when did that take the place of a good piece of steel and a dose of poison?"

"You never could stand a bit of new change, could you?" Jhessill got to the lip of the hollow's opening, and smiled when Vic had reached down to offer her a hand. Letting him pull her into the clear, she brushed back several locks of her green hair as she glanced around. "You sure there aren't any Hordies around?"

"Not unless they've taken to building campfires out in the wild."

Something in his tone made Jhessill glance at Vic; seeing the pinched expression on his dark, rugged face. "Why would you say-?" A simple gesture from Vic made her turn to follow his gaze.

There, barely seen against the landscape was a small curl of grey smoke. Wood smoke . . . but it had the consistency of a fire that had been banked. Whoever they are, they're trying to be careful. Jhessill thought.

As if reading her mind, Vic said, "They're not being careful enough. Granted, it's probably a Horde scout or hunter, but-."

"You want to check it to make sure, lover?" Jhessill asked. Vic shrugged, but she could read him like a well-worn parchment. "Yes, you do. I can tell. You've been itching for some action since we were last in Uldaman, hm?"

He gave her a lop-sided smirk. "Am I that transparent?" Jhessill merely stared back into his dark eyes with a wordless expression. "Okay, fine. I'm starting to feel . . . rusty, okay?" He reached down to settle the knives and sword belted around his waist. "Following you around while you've been gathering reagents for our guild-mates is making me feel like some underpaid tavern bodyguard."

She reached out and gave him an affectionate pat on his chest. "Well, technically you are my bodyguard, Vic." She grinned as she added, "You do that rather well, I think." When he just grunted, she added as she looked back towards the smoke, "So, how do you want to handle this? Shoot first, then sort out the survivors afterwards?"

Vic just stepped to the side and motioned her to follow. "Let's get a closer look before you get all trigger-happy with that bow, Jhess. Besides, it could be just a small group of furlbogs, or something."

"Or . . . something." Jhessill merely shrugged and followed after him.

oOoOo

Finding cover as they went, Jhessill and Vic crested the rise of a small crater, sunken into the forrest floor. In the center, a pair of canvas tents could be seen flanking the small campfire which was clearly set to keep it from being seen by most observant types. To one side, a small wagon - one clearly built for overland travel - sat with a tarpaulin covering what appeared to be a pile of supplies inside the buckboards.

Ducking down behind the bulk of a fallen tree trunk, both adventurers peered out, watching for signs of any life inside the tents. "Strange. Doesn't look like an orc or troll camp," Vic said softly.

Jhessill tipped her head back, smelling the air as she deftly removed her longbow and layed it across her thighs as she crouched there. "Hmm . . . I smell dwarf."

Vic shot her a look. "Dwarf?" He frowned. "What would a dwarf be doing out here?"

"No idea," Jhessill replied, "But, there's definetely one down there. My nose never lies."

As if to prove her right, the entrance flaps to one of the tents was thrown open and a squat, leather-clad form lurched into view; staggering a few steps before it pitched forwards into the dirt next to the fire. From the shock of red hair and the beard flowing down from under his fat nose, it was clearly a male dwarf . . . and he didn't appear at all well. The groans and sudden, heaving wretching sounds he made were proof of that.

"Something's not right, Jhess," Vic stated. "He sounds ill."

"Could be a septic wound, or spider's poison, perhaps? The Plaguelands are crawling with those critters."

Before Vic could reply, another flurry of movement from the camp caught their attention. A slim, armored figure emerged from the other tent, holding a capped vial in one fist. This person paused when they spied the dwarf - who was now half-rolled over on his side, groaning with pain - before they stalked over and stood with one hand planted on their hip.

"Elf," Jhessill said softly; her voice taking a slight edge to it as she recognized the angle of the newcomer's ears. "Sin'dorei."

"Okay, so that dwarf's a prisoner then," Vic said.

"At least that's what it seems." Jhessill murmured, motioning for Vic to be silent.

By then, the Blood Elf was shaking her head, speaking to the prone dwarf. "You fool. Did you honestly think you could get away, in the condition you're in?" She dropped to one knee, gripping the dwarf by the shoulder to roll him onto his back. She uncapped the vial, and struggled to get the opening over the dwarf's face, while batting his feeble gestures of protest away. "Stop it . . . this is for your own good!"

Jhessill ran one hand along her bow, before she reached back for an arrow. "How do we handle this, lover? You cover me while I shoot-?" The only problem with her question was that her rogue wasn't next to her. A quick glance around, then down showed her only a small rustle of grass - hardly anything that stood out against the forest floor - that marked his advance towards the two struggling figures beside the fire.

"Humans," she muttered, even as she crept forward along the fallen log, resetting herself for a better shot.

The Blood Elf was now pouring the contents of the vial into the dwarf's open mouth - making him sputter and cough, even as he swallowed most of the dark liquid. "This is for your own good," she muttered, finally upending the vial as the last dregs slid down his throat. With a last hacking sound, the dwarf stopped fighting her and merely flopped back onto the ground; silent, save for his labored breathing.

Rising, the Sin'dorei woman heaved a sigh. "You will thank me, but now I've got to get you back into that tent, so that can do-." Her words were cut off as something made her head snap to the side, her eyes widening with the shock, before she tipped forwards with a groan and fell to the ground next to the prone dwarf.

