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Kerala

Writing Challenge 2015: Tadpole Tales

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25. Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson

Lub-dub! Lub-dub!

Lub-dub! Lub-dub.

It was the only sound, and thunderous. She shook with the singular force of it. Lub-dub. Fast at first. So fast she confused it for drum signal, but then, as it began to slow, she recognized the beat. Lub-dub.

"Chanchu, are you ok?"

No. Lub-dub. She was not ok. She squeezed her eyes closed so tightly that the black became a bright pattern of pressure. Moisture on her lashes was forced out. Lub dub. She sighed. What time was it?

"Chanchu, are you ok?"

The monk inhaled slowly, concentrating on the wind as it moved through her. Lub. Dub. Her heart rate finally began to resemble normal rhythm, and stopped thundering. At least, she could hear something besides the pulse of it. Her leg hurt. She rubbed the nub of it, groaning. What time was it?

She groped at the bedside, fingers fumbling. The darkness didn't matter. She was still partly drunk, so finesse was not a factor in her clumsy explorations. Her knuckles smacked the glass bottle, and the thing rocked around it's circular bottom precariously. She caught it a moment later. It was far too off-balance to have much of anything left in it.

"Are you ok Chanchu?"

Lub-dub!

The tauren almost growled as she tipped up the bottle against her lips. Empty. Gods damn it. She rubbed the nub of her leg. She did not scream in frustration and fling the bottle into the blackness to shatter against whatever wall or thing it hit. She did jam the heels of her hands into her eye sockets and press hard. Gods damn it. What time was it?

She needed a drink. No, she was not ok. Lub-dub. She breathed in. Breathed out. With each exhale, she willed the feeling of the nightmare, the memory, to leave. In the darkness, the sounds of the tavern below swelled up, an inviting crescendo of sound to drown out the heart beat and lingering question.

Chanchu reached out in the darkness, more sure this time in her aim. Her staff was where she always left it. She wrapped the thing in a fist and stood. She took only a moment to straighten her halter, make sure her skirt wasn't twisted backward. The laces were in the right spots. She opened the door and hobbled out of her room to a dim hall.

The monk made her way down a narrow staircase one thump at a time. The noise was from a group of travelers just arrived to the tavern. She judged it was past the middle of the night, but dawn was still a long ways off. Lots of time yet before normal people should be awake. She sighed and ambled over to the bar. She planted herself atop a stood and waved for a drink.

The travelers were an amicable lot, just returned from some victorious exploit. Chanchu wasn't really listening, but she nodded at all the right places and her boisterous neighbor regaled her with the tale of it. She bought them a celebratory round, as well as another for herself.

Sure, she'd be fine in a minute.

Alcohol warmed it's way through her. Her fingers worked at the knot while her tongue worked at the flattery. You don't say. You really did that? How exciting! She feigned a near-fall from the stool. The man's carved wooden button became hers. Gradually, the excitement in the group began to wind down. Her turn to tell a story. She smiled, her lips a teensy bit lopsided from the drinks.

She slurred. "You wanna know how I losht my leg?"

"Smooth Criminal"

As he came into the window

It was the sound of a crescendo

He came into her apartment

He left the bloodstains on the carpet

She ran underneath the table

He could see she was unable

So she ran into the bedroom

She was struck down, it was her doom

Annie, are you OK?

So, Annie, are you OK?

Are you OK, Annie?

[x3]

So, Annie, are you OK,?

Are you OK, Annie?

(Annie, are you OK?)

(will you tell us that you're OK)

(there's a sign in the window)

(that he struck you a crescendo Annie)

(he came into your apartment)

(he left the bloodstains on the carpet)

(then you ran into the bedroom)

(you were struck down)

(it was your doom)

Annie, are you OK?

So, Annie, are you OK?

Are you OK Annie?

[x3]

You've been hit by

You've been hit by

A smooth criminal

So they came into the outway

It was Sunday, what a black day

Mouth to mouth resuscitation

Sounding heartbeats intimidations

Annie, are you OK?

So, Annie, are you OK?

Are you OK Annie?

[x3]

Annie, are you OK?

Are you OK Annie?

(Annie, are you OK?)

(will you tell us that you're OK)

(there's a sign in the window)

(that he struck you a crescendo Annie)

(he came into your apartment)

(he left the bloodstains on the carpet)

(then you ran into the bedroom)

(you were struck down)

(it was your doom)

(Annie, are you OK?)

(so, Annie, are you OK?)

(are you OK Annie?)

you've been hit by

you've been struck by

A smooth criminal)

OK, I want everybody to clear the area right now!

Aaow!

(Annie, are you OK?)

I don't know!

(will you tell us, that you're OK)

I don't know!

(there's a sign in the window)

I don't know!

(that he struck you a crescendo Annie)

I don't know!

(he came into your apartment)

I don't know!

(left bloodstains on the carpet)

I don't know why baby!

(then you ran into the bedroom)

I don't know!

(you were struck down)

(it was your doom, Annie!)

(Annie, are you OK?)

Dang gone it, baby!

(will you tell us, that you're OK)

Dang gone it, baby!

(there's a sign in the window)

Dang gone it, baby!

(that he struck you a crescendo Annie)

Hoo! hoo!

(he came into your apartment)

Dang gone it!

(left bloodstains on the carpet)

Hoo! hoo! hoo!

(then you ran into the bedroom)

Dang gone it!

(you were struck down)

(it was your doom, Annie!)

Aaow!

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26 Viva la Vida - Coldplay

Desolace. What an appropriate name. Grey. Lonely. Once it was lush, Amee knew. Dear spirits, she knew. The crack running through the middle of the homeland felt right. Like the crack in her own self. Maybe you had to really break to be put back together. Talensis shook his head. She just shrugged.

The spiritwalker walked. Her hooves took her all over. Beside her, Grylio kept pace. Ash and Gigglesnort roamed far here. This was their land, and they knew it well. Giggle would bring her meat to eat. Grylio found hidden roots of plants long dead. The tender shoots beneath sand and grit had been somewhat preserved. She walked and wandered.

As she neared the southern mountains, Amee got a bad feeling. These were centaur lands. The winds took on a horrid stench. Death and misery and badness. She walked on. Feralas lay on the other side of the mountains.

She was not afraid. Ameerega knew from ancient memory and legend both that she would not be harmed. She was albino. In addition, she wore white leather from the dying kodo she had seen to the afterlife. White kodo were not special only to the tauren people. Wearing the skin of one would guarantee her safety. Not that she cared for such a thing. She didn't.

Then it happened.

He looked up, blinking. Pale pink eyes scanned the desert with a hatred and knowledge that did not belong on Amee's face. The white hunter's companions sensed the change. Giggle growled at the not-mistress and slunk away. He sneered at the creature. A packhound. He was going to kill them all.

He took stock of his body, his attire and his weapons. Then he advanced. It was a tool, nothing more, to exact vengeance. Vividly, he recalled his death, impaled on a long spear, screaming, because they didn't wait before they hung him over the fire. His determined stride faltered a step before he growled with Amee's voice and shook the memory of bubbling skin away.

He stalked to the Gelkis grounds. This was not the right place, not the right tribe, but it didn't matter. His grip would eventually falter, he would fade, but he could at least kill some. He saw the fear in their eyes as he advanced. He began to run to them. Some ran away. The packhounds, not understanding, attacked. They died. Their handlers tried to call them off, and mostly failed. They lost their animals to his fury. The little knives that Amee possessed were used with deadly efficiency.

He moved through them like the ghost he was, and it was glorious. They dared not attack him, in the form of this skinny white-furred spiritwalker. He wondered how often this happened. How many spiritwalkers were there? Surely he had only ever heard of them, never seen.

He killed as many as he could. He chased them. He mutilated the corpses and screamed at them. He set loose all of their prisoners. He stalked through the dark mine, laughing, as the elementals did nothing, obeying their twisted earthcallers. He smashed any gems he could find.

And then, fury spent and winding down, he could feel himself fading. He longed to rest. He needed to. He looked around. Hide pavillions were burning. Dead centaur lay all around and hyenas left mortally wounded whined and cried piteously. The sand beneath his hooves was dark. Gelkis who had not fled his coming stared sullenly from behind rocks or from a great enough distance that he could not even make out their warpaint. Beyond spear range, he knew.

He was done.

Amee cried out, looking in horror around her. She ran. Apparitions surrounded her everywhere she looked. Some were sad, some looked surprised and lost, but most were angry. She couldn't help the utter terror that overwhelmed her. This was a place of death, and she wanted to be gone as far from it as possible before another spirit took advantage.

Her eyes locked with those of a kindly-looking old woman. She was as thin as a skeleton, but smiling. She gestured toward Amee, and pointed. That way, child. Amee didn't hesitate. The wicked wild wind began blowing in a gale, pushing her as if it, too, was eager to see her out of this place in which she did not belong.

Ameerega ran for her life, for her self, from the Gelkis territory. She followed where the old shaman led, skirting the so-much-more-dangerous Magram lands, teeming with even more hungery restless ghosts. She ran back north and then, even after the old woman stopped, sad and fading, Amee ran.

