An Old, Dear Friend
Trolls, as it turned out, had remarkably resilient body odor. A midnight swim in the clear waters of Crystal Lake, followed by a religious cleaning and drying of her armor, had failed to dissipate the aura of troll sweat and smoke clinging to Rhianon – and so, the morning following the expedition into Zul’Gurub found her standing in front of the Stormwind Market Bank, counting out coins in the palm of her hand. Ten gold. Just about enough to rent out one of the rooms in the Gilded Rose – which, by nature, would include a warm bath with some of their famous perfumed soaps. Although it seemed a little silly to waste money renting out a room that she didn’t actually intend to sleep in, Rhianon couldn’t bear the thought of spending the whole day smelling like, well, a troll.
She was slipping the coins back into her pocket, preparing to head into the inn, when an uncomfortably familiar Draenic voice stopped her.
Rhianon hadn’t heard that voice in over twenty years, but its sharp tones found their old grinding points and dug in, biting into her spirit in a way she had almost forgotten. She froze, mind racing.
“Do you think she hears me? That’s her, isn’t it? Yoohoo, Rhianon! It’s me, Nikah!”
There was an easy out. She would just slip back into the bank, hide in one of the cool vaults, and hope Nikah would lose interest or forget.
A purple hand on her arm, however, halted her escape. Rhianon gulped, raising her head. She could still lie. She wasn’t terribly good at it, but at least there was no one within earshot who knew her real name. She began talking before she even came eye to eye with the other Draenei. “I’m sorry. I think you have me confused with someone else – “
Laughter interrupted her protest. “Oh, Rhianon, you haven’t changed a bit! How silly you are!” Nikah threw her arms around Rhianon, squeezing her tightly. Rhianon gasped. “Imagine finding little old you all the way out here in this big city!”
She then released Rhianon, stepping back, brow furrowed. “Naaru be blessed, Rhia, you smell AWFUL! Did you fall into an elekk dung heap again?” Without waiting for Rhianon’s reply, Nikah tossed her head back, calling out to two Draenei females clustered behind her. “Litza, Akilina, remember when Rhia tripped over her own hooves and fell into that poor elekk’s dung heap? Wasn’t that hilarious?”
Rhianon’s heart sunk as the other Draenei girls chortled in delight. It wasn’t just Nikah. They were all there – however impossible that seemed. As Rhianon tried to fade into the ground, Nikah continued. “Of course, that wasn’t as funny as the time she got so distracted by that new Vindicator trainee that she almost walked over a cliff!” The recollection was met with another round of giggles. Nikah grinned at Rhianon, patting her on the arm. “Oh, Rhia, you’re always so much fun! I’m so glad we ran into each other! You need to get caught up on all the news!”
Rhianon then found herself being dragged over the benches surrounding one of the trees in the center of the Market district and forced to sit, Nikah plunking down beside her, the other Draenei hovering over them. As Nikah slinked her arm around Rhianon’s shoulders, Rhianon bowed her head. At this point, only an act of a Naaru could save her – and since she was far from both the Exodar and the Outlands, such intervention was unlikely. “Rhia,” Nikah gushed, “I can’t wait to hear all your stories! Your Da tells some really outlandish tales.”
Litza, a pale-skinned Draenei with feathery blond hair, giggled. “Most of them sound completely made up! I mean, did you really win a tournament against heroes of the Horde? On horseback?”
“Oh, Litza, don’t be stupid. There’s an obvious explanation for that,” Nikah snapped. “When you crash into the side of the arena and bring the tent down on top of everyone, they let you win by default to get rid of you.”
“Well, n-not exactly…” Rhianon stammered.
“It’s okay, Rhia,” Nikah soothed, patting Rhianon’s shoulder. “I won’t tell anyone back at home. It’ll be our secret.” She grabbed Rhianon’s hands, pressing them between her own. “Oh, Rhia, you haven’t asked me why I’m here in Stormwind! Ask me why I’m here in Stormwind! Ask me!”
Rhianon blinked, eying Nikah’s over-eager expression. “Er…okay…why are you here?”
“She got married!” Akilina squealed, clapping her hands together. Litza echoed the response and jumped a little bit into the air.
Nikah nodded, throwing her arms around Rhianon again for another hug. “It’s so wonderful, Rhia! I wish you could have been there! He’s fabulous! And he keeps the accounts for our Ambassador to the Alliance, so I get to travel everywhere!”
“And we get to come along!” Litza explained, enthused. “Isn’t that so sweet of him?”
“And he’s so rich!” Akilina added, her voice reaching the pitch of a Hellfire vulture’s cry. “Show her, Nikah! Show her!”
Litza joined in the chorus of “show her” and Nikah fluttered her eyelids and covered her face with a hand. “Oh, girls, it’s really just a silly trinket. It’s practically old news now!” The chorus, however, did not stop. With a wave of her hand, Nikah then pushed aside the shawl covering her neck and shoulders, showing off the gleaming necklace that lay delicately across her collarbones. “It’s just something that he picked up from one of the jewelry vendors here – but it’s rather fine, don’t you think? He told me that you don’t find pearls like that just anywhere.”
Rhianon gaped. She knew the necklace immediately, its the polished pearls and shining sapphire. Taking her shocked look as one of appreciation, Nikah added, “Rare gems for a rare gem, he said!” in a sing-song voice.
Litza and Akilin fawned over the necklace and its bearer as Rhianon sat there, staring at Nikah. Nikah, on the other hand, said nothing, only smiling and tossing her head this way and that to best show off the shine of the necklace. After a few moments of basking in her adoring public, Nikah raised a hand to silence them and wrapped her shawl back around her shoulders. “You forget, I’m only wearing this thing out here as we are expected for breakfast at the palace!” she explained. “We must not cause a scene!”
She turned to Rhianon. “Oh, Rhia, please say you’ll join us for breakfast at the palace? I know how much you love to eat!”
Litza snorted. “Just save a little food for us, Rhia. We only need a bit.”
Without waiting for Rhianon’s reply, Nikah stood up, pulling Rhianon to her feet. “Come on, now. We mustn’t keep everyone waiting.” Rhianon’s hand griped in hers, she began to march away, enthusing out loud about how wonderful the company would be that morning and how delighted she was to share her new life with Rhianon.
The words were soft at first, seeming to fade into the bustle of the Market district, so Rhianon repeated them again with more force. “No.”
Nikah glanced over her shoulder quizzically, Rhianon’s hand falling from her grasp. “What is that, Rhia?”
“I have other things to do,” Rhianon stated, stepping back from the group of Draenei. “I’m not joining you.”
Nikah frowned. “Is something wrong?”
She shook her head. “I’m busy.”
“Well, then,” Nikah began, voice low, “you must let me know how I can get in touch with you so we can make plans for another time.”
“I’m sure we’ll run into each other again,” Rhianon said, taking another step back.
Nikah raised an eyebrow. “Of course. This city isn’t terribly big.”
“Have a good breakfast.” Nodding to the three of them, Rhianon slid into the ephemeral form of a ghost wolf and scampered away, paws light on the ground. As she ran, she focused on the feeling of the wind gliding past her and the coolness of the cobblestone streets beneath her foot pads. She had always imagined that the first time she said no to Nikah and her gang would be marvellous. She would strike them down with her strength and they would be standing there, looking on, jaws slack. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, her legs shaking and her heart about to burst from her chest. The bath in the Gilded Rose no longer seemed so welcoming, the perfumed soaps no longer so wonderful.
She just wanted to run now, as hard as possible, and run until she disappeared in the wind itself. The troll sweat didn’t matter anymore. She just needed to go.