One breath away

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“Breathe!” Thump! “Breathe, dammit!” Thump! Thump! “Come on, girl … “

Thump! Thump!

Sheela felt his small fists pounding her chest. She couldn’t breathe. Seaweed and water clogged her throat. The Light was fading, fast. Her eyes were open but she saw almost nothing in the gathering dark. She could only feel the thump, thump, thump of the gnomes tiny fists. She could only hear the sobbing and the prayers and the muttered words of “Breathe, come on, breathe. Don’t go away, beutiful. Breathe!”

“She’s with Elune now, Bixx,” a voice said. Then a face, pale as the moon, appeared in front on Sheelas eyes. “There’s nothing you can do. She is gone.”

“NO!!!” Thump. “I WILL not!” Thump. “Let this one!” Thump. “GO!!!” Thump.

Sheela coughed. It started as a faint gasp, then racked her chest until she spewed water and weeds in a steady stream. She was flat on her back. For a few seconds she feared she would drown anyway, but then everyone started screaming and yelling and someone rolled her over on her side. She puked water and seaweed, half digested hardtack and beer. The smell of putrid vomit blanketed everything around her. She didn’t know if it was sweat or tears or salt water running down her face. It was so cold. There were screams from down by the shipwreck. Then a tremendous crash as the wooden hull caught a wave and lifted off the rocks. She tried to stand up, but couldn’t find the strength. Still on her knees, she watched the ship roll first to one side, then the other.

“Mother of all!” The gnome gasped. “Look at that!”
“It’s finished … “the night elf said. “No one could survive that.”

Elune of the Seas lurched to the side, the main mast broke in two. Then the hull burst open as the cargo of copper- and iron bars crashed through the wood. It only took a minute for the ship to go down. Dozens of people were still trapped – less than a hundred feet from Westfall. The water boiled with air bubbles. The ship went down with a thundering, slurping sound, echoing across the stormlashed sea. Some sailors tried to swim against the backdraft but the currents pulled them down.

Then everything turned still. No screams, no crashing timber. The waves kept sloshing against the shoreline. The wind kept howling. The rain, heavy as a waterfall, kep pelting the sand, the rocks, the flotsam and the sea. Bodies kept popping up like corks, flung across the angry waves.

“It’s … “the gnome shook his head in disbelief. “It’s just us, now … ”
“Look over there! Torches!” The night elf stood up, shielding her eyes from the rain and wind with her hands. “Over there!”
“Praise the Light!” The gnome started jumping up and down, screaming “HEY!!! OVER HERE!!!” He stopped jumping, turned to the night elf and grinned. “It’s the bloody militia!”
“Aren’t they rather short for militia troopers?”

The eerie sound of a snicker rolled down the sandbank. Then the gnolls stormed the beach.

****

Shu_sash

Glass shattering on stone woke Shuanna up. The walls of Lunarfall was eight feet thick, but the town hall was nothing more than a shack. Stone piled upon stone with mortar in between, wooden boards on wooden beams. Her bedroom was one floor above the main hall. Even small sounds echoed up through the wooden floor, reverberating against stone and plaster.

Years in the field had tempered her. Even the slightest sound could wake her up. She would wake up with her heart racing, reach out and grab the mace that always rested against the wall close to her bed. Most of the times there was nothing to attack but shadows. Or an inquisitive mouse, pit-patting across the floor. Sometimes there was nothing at all, the room was dark but she still heard the screams in her head. Sometimes there were ghosts in the darkness. Sometimes she raged against them, swinging her mace – only to stop mid-motion and wonder if she was going crazy.

She was used to waking up, several times every night, from all the small sounds. Even peaceful sounds, like the tick-tock of the chronometer far up in the tower, could send her into near panic. Every time cold sweat trickled down her spine, her armpits felt ablaze. Then sometimes, other sounds woke her up, sounds no one would expect in a town hall.

Like the sound of sorrow … one early morning she woke up hearing lieutenant Thorn sobbing downstairs. When Shuanna came down, still half asleep and almost naked but armed with a glowing crystal mace, she found Thorn bent double over a ledger. The lieutenant clutched a rose with one hand and a gun with the other. They stared at each other, knowing that both of them had their own nightmares, their own pain. None of them ever spoke of it. Secrets amongst friends.