"Viva La Vida"

I used to rule the world

Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice

Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes

Listened as the crowd would sing

Now the old king is dead long live the king

One minute I held the key

Next the walls were closed on me

And I discovered that my castles stand

Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

[chorus]:

I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing

Roman cavalry choirs are singing

Be my mirror, my sword and shield

My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain

Once you'd gone there was never

Never an honest word

And that was when I ruled the world

It was a wicked and wild wind

Blew down the doors to let me in

Shattered windows and the sound of drums

People couldn't believe what I'd become

Revolutionaries wait

For my head on a silver plate

Just a puppet on a lonely string

Oh who would ever want to be king?

[chorus

Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh*[x5]

Hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing

Roman cavalry choirs are singing

Be my mirror, my sword and shield

My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can't explain

I know St Peter won't call my name

Never an honest word

But that was when I ruled the world

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27 This Is Not - Static-X

Two weeks into their "retreat" Kerala's nerves were frayed. She craved solitude. She wanted to run, to fly as high into the sky as she could and never look back. She wanted to fight something, but there was no tangible enemy. She was angry.

The first days were pleasant enough. Kerala was given the option to choose anywhere she wanted them to go. She chose her favorite places. The lush jungles and forests of Un'goro, Feralas, and Stranglethorn. The wild and secret nooks of the mountain Hyjal. Any green place was a wonder. They could stay as long as she wanted them to, but she always got antsy after a period of several days and moved them.

Then Aziris started poking.

It quickly became evident that the undead girl knew a lot more than she let on. The strange little camping trip became tense and uncomfortable in the time it took to voice a couple questions. She wanted Kerala to tell Lomani who she really was, to give the Seer her identity. She wanted Kerala to open up about her own life, to share things that the druid really did not want to share. She wanted the two sisters to talk to and like each other.

Kerala would rather face another Inquisition.

The stress was beginning to wear. She snapped at Spirit without meaning to. The little air elemental disappeared for three whole days. The two priestesses just sat there patiently, almost smugly, through the druid's seething ups and downs. They both knew Kerala's temperament and expected the results they got. It was irritating, though Lomani at least had the decency to appear chagrined about it.

Kerala didn't know why she didn't just do as she wanted and fly away. Run. Anywhere but here. Each time she considered it with any real seriousness, Aziris was there, staring with her giant glowing eyes in that small face. Lines where the Lash had rended the girl's body to pieces, in all actuality faint enough to not be noticed by any other eye, stood out in her vision. How did the undead know when she was about to leave? Kerala suspected mental magics were being used. Or maybe, since she never could actually detect any touch on her thoughts, the Forsaken and the Seer were just smarter than her. That thought annoyed her even more. She stayed, but she began to hate it.

The tenseness had other effects besides shortening Kerala's temper. She was never a deep sleeper to begin with. Twitchy and somewhat of an insomniac anyway, it wasn't really much of a surprise that she started dreaming again. It happened any time that she felt... cornered.

Once, her dreams and nightmares had centered around blood and death. Hers, or inflicted by her. Now, the fantasies her mind chose more often revolved around fire. It made sense- she'd nearly died in a variety of different ways, but that had by far been the worst, and the most recent.

In the dreams, she would wander, lost and alone as she screamed with the pain of the burning. She could never understand what was happening until she fell down and woke frantic, beating at non-existent flames in her fur.

Sometimes, she would stand there just too dazed to be concerned about the heat crackling through her fur. She always smelled the terrible odor of hair singing away, but then the flames would start melt skin and there would be that smell of cooking meat. It made her salivate even as her belly churned and rumbled in distress. But the fire was secondary in that dream, and she'd stand there at first. She would stare at the thousands of spirits surrounding her. She remembered them clearly- the faces. Some she could name, but most had no identity. She would see them up until the fire reached her face, so hot. Her burning eyes felt the exact same way they did whenever she failed to cry.

In those dreams, that's when they finally spoke to her. The spirits called out, like the lick of super-heated air in her ears. Ethereal and not-quite heard, their voices sounded out. She knew them. Lupinum. Agiga. Aziris. Kex'ti. Konro and Kaya and Breygrah... Every person that she cared enough about to learn and remember the name of. Afterwards she would realize that some of the spirits she saw in her dreams didn't belong- some people weren't dead yet, but in the middle of it, their ghostly forms haunted her all the same. They cried and begged her to join them.

"Come," they said.

"I can't come." she would answer. She tried to get to them, but the flames were up to her eyes. She couldn't see which way to go, and she scorched away to ash before she made it. She burned. Other times instinct took over and Kerala ignored them all, dropping to the ground and rolling to smother the licking heat. Those nights, she woke lonely.

Sometimes, the friends and people she knew stood silently, silhouettes of light framed by the darkness of the countless other nameless shadows. In those dreams, the dark spirits were the ones that called.

"Come," they taunted and coerced.

"I can't come." She didn't want to. The shadows would roil and seethe. She had killed them all, and they were vengeful. The faces would rush to get at her. The named points of light would vanish in the tide of dark smokey forms. Shadows converged, and one by one, the last streaming rays of their illumination would disappear, a constellation winking out, star by star. Then the anonymous waves of hatred reached Kerala, crashing in from every direction. They smothered her, suffocated her, darkened the dull ember that was her burning until they snuffed her out...

*

She woke panicked, heart racing. Fire down the hill from where Kerala curled fetus-like in the forest loam glowed a dull dark orange. She always knew where it was in relation to herself.

One shape stretched out beside the dim coals was Lomani, sleeping peacefully. The Seer's very long mane was braided and looped double to keep it safe from the heat in case she tossed in her dreams. She had her own silvery pillow at all times. The other shape sitting upright, dark and unnaturally still, was Aziris. The Forsaken never slept. In the gloom, the girl's eyes shone brightly as her face turned toward the druid. The twin points of golden light stared, then angled slowly as the priestess tilted her head.

<You've had another nightmare.> came the girl's mental voice. Kerala let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, and curled further into herself. After a moment, Aziris added to observation gently. <You never cry out. Your dreams are vivid enough that sometimes I cannot help but to see glimpses, and yet you never make a sound. Most people would wake howling.>

Kerala wasn't in the habit of crying out in the real world, even if in the nightmares, she always screamed. The days of desperately remaining silent to avoid attention or the appearance of weakness were gone, but still she was quiet. Some lessons were etched deeper than others. The druid squeezed her eyes together tightly to ease the dry ache in them. Long eternities passed. Kerala's heart gradually slowed. Nighttime insects buzzed all around.

<... In the dreams, is it ever Lomani that you see?>

Kerala pressed her forehead into her knees. Always, with the questions. <You said you could see them, so you should know. She is always there.>

<No, she isn't. The spirit that haunts you in the nightmare is the child Agiga. Lomani is grown.>

Kerala frowned, thinking. That was not a detail that had ever occurred to her. <What does it matter?> she asked without thinking. She knew what came next.

<You should tell her who she is. Agiga and Lomani are not separate. She is very much alive.> Kerala said nothing. She did not want to argue anymore. <Your sister did not fall to the centaur, Kerala. She nearly died yes, but by trying to protect others. As, I think, you also did? You two have a lot in common. You can help her.>

<So can you.>

<You are her sister. I am just a friend.>

<A friend.>

<Well despite your attitude, I am not an enemy! You are torturing yourself, druid, and furthermore, you are hurting your sister. You suffer, and doing so pains her. You shut her out, and she doesn't understand why. She wants to help you, and you will not let her.>

<The only thing causing me pain is you! Leave me be. You were the one who agreed that some things were best left forgotten.>

The double-glow winked out for a long moment as Aziris closed her eyes. <I know. I spoke before it was wise to do so. I was wrong.>

Kerala rubbed her face in her hands. Her fingers scratched through short fur and skipped over familiar smooth bare stripes on her snout. She paused then, and let her finger trace the old branding marks before she stopped and looked back at the undead sitting motionless in the dark. She sighed. <It's been my experience that talking in general is a bad idea.> She put an elbow down onto the ground and levered herself upright.

<Now that is a silly thing to say.>

The druid brushed clinging dirt from her left arm. It came off easily, which was partly why she was making a habit of laying on that side. The regrown fur was smoother and softer, less prone to retaining grit and leaf debris. <Mmmm.> was her reply. Her eyes went to the dull orange glow of the coals, embers covered in inky black ash. Spoken words certainly were more trouble in the druid's life than seemed worth it.

The twin points of Aziris' eyes turned back to the remnants of the fire as well. <When are you leaving?>

How did that girl know?! <In a moment.>

Aziris answered the unspoken question. Kerala wasn't sure if their mental communication conveyed the druid's frustrated confusion, or if the priestess just guessed it. <I was an apothecary. Junior by rank, but not in skill. It was my job to observe. To analyze. You've stayed longer than I thought you might. I'm still not certain why. ... Is it me? ....Or her?>

Kerala did not answer. What was she supposed to say? She was tired of this girl and her questions. Tired of being near them both, tired of people. Or at least, these two people. How silly of her to have thought... she didn't know what she had thought.

