Kelebek awoke to the smell of fresh earth and the stench of her own body. Confused, she tried to create some sense of what surroundings she could make out. A stone canopy, a bit of light streaming in from above her aching head. The stone drake. Groaning, Kelebek rolled over onto her stomach and proceeded to crawl out from under the drake's wing. Once out from under its protective canopy, she stood up on wobbly legs.
She stretched and inhaled the fresh, rain-cleansed air. That act alone did much to revive her weakened spirits. Tenderly she walked over to the stream's edge, carefully kneeling down by its side. Kelebek removed her pack, her gloves, and her outer tunic and began to wash the filth from her face and forearms. Once she felt sufficiently clean in those areas, she took a deep, grateful drink from the stream.
Thirst quenched and feeling a bit refreshed, Kelebek took to the task of checking the contents in her pack. Satisfied to find that her city clothes - which consisted of a tattered blue dress, a linen shirt, a fresh pair of soft leather leggings, and soft leather boots - were relatively slime free. Unfortunately her rations of Winterspring berries and stag jerky, which were stored in an outer pocket of her satchel, were not so lucky. The jerky had gone slimy with moisture and the berries were beginning to mold; Kelebek would have to forage for fresh food soon. Saddened by the waste of what had been perfectly good food, she tossed the rations out. As she was doing so she thanked the spirits that be for the food once again and apologized for their waste.
Once the contents of her pouch were repacked she took a moment to look around. Morning in Darkshore was gloomy, but much less so than in Felwood. The sky was grey and damp looking, the grass covered in a fine dew. Tendrils of fog danced about in the open grassy areas near the stream. It was rather peaceful, in a depressing sort of way.
Kelebek shook the dreamy thoughts from her head and looked back at the drake. Aeornoss, that was his name, she thought to herself. Satisfied to see that he appeared to still be sleeping, Kelebek wandered up stream a ways, looking for both berry bushes and a spot deep enough in the stream to properly bathe in. She didn't have to travel far to find both things that she was seeking.
Aeonoss had landed them in a decent sized clearing in one of the many wooded areas of Darkshore. All Kelebek had to do was to walk towards the edge of this clearing to find several bushes that were no more than knee high on her. These bushes contained large, plump, and juicy blue berries, perfect for picking. Thanking both Elune and nature itself Kelebek plucked the berries and began to eat them one by one. They were absolutely perfect; she relished in both their flavor and texture. After several minutes of residing in berry heaven, Kelebek stopped herself. One's stomach could not be filled on berries alone after all, and it would be unwise to try doing so.
Feeling her strength returned and covered in much berry juice, Kelebek decided it was time to bathe. The water had pooled a bit near the berry bushes, so she needn't go far to do what she needed to do. Tentatively she looked back at the drake who appeared to still be resting. While not the shyest of people, Kelebek still felt a bit uneasy undressing in front of intelligent eyes, regardless of species. Reassured of his current state, she moved over to the water's edge and removed what clothing she still had on after the earlier clean up. Chilled by the early morning air, she walked into the crisp water of the little stream, walking until she was able to submerge herself into the blissfully clean waters.
Aeornoss awoke to the sound of water rippling. He looked over to where the little druid was bathing in the stream, observing her with his keen eyes as she scrubbed the green filth from her pale and shining hair. Finished with her cleaning, she strode out of the water. Her pale skin shone brilliantly in the murky morning light, contrasted by both the deep violet of the tattoos on her face and the purple splotches of bruising that was beginning to show along her fragile ribcage. She wasn't bad looking, for a fleshling. She had a more delicate build than that of a typical night elf female. Shorter in stature, leaner in muscle, not quite as heavy in the chest. Aeornoss didn't have much experience in observing night elves though, his experience was more with dwarves and the occasional orc if any species of humanoid at all, so what did he know. Still, she seemed healthy looking enough for someone he had plucked out of a zone containing little other than sewage, so he was content.
She felt cleaner than she had in days. Returning to the shore of the little stream, Kelebek used a small towel to dry off her pale skin and opted to redress herself with the clothes she had in her pack. The clean linen shirt and soft leather pants felt heavenly on her freshly cleaned body after having been contained in the slime-filled sweaty leather of her battle garb. She relished in the feeling for a moment before setting to the task of scrubbing her battle gear clean.
Once finished Kelebek with cleaning her battle gear she took the heavy, water laden clothing back to where Aeornoss lay watching. She laid out her leathers onto the large boulders nearby to dry, and dug into her pack for her oils.
Kelebek looked up at the drake and in seeing that he was awake, smiled. "Good morning Aeornoss." He looked at her and gave a slow nod, returning the greeting.
He observed her as she fussed over her gear as it dried. She continuously moved various bits and pieces onto dry parts of the boulder, ensuring that the soft insides dried properly. At the same time she oiled the outside of the various pieces of gear to make sure that the leather didn't crack as it dried. After several hours of this she was finally satisfied with how much oil the leather had absorbed and how it was coming along in the drying process. She told the drake that she needed meat for the remainder of the journey and that she would return shortly.
"I've picked enough berries for several days' travel but I require some meat to help sustain me. Even though the trip will be much shorter if you choose to travel with me, I can't expect to be in Darnassus within the next few days if I must travel on foot. Hunting now will also save on supply expenses while in the city. I will return soon."
"I understand." responded Aeornoss.
