A feeling that should always accompany meditation, something that the draenei always struggled to attain. Yet, he persisted, knowing that if he didn't undertake this daily ritual he would lose himself. So many times in his younger years had he succumbed to the easier emotions: anger, fear, hatred, despair. Almost all of that was behind him now. Almost.
In his time on Azeroth, Anarchei had learnt a few things. The first was that he didn't like most people. Not because of who or what they were, but how they were, how they lived. All around him he witnessed expression of the same emotions he analysed within himself daily, to understand them, and know where they came from. In so doing he was able to observe the world around him with clarity, seeing most people for what they really were, and he didn't like it. These emotions often led to what must be a universal constant: violence, and of course, the accompanying pain and suffering. Not particularly keen on experiencing said pain and suffering himself, he had often wondered why others would wish to inflict it on their fellows. The answer was simple: power. And the more power you had, the less consequences you would face should any retaliate against your evil. At least, that was what usually occured. Having observed many different races, he had reached the same conclusion for all of them. Even his own kind, been so good-hearted and selfless, were not exempt.
It began long ago with his adopted parents, witnessing first-hand just how cruel humans can be. A few months before he was to reach they age of majority, he had come to the realisation that there was something different about him, something that he did not see whilst living amongst humans. When he raised this issue with the only people he had loved in his life, he was met with fierce rejection, and for the first time he remembered, violence. It was his 'father' that dished out the physical abuse, his 'mother' served up a plate-full of the verbal kind. Of course, he was devastated, and naturally had little choice but to flee the only home he had ever known. How he managed to survive on his own after that was still a mystery.
Now, years later, he sat in a rather uncomfortable chair obviously not designed for draenei comfort. Sitting, thinking, and above all: waiting. The door across the room was still closed, and Anarchei had not heard a sound since it had clicked shut several hours ago. Inside that room was a sho'halu, or tauren in the common tongue, lying unconscious and gravely wounded. With him were several of the best healers of Azeroth and possibly beyond. Dalaran had to have the best, being stationed above Northrend while armies fought below. With these thoughts, the paladin thought back to why he couldn't heal the tauren himself. With all the advances in knowledge about the plague, many antidotes and methods of magic had been developed to combat the disease. He himself knew them all, and had used them all in trying to save the life of the sho'halu. Nonetheless, his efforts were in vain. This new strain from the Scourge must have been recently developed, perhaps by the hand of the Lich King himself. Just thinking about such evil incarnate made the sturdy draenei shudder. The last time he had encountered the Lich King had not been pleasant, to say the least.
The chair he sat on creaked, and not for the first time Anarchei wondered if he should have removed his armour before sitting down. However, his train of thought was interrupted by the sound of a door opening. Standing up swiftly as he realised what was happening, he watched as a line of people from various races stepped into the waiting room, and then out into the corridor beyond. None of them made any gesture, nor did they glance at the paladin, they just silently marched out of sight. Feeling a sudden cold in the pit of his stomach, he jumped slightly when he turned and was faced with familiar tauren druid.
"You need not worry, we removed the poison," said the bull, a metal jar in his hands. "We had to cut it out in the end. First time I've had to use stitches, the wound cannot be fully healed with magic."
"I see," Anarchei replied, sighing in relief. For a moment he was not sure if he should say anything, but his curiosity got the better of him. "What's in the jar, if I may ask?"
"You may indeed ask," said he druid, his voice deep. "Contained within this magical device is the evil we had to cut out of our friend in there. We will be keeping it safe and studying it extensively. This is indeed something new, and we need to find some way of quickly neutralising it. You were lucky getting him here when you did, most would have died and come back as an undead monstrosity."
Relieved, and his curiosity satisfied, all the draenei could do in response was nod.
"You can go see him now if you'd like, although he is still sleeping, and will not awake for several hours" offered the tauren, turning his head away for a moment as if considering something, then facing the draenei again. "It is late now, you will be hard-pressed to find a place to stay the night. There is a spare bed in the room, you are welcome to use it."
"Oh, no, I don't wish to impose," Anarchei replied, raising his hand in polite refusal. "I will make do."
"Nonsense!" bellowed the sho'halu, his voice almost making the paladin jump. "You have aided one of my brethren, and what is more, brought to our attention a new strain of plague. You are more than welcome, in fact you deserve it."
"Well, if you say so."
