Chapter 1: The Red Rose

Leyla Jadefern was stupid. No, beyond stupid. She was impetuous, arrogant, headstrong, and dense. All of the adjectives her parents and those that knew her often used to describe her when she angered them came out of her own mouth with a mix of every curse word she knew. How could she have been so foolish as to undertake such a dangerous quest by herself?

"There's a breed of crocolisks on the Northwestern coast of the Wetlands with skins that are perfect for armor when tanned," a man at Menethil Bay told her after she asked him for any odd jobs she could perform. "I sell them all over Azeroth, but I've got neither the time nor the skill to go in to the Wetlands myself. The area is crawling with all sorts of nasty creatures, but if you can get a few of those hides, I'll slip you a little change!"

Her pockets considerably light after spending the majority of her silver on boat and griffin fare to the port of Menethil, Leyla was more than eager to slay some beasts in exchange for money. The tanner suggested that she take a few comrades with her to avoid being caught alone by one of the marsh's more dangerous creatures. Yet Leyla was alone on her journey to the wetland and had no acquaintances in the area. A few crocolisks couldn't be too much of a problem for her, she thought over-confidently as she traveled into the foggy marshland. If she hurried, she could be back in the bay before nightfall to collect her silver.

And now she was alone, running desperately through the Wetlands in the dark. From a group of murlocs who meant to kill her.

"Goddess help me!!" the night elf cried out as she leapt over a fallen tree trunk and barely dodged one of the ugly fish-like creature's spears. She stumbled, her leather boots getting stuck in one the mud filled puddles that were littered across the wetlands; the suction of the mucky substance was so hard that it pulled her shoes from her feet and she fell face first into the puddle.

A sharp pain erupted through her shoulder and she cried out. One of the murloc's throwing daggers had struck her in the back. Don't think about it, just run! She screamed at herself as she heard the garbled cries of her pursuers close behind her. Briefly wiping the sticky muck from her eyes, she pushed herself up from the puddle with all of her remaining strength and continued to run barefooted through the swap.

Her pursuers would not give up it seemed, enraged by the fact the young night elf had stumbled into their village on accident while hunting crocolisks. They had chased her across the south western area of the marshland and seemed to have no intention of turning around until she was dead. "I…swear…Elune," Leyla gasped aloud as she sprinted faster. "I'll…never…ha…run away…from home again…if I live!"

Leyla could barely see in front of her face in the gray darkness. The marshland was so thick with fog and foliage that hung from the trees that it was difficult to look ahead of her. The earth had begun to ascend in a steep incline and Leyla realized she was running uphill. To where, she did not know. She stumbled often; her aching feet got stuck in several puddles, tripped over stumps of deadwood, or were cut against sharp stones and fallen branches. Her chest burned as her lungs took in and released air at a rate that was too fast to continue for much longer.

Her elf ears heard in the distance the sound of rushing water and Leyla guessed that she was nearing the coast. She cursed to herself as she looked behind her. As good a swimmer as she was, she would not be able to out swim a murloc let alone several. Yet as the sound of water grew louder, she realized that she would have no where else to run to. She was certain she was in the northwestern area of the marshland now; the hills would lead into the mountains that bordered the wetlands near Dun Modr, where enemies dwelled that were even more dangerous than murlocs.

Suddenly, the land in front of her abruptly ended, rushing downward toward the sea below. Leyla gasped as she skidded to a halt, staring over the cliff of the ledge that she now realized was a waterfall. The water that flooded through the marsh gathered at the edge of the wetlands, collecting in a small pool of currents before cascading over the edge of the rocky hills and into the Great Sea. The distance between the waterfall and the sea was quite far, but Leyla could still see the jutting sharp rocks that rose out of the water.

"Mrraawwrrrrr!" Leyla turned abruptly as she heard the cries of the murlocs that closed in on her. She was trapped. Glancing behind her, the night elf quickly began to consider her options of escape. She could either be killed by the fishmen or die drowning in the torrential waters below her.

A spear landed near her feet and she gasped as the hideous visages of the murlocs came through the dense fog. There was no telling what they would do to her when they caught her. She'd rather take her chances with the sea.

Leaping over the edge of the waterfall, Leyla screamed out a prayer to Elune as she plummeted through the air and into the swirling waters below.

