“Two days? I missed her by two days?!” Jael’andra slammed her fist onto the workbench.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Sputtervalve cringed as an enormous jar of bolts rocked back and forth before tipping onto the bench and spilling across the wood. “Listen, lady, you asked if she was through the Outpost and I told you. No reason to be tearing this place apart!” He whistled sharply and a handful of non-descript goblins tumbled into the workroom to clean up the hundreds of scattered bolts. Jael’andra, sufficiently humiliated by her childish behavior, joined them in their work.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… well, anyway. Did she say where she was going? Or even what direction she was heading? Anything?” She scooped a handful of clinking steel into the righted jar. “Really, even a direction would be helpful.”
“She headed south-ish, that’s all I know. Not the gabby type, is she? Don’t think she said a full sentence while she was here.” Sputtervalve shook his head. “Nope, not a clue, lady. Wish I could help, really.”
“No, no, that’s fine. South… ish. I guess that works.” She rose from her crouch and dropped the last of the bolts into the jar before shouldering her pack.
Sputtervalve cleared his throat noisily, holding out a flat palm. The elf sighed and dropped a gold piece into his outstretched hand, which was quickly secreted about his person. He flashed a very toothy smile as she turned to go.
“Wish I could help, lady!” Sputtervalve called as Jael’andra strode away from the Outpost.
Crossing the Northern Barrens was unlike anything Jael’andra had ever undertaken. Accustomed to the forests of Eversong, the tainted but still lush woods of the Ghostlands… even the vibrant plains of Nagrand during the campaign against her former king… Jael’andra was thankful she had thought to refill her extra water skins at the goblin outpost. The heat was stifling and being midday, her body was quickly reaching its boiling point.
Jael swung herself up onto a low-hanging branch of one of the few trees in sight and easily pulled herself higher into the tree. She secured her pack on the stout limb behind her and lay back, sipping at her water skin. The oppressive heat of the sun was diluted but not completely thwarted. She shook her head and stuffed the skin back into her bag. It was simply too hot to travel by day. She had little choice but to grab a bit of sleep while the sun baked the Barrens around her.
When she awoke, it was dusk.
She was immediately aware of movement beneath her.
Turning ever so slightly, she cast her keen elven eyes to the ground.
A cat. A very large one. An extremely dark male lion.
Cursing her luck, she considered her options. Outrunning him was unlikely, if not completely impossible. Distracting him, equally hopeless. She had little meat, all of it dried, and none of it appetizing to such a large carnivore. She was well and truly up a tree.
She was losing Melana’s trail with every passing moment. Something had to happen.
With a silent prayer, Jael’andra readjusted her position in the tree to begin her descent. The hulking male lifted his thick mane, his startling golden eyes meeting Jael’andra’s wary gaze. She gained her footing on the nearest branch and the lion rose, now quite intent on the top of the tree.
Jael’andra began whispering quietly calming words in Thalassian as she began the slow, deliberate climb to the ground. The lion was curious, yes, but not appearing to coiling to spring the moment she was within reach.
After an eternity of about ten minutes, Jael’s feet touched the dry grass. The lion stuck his head around the tree to keep her in sight.
“You’re alone,” she whispered in Thalassian, examining the huge black lion before her. He dipped his head slightly. She took a half-step towards the cat. He didn’t move. “Where is your pride, hmm?” she murmured, stepping a touch closer. The lion stood his ground but didn’t fall back into a defensive crouch. So far, so good, she thought. “I’m alone, too. It seems we have much in common.” She lifted a calming hand towards the cat, who cocked his head slightly. He took a step forward and Jael tensed for the attack, cursing herself for taking this risk.
Her fear melted away as the cat nuzzled against her hand, closing his shining eyes. She sighed in relief and ruffled his mane slightly.
“I guess we’re not alone now, are we?”