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The Beauty of Gray

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The night was cold. 

All around Thunder Bluff, folks were still active. They gathered, some for early revelry, some for the warmth of friendships. They clustered and they drew together around flickering flames. Like moths.

Amietia kept on. One hoof in front of the other. They knew the way on their own. The pattern of rounded paving stones fell away beyond her steps homeward bound. Her mind was free to focus on other things besides the empty tent awaiting her.

The Longwalker had disturbed her, of course. 

She had spent so much time on her own, isolated and cocooned within the solitude of the passing moons that she had forgotten the cold cruelty of the world. It was a bad habit, she supposed. She still felt, niggling at the roots of her mane, guilt at having so abruptly abandoned her duties to her people. It had been her job to be so optimistic. It had been her calling to look through the uncertain mists and know that beyond them somewhere was Light. She was the Seer.

A snort exploded from her nose, half composed of impotent fury and dark humor. The Seer who could no longer See. How useless was she? 

That still did not excuse that young bull for his infuriatingly close-minded ignorance! Purple monkeys indeed! Where was the place for such prejudices anymore? How could such people still cling to their hatreds when the very world in which they lived was so threatened? Was there not enough evil to contend with that they could let go of their own? As always when on this path of thought, the imagery of a cracked skull, bloody and malicious, entered her mind. Grim, it was, and the multifaceted meaning of the word she also found ire in, as had her sister. Silly words.

Familiar, the hem of her house crept into view of the ground. Amietia reached for the flap. Hesitated. She could not simply hide forever. This is what her old friend Bombina had been saying so repetitively. Amietia was not hiding. Her hand dropped. She swiveled to one side, taking pleasure in the way her hooves dug divots into the soil right in front of her home, marring the ground.

Bombina did not understand. How could the old shaman comprehend? Even Amietia was not sure why she felt so broken. Despite her best attempts to cultivate a relationship with the woman she supposedly once shared a womb with, it was never as if she could pretend they were real sisters. Real twins. That Kerala was gone... why did it matter? What made this time any different than the others?

Amietia trailed her fingers along the faded lines of dye decorating the exterior of her abode. Even were it not night, even if An'she shone brightly blazing in direct rays to light up the surface, she had lost the ability to distinguish color. The patterns appeared to her in varying shades of one hue. Gray.

The world became gray for her the same day the visions ceased to change. Now there were only two. The colors had leeched, too, from these dreams. In her visions she watched the great tree burn white now, while the dark shapes of familiar people huddled around roots and the flickering light turned darkness at the edge of vision into seething shadowy evils. She looked upon a white stretch of land and down at the pair of gray stone doors. The once-pretty vines were black now, like veins in a dead landscape. And the doors always swung shut.

Gray, even in her dreams. She missed rainbows, so.
It made Amietia's chosen surname, Greydawn, so entirely funny, didn't it?

What was not funny was the certainty that Amietia had seen her sister for the very last time. She felt bereft. Gutted. Something vital was missing, and she didn't know how to cope with the loss. Bombina had been sympathetic at first. Kerala had been absent a suspiciously long time this time. Then when that troll had appeared in Thunder Bluff with Kerala's stick... well all the Skytotem girls had gone to extra lengths in the search for their elusive friend. All of the people represented by the voodoo dolls had turned out to be perfectly fine and unharmed. Except for the staff, Amietia had no reason to connect the troll with her sister, but the coincidence was just too suspicious. As the months passed and no word came from the druid, Amietia became further and further depressed, and her friends no longer argued when she voiced the belief that her sister must be dead.

It was hard enough to get up, get dressed, and go outside the quiet confines of her tent, and then when she does and meets one her own shu'halo brothers, that Oenn, who makes her question why she bothered...? Amietia sighed. She followed the pattern, tracing the paintwork and stitches around the tent wall to the backside and the open edge of the bluff. Black night air yawned cold and vast before her, a great void of nothingness that beckoned invitingly.

