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Old 12-16-2008, 08:23 PM
Gartletoob Gartletoob is offline

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Holgerdanske sat in the Stonefire Tavern inhaling the sickly sweet aroma of fine dwarven tobacco, his long legs sprawled in front of him to fit under the low stone table. His mug of mead went unattended, as did his long-stemmed oak pipe, as he ran his fingers through his full, blue beard. The golden elixir had lost its appeal over the last month(s) and this early in the morning, he believed it was morning at least, anything stronger would just be out of the question. A blizzard held the city of Ironforge hostage, and held its massive steel gates shut far better then any invading army, in fact the Statue of the mountain king had not seen daylight in over two moon cycles. At first the break from dungeon diving and expeditions to the unknown with his dwarf companion, Cernunnos, had been pleasant; but the city of Ironforge, with all its stone and metal, did not appeal to Holger’s druidic sensibilities and the smell of melting metal that permeated the halls had begun to give him a headache. Not that he disliked any aspect of the dwarven lifestyle. Who could dislike drinking, dancing and telling stories after all; he just preferred it in smaller doses.

Luckily, even trapped in the sweltering heat of the forge city, Cernunnos could not sit still for long. If he wasn't in the wild chasing hidden treasures and lost civilizations, he was chasing down leads and hints about them in the dark halls of the Ironforge library and natural museum. Amidst the numerous smoke rings hovering in the air of the tavern, Cern’s auburn beard poked through, his squinted hazelnut eyes followed, glimmering with the thrill of his hunt. In his stubby fingers he held a rolled up piece of deteriorated parchment. His thick mane, tied back in a ponytail, was held in place by several rings of iron that shifted left and right as he searched the dim room for his traveling companion.

"Ahh, there ye be laddy", Cern shoved a pink haired gnome to the floor offering no explanation just a glare that drilled into the gnomes large brown eyes, "‘Tis a fine thing that the Light graced us with such a blizzard; otherwise I wouldna found this little secret," He offered the Night elf a wink, though with his small eyes it was hardly noticeable through his bushy eyebrows. With a loud thump he slammed the parchment onto the table and unrolled it almost daintily with his thick fingers, showing a surprising dexterity, "As ye may have guessed we will be traveling back to the lands of yer fore-fathers. If what I read is true we can be hoping to find a recounting of the orc’s attack on Stardust and that should lead us to me relic."

"The axe," Holger said, his smile mixed with exasperation and delight.

"Aye, the Axe of Hellscream," the dwarf replied gruffly as he sat and raised a finger, indicating to the Innkeeper he wanted his usual, "I figure that we can head out to Menethil Harbor tomorrow, before the storm picks up again."

The Druid cocked his head slightly and said in his baritone voice, "Yes tomorrow will be the day to do it. The wind will die down by then and the passes should be clear ‘til the afternoon."

The dwarf's eyes narrowed slightly while the barmaid dropped off his drink, a growl emanating as he grumbled, "Bah! Yer witchery din't help us avoid this blizzard. Fer no reason of its own it seems fickle and I mayn't be one to rely on it. Seems better to me we prepare early and run as far as possible." Holgerdanske shrugged and smiled at his companion, offering his pint up in agreement, "On the morrow then!"

The trip through the snow swept valley of Dun Morogh gave Cern and Holger time to exchange notes about the new target. What Cern had been able to gather was that a town had been destroyed around the time of the second demonic invasion. It was abandoned by all but the ghosts locked in their cycles of un-life. According the files of the Gnomish House of Specter Tracking, also known as G.H.o.S.T., the spirits did not have a direct connection to the town but something within the town. Loli Fizzledip, the balding specialist who had studied the town, had noticed that the ghosts would not always follow the same pattern showing that it was more likely a person or animal was the primary anchor of their collective mortal coils and they were generally not as hostile as the spirits in the surrounding area were known to be.

