Kelebek's progress through the area had been slow. The heat during the day was far too dangerous to travel in, while the nights were filled with opponents she dare not face alone. While the sun remained in the sky, the lions of the Barrens may have lolled about in the shade like pampered house cats, but at night they roamed in vicious packs. They cared not if something in their territory was a druid or fellow lion; they challenged anyone who dared to roam into what was theirs. So as it was, Kelebek found herself only able to travel in some sort of safety during the very early morning hours and those hours in the evening when the sun finally began its descent from the sky.
With night soon to fall, Kelebek crept from her hiding place among the hills and began her trek once more across the plains, dust gently poofing up around her white paws as she went. The evening air was quickly cooling and the skies were threatening with one of its rare thunderstorms. In the distance lightning danced in the clouds and the sound of thunder gently rolled to the druids ears. On she walked.
Sometime shortly after nightfall, the rains came. Onward she pressed, determined to for once travel through the night in order to make it to her destination before the sun came up. She had all the time in the world, but a feeling was pressing upon her, like as if an assailant were stalking her. The open fields were quickly turning to mud beneath the druid's feet, but the sounds of the night predators were few so she didn't mind.
On her way through the fields Kelebek passed a boar farm. Standing in the doorway was a huge male Tauren, leaning on the frame. Though the distance and drizzel tampered with her view, Kelebek thought she saw a faint grin on the bull's face as he watched his little calfling stomp about in the puddles. The cafling giggle in glee with her twin braids bouncing as the water splashed up around her. The druid smiled to herself at the sight and moved on.
Hours past and still it rained. The wind gusted but gently and the lightning remained high in the clouds. On and on she walked, keeping near the naked hills for safety. As luck would have it, she stumbled upon a rabbit as she went. She made a quick fire under a deserted stand of trees to prepare her meal. The sparse tinder she found nearby sputtered and hissed as she tried to get a spark to take. Eventually she coaxed a tiny, smoldering flame into existence, hot enough to cook her meal. She wouldn't be pulling off any stunts with an empty stomach on this night, and for that she was thankful.
Once fed, Kelebek took a moment to clean the skin and bones, then safely stowed them away to hopefully cure in the near future. She tried to waste nothing, as always. With the rabbit's remains sufficiently tidied up, and her fire extinguished, she moved on with a new sense of haste. The rains were letting up, the sky was beginning to brighten, and if she didn't hurry, she'd miss her opportunity to slip into Ratchet unseen.
A drink and a bed were the only things she desired after spending weeks traveling through the wild jungles of Stranglethorn. Talk to the fellas working the Nesingwary Safari, they're looking for skilled hunters, they said. Should be easy enough work. "I need ye to round up a bunch o' tiger pelts. About 20 o' them." All they wanted was pelts. To hell with the rest, let it all rot. Mindless, greedy murder. The whole ordeal made her stomach sour.
She had tried to convince them to use the rest of the parts. Tiger meat wasn't terrible tasting, bones could always be used for various tools and even jewelry. Old Nesingwary wasn't having any of it and threw the excess animal parts into the fire. He had smiled at her with a gold-toothed grin and handed a few claws to her once everything else was in the process of becoming ash. "Why don't ye go run along and make yerself a pretty necklace now?" Livid, offended, and sick at heart, she took her pathetically meager pay and headed south to Booty Bay.
So she had found herself at a table in the Salty Sailor Tavern, nursing a somewhat watery mead and nibbling on stale bread. Running low on gold and feeling a bit down, she had been contemplating her next move when a gruff voice rose above the quiet chatter of the tavern.
"Oi, flea bag."
Not really paying attention to the voice, Kelebek had kept her back turned to the room and pushed another piece of stale bread into her mouth. She had been dimly aware of the thunk of heavy boots on the wooden floor, and of the fact that they had been moving in her direction.
"I said FLEA BAG!" A big man, covered everywhere but on the cheeks with heavy, black matted hair, grabbed the druid by her shoulder and forcing her around to his direction. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you, you mangy, pointed eared animal." He had a hunk of chewing tobacco stuffed behind his lip and he let a wad of saliva fly onto the planks of the floor.
Irritated with having her evening interrupted by the brute, Kelebek simply narrowed her eyes and let out a deep growl.
"Filthy fuckin' animal, where's your manners? A man's speakin' to you, should pay him the proper attention."