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Jinny hefted the bag she carried, switching the position of her fingers while the burden was lightened to ease a cramp in one of them. She kept the weight in basically the same place. It was helping her limp along. Plus, peach ice cream was well worth the discomfort of transporting it personally to a friend's house. As opposed to the ease of visiting a vendor. Considering that, she didn't know anybody in Thunder Bluff selling the delicious treat. Maybe she ought to drop a comment near a goblin sometime to rectify the situation.

The tent was empty. "Amie?"

"Out here, Jinny," came a soft reply. Jinchan extricated herself from the solid blackness of Amieta's home and followed the call around to behind it. Her priest friend stood very close to the edge of the Bluff, looking down.

"Too late to jump now," commented Jinny. "Pie's here. And ice cream! Or did you forget?"

"I did not." the seer's voice was bleak and sad, which was usual of late. "I was merely... looking. I don't have the courage, I guess." Amieta backed a step.

And Jinny limped right up to it. The former seer eyed her. Normally there might have been a flash of concern within that pale gaze. There might have been a parting of the lips to allow the warning to spill out. There might have been a tensing of the fingers in preparation for the spell to yank her to safety if she fell. Now there was nothing but blandness. Jinny ignored it.

The monk folded, sliding down her staff with the ease of long practice before plopping down to her seat. The stick was set aside. "Come on then, let's look." She brought the sack around and fiddled with the goblin zipper. She really ought to add a length of leather to make the tiny thing easier for her fingers to grasp. The crippled monk produced a round cylindrical pint of her favorite treat, along with two shiny spoons. 

"You'll return those to Sanctuary, right?" Amie settled to the ground.

"Of course," Jinny lied. It was a lie, Jinny knew, because she was in the tauren capital. She never came here and left with the same trinkets. Her people had such interesting things! And usually so portable, too, by design. The spoons would get lost of their own accord, replaced by who-knew-what to capture the little thief's fancy. She hoped it was a new rainstick. She'd accidentally flung the last one out from the edge of Dalaran when practicing her movements. Ooh, or maybe a bridge ward. Her collection of those could stand to have another. Maybe something with feathers...

"Mhmm," replied the seer. One didn't need to be prescient to know the hands-on nature of the red-furred cripple.

"Oh shut up and enjoy what I brought. I think the pies might still be warm."

They were. The little hand-held delights were flakey on the outside, the pastry inclined to break open easily rather than smash and squirt the filling out a seam. Peaches nestled in their own sweet gooey nectar... Four disappeared, on Jinny's part, and the pint was maybe half gone before the two women resumed conversation. 

"So." Jinny licked her spoon clean and neglected to go in for another bite. "Do you want encouragement toward cowardice? 'Cause I could just shove you if you want." 

"What?" Amietia fumbled her own spoon, allowing the glob of softened ice cream to slide off before reaching her lips. It platted softly on the grass between them, and Jinny frowned, watching it then slowly disappear along the stalks. Wasteful. 

"You heard me."

"And I said I was too much of a coward to jump. But you just twisted it."

"Oh I did? You know I still can't help it, even among friends. Which part did you think was the lie?"

"Jinny, I am too tired to care if I offended you, so just spit it out, whatever it is. You're going to anyway. Use small words, okay? My head hurts already." And Amietia rubbed her fingers along the dent in her brow between horn and eyes on the broken side.

Jinny relaxed. Of course Amie wouldn't be the one to call her out on dishonesty, even if she had been lying. Amie wasn't like that. "Here, let me. I'm getting good at this, you know."

"Please, yes please." Amie set the ice cream aside and closed the distance between them fast enough that Jinny wondered if the headaches had really gotten so bad. Maybe something was really wrong. Something she couldn't massage away. Automatically she shrugged off the thought, because that wasn't something she could admit were true, even if it were.

"Here," she patted her thigh. "If you lie down you'll be able to see the fireworks. They should be starting soon and if the booms hurt you I can soothe it better." Amie very carefully lowered herself, because they were still at the edge of the bluff, and let Jinny guide her horned head to lay on the stump of leg serving as the pillow. It wasn't especially comfortable for either of them. Jinny was too twiggy to give much padding, especially when Amie was already hurting, and of course having the weight of a tauren head on you wasn't that great either. But at least Jinny didn't have a hock to worry about going numb. So there was that.