The entire expedition showed promise. The town was a bit far off the beaten path but it was located in the one of the less dangerous areas of the continent that was commonly patrolled by the Silverwing Sentinels. Holger had very little information about the area, but he did know that when it was destroyed there were no survivors.

When they arrived, they moved as they had agreed-- with suitable caution. They did this to avoid directly confronting the ghosts, since even the generally passive variety were known to attack if something that appeared before them obviously did not belong in the circumstances before their untimely demise. They also scouted the area for other grave robbers; even though an area ravaged so long ago would have little left after the armies had passed through. It was “better safe than sorry,” as Holger said, since it was well known that the Warsong Clan still made its home in the region. You never knew when some young warrior would be asked to retrieve the chief's old watch or horse’s blanket.

After an hour of scouting they began working their way into the town. They maintained a reasonable pace with Holger scouting the paths stealthily in the form of a dark blue haired panther and Cern following as closely and as stealthily as a dwarf could move in a mail shirt. They were approaching the second house on the outskirts of the village, hiding around the corner from a Night Elf ghost putting the laundry up on the line, when they heard the agonizingly loud click of two flintlock pistols from right behind them.

"Drop your weapons, Trespassers," the voice was thick with a pleasure that twisted the otherwise husky female voice. It was something disturbingly similar to the purr of a lioness.

Cern wiggled his fingers slightly, passing along a signal to his silver back gorilla, who was hiding in the trees above, to attack his master’s captor. Cern began to slowly drop his off-hand items as a show of good faith when Obersekze leaped from the trees, letting loose a howling screech of fury. Their captor took one step to the side, not losing her aim and the monkey barreled right into a freeze trap.

"No tricks or the Gorilla gets it," She warned, obviously angrier now. As she threatened this, a pure white owl came drifting from the ancient tree tops.
"Watch the flea picker," she commanded it. The owl only blinked in response but it seemed to understand. The captives finished dropping their weapons as the woman asked, "Why are you here?"

"We are jest ere fer to pay homage to the temple lass," Cern lied.
The pistol aimed at the back of Cernunnos's head bored its way into his scalp. "Don't lie to me dwarf. I know your kind. You only come if there is something you want to steal. How else do you think I acquired these fine tools," She said with a swift twirl of the pistol aimed at the now humanoid Holger.

"We are here to see if there is any chronicle of what happened in this area when the Orcs came many years ago. We believe a great war-chief traveled through and may have left a hint as to where he lost an artifact," the blue haired Night elf said, raising his hands in a calming manner with hopes of defusing an already bad situation.

"You," She said her voice sliced sharp with an unexpected hate, "You're just as bad as him. What is he offering you? Money? Is that all it takes to get a Night Elf to turn his back on his heritage anymore? I remember when no stranger could ever come between a Kaldorei and his Goddess."

"Sadly, good lady you are behind the times, we have had to ally ourselves with several younger races or be swallowed by the Horde and the demons. Perhaps you missed the news of our alliance while defending the forest from interlopers," He said infusing his baritone voice with the calming influence of water, softening it and making it easier to listen to.

"If I get you what you want, will you leave?" She said, aggravated with conversation and the condescending tone in the druids voice.

"Aye, lass, that we will,” promised Cern, relieved to have some sort of cooperation from the girl, hostile or otherwise. His voice rumbled from his barrel chest, “Is there any information or artifacts from the time of the war?"

"I can take you to our lore-keeper, she dwells on the west side of town," The huntress said, raising her pistol as she uncocked it, "No funny business, grab your gear, I don't want you to be here any longer then you have to be."

The two adventurers exchanged glances as they bent over to pick up the weapons they had set down. In hushed whispers they followed the girl.

"The girl made it sound like this village is inhabited,” Holger said as quietly as he could, “She seems real, but the way she talks she could be a ghost. It’s hard for me to say since we still haven't seen her face." Cern was busy counting the number of weapons the mysterious Night Elf had strapped to her lean frame, but he kept losing track when he ran out of fingers and regretted that he worn his boots, as opposed to his normal adventuring which took place barefoot.