"Got to love your work, eh lover?" Jhessill said softly. With the Sin'dorei woman slumped to the ground in a heap, Jhessill could see the dirt near the dwarf shift. Lifting up a bit, she called down to the rogue. "How is he, Vic?"

Vic, still stealthed as he knelt to check the red-bearded male - who was now laying on his side, moaning and coughing - called back. "Jhess, you'd better bring some of those herbs. This short-one's in a bad way, I think."

Jhessill started to rise from where she was hidden . . . but then the whole situation went to blazes in a copper cookpot as a chorus of snarls preceded several dark shapes that boiled out of the tree line behind the invisible rogue.

Darkhounds! Jhessill got to her feet and hopped onto the top of the log. "Vic! Behind you!" Growling, furry, fanged and vicious, the glittering eyes of the beasts were fixed solely on Vic as if he was standing out in pure sunlight. Whipping out several arrows, Jhessill lauched them in rapid succession at the leading brutes. The shafts struck hard, but didn't slow the 'hounds as they charged into the camp.

Vic had already turned around, unlimbering his heavy rifle from over his shoulder at Jhessill's warning. He manged to prime and fire one shot at the lead 'hound; the adamantine slug knocking it back a good span of yards. Before he could reload, he had to resort to using the butt of his weapon to smash another 'hound across its muzzle as it charged in close. Following through, Vic drew a long dagger and slashed, sending a gout of dark blood spraying as the brute died with a rumbling whimper.

By then, a good score of 'hounds had gained the camp, forming a loose circle around the reeling rogue, the stricken dwarf and the now-unconcious blood elf. Growling as they closed ranks, they formed a living wall around that blocked off any escape.

"Vic!" Jhessill leapt off the log, firing more arrows before she murmured a spell under her breath: Aspect of the Pack! With a thrill of power, the spell worked over her, and she made a dash towards her companion; making it to the edge of the 'hounds' circle and bounding over the beasts before they could react in time.

As she joined him in the center of the milling pack, Vic said sharply, "We didn't bargan for this, Jhess!"

"So, we leave then!" Jhessill said, knocking another arrow and letting it fly; the shaft sinking in to the feathers into the thick neck of another hound.

"Can't leave the dwarf," Vic said, moving so that Jhessill and himself were at each others backs.

"What about the elf?" Jhessill abandoned her bow, drawing a sword and a savage-looking claw weapon as she eyed the circling brutes.

"I'm not leaving you behind!" Vic quipped, even as he drew his own weapons.

"I meant the blood elf, lover."

Vic merely grunted. "I guess she can answer questions in an Alliance watchpost." He flipped his weapons around in a slashing guarded position. "Provided we all can make it out of here."

By then, a large knot of the darkhounds - clearly the biggest of the pack - clustered together and suddenly surged towards the pair. Growls and snarls accompanied grunts, yelps and the sound of slashing blades and rending flesh, as the battle began anew.

In the midst of the milling swarm of 'hounds, Jhessill caught sight of the blood elf slowly getting back to the waking world. Whipping around to slash another of the demons, she called out to Vic. "Look sharp, lover! Our host is waking up!"

Vic blasted another 'hound, snarling when he had to beat two more back when tried to dart in to try to tear into him from the side. "She's in for one devil of an awakening, then!" He smashed the butt of his weapon on one 'hounds' snout, making it yelp. "We need some breathing room here!"

With a growl of her own, Jhessill cleaved another of the pack nearly in two. "We don't have any to spare!"

Suddenly, over the barks and growls of the 'hounds, a rumbling, stenorian growl filled the air; echoed by a wordless battle-cry as a blurr of black-peppered white shot by the pair. Before Vic or Jhessill could react, something huge hit the ground, then bounded away, followed by the heavy clank! of something metal landing in the dirt near the fire.

"What -?" Jhessill whirled, looking to where the blood elf last was and nearly forgot she was in the middle of a fight, when she saw the large, armored form charging into the midst of the demon-dog mob. Male, and clearly in a battlerage, the newcomer drew a massive longsword, while it angled towards a trio of the hounds who had the Sin'dorei woman surrounded, thinking the elf was easy meat. Sensing the newcomer, two of the hounds turned with snarls and snapping teeth. The armored man merely swung his weapon in mid-stride; the sharp blade lopping off their heads in one fluid motion.

The third hound backed away from the fallen elf, only to get a dagger in its rump as it nearly bumped into Vic. Yelping, it sprang forwards, impaling itself on the armored man's outthrust sword. He followed up with a metal-shod foot, kicking the 'hound's lifeless carcass savagely away.

Jhessill was awestruck. What in all of Elune-?

"Jhess! Watch out!"

Vic's warning made Jhessill snap out of her distracted state, ducking just as a set of snapping jaws came too close to her neck. One of the demons had lept at her, but it got a metal slug in his muzzle as Vic fired his rifle. "Augh!" Getting her wits back, she snapped out with both sword and claw, tearing into two more 'hounds with a renewed savagery, before the attacks stalled.

With their numbers thinning quickly, the rest of the pack was circling the two knots of defense in the center.

Vic and Jhessill were nearly back to back with the female blood elf - now having regained her wits, while kneeling in the dirt - while her armored protector stood nearby. All three were were tiring fast. "Can't keep . . . this up, lover," Jhessill gasped. With the last few attacks, her blows were starting to fan the air, rather than land solidly on her targets.

