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Old 03-02-2007, 12:14 AM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Default Hidden Enemies

There are a few things I want everybody to know before I get to the story itself. I first developed the idea for this story about a year ago. I fleshed it out some more over the summer, and since then, I've been writing on and off very slowly. I'm about a quarter of the way through it now.

The story is set shortly after the opening of the Dark Portal. However, neither events in Outland nor the blood elves and draenei have anything to do with my story; they merely provide a backdrop of sorts. It was conceived pre-Burning Crusade, and therefore would work just as well if set during the WoW era. But if the events took place before the opening of the Portal, the world would look quite different when the portal opened, and thus the conclusion of my story would contradict some of the premises with which Burning Crusade begins.

Several Disclaimers:

1) Nota Bene: I am operating under the premise that the outcomes of WoW quests are considered canonical. If you disagree with me, that's fine, but I don't want to recieve critiques that say "the problem with this story is that Perenolde isn't actually dead." However, just because I treat quests as canon doesn't mean that I think lower-level quests necessarily happen before higher-level ones. I hope that's clear enough.

2) In the case of battlegrounds, WoW doesn't tell us anything definitive about which side, if any, wins. Since my story is set a while after "the beginning" of WoW, I think it's reasonable these battles to have been resolved. So I supposed my own outcomes. I'm not claiming that they're official, or more likely, or anything else. They just happen to work for this particular piece of fiction. For the purpose of this story, the Alliance has defeated the Horde in Arathi Basin and the Horde has defeated the Alliance in Alterac Valley.

3) Though I won't get to posting this part of the story for a while, I expect that people will point it out to me, so I might as well just say it now: I know that Zul'jin and his forest trolls were captured in the town of Hillsbrad, not Tarren Mill. But when I was planning the story, I misremembered the site of their capture as Tarren Mill. And the result works so well within the context of my story that I decided not to change it. It's a minor retcon for the purpose of this tale, and I hope you guys can understand that. It doesn't make that much of a difference anyway.

With all that out of the way, allow me to present Hidden Enemies. It's set mainly in the Hillsbrad/Silverpine/Alterac/Arathi region, and it follows a lot of different protagonists from both the Alliance and the Horde. For now, I'm just going to put up the prologue, which is set five years before the main body of the tale. Hope you like it!

Prologue: Sunset

The sun had passed its zenith, and its rays danced on the few russet leaves that remained on the barren branches. Then the winds picked up, sweeping down from the Alterac Mountains into the foothills and shaking the limbs of the battered trees. The sun's golden beams emitted no warmth, and the cold air announced the imminent arrival of winter. It was late. Too late, thought Sarim grimly, as he trudged through the fallen leaves. His bags were already heavy with furs and meats, but they would need all the supplies they could get to survive the winter. After one last kill, Sarim resolved. It had been a long day, and it was not safe to linger. These days, anything could be lurking in the Hillsbrad Foothills.

Wearily, the young orc pulled an oaken hunter's bow from his back, holding it ready before him. And then he allowed himself a brief smile. This old bear had been a wary one, as elusive as it was dangerous. But he had tracked it patiently, and now it had finally let its guard down. It had stopped on a distant hilltop, silhouetted in the glow of the afternoon sun. Steadying his aim, Sarim drew back and fired, dropping the beast with a single arrow. Sarim shouldered his bow once more, and began walking up the hillside. The sun was sinking rapidly and he knew he would not make it back to Frostwolf Village before dark.

As he made his way onward up the hill, Sarim heard distant noises. As he drew closer, they became more distinct: the crackle of flames and the clash of steel, the shouts of soldiers and the cries of civilians. Reaching the top of the rise, he realized they were coming from below, from the town of Tarren Mill, now bathed in the fiery glow of the late-afternoon sun. Another battle, and even from so far away, Sarim could see that the undead vastly outnumbered the defenders. It had started perhaps a week ago. Sarim had heard stories of the fall of the northern provinces of Lordaeron, and a civil war of sorts among the undead. Then they appeared in the foothills without warning and besieged Tarren Mill, slowly wearing away at the town's defenses. The Frostwolf clan never got involved. With Drek'Thar still far away in Kalimdor, they could not afford to make new enemies. Sarim gazed down at Tarren Mill once more. Half the town was on fire, and chaos reigned among the surviving humans. Poor souls, he thought. But it is not my fight.