The girl unwound the ties keeping Amie's hair braided. Bombina must have done that for her a few days ago. Amie hadn't done anything to her hair that constituted care for many months, and that included brushing. Jinny had taken over that pleasure, in general, but she lived in Dalaran, while the elder also lived in Thunder Bluff. It took several minutes, which Jinny very enjoyed, to undo the braids which had gone dreadful in the matting.

"I knew you'd like the... challenge," Amie whispered. 

"Shush you, lazy," Jinny admonished. "This is just... I mean yeah it's fun, but you didn't do this on purpose. You're just moping. Don't pretend you did this for my benefit, because that would be a lie, and you know that's my job around these parts. Kay?"


Several long moments later, the first of many fireworks whistled into the air. It bloomed open with a bang that shook the air seconds belated. This one was gold. Jinny had gone wordlessly from untwining the two braids into a gentle massage. She pressed her fingers rhythmically into Amie's neck, up and down and swirling in a kind of dance that only she heard the beat to or knew the movements of. "Happy new year," she commented. Amietia didn't reply for a long enough time that if she hadn't known she might have thought that the silver one had fallen asleep. She knew though. Amie was awake. Jinny waited. Her hands had something to do, so she could be patient.

" are the only one who has, I think, never once told me it was time to get over it, or that I shouldn't feel the way I do. Even Bombina, who knows better than most the history of our people, has tired of me and my melancholy, I think. Why don't you?"

"She's not tired of you. Never. But she probably doesn't understand. And when you don't understand, how can you help?"

"Faith," Amie offered weakly. She winced when she said it though. Unclear whether Jinny's ministrations had tripped on the line of her headache or if the thunderous blue oval was responsible, or maybe the word itself.

"Yeah, but you know me. I'm about as religious as any of the toads you took in. So that answer sucks when applied to me. Try another."

"Small words... Jin," so the headache.

"Straight truth, then. Or you know, as much as I can manage. I've been there. I was a dancer, Amie. You think I came out of the marshes legless and just hopped right back up all froggy tripod and said 'aw, that sucked life" and kept on? No! I lost my shit. I had just learned firsthand what evil looked like, courtesy of the Ashtotem. My family was broken, my dad was dead, my life as I had known it was ruined, and I was in pain. SO much pain. I wanted to die. My brother, fucker, wouldn't let me. So I had to get over it. 
"Eventually I did.
"But I'll be the last one ever to tell you that you have no right to be sad, or to do whatever you need to to feel better. For some people that means going out and murdering all the bad guys they come across. For others it's by helping anyone else they can. And sometimes you just need to sit in the dark and do nothing by yourself. As long as you need to. What's that thing you always say? About the mist. It's my favorite."

Amietia moaned. Jinny had paused the movements of her fingers and the fireworks were becoming more and more frequent. They were leading up to an excruciating finale in many more minutes. "So long... as the mists... envelope... be still. Until the sunlight..." A series of firecrackers interrupted and the suffering woman did not continue. Jinny could feel the zing of sensation. She stole it. 

"What..?" Amie breathed a little easier. "What did you do?"

When she received no answer, she opened her eyes. Jinchan was just sitting there. Her eyes were peacefully closed, her chin up and her pose straight. The seer's headache continued to ease, and she sighed in relief. A particularly brilliant flash of white sparkles illuminated the entirety of the Rise and made her flinch, closing her eyes again against the brilliance. Jinchan's massage felt glorious. Her nimble fingers ran up and down Amietia's neck, chasing down and soothing away every tension with a systematic rhythm. This headache that had come on had been a particularly bad one, and she felt the need after another long while to open her eyes again and sincerely thank her friend for being here for her.

Jinchan was still sitting perfectly still. Amietia's fur immediately stood on end from a sense of severe vertigo. She could feel the monk's fingers in her mane. And now a hand ran the length of her arm, smoothing the ruffled hairs. Despite seeing no movement and knowing that Jinny's hands were both motionless, right there- one resting with the wrist on her knee and the other draped on Amietia's shoulderbone, she felt the monk pet her. The nausea, too, vanished. Jinny's fur lifted slightly instead, and her expression subtly changed. Amie saw this, and came to the realization that her little friend was actively thieving. Healing, somehow.

