Vallin stroked his beard absently for the dozenth time. Just like the first several times, he had forgotten about the rings of his glove, and muttered a curse as he felt the thick hair get tangled in those metal links, pulling his hand free and shaking his head at the slight sting of it.
Oreya shot him a glare. “You had said stealth. Stop swearing.”
“Och, lass, it hurts.” He chuckled slightly, creeping up beside the heavily armored woman as best he could. “Besides, ye dinnae need t’worry all that much! Rescuin’ Greatfather Winter’s as much a pageant as anythin’, goblins jes’ like attention an’ this way has fewer explosions.”
The Lightforged woman shot him a look that made it very clear she was very much not in the spirit of this particular adventure. “I was told by you that this was an important mission. If we are here for nothing more than holiday frivolity there are more important tasks we could be undertaking.”
“Ye live up ta that reputation ye have, aye? Na even a smile.” He shook his head. “Do ye Lightforged folk ever e’en make jokes?”
Oreya sighed, then held up a hand as she suddenly snapped to attention. “We are located,” she said, her hands gripping the hilts of the two massive swords strapped against her back. “I will rush them. You are ready?”
There was a time to be silly and a time for seriousness; Vallin’s best days of fighting were more than a decade hence, but the spirits still heeded him as he mentally beseeched their aid, nurturing force flowing into his palms. “Nae ta fear,” he replied.
Both soldiers stepped out from their hiding spot in the cave, Oreya’s hooves crunching against the snow as she began to draw her weapons. Then she paused, and while Vallin didn’t recognize the word in Draenic, he knew a curse when he heard one.
Following her gaze, he understood. Those were not goblins.
The woman in front looked like she had always looked a bit haggard, but the curse of undeath had done her few favors, her eyes now gone altogether but apparently not preventing her from seeing the pair before her. Her long staff thumped against the snow as her companion, a massive orc of brown skin with a fierce look, circled around to one side. “Lightforged,” he hissed between clenched teeth, seemingly unbothered by the cold even in his loose rags of an outfit. “A fitting foe.”
“We have not met, orc,” replied Oreya, either not seeing or not caring about the fire he was summoning to his own hands.
“Your Light destroys us,” he spat at her. “And now you come here to interfere with our sacred quest to rescue–”
“It’s not sacred,” the undead woman growled, sizing up the pair of Alliance members with a gaze that Vallin had to admit he found disturbing. He’d fought too many of the Forsaken to not find them unsettling, even now. “It’s just… Winter Veil. It’s what we do.”
“We are still called to battle!” replied the orc, glancing back and forth between Oreya and his companion. “They stand between us and our objective of rescuing the Greatfather!”
Oreya seemed nonplussed by the exchange. “You would consign him to the service of your foul mistress? We will liberate him from your influence as well as that of–”
The spirits of wind filled Vallin’s lungs, and he took a deep breath. “Stop!” he shouted, as much a command as it was a plea. It was enough; the orc and the draenei stopped circling one another and glaring long enough to look at the dwarf, who himself was mostly surveying the undead woman.
After a moment, she sighed slightly, shifting on her feet and staring. “You’re taking one of the new ones out to see Winter Veil too, huh?”
“Aye. Thought the lass needed a spot o’joy,” he replied, gesturing toward Oreya. “How long ye been doin’ these rescues?”
“Since the Northrend offensive,” she answered, and for the first time Vallin wasn’t looking at a Forsaken warrior but at a young woman, a tired one, no more excited by the possibility of a fight than Vallin had been moments earlier. “You?”
“Before e’en th’stormin’ o’Blackrock Mountain.” He chuckled. “Useta seem so important, it did. Us fightin’.”
The orc made a sound halfway between a groan and a cough. “Why are you not fighting him, Lia?! Our duty is to–”
“Oh, stick a fork in yourself, Wadrem!” she snapped back, leaning over and lightly tapping him with the tip of her staff in a single fluid motion. “We both know you never saw any Lightforged anything destroying your people, you told me that months ago when you were drunk. You’re just going by what you’ve been told.”
He looked at the draenei woman again, then back to Lia. “It’s… possible, but…”
“And ye dinnae care about orcs. Or undead. Ye fought demons, and they’re nae here.” Vallin gestured to the pair with one hand, tilting his head as he stared at Oreya. “Why fight?”