"I do say so," replied the druid, before lowering his voice. "Also, if you don't mind me saying so, you do need to bathe."
Raising his arm and taking a sniff, the draenei almost blushed. He didn't smell all that great, that battle earlier had only added to a few days worth of sweat and unwashed dirt.
"Come, I'll show you where you can wash."
With the tauren leading, Anarchei followed him out of the waiting room and down the corridor to a door with a water droplet painted on it. The druid opened it, revealing a room big enough for the largest sho'halu, a strange device attached to the ceiling, and a drain in the floor beneath it. On the wall near the door were racks with folded towels of various colours and sizes. The druid grabbed a purple one, which had the symbol of the Exodar embroidered upon it.
"You will find no need for soap, the shower will do everything for you," explained the tauren as he handed the towel to the draenei, who was peering into the room with a sense of child-like wonder. "Never seen one like this before I take it?"
Anarchei shook his head.
"It's pretty simple. Just turn that handle on the wall over there in the direction you want the temperature of the water to be. Red for hot, blue for cold. We find that having something like this makes cleaning our patients a lot easier, and it also helps when they start recovery and can do it themselves."
"I see," said the paladin. "Thank you."
"No problem," replied the tauren, before glancing to his side, noticing the appearance of his kaldorei apprentice, then turning to face the draenei once more. "My friend, I'm afraid I have to leave you now, this analysis cannot wait any longer. I trust you can look after yourself?"
Receiving a nod from Anarchei, the druid nodded as well and departed with this apprentice in tow, leaving the draenei alone in the hallway with a towel in his hand.
The breath that flowed from the draenei's mouth instantly forming a visible cloud, and almost as quickly disappearing in the frigid air. Anarchei had just come to the conclusion that he could not remove his armour in the shower, as it would not do well to have it get wet. He hated it when his armour got wet, it took hours to dry, and it felt horrible trying to move about in it. He had also concluded that it would not be a good idea to strip it off and leave it in the corridor. Who knows what could happen to it. He trusted the healers, but it was still a public place, and the armour was worth a lot of gold, especially to those desperate enough to steal it. Realising he had no other choice, he turned and marched down the corridor back to room with the tauren whose life he had recently helped save.
Closing the door behind him as quietly as possible, Anarchei glanced momentarily at the resting shaman, before shifting himself behind the privacy screen beside the opposite bed. He proceeded to remove his armour as carefully as he could, not wishing to disturb the recovering shu'halo in the bed across the room. Feeling slightly awkward stripping down to barely anything with another being present, the draenei resolved that he should not worry, after all, the tauren was asleep and would not know. Still, Anarchei couldn't help feel that he was somehow been disrespectful.
As the last of his armour was removed, and arrayed on the bed neatly, Anarchei slowly peeled off his skin-tight under-armour and folded it neatly, its magically-imbued material unsoiled from days of action. To assuage his lingering doubts, the draenei had decided that he would keep his trunks on, to at least make him feel a little bit better about undressing in the same room as a recovering patient. Picking up the small bag attached to his belt, Anarchei reached inside, pulling from its magically-enlarged depths a clean pair of trunks to replace his slightly soiled ones, then encircled his waist with the towel. Suddenly, a sound passed through the thin white canvas of the privacy screen, a sound that was an unmistakable groan. Freezing, Anarchei turned to stare in the direction of the tauren shaman. Another groan, and this time the sound of a voice.
"Is someone there?" came the enquiry in Taur-ahe, the native tongue of the shu'halo.
Not wanting to keep the tauren waiting, Anarchei replied in the same language. "Yes, I'm here."
"Why are you hiding?" the shaman asked, his voice still hoarse but getting a bit stronger.
"I'm not hiding," replied the paladin, holding tightly to the towel around his waist in one hand while grasping his clean underwear in the other, he stepped out from behind the screen. "I was preparing myself for cleansing."
The tauren, still lying on the bed but with his head turned to face the draenei, widened his eyes at the sudden appearance of a someone he did not expect.
"You're... you're draenei," exclaimed the shu'halo, struggling to get up but grimacing in pain and falling back to the mattress.
"You shouldn't try to move just yet," Anarchei said urgently, stepping forward as if to help but halting at the glare he received from the tauren.
"Where am I? What are you doing here? And how is it that you can speak my native tongue?" the line of questions poured forth, their intensity made greater by the frustration the tauren was experiencing at his situation.