"The lass is insane and the guns are real enough," Cernunnos sighed, "let’s play along and come back when she isn't looking; it will be easier now that we know she’s there. Or we could try convincing her to let us roam free, then we just need to worry about the ghost."

"I don't know if that would work the way you think. It’s possible she is a ghost, just one that would fit us into her reality better then the standard spirit." Holger mused on this for moment and then spoke up, "Good protector," he asked, "How did you survive so much destruction?"

She hesitated only moment before answering, "Much of the damage was repaired after the priestess sacrificed herself to save the town and resurrect its inhabitants."

Cern glanced at Holger to figure out what this meant for them, but Holger found himself entranced by her long, white braid as it swung back and forth right in front of her well formed..... Holgerdanske had suddenly tripped over a deprecated wheelbarrow left in the street. Cern, undistracted by the "allures" of the tall folk (long legs? who likes long legs? now a girl that can hold her liquor.......) picked up where the tram of Holgerdanske’s thoughts had jumped track.

"Lass, may I see yer mug and," he hesitated a moment, "Get yer name fer me records these things can be important to the egg heads in the library?" he finally, said trying his hardest to sound respectful, something he rarely tried to do and rarely accomplished as well as he’d like. He helped the now blushing male Night Elf onto his usually agile feet.

The woman stopped and the pair waited. Then, slowly, she turned her head to look over her slender shoulder. White washed eyes stared off into the distance, unfocused and unseeing, accented by two long lighting-shaped scars that ripped down either side of her face. "My name is Aartemis Istra Meleth," the name rolled smoothly from her mouth, carried with a surprising eloquence in her low voice.

Holgerdanske paused from brushing the debris from his travel garb to look at her curiously, "White Soul? Such a name is only given by the temple..." but his voice trailed off here as his eyes went to Cernunnos.

Cern's mouth had dropped, lowering his impressive beard a good inch. Holger could hardly hold back a wave of mirth as he realized the source of Cerns shock, "You got jumped by a blind girl," He tried his best to whisper but laughter made it hard to control his voice. Cern's face turned what would be a bright red blush on anyone else, but with his deeply tanned skin it was more of a burgundy.

"She got the drop on ye as well, cat boy," He punctuated each word with a poke of his finger into the stout Elfs chest "and you certainly should have smelled her! She approached us from downwind and you're a beast which, are well known for their sense of smell, unlike me. Jest look at me nose," his finger hooking the night elfs leather collar and dragging his face inches away from the dwarfs leathery face pointed with one of his dirt covered digits, "Its been broken a dozen times and is full o' hair."

Holger regained his composure"Ohhh! Mister tracker-wilderness-boy can't smell? Remind what it is you do all day?" Holger said as he began to sarcastically run his hand through his beard feigning deep thought, "Ohh, yes, track....." Cern's fist to his gut cut the sentence short.

Cern gave his hand to helping the Night Elf onto his feet again, an event took a good five minutes, since somehow every time Cern gave Holger a hand up he pulled too hard and Holger ended up on Cern's back spinning in circles until he fell off again. Or Holger was yanked so hard he ended up toppling over Cern and into the mud again. The whole time their mysterious guide stood seeming to listen to the wind, her head slightly cocked to one side, her face occasionally having a look of exasperation pass over it. Finally her hand went to her sword hilt, tapping in warning, and so the frivolity finally ended, as it always must. Following her through the forest, they arrived at the lore-keepers "hut" which was next to the ruins of the temple. To their surprise, the hut literally consisted of a pile of sticks.

A ghost sat at the top of the "hut," gazing only at the huntress, who now turned to the visitors as though they should say something. Cern elbowed Holgerdanske hard in the rib cage whispering, "Ye are the polite one, i kin nah figger what to say to such a creature living or dead."