"Then we have to stop twiddling our thumbs, and do something!" Vic snapped. "We're running out of options here!"

Jhessill started to speak, just as she heard a strong, male voice behind them shout, "Concencration!". A rolling wave of power enveloped the surrounding field, and several of the demons - already injured - yelped as they took a rapid spate of fresh damage. A moment later, the armored figure staggered backwards, with the blood elf woman close at his back, drandishing a longsword of her own. The man hacked and beat back three more 'hounds, before pointing an armored fist at the closest one - whereupon a glowing, crimson hammer smashed into the creatures head.

"Paladin," Vic muttered, before stooping to let one of the remaining 'hounds sail over his head. As it passed, he stabbed upwards with both daggers, ripping it open from ribs to rump to leave it falling in a bloody heap of legs and entrails.

With a good portion of the pack now decimated, the remaining 'hounds quickly took enough sense to fall back before turning to retreat into the woods. With a last spate of barking, they quickly departed the campsite for the darker depths of the surrounding woods.

Now empty of the demon dogs, the air of the camp returned to relative silence; save for the harsh breathing of the victorious survivors. With a clunk, the man slowly dropped to one armored knee, leaning on his sword. The blood elf woman moved closer to his side, her own weapon dropping to touch the blood-soaked dirt beneath their feet.

Jhessill and Vic stood to one side, both leaning heavily against each other's back as they stared at the bodies of the slain demons littering the ground around them. Heaving a sigh, Vic glanced at his companion. "You all right?"

Without warning, the armored man whipped around; coming to his feet, his sword drawn up and at the ready as he put himself between the duo and the female elf. "Stay your ground, stranger! What is your purpose here?" His voice was stern and steel-hard, echoing in the confines of his helm.

Out of sheer reaction, Vic and Jhessill had their weapons up at once, but neither moved to attack. "I could ask the same . . . stranger," Jhessill said. "Considering you came in, just as we were about to save the dwarf over there."

The man didn't drop his guard, but his armored head turned to look at the dwarf - still moaning as he lay on the ground - before swiveling back around to point at Jhessill. "I hardly believe he needs saving," he said.

"You're wrong on that score, paladin!" Vic snorted. "That blood elf witch was trying to poison him -."

"Oh, you fool!" This came from the red-haired Sin'dorei, who stepped out from behind the armored man; a cross expression on her face as she faced the rogue. "He did that to himself last night, drinking himself sick with a flask of Bloodsail rum," she explained.

Jhessill cocked an eyebrow. "But, we saw you pouring -?"

"A home remedy, which should be fixing his malady as we speak." She glared hard at Vic, rubbing the back of her head gingerly. "I would've made certain of that, if you hadn't attacked me first."

At that, the armored man shot a look at the pair. "They attacked you, Lady?"

Jhessill said, "Only because we believed the dwarf was in danger . . . and who are you, protecting a Hordie, human?"

Reaching up, the man removed his helm, revealing a full head of russett-brown hair and a mustashoed face, wreathed in an expression that was equal parts firm and uncompromising resolve. "Lady Freaja is under my protection, as we both are members of the Order of the Praxeum." He let his gaze slip from Vic to Jhessill, before adding, "I am Liam mac Roi, and we are on an emmisary mission to the Sin'dorei holdings in the Ghostlands."

Both Vic and Jhessill looked at each other, before Vic said, "We didn't realize, I . . . that is, we thought-."

"You clearly didn't think, I would say," Freaja said, scowling.

"Well, a member of the Horde, practically holding down a friend of the Alliance-!?" Vic threw up both hands in exasperation.

"Oh wonderful. Vic, let's not start another fight, please?" At that Jhessill held a hand to her face, before looking at the paladin. "Forgive my . . . companion, We both thought, well . . . that she was trying to do something-?"

"Unsavory, to him." Vic finished.

"Hold for the moment." Liam sheathed his weapon, turning as the blood elf - Freaja - moved to kneel next to the dwarf. "How is he? Was Rhandall giving you trouble?"

Nodding, Freaja slowly checked the dwarf's life signs. "He wasn't keen to take the home remedy. I had to force it down his throat."

"Is he going to recover then?" Liam asked.

She nodded to the dwarf, Rhandall, who was now groaning as he slowly rolled over to rise up on his hands and knees. "He should. I admit, it's not the most appetizing of cures, but-."

Just then, the dwarf made a soft, strangled sound and promptly vomited something rather noxious onto the ground.

Making a face, Freaja leaned back, holding a hand over her mouth and nose. "Still . . . it is, rather, effective."

Jhessill pinched her own nose to block the foul smell. "Phew! Clearly."

Sputtering, Rhandall finally sucked in a chestful of air, before he muttered, "Damn . . . vile, agh!" He shook his head, before he glanced back at Freaja, then up at her protector. "I . . . blame . . . ye, for, this, Liam!"

With a soft snort, the paladin just said, "Blame the bottle, and yourself, old friend."

"If you had more sense, you'd have known better than to drink while out in the wild," Freaja added, moving to help Rhandall sit back on the ground. "Especially after only having a light meal last night."

Vic made a low grunt. "I though dwarfs knew better to never scrimp on the quality of their drink, or food."

"Vic!" Jhessill hissed.

"What?" Her companion looked completely unapologetic, nodding down at the dwarf.

