Alizz turned and vomited seawater. Dry heaves wracked her torso and her throat burned with bile. Hiccuping, Alizz wiped her face. Her hair, heavy with water, dripped onto the soft, white sand. "Numli…?" Alizz called quietly, lifting her head. In the distance, she could still see the mile-high plumes of smoke rising from Kajaro. The black smoke loomed as a massive, dark pillar over the ocean. For a moment, Alizz lay on the sand, staring. Finally, clutching her stomach, Alizz struggled to her feet. "Nums?" Waves crashed smoothly against the white beach. Palm trees stirred overhead, nudged by a gentle, salty breeze.
Alizz couldn't remember how she got here. The last thing she recalled was Numli's promise as the two of them sat tied in the dark hull of Gallywix's ship. 'I'll make ya happy.' He said. 'We'll have everything we had on Kezan and more.' Her reply was interrupted by the sound of cannon fire. All of a sudden, the hull of the ship exploded. Cannon balls ripped through the metal like paper. A huge torrent of water drowned out the screams of captives. Alizz, still clutching her gurgling stomach, looked up and down the length of the beach. No matter which way she looked, she couldn't see any other goblins. She stood alone on the sand, nauseous and dripping wet.
Overhead, the sky was a rich, cheerful blue. White clouds, like fluffy dollops of whipped cream, rolled by. Alizz couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a clear sky. Smog hung permanently over Kezan. Sometimes she would spot little slivers of blue in the grey cloud cover, but nothing like this. The bright sky made her dizzy. Behind her, the island was covered with green. The arching hillsides were carpeted with lush, tropical flora. Alizz took a deep breath. The salty, pure air scorched her lungs.
With no idea where she was going or what to do, Alizz picked a direction and walked. The beach was long and quiet, stretching on far beyond Alizz's range of vision. Beyond the beach, the island was covered in dense, verdant jungle. The idea of venturing alone into the jungle without a weapon frightened her. On the quiet beach, she swore she could hear the bellows of strange animals deep in the forests. After walking a while, she began to see bits of wreckage on the shore. Rivets, scraps of metal, broken barrels. The ship had gone down nearby, but where?
"Numli…?" Alizz called again, expecting no response. When the ship went down, Numli was right next to her. What if he was still chained in the hull? What if he'd drowned? The thought brought on a fresh wave of nausea. Alizz doubled over, vomiting heavily onto the sand. She staggered onward.
At last, she caught sight of a small figure lying prone on the sand. She dashed up, ignoring the sick feeling in her gut. Numli laid, eyes closed, half in the water and half out. Alizz gripped him under the arm and pulled him to safety further up the beach. Kneeling down next to him, she gently wiped the sand off of his face. His eyelids twitched and he let out a low groan. He, too, was soaking wet.
Numli's eyes flicked open. He smiled as he saw Alizz, reaching up to brush her face with a sandy hand. Slowly, with a grunt, he sat up and looked around. "Well, I guess I'm dead then."
Alizz blinked at him. "What do you mean, dead?"
"This is clearly paradise and yer clearly an angel." He replied, expression completely serious. Alizz giggled and pushed him playfully. He took hold of her wrists and pulled her in for a kiss. His face was damp and crusted with sand, but Alizz kissed him anyway. "Where are we anyway, toots?"
"I dunno." Alizz replied, holding his hands. He wasn't dead. Looking him over, he wasn't even badly hurt. He was filthy with water and sand and his clothes were probably ruined forever, but Alizz didn't care. Everything on Kezan was gone. Numli was all Alizz had left. She held his hands tightly, thanking whatever tide had pushed them both onto this island. "I'm so happy you're alive."
"I am too, toots! Wouldn't want to be one of those poor suckers who got trapped in the hull." Numli replied. He looked out over the ocean. "I guess that's Kezan over there." He pointed to the great column of smoke rising up into the sky. The island they now stood one was miles and miles from Kezan, but they could still see the tower of smoke from Kajaro. Alizz tried to picture what the city now looked like, entombed in burning liquid rock. The thought made Alizz's eyes water. She latched onto Numli, hugging him tightly around the neck. Numli rubbed her back. "Hey. It's all right. Don't worry, doll."
