Unfamiliar Stars [Fiction]
This is a story for Big Bear Butt’s writing challenge! I have been behind on my blog reading and I very nearly missed it but hopefully I slipped in under the wire. The challenge was to write anything, making sure to include a few specific words. If you’re at all interested in a bit of fiction, you might enjoy the following, otherwise feel free to skip this one. Check BBB’s blog for a post with comments from all the participants.
I’ve never posted any of my fiction writings here, but in the spirit of taking part in the challenge I’m happy to do so.
A gentle hush fell over the city towards this hour. It was not quite fully night but the day had already surrendered, the sun slipping into the sea to reveal the twin moons of Azeroth. It was still strange to her, even after years of living here. She unconsciously scanned the night sky seeking one familiar star, and finding none. These were not the stars of her youth. The atmosphere of this adopted planet, new home to her people, lay far from their last home. She doubted they could find their way here a second time. She smiled to herself as she walked. Even if her people still had a functioning ship, there were few confident in their ability to pilot or steer it. How did that joke go? “Three draenei walk into a bar…no, literally…”
Millya wasn’t great at remembering Azerothian jokes, except that one. She made it a point to memorize relevant cultural markers, tidbits of information that could help her relate to the people of Azeroth. She knew the name of grape varieties grown in Elwynn, the chief exports of Dun Morogh, and the greeting rituals of the Kaldorei, but pop culture was usually outside her milieu. She enjoyed the quiet twilight as she walked, her hooves making a familiar sound on the cobbled streets. Everyone seemed to be taking the time to relax lately. The immediate threat to the world had been dealt with, for the time being, finally allowing reprieve for its citizens to pick up the pieces. The Cataclysm had taken its toll, there was no doubt of that. The streets weren’t crowded at this time as they might once have been – shops closed up and many of Stormwind’s inhabitants were at home enjoying an evening meal or already abed. She passed torch after torch, and they gave off a sort of friendly glow, keeping the paths from being too dark as evening fell. She appreciated that. Even partial light was better than none at all.
She paused as raucous noise came from up ahead. The door to an inn burst open, spilling light and noise into the street. The dark-haired mage frowned and squinted into the shadows as several figures emerged. Some of them shouted angrily, and it was hard to make out exactly what they said, but caught up along with them was another silhouette. Tall and slender, with a distinctive spread of horns. Millya groaned inwardly, thinking it couldn’t possibly be her, it couldn’t…
“You’re just mad,” a strident voice crowed triumphantly, “Because you know I could drink you under the table any day of the week and still kick your ass without breaking a sweat!” Millya briefly closed her eyes. There was no mistaking the voice.
The group of men and human women seemed to close in on the speaker. Millya thought she could hear the sound of some combat from within the tavern, more shouting amid the sound of colliding bodies and even the distinctive snap of breaking wood. She walked quickly closer, deciding in a moment that she had an obligation to intervene if there was any risk. As she drew closer, a pale-skinned draenei woman was revealed by the torch in front of the inn. Her would-be assailants seemed wary about pushing the matter, as she raised her fists and her lips pulled back from sharp incisors in a savage grin.
“C’mon then, what’s the matter?” the second draenei minced a few steps closer, half-swinging a taunting jab at one of the men. From the way he flinched back, he’d had some experience with that fist already.
“OY!” a voice roared from within the inn. A few more patrons scattered before some unseen threat before he crossed the threshold. A burly dwarf with a shock of astounding red hair emerged to stand framed in the doorway. His dirty apron revealed him as the proprietor of the tavern, but his authority was cemented by the gigantic crossbow he was pointing in their direction. He looked down the shaft of a thick quarrel with one eye, his stance menacing.
“I don’ suppose,” he said in a conversational tone, “Tha’ any of ye know what migh’ have caused summat kind of explosion just then?” He lifted his prominent shaggy brows in an inquiring manner, looking around at the group in a way that would have been comical if not for the accompanying crossbow and implied threat. Millya straightened and cleared her throat, causing the dwarf to look towards her.
“Well, Missy Hoofs?” he asked. “D’ye have some insight inta what manner of demon it was that caused me fire to belch purple an’ green, scaring me patrons half to death, spreading hither an’ yon, an’ causing at least one keg to explode halfway to Ironforge?”
She regarded him mildly with glowing eyes. “I’m certain, Master Dwarf, that any manner of an accident causing your fire to emit purple, green–” the mage was cut off as the taller draenei next to her interjected.
“And yellow,” she added helpfully.
Millya and the dwarf both turned to look at her, one in dawning horror and the other with eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“There was definitely yellow, it was a bit hard to notice due to the colour of the fire itself, but it was there.” The dwarf barked a sound that might have been a yell, a laugh, or something in-between.
“All of ye! Get out of ‘ere, an’ I don’t want to see the lot of ye again!” The dwarf’s face was slowly turning a colour to rival the brilliance of his hair. “Take your hooves, an’ yer tails, an’ yer explosions somepleace else an’ don’ ye ever come back!”