With a chuckle, Liam simply said to Rhandall, "Perhaps this will make you think twice before you decide to . . . indulge yourself, while we're away in the field?" With a more serious mein, he added, "Besides, your cousin would never forgive you, had you caused yourself serious harm out here."

With a burp, Rhandall wiped the back of his hand across his bearded mouth. "Aye. She would at that. Hanna was ne'er one tae have such tender mercies."

"Her 'mercies' not withstanding," Freaja said, "mine will be infinitely worse, if you don't do as your told until we can reach a village with a proper healer." She scowled, but it was softened by the easing of her tone as she said further, "Mind, the remedy I gave you has a rather unique side effect." She arched her brow at the surprised look on Rhandall's face. "In that if you take even one small swallow of fermented spirits, you'll end up sicker to your belly than if you swallowed raw maggots; whole, and, wriggling."

At that, the dwarf's face turned mightily pale. "Ugh."

With a laugh, Liam said, "Lady, you are often too cruel, to your allies and friends, as much as your foes."

Freaja shot Liam a look, but she smiled with a pert turn of her head. "If I wasn't, then neither camp would learn to fear me, would they?"

At that exchange, both Vic and Jhessill shot each other knowing looks. "Seems there's more to them that first appears, hm?" Jhessill's eyes and ears quirked as they shifted upwards with her smile. Vic merely rolled his eyes, but he had a fond expression on his face; clearly remembering similar exchanges between themselves.

Before either could say more, a low, rumbling growl came from the encroaching gloom beyond the firelight. It made Jhessill and Vic jump, turning just in time to see a large, white form come padding up to the campfire; a huge frostsaber cat, bearing a modified riding saddle to carry two. The huge feline was eying the two of them, while it panted, its huge, pointed canines exposed in its open mouth.

At that, Liam moved to intercept the 'cat, reaching out to slap it on the shoulder. "Easy, girl." He smiled as the beast chuffed, turning to nuzzle the man's armored hand. "Did you have a little fun, chasing off those demon dogs?"

Rising from Rhandall's side, Freaja made her way to the 'cat's other side. She frowned when she saw claw and bite marks on the leather straps, and on part of the saddle bags strapped to the rear of the saddle. "She clearly got into the midst of them, Liam . . . but, she doesn't appear worse for it." She ran her hands along the 'cat's flank, only to pause when the giant feline gave a soft moan when her fingers found a rip of a wound, buried in her white fur. "I stand corrected. She's been hurt."

Liam nodded. "Best we don't travel until we can see to her injury, then."

"Well, I'm in no condition to go anywhere!" Rhandall snorted, crossing his arms as he sat in there in the dirt.

Both Liam and Freaja looked at each other, before Liam shook his head. "Well, we cannot risk either of you, so we'll stay here for the night," he said.

During all of this, Jhessill moved closer to Vic, nudging him to get his attention. "Best we make our exit," she said softly. "I dare say there's no need for us to remain here."

Vic nodded, motioning to her to follow him out of the camp. They only made it a handspan of steps, before they heard Liam call out to them: "Where are you two headed to, if I may be so bold to ask?"

Turning, Jhessill said, "Well, since yon dwarf doesn't need saving, it's best we take leave and let you three be. We - Vic and I - did agree to meet with a friend in Refuge Pointe, so we've a long way to go before dawn.

Liam nodded. "You might be better off traveling to Aerie Peak. There's an Alliance way-point with a flight master there . . . but, with with nightfall nearly upon us, you two might want to stay here. Then, come daylight we will travel with you to make certain you arrive without being harrassed further."

"The two of us can make good on our own. "Vic said, "Besides, we don't want to impose-."

Freaja cut him off. "You'd be somewhat foolish to try to make for any Alliance holdings at this time of night." She looked off towards the fast-approaching darkness, rolling towards them from the horizon. "The Plaguelands aren't to be traveled . . . lightly, even when it's two experiences travelers, such as yourselves."

Liam made an open gesture with one hand. "Please, you both are welcome to stay, if only until sunrise. We won't keep you any longer then that."

"Thank you, paladin, but-." Vic stopped as Jhessill slapped his shoulder smartly.

"Oh, just let go of your human pride, you! Can't you tell when someone's giving you good advice?" Shaking her head, Jhessill said to Liam, "Speaking for us both, we would be grateful to accept your offer for shelter and aid, Sir Knight."

Both Liam and Freaja chuckled. "You honor us, Lady."

"Clearly Kaledorei have some sense . . . unlike humans, or at least one I could name," Freaja said tartly, before she moved to open one of the saddle packs on the sabercat's back and started pulling out some first-aid supplies.

oOoOo

In due course, with Vic and Jhessill's aid, the other pair soon put the camp back in proper order; with the elves seeing to restoring one of the tents - so that Rhandall could be bedded down easily for the night - while the 'cat mount curled up in the light and warmth of the fire. Liam and Vic both circled the grounds beyond the fire's light; seeing to the disposal of the demon carcasses litering the ground around them.

By the time both humans had finished, Jhessill was seated on a second log she'd dragged in close to the campfire, spreading her fletcher work across her lap as she worked on her bow and arrows. Freaja was ducking back inside the othe tent, having just put on a pot to simmer at the side of the flames.

Looking up at their approach, Jhessill smiled at Vic. "Take a weight off your feet, lover. Our host made up some hot spring water. I put some herbs in to brew a drink for all of us . . . it should help you relax."