Sarim turned his attention back to the dead bear in front of him. Wasting no more time, he skinned it and cut large slabs of meat away from the corpse. Wrapping the pieces in strips of hide, he slipped them into a bag and stood up. The fastest way into the mountains was along the banks of the Thondroril River. Pausing, he looked back at Tarren Mill one last time. By now it had been completely overrun, and the survivors, if there were any, were nowhere in sight.

But then Sarim realized he was wrong. There were at least two survivors, a man and a woman, scrambling up the hillside below in a vain attempt to outrun their pursuers, five men clad in rusty chainmail. No, not men. There was no light in those pale gray eyes. An undead mage rode several paces behind the warriors, astride a skeletal horse. Sarim watched in horror as the mage chanted some inaudible words and raised one withered hand high above his head. The horse reared up as a ball of flame burst from its master's open hand and engulfed the fleeing man. Shrieking, the human fell to the ground, writhing in agony as he attempted to extinguish the flames. Within seconds, he had stopped moving entirely. The girl shrieked and dropped to her knees, as she looked back at the body of her mate, and Sarim got his first good look at her. She was young, no more than nineteen, and, he supposed, what humans might call beautiful. She clutched the small bundle strapped to her chest tightly, and Sarim heard a faint cry. A baby, he realized. The girl is a mother.

Sarim looked back at the undead. The mage had already ridden away, and the warriors appeared to be heading back towards Tarren Mill. Were they just going to leave her? No, not all of them were leaving. One was walking towards the sobbing girl deliberately, with a horrible smile on his face. Neither the warrior nor the girl had noticed Sarim.

Sarim's fingers instinctively grabbed at his club, but then he hesitated. Captain Galvangar, who led the Frostwolf Clan in Drek'Thar's absence, had warned them all repeatedly not to get involved in these battles. Sarim thought of all the suffering the humans had inflicted on his people. But the Warchief himself was raised by humans. She's clutching an infant, and she's barely more than a child herself. She did nothing to deserve this. The girl cried out as she turned and saw the burly orc barreling down the slope towards her, clutching his heavy iron club in both hands. The undead warrior raised an enormous axe. The blade glinted in the fiery light of the setting sun. Then Sarim's club struck him full force in the face, and he stumbled back in surprise, dropping the weapon. Roaring, Sarim swung the club again, crushing his opponent's bones again and again, until he stopped moving.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sarim saw that the girl had pulled herself to her feet. But he had other things to worry about. The four remaining undead were now running towards him. Sarim backed up warily. Just before the undead reached him, he dropped to the ground and swung his club in a wide arc, knocking the first of his opponents off his feet, then crushed the skull of his downed enemy with a precisely aimed blow. The second warrior was about to bear his sword down on the orc, when a blast of fire suddenly struck him in the chest, and he stumbled backwards, dropping the sword. Sarim looked at the girl in astonishment and saw steely determination in her face. So, she's an apprentice mage. Recovering from the blast, the warrior picked up his sword and advanced again. But her powers are still weak. She cannot help me here.

"Run!" he roared, knowing that she would not understand. She looked at him in surprise, but did not move. Sarim leapt backwards as one of the undead slashed horizontally with a cruel two-handed sword. Regaining his balance, the orc swung his club forcefully and delivered a crushing blow to the nearest of the undead, then looked back up at the others just as a blade slipped smoothly into his stomach.