"How can you say things like that?" Alizz whimpered, pressing her face into his neck. "I thought…if we got to Azshara, things would be okay. But now we're stuck on some goldforsaken island and we don't know if anyone else survived."
"Look on the bright side, Lizzie. Gallywix is probably dead." Numli grinned toothily. Alizz cracked a smile. "And…hey, it's kinda pretty here. Look at the sky. Haven't seen this much sky in a long time." He smiled vaguely up at the huge sky. Alizz looked up as well. The color was so vibrant that it hurt her eyes. She hid her face back in Numli's shoulder. He stroked her hair reassuringly. "And we're both alive, baby. Ain't nothin' a smart pair o' goblins can't do."
"Right." Alizz finally managed to smile. She touched his head. "Are you hurt at all?"
"No, don't think so. I got a pretty bad knock on the head when the cannonballs hit, but that's all." Numli tenderly touched the back of his head. "No blood, though. What about you, Liz?"
"I feel a little sick. And my mouth's really dry. I think I swallowed a lot of seawater."
"That's fine. That's fine. We'll just take it easy to start." Numli helped her onto her feet. He turned slowly to look at the jungle-covered hills behind them. Somewhere in the trees, something roared. Alizz let out a little squeal of fright. Numli squeezed her encouragingly. "Animals are here. Big ones. That's actually a good sign, doll. Means there's gotta be fresh water. Probably somethin' to eat too. As far as desert islands go, this was a pretty good place to crash."
Alizz took a few tentative steps toward the jungle. Numli was right. The island was sort of pretty. Lush, tropical forests like this couldn't grow without some kind of water source. A large volcano rose up over the tops of the trees – not half as big as Kajaro but still impressive. With its soft sand and luxuriant tropical forests, this island would have made a terrific vacation spot. Not to mention that a volcano yielded tons of rare natural resources. Alizz turned back to look at Numli. "This island's close to Kezan. How come no one ever landed here before? It'd be perfect for a beach resort."
Numli blinked. He looked back and forth along the deserted beach. "Let's build one."
Alizz blinked at him. "What do you mean, 'let's build one'?"
"A beach resort. There's a forest, so there's plenty of wood. And there's probably some nice metals under that volcano." Numli replied, gesturing to the volcano. "Let's do it. Let's build a resort."
"A resort. On a deserted island. That no one knows about but us."
"Sure. When a ship comes by, they'll be drawn by the light of our heated pool and tiki bar."
Alizz giggled and pushed him lightly. "You're crazy."
"And you're beautiful, but that's beside the point." Numli replied, pulling her into his arms and kissing her. Alizz laughed again. He grinned. "But…before we begin construction on our five star resort, I think we oughta find some water."
A loud yell from further down the beach interrupted their moment. Alizz turned. Against the brilliant blue of the sky and sea, she could see the silhouettes of four or five goblins running toward them. "HEY! I FOUND MORE SURVIVORS!" One of them yelled. "YOU GUYS ALL RIGHT?"
Alizz beamed up at Numli, who stared at the rapidly approaching silhouettes, frowning.
"Well, well, well…Look who's here." The beach was littered with wreckage. Gallywix stood atop the broken bow of the ship. All around, goblins huddled by the wrecked vessel, some erecting flimsy shelters and others venturing out into the warm, shallow waters to recover supplies. The Trade Prince lounged back on a makeshift beach chair, observing the survivors as they worked but not lifting a finger to help them. Numli stood below on the sand, eyes locked on the Trade Prince. In one hand, he held Alizz. The other hand groped inside his coat for his switchblade. Gallywix fingered a large coconut, shifting it from one hand to the other. "Thought you two were dead. Heh." He cracked a nasty smile, showing his yellowed teeth.
