Chapter 4: Barely Leashed
**Araatris:** The druid swings his polearm with a vicious growl, the long, wicked weapon spinning around his back before slicing across the orc’s chest.
**Rhoelyn:** The green skinned opponent stumbles back, but grins despite the bloody gash. Roaring something in orcish, he charges forward with his hammer.
**Araatris:** Rhese dodges, his feathered blue and white cloak all that the orc reaches as he swings. The haft of his polearm cracks along that green jaw.
**Rhoelyn:** The orc tumbles to the ground. He glares with furrowed brows up at the night elf as he rubs at his jaw with a grimace, shifting to his knees.
**Araatris:** He’s barely in time to dodge the razor-sharp tip of the weapon as it stabs for his heart, and it slices a bloody furrow down the orc’s side.
**Rhoelyn:** The orc swings his hammer down low at the druid’s legs. It hits, but instead of breaking bones, it carries Rhese’s feet out from under him.
**Araatris:** With a grunt, the druid lands hard on the back of his shoulder even as his tusked opponent rolls back to his feet and raises his weapon high.
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese rolls to the side as the hammer smashes where his head was. He takes advantage of the orc’s slow recovery to roll to his feet, piercing.
**Araatris:** The Horde soldier is surging forward as the druid moves, and it earns him a long blade slicing deep into his chest, his own weight driving it in.
**Rhoelyn:** The hammer falls to the ground with a thump as the gasping orc slumps over the polearm. Rhese kicks the corpse off to retrieve his blade.
**Araatris:** With the urgency of the fight over, the young father grimaces and staggers a bit, leaning on a nearby boulder as his battered leg protests.
**Rhoelyn:** A woman snorts behind him. “I can’t believe you let him get a hit in. You owe me a drink. We’re up to what… ten?” Kaerryn walks around.
**Araatris:** Rhese makes a sour face as he gingerly lowers himself to the ground by the orc’s corpse and settles a glowing hand against his leg.
**Araatris:** He scrubs at his face before he looks over at her, the bags under his eyes dark. “I’m pretty sure it’s only eight, Kaer. Stop trying to milk it.”
**Rhoelyn:** “You make it easy, fuzzbutt. Now, are we going to head back? That was the last one, wasn’t it?” She puts her shoulder against a tree as she waits.
**Araatris:** “The last,” the druid rumbles, nodding his head. He looks around at the seven other Horde corpses arrayed around them both, grim and satisfied.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn nods. “Then we can write up this report and get some drinks.” She glances around the sparsely populated field, razed by the Horde.
**Araatris:** Shoving back to his feet, Rhese tests his healed leg and rolls out his shoulder. “I want to get home, soon. Alen is a handful without Rhoe.”
**Rhoelyn:** She raises an eyebrow. “Even with Yami and Nysse’s dad? I wouldn’t think they’d have any problem with the tyke.” Kaerryn pats his back.
**Araatris:** The druid shakes his head with a tired sigh, wiping his weapon. “He’s a good boy, but he’s really attached to her. He doesn’t sleep well.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Who does nowadays? I guess that means you can’t get smashed then, but you can still have a drink or two, right?” She asks hopefully.
**Araatris:** Rhese can’t help but smirk at the human’s single-minded focus. He slips his long polearm into its harness on his back. “Alright. A drink or two.”
**Rhoelyn:** She hoots, pumping a fist into the air. “Now where…” The warrior walks along with him and changes topics. “I hope we get another mission soon.”
**Araatris:** The night elf shakes his head and puts his fingers to his lips, blowing a shrill whistle. “Hunting Horde seems more effective than AESOP work.”
**Rhoelyn:** Her sharp eyes flicker to him and she asks, “Effective or satisfying? After what happened in Darkshore you’ve been downright bloodthirsty.”
**Araatris:** “Both,” he snorts in answer. “Grave has us going down too many dead ends for my taste. At least we’re accomplishing something when we hunt.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn laughs. “Well, it has a more faster effect. I wouldn’t mind butting heads more in Stormsong though. They’re… interesting if not Horde.”
**Araatris:** “‘Interesting’, is it?” Rhese glances up at a hollow screech from above them, waving at the hippogryph circling there. “Yet another mad cult.”
**Rhoelyn:** Nodding, she smirks. “But I like them better than the Twilight. Sure you wouldn’t rather hoof it? We might run across some stragglers.”