<Regardless, I WAS wrong.> Aziris continued. <This -is- Agiga. She has no memory, but she is the same person. If you refuse, then I will tell her. She is my friend.>

<You know her better than I do.>

<I very much doubt that, and I am sorry you feel that way. If not for her then... Why did you come out here? Will you tell me?>

It was a genuine question, and a timid one at that. Aziris thus far had only ordered and demanded. She was used to acting superior in order to play the role of apothecary and habits like that, formed for one's basic survival, were hard to break. Kerala knew. The Forsaken's chosen role was one that clashed with Kerala's instincts on a basic level. She didn't like being told what to do, or by someone who assumed dominance. Now though, it was the girl Aziris, not the Forsaken junior apothecary who was actually asking.

Still, Kerala hesitated.

<Please.>

The problem of words sat foremost in her mind. This girl though. this undead, was wiser than she seemed. She had Lomani's gift for empathy without the naivety and ignorance. She could understand. Probably? The druid sighed.

<I worked so hard to revive you because it was my fault that Khorvis harmed you.> She held up a hand to cease the interruption when the two golden glows turned toward her sharply. Aziris had already expressed her opinion that blame did not lie with her, but as much as she wanted to, Kerala just couldn't see it that way. <You reminded me of my daughter. I had to try...> she trailed off. <I thought at first that I should help you, that you might need me. It's clear that you don't, though. You can take care of yourself. I did come here for her.>

Aziris glanced to Lomani's peaceful form, then back to the druid. She said nothing, waiting patiently to see if there was more.

<She does want to help. I know she visited Tanaan a few times to do so. She is friends with a few Grim. I don't think anyone of them would ever wish to harm her, but it's safer if she's away from all that. At the same time, you were a new face. I didn't know you. Truth be told I still don't. I don't believe it's possible to really ever know anyone. But I've seen enough to think she is safe with you.> Kerala stood up and began to turn away. The sky was beginning to lighten in the East. The change was extremely subtle, dawn was a few hours off still.

<Now you're just going to leave us here?>

Kerala scowled at the Forsaken priestess sitting there. Her boney little legs were splayed beneath her skirt, knees together, ankles on the outside, and she stared up at the druid all innocent-looking, but it was a face that wasn't real. Just then, Aziris reminded Kerala a lot of Lilliana, and she felt a brief stab of hatred, not for the person, either of them, but for the conditions which had created such a complicated and... what was the troll's title?... Clandestine. Kerala hated the world that created creatures like this.

<Don't play games with me, dead girl. This is Sholazar, like the crater in Kalimdor. I've seen you looking around. You know exactly where you are, and you are familiar with it. Take Lomani and keep her safe. Tell her what you will.>

<What will you do?>

Kerala took a more few steps away. <You and your questions! I cannot tell you what I don't know. I know that this is not... for me.> She glanced to the still form of the silver seer, breathing peacefully in her sleep. <If you find my sister, tell her I'm sorry.>

Aziris moved suddenly, swift and with such a fluidity that Kerala's eyes did not properly track it- she was surprised. One moment the undead was sitting there like a statue carved of stone, and in the next the druid tensed in purely reflexive jerk. A burning coal flared brightly red-orange as it sailed through the air. Kerala flinched at the heat as it barely missed her, and she couldn't help but watch as it landed, exploding amongst the vines in a shower of hot sparks that quickly blackened to ash without fuel. <I will make you tell her yourself!> came the venomous mental hiss.

For some reason, provoking the calm and cool priestess Aziris to an open display of emotion served to completely dissipate the tempest within Kerala herself that had been built in the last few weeks. The tiny Forsaken had just thrown an ember at her! The druid nodded once and then quickly turned away to hide the laughter that wanted to bubble up out of her. She couldn't quite keep herself from grinning, and she had no idea what it was about this situation that her warped humor found so entertaining. She went with it, though.

She jumped up, both hooves free of the grasping vines of the jungle floor, then shifted in midair. The druid flew away, as she'd wanted to do for days, and she didn't regret it.

"This Is Not"

This is not

This is not

This is not

...I hate this!

Lines and the light stream

Screaming by me scream

Burned down

Not me you see me suffer

Haunted by your spirit

Undead by your spit

Taunted by yourself alive!

Dazed and burning state

Hazed and spinning fate

Dazed and burning!

I say "I can't come"

You say "This ain't home"

Hating this, I mouth your name!

This is not my life

This is not my home

This is not me

I hate this!

[x2]

Your voice in my mind

"Come home" "it ain't time"

Burned down

Not me you see me suffer

Solace to inspire

Lowness to my fire

Taunted by yourself alive!

Dazed and burning state

Hazed and spinning fate

Dazed and burning!

I say "I can't come "

You say "This ain't home"

Hating this, I mouth your name!

This is not my life

This is not my home

This is not me

I hate this!

[x2]

This is not my life

This is not my home

This is not me

I hate this!

[x2]

I hate this! [x4]

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28 Get Up Offa That Thing - James Brown

Chanchu meditated poorly. She just had trouble sitting still, being quiet, and doing nothing. It wasn't for her. It was, perhaps, one of the only things she simply couldn't do well and never learned from her pandaren mentor. In her mind, it was no great loss. The sheer totality of all the other things she had learned had improved her life like, a million times over.

Still, the tauren monk held a great respect for the fat old bear who had given Chanchu back the essence of herself. The pandaren woman had lifted Chanchu from the depths of a deep and pervading depression and destructive sense of esteem. For that, Chanchu would gladly attempt to obey the daily ritual of trying to sit quietly and meditate.

She sat in her own modified version of a cross-legged pose. There was nothing to cross. Her maimed leg extended at an angle in front of her as she sat. The hock of her whole limb nestled close to her pelvis, and her hoof extended to where the missing knee would have been. Her arms rested lightly on her ankle, hands dangling.

She was never sure how long she sat. Sometimes it was only minutes, when it felt like hours. Sometimes it really was an entire morning. She'd sit as long as she was able, and then simply stop and go about her day. It depended on how she was feeling, somewhat, but more than that, it depended on what could be seen or heard from her chosen spot.

This morning was foggy. It was a little bit chilly, enough to cause skin to contract and fur to stand on edge for the extra insulation of air space between the follicles. It was the time of year when frogs were especially active. She often saw the silhouttes of thin-limbed climbers congregating on the shrouds of nighttime light sources, which attracted moths and other tasty meals. Fat toads could be found jumping nearby as well, but they were also easier to spot in the moonlight around the pond, or lakeshore.

This was where Chanchu sat today- hidden in a small clearing of reeds by the lake. The frogs chirping were SO LOUD. Every once in a while a section would fall silent at the passing steps of a long-legged water bird, hunting for breakfast. The chorus of them blended with the buzzings of dragonflies and other insects. Luckily, the recent cold snap that had passed meant mosquitoes were largely dormant, not bothering her.

Somewhere in the distance, someone was awake, and chopping firewood. They worked with a steady cadence, and a predictable pattern of pauses. Chanchu found herself tapping along with her fingers, filling in the gaps of silence with imaginary notes to a made-up tune. As she listened, the frogs and bugs seemed more and more like a symphony, the wood-chopper providing a baseline drumbeat. Chanchu swayed back and forth to the melody.

There was a lull in the amphibian section as a flier swooped low. Wingbeats sounded, hushed and rhythmic and the water rippled with it's landing. It made a call, loud and commanding. In the distance, the bird received an answer. The ax drum pounded on, paused, then resumed. The frogs gradually resumed calling, first one, then others in a growing crescendo.

Chanchu abandoned the pretense of meditation. Silently, she rose to her hoof, so as not to disturb the natural music around her. Once upright, she began moving. Arms swung gracefully in whatever patterns struck her fancy, whatever felt right, as she balanced. She bent and pivoted at the knee and hips.

Chanchu danced in the glowing and glorious misty air of the morning, to the symphony happening around her. The frog calls began to wane, but they were replaced by other noises from across the lake- hides being scraped, more wood-chopping, laughter. Chanchu clapped along, sometimes hopped, fully immersed in her mental tune and melody.

Time passed, and gradually she lost the sense of it. The music faded, and sunshine shone brightly from a clearing sky of a bright pretty blue. The monk smiled, calm and serene. Sometimes, she wondered if the pandaren had it wrong, and meditation was more than simply sitting still and absorbing the serenity of a quiet world. Maybe that was why, when Chanchu felt that she had failed, yet still returned from "meditations" with this sense of... well-being, the round woman had only ever smiled, never scolded, and served a warm cup of tea before the day's lessons.

The monk bent and fumbled in the reeds for her staff, cast a lingering glance over the lake with it's sparkling patterns of ripples, then slowly began limping back towards the village.

"Get Up Offa That Thing"

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAW!!!

OH!

Say it now!

I'm back! x4

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you, sing it now!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and shake, Say it now!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Get up off!

Ha!

Good God!