With that Kelebek shifted into her cat form and sprinted off into the woods in high hopes of finding a stag or doe.
With ease she maneuvered through the undergrowth of the forest. She stopped here to smell the soil for those faint traces that animals tend to leave behind, she searched there in the drying soil for fresh foot prints, gliding easily over a bush in her path as a deer had apparently done not too long before her. She padded down the deer trail silently, listening as she went for any sound that may betray an animal of their whereabouts. She didn't have to wait long.
There, in the clearing ahead stood three deer: a healthy looking buck, an older looking heavy set doe, and disturbingly, a half rotten looking fawn. Plagued. Kelebek thought to herself. I suppose it's expected, but I thought the mountains contained most of that. She weighed her options before her: Go after the buck and hope that he isn't plagued as well, or become ill from a diet only consisting of berries. Chances are that if that fawn was plagued, so too were animals in other areas of Darkshore. The plague generally took its victims quickly, so if one were to succumb to such an illness, it would show its effects within a few hours. The buck seemed healthy enough. He certainly wasn't lethargic, no erratic behavior, not a sniffle nor sneeze, and best of all, his fur didn't look to be falling out. Kelebek observed him for quite a while to be sure, moving herself into a promising ambush position while doing so. Unfortunately her white coat wasn't best suited for such a dark, earthy toned area, but she knew how to work the shadows to her advantage. She waited in stealth for the opportune moment to strike her prey.
Precious minutes crawled by as Kelebek lay in waiting. She was so focused on her prey that she didn't even notice her sore and protesting muscles as they remained taut; she was a coiled spring, a trap waiting to be sprung. The stag took a few more steps in her direction, grazing as he went. Time seemed to stop all together. Come on, just a bit closer. A bee lazily buzzed into the druid's ear, making its irritating buzzing hum, and yet she dare not twitch it away. It didn't really matter, she could barely hear it now. All she could listen to was the chewing of the stag and her own heart beat. Ba-boom ba-boom. He took a few more steps closer to the bush that gave the predator her cover. Baboombaboombaboom. The large beast took a few more grazing steps towards the bush and Kelebek seized her moment. She leapt from hiding spot, completely taking the stag by surprise. Mouth wide, claws extended, the druid exploded from her little bush, letting rip a savage roar as her attack met its target. The stag made an attempt to run as the cat attacked, but it was a moment to late. Kelebek's built in weapons had met their mark. Hunt successful.
The little druid was exhausted, but thankfully with a kill such as that comes adrenaline. She used this little burst of energy to help her drag the creature back to where Aeornoss was waiting for her. Once she made it back to the camp she shifted back into her night elf form and set about making a fire in which to prepare the meat over. The stone drake watched idly as Kelebek took measures to carefully skin the creature and then he continued to watch on as she prepared the venison for both immediate consumption and ensuring that it wouldn't go bad during their journey. She removed various salts from her pack, using one grain for her food while a thicker grain was applied to the now clean skin of the stag.
"What are you doing with that beasts shell, little ghost?" Inquired the stone drake.
"Preserving the leather so that I may use it later to either make new garments or to sell it in order to buy other needed supplies."
"I see." This notion confused Aeornoss a bit. Then again, this particular stone drake was rather uninformed about fleshlings after all. He just nodded his head and continued to observe.
Kelebek removed a few other bits and pieces from the stag as the meat cooked, carefully cleaning and adding salt to this and that. When it seemed that she could no longer find any use for what was left, she took the remains and brought them to the woods. Carefully she lay them beneath a tree and knelt before the remains.
"Thanks to the great stag who gave himself today so that I may find the strength to journey on. Praise Elune for allowing me to take the life of one of your own so that I may go on. I shall do my best to see that his death was not in vain."
With thanks and respect given the little druid returned to the stone drake. She rolled and tied the skin to her pack, wrapped up the meat best she should, and stowed away the bits and pieces she chose to keep. She then proceeded to change back into her battle garb and washed the blood from her city clothes. She doused down most of the fire, using the remains of it to quickly dry the last of her clothing. Once everything was packed and the fire was fully extinguished she finally announced to Aeonoss that she was ready to depart. She then asked the drake if he intended to travel with her.
"Of course, little ghost. I find you intriguing. I would very much like to learn more about you and your kind, if you would allow me to observe you further. I am ready to take flight the moment you are."
"Then my apologies about keeping you waiting, dear Aeonoss. One cannot simply rush the preservation of meat and skin unfortunately."
The drake smiled his stone smile. "Stone has an eternity, little one. I may not have an eternity, but time enough. I am patient and I believe I have learned much this morning."
The druid couldn't help but give a rare smile to the drake. "Well, if we hurry, we may be able to chase the sunset and arrive at Darnassus shortly after night fall. It's about a two days journey by foot, but I believe it is but half a day's travel by how a Druid of the Talon flies."
"I don't know much about these druids or their talons, but I do know how to fly." The drake looked up into the now brightly lit sky. "A clear day, little breeze. It's but midday. I may be made of stone, but elements are right to make some haste."
The druid nodded her acknowledgment and climbed up onto the stone drake's back. Aeronoss stood and said "Hang tight Kelebek, take off is always a little rough from flat ground." With that he opened his large stony wings, gave a few powerful flaps, thrusting the pair into the bright summer sky.
Next Chapter: Darkshore - The Vortex