Once, she woke up to muffled moans. Mace ready in her hands, she stormed down the stair and into the main hall … only to find rangari Erdanii on all four with VaanDaam behind her. It took all three of them a few seconds to react to the embarassment. Then Shuanna simply backed out of the room, trying not to laugh. None of them ever spoke of it. Secrets amongst friends.

Once, she woke up to the rumble of books, falling from a bookshelf. Mace ready in her hands, she dashed into the hall but stopped dead in her tracks. Zaliss, the feral druid, was desperately clinging to a bookshelf full of ledgers, trying to catch a moth. Both stared at each other, then Zaliss made a giant leap and snuck out of the town hall keeping low to the ground, full of shame and embarassment. None of them ever spoke of it. Secrets amongst friends.

Now, the crash of glass against stone, followed by a shout that sounded muffled through the mortar and glass of walls and windows.
“Fuck ALL of you, dammit!”

There was another crash, followed by distant yells of “Oi!” and “Hey, stop that!”. Shuanna gripped her mace even before she was completely awake. She forced herself to focus as she ran down the stairs and out the main door to the Town Hall. Dressed in nothing but underwear, she stopped halfway down the slope, mace resting by her side.

“Commander!” A guard shouted. “She gone crazy she has!”
“You stay away from me!” Sashanna screamed, then flung another empty clay bottle at the walls. “Fuck off!”
“I will handle this, guardsmen,” Shuanna said. She sent an angry glare at her sister. “Sash! Stop that!”
“No!” Sashanna picked up another bottle, but then most of the strength left her. She sank down on her knees, sobbing and crying. Shards from a broken bottle of Caraway Burnwine twinkled in the starlight around her. There was a dagger in her right hand.

“Sash?” Shuanna said, her voice low and careful. After some thought, she lowered her mace. “You behave now, you hear?”
“I hate all of you!” Sashanna screamed. Then she thought it over, and added: “Well, not Blook … ”
“You calm down now, you hear?” Shuanna took a few steps towards her. “Come on, sis. Let’s get you inside. We’ll talk inside. Okay?”

Sashanna sighed. Then she hugged herself, trying not to shiver. Early mornings in Shadowmoon could be quite chilly. Burnwine and rage had kept her warm so far, but as the adrenaline faded away she felt cold and vulnerable. She mumbled an “okay then … ” and followed Shuanna inside the Town Hall. Slouching, resisting almost every step, she finally slumped down in front of the fireplace.

Shuanna walked her all the way back. With a sigh of relief she closed the door to the main hall and let the mace rest against a wall. She walked down the length of the room, pulling a coat from a rack near the door, covering herself up. It was better than nothing. Early morning and the main hall was damp and cold until she entered the halfcircle of warmth from the fireplace. More glass in front of the fireplace. Even as Sashanna was sitting down, she was leaning first to one side, then another.

“You alright?” Shuanna said as she hunched down. “Hey, Sash?” She carefully put a hand on her sisters head and gave the hair a little ruffle. “What got into you!? you’re drunk as a skunk, girl!”

“I’m fine,” Sashanna said. She swallowed a sob, wiping tears and snot from her face with the sleave of her dress. “I’m jush … I dunno.” She glanced at the broken bottle. “Shorry ’bout that … me a bit d’unk, I think.” She stared at the dagger in her hand. Then, with a frightened yelp, she tossed to the side and looked up at Shuanna. “I mish Kam … ”
“Ah.” Shuanna sat down, careful to avoid the glass shards. She pushed the dagger away with one of her hooves. When she spoke, she tried to keep her usual haggard, slightly angry tone, in check. “You didn’t think about doing something with that dagger, I hope.”
“Couldn’t get the she… sh… ” A deep breath. “Seal. Off da bottle. Shorry … It kinda shlipped my handsh.”
“Uh-huh.” Shuanna nodded. To her own suprised she smiled. It felt good, smiling. She suddenly realised she had almost never smiled from pure joy. Malice, yes. Threatening hate, oh sure. Love or joy? not so much. There were another bottle close by, already empty. “Party hard, eh?”

Sashanna giggled, slumped back on the bearskin and rested her head against the furs stuffed bearhead. After a while, she reached out with a hand and pulled Shuanna down beside her.
“I hash da shadsh … shads.” Deep breath. “Sad.”
“I know honey.” Shuanna sat up. There was a quilt next to her. She brought it up and draped it over Sashanna. “I know … ” She sighed, deeply.