So good!

Ha!

Everybody ready?!

Follow me!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and shake it, sing it now!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Get up offa that thing, (Ha!)

and twist 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you, sing it now!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Huh!

Get funky!

So good, Uh!

I'm first to stop, ha!

I've told them now, ha!

Uh!

Ha!

Ohio player!

Can you hit it one time, from the top?!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance to try, you better!

Get up offa that thing,

and... Help me!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you feel better!

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Huh!

I need it!

That's the wise old brother at the side start good!

C'mon Clive do it!

Do it!

Uh!

Ha!

Good God!

God Good!

Huh!

Feels good!

Feels good!

Do it to me!

Huh!

Good God!

I want you all in the jam!

Gonna get you all in the jam!

Play that bad funk!

Show 'em how funky you are!

Play it JB's!

Play it now!

Hey!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you feel better!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you, help me out!

Get up offa that thing,

and dance 'till you feel better!

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better!

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release, say it now!

Get up offa that thing,

and shake 'till you feel better,

Get up offa that thing,

and try to release that pressure!

Get up and... call it!

I feel good!

[Fade out]

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29 Like The Rain - Clint Black

The sky has been threatening a storm for days, it seems. The clouds gather in the afternoon, hiding the sun and casting the grasslands in looming shadow. The mountains all around turn murky and sometimes in the gloom they disappear. I know they are there. They are like walls, ringing this place.

I was playing with Toad and Spirit. The little wind creature is down on the ground, waiting, but I've become distracted. It happens a lot when it's about to rain, or when the drops start falling. I can't help but to think of Kaya.

Today the cloudcover is total. Blue is replaced with gray, a color I hate. I sit on the balcony overlooking the lake. The darkening sky looks like it did so many times before in my life, but this is Mulgore. The winds here are gentle, not violent, and the clouds are heavy with promise.

The storm is still building.

I've abandoned the game, watching it happen. Then I see it. The lightning. It is beautiful. My heart feels as though it is on fire, it is so pretty. I miss Kaya terribly, but the electricity in the air is a stronger sensation of joy more than sadness. This is the best part. I clutch Toad to my chest with girlish glee as I bite my ever-tender lip in anticipation for the moment of release. I listen, ears straining. My eyes are still skyward, and I can see the afterimage of the violet flash burned bright white against the grey.

A sharp poke startles me, makes me flinch. I turn to see who has managed to sneak up on me. His face is familiar, the metal jaw, the pale skin. His upper lip is curled upward in that half-smile.

The thunder that I was listening for is lost to my ears as my heart does that thing where it beats faster for no reason, and for a moment I can't hear anything else. I smile back at Lupinum. I can't help it. Of course he is here.

I think of several things to say at once, and I discard them all. "You scared me." I tell him.

"Like you couldn't see me coming through the trees?" he says with a chuckle. He assumes I must have seen him, which should be the truth, but isn't. I should be angry at myself for letting someone come so close to me without me knowing, but it's him, and I can't manage it. I'll worry about slacking vigilance and potential back-stabbings later.

I shrug. "I was actually looking up." I point, first to the windmill wheeling at the top of the totem then to the mountains on the western horizon. I forgot they cannot be seen, but they are there. The clouds above them have become black. I missed the timing, but the storm is coming. Building. It will be glorious.

Lupinum gazes up at the totem with a little bit of surprise. "Huh... never noticed that before." I'm not surprised. People rarely look up.

While he's gazing at the carvings, I drop Toad. Spirit catches him, of course, and the little Pandarian elemental senses that the game is truly over. It waves happily, and the two disappear beneath the balcony for a new activity. They know Lupinum too, and they like him. Spirit does anyway, and it isn't sad to go and do something else.

"Did you come for another swim?" I ask.

Lupinum glances back at me. His eyes glow golden, a bright contrast to the color of the dull hide walls behind him and the grey sky both. Despite not being able to discern pupils in them, I can sense when he's focusing on me. "I thought about it." He climbs up onto the log edging the balcony to sit like I am. "I've been staying away from the front lines for the most part. So Mulgore is a nice change of pace." He smiles.

"It's quiet here." I agree. "Nice to think, but not be lonely."

Lupinum tilts his head a little bit. "Plenty of other tauren to keep you company, I suppose."

I blow air through my nose in a snort, and that elicits a giggle from him. The company of other tauren is not exactly something I rank very highly in value. I'm not good with people, especially my own. My thoughts flicker to the Horns, to Breygrah, and then to Konro. My eyes slide sideways as I peer at him then, and I make a verbal jab at him, testing. "It's certainly more pleasant than the Plaguelands."

Lupinum grunts and pushes his greasy hair out of his eyes, but he doesn't seem surprised that I was there any more than I was startled to see him here. "I'll be fine never seeing those grounds again for a long while."

I smirk at his non-confrontational attitude, and go back to looking out at the scenery. I'm feeling a little bit charged, a little bit gloomy like the sky. Peevish. I want to act, maybe to fight. There are a lot of things on my mind lately, and I am frustrated. His answer is lackluster and boring. I try again.

"Will the humans be happy they got their woman back, or angry, do you think?"

"I... don't know. I'm sure they're satisfied they struck a blow against us." Lupinum scratches at his forehead. "But we'll see. We have names and locations of Alliance leaders that Skylah told us."

My mouth echoes my thoughts exactly. "To do what with?"

He just shrugs, though. "That's above my head. I only lead a few of the troops."

His indifference annoys me. How is it that he believes the names of alliance leaders are important, but he doesn't see that the opposite could also be true- that they would also want to target horde leaders? I frown. "But you do lead." Another thought occurs to me. He had done as he always did, and backpedaled from responsibility. He retreated to the relative safety of the Grim. "You don't know what it is you are fighting for?"

"I know what we fight for." he answers immediately. "I just meant in that instance. Khorvis or Leyu'jin will make the final decision." Fully-fledged flight back to the Grim mentality. Words with double meanings. A leader that doesn't actually lead. He is a figurehead. A TARGET.

My thoughts blow like wind through a canyon, tumultuous, but walled to the course. I remember the woman that I saw on the gallows, a human surrounded by Grim. They cry for the deaths of pinkskins so often, and yet that one was kept alive for the unlikely premise of information. She'd been in terrible condition, which is of course what I had expected of anyone in their care, but it makes me angry to recall. The Grim had done that to an alliance. How would the Alliance treat one of the Grim in their custody now? All of my conviction in the Grim's truths being false will be put to the test, now.

I hear the thunder this time. It sounds satisfyingly like a growl. "Syreena wasn't there," I announce.

For some reason, this makes him sad. His face falls, and I am sorry I said it. I watch him pivot to hang his legs over the edge of the log. "No, she wasn't." He frowns as he looks past me out over the lake. I'm not sure if he thinks I meant Syreena wasn't in the Plaguelands for the 'execution'. I didn't, but I don't tell him that. I circle back to the supposed purpose for this whole mess.

"What names did..." I have to pause and fish for it a moment, "...Skylah, is her name? What names did she tell you?"

Lupinum nods at me, I guessed what the human is called correctly. "Names we knew, but had no idea who they were. Marrus, the leader of Eternal Aegis. And some warlock... I forget her name. They put together a coalition to fight the Horde." It's my turn to nod, because I remember the Coalition being mentioned before. "If I had to guess, that will be our objective, to weaken their forces how we can."

That isn't what I expected to hear. "What about Syreena?"

"I'm not sure of the details... but Lilly somehow had gone to see her. And Sy doesn't want out, just yet." he informs me. Maybe he doesn't remember telling me this earlier at the Pilgrim's Bounty table. He'd been trying hard to avoid the topic altogether, so it makes sense. The part about Syreena declining to leave is new, though, and it sets the fur on my spine standing up. This is not good news. Not at all.

"That is because she doesn't know what she's doing, and she's too cocky."

"I tend to agree, but I have no way to make a move to get her out."

It sounds like an excuse to me, and I can't help but eyeball this... this Grim priest. The Lupinum I know wouldn't say that, would he? "Do you know any new information?" I ask crossly. "I don't know where to look, now."

Lupinum withstands my scrutiny stoically. "I know where she's being held, but it's fairly heavily guarded." I say nothing, just look at him expectantly. He growls, knowing what I'm waiting for. "Fenris Isle. She's being held in the keep."

I frown, because this is old news. He has nothing more recent? Why not? "Did you try to get her yet?" I know the answer already. Syreena wasn't there. If he'd gone there, he'd know it too.

"Nothing has been done for about a week, maybe a little longer."

"So what are you waiting for?" It's a demand, more than a question. Syreena is Grim. Syreena is missing. Why are the Grim not trying to get her back? Why isn't Lupinum, who is the one who tried to convince me that Grim is family, trying harder to get Syreena back? Does he not realize the dangers? Syreena already said she didn't want out, the situation is dire! I know from experience...

Lupinum looks down at my question, but this time I have zero sympathy for making him feel this way. Time is wasting, and this is not a game. "I don't know..." he says.