Choking, Sarim sank to his knees. All was silent for a few moments, and then he heard the sound of quick footsteps. Well, one of us made the right choice. He looked up at the two undead towering over him, speaking in strange hissing sounds. They were going to follow her. At least let her get away. At least let me save one life. Ignoring the blood in his mouth, Sarim gathered his remaining energy and spit up in the face of one of the undead. He wasn't quite sure what happened after that. Something struck the side of his head, and he hit the ground. He saw a glint of metal, and felt the flesh being torn away from his forearm. He would have screamed if he remembered how. Through darkening eyes, Sarim scanned the hillside one last time. She was nowhere in sight. After giving him one final kick in the ribs, the two remaining undead began to walk back towards Tarren Mill.

The last dying rays of the sun cast ominous shadows over the young orc, now alone on the hillside. Then came sunset. Sarim let out one last breath, and died.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.

Last edited by Aldrius; 10-21-2008 at 04:20 PM..
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Old 03-02-2007, 05:37 AM
Apophis Apophis is offline

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nice read, post the rest please
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Old 03-02-2007, 08:51 AM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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I like it very much. You've got talent.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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Old 03-02-2007, 10:40 AM
Timolas Timolas is offline

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Yeah, very well written! Although I am surprised an orc would go hunting near the site of an undead invasion - which got him killed anyway. Silly orcs.

Keep it coming!
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Old 03-03-2007, 12:51 AM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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Wow. Didn't expect that ending. o.O
"The Demons did their job well. You creatures are as reckless and bloodthirsty as they ever were."
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Old 03-03-2007, 04:15 AM
Terrell Terrell is offline

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Great work, and definitely of a higher standard than the usual fan fiction you see. That said, there are some comments/suggestions I'd like to make. Not trying to be negative, but everything can get better, right?

1/ In some of the early paragraphs, you get a little too close to telling, not showing, for my liking. Perhaps some more time could be spent describing the battle rather than a simple 'things did not look good for the humans'. Similarly, talking about Drek'Thar and the Frostwolves... a very minor thing, but plainly telling us that the Frostwolves never get involved isn't my preference. Show it instead. If Sarim is a Frostwolf, perhaps there could be a moment where he fingers the handle of mace, thinking of intervening, but remembers the admonitions of the clan elders. More or less what you do with the Galvangar mention, but even that could be fine-tuned a little.

2/ I hadn't conceived of mages as so common, but rather as a small, elite group, such that the average peasant would be awed by their presence. While there are different interpretations regarding the prevalence of arcane magic, it seems odd to have magic be so, well, normal. What's your thinking behind that, out of curiosity, for I think I can see game mechanics sneaking through there...

3/ Sarim does make his mind up rather quickly, doesn't he? He goes from aiming not to get involved to jumping straight in. Maybe he could have more of a motivation than simple altruism, to flesh it out some. The girl reminds him of a daughter or friend, perhaps, or Sarim could be a veteran who killed fleeing humans like that himself and feels guilty. If he's going to sacrifice his life to save this child, then he may as well have a good reason, right?

Again, I'd like to reiterate that I'm not trying to criticise your story or bring it down. It is a fine piece of work as it is, and these are just my first thoughts.
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Old 03-03-2007, 12:36 PM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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My quess is that orc is undead in the actual Fanfic.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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Old 03-03-2007, 06:45 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Thanks for the replies, everybody. Glad you liked it. I'll put up Chapter 1 soon.

To Terrell: Somebody else also told me that I should flesh out the battle more. The reason I didn't in the original was because the story is from Sarim's point of view, and from the hilltop, he only gets a very general sense of the battle. But I can see what you mean. I like the idea of describing his reluctance to get involved, and I'll probably add something to that effect when I get around to editing it again.

About the mages: With Dalaran so close, I imagine that the people of Hillsbrad and Tarren Mill would be more accustomed to mages. I don't think a Frostwolf warrior would be so surprised by magic, considering that for a while, the legacy of shamanism was carried by their clan alone. As for the girl, she isn't a random farmer's daughter but a student at Dalaran who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I agree with you on point 3; I think his decision does seem rather sudden the way it's currently worded. I will elaborate on it a bit later in the story, but still, I'll try to rework this part a bit.

To Kerrah: Only time will tell...
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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Old 03-04-2007, 07:46 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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I'm now putting up Chapter 1. A word of warning: the connection between the prologue and the main body of the story will not be apparent until later in the story. So don't be bothered by the fact that the events in Chapter 1 have no obvious connection to those of the prologue.