"You are in one of the houses of healing in Dalaran," explained the draenei, his tone even but gentle. "I am here because I needed a place to change out of my armour. As for how I came to speak your language, that's a long story that you probably don't want to hear right now. Suffice it to say, I can speak over twenty languages fluently, a necessity if you travel on this or any other world."
"Well," grumbled the bull. "That answers some of my questions, but not the one about why you are here. Last I heard, only patients used the cleansing rooms in the healing houses. You are no patient."
"Yes, that's true, I'm not," Anarchei sighed. "I'm the one that brought you here, saved your life as a matter of fact. As a way of thanking me, I have been offered a chance to clean myself up and a place to sleep for the night."
"You saved my life, huh? And what is the name of my rescuer?"
"My name is Anarchei. And yours?"
Not knowing what to say next, an unnerving silence settled on the pair for a few moments, before Stronghoof broke it.
"Well, you better hurry up and go clean up. No offence, but you do kind of smell."
Chuckling softly in response, Anarchei nodded and reluctantly departed. The walk down the corridor wasn't entirely pleasant. Thoughts of the recent discussion and the frigid temperature clouded the draenei's thoughts, his only consolation that he had hooves, so he didn't have to suffer the cold stone floor.
Shutting the door behind him, the paladin was again faced with a contraption that he had not yet had the opportunity of using, despite his numerous and far-reaching travels. Placing the towel and clean trunks on a hook on the wall, the draenei removed his soiled underwear and threw them to the floor. Turning to the shower, he stepped beneath it and turned the handle on the wall in the direction indicating warmth. Instantly a flowery-scented rainstorm poured from the ceiling, over his naked form, and down to the floor.
Anarchei sighed with relief, feeling the grime and sweat of several days falling off his body. Raising his hands, he began feeling along the lines of his muscled form. Touching his pectorals, biceps, abdominals, quadriceps, and strong tail, the draenei massaged the soapy water into his light blue-tinted skin. Enjoying the sensation of cleaning himself, the feel of his bulging muscles, the draenei almost didn't notice the tingle in his nether region. Stopping himself when he realised what he was doing to himself, Anarchei grasped the handle and turned it to shut off the shower. Nothing immediately happened, except that the water no longer smelt of anything. Realising that it was rinsing his body of the soap, Anarchei efficiently as possible rubbed off the remaining soap. In a matter of seconds the fall of water ended, leaving a wall of steam in its wake. Carefully stepping through the fog, the paladin gently pulled the towel off its hook on the wall, leaving his clean trunks hanging there as he quickly dried himself. Satisfied, Anarchei threw the wet towel to the floor next to his dirty trunks and grabbed the blue-green underwear off the hook and carefully threaded his hooves through them, not wanting to get them wet. Pulling them all the way up to his waist, and sighing in relief, the draenei reached down and picked up the used towel and underwear. What sort of guest would he be if he didn't clean up after himself?
Exiting the room, and shutting the door behind him, Anarchei proceeded back down the hallway. Upon reaching the room, the first thing he noticed was that the tauren was sitting up in bed, naked expect for his underwear, his legs dangling over the side with his head in his hands. The sounds of sobbing and the sight of wet fur only added to Anarchei's haste as he rushed forward, dropping his possessions on the floor halfway to the bed. Crouching in front of the bull, the draenei gently placed his hands on Stronghoof's shaking shoulders.
"Why are you crying?" Anarchei asked, his voice making the usual roughness of Taur-ahe sound almost musical.
"Why did you save my life?" asked the shuddering tauren.
"I would have done the same for any other," the draenei replied.
"That is not what I meant," Stronghoof explained.
"What do you mean?" Anarchei enquired gently.
Hands falling from his eyes to rest at his sides, knocking the draenei's arms off his shoulders, the tauren glared at the draenei with a look of resentment.
"I wanted to die," the shu'halu struggled to say. "Why didn't you let me die?"
Momentarily stunned to silence, his mouth slightly agape, Anarchei tried to respond, his voice barely above a whisper. "Why would you want to kill yourself?"
"Someone I loved with all my heart is dead," Stronghoof replied, fresh tears forming in his eyes. "I don't want to go on living without them."
"I am truly sorry," Anarchei apologised, an ache he never wanted to feel again forming. "Who was it that you lost?"