Amietia tightly closed her eyes again, determined to be a good patient. As much as she could be. Jinchan's skills were untried and largely unknown to her sister Skytotem. Part of that was Amie's own fault for scattering them to the winds on purpose after her sister's disappearance. She felt guilt for that. Then she felt nothing.

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Amie woke slowly. The air on her face was chilly, but the rest of her was warm. She sighed. Then she waited. She breathed again, an experiment in personal sensation. She felt... not happy, no, but... calm? Centered. She felt balanced and that, after feeling suffocated for so long, was almost as good as happiness.

She examined the source of this feeling. The hurt for her sister was there, still. Amie knew that Kerala was dead, somehow, and this truth had not changed. The lack of proof, of closure... it was disappointing and it made the hole in her heart that much wider, but now that uncertainty didn't seem to quite dominate everything. She could feel things beyond aching loneliness. She didn't feel betrayed and abandoned anymore. She just felt... herself. Just her. Whatever had happened with her sister... it wasn't meant to effect her, she knew, but that hadn't stopped her from grieving. Amie wasn't the most important thing in Kerala's life, she never had been. The druid was self-centered, always, and to just vanish and go off by herself... well Amie supposed most wild things did that, in the end, didn't they? It still hurt, if she dwelled on it, but the pain was... manageable. She would survive.

Amie breathed in the cold air again, as much as she could fit into her lungs, just to experience the icy numbness that occurred in her windpipe. Then she puffed out little clouds of mist, like a goblin or gnomish machine. 

Memory from New Year's Eve suddenly occurred to her. It came back in a rush. The ice cream cool in her throat, the warm pie filling a soothing contrast and so very sweet on her tongue. She remembered the booms and remembered her friend.


"Mmph," came a very muffled groan from a pile of blankets nearby.

"Jinchan wake up, it's morning. Happy new year." She crawled out of her cocoon, snapped her teeth at how much she had underestimated the coolness of the air. She prodded the monk bundle impatiently.

"Nooooooooooooo," Jinny complained. "It's been a week, Amie. Merciful Mother, please lemme sleeeeeeeep."

Amietia frowned. A week, gone by? "But... why?"

"'Cause I'm tired."

"NO. I mean why am I missing a week? What did you do? What happened?" With each question the seer yanked at a different blanket corner, peeling the monk free in layers like an onion.

"It's freezing! What is WRONG with you?" Jinny, now fully coherent, and irritated, snatched for the covers back. Missing, she grabbed instead for Amie. Jinny rolled and the cocoon swallowed Amie, pulling her into the warm embrace of the older girl's arms. Amie was surprised, but also cold, and she submitted into the hug after only a moment of token protest. Jinny snuggled closer. "Mmmm."

"You healed me, didn't you?" Amie persisted. "How?"

"No," Jinny lied. Amie elbowed her immediately. "Ow! Well gee, Amie, if we knew that I'd be a right proper mender, now wouldn't I? I could be helping save lives in some forward post infirmary tent. Or, I dunno, Sanctuary has a great fallback set-up in their little mini castle or whatever. Instead I'm just the Skytotem token cripple. I'm a mascot."

"You're not a mascot you silly thing. What did you do? Come on, I feel much better. Please share with me?" Jinny's cold snout buried itself against Amie's neck. It made her reply both ticklish and hard to understand. "You did what with huh?" The second repetition didn't make any more sense to Amie. It sounded like Jinny was talking about her string game, something about knots. She shifted away from the monk's breath blowing first moist warm air through her fur but then sucking ice on each inhale.

"Amie, do you remember when you used to tell me about the rainbows?" Jinny suddenly asked.

"...Yes. I can't see them anymore."

Jinchan was quiet for a long while. The warmth finally began to equalize between them. Amie's internal quivers settled again. The silence was comfortable, the blankets were cozy. Amie relaxed enough to drift off slightly before Jinny's voice startled her awake.