Another excuse! I turn on my rump to straddle the log and face him directly, and I take a good look at him. He is a Dreadweaver by title. A meaningless word. He leads Grim in battle against the alliance, but I see him for what he is. Young. Young as I am, but despite his years, he has no idea. I am no leader, but he is definitely not one.

I have more experience in this than he does.

So I challenge him. "You do know."

My tone, my words, make him grind his teeth, but like before, he retreats from confrontation. "I don't want to risk losing more Grim. Our intelligence has fallen short against the Alliance several times lately. If I lead people blindly into a guild hall, it could go horribly awry."

I win. It's a hollow victory, for I can sense the true feeling behind his statement. He's been declared a leader, but he doesn't know how, and he's only had one kind of example. He knows only one way, and it won't work here. I cock my head at him.

"Have you tried asking?"

"Asking? Asking who?"

"The Alliance, the Coalition... the Marrus guy... whoever it is that has her?"

"To... what? Have her back?" Lupinum chuckles a little bit.

"Yes!" I answer immediately.

I am absolutely serious, but he pats my leg like I am a child suggesting a game of make-believe. "I doubt it would work quite the way we want."

"But you haven't even tried. This isn't a game. The longer she is gone, the worse it is." I don't know how to explain being a captive, the way it changes you. I don't think I want to. That's one of those things no one really needs to know about me.

He doesn't ask for details, though. He just frowns again. "I just don't think that will go well..." he finally says.

"Alright, then I'll ask. There's no risk to the Grim that way." I'm not Grim, not in name, but since when has a name or title mattered to me? They are just words.

"I won't stop you. Just be careful..." he tells me.

I glare at him, assessing. I'm looking for the lie, for the trick. Old habits stick with me, and he gave in too easily. I search him for the truth. Is he really as detached and indifferent as he seems? But he doesn't flinch. He meets my stare eye-to-eye, and again I can see him plainly. He is worried and concerned just... impotent.

It's alright.

I'll be the alpha. I'll lead the pack, if no one else will. Syreena is Grim, and I am too, but I'm not restricted. I will not wait for them to act, like I did with Lilliana.

I don't think Syreena can last that long.

Decision made, I feel better. At least I have a clear course of action for this one problem. It's certainly the easiest of the troubles that plague me. The others are not so simple to figure out. They deal with emotions and feelings, and I get confused. Thinking of feelings, I look at the undead man sitting next to me.

"What are you doing here, Lupinum?"

"Here? This moment? Talking to you." he smiles at me.

I scoff at the lack of answer just given. "Why?"

"I told you. I took a break from fighting and came here because it's peaceful."

"There are other peaceful places, not as far from the battlefields."

"Hrmph," he says. "Maybe I wanted to see you. Does that bother you?"

I consider that question as I look up at the windmill. The breeze has shifted. The sails now point directly away from me- the wind is gusting Westward, toward Desolace. The storm is building stronger in the distance, sucking up the air in preparation. It blows Lupinum's long hair forward and carries his smell to me. "No," I answer truthfully. It doesn't bother me. Maybe the opposite. He said maybe, though, so I have to ask. "Did you want to see me?" He nods, and my stomach chooses that moment to flop oddly. I'm happy to have the confirmation, but at the same time, I don't trust it. I'm uncertain. "Why?"

Lupinum works his jaw slowly, as if chewing over his words, trying to decide which ones to say. I know the feeling. "I enjoy talking to you and it makes my head clearer."

"What does that mean, 'clearer'?" I demand. I am annoyed a little bit, because whenever he gets near me, my head is anything but clear. He muddles my thoughts and confuses me. Like now.

He gives a slight shrug. "It means that whatever bothers me tends to go into the back of my head." He offers that weak clarification with a small smile, as if that's the best he can do.

It's enough. I understand how difficult it is to track the source of a feeling, when you're not even sure yourself what is it that you're feeling. "I'm a distraction..." He did a better job explaining than I could have done. It makes me wonder, though, what it is bothering him. I want to fix it. "Is there something back there now?"

"Distraction? No no no." I guess he didn't like my word? I don't see what's wrong with it. "More like a port in a storm," he explains. He smiles.

Now I'm confused again. "I don't understand."

"You make me feel better, that's what I'm trying to say."

That makes me smile, plus he's still got that look on his face, that reassuring. His lip is flat again, but it's still there on the rest of his face.

Words are stupid.

"What is it that makes you feel bad?" I try again. "I thought you liked killing Alliance?"

"That part I do, of course!" I don't like hearing it, and I frown at his admission, even though of course it's true. "It's... it's just nice to spend time with a close friend. It's different... being around fighters all the time. Especially now that I'm a Dreadweaver, many of the Grim view me differently."

He doesn't see me as a fighter. That makes me happy too, though also guilty. There's that word again. Dreadweaver. He doesn't see me as a fighter, but I am one, or was, and I recognize an opening. I'm feeling a bit waspish still, so I go for it. "Are you different?"

The wind falls silent and still for a moment, but the air is alive with motion. Water droplets descend like a sprinkling curtain suddenly allowed to fall in place. Lupinum pokes at his squishy body, now becoming damp from the light rain. "I don't feel different."

The rain completely distracts me from him. I forget what we're talking about, what I'm doing, and I just look up, feeling the water. It touches my nose, so gentle, and covers my fur like a pale frost. The drops settle and collect into larger orbs that sparkle, now diamonds. Then I start to feel them, too heavy to stay in place. The droplets are overcome with gravity, and the first one slides down to touch my skin. I shiver, and grin up at the sky.

A soft rumble of thunder sounds right as the breeze returns, caressing. I don't believe in things like the Earth Mother, but I've seen ghosts, now. I know they are real. It's not hard to think, or maybe hope, that a certain shaman is here with me now. She so loved the rain. She taught me so much. If I had doubted that doing this now was the wrong thing, that thought would have disappeared. Kaya showed me the light when I could see nothing but darkness. I can teach him too.

I bring my face down to look at him, still grinning like a silly person. He smiles as well.

"You don't see me different, do you?"

His insecurity is sweet. I cock my head at him, but I don't hesitate in sharing truth. "A title is just a word, and words are stupid. They don't really mean anything at all. It's what a person does that tells who they are, not what they are called." And I give him an example. "I didn't even know your name for a long time. Didn't change who you were."

He chuckles a little bit. "I remember that time..." I look at him, suddenly realizing something. "You used to call me dead man."

"Hmm," says I. I don't like the thing I have realized. "Do you remember how we met?"

Lupinum scratches his head. "I should, huh? Warspear, I think?"

"I don't know." I admit. "I can't remember at all. I remember you not being here, and then... here you are. I don't know how it happened." I can't recall meeting him at all. I don't know how he came to be in my life.

He giggles, unconcerned. "I popped out of the ground!"

I just smile. I blink the rain off my eyelashes. I realize too late that he made a joke. Forsaken, coming up from the ground... it's funny, but too late to laugh now, plus I'm not going to encourage his poor opinion of his undead condition. I refocus, instead. I started a lesson, and it's important to me to see it through. I might not have many opportunities like this.

"If it were me with the Alliance now... what would you do?" I ask him.

Lupinum leers up at the sky, the rain soaking into his skin. "I would gather some intel, grab some back up and come get you." He looks back at me.

"And if I said I didn't want out, yet?"

"I wouldn't listen, mainly because you are not skilled in the ways of spying."

"What does that have to do with it?" I ask. Then I realize what I did. I'd used the words I heard earlier, and he thought I was talking about something else. "Oh, Syreena. Nevermind."

"Also, I know that you love the open space, so why would you stay in a cell?" he adds.

His comment makes me pause. I smile. I do like open space, and it makes me happy to know that he knows that about me. I change positions, holding a hand out. I stay very still and cup my fingers to collect water in them. Droplets hit the surface in the puddle forming there, and they send ripples out that I watch expanding.

Why would a person stay in a cell? I know some of the answers to that question, but I don't want to say them. Instead, "People do strange things, sometimes." I don't want to talk about me. "Lupinum, you said you killed the woman that killed you. Your last trial to become Grim." It's less question and more statement, really.

He isn't looking at me now. His eyes follow the rain drops as they fall into the lake. "I did."

I open my hand. The collected puddle makes a loud SPLAT! on the log railing. It gets his full attention, as I meant it to. "How did it feel?"

"To kill her? I felt nothing like elation, it was almost mechanical..." I say nothing- not damning or encouraging, and he keeps going. "But she was only one in the battle that followed. It kind of gave me a taste of how my life in the Grim would go, I guess."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"She was a priestess of some rank and had an attachment of warriors with her." he explains. "She didn't exactly die quietly... and they were summoned."

"Was she the first person you ever killed?" I know the Trial of Combat comes first, but it's possible, if unlikely, that his might have been like mine. I didn't HAVE to kill the allies for their hearts, I could have had someone else do it. It matters a lot whether or not that woman had been his first.

"No, that was a Dwarf in Pandaria." he says. "I was going through my training and he had been hunting in the hills near a farm. I didn't even know he was there until his gun was in my back." Then he adds, "That was self defense, that woman was an act of revenge and a sort of sacrifice to the Grim."