Holger cleared his throat while rubbing his side slightly, "Good seer, would you be so kind as to give us the details of the destruction of your town?"

The spirit let loose a long wail that varied in tone and pitch but was indecipherable from any other ghostly cry on the wind. The huntress glanced back and forth, as though a response from her captives was obvious. Cern butted in abruptly, "Kin she speak common? I dinna know Kaldorei, and I really want to hear it meself."

"No, she doesn't know common," Aart said with a tired note to her voice, "I'll shall translate, that will have to do." Holger smiled slightly as she flipped her long braid from front to back and leaned in, her lush lips nearly brushing the ghost's ether as she whispered to it softly.

The lore-keeper began again, and Aartemis told them the long, haunting tale of horror and war; peppered with questions and comments from the two strangers as they tried to get every detail about the attack. The pair began to piece together the atrocities that took place in this sacred town of the Kaldorei. They knew now what exactly what had blinded the young huntress and fooled her into staying here for so long among the ruins. Although she had regained some sight, it was only enough to see colorful, blurred blobs all around her.

"Lass," Cern said gently when they were at the end of the history lesson, "I think there is something ye should know. This is not the town ye grew up in; 'tis the empty husk of the thing! Yer surrounded by the souls of yer loved ones, but not their bodies," Cern wasn't sure how to continue, her face was unreadable, expressionless, "I dinna know what to tell you, but I kinna stand you living a lie, wasting so much talent protecting a pile of rubble."

A short sword came out of nowhere ("I missed that one," Cern thought surprised) and pointed straight at the dwarfs bulbous nose, "This is my home, dwarf," the huntress snarled, "And my people. I will not stand for any insult to them. To imply that a people ravaged by war are worthless, even as they strive to get by, is a horrible insult and I will not stand for it."

"Lady Meleth," Holgerdanske said gently, putting a leather gloved hand to the sharpened blade, "He wasn't speaking figuratively. I know you cannot see it, and that very possibly it all feels real to you, but you are literally surrounded by ghosts and ruins. We are not trying to insult you, just help someone who has helped us."

"Help?" Aartemis seethed, "Or deceits? What kind of help is it to take away all that I have left to me? I have nothing. "she cried" I am all but blind. I survive only by the help of these noble people."

"Spirits," Cern corrected, the blade still pointed at him. She pricked his nose, "It doesn't matter. They are my family and are all I have ever had."

"Lass," Cern's voice told he was clearly losing his patience as he casually brushed the blade aside ignoring the spot of blood,, "We are merely offering ye a helping hand."

"I do not need the help of strangers," Aartemis replied as she stormed away from, the pair, "My people have helped me more then enough."

Cern shouted after her "If ye dinna want our help then at least allow us a few days among de ruins to do a proper excavation o' the site. In exchange, we kin learn you a few things ye may not already know." Holger could tell the last part was coated as much in desperation as anything else. Cern had been searching desperately for years for a find like this town and he was clearly realizing that his fool notions of right and wrong had gotten in the way of his quest.

Her face formed a glare as she sheathed her sword. Holgerdanske could feel the conflict within her, sense its pulling. It had been hard at first for him to envision this warrior woman as the priestess she had been meant to be; and yet now that he knew the secret, he saw in her form a dignity and sanctity, a nobility. "Her training did not stop that day," he thought.

"Priestess," Holger's voice was low as he slowly moved closer to her. Aartemis stopped completely and he could see that this request caught her off guard. Her breathe quickened, but she gave no other sign of her emotion. "Any trust you give will not be abused, for we are not so dishonorable as those devils who gave no proper conduct in the time of war. You shall see that we are not all you assume. We merely want to bring the story of this place into the Valley of heroes where it belongs, give the bards a chance to write it a Lok'vadnod to bring honor to these spirits."

The features of the huntresses face softened with the words and she turned her face to the druid. Giving a slight bow she said, "Against my better judgment, on these terms, I will allow you to stay."
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