“There is a war on between us,” Oreya replied with a stamp of her hoof. “You try to win those.”
“Win what? We dinnae want their land. There’s nae anythin’ ta fight o’er, ‘cept destroyin’ all of them like this were a tale for children! D’ye wanna be fightin’ o’er nothin’, now of all times?!”
She didn’t answer right away, but she did move her hands away from the hilts of her sword. Wadrem still had fire coalescing in one hand, though, as he stared at Vallin. “You were a soldier against the Horde, were you now?”
“Aye, was a time that were true. But I dinnae about them! We’re only enemies now if we choose ta be. Howe’er much bad blood may exist… it stops now.” He looked at the group. “If’n we let it.”
There was silence.
You wouldn’t know there had been tension to look at the group now.
The goblins lay in… well, Vallin preferred to just think of it as the group having been dealt with, but both them and their thugs were certainly not causing any further trouble. Greatfather Winter was rescued, and at Vallin’s request (and Wadrem’s slightly reluctant agreement) he had left them all a rather large pitcher of eggnog with just enough liquor in it for Vallin to taste it.
This meant that Oreya and Wadrem were both quite deep in their cups. Lia seemed unaffected, but it was hard to know with the undead. She was certainly laughing.
“No, I am serious!” Oreya said with a laugh, slurring her words and nearly falling over from her seat on a snow-covered bench, warmed by the fire at the center of the group. “My sister and I both, he asked us this! In public!”
Wadrem slapped his knee, laughing heartily in response. “Did you… oh, spirits, did you take his head?”
“Oh, no. My sister shoved him into the lake.” She shook her head, still laughing. “Would that I could have frozen him in there.”
Even Lia chuckled at that, but Wadrem suddenly got quiet, his laugh trailing off and falling short. “Somethin’ wrong, lad?” asked Vallin, having been largely content to be silent.
“It just… makes no sense.”
Oreya wiped her eyes and stared at him. “What doesn’t.”
“You… are not the sort of person who would slaughter my people. Or destroy us. I can see that. And yet… that is the story we are told.” He sighed, staring up at the slowly darkening sky. “I would like nothing more than to forget that story. To be told a better one.”
“Well, then, Winter Veil wish for you right there!” announced Lia, sounding more chipper than Vallin had heard her sound up to that point. “That’s a tradition, too.”
“You simply… wish for something?” Wadrem scratched at his chin. “That seems odd.”
Lia snorted. “So does sleeping in a bed with wolves.”
“That is for warmth.” He huffed and turned to Oreya. “Fine. That would be my wish. Draenei… sorry. Oreya. What is your wish?”
She didn’t answer right away, having followed Wadrem’s gaze. “I would like a haircut,” she said at length.
“Och, lass, ye can ask for more than that!”
“No, I am being serious.” She nodded. “So often it feels like there are so few options for me, that… being a soldier for so long leaves me no chances to be something else. I would like… to style my hair. To get a good haircut. For barbers who know how to cut my hair.”
“You could get a mohawk!” offered Lia with another laugh. Oreya shot her a glare, and that was enough to make Vallin laugh.
“All right, lass, ye started this.” The dwarf looked to his new undead companion. “What d’ye want?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I want to go back in time.” She paused. “Not, like, with the Caverns of Time or something. I want to go back to… how things were, back when I was up in Northrend. It felt like basically anything mattered, that I could do whatever seemed the most important to me and still have it count. These days… it’s not that. I want that.”
Silence hung in the camp for a moment. “Also, I want a house,” Lia added a moment later.
“You cannot have two wishes when the rest of us got one.”
“Fine, I want all of us to have houses,” she snapped back at Oreya. “What about you, Vallin?”
The dwarf held up a finger and looked at the pair of Horde members sitting beside him. They had all been coming here with the same goal, and it would have been so easy for them to fall back on coming to blows like so often happened. Instead… it had been peace. Contentment. Even warmth. More than he had expected.
He had been saying things before because he wanted them to be true. But looking at the assembled group he realized that he had been touching on something bigger even that.
“Dinnae need t’wish for aught,” he replied, lifting his mug of eggnog once more. “Already got mine.”