She turned back to the wall before her and took a slow sip of her mead. A large hand came within inches of her face, effectively knocking the crude wooden mug from her hand. Again she growled and shot him a burning, irritated look.
"Is there something I can help you with? Or are you just here to upset my night and spill my perfectly good cup of mule's piss all over the place?"
"You could say that." With one hand he tossed a gold coin on the table. With the other he grabbed the area where his legs connected.
"Sorry, not my line of work." Kelebek grabbed another hunk of bread and put it in her mouth.
"Like hell it ain't. Isn't that what all you foresty hippie types are all about? A fuck to anything that offers? Hell, I'm paying and willing to pretend you don't have any sorts of rabies."
She chewed her bread slowly, methodically. She swallowed and said, "Aren't you just the Samaritan." A flat smile flashed across her face. "I think not though."
She rose and began to head into the direction of her room. As she tried to walk past him, he grabbed her arm. He leaned a face close to hers. The brute stank of booze, sweat, and old meat. "Now listen here, animal. You'll come to my room and we'll have ourselves a little fun. You won't raise a damn fuss on the way, neither."
"I think not."
She had risen her voice enough for the tavern patrons to hear. Eyes trained on the pair over mugs of beer and whine; the room had fallen silent. Irritated at the disturbance she had caused, the man gripped her upper arm more firmly and began to drag her towards the stairs.
Kelebek twisted hard against his grip, but he clung ever more tightly. She bared her teeth, which had become pointy with her partially shifting into her feral form. A growl rumbled past her lips as she took a swipe at the brute. Claws had found flesh, choice words slipped from his drunken mouth. By this point many of the tavern's patrons were hooting in amusement or hollering for them to knock off the fuss. Kelebek's assailant paid them no heed. In a roar of surprise and pain, the man spun the druid around and grabbed her by the hair. He had nearly gotten them to the foot of the stairs when the sharp click of shotguns were heard.
An older, dark skinned goblin with white tuffs of hair sprouting from his bat-like ears walked up to them and held out his hand.
"Hand ova your keys. You two ain't welcome here."
Two more goblins had been the source of the shotgun clicks; one was behind the man with the barrel of his gun pointed at his head, while the other was on the landing of the tavern's steps, barrel aimed in the general direction of the pair.
"I paid for my night..." the brute began, but the tavern owner simply scowled.
"Keys," repeated the goblin. The goblin turned his eyes over to the brute "and let the lady go."
With a violent shove the man released Kelebek, stuffed his hand into his pocket, yanked out his room key, and thrust them into the hands of the old goblin. He then stomped out the door and into the night.
"You too, lady."
Furious with how the evening turned out, the druid dug into the pocket of her vest and withdrew the key to her room. Once she had placed it into the palm of the tavern owner, his toned quieted some and he said to her "Now you best clear out of Booty Bay. We don't want trouble makers around here. Don't even think about sneaking on back, either."
With a scowl planted firmly on her face, Kelebek snatched up her pack and cloak from where they lay hidden under the table. It wasn't until after she had walked out into the night that the two goblins wielding guns lowered their weapons and the chatter started back up once more in the tavern.
Having no other alternative, she hid in the shadows of the little port town until the next ship arrived in the morning. She managed slip on board without being noticed, and in secrecy she made her way back to Kalimdor.
Three years had passed since that night, but seeing Ratchet and that vast body of water on the horizon brought it all back. The irritation, the humility, the fact that goblins have long-lived memories and kept the members of their cartels well informed. For three years she had to tread carefully whenever she meandered into a goblin city and more often than not ended up in a fight for her own pelt against the locals once they recognized her.
She let out a sigh and shielded her eyes from the morning sun's rays. No boat in port, she noted. This was a good sign for her, as it meant that the next ship due would be arriving later in the day and probably wouldn't head out again until morning. This allowed her the best chance at stowing herself away on the boat. The delay also meant that she had some time to gather supplies. The trip took a few days, and while she could in theory swipe some food while on board, it was extremely risky. Steal from a goblin and have them find out about it, you were as good as dead.
The druids supplies had been waning. The rabbit in her pack wouldn't last through the hot day, her water skin was bone dry, her rations of dried berries and the like had long since been consumed. She knew of an oasis just to the west of Ratchet, so despite her weary muscles and the rising heat of the day, she headed in that direction.