**Araatris:** Her companion regards her with tired eyes, his shoulders rounded. He smacks her shoulder. “I’m done. If you want me awake through beers, we ride.”
**Rhoelyn:** The human woman shakes her head in mock disappointment. “See. This is what having kids will do to you. You used to be able to stay up later.”
**Araatris:** He chuckles and reaches out as his feathered friend alights beside them. “I used to be able to sleep through the day, too. And past sunset.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I can’t speak to the sleeping through the day. I rarely got to do that.” She watches him settles on the beast. “Will he bite me again?”
**Araatris:** The druid leans down and offers his armored friend a hand up with a gleeful pronouncement of, “Oh, probably.” He just grins as the beast eyes her.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn glares. “Bite me and I’ll punch you.” She waits for the hippogryph to break eye contact before taking Rhese’s hand and swinging up.
**Araatris:** Chuckling, the elf waits for the smaller human to settle. Once they’re in the air, his hippogryph’s wings beat a swift path through the sky.
**Rhoelyn:** They ride across the landscape. The sun creeps down creating long shadows. Fires seem to grow as dusk draws nearer. “Nasty, aren’t they?”
**Araatris:** Rhese perks up from his near-drowse, lifting his head and glancing over his shoulder at the human. “Hm? Who’s nasty?”
**Rhoelyn:** “Nothing, pal. Get some rest. We still have a bit before we get there. This bird seems to know where to go.” She grins and pats his back.
**Araatris:** “Flamesong is…” He pauses for a long, involuntary yawn, shoving a hand over his mouth. “… a very smart boy.” He pats the beast’s feathered neck.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn snorts. “Don’t give him a big head.” They swung towards Boralus, a spec in the distance. She kept her thoughts to herself this time.
**Araatris:** By the time the pair had stabled Flamesong and made their way to the drab but comfortable Weighed Anchor tavern, the human’s stomach grumbled.
**Rhoelyn:** She waves the server over, “Oi! Can we get a couple of steaks, potatoes, and two strong ales?” Rhese raises an eyebrow as the server leaves.
**Araatris:** “You’re starting to sound like you fit right in.” The human grins. “I can respect the Kul’Tiran way. Straightforward. Get results, not excuses.”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese shakes his head and yawns toothily. “I’m not sure you were ever anything but straightforward, Kaer.” The woman smirks. “Exactly.”
**Araatris:** The warrior leans back and kicks her plate boots up on the corner of the table, giving evidence to why the wood was so pitted. “I fit in.”
**Rhoelyn:** Snorting, the druid looks about, noting the suspicious and curious gazes. “Glad you do. This is no Stormwind where they’re used to us.”
**Araatris:** Kaerryn folds her hands behind her head, smirking. “And now you know how it felt for me to live in Darnassus all those years.” Rhese scoffs.
**Rhoelyn:** “You thrived on the attention. It’s not the same for us. Do you have any idea how hard it’s been on Nysse?” He pauses as the drinks arrive.
**Araatris:** The human winces and brushes her hair over her shoulder before she grabs her mug. “Everyone staring…? How’d you keep her from hiding in the house?”
**Rhoelyn:** He takes a long drink from his mug. “Mostly she goes out with someone. She slips out at night sometimes when there’s less people out.”
**Araatris:** “Yeah…” Kaerryn admits it grudgingly, lifting her mug and staring into it. “Yeah, maybe it’s a little different for you. For her, especially.”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese stares at his drink. “One day, we’ll have a home that makes her happy again, but we can’t do that until this war is over. We’re not safe.”
**Araatris:** His companion takes a drink of her ale and then thunks her tankard back on the table. “At least it’s not a problem she’s facing in Darkshore.”
**Rhoelyn:** Grimacing, the druid manages to not scowl. “I still don’t understand why I couldn’t have gone with them. Yes, I know what they said, but…”
**Araatris:** “But nothing.” His friend flops her feet to the floor and leans forward, staring at him intently. “Those two chose, and you’re supporting them.”
**Rhoelyn:** He drains the rest of his mug and lets Kaerryn call for another. “Fine. I’m supporting them and giving us time to process like Sarren said.”
**Araatris:** The human doesn’t miss his low mutter of, “At least until the first time they’re late to check in by two seconds.” She scowls at him sternly.
