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Hardkandy
Hardkandy
Posts: 35
Joined: March 25th, 2014, 5:45 am
Hardkandy

Hardkandy Makes a Friend (R: language, themes)

by Hardkandy » April 13th, 2014, 8:34 pm

The guards were discussing what to do with them.

Tezkali spoke little Common and understood less, but the male humans’ behavior was clear to anyone with eyes and wits to see. That was the problem, though. She raised her head just enough to take in her fellow prisoners. They all had eyes, but few had the wits. Or, perhaps, the courage to use them.

A strange blend of pity and blame filled her. She understood their fear – how could she not? – but she could not understand their submission to it. Her teachers might be right, that this was simply the way the other races were made. Weak. Unwilling to do what was necessary to survive and best their enemies.

Or perhaps these have the right of it, and I’m too stubborn and stupid to give up when I’m beaten. She hissed laughter at the echo of her teachers’ chastisement. Her neighbor, a human girl with red hair and dull blue eyes, looked over at her. Tezkali rolled her eyes and singsonged a line or two of nonsense, pounding the coarse, grass-stuffed sacking that passed for bed and bedding rhythmically. The girl flinched.

Playing the half-crazed savage witch doctor was second nature now.

She didn’t know how long she’d been here. A month and some, most likely. Glimpses of the sun and moons through the high-set, netted and barred windows told her that much. Captured while checking her traps with Revantusk in sight -- her elders would have beaten her for such carelessness! Hauled like a sack of skins into a ship’s hold, drugs in the water they forced down her throat kept her in and out of consciousness. Her next moment of clarity was stumbling through the doorway of ‘here’: a large building hastily converted to hold living cargo. It was only later, when she had time to study their prison, that she recognized it as a former warehouse, and one not of Horde make.

She demanded her freedom, of course, and to know who they were. First from honest outrage and later to allay suspicions; the People were not known for being easily cowed. Their purpose behind her capture was apparent, given that all her fellow prisoners were female. Most were humans or blood elves, but there was a handful of orcs, even a goblin or two. No tauren. (There had been one other of the People, a warrior who flung herself at the knot of guards and gored one to death with her tusks before dying under the guards’ blades. The thud-thud-thud echoed in Tezkali’s dreams at times.) Jeers in Common and orcish confirmed it, as did the repeated rapes.

“Got to give you something good to remember, ladies,” a brown-haired human had smirked once. “No manners where you’re going.”

Tezkali bore the assaults. During her meditation to spiritually cleanse herself after the first, the loa whispered to her. Assistance, soon – watch for their messenger. She fought her next rapist thereafter, her wounds and blood promises to the loa of greater feasts in the future. Their agreement to her silent vow sang through her mind.

The days stretched into weeks. Tezkali refused to despair. Spirits didn’t keep the same reckoning of time as mortals. Prisoners were taken and sold, mostly humans. The number of women unsold dwindled. One evening the guards dragged in more prisoners, two sobbing humans and a blood elf who fought and screeched like a little jungle cat of Tezkali’s homeland. Tezkali watched through matted bangs as the guards played with their new toys, the loa’s whispers keenly in mind, though she despaired. Humans were weak, blood elves weaker still. She needed strength, a sister of the People or even an orc –

The blood elf reared and twisted, her naked back to Tezkali.

The loa’s whispers soared to a chorus of triumph. Here is our messenger. Here is your aid.

That had been six days ago. The blood elf refused to eat, drinking only because Tezkali and the other woman had been ordered to make her. She soiled and wet herself, Tezkali again ordered to tend her. The blood elf didn’t respond to anything; her eyes were open, but unseeing.

Useless to Tezkali in this state. She could not have mistaken the loa, however. This blood elf was the key to her freedom and her revenge, if she could but understand how.

And now time was running out. None of their captors wore tabards or uniforms, or anything marking rank. But she’d noticed the same symbol burned or carved into the few crates and barrels shoved here and there, and in the wood of the warehouse itself: matched squiggles that resembled a stream. Something had changed for whatever organization represented thus. Their jailors had grown distracted in the last day, tension thick as tree sap among them. Brief, heated arguments hastily shut down whenever certain men approached – those in charge, Tezkali guessed.

A broken agreement? The last time a pair or more of women had been taken away had been… Tezkali thought back. Before the blood elf’s arrival.

Not good. If their captors’main buyer disappeared, they might find others…or they might not. And what good were slaves no one wanted to a business? She would have to be ready.

A woman screamed. Then another.

Tezkali swore. The guards had taken a trio of them earlier, for their fun. If she was right –

Gunshots. Tezkali swore again.

The red-haired human stirred. “What’s happening?” she asked. She hugged her knees to her chest. “What’s happening? Are we being rescued?”

Another human laughed, the sound edged in hysteria. “Rescued? Girl, you’re so stupid – we’re being killed!” She laughed again. “Our salvation! Thank the Light!”

The red-head rounded on her, the rest of the slave women joining in. Tezkali ignored them. She needed to focus to use her powers.

They were in a jungle, near the ocean: scents and sounds and the weather had told her that much. She thought they might be near a town or fortress; some days she’d heard the faint clang of a bell or far-off shouting when the air was clear and still.