Millya stepped forward and took the other draenei by the elbow, turning her firmly even as she murmured reassuring words to the dwarf. The taller draenei initially resisted, trying in vain to turn back to the cluster of humans and dwarf. To what end, Millya wasn’t sure – to finish the fight? Offer to further demonstrate the fireworks? People scurried in all directions as the irate dwarf began waving the crossbow again, and by that time Millya had her charge halfway down the street. They stopped under a street lamp, the bedraggled draenei wrenching herself free. Millya looked up at her, dark eyebrows slamming down on a disapproving face.
“Vidyala,” Millya hissed between clenched teeth, all signs of the diplomatic peacekeeper gone, “What in Velen’s name was that all about?” Her frown deepened. “Are you hurt?”
Vid brushed brown hair out of her face, looking at Millya cheerfully. One of her eyes was slowly purpling and looked slightly swollen. A thin trickle of blue blood had congealed under her split lip, revealing that at least a few of the humans had landed some solid hits. “They got the worst of it!” She assured the other draenei. “There was no need to rush me out of there, you know, I was doing fine.” She dusted herself off as she spoke, looking down in sudden dismay at the goggles around her neck. “Shit,” she said in a muffled tone, her chin pressed almost to her chest. I think they broke ’em.” Millya noted her knuckles were dirty and similarly bruised.
“Anyway, those Darkmoon fireworks worked just as I expected! I bet that human ten gold that he couldn’t snatch them out of the fire quick enough if I threw them in, HE said he could, and that some troll had taught him to firewalk…Guess that only works if it’s your feet and not your hands!”
A look of sudden dismay crossed her face. “Hey, he didn’t pay me, I’ve got to go back there!” Millya’s face stopped her mid-stride and she amended quickly, “Well, it was only ten gold.” The abrupt turn seemed to set her swaying. It took a fair amount of alcohol to affect draenei with their larger sizes and constitutions than humans, but clearly imbibing had played a part in Vid’s evening. “Say, I don’t feel so great…” Vid lurched past Millya, almost landing in a neat row of shrubbery. She bent over double and abruptly vomited into the bushes, an event that was uncomfortably juicy and lasted for several minutes.
Millya sighed heavily, murmuring an incantation and wordlessly handing Vidyala a canteen of conjured water when she was finished. She guided her towards a nearby bench and they both sat down – Millya with her hooves crossed at the ankle, Vid with her legs sprawling nearly into the street. Vid swigged the water, Millya imagining her complexion to be faintly green. They sat in silence for a long moment, expressions hidden in the dim light.
“What am I supposed to tell your father?” Millya asked finally.
Vid snorted. “Tell him what you want! Tell him I invented a new kind of firework,” she brightened, “Actually that’s not strictly true, but it will be sometime. You know, there’s something about the mix of powder that you put inside of them that really makes the difference.”
The older draenei heaved a sigh, tapping a finger against her chin. She ignored Vid’s chatter, as she usually did, and said finally, “And should I tell him at the same time that you’ve been seen consorting with an orc?”
This time she had Vid’s attention; and she actually turned to face her. She sat up straighter and her tone was chilly. “How would you know anything about my friends, orc or otherwise?”
Millya shook her curly hair in disbelief. “People have seen you with him, Vidyala. People talk. Dalaran is full of people who talk, and mages are some of the worst! What are you thinking? What would your father say?”
Vid stood abruptly, unfolding long limbs from the bench to tower over Millya. She crossed her arms. The effect was only slightly spoiled when she appeared to sway slightly, unsteadily on her hooves. “People talk,” she agreed in a sardonic tone, “Entirely too much. So I have a friend who happens to be an orc, so what? He wasn’t even born on Draenor, he happens to be a fellow engineer, and we’re colleagues, because unlike some people, I don’t judge others based on whether or not they have hooves or a tail.”
The mage drew breath to respond, but the younger draenei forestalled her with a wave of her hand. “I know what you’re going to say!” Her voice took on the pedantic, slightly mocking tone of someone who was repeating phrases often heard. “It’s important for us to integrate. We shouldn’t forget our past. We aren’t like the other people here, and they don’t trust us. Well, you know what? I am integrating, and I’m sure as fel not forgetting the past. I lived it too, remember? But you have to start by trusting someone. How will they ever trust us if we don’t trust them first?”
“And I suppose that brawling in the taverns like a common ruffian is helping the cause?”
Vid met her stepmother glare for glare. “Yeah,” she spat back. “It is, because respect starts somewhere, and nobody gets to hit me without expecting a fist back in the face. We may be taught to turn the other cheek but that doesn’t mean we can’t land a second punch.” She brushed away imaginary dust from her tunic and spun on her hoof with calculated dramatic effect. Her stomach rumbled audibly, which she chose to stiffly ignore, although her cheeks each had a high spot of blue colour.
“So, go ahead and tell my father. Tell him I’m friends with a hundred orcs, and some gnomes, worgen and humans, too. And if he wants to talk about it, I’m going to find another tavern.”
She left the aqua-skinned draenei behind, rubbing her temples wearily. The night’s peaceful calm had been shattered for her, and she sat a long time in the semi-darkness, before resuming her walk back towards the part of the city where its few draenei inhabitants lived. Some time later, when she lay down to sleep beside her partner, he questioned her quietly.
“You seem preoccupied. Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing,” she lied. Satisfied, he fell asleep, but her luminous eyes cast a gentle glow over the room for some hours afterwards.