**Rhoelyn:** “You have less faith in your wife and sister than they have in you? That’s pretty sad, Rhese.” Their food silently slides onto the table.
**Araatris:** “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kaer.” The druid makes a sour face, dragging his trencher closer. “As long as I’m with th-”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn interrupts, “They are more capable that you want to think, fuzzbutt. You need to give them a chance to overcome their challenges.”
**Araatris:** Rhese sighs and scrubs his hands over his face, staring at his food. “Nysse is strong, I know. But Rhoe… I’m trying, Kaer. I’m really trying.”
**Rhoelyn:** She ponders for a moment as she dug into her steak. “Your sister has braved many things. With Nysse, she’ll have the strength she needs.”
**Araatris:** Though the elf pokes at his potato, he finally sets down his knife for his mug, taking a long drink. “But…” He just cuts off, shaking his head.
**Rhoelyn:** “But what?” She takes a large bite of meat, speaking with her mouth full. “What reasoning could you have for it? Is there a reason why?”
**Araatris:** Rhese sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “Last time I sent them off together, my sister came back from a mission they still won’t tell (c)
**Araatris:** (c) me about in love with a Horde mage. Now look where that’s put her.” He grimaces. “She thinks I don’t know how heartbroken she’s been over him.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn eyes him with narrowed eyes. “If they don’t then they have reasons, but… love doesn’t care about factions, wars, or any of that-”
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese cleared his throat over her next word. She continued, “You didn’t tell me what he did. Did you find him murdering someone or something?”
**Araatris:** The druid shrugs slightly, looking away from the human’s brown eyes with a surly frown. “I don’t know what he did. Not exactly. But he was there.”
**Rhoelyn:** “And so were you. Did he accuse you for being there? Or fel! He could have been there for Rhoe!” She shakes her head. “Did you ever ask?”
**Araatris:** By his lack of reaction, the human knows he’s already considered that option. “No. And the answer doesn’t matter. Rhoe knows why, too.”
**Rhoelyn:** She continues on to her potatoes and nudges his food closer to him. “Oh fuzzy one, maybe you could enlighten someone else about why.”
**Araatris:** Her companion cuts a bite of steak before he answers, waving it on his fork at her. “Kaer… the space in the middle doesn’t exist, any more.”
**Rhoelyn:** “Really? You’re going the us and them line? Glad to know that I’d be out of luck if I wasn’t one of us.” She comments dryly, but without anger.
**Araatris:** Rhese frowns at her. “Nobody is happy about this, kid. She’s a Priestess of Elune. I’m a Druid of the Circle, if a little dusty on my title.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn asks off-handedly. “Fine, but what about Nysse who doesn’t have any titles to worry about? Do you think she understands your duties?”
**Araatris:** “She understands enough,” he insists before shoving some steak in his mouth. After his bite, he says, “We have to be careful for everyone.”
**Rhoelyn:** The woman pauses to drink then rub her face. “Are you really that oblivious? They are family to her. You don’t suddenly stop being family.”
**Araatris:** Rhese scowls at the human. “You do if you betray your own. Nysse knows that it isn’t safe for our family to be associated with the blood elves.”
**Rhoelyn:** “It isn’t safe openly.” She drains her drink and calls for another. The warrior finishes her meal. “She’s getting better at hiding her hurt.”
**Araatris:** Sighing, the druid forces another bite of his food before he responds. “… Maybe she is. We… haven’t been talking about those… things.”
**Rhoelyn:** She snorted. “No fel. She chose a mission without you. Seems that she’s trying to work out things as much as you. Rhoe was just convenient.”
**Araatris:** Growling, Rhese shoves his food away and stands. “You think I don’t know that? She went as much to escape me as anything else. I’m not blind.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn doesn’t seem surprised. “Sit and finish your dinner. Anyway, that’s not all of it. Let me ask you this. Do you think Nysse is angry?”
**Araatris:** The reasonable and serious question from his cavalier partner has the druid blinking in surprise, and he sits despite his original intentions.
**Rhoelyn:** She sets down her utensils and rests her elbows on the table. Her eyes are dark and unreadable in the dim lighting. “Well, do you, Rhese?”