Without more knowledge of it, any settlement couldn’t be trusted. But the weather….

Tezkali rose to her full height. Throwing back her head, she raised her arms and her voice to the elements and the glory of the loa.

For a long, agonizing moment…nothing.

Darkness descended like a shroud. Wind keened in off the ocean. The scent of salt and burnt copper filled the air. A crack like thunder, then the warehouse shook as something crashed onto the roof. Men shouted in panic.

The door exploded. Wooden shards flew everywhere. A curtain of rain lanced sideways, drenching and surprisingly ice-cold. Women screamed, most in terror, some in pain. Lightning crackled, illuminating the warehouse in eye-searing blue and white. Tezkali sprang to the blood elf’s side, scooped her up in her arms, and made for the exit.

A perverse curiosity paused her at the shattered doorway. She turned to the crying, cowering women.

She could not leave them – not like this.

“GO!” Tezkali bellowed in Common. “RUN, YA FOOLS! YA BE FREE!”

Following her own advice, she bolted into the storm, toward the treeline. What she hoped was the treeline. She could barely see five steps in front of her.

Thunderheads roiled. Lightning struck again to her right – not close, not close – searing her vision. The rain slammed down like hail, and the wind howled like a thousand maddened dogs.

O spirits… did I do this?

No. She could raise storms, but not of this strength. The loa’s doing, the loa’s blessing.

Time ceased to exist. Life narrowed down to the lifting and setting down of feet as Tezkali ran, then walked, and finally staggered through the maelstrom. The blood elf, barely noticed before, grew a hundredweight, a loathsome burden agonized muscles urged her to discard. Branches slapped her, roots tangled her feet, snagged her hair. She pushed on.
Primordial shapes rose up, creaking and rain-tossed. She swerved around, stumbled against water-slick rock. Deeper blackness framed on the storm; instinct rather than thought moved her forward.

The rain disappeared. Jarred by its absence, Tezkali stood in place, shivering. At last she shifted – slowly, so slowly! – the blood elf to her shoulder, and reached out with her left hand, and took tentative steps in that direction.

The third brought her fingers against rock. Dry rock. Tezkali walked her hand up as far as she could. The rock went beyond her head.

A cave.

She sank down against the wall, set the blood elf at her side away from the cave’s entrance. Exhausted, she wrapped her arms around her knees and waited for the storm to end. At some point she slept.

Tezkali woke to silence: no howling wind, no furious rain. Wan light slanted through the cave’s opening. She stretched out her legs, turning her head to allay the stiffness.

The blood elf. Did she live?

Her pulse beat steadily beneath Tezkail’s fingers.

So, so, so. The loa continued to smile on her. She’d better get busy keeping her end of their bargain.

She stood and took a good look at the cave. The floor was level and clean of debris, aside from what the storm had swept in. No animal scent or spoor. Peculiar. A circle of stones around a small shallow pit and two bundles of sticks …

Tezkali scowled. The little fire-pit’s presence was good news and bad. Good, because they wouldn’t be surprised by a returning four-footed owner. Bad, because they had two-legged predators to worry about.

There was little she could do for it now. Tezkali poked about the firepit for a striker. Nothing. She’d think of something.

She went back to the blood elf. The light was enough for Tezkali to examine her. The visible scrapes and abrasions didn’t appear infected; it was the wounds she couldn’t see that were a concern. She peeled away the woman’s clothing carefully. Stained, torn and piecemeal, but it was what they had for now. Then she made a thorough study of the deeper cuts and bite marks.

No sign of infection here, either… for now. The blood elf needed healing, they both needed warmth, food, water. They’d find none of those in here. Tezcali draped the driest of her clothing over the wounded one and left the cave.

Clouds still scudded overhead, grey and low, threatening more rain. Tezkali knew she couldn’t go far. Her own wounds were healing with the quickness that was the boon of the People; that didn’t mean she should be stupid and waste her strength. Moreover, she couldn’t guess if her former captors were eager to recover their lost property, or what dangers this particular jungle held.

The cave was set in a range of hills of mostly barren stone, and she crept along its foot. Signs of the storm’s destruction were everywhere: downed and shattered trees, pools and miniature rivers covering the ground. A log raised its up and rolled, something furry and mangled in its maw. Drowned animals weren’t safe to eat, but it might come to that: she lacked weapons to hunt or the means to make her traps. Let her find the proper rocks for sparks, at least.

Yards ahead, a huge fallen tree, wide-girthed and similar to its fellows in Stranglethorn, blocked her path. Tezkali slogged toward it. If some of the branches were dry, she could make a firebow.

Tezkali tripped.

She windmilled her arms to keep her balance.

A shape in the water.

She bent down and hefted it, as much as she could. Part of it was lodged under the monstrous tree. Humanoid, blue-grey skin with a stumpy body, misshapen limbs and a broad-flat nosed face. Tezkali hissed softly. Not unfamiliar, this one. She’d seen his living brothers. Broken Ones. They were in the Swamp of Sorrows.

Swollen with decay, it distended its sparse clothing.

Including its belt.