"Well, well…didn't think you'd be awake anytime soon. How are you feeling?"

Her eyes fluttering open slowly, Leyla's head swooned as her mind slowly became conscious. The sharp, cold temperature of the water she had been swimming in was gone, replaced by a soft silky material that wrapped her slender form. Her body felt sore, weak, and tired, but the comfort that surrounded her was soothing. A moan escaped her lips as she stirred feebly. Her heavy eyelids fluttered open and bright golden light immediately blinded her. "Wha…wha…what happened? Where am I?" she croaked through dry lips.

"Aboard the Red Rose. We found you floating out in the middle of the sea off the northern coast of the Wetlands," replied a feminine voice. "What the devil were you doing out there?"

"Ugh," the night elf grunted as she licked her lips. Suddenly, the rim of a porcelain cup was placed under her mouth and its cold contents tipped into her open lips. She drank greedily as the liquid poured down her throat and gasped after she had her fill. "I…was…running from murlocs."

The figure that existed as nothing more than a dark blur above her chuckled and took away the empty cup. "You must have jumped off the cliffs then. Well, you were lucky to survive both them and the water. Even the most experienced sailors drown out there in the sea." A cold towel pressed against the night elf's burning forehead. "What's your name?"

"Leyla…Leyla Jadefern," the woman replied as her eyes finally began to focus. She was lying on a bed in a wood paneled windowless room. It was nicely furnished with a small couch, dresser, a table and a few chairs. There was a female human sitting by her beside. She had deep brown skin that reminded Leyla of the color of maple candies her mother used to buy her as a child. Long dark brown hair streamed down from her head, gathered up in a ponytail that fell over one shoulder. Her dark green eyes were warm and soft and squinted slightly as she smiled.

"My name is Raezel Goldsteele," the woman replied as she pressed a cool cloth against Leyla's cheeks. "Are you from Auberdine?"

Leyla shook her head as she sighed. Her body felt hot and flustered for some reason and the cold wet cloth was wonderful. "No, I'm from Darnassus, but I came to Menethil from Darkshore," she replied weakly.

"Well, our ship is headed toward Booty Bay. I don't know if you were planning to stay in Menethil, but we won't be back there for a while."

Booty Bay? Leyla thought. She groaned. "I…was going to Stormwind," she muttered, trying to push herself up from the bed. Nausea and pain instantly came over her as she swooned. "I need to get off…"

"You are in no condition to go anywhere," the woman named Raezel said as she gently pushed the night elf back onto the plush mattress. "You've got a high fever and your shoulder and feet need to time to heal. Besides, we won't be stopping until we make port in Stranglethorn, so you might as well rest."

Complying only because her body could not support its own weight, the night elf collapsed back onto her pillow. Raezel Goldsteele and the room around her faded into blackness as she closed her eyes and descended back into unconsciousness.

Over the next few days, Leyla drifted in and out of sleep, swaddled in the warm blankets of her bed in the room she knew nothing about. Though she had many questions, mostly concerning the identity of her rescuers and her whereabouts, Leyla was too tired to say much during the frequent visits by her caretaker. Raezel was the only person she had encountered since her misfortune in the Wetlands. The woman was quiet for the most part, tending to Leyla's wounds, feeding her, or cleaning her body with a sponge. The night elf was gracious for the woman's kindness. It wasn't until her fourth day in the bedroom when she had strength enough to sit up and feed herself that she was able to speak with Raezel.

"The Red Rose is a ship owned and operated by the Steamweedle Cartel," Raezel told Leyla when she asked where she was. She watched the night elf hungrily devour a bowl of stew. "We were leaving from Menethil when we saw you in the water."

So, she had been rescued by goblins, Leyla thought with a slight grimace hidden behind her bowl. She didn't know much about goblins nor had she ever met one before, but she had heard that they were shrewd creatures who cared more for profit than honor or their own people. The Steamwheedle Cartel was the largest company in their association, which operated various businesses across Azeroth. The goblins were neutral of both the Alliance and the Horde and dealt with both only for the sake of money. "I am forever grateful to you for saving me, Raezel," Leyla said with a humble bow of her head. "I would have surely died had you not seen me."