Vic just grunted, plopping down on the ground next to her as he unlimbered his knives and sword to begin cleaning of the stink of demon blood.

Liam, for his part was silent as he moved to the other side of the fire; easing down until he sat on the other log opposite the pair. With a sigh, he put his sword down and began loosening his armor to strip it off his tired limbs and body.

As he worked slowly, Freaja re-emerged from the tent behind him. The blood elf woman was now clad in more comfortable attire; a simple shirt and kilt of Sin'dorei fashion. She took one look at her companion - who was struggling to reach a fastener on his chestpiece - made a soft sound of exasperation and slipped up behind him. "Oh, you impossible human!" she scolded, swating his hand aside (gently), before she unfastened the stubborn strap and helped Liam remove the cumbersome plate armor.

Jhessill watched them for a moment, her fletcher-craft forgotten in her lap as she followed Freaja's careful movements. The blood elf was deft and methodic as she got Liam down to his armored greaves and boots; carefully putting each piece of armor nearby on the ground. As Liam sat there, he slowly rotated both shoulders to relieve the obvious stiffness. This stopped when his hand shot up to his right shoulder with a hiss of pain.

"What?" Freaja asked him, turning around from placing his shoulder guards down. "Are you injured?"

Liam shook his head. "Just sore, that is all." He started to shift his arm again, only to wince deeply as the motion jerked to a halt.

Freaja scowled. "You did injure yourself!" Moving up behind the paladin, Freaja pushed his hand aside as she put both hands on his shoulder; long, slender fingers probing the tense knots of corded muscle underneath his linen shirt. When the russett-haired man made a grimace as she touched a particular spot, Freaja told him, "Why must I have to remind you to never neglect yourself, Liam? You obviously got this from that run-in with those cursed bandits two weeks back-."

"Four weeks."

Freaja shook her head. "Two!"

"It was four weeks, when we were crossing the Arathi Highlands-OUCH!"

Scowling, Freaja pulled her fingers back from where they had dug into his shoulder. "The point is, you impossible man, that you'll do yourself even more harm unless you see to every bump, knock and bruise properly!" Sighing, she closed her eyes before muttering, "A fine excuse for a paladin you are." Before Liam could utter a reply, Freaja spoke a swift patter of words; beneath her hand on his shoulder, a soft blue-white glow appeared, before seeping deep into the human's shoulder.

Liam tensed up briefly, before the pinched expression of pain on his face melted away with relief. "Ooh, Blessed Light . . . that's much better!"

Not opening her eyes, Freaja continued to focus the healing light over his shoulder. "If you would only take better care of yourself-!"

"Why, when you are more that capable of that task, my Lady?" Liam said gently, sighing as he eased back to press his shoulder further into her touch.

Jhessill watch them in silence; an amused smile curling over her face as she listened to their exchange. With the toe of one booted foot, she nudged Vic and cleared her throat softly. When he looked up from sharpening his daggers, she nodded at the pair. "Clearly, more to these two that we though, hm?"

Vic frowned, then followed Jhessill's gaze. With a shrug, he looked back down at his blades. "So . . . we have a similar arrangement, eh? Works for us. Why not someone else?"

Jhessill chuckled. "Impossible rogue!"

At her soft-spoken scolding, Freaja opened her eyes and stared across the fire at the Kaledorei woman. "Do not steal my sayings, please. I worked very hard to ingraciate them to this, all, together frustrating human I find myself with," she said, pausing to begin kneading the newly-healed muscle and sinew of Liam's shoulder.

Both Jhessill and Vic stared at the Sin'dorei woman; more pointedly at her eyes, which were both filled with a bright, otherworldly glow . . . not of the sickeningly fel-touched green that most Blood Elves were known for, but a glimmering blue-white hue. Jhessill couldn't help the gasp that spilled past her lips as she wondered: What is this woman . . . I mean, who ever heard of a Blood Elf with blue eyes!?

Grunting a bit, Liam shot a wry look over at the Night Elf, mistaking her surprised breath for one of alarm. "Do not let her intimidate you, friend. My Lady has a razor-keen wit, but she has a velvet tongue. When she wishes to use it, that is."

Freaja just rolled her eyes at Liam for that.

With a lop-sided grin of her own, Jhessill covered up her shock by saying, "Oh, there's little in this world that will initmidate me, Paladin. Much less an elf of her sort." She winked at Freaja's sharp look.

Vic commented from where he sat, fixing the paladin and his companion with a telling look."Besides, I think you'd be used to her . . . *ahem!* cuts of kindness by now, hm?"

"I may wear plate, rogue, but sometimes nothing is proof against the sharp edge of my Lady's tongue," Liam said. That seemed to please the Sin'dorei woman, as she held her peace and continued to work on Liam's shoulder; soothing away the last of his pain with a deft touch.

"You are a healer, Freaja?" Jhessill asked, cocking her head at the redhead. "A priest?"

"No. I am a former member of the Blood-Sworn Order of Silvermoon."

That got Vic's attention; the rogue pausing in the middle of finishing a coat of restoring oil on his blades. "You're a paladin, too?"

Liam shrugged his shoulders as he nodded his thanks to Freaja, before saying, "Her appearance may belay such a title, but my Lady is a capable and skilled warrior of her Order. As well as of the Praxeum." He smiled as Freaja gracefully took her place next to him; sitting with the decorum of a woman of high-standing. "She is our highest ranking member of the Horde, who holds office within our shared Order."