Tezkali grabbed the sodden leather. A water skin, two oiled pouches, a sheathed knife. The largest pouch held bits and pieces of plants; in the smallest pouch was a flint and strike-stone.

She murmured a prayer, retracing her steps to the cave. The Broken One remained where he had died, nourishment for the swamplife.

The loa provided for all.

#
Voices.

Rough, deep. They matched the faces, like and yet not like their cousins the tauren, that hovered over her. Camp Taunka’lo was supposed to be a haven, but there was no haven for her. She was cold, cold, so cold she burned. Pain wracked her, spasms she couldn’t control. Worse was the blankness that crept up on her, stealing her thoughts.


”Candy? Candy-babe, Venomspite – what did you do?”

(Hands on her voices laughing her clothes her clothes her clothes)

Venomspite. Venomspite. She had worked for Middleton. He had wanted to help her with Dragonblight’s cold, but something else happened instead. Things she wouldn’t have noticed, comments she wouldn’t have understood grew to make sense. She thought of experiments on her own she might try one day. Stolen peeks at formulae in Middleton’s and Vicki Levine’s notes suddenly weren’t confusing scribbles but equations clear as spring water – did they really think their ciphers hide anything?

Their lies about the gnomes admitted, she reworked Middleton’s serum and combined it with a refinement of Vicki’s latest plague batch. Venomspite should not be, and she set out to make it not be anymore. Easy, so easy, since the Forsaken dismissed her as a threat to plunge her syringes into some, to spill their deserved destruction here and there.
But Middleton had had his revenge. First the exhaustion and memory loss, then the agony that struck her in the Storm Peaks. The taunka couldn’t help her, Shazzle whispering with their healers, and then, “Gonna send you back to Orgimmar, Hardkandy. Okay? Then to Thunder Bluff, maybe.”

A hot sour drink she was forced to consume. After, fragmented pictures: a windrider, Warsong Hold, a ship. Rocking motion of the sea that slowly brought her to herself. The ship sailed and sailed and sailed –

--until a monstrous crashing and screams and humans –

-- humans who seized her, dragged her onto another ship and onto land into the building


(Woooeee, got ourselves a pretty three-holer for a change, boys!)

and she fought and she fought because not again not again NOT AGAIN NEVER AGAIN NO NO

(Be nice to Lord Saltheril. He’s a very important man.)

hands hands hands pulling at her clothes her legs, her arms

(King’s balls, she’s tight. Think we’re the first?)

She had to get away, hide run run run but there was no place to hide to run no help no hope —

The
blankness overwhelmed her. And this time, she welcomed it.

She stayed there in the dark. Protected. Safe. No one touched her here. No one hurt her. She would stay here forever.

Light.

A struck match. A candle’s glow. She ignored it. A torch, an oil lamp, dawn’s light peering over the horizon, the blazing noon sun –


Hardkandy wailed.

She bolted upright like a marionette, eyes wide. Shapes and colors seesawed in her vision, nonsensical. Then, slowly, they took on form and meaning.

A being crouched at her feet. Blue-green skin. Dark blue hair tired up in a crest and braids. Tusks. Short leather shirt, leggings.. Hardkandy knew she should know what the person was called, but she couldn’t remember. She grasped for the word and after too long a moment seized it triumphantly. Troll. Troll woman.

“Shhh. Shh. Ya be safe here now.”

Hardkandy stared. Am I? (The magistrix asked about you.)

“Tezkali went through a lotta work to bring you back from that dark place.” The troll – Tezkali – rose slowly. Hardkandy watched her go to a small fire, pour liquid from a battered pot into a short, squat cup, and return.

“Drink.” She held the cup to Hardkandy. “Ya need fluid in ya, and medicines still. I coaxed what I could from the spirits for ya, but ya not be theirs. Do ya need me t’ hold it for you?”

Her eyes were not unkind, Hardkandy decided. She reached for the cup.

It was made of stone, completely smooth and dustless. Her hands shook as she brought it to her mouth and sipped cautiously. It smelled too sweet but tasted bitter, and soothed her throat. “Work?” she asked when the cup was empty. Her voice sounded hollow and coarse.

Tezkali nodded. “Work.” She tapped a small stick next to Hardkandy’s left foot. Carved, adorned with feathers, it reminded her somehow of fire. She peered around, and saw three others, at her right foot and her arms – where they would be if she were lying flat. “Earth, air, water.” Tezkali pointed to Hardkandy’s right foot, right arm, left arm. “Two days t’ carve the totems. Longer to get to Stonard.”

“Stonard?” A post with orcs and blood elves. She’d been there before. Hadn’t she?

“Later,” Tezkali said. A pause. “You got a name?”

“I…” Her tongue felt thick; the cave swayed. What was her name, anymore? What was wrong with her? “Hardkandy.”

“You just do what Tezkali say, Hardkandy, and get better.”

Hardkandy tried.

She drank the potions, ate the food Tezkali provided – snakes and fish for the most part, occasionally the Swamp’s smaller animal life – let her anoint the worst of her wounds with herbal pastes that stank and itched but seemed to draw the heat from them. She let Tezkali sponge-bathe her from the large battered metal pot used to heat water. (When asked where she found this, the troll shrugged and said, “That warehouse wasn’t the only thing destroyed in the storm.”) But she did all this through a haze. Her thoughts skittered like bugs on a pond, restless. She couldn’t sleep. In her dreams the voices and the terror came back.