"And you hate the alliance because she killed you." I prompt.

"She was the spark the started it, yes."

"So. How did you feel after you killed her?" I ask it again. He still hasn't answered. I'm counting on his answer being similar to my own, but I need to hear it in his own words.

He brings a hand to his hair, and I'm struck with the familiarity of the movement. I can't even get my fingers through my curls now, and yet I made the same gesture once. I watch him rake his wet hair back across his skull and I know the answer before he says it.

"I didn't feel anything. Almost like the time I spent hating her was worthless."

I'm overcome with a sense of victory. He said right then what took Kaya months to goad me into admitting. I manage to hide my smirk. He is a much easier student than I had ever been, but still, I can tell he doesn't quite get it yet.

"But you still hate the alliance..." I lead.

He follows. "They believe us to be monsters. I'm no different to them than any Scourge pile of bones."

"So?" I challenge.

He looks at me for a moment. His eyes move down my form. By now the persistent drizzle has soaked through my fur like any heavier rain would have done. The regrown fur on my left side is shiny and sleek from where I was burned, and that's what he's looking at. He crafts his answer carefully, misunderstanding my purpose. "So until the aggression stops, I will continue to put forth my effort into mending my comrades in anyway I can." I wonder if he mentioned that he is a healer in the battles on purpose. Probably. He dances away from responsibility.

That's not my goal, though, so I redirect. "You are thinking words in my voice that I have not spoken." Like all the Grim, I can't help but to notice. My feelings are hurt, somewhat. "I did not say you shouldn't heal your... comrades. That means friends?"

He grins. "Yes."

I smile for being correct in my guess, then continue. "What does it matter if the alliance believes you are a monster?" I ask him, repeating the attack on his truth. "So?"

"Because I only feel safe with the Grim. And wouldn't it be an amazing day when we could feel safe everywhere?"

He has a point, and I nod a little. "There is some safety in sheer numbers," I agree. "You are seen as larger. But there is the danger too. You are seen as the whole, and not the part that is you alone."

"I would still be me!" he insists.

I pin him with my gaze just like Kaya had done to me so many times. A flat stare makes it hard to keep up lies in the face of pure logic. I've been where he is. "Would you? Are you?"

He is getting frustrated with me, I can tell. "Yes! I am still me," he argues.

I know better. "Would you capture one woman because the group she travels with was over some invisible boundary, keep her captive, cut off her hand and lame her?" Lupinum would not, but the Grim apparently would.

He growls at me, a little bit. He knows I'm right. "That may have been a mistake," he begrudges, "But I didn't see anything wrong with it at the time."

It's enough, so I back off a little bit. I go back to familiar territory and let him get his feet back under him. "Do you hate the alliance?"

"Not as fervently as others, but yes." he says stubbornly.

It feels weird, to be doing this. It's like a fight, and I imagine it as such, but it's not physical. I wouldn't want to fight him for real. I don't even really want to do this, because I know how it feels, but I need to. I want him to see the truth. I want him to understand, to see things like I do. Partly, I'm selfish. I don't want to be the only one. I'm tired of pretending like I don't care, because I'm starting to realize that I do.

That scares me, too, so for now, I don't think about it too much.

"Why?" I ask Lupinum. Why does he hate? I know who taught him to do it. Now I need to know why.

"Because I will never be accepted by them. I'll always be outside. The Horde is welcoming and the Grim is my family."

He talks in absolute truths as he believes them. The Horde is welcoming. Grim is family. I don't want to poke holes in them. I hesitate a minute. I stretch both arms out again, and this time I cup both hands to catch the rain. It's still falling in the same steady drizzle.

A nice person probably wouldn't do this, I think. Everyone has a right to their opinion, don't they? Even if it's wrong? Everyone believes they are right, or else there would not be stupid things like Horde and Alliance and their dumb war. But it is a dumb war. I believe that I am right. And I am not a nice person. So I poke holes.

"Do you want to be accepted by them? Do you wish you were still human?"

Lupinum leans back on his hands. "I... don't know." He watches me holding the water, but if he has something to add, he keeps it to himself.

So I poke at him again. "You are still human, you know." I know it's a sore spot.

"I was at one point, I'm not anymore."

"Of course you are. Don't be stupid." I can see his reflection in my hands. He doesn't like my calling him stupid, and his gaze narrows at me.

"Humans don't have skin falling apart and rotted limbs."

I resist the urge to snort, because of course they do. Everything that dies begins to rot. But he's sensitive to undeath, and saying that would be hurtful to him, even if it is accurate. So Instead I tell him "Just because you are also now undead, that doesn't change who you were. The events of now cannot change what has already happened. You ARE human. You are also undead." It's the best I can do.

I glance up briefly from the rainwater in my hands as he groans. "I disagree," is all he says.

When he doesn't explain why, I look back at the world reflecting distorted in my hands. "You are wrong," I inform him, just as simply. "Do you know what the alliance think of me?"

Lupinum shakes his head, sending rivulets of water down his face.

"Do you know what the Grim think of me?" I give him a minute, but his mouth remains closed, so I keep going. "Do you know why I don't care?"

That surprises him, I see. He blinks at me. "I don't know."

"Because it's none of my business. Their opinion of me does not change who I am." says I. "Just like a title does not change who you are. Just like a name is just another word."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

He doesn't sound convinced. I sense a change, but I'm not sure what it is. Does he understand? He agreed with me but... I don't like how he said it, perhaps. I can't put my finger on it, and I'm not entirely sure what to do from here.

So again I go back to the one question at the center of it all, the one that matters. I ask Lupinum "Do you hate the alliance?" It's a mistake.

"Who cares."

He's given up! He stopped listening, disengaged. Surrendered? It makes me angry. No wonder I was confused! I've never done that. Retreat, yes, give ground, yes, but... he just...

I suddenly flip all the accumulated water in my cupped hand at his face. It's better than punching him, which was my first impulse, and not at all what I really want to do. I don't want to hurt him, but I'm so frustrated!

He is completely unprepared for that. Lupinum coughs and sputters before losing his balance. I lunge, but he's not actually in danger, so my temper stays riled. He falls onto the floor of the balcony instead of the ground below. My scoot propels me onto to my hooves after him, where I stand glaring down as he lands on his back. He spits some water out of his mouth in my direction, then goes oddly slack at the same time as I yell at him.

"I DO."

His eyes are closed. The rain lands on his face. It bounces off in splatters, eliciting no flinch or reflexive blink. I realize that his chest is no longer moving, as if he has stopped breathing. He appears for all the world like someone completely lifeless.

My whole world ends. In an instant, my anger is gone, replaced with nothing. There is nothing, a hole, a void. I panic.

"Lupinum."

He doesn't move. Everything around us is in motion- the air, the rain, but he is deathly still. My heart hammers in my chest. He can't be dead. He's undead. Deathless. He doesn't need to breathe! My head tells me this, but logic doesn't work in the void. I'm hollow, and now I'm the one not breathing. Raindrops run into my eyes, which are suddenly hot and burning.

I don't know how I manage it, holding my breath, but I do. "Lupinum, look at me."

Maybe something of desperation leaks into my tone. Maybe he's not interested in playing dead for real. Whatever it is, Lupinum peeps open one eye. He breaks the illusion. He moves. He isn't dead. Relief floods my being. I'm sorry I yelled at him. I'm sorry I tried to teach him. I'm sorry I said anything at all. I'm a terrible person for trying to change him, and I should know better. I'm not good with people, and words are stupid.

He's still looking at me, and I can't say any of that, of course. It's too late to take it back. What's done is done. Zaetar is dead, as the saying goes.

So I just say "I care." and then I add lamely "Don't hate them." He grunts at me wordlessly. I lean closer, and he looks at my face, at my eyes and my expression. I'm not sure what he sees there. I'm not sure I want to know. I can feel water following gravity, trickling freely along my cheeks where the fur is gone in stripes. It drips on him, lying there beneath me. I make the decision, just now, that I am not going to bring this up to him again. Ever. The last thing he will hear from me about it is this: "I mean it. Don't hate them."

I'm not sure why I leaned close in the first place, but I stand up then. Lupinum wipes his face where the droplets hit, muffling an "Alright, alright, alright."

I'm feeling a little unsteady, a little bit trembly and shaky. Hormones, I know. Crisis, fight or flight. Stupid chemicals flooding around through my bloodstream that can't tell the difference between real danger, and a Forsaken being silly. I could make them go away, but I don't bother. I'm used to this kind of near-shaking. I reach for Lupinum's hand to help him up off the floor instead. He's not dead. I need him to not keep laying there like that.

He takes my hand without hesitation, without pausing to consider that I let him touch me. I remember a time when I didn't let anyone within spear-tip-reach, much less ever touch me. I still don't, with most people, but a few... a few could easily betray me if they decided to. Maybe it's the chemicals, or maybe it's the rain, but I'm simply too giddy right now to care.

