A mission of mercy

Commander Ariciel of Lunarfall Garrison tapped her finger on the desk of her tactical expert, Lieutenant Laura Thorn. Thorn, who had been looking over Ariciel’s shoulder, looked up startled.

“Commander?”

Ariciel knew exactly what Thorn had been looking at, or rather who. She wasn’t about to put it in terms of ‘affecting her work’, because Lieutenant Thorn was very capable indeed. Still, enough was enough.

“Who do we have available for a low-level mission?”

“Um.” Thorn considered a moment. “There’s Shelly, Fiona, Delvar, and Qiana. All the others are out. What sort of mission?”

“Escort quest. Baros Alexston is leaving us.”

Thorn’s face was a picture. “Leaving?”

“Only for a day or two. He’s visiting Sir Athelstane’s garrison so he can compare notes with their architect. I’m not sure who to send along though.”

“Not Delvar,” said Thorn. “They’ll end up killing each other.”

Ariciel nodded. “Not Shelly either. There’s a mission coming up controlling podlings, and Shelly gets those, because of…”

“Reasons,” said Thorn, with a little nod. Shelly Hamby’s husband had been killed by podlings, little plant-creatures that looked lovely and cute until they turned out not to be. Mowing them down with a pair of axes seemed to be helping her cope.

“I want to convince Fiona finally to have a look at the herb garden. I asked her ages ago, not a clue why she doesn’t.”

“Which leaves Qiana,” said Thorn. “I’ll tell her to get ready.”

“Uh-uh,” said Ariciel, shaking her head. “Qiana’s last mission with the breakers was brutal. She’s earned a little rest.”

“But then, who?”

“Hmm…” Ariciel rubbed her chin, then looked at Thorn. “How about you? You’ve been keeping in practice, haven’t you?”

Lieutenant Thorn’s jaw dropped. “But… what about my work here?”

“Look, I can arrange for either me or Commander Bannog to be here all the time for a few days. It’ll do you good to get out.”

“Um…”

Ariciel looked into Lieutenant Laura Thorn’s one remaining eye, giving her the full benefit of her luminous Night-elven stare.

“You wouldn’t send people out on missions that you wouldn’t do yourself, would you?”

“Of course not, but…”

“Good,” said Ariciel. “See Kyra for some money for the room. Stay out of trouble and I’ll see you in two days.”

“Very well, Commander.”

Laura Thorn got up, took a breath and walked over to Mr. Alexston’s drafting table. He looked a bit startled to see her, and his face actually turned a shade or two darker. Ariciel looked away, grinning to herself.

*

The door opened, and the Night-elf named Qiana Moonshadow came in. She walked up to Lieutenant Thorn’s desk, mildly surprised only to find Ariciel there.

“Commander? Any missions going today?”

“Only baby-sitting Mr. Alexston to Sir Athelstane’s garrison.”

Qiana nodded. “I’ll get ready.”

“Nono.” Ariciel put a hand on Qinia’s shoulder, turning their backs to Thorn and Alexston. “I’m giving that to her.”

Qiana frowned. “That’s… unusual. I can do it, really.”

Ariciel walked out of the door into the sunlight, taking Qiana with her.

“Those two,” said Ariciel, pointing a thumb over her shoulder, “have been circling around each other since the first spade went into the ground here. It’s driving me up the walls. Smouldering looks, unsubtle hints… ugh!”

Qiana looked at Ariciel with a little smirk on her face, but said nothing.

“So now, I’m sending them on a mission together. I’m telling Kyra to give them enough money for one room at Sir Athelstane’s inn, and if they don’t come back with their feet two feet off the ground, giggling their heads off, then I’m assigning Baros to the bloody fishing shack.”

Qiana laughed. “Sir Athelstane has an inn? Why don’t we have an inn?”

“We have a lovely barracks, the lumberjacks have this nice little brewery and a liquor still they think we don’t know about, and if you want to argue with the barn people about the quality of their food, be my guest.”

Qiana turned her eyes up to the skies. “There’s this cute priestess who goes out on missions sometimes. I could really protect her very well. Just mentioning it to inform your mission planning decisions.”

“Aww,” said Ariciel, a worried look on her face. “And you’re just sitting here in a corner, trying to work up the courage to talk to her?”

“It is hard to talk to her when she’s rubbing my shoulders. She puts in that little bit of healing magic. And she doesn’t talk much when I pay her back either.”

Ariciel gave Qiana a Look. “Anything I should know about?”

Qiana sighed, then shrugged her shoulders. “Half the garrison already thinks we’re bonking. But honestly? No. It’s something… different.”

“Hey.” Ariciel stopped, facing Qinia. “I wouldn’t hold it against you, you know. You’re doing fine on your missions. And she is cute.”

Qiana only nodded.

There was the rush of feathers, and a large man came flying in on a Stormshield griffin. Ariciel’s face lit up. She walked over at a carefully controlled pace, because rushing out to meet him would only give him ideas. Qiana looked at her. The idea of people being with Humans still made her wonder a little. She set off for the gate, maybe to pull some watch duty and to see if Daleera was back already.


It was past midnight. Bannog was sitting by the fire, reading mission reports. The room was quiet. Ariciel was leaning back in the chair next to him, bare feet dangerously close to the flames. She wanted to take him to bed, but there were still a few people out on missions. Neither of them wanted to go to sleep while out there, maybe their people were fighting for their lives. Still. Hurry up Shelly. Get on with it Delvar.

*

The door opened, and Shelly Hamby came walking in, tired, dirty, but alive. Bannog got up and walked over to her.

“Didn’t get them all,” said Shelly, “but enough to keep them off our backs for now.”

“Good,” said Bannog, a hand on her shoulder. “Weeding isn’t a thing you do once anyway.”

“Don’t I know it,” said Shelly. “Oh. Delvar is back, too. He’s in the barracks if you want him.”

“I’ll read his report in the morning,” said Bannog. “Get some sleep, Hamby. You look like a ghost.”

“Thanks, Commander,” said Shelly. She turned round and left.

Ariciel walked up. “I saw her husband in the herb garden shed again. Do you think we ought to tell her?”

“Maybe.”

Ariciel wrapped her arms round Bannog, and put her forehead up to his.

“All the chickens are back in the coop. Wanna come to bed?”

Bannog grinned, picked her up in his arms and carried her to their bedroom.


Qiana Moonshadow woke up, and looked over the edge of her bunk bed, down on Daleera. Daleera was sitting up, breathing fast, arms wrapped round her. Little distressed sounds came from her. Qiana swung her legs over the side, jumped down. She put a hand on Daleera’s shoulder and gently pushed her down on the bed. She got in behind her, warm body pressed against her, strong arms tightly wrapped round her friend. With one hand, she stroked her white hair. Slowly, Daleera relaxed.

“It’s alright,” whispered Qinia. “I’m here. You’re safe. Everyone is safe. Everyone is alright.”

Daleera gave a little sob, wriggled her shoulders, and fell asleep. Qinia settled in behind her. She still didn’t know exactly what nightmares roamed about in Daleera’s head, but this way of keeping them at bay, all things considered, was better than what she’d done earlier.

“Everything is alright,” whispered Qinia. She closed her eyes and fell asleep herself.

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