Sometimes she heard them when she was awake.

“They gone, girl!” Tezkali, shaking her. “They can’t hurt ya no more.”

A lie. They both knew it.

Tezkali tried to distract her. She made Hardkandy weave long grasses into sleeping mats. She turned her long, sharpened staves in the fire pit’s coals to harden their points and tell Hardkandy what she’d done: cajoling earthen spirits to take on the shapes of the equipment they needed, her journey to Stonard.

“I don’t remember that.”

“Ya were here. I sung ya into a deep-trance, asked the spirits to watch ya.”

“Why’d you go?”

“To see if news of them reached there. Trade a few plants for some things can’t be found in the jungle.”

“They….the orcs didn’t stop you?”

Tezkali laughed. “Why would they? We’re not the Alliance, girl, to say, ‘You gotta ask permission to leave!’”

That day had been her best. It was also the rarest. More and more Hardkandy lay on her mat, striving to hear and see and feel nothing.

She owed Tezkali her life, a debt she could never repay. She was grateful. But all too often she found herself wishing Tezkali hadn’t tried quite so hard.

Hardkandy
Hardkandy
Posts: 35
Joined: March 25th, 2014, 5:45 am
Hardkandy

Re: Hardkandy Makes a Friend (R: language, themes)

by Hardkandy » April 13th, 2014, 8:50 pm

The loa did not lie.

They misled, obfuscated, demurred, held back knowledge. But they did not lie. So. They had not lied in their promise of a messenger, of vengeance.

They had not said it would be easy, or swift.

Tezkali cleaned her latest catch of fish and took stock. The blood elf’s body mended; her mind and spirit did not. The waking nightmares still possessed her. She would tend to her bodily needs, do the simple chores Tezkali asked, but beyond that, cared about nothing.

No, that wasn’t quite true. A few times the loa Tezkali had cajoled into shaping and inhabiting the blood elf’s cup turned into a ball and rolled around the cave, or grew short legs and waddled around. Hardkandy had sat up and watched the little loa as it played in its physical body. When it stopped, she had lain back on her mat. A child’s interest, but it was proof her will to live hadn’t completely drained away. It was merely…misplaced.

Tezkali wasn’t a healer; the powers and rituals a healer would use in this situation were beyond her. She would need to go beyond the tradition of her people….

Or go back to them.

Tezkali frowned at the growing heap of fish guts without seeing it. Every tribe of the People had their secrets, things not shown to outsiders. Joining the Horde hadn’t changed that custom. Moreover, there were secrets within secrets. Though she knew some of the old ordeals of the Darkspear, she’d never been intended to use it – the teacher who’d given them to her simply hadn’t wanted their history to completely disappear. She certainly wasn’t supposed to be contemplating using them for an elf.

Yet she was.

Was revenge worth this … no other word for it… betrayal?

The number of cleaned fillets on a grew, as did the pile of fish guts, each on a separate leaf the length of her arm.. Tezcali let her own memories of that month and more in the warehouse surface, as she hadn’t since their escape. Deep, cold rage welled through her.

Yes.

She rolled up both leaves, trotting to the edge of the nearest streamlet of the swamp, dumped the fish guts and returned to the cave. She bent over Hardkandy and shook her shoulder. She caught the woman’s flailing arm by the wrist.

“Hey, now, none of that. Come outside with Tezkali.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Ya do! Ya just don’t know it yet.” She pulled Hardkandy upright. No resistance. Not good at all. “Ya swear by the sun, right? Ya ain’t been out t’ see her in a long time.”

Tezkali dragged her out of the cave like a reluctant child. Hardkandy blinked, shading her eyes with her hand.
“Sit.” Hardkandy sat. Tezkali handed her the leaf with the fish and ducked back into the cave. She returned and squatted across from Hardkandy. “Here. Salt dem.” She held out a small tin box stamped with the Horde insignia.

Hardkandy looked at her with huge eyes, then obeyed.

Tezkali watched her. The blood elf brushed her hair out of her face now and again. Sweat trickled down her neck and face, stained the thin shirt and tattered shorts she wore. Her hand dipped into the tin on her thigh, then moved over the fillets. Her movements were awkward, stiff. The salt clung to her fingers.

She froze.

“Girl? Hardkandy?”

No response.

Tezkali touched her arm. Hardkandy turned to her.

“Why?”

“Because we need salt. And the fish taste better.” Not the answer the blood elf wanted, she knew.

Hardkandy shook her head slowly. “No. Why this?” She swept her free hand at the cave, at herself.

“Because we need to live.”

“Why?” The blood elf’s voice rose to a screech. “Why do I need to live? Why didn’t you let me die?”’

Tezkali asked, very quietly, “Why do you want to die?”

“Why not?” Hardkandy slammed the salt tin down next to her. “I sleep, I’m back there. I’m awake, I’m back there. They’re everywhere, those men, in the cave, out here, in my dreams, in my mind, I can’t hide, get away – “

She burst into tears and bent double, rocking back and forth. The sobs wracked her from head to foot. They lasted a long time.