"The soul would have no rainbow, if the eye held no tears. You told me that, once. Do you remember?"

"I remember." Jinny had been heartbroken after failing to save a hunter's strider companion. The bull had not been able to remain near Jinny and stalked off to grieve alone, leaving the monk alone cradling the poor bird with it's neck flopped over her elbow so grotesquely. Jinny had sobbed so hard. And Amie had told her that. One of many in the collection of useless platitudes.

"Have you cried?"

"Of course I've-" but wait. Had she? Suddenly Amietia couldn't remember the last time her eyes had leaked the emotions of her soul.

"I bet when you do, you'll see the rainbows again. And I was thinking..." Jinny's speech was interrupted with a yawn, ..."I was thinking about that other one, the stupid one."

Well that could be anything. Jinny was religious, but not of an organized sort, and she thought much of what Amie said was stupid nonsense. "Which?"

"The mist one. About courage."

"As long as mists envelope you, be still. Be still until the sunlight pours through a dispels the mists, as it surely will. Then act with courage."

"Yeah, that one. It's dumb, you know."


"What kind of courage does it take to walk or travel or act whatever, when the sun is shining bright and you can see everything clear as... clear as day? It's not brave to hop across the creek when the water level is low and you can see the stones, Amie. It's when the mist is all around, that's when it takes courage."

"I suppose I never thought of it that way."

"I know." Jinny yawned again. "You've never been down and out like that before."

"... no. I haven't. And I still don't understand what you did to help me. How do I help others if I don't know how?"

Jinny burst out laughing. "Faith?" she echoed Amie's word of New Year's Eve. The seer had to admit it was clever.

"I'm not sure..."

"Amie. Let me tell you a secret. You have to promise not to tell anyone else, okay?" Amie nodded within the blanket cocoon. "It's alright to be sad. It's alright not to know everything. It doesn't mean you're broken, you know. It's okay not to know exactly what you're doing. Sometimes it blows up in your face. I mean, I wouldn't recommend that strategy when dealing with boobytrapped goblin locks, for instance- those things make powerful big explosions if you screw it up- but you know what I mean don't you?"


"Look. You're a seer. I get that you think you're supposed to know everything, or act like you do. But you're wrong. What you see is a gift given by the Earth Mother, right?"


"Well guess what? Our Mother is BLIND, okay? She's got one eye on night, and one eye on the day. There's only a limited field of vision there, don't you think? And what about all those places the light of her gaze doesn't reach to? The deep places in the myths. The dark is where monsters take solace. And do you know why little shu'halo are afraid of the dark outside the campfire's glow, and the high spot at the apex of the tipi?"

"They are afraid of the dark."

"No! They afraid of the unknown. The thing you can't see in the blackness could be anything. It could even be nothing. They are afraid of the *potential*, Amie. The dark itself is innocent. The dark can contain a million possibilities, but once there is light, you can only see just the one. I think your visions are like that. So maybe try not to be too upset if you can't See, okay?"

Amietia would not have been surprised to hear rolling thunder and a crack of lightning accompanying such a monumental revelation. A million possibilities in the dark, but only one in the light.... suddenly she felt as if the world were a lot larger, and perhaps she might once again find her purpose in it. She was suddenly confident again that there was one, for her. And that felt alright.

What a wise little thief, was her friend.

Amie mulled over the possibilities long enough that she never knew when she crossed from imagining and back into dreaming. The girls slept several hours more through the cold morning. When next the seer's eyes opened, it because she'd grown overly hot. Jinny was gone, and in her stead was a rolled up mat against Amie's back and a glowing brazier a safe distance away shimmering heat into the little home.

She dressed quickly in layers, for the first time in a long while taking the care to choose what she put on. The tent flap whacked against the hide wall behind it when she burst out into the day. She had to laugh at it. All around her was a thick, gently swirling fog. She couldn't see beyond a few paces. Daylight was distant and directionless. Remembering Jinny's sleepy secret, Amietia wandered among the strange shadowy shapes all around her, imagining every thing that they could be except what she mostly knew them to be. She thought that maybe today, today would be a day when she could learn to appreciate the beauty of gray.

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