“How can you?” Sashanna wiped tears from her face, trying to stiffle a sob. It failed. “How can you know?” I mean … Fuck. “She sighed, deeply, trying not to cry but failed. Almost wailing, she clung to Shuanna. “I love her sho mush! Why mush … mush deshe fucking politicsh … I mish her too!”
“We very nearly couldn’t get you out of Silvermoon, kid.” Shuanna shrugged. “I know what love is, but dammit, girl. A blood elf? I had to cash in on a shitload of favors just to keep you out of the gallows.”
“Pleashe don’t be mad … ”
“I’m not mad!” Shuanna sighed, closed her eyes and forced her voice into a low, almost monotone sound. “It’s just the way I sound. You know it … ”
“I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
“I’m no–” Deep breath. “I’m not mad. You had us all worried, that’s all. Running away like that, eh? The High King himself yelled at me, you know. I’ve killed men for doing that.”
“Shorry … ” Sashanna leaned back, wiping her face with a corner of the quilt. “WEll they do call you the Kingshlayer …”

Shuanna laughed. Very gently, she patted Sashannas head, stroking her hair. It somehow calmed both of them down.
“Eh, it doesn’t matter.” Shuanna smiled, she hoped it would be a warm smile but from Sashannas worried expression it probably came out as a sneer. “Laveria, the fucking bitch, she’s dealing with Kam. I’m stuck with you, silly girl.”
“You’re mad at me.”
“No.” Shuanna sighed. “Well, ok, a bit. Look … Blood elves, the Horde … It’s just not possible, Sash. Sorry. Not yet, anyway.”
“I love her!”
“I know. I know …”
“You do?”
“I was young too, once.”
“I find that hard to believe.”

Shuanna burst out laughing. It was not a very pleasant laugh. Everytime she laughed, there was that mean, haggard edge to it. She saw Sashanna cringe a little. Instead of saying anything, Shuanna leaned over and started to tickle her sister.

“You little vixen!”
“No! Pleashe! Shtop it!” Sashanna shrieked with laughter. “Pleashe!”
“Right.” Shuanna chuckled, leaned back on her elbows and bumbed her hip against Sashannas. “It’s true. I used to be in love.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Sheela.” Shuanna smiled, closed her eyes and nodded. “We used to chase moths down on the plains. We ran away once.”
“You did?”
“Yeah … ” Shuanna rolled over on her side, pulling Sashanna into a gentle hug. “Maraad found us all the way up in Nagrand. We were trying to build a raft, ’cause we were going to hide in Frostfire. It was so stupid … ”
“She an orc?”
“Oh no. She was a beutiful draenei. She … touched my soul.”
“Why didn’t you, you know, go together? Be a couple, kinda?”
“Mother didn’t like her. Sheela was the daughter of an elekk breeder.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah … Like you said. These fucking politics …”
“Did she come to Azeroth? With the rest of us?”

Shuanna hesitated for quite some time. Then she rolled over on her side, put an arm around Sashanna and whispered:

“She died in Shattrath, Sash.” Shuanna sighed, forcing herself to smile. She stood up, pulled Sashanna up and said: “Now, let’s get you too bed. You’ll have one hell of a headache tomorrow.”
“Shu?” Sashanna said, stopping Shuannas first step with a tight tug on her hand.
“Yes?”
“Do you miss her?”
“Every day.” Shuanna nodded, then she blinked, hard. The tears was kept back with sheer willpower. “Every single day, Sash. With every breath.” She nodded at the dagger on the floor. “You weren’t using that for the seal, did you?”

Sashanna shrugged, embarassed. She looked up at Shuanna, then pulled her into a hard, long comforting hug.

“I’m shorry, Shu … ”
“We’ll be allright, sis. We’re survivors.”
“I love Kam … ”
“I know.”
“Some people say, know what they say?” Sashanna yawned, stumbling. Shuanna steadied her with firm hand.
“What do people say, my drunken little kitten, mmm?”
Sashanna smiled. Then she giggled. She wrapped herself around Shuanna in a close hug, burbing caraway fumes and stale frostweed breath. Almost with no voice at all, she said, before almost falling asleep:
“Some people … say … that eternal love … is only one breath away.”

– – – – – –
Backstory for Sashanna here and here.)

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