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Being, like many of her race, extremely resourceful, Minta kept a traveling workshop in her bags. Ever since Kezan’s destruction, she had no fixed address, and spent most of her nights in whatever inn was closest and not administered by a fat-fingered human or glowering night elf. Occasionally she found herself in territories occupied solely by these hostile races (or, worse, gnomes) and was forced to camp under the stars. Dalimath liked this, as he enjoyed the peace and solitude afforded by a night in the field, but Minta finished no work and sold no goods when they camped, though not for lack of trying. Dalimath simply wouldn’t allow it. He argued against setting up their tent near the road—populated with potential customers in Minta’s eyes, populated with highwaymen and Alliance in Dalimath’s—and he distracted her incessantly, besides.

While in town, Dalimath exuded an aura of flinty silence and unfriendliness so sharp that it was liable to leave passers by bleeding. He loomed over her while she bought supplies, paid for repairs to their armor, and arranged travel and lodging for the next leg of their journey. He did not speak unless spoken to, and regarded all races—even other blood elves, especially other blood elves—with wordless antipathy. A balloon with the Horde’s insignia printed on it was tied to his wrist, and its whimsical course through the sky did little to soften his dour countenance; if anything, the contrast was unnerving.

But when they left the capitals and settlements and set out to range across the continent, his demeanor changed. He remained dour; Minta suspected that he had emerged from the womb silently, with a permanent of look of incredible, long-suffering annoyance. But he laughed more openly at her jokes, teased her, and briefly allowed grins to crease his face. Dalimath also insisted on leisure time.

Profit help her, the leisure time. An idle goblin was a useless goblin; her people liked what money brought them and they loved status, but ultimately, the goblin spirit was nourished by the acquisition, by the feeling of accrual, by the notion that you were getting somewhere. Elves had the luxury of indolence—they lived for like a million frigging years. Most goblins considered themselves lucky to make it past thirty. Minta was rapidly approaching that age, and if everything went well, she would far outpace even a venerable life-span.

Presently, they were headed for the Forgotten Pools, a mysterious oasis in an otherwise bland and dry region of the northern Barrens. Anticipation and dread colored Minta’s mood in equal parts. Locals at the Crossroards described the area as suffused with a potent and possibly exploitable power. This was good, but the word ‘oasis’ implied ‘vacation spot’. Minta glanced at Dalimath, who rode beside her on his frankly ridiculous excuse for a mount; a massive, lion-faced thing with enormous glowing wings and cobalt-colored fur. Dalimath’s love for the creature was obvious and inexplicable. Minta’s dreadsteed carried her, and despite the fact that the horse was a nightmare beast with fiery hooves and eyes like the center of the Molten Core itself, he looked unimpressive next to Dalimath’s hulking guardian.

“Don’t worry,” Minta leaned over and spoke comfortingly into the dreadsteed’s mane, “I still think you’re scary.”

They arrived at the edge of the oasis after several hours riding. Once they had dismounted, Minta turned to Dalimath and said, “All right. We’re here ta work, not screw around, got it?”

“I’m going swimming,” he replied.

Minta groaned. “But …”

“You can get a sample while you swim.”

“There are centaurs …”

“I don’t need my armor to kill one of them.”

“Snappin’ turtles!”

“They leave you alone if you act in kind.”

Minta threw up her hands. “Oh, for profit’s sake. Just watch my back while I get the sample, wouldja? Then you can splash around all ya want.”

“Of course,” Dalimath said.

Despite his predilection for laziness, Minta had to admit that Dalimath got the job done. She had spent a miserable week alone in Orgrimmar following Kezan’s destruction, mourning its loss. Her two younger brothers had perished in the cataclysm, and she had no other surviving family, save for her oldest brother, who had left home six years ago to sail with the trade fleets. His last letter was dated months prior to the crisis.

Friendless and broke, Minta worked through her depression like anyone would—by getting drunk every day and mixing increasingly volatile compounds with even more of the usual disregard for her personal safety.

But then, while knocking back the last of her Kaja’Cola (mixed with rum), she had a burst of inspiration.

She formulated a plan. Immediately following this plan’s development on her napkin, she spotted Dalimath in a corner of the tavern, drinking water and reading. He had nice biceps, a shield, and a firm butt. Plus, he agreed to work for the paltry sum of fifty gold a week. She hired him. If she had known then about his eccentricities … well, she still would have hired him. His butt really was incredible.