"You can thank the leader of the Red Rose, my employer," Raezel said with a smile. "She's the one that gave the order to haul you up." She eyed the night elf curiously with a cock of her brow. "What were you doing in Menethil Bay with such awful armor anyway? The creatures out there can be quite a hassle if you aren't equipped well."

Leyla's ice blue skin flushed as she looked at the pile of discarded leather armor that lay in a heap near the foot of her bed. Her weapon, a small short sword that was rusted and old, hung in its scabbard from the bedpost. She didn't even see her shield. "I…didn't have the money for better armor," she muttered with embarrassment. "I spent most of it getting to Menethil. What I had left I was saving to buy a flight to Stormwind. I was trying to run an errand for a man at the harbor when I was attacked by murlocs." She frowned as she realized that her bag was absent from her belongings. "Where is my backpack?"

Raezel shrugged as she leaned back in her chair. "Didn't have it on you, so you probably lost it when you fell into the sea. Surprised you didn't lose your clothes in the water either."

Groaning, Leyla buried her face in her hands. If her pack had been lost, then that meant all of her belongings and money was gone as well. "Oh, goddess help me…" she sighed as she fought back tears.

"Though I am curious why you were willing to risk your life to get to Stormwind or why a night elf with shoddy leather armor and a sword that could barely cut butter would be fighting her way through the Wetlands, I won't bother you to talk about if you don't want to." Raezel smirked. "You look barely old enough to be on your own."

"I am too old enough!" Leyla snapped. She flushed angrily as the woman only laughed. "I'm probably older than you even! We night elves age slower than humans."

"Older in age, maybe, but not in experience," Raezel replied with a wider grin. Leyla sneered, but she wasn't sure if she even was older than the woman. Raezel's eyes betrayed her young face, filled with wisdom and knowledge. "I'd know better than to venture out into the Wetlands with beginner's gear. What class are you anyway? A hunter? Warrior?"

"I uh…" Leyla murmured as softly as she could while running a hand through her wild dark violet hair. "…I…never trained in a class…"

Raezel only gaped at Leyla for a while, her eyes wide and unblinking as she stared at the night elf. Then she suddenly doubled over in laughter, clutching her sides. "Talk about wet behind the ears," she chortled while wiping her eyes. "You were more than lucky, Leyla Jadefern, to escape death. Why in the name of the Light did you not claim a class before you went off on this haphazard adventure of yours?"

The night elf pouted angrily, folding her arms and furrowing her long brows over her gleaming eyes. Though Raezel had made fun of her, she was somewhat eager to tell the woman her story. "I sorta…ran away from home," she mumbled while flicking her unkempt hair from her face. "I couldn't train in Darnassus or it'd be known I was leaving. My father is one of the druids of the Cenarion Circle and my mother is a head priestess in the Temple of the Moon. They are well known among my people and would have been alerted if I were caught training." She frowned, picking absent mindedly at the knots in her hair. "Both of them expected me to train as a priestess to follow in my mother's footsteps…but I was no good at that at all. They were ashamed of me and kept pressuring me to do better. I couldn't take it anymore so I decided to leave. I went to Rutheran Village in the middle of the night and took the first boat I could to Auberdine. A dwarf in Darkshore sold me some secondhand armor, a shield, and a sword. After that, I raised enough money to buy passage to Menethil. If I had stayed in Auberdine, my parents would find me."

Leyla looked up, expecting to see Raezel's chiding smirk, but instead the young woman's face held an expression of sympathy. "I know what it's like to be forced into the expectations of others, especially those of your family," she said with a dark expression. Her briefly gloomy face changed as she smiled. "Why were you trying to get to Stormwind?"

Shrugging, the young night elf sighed. "I don't know. I always heard wonderful stories about the Eastern Kingdoms and the city of Stormwind when I was younger. Adventurers that come through Darnassus always talk about the opportunities there, so I figured it'd be a good place to start earning my new living."

"Hmm," Raezel grunted as she stood. "Well, it is a city of opportunities, that's for sure, but it's no place for someone as inexperienced as you." She waved her hands defensively as the night elf glared angrily at her. "No offense to you, but Stormwind is a big city. The people there are kind and always willing to help, but it can be daunting for someone with very little experience in the outside world."