Lupinum uses my hand to lever himself up and then releases me. He sits looking around for a minute. "Does it rain like this often?"

I smile down at him. "Yes! Isn't it wonderful? The clouds gather here. They can't make it over the mountains to Desolace." I point West to the mountains, but the rain has hidden them behind a dense sort of curtain of water. I can see the winds starting to swirl out there across the lake. The clouds are no longer only drawing the winds inward and upward. The storm is ready to unleash all that gathered energy. Once it starts, it will take all night to blow itself out, I can tell. I'm looking forward to watching it.

Lupinum glances where I pointed, but of course there is nothing to see, and his gaze goes to the side, at the shelter only two feet away. "I suppose so."

His tone makes me look down again at him, and I realize that he's sitting there, wet, and he doesn't look happy. "You don't like it?"

"It stops and starts in Tirisfal, this is constant." is his answer. Then he adds, like an offering to temper the complaint, "But it's nice to look at the lake."

I shrug, because I don't know what to tell him. Rain is rain. It's all water falling from thin air. "It will rain until there's no more left, then it will stop."

"It makes everything green. That part is good."

That part is my personal favorite, and it makes me happy that he mentioned it. "Mhmm! It's like magic." I grin, still artificially a little bit too excitable about everything, but I'm realizing that he doesn't like the the rain. He looks up at me, and he giggles at my expression. I want to share it with him, this feeling that simple falling water gives me. "It's wonderful. Here, close your eyes."

He raises an eyebrow at me suspiciously. "What for?"

I don't have an answer, but I know I don't want to push him anymore. It's his choice. "Please," I say.

Lupinum flops his hands onto his lap in a long-suffering sort of way and then closes his eyes. I grin again, even though he can't see me, because I'm excited to share this with him. I sit down right there beside him. "Ok, now just sit here. Can you feel them? Each drop hitting you? All in different places, so fast."

He sits there for a minute, getting rained on. "Kind of cold..."

"I know! And then the drops all run together, and then they fall, and it tickles... It's just the best feeling... And listen! You can hear all of them hitting, everywhere..." I will him to fall in love this simple natural thing, to be happy with the same thing that makes me happy.

"You were born to be a Druid." Lupinum giggles with his eyes still closed.

His comment is innocent enough, but it hits me wrong. Born to be a druid? No... I'm not a normal druid. I'm not working to keep some cosmic natural order to the world. I don't care overmuch about animals. I don't eat meat, not because I feel morally obligated to spare the life of other creatures, but because I cannot. I don’t care to regrow forests, or anything like what other druids seem to be concerned about. Born to be a druid? No... not really.

I stare at Lupinum, watching him sit there, feeling, listening. His black hair is plastered down flat and clumped in stringy tendrils. Every so often his face twitches when a bigger drop triggers reflex muscles. I wonder how differently his undead senses work from mine.

"I didn't used to like the rain, actually."

"Oh yeah?"

"No.... I do now though." I force a smile.

It feels suddenly stupid to me to be sitting there, trying to explain. Kaya is dead, and Lupinum didn't know who she was. He doesn't know that she was a kind old shaman who taught me things, who hugged me, who sacrificed. She gave me hope when there was none, telling me stories about the Horns of Shu'halo and the places she'd traveled. She was the one who loved the rain, and I love it because she did.

"It makes me happy for when I'm dry." Lupinum tells me. I have no response to that. I would be happy if it constantly poured water from the sky.

Rain is not something I ever dream of. It's too intense, too complex. I don't think my mind is capable of recreating a convincing rain, because of how all-consuming it is to be standing in it, feeling it. It's a combination of temperature, force, the density of the droplets. Sight, sound, smell, feeling... it's a world alive with constantly changing everythings, and I know it's not made-up. When you have such vivid dreams as mine often are, reality is not always such a certain thing. Rain is real, though, and that makes it special.

It sobering, thinking of Kaya, and why I like rain. I realize her death is part of why Lupinum, acting silly and laying so still earlier, freaked me out so much. I'm coming down from that chemical high, too. I'm not good with emotions in general, and I'm feeling a little bit off-balance now. I suddenly just want to be alone, think of nothing, and watch the storm for a while.

"Anyway, I just like it. The sound, the feeling. We can go inside if you want... you're kind of already wet, though."

"It's too late for me." He declares. He holds up the fabric of his robes, now darkened with moisture. His tone is light-hearted and joking, but I just blink at him.

"The fire will dry them."

"If the rain didn't put it out!"

"It's right in there." I point toward the brazier burning inside. I can't see it, but I know right where it is, burning cheerfully near the railing of the overhang. Two beds sit near it, so sleeper's feet can be warm but their core won't get overheated.

"It could've leaked inside, you never know," Lupinum says with mock seriousness.

I'm confused, because it's obvious that he doesn't like being wet, but now he's stalling, making jokes instead of going to get out of the drizzle. He knows the fire is safely burning under a solid roof, so he's not very funny to me. The wind gusts towards us, and I can see the fuzzy demarcation line of heavier downpour marching closer across the lake. If he doesn't want to get truly drenched, he should move now. I don't want him soaked through and unhappy, so I move first.

"Well, let's go find out." I stand up and go inside without waiting for him.

I lead. Lupinum sits there blinking, then follows.

I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you

Every thunder cloud that came was one more I might not get through

On the darkest day there's always light and now I see it too

But I never liked the rain until I walked through it with you

I hear it falling in the night and filling up my mind

All the heaven's rivers come to light I see it all unwind

I hear it talking through the trees and on the window pane

When I hear it I just can't believe I never liked the rain

[Chorus]:

Like the rain

I have fallen for you and I know just why you

Like the rain

always calling for you I'm falling for you now

Just like the rain

When the cloud is rolling over thunder striking me

It's as bright as lightning and I wonder why I couldn't see

That it's always good and when the flood is gone we still remain

Guess I've known all along I just belong here with you falling

[chorus]

And when the night falls on our better days

And we're looking to the sky

For the winds to take us high above the plains

I know that we'll find better ways to look into the eye

Of the storms that will be calling

Forever we'll be falling

[chorus x3]

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30. Tear Jerker - Korn

The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears.

Don't be afraid to cry. It will free your mind of sorrowful thoughts.

Walk on a rainbow trail, walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.

Fresh clear rivers leapt from the surrounding cliffs and filled the air with soft mists. The sky was mostly obscured, but somewhere up there, the shun shone brightly. It spun bright colors from the air in an arcing rainbow. Truly, the lake was gorgeous, but Lomani's spirits were low. The silver seer sat hugging her knees on the sandy shore of the lake. The light green and grey silk of her dress puddled in the grit as she sat staring out at the waterfalls.

The rainbow, glittering and perfect, reminded her much of the glowing core of people's spirits. Probably, it was more than coincidence the way the colors marched, predictable, from scarlet to violet. The waters of the lake churned near each fall, but by the time the ripples reached the beach, they had stilled to merely gentle undulations. The seer's reflection danced and distorted, but stayed mostly intact. She sighed. By now, she was used to the image she found refracted. Low pale horn on the left, nothing on the right, pale green eyes. She was Lomani.

Except she wasn't.

Her given name was Agiga. Her birthday wasn't in September right before Brewfest at all, when Anura had randomly given her a gift. It was in February, and she was twenty-two years old. Aziris had shared this information, as well as much more, over the course of the weeks they had stayed here in the Sholazar Basin. She shared memories. She shared identity.

Lomani felt very disoriented. She didn't recall any of the things that Aziris said. No images surfaced to give credence to Aziris' claims, there was only the void of nothing. She had no reason to disbelieve anything that the little undead said. Lomani would love to have a friend as close as Aziris said they used to be, traveling together, making angels in the snow, discovering new places. She could plainly see the hope in the priestess' eyes that Lomani would remember, but there was nothing.

The seer had accepted the missing pieces long ago, come to terms with it and found a sort of serenity with the concept that she was just going to have to move forward from here, and that whatever had happened in her old life was gone. She wasn't that person anymore. There was just one thing Aziris had told her that destroyed the tauren's solace in her own ignorance.

Agiga was a twin, and the sister was alive and well.

She went by name Kerala Windchaser.

Why had Kerala never told her? If what Aziris said was true, and Lomani had no reason to suspect that it wasn't, then her former chieftain's apathy hurt all the more. Family should stand together against all odds, should love and protect each other. Instead, Kerala pushed her away, insulted her, and actively worked to prevent any relationship. At first, Lomani accepted it as just Kerala's way of dealing with people. After all, she didn't let anyone close. But, if they were sisters... it cast the druid's actions in a new light.

Lomani felt betrayed, abandoned and alone. She'd told Aziris to go, to give her some time to deal with it all. It wasn't Aziris she was upset with- the girl had just recently been through a traumatic near-death event. It was understandable that the undead might not immediately know what to do when presented with a dear friend who had no idea who she was. But Kerala?

The druid's silence was painful to consider. Lomani felt unwanted and unloved. She was incredibly lonely, deep down to her core. Numbness, something akin to shock, still saturated her thoughts, and she knew it was there. The pain was real, the hurt was justified, but logically, Lomani knew a singular truth.