Numli's hand closed around his switchblade. The blade rested deep in his inner jacket pocket. Gallywix's mooks hadn't bothered to search his clothes before they shoved him in the hull. Numli drew the knife out of his jacket and flipped it open. Up on his perch, Gallywix raised an eyebrow. "Where're yer mooks, Gallywix?" Numli growled. "They all drown?"
Gallywix rose from his chair with a grunt. "You threatenin' me, Buckspanner?"
"What if I am? I don't see any guards around…what's stopping me from slashing your throat right here and now?" Numli let go of Alizz and advanced up the ramp toward Gallywix. "That's what you did to the last Trade Prince, right?"
Gallywix dropped his coconut down in his chair. "And what would that accomplish, Buckspanner?"
"Well, it'd get rid of the greedy bastard who tried to enslave us all."
Gallywix chuckled quietly. "Now, now, Numli…Maybe what I did could be considered…slightly objectionable, but I was really just looking out for our cartel. I mean, there's nothing left for us on Kezan, is there? Sometimes you have to use force to move goblins. We're a stubborn group…"
"That's bullcrap and you know it." Numli spat. "You sold us out, you piece of shit!" Numli started toward the Trade Prince, brandishing his knife. All of a sudden, Alizz grabbed him from behind, dragging him forcibly off the ramp. Gallywix cackled. Jerking free, Numli whirled around to face her. "Lizzie, what the hell!"
"Numli, he's the only one with the funds to get us off this island." She whispered hoarsely, cradling his face with her hands.
"Lizzie!" Numli snarled, jerking away from her touch. "Are you suggesting we work with this bastard?" He pointed sharply at Gallywix with his knife. The Trade Prince couldn't stop laughing.
"Do we have a choice, Nums?" Alizz replied gently. "We can't stay here."
Numli couldn't look at her. He looked instead toward the green hills and the looming volcano. Long ago, Kezan probably looked a lot like this place, covered in lush jungle. Numli could hardly imagine it. Once upon a time, a long time ago, goblins were just another race of brutal savages. The minerals below the volcano were what granted them their intelligence. His head throbbed. Lizzie reached out to touch him again, but he caught her hand. Gallywix's shrill cackling rang painfully in his skull. "We could stay here." He murmured. Alizz stared at him, her mouth slightly open.
"Think about it, Lizzie. This place could be just like Kezan."
"Numli…no." Finally, he let her touch him. Her hand was soft against his cheek. He looked up at her. Lizzie's skin was a delicate pale green. Her face was round and unscarred. She was a princess, a fragile woman who'd never had to work hard in her life. She wouldn't survive in the wilderness. He closed the switchblade and placed it in her palm. Alizz's soft fingers closed around the wood handle. "What's this?"
Before Numli could reply, he caught sight of a female goblin beckoning them from around the side of the broken bow. "Hold on." He said, leaving the switchblade in Alizz's hand. Alizz trailed after him. The goblin woman grinned at them. She kept her teal hair piled high in a top knot on her head. Numli didn't recognize her.
"Thanks for comin' over. Keep your voices down, will ya?" She whispered in a low voice, glancing surreptitiously up at Gallywix on his stand. "I know you two. Seen you around the business circuit."
"That's great, but who are you?" Alizz whispered back.
"Sassy Hardwrench." The female goblin replied. "I used to work for the Kajaro Trading Company. It was a small operation. Perhaps you've heard of it?"
Numli thought for a moment, then nodded. "I think so. You worked for what's-his-name."
"Yeah, his name's a little hard to pronounce." Sassy gave them a friendly smile. "It's lucky you two survived. I actually need a pair of goblins. I liked how you handled that knife, Mr. Buckspanner. You must be pretty good at fighting."
Numli glanced over at Alizz. She stood a foot or so away from him, clutching the switchblade handle and staring down at her feet. Thanks to the seawater and the heat, her usually perfect hair had dried crinkled like crepe paper. The tip of her nose was dark with sunburn. Everything about her looked sad and tired. She sniffled, rubbing her eyes. He draped an arm around her shoulder. "I know a thing or two." He whispered in reply. Sassy's eyes lit up. Alizz glanced up at him without lifting her head, the movement of her eyes almost imperceptible.