Leyla sighed heavily. "We'll I've lived in Darnassus all my life," she pouted. "This was my first time ever being outside of Teldrassil." She lowered her head shamefully. "Clearly I was unprepared for the outside world…"

Raezel stared at the young elf who sniffled miserably as tears rolled down her blue cheeks. "Well," the woman said as she scratched her head. "You do need to be better prepared if you are looking to make it on your own out here. Definitely get yourself some better armor. And claim a class, for Light's sake! You can't go swinging around a sword without proper training." She placed a comforting hand on Leyla's shoulder. "Tell you what. I'll talk to my employer about helping you get to Stormwind if it's where you want to go. I'm sure she'd help you."

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Leyla looked up at the woman. "R-really?" she sniffed as a smile crept across her face. "I'd appreciate it so much if she could!"

"She'll want to talk with you soon anyway," Raezel said as she stood. "We'll be docking in Booty Bay tomorrow evening, so you'd better rest up before we disembark. I'll fetch you in the morning to talk to her." She grinned as she looked over the night elf's shabby appearance. "I'll bring you a bucket of water and some new clothes too. You look like a mess."

Giggling, Leyla grinned at Raezel. "Thank you so much," she said. "For everything."

Raezel returned her smile. "You are welcome, Leyla Jadefern."

In the morning, after she had bathed and dressed in the new clothing, Leyla ate a hearty breakfast that had been delivered by Raezel and prepared herself to meet the owner of the Red Rose. Her hair was now clean and unmated; it had returned to its usual deep luster and hung just below Leyla's long ears. The dress that Raezel had given her was a beautiful robe of soft and colorful purple linens. It looked expensive, but Raezel assured Leyla she could have it. It felt good to wear proper clothes again and eat real food. The squalid conditions the night elf had been living in over the past couple of weeks were foreign to her; for all of her life, she had enjoyed a sheltered and rich life in Darnassus. She was pleased that she could once again, if even for a while, enjoy some comforts.

Leyla's body felt renewed and energized. Thanks to her caretaker's salves and bandages, her shoulder was no longer sore and her feet were healed enough to walk around on. A few light scratched remained on her legs and arms, yet she felt completely restored.

"You clean up pretty nice, little elf," Raezel said with a smile when she came to Leyla's bedroom to fetch her. Leyla was surprised to realize that the dark skinned woman was taller than her by a few inches. She wore a beautiful and revealing robe of golden oranges. Gold jewelry hung around her ears and neck and her hair was swept into an elegant bun on her head. "That dress looks good on you."

"Thank you," chirped Leyla as she felt the soft linen beneath her finger tips. "It's been a while since I've been able to wear something so nice. Your hospitality continues to amaze me."

Raezel chuckled. "Well you can thank the one who made it all possible. She's waiting for you now."

The woman held the bedroom door open as she led Leyla out into the corridors of the ship. It was the first time Leyla had been out of her room and she was happy to be able to walk around. The interior of the boat was lavish; the walls were paneled with dark cherry wood, giving the ship an elegant appearance. Gold lanterns were hung on the walls between exquisite paintings. Here and there, a few crates were stacked in corners, but the ship seemed much more luxurious than any vessel Leyla could ever imagine. As they walked through the corridors of the ship, Leyla noticed several closed doors among the halls. "Raezel," she said when she finally could not contain her curiosity. "What kind of ship is this? It's much too beautiful for a cargo ship."

Laughing softly, the woman turned to her and smiled. "It's not a cargo ship," she replied. "It's more of a…residential ship, so to speak. I live here along with the other employees of the Red Rose. We travel across Azeroth on this boat to various destinations depending on what work our employer has scheduled for us."

"How fascinating," Leyla exclaimed as she admired the gilded doorknobs. "So, you've been all over the two main continents then?"

Raezel nodded. "Just about. Even before I joined the Red Rose, I saw a lot of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, but ever since I came aboard, I've had even more experiences." She smiled fondly. "I wouldn't trade my life here for any other."

"I'm jealous," the night elf cooed. "I've always wanted to see the rest of the world. While I love my homeland, I always felt so trapped there. You would be surprised how many night elves have never been outside Teldrassil." She turned to her hostess. "What exactly do you do, Raezel? The clothes you wear are so elegant. You can't be a part of the ship's crew."