The sun was high in the sky by the time she reached the leafy shade of the oasis. Little clouds of bugs buzzed lazily in the air; various species of game drank deeply from the watering hole.
Cautiously she made her way to the water's edge. Assured that a croc wasn't about to leap out of the shallows at her, the druid drank deeply. Thanks to the rains from the night before, the water seemed fresh. Once her thirst had been slaked, she filled her water skin. Only then did she sit town with her back against a tree to take an inventory as to what the oasis had to offer.
Her keen eyes spotted several items that would be of use to her. Mushrooms, various sorts of herbs, and a few different varieties of berries could be seen. A few gazelle and zhevra mozied about nibbling the lush grass found around the pool.
She immediately discarded the idea of taking meat or fish with her. She didn't have the proper time to prepare it and with the heat of the Barrens, it'd be spoiled before nightfall. Not to mention, the scent of procured meat could potentially attract rats on the ship. Not that she completely minded the thought of that, as the rats both kept her fed and in good company during previous voyages. Still, it was better not to draw any extra attention to her hiding place.
Exhausted, she set to the task of picking mushrooms and berries. There were several species of each, many of which were toxic. Luckily Taloris had taught her well in not only the ways of the druid, but in the ways of nature. Identifying what was food and what was poison was easy for her. While she was at it, she also picked a few herbs, for both flavoring and for health.
The sun beat down through the canopy without remorse. As she foraged through the underbrush, she took large swigs from her water pouch. It seemed to her that working in the daylight caused her to sweat faster than she could drink. I'll rest here against this tree for just a moment, she thought. Within minutes, her eyes drooped and her head nodded.
By the time she came around, the sun was already perched on the horizon. She swore, startling a small herd of zhevra that were grazing nearby. Kelebek checked her pack, relieved to find that the items she had gathered earlier hadn't been spoiled or attacked by bugs while she slept. Quickly she moved over to the edge of the pool, topped off her water skin, scooped out a bit of water with her hand to wet her throat, and began her run back to Ratchet.
The bells of Ratchet were sounding, announcing the arrival of the latest ship. The night air was rapidly cooling and the moon was peaking over the horizon, fat and bright. Goblins were scurrying across the torch-lit docks, unloading various cargo and reloading the ship with supplies. As they went about their business, several passengers deboarded.
From her perch on one of the nearby shadowy hills, could make out the passengers as they came ashore. Curious and with nothing better to pass the time with, she watched them.
First came a gnome, strawberry colored hair laying fluffy and free around her shoulders. In one hand she held a scepter, the other held the reins of a skittish looking palomino pony.
Next came a pair of draenei, both dark of skin and hair. In their arms they carried what appeared to be heavy plate mail. They resembled one another, siblings or some other close relation, though the female had an unnatural blue glow to her alien eyes. While she couldn't be completely sure due to the distance between herself and the two draenei, Kelebek thought they looked vaguely familiar. Unable to pin down their identities though, she took note of the rest of the passengers.
A dark haired dwarf with a great black beard walked along the dock with a tall, pale skinned draenei female; the pair appeared to be deep in conversation. They both carried heavy packs, but seemed to be in high spirits despite the obvious weight of their travelling packs.
Preoccupied and looking thoroughly lost in thought, a white haired night elf came ashore by a giant ginger panther. His pack seemed to be weighed down, scrolls poked up through the top flap and were stuffed into its pockets.
Last came a blood elf male, with his long blonde hair cascaded well to the middle of his back and a sneer of disgust planted firmly on his handsome face. He too lead a steed across the docks, though unlike the gnome's pony, this was a horse of an exotic breed. The body was black as coal, though its hindquarters were dappled with the same creamy blonde that made up its flowing main and tail, which in turn nearly matched the shade of its owners locks. The lower sections of the beast's legs were also feathered with the same blonde hair. Its nostrils flared and it tossed its delicate head back, willfully and spirited. A fire could be seen in the eyes of the gorgeous animal, even from the distance that the druid was at.
Kelebek was intrigued by the blood elf and his steed. The man walked with an air of importance and was dressed in luxurious black robes with a rich black cape to match. The horse was wearing a fine black saddle blanket with a soft leather saddle placed on top, and a delicate bridel that had black tassels dangling from it was buckled around the fine features of the creature's face. It was rather obvious that this elf was not someone who was short on gold coin.