"That's perfect. Really perfect. My boss and I…well, my old boss…we're makin' a plan to unseat Gallywix and get off the island. We need all the help we can get. And I can pay you too. Not much, but it's somethin'."
Numli perked up slightly at the mention of pay. "What do we get paid in?"
"Copper coins. Found a whole chest of them. Like I said, it ain't much, but it's more than nothin'."
Copper coins. Numli almost giggled. No one used coins anymore. The coin system was incredibly archaic. Goblins had replaced metal coins with paper macaroons a long time ago. Still, Sassy was right. For a goblin who'd just recently lost his entire fortune, a few copper coins seemed like a blessing. "I'll take it." Numli answered. A big, toothy grin spread over Sassy's face.
"We'll take it." Said a small voice beside him. Alizz stared boldly at Sassy, her face set in an expression of grim determination. She caught him staring at her. Her fingers clenched around the handle of the switchblade. "I want to do this with you, Numli."
Sassy smirked. "Two for the price of one. Not bad. I look forward to working with you two. I'll get you some weapons…"
"Wait. What exactly does this job entail?"
Sassy grinned hungrily. "You'll see."
"How are ya feelin'?"
Alizz's hands were sore from holding her daggers. Her palms oozed tiny droplets of blood. All through her chest, muscles throbbed painfully. Everything in her body hurt, whether it was the sunburn on the back of her neck or the strained muscles in her arms. How did she feel? Like crap. Worse than crap. More than anything, she wanted to lie down and go to sleep. Putting on a brave smile, she looked up at Numli. "I feel fine." She replied. Her arms felt as though someone had attached thousand pound weights to them.
There had to be a hundred goblins on the frigate, maybe more. Just finding a quiet place on the crowded hull was difficult. Alizz's head throbbed. She sat on the floor toward the stern of the ship, her back pressed against the wheelhouse wall. Overhead, the sky was just beginning to turn orange. Alizz didn't know how long she and Numli had been on this island, but now they were leaving. Numli sank down next to her. Tenderly, he brushed a strand of hair away from her face. "It hurts, right?"
"That's good." He replied. Alizz looked at him, eyebrows raised. He smiled. "I mean it. Pain means yer getting stronger. Ya ripped up all yer old muscles and now yer body's building new ones."
Alizz couldn't smile back. "It's horrible."
Numli laughed. "You'll be sore for a while, toots. But, hey, yer the one who wanted to fight with knives. Knife fightin' requires some strength." Gently, he pulled her into his lap. Alizz didn't resist. She nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck, eyes slipping shut. Even with the leather armor on, he was soft. He still smelled like oil and rust. Alizz was happy for that—the smell of his skin reminded her of their comfortable life in Kezan. She hung her aching arms around his neck. Cradled in his lap, Alizz felt finally at ease. "You can go to sleep if ya want. I'll wake you up when we get to Azshara."
"Thanks, Nums. I'm tired."
"I am too, doll."
Alizz listened to him breathing. Her twin daggers lay abandoned by his thigh. He carried knives too, his favorite switchblade and another he'd picked up on their adventures around the island. Behind them, the forests burned in molten rock. He combed his fingers through her hair, twisting his hand up in the frayed end of her ponytail. "Numli?" She asked quietly.
"What'll we do when we get to Azshara?"
Slowly, the Horde frigate pulled away from the shore. The red banner atop the main mast flapped proudly in the wind. "Find some money." Numli answered, twisting a strand of her hair around his finger. "Buy some real estate."
"And get married?"
"Of course." Numli smiled gently at her. "Money first, though. I'm not lettin' you marry a poor goblin."
"I want to marry a poor goblin, though."
"Lizzie, please. Don't argue with me on this."
Alizz was too tired to protest. "All right." She let out a sigh, squeezing him lovingly around the neck. "But…you're still Numli, rich or poor. And I love you."
"I love you too, doll." Numli replied. He paused for a few seconds, then added, "Rich or poor."