"Been wanting to ask that," Jhessill said. "Just what is this . . . Praxeum, Knight?"

Freaja spoke first, saying, "The Praxeum is an order of knighthood, dedicated to resolving the conflicting views of all the races that share this world. We believe - by example - that the Alliance and the Horde can be both shown the value of a true co-existance, by having all of the races working together towards a common goal."

"Humans, elves of all standing, dwarves and orcs, tauren and even trolls," Liam added. "All who serve within the Praxeum are dedicated to a militant standard of peace; to protect all who seek aid and defend the world from all sundry and enemies who strike at us." He nodded and pointed to Freaja. "Our standard is indicative of our core beliefs." At his prompting, Freaja turned and removed a tabard from the pile of armor beside them; holding it out to show the golden, eight-point compass rose on a field of deep red cloth.

Vic's eyes narrowed, then he said, "I've seen that mark before . . . in places like Ironforge and Stormwind."

Liam nodded. "If you were privvy to being there, it also has appeared in Orgrimmar and Silvermoon as well." He leaned forwards to prop his elbown on his armored knees. "We petitioned both the ruling Council of Quel'thalas and Thrall to allow peoples from the Horde to make a free and unbiased choice; to join us if they felt the desire to work towards furthering our goals."

Vic looked startled. "And the Horde leaders agreed!?"

Liam nodded. "One of our chief lieutenants is one of Thrall's own tribe; a male named Graun, who has taken the full name of Graun Hawkspur. He's proven to be quite adept with channeling the holy Light, making him a prime candidate for knighthood."

At that, both Vic and Jhessill's faces filled with further shock; but it was the rogue who bristled as he growled, "You just let an Orc become a paladin!? That's just not acceptable, Knight!"

Freaja spoke up, skewering the rogue with a sharp look as she asked, "Since when is it your concern just who is worthy to become a knight, Sir?"

Vic blinked. "Well . . . I-?"

Jhessill said evenly, "I think they've got a point, lover. It is their own Order, after all. Not the Silver Hand, or the Blood Knights.

Liam gave Vic a level gaze. "Graun has proved his worth and dedication for our cause, time and again in the past. That he is an orc matters little to me. He, like many others I have come to know, all have the potential for good . . . and evil within them." His brows came together as he frowned briefly, then he added, "Still, I understand your feelings. Old slights and transgressions are often hard to overcome."

Vic nodded. "Aye, this is true," he said sourly.

"I think Vic is clearly saying he can see your point, paladin," Jhess said, with a wry twist on her lips. "But, I don't think he'll start sharing a mug of beer with any of the Horde any time soon."

Freaja gave them a sideways look. "Well, this 'Hordie' doesn't have any of that, but we do have some green garden tea. That is, if you don't mind so simple a fair, instead of beer?"

Jhessill smiled. "Let me help you with that then," she offered, setting her fletcherwork aside. In time, the tea was brewed and poured into a quartette of wooden cups Freaja produced from their supplies, and the foursome settled back in their respective places to enjoy it.

After a moment, Liam looked at the other two and asked, "How did the two of you end up together?" He added after a pause, "I don't nessesarily mean traveling together, either, friend."

Vic started to speak, but Jhessill beat him to the punch; her face spreading into a wide grin. "We acutally met in your human city of Stormwind," she said. "I was there to speak to a trainer, and was passing through the trader's quarter . . . that's when Vic decided I looked like a perfect mark for his pickpocketing skills." She shot a look at the rogue, with a smile that made her look extremely feral.

Snorting, Vic glowered at her. "Well, I had to keep my skills sharp -."

"But, you couldn't have picked a worse target, could you?" Jhessill's nose wrinkled, as she went on with her tale. "I could sense when he made the attempt, and was able to track him as he made his way to the city gates to escape into Elwynn. He'd barely gotten past the guards posted outside, when I caught up to him on the roadway beyond. Naturally, he wasn't happy that he'd been caught out, but when he could see I wasn't going to be bluffed into letting him get away with his robbery . . . he challenged me to a duel to settle the matter."

Liam just nodded, but Freaja was a bit surprised. "You, challenged, her?"

Vic just folded his arms and frowned. "Seemed like a good idea, back then. I had the experience, and she was just an elf. I figured my abilites were more than a match for hers." He shot her a grin as he looked back to Jhessill.

"But you forgot two things, eh?" Jhessill pointed two fingers at him and chuckled. "You didn't count on my being quicker on the draw with my bow than you could move, and second . . . you didn't count on Vito."

"Vito?" Freaja asked.

"Her damn, hulking white cat." Vic said.

Freaja's eyes twinkled. "Oh! Her hunting companion. That tipped things a bit off center, hm?" she asked, looking to Jhessill.

The night elf shrugged. "Against any other thief . . . ?" She shook her head. "It wasn't a spectacular duel. I got off a shot that winged Vic, but he wasn't tipped over too far when he sapped Vito and started stealth-fading on me." She snorted, before giving Vic a fond look. "But, he proved he was a determined bastard. Made me fight him for nearly an hour on that stretch of road before Stormwind's gates."

"So, who won?" Freaja asked.

Both Jhessill and Vic looked at each other, before they said in unison, "Draw."

Liam chuckled and Freaja had to cover her mouth as she smiled.