**Araatris:** The druid reaches for his mug only to find it empty. “Yeah, Kaer. She didn’t want me to banish the brothers, and thinks I’m wrong to hate them.”
**Rhoelyn:** “True, but what about Teldrassil? Or the rest of the Horde? Has she talked about any of it or is she avoiding it like usual?” Kaerryn asks.
**Araatris:** He gives her a droll look, amber eyes flat. “What do you think? She’s only more withdrawn now, afraid she’ll upset the twins if she shows it.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn nods. “And what do you think will happen when she gets her hands on the people tearing apart her family with that pent up emotion?”
**Araatris:** Rhese blinks and then winces, reaching up to scratch the back of his head. “… she’s going to rip them apart, isn’t she? Sounds familiar…”
**Rhoelyn:** “She didn’t just go because of you, fuzzbutt. Nysse needs the freedom to discover how she feels, too.” She taps his plate. “Now eat already.”
**Araatris:** Snorting, the druid manages a smirk. “Alright, I’ve heard enough. Who are you, and what’d you do with my immature, devil-may-care partner?”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn smirks. “Paying back a certain idiot who stood up for me years ago. Now if you don’t mind… I’m going to get spectacularly drunk.”
**Araatris:** Rhese chuckles and picks up his knife. “And she’s back. What a relief! Now, order me another drink to wash this down with before I get home.”
**Rhoelyn:** The woman calls for a couple more drinks and settles down to sip hers while Rhese ate. “Hit me up when you’re ready to head back out.”
**Araatris:** Around another bite of food, he nods and mumbles, “I will. And as thanks for the relatively not-awful advice, I’ll even do our report for you.”
**Rhoelyn:** “If I’d known that it would get me out of reports then I would have done it sooner.” Kaerryn grins broadly and leans back, kicking her feet up.
**Araatris:** The druid yawns and then smirks at her. “I’m not worried about it happening too often.” He chuckles before he digs in to the last of his food.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn waits for him to finish before offering, “You want company on the way back? I could say hello to the kiddos.” She downs another mug.
**Araatris:** Rhese blinks at her. “I thought your priority for tonight was getting smashed.” The human grins sheepishly. “After kiddos would be okay.”
**Rhoelyn:** “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d delay drinking for children.” Rhese shakes his head, smiling. “They might be asleep, but yes.”
**Araatris:** Her grin broad, Kaerryn scoots her empty tankard away and waits impatiently while Rhese finishes his meal. She hops up the moment he’s done.
**Rhoelyn:** The druid leisurely stands with another yawn and sets out coins for their meal. When she starts twitching, he finally turns. “Let’s go.”
**Araatris:** Darting after him, the warrior practically dances circles around her tired companion as they wander back through the Market toward his home.
**Rhoelyn:** Rhese pulls out the key as they near the house. “Now, Kaer, you’re going to need to be quiet when we head in… just in case they are asleep.”
**Araatris:** The human chuckles and puts a finger over her ruddy lips. “Yes, poppa. I’ll be quiet as a mouse.” She pulls her gauntlets off and tucks them away.
**Rhoelyn:** Sighing, he opens the door to the house silently and slides in. He motions for the warrior to follow him in and shuts the door behind her.
**Araatris:** A child’s unhappy crying reaches them nearly immediately, and Rhese winces. “Well,” he mutters to Kaerryn, “someone’s awake. Lucky you.”
**Rhoelyn:** “A kid crying won’t bother me Rhese, go on and take care of him. I’ll go peek in the nursery.” She wanders toward it, humming cheerfully.
**Araatris:** As the druid heads for the room that Yami and Alen share, he smirks at her back. “Who knew she had a tender streak?” He pokes his head in the door.
**Rhoelyn:** Yami pats the boy’s back. “Yeah, I know. She’s not me.” He raises his dark-eyed gaze to Rhese. “Welcome home, An’da. Did it go well?”
**Araatris:** His father forces a little smile for him and nods. “It wasn’t very exciting, tonight.” He steps in and holds his arms out. “Do you need a hand?”
**Rhoelyn:** The tired young man gratefully hands over the toddler. “Please. I’ve been trying for the last… hour, I guess. He’s really missing her.”
**Araatris:** Rhese takes Alen from his son and tucks the boy against his arm, cradling him there and brushing his unruly curls back. “Hey, little elf. Sh…”
**Rhoelyn:** “Ree…” The small boy sniffles and tugs at the druid’s silver hair. Yami stands up and stretches. “I’d better check on an’nui and the twins.”