Finally, Tezkali placed her hand on the blood elf’s shoulder. “No shame in tears. But tears won’t make them leave ya alone, and neither would dyin’.” She paused. “I know. They haunt me, too.”

Hardkandy raised a blotchy, tear-streaked face. “What will?”

“Makin’ them pay.”

“How?” The question was nearly a wail.

She gathered the blood elf to her as she would a child in need of soothing. “Trust Tezkali, little sweet. I got us a plan. Just trust me.”

That was the beginning of the end of Hardkandy’s apathy.

The walking nightmares still stalked her, but she fought them. She would tidy the cave like a farmwife, or make rope from the raw hemp Tezkali found. She sang in her own language, not orcish, or exercised, odd turns and twists of her hands, leg jumps that resembled a child’s game. The latter quickly tired her out, less and less so as she regained strength. She took over the cooking, having shown a knack and more skill for it than Tezkali possessed. The little loa-cup was her favorite utensil, and it seemed to return the feeling. “Would you become a cup again, please?” Hardkandy would ask, and it always obliged her, to Tezkali’s surprise.

The troll had her sunbathe naked in early morning and twilight. As she expected, the blood elf burned, then tanned. Tezkali insisted she continue the sunbathing until her body was a deep brown, the loa’s mark seeming to deepen as well. Her hair, growing out of its upswept wedge and forelocks, bleached to a buff near-white.

“The best disguises start simple, “she said when Hardkandy complained.

On a whim, Tezkali began to teach her the People’s language. She struggled with sounds she’d never grown up hearing, her accent laughable. “I no want talk like baby!” she spat after one particularly frustrating session.

“Thee will learn a civilized tongue,” Tezkali answered. “It will strengthen thy mind.”

As days passed Tezkali could leave the other on her own while she sought the necessary reagents for the ritual. The Swamp was not Stranglethorn Vale or even the Hinterlands, and more often than not Tezkali had to rely on her training or the loa for acceptable substitutes. The loa she consulted only when she must. The debts owed grew each time, and she paid as she could, with animals or her own blood. The wounds from the latter upset Hardkandy, though she seemed to believe Tezkali’s lies about their origins.

The loa whispered for “thinking blood.”

There were Broken, the random wandering adventurer or scout from Bogpaddle. Tezkali didn’t dare take them. She needed the loa hungry and greedy for the great feast she had promised.

When all the reagents save one were gathered, Tezkali made another trip to Stonard. Hardkandy wanted to go, and it took all Tezkali’s wit to convince her to stay at the cave. The blood elf might have been a more than passable sneak, but she lacked the stamina -- mental if not physical – for travel.

The items she bartered more plants for provoked no comments. Stonard was too far from the Horde’s power base for curiosity to be profitable or safe.

“Here,” Tezkali said upon her return. She slung the rolls of canvas cloth and thin leather from her back, let them drop at the blood elf’s feet. The hide bag thudded next to them. “Ya gonna need new clothes.” They both did, but Hardkandy’s were more urgent, part of the upcoming rite. “Scissors an’ threads in the bag.”

Hardkandy had questions. Tezkali dismissed them. “Later. I need ta sleep. One more reagent to find in the mornin’.”

The most dangerous.

She set out in the pre-dawn dark, heading east toward the ocean. The sun was a hand’s-breadth above the horizon when she reached what remained of the warehouse.

A tree crushed the roof and part of the back wall. The western wall was cracked nearly in two. Shingles lay scattered through the tough, calf-high grass. They crunched under her feet.

As did the bones.

Tezkali studied the next intact ones she came across with mixed satisfaction, rage and regret. Satisfaction that least one of their jailors had died. Rage that she’d not had the pleasure of feeling their blood on her hands, and regret for the woman who had died here, too. Weaklings, the lot of them, but they hadn’t deserved this.

She went into the warehouse, moving carefully. Vicious joke if she died her from a falling rafter. She headed toward the back, where most of the cargo crates had been stacked. She wanted to find one with those strange squiggles, if possible. Any link to their tormentors, no matter how faint, was welcome.

Picking her way carefully through the debris of shattered containers, she found one. Smaller than the rest, slats bent, the squiggled emblem was clear to see. Tezkali hunched down and pulled at a slat.

It broke with a loud snap! Tezkali sprawled on her backside. Rising to her feet, she glimpsed something inside the crate itself. Curious, she broke another slat and reached inside for its contents.

Two matching coffers, made from a dark wood with gold spirals inset on the lids.

The loa murmured approvingly in her mind.

Another piece to her revenge? Feeling more hopeful than she had in days, Tezkali set out for the cave.
She’d barely crossed the treeline when she realized she was being followed.

So, so, so. This settles the matter of the last reagent.

She gave no she knew he or she was there. She let him gain on her. Then, halfway to the cave, she paused, leaning sideways against one of the Swamp’s great trees to rest.

She heard his ragged breathing, his footsteps. She whirled as his hands grabbed for her. He had a knife. She had a knife also, and herself. He fought well. She fought better. She was one of the People, raised to battle. He was –

One of their jailors.