They advanced to the pools without much interference. Dalimath dispatched a charging centaur before the poor bastard finished his battle cry; he swept his sword in a deadly arc that severed the centaur’s head cleanly from his shoulders. Minta jumped back as the head bounced on the springy grass and rolled to rest at her feet, open-mouthed and bloody.

“When’s lunch,” she grumbled, stepping gingerly around it.

“I brought sandwiches,” Dalimath said, and Minta looked up to catch the ghost of a smirk.

Minta’s eyeroll shifted gears to an unbecoming leer as Dalimath stripped to his swim trunks.

“Must you?” Dalimath said.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I must. You go in first. Nice and slow-like.”

“Come on, Minta,” Dalimath said.

“What? If there’s anythin’ lurkin’ in there, I don’t want it comin’ after me.”

“Right.” He waded into the water until he was waist-deep. He neither saw nor sensed anything lurking, aside from the aforementioned turtles. The water was warm and sweetly fragrant, as though infused with the essence of tropical flowers; a refreshing break from the rich, fetid smells of soil, rotting raptor meat and centaur dung that pervaded the rest of the oasis.

Minta took a vial from her packs and filled it. When she looked up from this task, she found Dalimath floating tranquilly about in his inflatable pool pony.

“I got concerns about you and that pony,” Minta said.

“Join me,” he said.

“One of us here has actual work to do today,” Minta said, pointing to the shore.

Dalimath yawned. “All right. You should still join me, though.”

“What are we, best pals now?”

“If not me, then who?” Dalimath skimmed his fingers across the surface of the water.

“My friggin’ felhunter,” Minta said. She unfolded her portable alchemy lab and began to crush a clump of dried herbs into a paste with her mortar and pestle.

“I think I’m the safer bet,” he said.

“Maybe,” she said. “I ain’t so sure.”

“This water is invigorating,” Dalimath said. “If only you would take a moment to experience it.”

“Why do you care so much?” Minta growled. Her herbs were mashed beyond recognition. She dumped the sludgy mess onto the ground.

“Because I’d like for us to spend time together,” he said.

“You really do think we’re buddies, doncha?”

“We are. It’s not a matter of thinking it.”

“You get all fussy whenever you see me in my bikini,” Minta pointed out.

“We were in the middle of Orgrimmar. It wasn’t decent.”

“And here it is?”

“No,” Dalimath admitted. “But there are fewer spectators.”

“Forget about it,” she said. “I have to see if there’s any value in this fancy water.”

Dalimath paddled close to the shore as Minta piled fresh ingredients into her mortar—shredded dreamfoil, stormvine stems, and a few petals of a certain, ice-blue rose that grew only in a remote corner of the Alterac Mountains. He watched with interest as she carefully broke apart her plant bits into a mass of colorful flakes. She took three pinches of the resulting powder and sprinkled them into a beaker; the glass shimmered as the mixture settled at the bottom. Then, holding her breath for the excitement, Minta poured some of the sample water in with the herbs. The beaker didn’t immediately explode, which she took as a promising sign. She ignited a little flame beneath the beaker with a twist of her fingers, and then stepped back to let it simmer.

“Now what?” Dalimath said.

“Now I gotta wait and see what happens,” Minta said. She stared intently at her nascent potion until she felt a hand close around hers.

“Come on,” Dalimath said. “Just sit with me.”

Eying the potion warily, she muttered, “Oh, all right.”

Minta let him pull her down to the pond’s bank, though she would not stray too far from the alchemy table. Tall, soft grasses blanketed the ground, and the air was comfortably warm. The fresh scent of the oasis water swirled around her in the afternoon breeze, and she felt hazy with the desire to sleep.

“I guess I can rest for a minnit,” she murmured. Stretching out on the grass, Minta closed her eyes.

She realized after a moment that her hand was still entwined with Dalimath’s. Opening her eyes, she glanced over at him. He was laying on his back, gazing up at the sky, his expression as serene as the surface of the pond. She started to pull back, but his grip was steadfast.

“Just relax, Minta,” he said. “You’re safe with me.”

She bit her lip. His hands were rough, callused from years of battle, and his ruddy skin contrasted starkly to her green complexion. He was smiling at her gently, and she could feel the steady, strong beat of his pulse under her fingertips. Heart fluttering, she hoped that he could not feel hers in turn.

Quietly, she said, “Okay. For a minute.”