Anarchei understood. The shu'halo took a mate for life, not like other races where one could fall out of love, ending a marriage with divorce. A tauren who truly loved another, was bound to that other for life, a bond that was stronger than the most powerful magic. It was a devastating loss when one of a pair departed life. Easier to bear in older age, when one had become accustomed to the knowledge that death would soon take them, but not so easy when one is young, new to life and love.
Not wanting to cause the bull more pain, but knowing that keeping one's feelings bottled up was worse, Anarchei plucked up the courage to ask Stronghoof the question.
"My mate was killed at the incident at the Wrathgate."
"I'm sorry. I was there, I saw it happen," Anarchei said. Not wanting to continue down that avenue, the draenei thought it better to talk about who his mate was, rather than dwell on such a horrible memory such as the Wrathgate, however he was beaten to the punch.
"My mate was a warrior," the shaman explained. "Huln Stonebreaker."
"But that's a male name..."
Stronghoof nodded, sniffing. "That's right. If you have a problem with that you can leave."
"I'm not going anywhere," Anarchei replied.
Abruptly, the tauren stood, his massive bulk leaving the draenei little choice but to stand also and step back.
"You would be foolish to want to be around someone like me."
"What do you mean?" Anarchei asked.
Stronghoof stepped forward menacingly, Anarchei backing up, not wanting to give the tauren any reason to get physical.
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I'm considered a freak by most people!" explained the tauren, his voice getting louder. "Maybe because we belong to opposite factions!"
"None of that matters to me."
"I don't believe you," Stronghoof said, stalking forward again. "Put on your armour and leave. Now!"
"I'm not going anywhere, please, just calm down."
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Stronghoof's fist lashed out and punched Anarchei in the jaw, knocking him back a few steps.
"Get out!" yelled the tauren, Anarchei standing his ground and shaking his head in refusal.
Tears now falling freely, the shu'halo raised his fist again, but slowly lowered it, his eyes closing. Confronted with a sobbing tauren, the draenei slowly stepped forward after a few moments and gently laced his arms around the crying bull, who proceeded to sob harder. Anarchei emphasised with the poor creature.
"Everyone had lost someone in all this fighting," he gently spoke into the tauren's chest, Stronghoof a head and half taller than him. "I lost my parents when I was little. I grew up as an orphan until I was adopted by humans. I know it isn't the same thing, but I can understand what it feels like, been alone."
Still in an embrace, his tears no longer coming, Stronghoof pulled back slightly to look down at the draenei, face-to-face.
Separating, the tauren carefully found his way back to the bed and laid down, Anarchei helping pull the blankets up to cover his near-naked form.
"I'm just going to get some clothes on," explained the draenei, Stronghoof nodding.
Anarchei retreated behind the privacy screen and pulled on his black under-armour, its material clinging tightly to his skin, clearly outlining his defined body, while at the same time providing warmth. Emerging from behind the screen, the draenei found a chair against a wall and dragged it over to the side of Stronghoof's bed, than sat down. For a while neither said a thing. Unable to think of anything else to ask, but thinking that the worst was over, Anarchei broke the silence.
"Why did you want to kill yourself in battle?"
Sighing, the tauren replied. "I couldn't bring myself to take my life with my own blade, nor with poison. So the next best thing was to go out in a blaze of glory," Stronghoof explained, then paused, as if contemplating his next words. "But now that I've found someone who I can talk to, I don't feel so reluctant to end it all."
Weaving his hand around Stronghoof's three-fingered hand, Anarchei smiled slightly. "Why haven't you spoken to anyone else before now?"
"For most of my people, two males in love with each other is shameful and disgusting, and any who engage in such bonds are to be shunned. Because Stonebreaker and I had such a bond, we were rejected by most of our people. There was really no one I could speak to about what happened, there was no one who could offer me what I sought."
"The same prejudice exists with many of my own people," Anarchei responded. "And despite growing up with a human family who shared the same dislike of same-sex bonding, I still knew deep down that there was nothing wrong with being in love with someone of the same sex."
"You have no idea how much of a relief that is to me," Stronghoof expressed, sighing in relief. "You have no idea how much I've needed a shoulder to cry on. Thank you. For everything."
"You're welcome my friend," Anarchei replied. "Any time you need that shoulder, just ask."
Smiling for the first time that night, the tauren's eyes dimmed, eyelids closing, gently falling asleep, exhausted from the day's troubles. The paladin sat by his side, hand-in-hand, through the night.