Tezkali laughed delightedly, and adjusted her left hand along his throat. Pressure so and so, with the knife handle as well, and he dropped to the forest floor, unconscious.

The loa shrilled. Blood! Blood! Thinking blood!

“Not yet, o great ones,” she told them. “Keep him silent and still but alive for me!” She cut strips from her shirt to bind the man, then hoisted him over her shoulders. An awkward burden with the plank and the coffers. She’d manage.

Better than any Broken or wayward goblin. Perfect.

“What happened?” Hardkandy demanded when Tezkali returned. Crude pants and a shirt lay on her sleeping mat. She pointed at the coffers. Why were you gone so –“

Tezkali dropped the man to the café floor. He groaned, but his eyes didn’t open. Hardkandy gaped at him.

“—long….”

“We need to wash.” She nudged the man’s side with a toe. “Then we can begin.”

Hardkandy opened her mouth, closed it.

They bathed in silence. Rather, Hardkandy did. Tezkali chanted songs of entreaty for purification to the loa. When they returned to the cave, Tezkali pounded short stakes into the ground , stripped their former jailor and tied him spread-eagled to the stakes. She set her totems around him.

“Ya new clothes. Move ‘em and ya mat as far as you can. Then light the fire,” she told Hardkandy, “fill the loa- pot with water from the skin, an’ put it over the flames.” The blood elf obeyed, subdued. Tezkali fetched the herbal powders she’d ground the day before, the fungi dried and hung like a string of onions. The former went into the pot, the latter draped around the man’s neck.

“We…” Hardkandy looked at her. She licked her lips nervously. “We’re not- not going to …”

“We do what must be done.” An ancient custom, this, left behind when the Darkspear joined Thrall and his orc Horde. Not all had agreed with that decision, but the Darkspear had grown in power beyond the Gurubashi or Amani, and the loa had not abandoned them. The japes of the other races about roasts and stews and such ilk ignored the magical and spiritual potency of it. A potency they needed, unpleasant as Tezkali found its source.

She spoke a word. The man’s eyes opened.

Tezkali pointed her knife at him. “Defiler. Murderer. By the oldest of laws, you are ours. Your gods have left you. Your ancestors do not hear you. We offer you to the spirits, for their strength and ours.

“Your thinking blood, mighty loa!”

She made the first cut on his right thigh, deep and long. He screamed.

The little cup-loa sprouted legs, jumped up on him and rolled around in the blood welling from the wound. As if that were a signal, loa swarmed the air. Loa Tezkali had bargained with in the warehouse, lesser loa, the smallest and weakest. She picked up the blood-coated loa-cup. It purred in her hand.

Chanting, Tezkali turned to the pot. She stirred it, dipped the loa-cup into its contents and pressed it into Hardkandy’s hands.

“Drink.”

The blood elf stared at her, eyes huge.

Tezkali bared her teeth. “Drink!”

Trembling, tears streaming down her face, Hardkandy drank.

Weak. Tezkali couldn’t help the thought, or the contempt behind it. Empathy brushed both aside. Quel’thalas raised its young on tales of trollish monsters. How would one feel, to suddenly become one?

The loa grumbled, restless. Tezkali turned back to the man.

Tezkali took her time. This was sanctity, not butchery. With each stroke of her knife, she implored the loa to help the blood elf, to mend her damaged spirit. She traced the squiggle-emblem in his blood, asking the loa’s aid against his free brethren. When their former jailor’s screams and sobs muted to whimpers, she checked Hardkandy. Sweat beaded the girl’s skin; her breathing was slow but steady. The fel glow of her eyes had faded, revealing pupils large as coins.

Good. It was time.

Tezkali cut across the first wound, peeling away a hunk of flesh. The man screamed again, and she severed the veins in his neck. She trimmed a sliver of meat the size of Hardkandy’s thumb nail, snipped a shriveled fungi from the garland and closed Hardkandy’s fingers around both.

“Eat,”she said.

Hardkandy ate.

Tezkali eased the girl onto her back. She mouthed her own piece to the loa’s murmur of approval, and sat on her haunches to wait.

Hardkandy was falling.

She fell through the floor of the cave into the ground and through it, to the center of the world. The roots of a great tree hung down and down, until they became trees themselves. There was grass beneath her feet. There was light, but no sun or moon.

Something moved through the root trees. People. Hardkandy froze when she saw them.

Her paladin“protector” and his friends. The magistrix. The warehouse men.

Before she could run they seized her. Laughing, they tore her to bits. She lay there as they disappeared like smoke. She felt-not felt her legs and arms, fingers and toes, the rest of her, scattered over the ground. She cried out in pain. She didn’t want to be in pieces!

Animals crept from the trees, looked at her. The animals she had always loved even before: a squirrel, a rabbit, a lynx. a bear. A bird. The squirrel and rabbit gathered up the small bits of her, the lynx the medium, the bear the largest. Carefully, they put her arranged her limbs, her torso, her head, all of her, in their proper order. The bird swooped down. Hardkandy couldn’t tell what kind of bird it was.

The bird slashed open her abdomen. It dropped faceted pink crystals inside her, pink like cotton candy, rosy like the dawn, deeper like the sunset. They were beautiful, and Hardkandy wished she knew their name. Kunzite, came a whisper in her mind.