**Araatris:** “Of course,” the other elf mutters, distracted by trying to free his locks from the toddler’s grip. “I’ll help Alen sleep. Oh, Kaerryn is here.”
**Rhoelyn:** The young man’s eyes sparkle. “She is?” He’s out the door before Rhese can say anything else and peering into the nursery for his adopted aunt.
**Araatris:** Sarren smirks and watches the human bounce a grinning, tired baby in each arm. “You do realize that it’s time for them to sleep, not play?”
**Rhoelyn:** “Pfft. They’ll sleep better for the entertainment now. You have to wear them out.” Kaerryn chuckles. Yami smiles brightly, “Aunt Kaerryn!”
**Araatris:** The warrior turns to him with a big grin. “Hey, squirt. You’re not letting these adorable little rascals push you around, are you?” He chuckles.
**Rhoelyn:** His cheeks darken. “Of course not!” He steps around to give her a hug from behind. “It’s good to see you.” “You too, kiddo.” Kaerryn agrees.
**Araatris:** “Fel, you’ve gotten huge,” she comments as he pulls away. “I heard from your dad that you’re learning staves?” She makes a funny face at Mirra.
**Rhoelyn:** Yami nods and answers while Sarren looks amused and slips from the room. “Yeah, I’m doing pretty well. At least until they team up on me.”
**Araatris:** Kaerryn laughs and hands him a droopy-eyed Rhylian. “Oh, you have to watch out for your pops, squirt. He hates to lose, so he cheats to win.”
**Rhoelyn:** The young man tucks him agsinst his shoulder and pats his back. Rhylian happily settles in with a yawn and plops his thumb in his mouth.
**Araatris:** “I guess I learned from him, then, cuz I hate to lose, too.” Yami grins and winks at her. “I got him good with a little cheat, the other day.”
**Rhoelyn:** She smirks. “Good job!” Kaerryn settles the drooping girl into the crook of her arm. “Let me know if you want to try a sword or axe, squirt.”
**Araatris:** He wrinkles his dusky nose a bit, muttering, “Min’da and an’da say no blades until I’m ready. I think they really mean until they’re ready.”
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn gives him a sharp, amused look as she stands. “So… don’t tell them. You’re training, not fighting with them yet. Just be careful.”
**Araatris:** Yami blinks at her as she steps to the crib and lays Mirra down. “… uh, Aunt Kaerryn, I don’t think you’re supposed to tell me to disobey them.”
**Rhoelyn:** She snorts. “Maybe, but I’m not suggesting that you go out and fight horde with a blade. Your parents learned young, too. It’ll be fine.”
**Araatris:** After a moment’s thought, the impressionable young voidling grins and nods. “Yeah! It’s to protect the kids, after all. It’ll be fine.”
**Rhoelyn:** Taking Rhy, Kaerryn settles him next to his sister. “Now, I don’t want you doing anything wild. Just training. Lots of practice first.”
**Araatris:** The voidling nods and leads the way out of the nursery. “Nothing wild. Just swords!” He grins before poking his head in at the quiet spare bedroom.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn laughs, softer than usual. Yami spots Sarren. “An’nui, the twins are resting. Aunt Kaer and I’ll see how an’da is doing with Alen.”
**Araatris:** The hunter waves a hand, glancing up from the soothing task of oiling his leathers. “It went quiet a few minutes ago, little light,” he mutters.
**Rhoelyn:** The young man sighs in relief. “That’s good. I was worried.” He waves at Sarren and motions for Kaerryn to follow him as they look in on them.
**Araatris:** They find the druid asleep on the bed in his cloak and armor, Alen draped halfway across his chest, sleeping with his thumb in his slack mouth.
**Rhoelyn:** Kaerryn snickers and Yami quickly hushes her and pushes her out the door. She asked incredulously, “Are you going to leave them like that?”
**Araatris:** The young man snorts quietly, ushering her toward the living room. “Auntie, when Alen finally sleeps, you don’t mess with him. An’da, too.”
**Rhoelyn:** “So… you don’t wake the sleeping bear?” She grins at her own joke. Yami blinks and covers his mouth when a quick bark of laughter escapes.