This too, would pass. She wasn't truly alone. She wasn't truly abandoned. There were reasons for the things people did, the choices they made, and she resolved that she would find out what those were, but not now. Now, she was unbalanced. Unsteady and shaken.

The seer raised her eyes from the rippling water beside her, and glanced again to the arc of brilliant color suspended like a jewel in the mists. She couldn't see the sun, but An'she was there, and the rainbow was proof of his Light. Despite her hurt, Lomani still had the Earth Mother. Now, more than ever, the silver seer relied on her faith to be the anchor in the turmoil of her thoughts. She prayed, singing them in soft hymns, and didn't try to stop the tears that flowed down her cheeks.

"Tearjerker"

Well I wish there was someone

Well I wish there was someone

To love me

When I used to be someone

And I knew there was someone

That loved me

As I sit here frozen alone

Even ghosts get tired and go home

As they crawl back under the stones

And I wish there was something

Please tell me there's something better

And I wish there was something more than this

Saturated loneliness

And I wish I could feel it

And I wish I could steal it

Abduct it, corrupt it, but I never can

it's just saturated loneliness

Does the silence get lonely?

Does the silence get lonely?

Who knows?

I've been hearing it tell me

I've been hearing it tell me

Go home

Cause the freaks are playing tonight

They packed up and turned out the lights

And I wish there was something

Please tell me there's something better

And I wish there was something more than this

Saturated loneliness

And I wish I could feel it

And I wish I could steal it

Abduct it, corrupt it, but I never can

It's just saturated loneliness

And the bath waters cold

And this life's getting old

And I wish I could feel it

And I wish I could feel it

And I wish I could steal it

Abduct it, corrupt it

And I wish I could feel it

And I wish I could steal it

And I wish I could feel it

Abduct it, corrupt it

But I never can

I never can

Never Can

Never Can

Never Can

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31. The Friend Song - The Union Underground

It took forever for the moment to arrive. A mini-eternity. Kerala wondered if Lomani had done it on purpose, keeping her anxious and suspended in the unknown. The minute the druid saw her gentle pale-eyed sister, she realized that was stupid. Of course Lomani was not so conniving or spiteful. She was nice. She was innocent.

The silver seer wore more traditional Shu'halo clothing than her usual silken gown. Two rectangular panels of dyed woven cloth draped over her neck and shoulders. The corners met between her breasts, tied beneath a beautiful gold-colored disc inscribed with some symbol or other. The weighty clasp kept winds from disturbing the otherwise loose garment. Of course the fabric was green, a pale hue that perfectly complemented the seer's strange washed-out eye color. The skirt was long and equally simple. Strings of orange-gold triangles and round beads decorated the garment. Kerala wondered if Lomani had made the outfit herself. Probably she had.

Her sister was just the same as always. She was the girl with pale eyes and grey fur that took in the sun, the glow of a candle, or even cold white-blue moonlight and sent it back to the eye somehow enhanced, somehow gleaming silver. Silver seer. Lomani Greydawn. Agiga was dead, and had died sometime between childhood and the moment of their first meeting, over a year ago.

Lomani just stood there a moment, looking at Kerala. Perhaps she had similar thoughts. Perhaps she was thinking her own unknowable secrets. Kerala recognized that the time to avoid this woman, if she had wanted to, was done. Opportunity had taken flight and was gone with the winds. For better, or, more likely for worse, they were now linked. Sisters.

The silence had to be broken, they both knew it, but the quiet stretched on. Old habits. Kerala would not be the one to break it. Opening her mouth led to trouble, and what could she say, anyway? Lomani apparently knew this, as she tended to simply know queer things she shouldn't, and finally she began speaking. Softly. Her tone was telling. There were no questions, not yet. Those, Kerala felt, would come much later, but they would come.

Her sister told her how she wanted to live together, to share space. Proximity would be a good way to grow comfortable with each other again, she said. To learn how to be a family. She watched Kerala carefully, waiting for an objection to her ideas, waiting for resistance. The chance to fly away was gone like the winds. If Lomani was surprised at the lack of backtalk, she hid it well. She was saying how they two would be friends.

Kerala said nothing. What could she say?

The druid had a knack for observation. A skill developed and tempered in the scouring wastes of those desolate years growing up. She nodded in the right places, not arguing with her sister's ideas at all, but she wasn't listening. She was watching.

Lomani lied.

Likely, she didn't think she was, but Kerala knew. She saw the subtle flick of the eyes, the slight muscles tense. Lomani said she was Kerala's friend, but even she knew, deep down, that it might not be truth. The signs were there, the druid saw, but so miniscule that if she had not specifically been looking for them, she would have missed them. Later, she would wonder even if she had imagined what she saw. Lomani was as likely to lie as Kerala was- which was not very. But, Kerala also knew, there were more ways to lie than simply speaking an untruth.

She listened to Lomani talking about things, watching, not listening. Her mind kept right on thinking it's own dark thoughts. They drifted through, unwelcome and chilling like a night breeze, and nearly as formless, but she recognized them. They were familiar and known on this worn mental pathway of futures and friendships and the road led off to who-knows-where, but it began in a place Kerala knew well. When she was feeling optimistic and almost normal, she wanted the things Lomani spoke of- she wanted to be included and to be counted a friend. She wanted to share the happy things to make the feeling larger and cultivate it like a growing plant, and she wanted to ease the pain of the unhappy things by sharing them as well, and in so doing diffuse it. She wanted to think of others and not just herself, and she wanted them to think of her. She wanted a sister.

But then, the night winds would whisper through her thoughts, dark and cold, a reminder of the road's origin from which they blew. Kerala would recall the very long list (to her) of things she had done in her very short time of living, and the way they had all gone awry. Good intentions. Bad results. This, the dark wind whispered, was just more of the same. Good intent, but experience said that it wouldn't add up to the good intended result.

Kerala wanted to believe her sister when Lomani said they would become good friends, as sisters were supposed to do. She wanted a friend.

But even as she kept her silence, not daring to speak because when she opened her mouth, it led to trouble, she recalled the nickname labeled to her in the Glade of the Cenarion Wildlands, that strange eruption of greenery surrounded on all sides by the wastes. Desolate. They called her Windchaser. This, Kerala feared, no... Kerala KNEW, was probably more of the same. Kerala saw the lie when Lomani said she was a friend, and somewhere, deep down, perhaps Lomani knew it too. Or Kerala imagined the cues of falsehood she thought she saw in the silver seer.

What she did not imagine, the dark wind whispered to her in the silent stillness of her tongue, was the way things had ended up when SHE told someone she was their friend. That was done and happened, and nothing could change it. Zaetar, as the Magram said, was dead.

Kerala listened as the more beautiful one of the pair of sisters told her lies, and she nodded. Her friend. She took Lomani's hand, and she followed, to the tent that the two of them would share going forward. Sure, she nodded. Her friend. She did want a friend.

Later, after she had morphed to the feathered body of the bird and rode thermals high above the land, she couldn't help turning West, and looking down at the mountain range so close by. A tiny natural wall from this height, and yet she spent most of her days lately looking that direction. West. She thought she could hear things on the wind, or, more accurately, that she could SMELL them. The dirty unwashed sweaty smell of horses. Good intentions, bad results, experience nagged her. As she wheeled in long lazy spirals she let her thoughts run in a similar funnel shape until, like the storm, they blew themselves out and quieted again.

Still, the dark wind, before it died out to calmness along that pathway of thought which led who-knows-where and began in a black place she knew well whispered as it dissipated. The words it told were two. Name and surname. They were the first pair of words at the top of a list of twenty-eight of them, now thirty with the addition of "Konro" and "Stormreaver". Fourteen names she might rattle off from memory at a moment's notice, all but that first one. She could not bring her tongue to form the two words of it, even though her mind knew them well.

Kerala wheeled in the sky on thermals. She went where the wind led, following it. The unspeakable name turned over and over in her mind long after the storm of her thoughts had calmed, and she couldn't shake the feeling that she was doing it again. Windchaser. Good intentions, bad results. Her friend. Name and surname. Name number one was her friend, she'd said. She'd lied. Number one of fifteen dead Shu'halo by her hand. Number sixteen? She knew nothing. Ignorant, broken little sister. She said she was Kerala's friend.

It was sad.

"The Friend Song"

Living in fear fuck pretend

24 years struggle within

Makin' it clear this is sin

Lie my dear lie my friend

So sad

Livin' in me complicate

What's it gonna be so irate

Choke on me asphyxiate

All I see all my hate

So sad

too bad

I'll be the one

kill you for fun

This song is dumb

You said you were my friend

Hope you never call again

right

Comin' undone live with this

Beautiful one state of bliss

My affliction's killing this

Bury this one

for a kiss

So sad

too bad

I'll be the one

kill you for fun

This song is dumb

You said you were my friend

Hope you never call again

mother fuck

(you said you were)[ x12] You said you were my friend! [x8]

it's sad

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