"Who are you, and what are you doing in a place like this now?" the druid thought quietly to herself. Generally those of wealth could afford the services of a mage to quickly get them from place to place.
As she watched the blood elf walk into the night in the general direction of Ratchet's only hotel, a commotion by the docks brought her attention back to the area. Supply-laden goblins, eager to empty their hands onto the ship, were yelling up a storm. Their complaints were directed at a diminutive orc, nobby in the legs and having a hunch in his spine, was coaxing an elderly looking mule down the ramp of the ship and towards the direction of land. The mule was pulling a cart, while nothing terribly fancy as far as carts go, was in meticulous repair. It appeared that the cart was stuffed with expensive looking luggage crates, carpets, and a large canvas bundle that the druid took to be a rather large tent. The old animal was slow to move, and the cart was wide enough to make traffic to and from the ship nearly stop.
The orc, while small for his race but still twice as tall as the majority of the goblins, began to snarl back at those who were yelling at him. She couldn't make out the words being exchanged from where she sat, but she could see that the commotion was distracting the majority of the deckhands and the nearby town guards. She smiled, silently thanking Elune and the little orc for providing an opening for her to sneak onto the ship.
On silent feet she crept towards the little town. The druid kept herself behind bushes and buildings as much as she could, and always kept herself in the shadows. To be less noticeable, she remained in her elf form and had wrapped up her long, white hair into a dark green scarf. Her eyes remained downcast so as to not accidentally reflect any light, as the eyes of the night elves often did, and her ears strained for anything that may mean trouble for her.
She could still hear the argument going on when she silently slipped into the water. Making almost no sound, she began to swim towards the portside of the ship. There she would be safe from the lights of the dock torches, as it wasn't the side moored up to the dock itself. The druid kept her face low in the water; had anyone bothered to look in her direction, she may have appeared to be a very small, pale bit of flotsam floating in the moonlight.
It took several long, tense minutes worth of swimming before she reached the side of the big ship. Thanks to its odd design, the boat had several ridges along the sides that could serve as handholds. Kelebek had to adjust her grip a few times, for the ridge along the water line was a bit slippery with algae, before pulling herself up and out of the water.
Kelebek stopped just shy of the nearest porthole and listened; the last thing she wanted to do was peek in and have the moon silhouette her in the window, showing off her presence to whoever may be in the hold. What she heard was the muffled sound of boots on wood, and two goblin voices.
"Now Gazin, did ya boys remember to grab me the basil this time?" said a woman's voice.
"Yes Cookie, we got ya your damn basil." croaked a male goblin.
"Don't you go gettin' touchy with me now. If you expect us to keep our passengers happy, they need a few more flavors on their tongue than salted fish."
"Wasted gold, if ya ask me."
"Takes gold to make gold, sweets. Keep 'em fat and happy on the voyage, they'll likely travel our way again."
Gazin grumbled. "Yeah yeah..."
There was the creak of steps and the voices of Gazin and Cookie faded away from the druid's ears. She waited a few beats and finally heard the door to the bottom hold slam shut. After a few more moments she deemed it safe enough to peek into the porthole. Seeing no one around, she slid her thin frame through the hole, gently rolling onto the floor as she entered the ship.
Her eyes scanned the hold, mentally marking the placement of the cargo. Thankfully the ship that had arrived that evening was an older one, so she wouldn't have to rely too heavily on the cargo itself for her safety. Instead, she set out to find one of the ship's many hidden compartments. Generally such compartments weren't needed, unless someone had paid the goblins a rather heavy sack of gold, which in that case the goblins were always more than happy to smuggle something across the seas.
After having found several of the compartments, she decided that this time around her ride was not taking part in a smuggling operation. For that she was thankful. What it meant was that she could hide safely, without fear of either someone needing to stow something in her chosen hiding place, or in the event that the ship was searched, being discovered by both the law and the goblins themselves.
Finally she came across a tiny hidden chamber behind the steps. It was large enough that she could sit upright, though she'd need to keep her knees up. If she curled tightly into a ball, she could perhaps lay down, but either position would leave her legs feeling cramped. The druid wasn't looking forward to several days out at see with such hiding conditions, but it couldn't be helped for she was running out of time.
As the morning's light started to seep through the ship's various portholes, the bells of Ratchet clanged once again. While the goblins began their ritual of casting off into the see, a druid settled in for a long, cramped ride.