Laughing, Raezel rubbed the back of her neck and blushed. "No, I'm not a crew member. While there are those that run and take care of the ship, the others and I who are directly employed by the owner are involved in a different kind of work. We—"

One of the doors ahead of them flew open with a thud and Leyla nearly cried out in alarm as a female blood elf came storming out of the room. She was tall with milky white skin that seemed flawless; Leyla could see much of it as the elf was clad in nothing but very revealing lacy black undergarments. Her curly deep red hair streamed around her exotic and beautiful face, which wore an angry expression. Her glowing green eyes were bright and narrowed.

Leyla jumped behind Raezel, cowering beneath the taller woman as the blood elf walked toward them. Horde! She screamed fearfully in her head. What was a blood elf doing on the ship? Her body shivered behind Raezel, who seemed unperturbed by the blood elf that looked more than ready to kill them both.

"Raezel!" the blood elf shouted in Common with a Thalassian accent. "What is the meaning of this?!"

The woman calmly looked at the empty vial that was clutched in the elf's upraised hand. "I'm not sure what you mean, Shri," she said as she stared at the bottle curiously.

"We are out of bath oils again!" the blood elf named Shri snapped. "I thought everything was restocked when we stopped in Menethil!"

"Those oils come from Moonglade," Raezel sighed as she rubbed her temple. "And we did have a large stock of them, but apparently you've used them all up again. We'll have to wait until we dock to see if there are any in Booty Bay, but those goblins there charge a fortune for them."

"Well then tell Madame Bella that we'll need to find some," Shri said smugly as she folded her arms. Her bright eyes darted over to Leyla, who peeked warily from around Raezel's shoulder.

"Dun worry 'bout her, Rae. Leetl miss Shri woke up on da wrong side of da bed dis mo'nin'," came a voice from the doorway. A female Troll stood leaning against the post, her arms folded across a muscular but voluptuous chest. Her long hair was braided and locked, decorated with glittering beads and golden ornaments. She wore a short robe of bright reds. The Troll leaned forward, peering around the blood elf that blocked her view. "Whose da leetl'un, Rae? New girl?"

Raezel shook her head. The Troll hummed and flashed a seductive smile. "Too bad. She's awful pretteh," she cooed sweetly. "C'mon now, Shri, and get your wild ass back in here! We gotta pack!"

The blood elf huffed indignantly, flipping her long hair over her shoulder. She shot Leyla a disdainful look before turning around and walking back to her room, slamming the door shut.

"Y-you have Horde on this ship?" Leyla rasped quietly as Raezel continued to walk down the corridor. "I thought this was a goblin vessel?!"

"It is, but goblins only run it," Raezel said with a smirk as she watched Leyla glance cagily toward the now closed door. "The women that work for my employer, Miss Bella, are composed of all the races of Azeroth…" She frowned slightly as she bit her lip. "Well, except for the undead. I don't think they'd fit in much here. Anyway, they all may have originally been Horde or Alliance, but here they are considered neutral. We are affiliated with Steamwheedle after all, who consider themselves allies, if you will, to both factions."

Leyla nervously looked over her shoulder. How could Horde and Alliance work together in such close quarters? She thought. She had always been told that the two groups hated one another and very seldom could remain the slightest bit civil. "Are there nothing but women on this ship, Raezel? You never said exactly what you do here."

Raezel sighed as she stopped in front of a large set of double doors. "It'd just be best to ask my employer all of those questions, Leyla," she said with a small smile. "This is her stateroom; you'll be meeting with her now." The tall woman leaned forward, her eyes staring right into Leyla's. "She's got a silver tongue, little elf, but take whatever she says seriously and consider it well."

Staring at the woman with a bewildered expression, Leyla opened her mouth to ask what Raezel could have meant. But before she could ask, the woman knocked on the stateroom door and turned the knob.

A/N: Thank you for checking out the first chapter of my newest story. The idea for this tale came to me when I was writing a short scene in the first chapter of my story "The War Song". I'm looking forward to really getting into it. It will be filled with many adult themes, including sexual situations, innuendo, etc., so please be wary if you are not of age to read such naughtiness! If you are, I hope you enjoy it! Talia