The bird then cocked its head and looked at her. Then it hopped onto Hardkandy’s forehead and began to sing.

Its song put her body back together, like her mother had knitted scarves. Hardkandy jumped up and danced to the bird’s song. The animals danced with her.

A warehouse man slunk through the trees. Tbe squirrel and rabbit and lynx fled; the bear reared on its hind legs and roared. Hardkandy roared, too. She grew larger, covered in fur.
She was a bear.

She chased him through the forest. She ignored his pleas for release and swatted him with her paws. Hugged him to her until she heard his ribs snap, danced on him until he was nothing but a pulpy mass.

Hardkandy did another dance back to where she had fallen. She liked being a bear.

But she wasn’t really a bear. She was a bird. A bird that could fly up through the roots from that great tree and into the world beyond. She sprouted feathers, flapped her wings. The trees became roots again, the largest leaving a hole in the sky-ground for her to dart through, soaring up and up, past the great tree and into the sun --

Hardkandy sat up, gasping.

Tezkali sprang up and took hold of her arms as she toppled to one side. The girl’s eyes were still dilated, but no longer fixed on an invisible world. “You have been with the spirits,” she said. “You have fought enemies with them, and made their strength yours. You are no longer the same. As the snake sheds her skin, so do you shed yours.” She led Hardkandy to her new clothes, bidding her pick them up, then steered her outside. In the half-light of dusk she cut the blood elf’s hair as short as she could, sluicing dried blood from her arms before helping her into the new shirt and pants.

Hardkandy looked at her. She hadn’t spoken yet, and Tezkali was nervous. This was the crucial moment. Either the blood elf held together, or she shattered beyond repair.

“My boxes,” she said slowly. “You found them.”

Tezkali nodded. That explained the loa’s reaction. “How do you feel?”

“Thirsty,”came the prompt response. Hardkandy’s eyes veiled in thoughtful confusion. “And…whole.”

Tezkali sagged, relieved. She laughed a little. “That’s what I was hopin’ to hear. Ya go drink from the full skin on my mat. I’ll clean up our mess.”

Five days later they moved to Stonard.

Five days was long enough for their jailor to be noticed missing and searched for. Long enough for the swamp to take care of his remains. Long enough for Tezkali to covertly watch the newly energized, no longer listless Hardkandy for signs of nightmares and melancholy.

There were none, on the trek or at Stonard proper, where the presence of strange people might trigger them again. Satisfied, Tezkali passed two of them off as shipwreck survivors, a believable story given the season, and bargained with Stonard’s commander for lodgings in exchange for her services as a shaman, an offer he accepted.

Tezkali healed and performed battle rituals. Hardkandy assisted, mostly by gathering plants. Soon Tezkali heard Hardkandy described as the ‘shaman’s pupil’, to her amusement. Once a blood elf priest issued forth a sermon on the power of the Light. Tezkali listened politely and went back to carving new totems. Hardkandy asked why she wasn’t impressed. “The Light heals, too, and fights,“she said.

“The Light out there.” Tezkali waved a hand into the air. “The Shadow, there.” She waved her other hand. She tapped her foot. “The loa right here.”

Light and Shadow weren’t the only things “out there”. If one of their captors had survived, why not others? And who was behind their operation? The answer existed. Tezkali was determined to find it.
#

Booty Bay was always crowded.

Hardkandy had only been to the goblin port a few times, and each time crowds thronged the walkways. All the races of Alliance and Horde mingled here. Mostly in peace. But not always.

So it was this time. She leaned over the railing of the second-highest walkway and watched the fight taking place below. Humans against humans this time, an argument over money or insults or nothing at all. Booty Bay’s goons intervened before too many bodies lay bleeding and interrupting the flow of commerce.

One of the humans standing was familiar.

She had been afraid, the first time Tezkali dispatched her to Booty Bay to sell herbs and gather what news she could. But no one paid her any attention during these expeditions. Not even one of the fighters, who was also one of her captors.

Catfooted, Hardkandy slipped down to the lowest walkway and merged with the crowd of spectators. Her captor and his fellows, sullen and muttering plans for half-hearted revenge, headed for the largest tavern. Hardkandy followed.

She purchased a local beer and sat on a barrel outside the tavern door, dividing her remaining plants into smaller bundles and made sure the matching mirrors Tezkali wanted were secure. Safely away from the guards, her mark and his friends didn’t bother to be discrete. He deferred to another man. An officer, perhaps? Toasts were made, to the living and the dead. Hardkandy memorized the names.

She returned her tankard to the bar, taking a casual, passer-by’s glance at the group of humans drinking.

“Only him,” she told Tezkali back in Tezkali’s quarters. “The rest weren’t there. But I have names. Some are dead, though.”

The troll frown. “Just the one was at the warehouse , eh?” She twined a braid around her fingers. “But… you have names…Tezkali gotta think on this. Might be time to take the long view.”

The next day Tezkali led them to the small clearing she used for her private ceremonies. “Drum for me,” she told Hardkandy, “an’ don’t stop, no matter what.”

Hardkandy drummed.