"Well, by then we were too exhausted!" Vic threw up his hands. "I was too stubborn to give up -."

"And I wasn't going to let some rogue just walk away without knowing what he could have gotten if I really wanted his skin for robbing me," Jhessill added. "In the end, he and I both decided it wasn't worth killing someone for, so, he gave back what he stole and I told him I'd buy him a drink. Sort of a way to make up for all the exhertion we both put into our . . . 'discussion'." She gave Vic a fond look just then. "Over that drink we talked and talked, until, well . . . we both ended up leaving Stormwind that day, together."

"Been traveling, together, ever since." Vic added, returning her gaze with a smile that reached his dark eyes.

Both Liam and Freaja looked at one another; a wordless exchange passing between them, before the paladin cleared his throat to say, "Ah, we see that now."

"Well, they do make a rather . . . effective pair, Liam," Freaja said. "After all, they were able to sneak up on me, and a rather indesposed dwarf."

Liam shook his head, but he was smiling. "Just so. Still, I doubt they would've attacked you, had I been in camp, instead of-."

"Just what were you doing, leaving Freaja alone in the first place?" Jhessill asked. "Wasn't that rather risky, leaving her alone like we found her, even with your sick friend?"

Liam looked abashed. "Acutally, I was . . . looking for herbs. I use them to mill ink, for inscription craft." He shot his companion an apologetic look. "I took too long getting back, because I found a large patch of Goldthorn-."

"Well, a fine example of a protector, you are!" Freaja cuffed him, albiet somewhat gently, as she said, "You go looking for weeds, and I end up attacked and nearly devoured by demon-dogs!"

Liam held up one hand to ward off further attacks. "I did not know these two, nor the demons were about, my Lady!" he said, though his smile told that he wasn't upset or worried about her apparent 'wrath'.

Both Jhessill and Vic laughed as well. "I'd say he needs to make up for his lack of attentiveness then," Jhessill said.

"Oh, believe me, he will . . . when we arrive at our destination, I'll have a suitably, appropriate task for Liam to contend with." Freaja shot him an arched, amused look.

Vic and Liam both stared at each other, hearing the glee in Freaja's voice. "Paladin, I'd say you're in for interesting times, ahead of you."

Liam merely nodded. "I do not suspect that, rogue. With my Lady's mindset, I can guarantee it."

oOoOo

A short time later, after the tea had been consumed and the hour being late, the two couples began to retire for the night. Banking the fire to keep the night creatures at bay, Liam and Freaja were working to secure the camp, while Vic and Jhessill made their way into the tent that had been provided for them. A sound two-person structure, the dwarf-made canvas was good for keeping out the wet and cold, while not making a body feel like they were confined in a small space - something that was a boon for someone like Jhessill, who was used to being out in wide-open surroundings.

"Well, not exactly how I expected this day to end, lover," she said, Jhessill had changed into a simple set of cloth trousers and a halter top; her usual sleeping attire, replacing the leathers and boots she had put to the side, next to her open bedroll.

His clothes already dealt with, Vic was clad only in his leather pants as he stretched out on his sleeping roll; both feet propped up on his pack as he lay back, hands behind his dark-haired head as he stared up at the roof of the tent. "Mm-hmm."

Jhessill turned and looked at him, arching one eyebrow at his non-verbal response. "You're not talkative, Vic . . . copper for your thoughts?"

Vic didn't shift or look at her, but his chest heaved as he sighed expansively. "Just . . . pondering that paladin's mind. I mean, I never thought I'd see one of my own people, in support of members of the Horde." He scrunched up his face, adding, "I also can't help thinking him and that blood elf have more than just a professional relationship together."

"That would be a bad thing?" Jhessill turned and sat down next to the shirtless human, her eyes fixed on his face with a pointed stare. "Vic, we can't judge him for his choices. Granted, I doubt any of my people would be so . . . accomodating to any of the Sin'dorei. Yet, this Liam mac Roi strikes me as a sort that has a more open mind than most of the people in the Grand Alliance."

Vic nodded once. "Clearly."

"I do admit, I wouldn't have thought to put something forward like it, but the idea of their Praxeum does hold some admirable merit." Jhessill looked away for a moment. "If they can make it work . . . ?"

Vic turned his head to look at her. "If the can make it work? Towards what end, Jhess?"

"Perhaps it might open up a few more minds on both sides - Alliance and Horde alike - and bring an end to all the in-fighting and such." She gave Vic's look of suprise a lop-sided smile. "I admit it, all the constant waring and fighting even wears thin on me, sometimes."

Vic just grunted. "Well, perhaps it's high time there was some peace in our world. Though I doubt it'll happen any time soon."

Jhessill leaned in over Vic's body, giving him a playful jab in the ribs. "Are you saying you wouldn't welcome a end to the war, my rogue?"

Wincing from her gentle poke, Vic dropped one hand to intercept her retreating hand; holding it briefly. "Didn't say that, elf. I mean, sure . . . it'd be a nice change from having to go around skulking, killing and such." He looked deep into her silvery eyes and added softly, "It'd certainly give us more time to do the things we've wanted to do, hm?"

Jhessill chuckled. "Like take you back to Tedrassil, to explore my homeland for a change?" She turned her fingers to grip his hand, twining hers with his thick ones. "You said you've wanted to see it."

