((Originally posted by Ashea.))
(At the request of Papa Fadder Master Sergeant Stone Guard Grunt Scout Breggie Pantsinator... or something...)
Ashea walked slowly. She leaned heavily on a finely-carvedcane and her slightly-unbalanced steps were the only sign of the excruciatingpain she felt every time her right hoof struck the ground, an unfortunateresult of her most recent and, probably her last, adventure. Few people knewwhere she’d gotten the limp, what battle she fought that forced her, AsheaProudhoof, to slow her life to a crawl. The only people who knew the truth wereeight members of the alliance, her sworn enemies, and five orc soldiers. One ofthe humans who knew the truth was dead, but not by her hands. The five orcsoldiers who knew the truth were all dead—many of them by her own hands.
She hadn’t told anyone else, not even Natam. She refused totalk about it, and it was a secret that she would likely take with her to thegrave.
That secret was not the reason she was walking alone throughthe growing darkness of the Mulgore dusk, carefully measuring every step so itwould hurt the least, however. Sure, she could still run when she had to. She’deven gone on a few excursions with the Umbral Advent, who were every bit herfamily as the Proudhoof Clan of which she was matron, since she’d sustained theinjury that the Proudhoof shamans said would probably never heal, but still,with as painful as running was, she forced herself to walk—slowing down,however, was possibly more painful than the injury to the once-livelytaureness.
“Are you out here?” She called out irritably after finallycresting a rather large rise—a rise that certainly hadn’t seemed so large whenshe’d played on it with Tomoi back when they were both children, “I told youthat you’re welcome in the camp. You’re family. I told you that.”
“Apologies mistress,” came a whispered response thatsurprised the taureness. She hadn’t even heard the speaker draw near. Ashea,who prided herself on her keen vision, though now she required speciallycrafted goggles to see the world in anything but blurs of color, hadn’t evenseen the young orc hiding in the bushes. The damn kid was getting good.
“I did not want to alarm your clan,” the young orc girlcontinued cooly, slipping from the shadows that seemed to grow ever moreforeboding with the setting sun, “Isimply wished to give my report and return to my duties, mistress.”
Ashea smiled a small smile despite herself at being calledmistress. It stroked her ego, and she was always glad to have her ego stroked.Still…
“I told you to call me Ashea,” she replied, turning to theorc. “I’m not your mistress.”
“As you say,” The young orc replied, bowing grovelingly tothe tauren matron. “I have spent time with the Umbral Advent as you havecommanded, mistress—“
The orc sighed, “—Ashea. The one called Okrth has assumedcommand of the guild along with Mistress Raels, who is present onlyinfrequently to assist in excursions to the troll lands of Zul’gurub. Theundead women, Morita and Alanath battle through various dangerous areasconstantly—they are very brave, mistr…Ashea. Morita, Alanath, Krissle and theone called ‘Bladebreaker’ have all assisted me with various duties. The guildhas also accepted two new members. A troll called Zillakiyah and an orcishhunter called Lonnar.”
Ashea let a small smirk cross face as she noticed the orc’sdiscomfort, waving a hand dismissively, “Yeah, yeah, I knew about Zill. I wasat the initiation. Lonnar? Interesting, but I don’t really need to know whatthey’ve been doing. I mean, I keep in touch with them enough for that. I’minterested to know in how <I>you’re</I> doing.”
“Yes, you. How are you liking them? I noticed you’re wearingthe tabard, so I’m guessing Okie-pie let you into the guild. How do you likeit?”
The orc did not respond for a time, watching the ground fromone knee as if digesting something that did not sit well with her. “Theyare…strange.”
“What do you mean?” Ashea asked quickly, sensing the orc waspreparing to deflect the question.
She mulled over her answer for a time once more beforeshaking her head, “I have many tasks to attend to, mistress, I fear I must—“
“You haven’t completed your report soldier!” Ashea suddenlysnapped, her voice booming with an authority she rarely used.
The orc visibly jumped in surprise and quickly spat out,“They make me feel strange, mistress.”
“How so?” Ashea asked, her voice suddenly returning to itsusual disinterested tone.
“They make me feel—“ she paused for a moment, closing hereyes and taking several deep breaths before continuing, “they make me hurt.Hurt that I must be their servant. They make me want to…to be their equal and Iknow it is horrible of me to think so, mistress. I know you and they are all mybetters and I should not have these delusions and fantasies, but—MasterBregdark told me to…to think about what it meant to be free. The way he spoketo me…made me almost dare to hope that someday—“
Ashea watched her almost sadly as the young orc’s wordstrailed off, perhaps even seeing a tear in her eye, so moved by the emotion inthe girl’s words that she did not correct her slip in calling Ashea mistressagain.
“That is enough of a report, Akhuma,” Ashea said softly,reaching down to pat the orc girl on the head, careful not to disturb herrazor-like hair, “I want you to return to the Advent. Continue to observe themand report back to me again.”
Akhuma looked up tentatively, surprised Ashea did notreprimand her, or at least comment on the foolish fantasies of the poor, lostgirl. She slowly nodded, however, bowing her head subserviently, “As you say,Ashea.”
“You called me Ashea,” The taureness said suddenly with agrin. “You didn’t stutter it or have to think about it. You just said it.”
Akhuma flushed deeply beneath her mask, daring not to lookup to the tauren matron, daring not to speak lest her words betray her heart.
“There may be hope for you yet, kid,” Ashea said with a sidesmirk, once again placing her hand on Akhuma’s shoulder before turning to startback down the hill towards the Proudhoof clan’s most recent camp.
She stopped after several steps, however, “You want to jointhe clan for dinner, Akhuma?” She asked, slowly turning, “ we found some good—“
But the orc was no longer there.
Ashea shook her head, a sad smile on her face, and sheturned silently once more to return to her family, only this time, she did notwalk quite so slowly.
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