Tezkali called upon a loa. Unlike the previous times Hardkandy had helped in her rituals, this loa could be seen. A troll, towering above Tezkali, adorned in ceremonial robes. He looked at her and laughed. Tezkali shook her head rapidly. What was offered, and accepted, Hardkandy didn’t hear. At last Tezkali bowed. The loa raised his fist in salute and disappeared.

For the first time in a long time, Hardkandy was afraid.

#

Names were power.

With Bwonsamdi’s boon and their names, Tezkali hunted the men who belonged to or worked for the squiggle emblem. She ransacked the living’s dreams, sifting through their sleeping minds for more names. She called up their dead and trapped them, demanding information. Her nights were long and restless.

So were Hardkandy’s.

“I hear them!” The blood elf confronted her one morning while Tezkali washed her hair. “In my dreams. They cry and they cry and you won’t let them go!”

Tezkali raised a dripping head. “They had information we had ta know.”

“Not like this! It’s wrong to keep people – keep anything -- captive!”

“They’ll be free when we’re done. I, Tezkali, promise you that.” She fixed the blood elf with a stern gaze. “Ya been blessed by the loa. You should be grateful.”

Hardkandy threw up her hands. “They saved me, yes, but blessed by them?”

“Go to my room,” Tezkali said quietly. “and get my mirrors. Then wait for me in yours. . Time t’show ya somethin’.”

The blood elf was sitting cross-legged on her bed when Tezkali entered the other’s room, hair bound in a towel turban. “Now,” she said, picking up the mirrors, “take off your shirt.”

Hardkandy balked . “Why?”

“Trust me.”

Like a woman struck with joint-ache, Hardkandy obeyed.

Tezkali gave her a mirror, and held the other to Hardkandy’s back. “Turn – yes, there, stop. Now look.”

The blood elf’s gaze shifted to the mirror she held. She gasped.

Tezkali didn’t blame her.

Unmistakable for anything else, a bird soared across her back in black outline.

“It’s…” Hardkandy whispered. "...the burns on my back...from the fire in the Grimtotem village..."

“A raven.” Tezkali faced her. “The loa promised me a messenger of vengeance. That was the sign they gave me. Ya are blessed by the loa, like it or not.”

Hardkandy craned her neck, trying to see down her back. She looked at Tezkali, doubt still in her eyes.

By the spirits, what did she need for proof?

The loa whispered. Twin images glowed in Tezkali’s mind.

“Those boxes o’ yours, girl – bring ‘em here!”

Confused, Hardkandy knelt under her bed and pulled them out, setting them on the thin bedcovers. Tezkali stifled a groan. So simple a hiding place…but the shaman’s ‘assistant’ was not likely to be robbed.

Tezkali grabbed Hardkandy’s left hand and slashed the palm with her nail. Ignoring the girl’s squeal of pain, she wiped the welling blood across the gold spirals of one coffer’s lid, then the other’s.

The decorative locks clicked.

Hardkandy squealed again, but not in pain. She raised the lids reverently.

”Ohhhh, Tezkali! Look! Aren’t they beautiful?”

Placards of high-quality lacquerd parchment, larger than any card deck Tezkali had seen. They bore the images of animals – bear, lynz, bull, raven, others Tezkali couldn’t recognize. The detail was exquisite, the work of a true artist.

“They are. And the loa ask, now do you believe Tezkali?”

Hardkandy giggled. “I do, I do!” She flung her arms around Tezkali in a hug. “I’ve carried them from Feralas to Northrend and here, did everything I could think of, I thought I’d never get them opened…”

“Blood be the only thing ya not tried?” Tezkali shook her head. “Never understand blood elves, I won’t. Though I’d have one for a sister, if she be willin’.”

The words surprised her. To suggest such a thing to another of the People, or even an orc. But a blood elf? Even more surprising was Hardkandy’s immediate nod.

Her nails were too weak to cut Tezkali’s palm; she had to use her knife. They pressed their palms together, blood mingling. Tezkali licked her palm, and Hardkandy followed suit.

“Now we may never raise our hands t’each other,” Tezkali said.

Hardkandy drew her knees to her chest. “I was an only child,” she admitted shyly. “I never had a sister.”

“Well, ya got one now. Elder sister, too.” Tezkali grinned. “And she’s got the best sister-makin’ gift ya could hope for…”

#
That night Hardkandy had a hard time falling asleep. She was too excited.

She had opened her boxes. (Technically Tezkali had, but it had been her blood, after all). Tezkali was her new friend. She wondered what Shazzle would think of her, and her of Shazzle. She hoped they could get along.

And Tezkali had told her names. Names of the men still alive who had held them prisoner at the warehouse, and the names of people they worked for. People. who wore the squiggles, which weren’t really squiggles at all. The name of the group who sailed under the not-squiggles. The name of their leader.

Hardkandy lay on her back and counted slowly to ten, then again. The trick worked. Her last thought as she drifted to sleep was of the destruction of all their misery.

Jarington.

vinosh
vinosh
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Realm: Ravenholdt
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vinosh

Re: Hardkandy Makes a Friend (R: language, themes)

by vinosh » August 7th, 2019, 4:26 pm


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