Vic gave her hand a squeeze. "Only with you there to show me around, Jhess."

They shared a wordless moment together, before Jhessill's sharp ears heard a sound outside the tent. "Think our hosts are about to call it a night, lover," she said, letting go of Vic's hand as she shifted onto her knees.

Vic sighed. "You going to give our regards and wish them a good night, then."

Jhessill shot him a smile over her shoulder as she turned towards the front of the tent. "Well, one of us has to be courteous to them. After all, they didn't have to ask us to stay tonight."

Vic just snorted softly. "Well, just don't be all night about it, elf." Turning onto his side towards her, he added with a yawn, "We've got to make an early start of things, come the morning."

Jhessill just rolled her eyes. "Certainly, anything to oblige you, my rogue." Facing the front once more, she crawled forwards and eased one of the tent flaps aside. Poking her head out into the night, she opened her mouth to speak-.

"You nearly finished, Liam?"

Jhessill's eyes went wide in surprise. Looking out towards the low fire, she could see the kneeling form of Liam - the paladin running a drying cloth across his chest, showing residual dampness from what was clearly a just-finished washing. Clad in soft cloth trousers and his bare feet, the human was just turning around at the approach of Freaja; the Sin'dorei woman emerging from the other tent, now wearing a long-skirted dress made of a thin fabric that appeared semi-transparent in the glow of the banked coals.

Rising slowly, Liam smiled at his companion. "All done, my Lady. You'll need not worry about my affecting your sleep with my . . . human odor."

Freaja just shook her head and chuckled. Clearly this was an old jibe between them, or so it appeared to Jhessill, as she watched the red-haired elf step in close to the taller human. "It wouldn't matter, Liam. I've rather grown used to you and your . . . aroma." She reached up and ran a soft hand across his broad chest. "Call it a benefit of our time spent traveling together."

Liam nodded, placing his hand on her far shoulder with a fond touch. "I am sorry for leaving you in such a vulnerable state earlier, Freaja."

"Liam, shush," she said, her eyes locked with his. "I told you before, there is no need to apologize for things you have no control over. We are just fortunate that Victor and his elf-friend were civil enough to not finish me off."

"Yes, there is that." Liam brought his other hand up, cupping the slender elf woman's cheek as he sighed. "Had something happened to you-?"

"Nothing did happen, Liam," Freaja said. "And the next time, we both will be more cautious, hm? After all, if you think you would be miserable if something had happened to me . . . then just imagine what would have befallen you after I had returned to wreak my vengeance on your poor, human, soul." Even though the words could've been serious, from the tone of her voice, Freaja was clearly teasing her companion, and Liam knew it.

"Oh, the agony!" He laughed softly, before letting his mirth trail off, his face filled with an expression that Jhessill could only call a loving one as he looked down at Freaja. "If you died, Freaja, I would not want to remain in the waking world . . . for my life would have no purpose, without you in it."

Freaja dropped her hand from where it had been caressing Liam's chest, putting both of her arms around the paladin's waist as she said, "You will do well to remember that, Liam mac Roi . . . my life was forever changed on the day to saved me from an ignoble death, at the bottom of a slaver's cage." Leaning in, she rested her head on his chest and sighed. "My life is, now and forever linked to yours," she whispered, a surprisingly fierce edge coloring her words. "I shall never let you forget that, for my heart will always be yours, my champion!"

Liam put one arm around Freaja's body, before using the other one to tip her face up towards his as he said with equal conviction, "I can never forget, my Lady . . . my Sunchild, my Freaja. For you fought for my life, and in the bargain have won my heart as well."

Jhessill felt her own cheeks color and fill with warmth, hearing the intense, emotion filled exchange between the blood elf and the human. Mercy! she thought. We both figured them to be friends . . . but this-! Her thoughts cut off, as she watched the two people in front of the fire move closer into a more loving embrace.

"Oh, you impossible human," Freaja said, though she was far from being upset. "Is it no wonder, that I love you so?"

With a smile, Liam lowered his face towards hers, and murmured, "As I love you, my Lady." With that, he pressed his lips to hers, sharing a very loving and passionate kiss with her.

For her part, Jhessill felt her heart flip over behind her ribs, as she recognized the signs of building intimacy. Whoops! Without a word, she ducked back inside her tent and closed the flap silently, before she fell back onto her rump on her bedroll.

Vic heard her landing and, having closed his eyes in preparation for drifting off to sleep, he cracked one eye and looked up at his companion. "Hmm? What's the matter, Jhess?"

For a moment, Jhessill didn't speak, though her deep breaths filled the air of the tent as she sat there; her mind trying to process the scene she had just witnessed.

When she didn't answer, Vic opened both eyes and stared at the green-haired kaledorei woman. "Jhess? What's wrong?!" He was halfway up from his bedroll, when Jhessill put out a hand to stop him. "Jhess?"

"Vic . . . remember what you said earlier?"

"What? About-?"

"About those two," Jhessill said. "Possibly being more than just two people, working together, remember?" Turning, she looked at Vic, who just nodded wordlessly. "Well, lover, let me just say this much: You were right. What I just witnessed out there just now, more than confirmed it."

Vic's eyes grew as wide as steel bucklers. "Oh?"

"Yeah," Jhessill said. Her expression turned thoughtful for a moment. "You know what? I think that it might just be a good thing, for both their Order and for Azeroth . . . ."

END