Chapter One: Gathering Shadows

Torak Stonehewer scowled as he approached the decrepit hall and caught a whiff of the scent that awaited him inside. There was a time when people lived here, worked here, cared for this building. Now it stinks of death and rot. The town hall of Tarren Mill certainly had seen better days. Torak glanced upwards at the pair of crows perched upon the bell tower, and the gaping holes in the tiled roof. It had been nearly five years since anybody had bothered to fix them. Warmth meant nothing to the undead. Soon this will all be over. Soon I will again be beneath the open skies of Durotar.

The burly orc glanced back at his companions. Gol'dir stood beside him, frowning up at the overcast sky. Krusk, Tog'thar, and Drull were clustered together some distance away, waiting. The four of them had been dispatched to Tarren Mill three months ago by the Warchief, to recover a certain pendant from the bandits who called themselves the Syndicate. Their foray into Durnholde Keep had gone horribly wrong, and only Krusk had managed to escape to Tarren Mill. There he had encountered Torak, whom he beseeched to help rescue his companions. Torak's search had led him from the ruins of Durnholde north into the wintry peaks of Alterac, to the Syndicate-controlled town of Strahnbrad, and finally to the manor of Aliden Perenolde, lord of the Syndicate, on the misty shores of Lordamere Lake. Now, Perenolde was dead, Gol'dir and his companions were free, and it was time to return to Orgrimmar.

"Let's get this over with," Torak said aloud.

Torak and Gol'dir entered the building, walking past Forsaken scribes and deathguards to the double doors at the end of the hall. Despite its dilapidated condition, the town hall still served as the administrative center of Tarren Mill; what had formerly been the Magistrate's office now belonged to High Executor Darthalia, the highest ranking Forsaken official in the Hillsbrad Foothills. A painting of the Magistrate's family still hung on the wall, and their eyes seemed to follow the two orcs as they approached the undead awaiting them. Darthalia herself, wearing the heavy black cowl of her rank, sat behind the desk, and the assassin known only as Alar the Eyeless leaned against the wall nearby, watching them somehow through his hollow sockets. I don't even want to think about how he does that, Torak thought. Still, he manages pretty well without them. Alar was an excellent marksman, and his skill at ambush was unmatched. Torak knew that he would have never been able to infiltrate Strahnbrad or the Perenolde manor without Alar's help.

"Good day, gentlemen." Darthalia's voice, like that of most undead, was only a thin rasp. "Are you departing for Orgrimmar immediately?"

"Yes, executor," Gol'dir replied. "My brethren and I are free at last, and we have recovered the pendant the Warchief desires. We only wish to thank you for your aid. Without it, I would not have lived to see this day."

"Of course," Darthalia said, smiling slightly. "I find that we have many common enemies. You will always be welcome in Tarren Mill."

"You are truly fearless in battle, Alar," Torak added. "Perhaps someday, we will fight side by side once again."


Whatever else Alar might have said was interrupted by the rumble of distant thunder. Glancing through the hole in the roof, Torak saw dark clouds gathering in the north.

"A storm is coming," Darthalia said softly. "You could not have chosen a better time to leave. Our batriders can take you to the Undercity now, if you wish."

"Duty obliges me to turn down your offer, executor," Gol'dir replied. "My companions and I must first return to Lord Perenolde's manor. We believe that other Syndicate leaders are still at large, and hope to identify them using Perenolde's own documents."

For a long time, neither of the undead spoke. The only sound was the howling of the fierce wind that seemed to promise a heavy storm.

"Very well," Darthalia said finally. "But remember, Syndicate forces may still remain at the manor. They will not take the death of their leader lightly. Be careful."

"We will, executor," Gol'dir said. "May the spirits watch over you in your battles with the humans." So saying, he departed. As Torak turned to follow him, Alar's voice made him stop.

"Be very careful," the assassin hissed, his voice practically a whisper. "The Syndicate likely lie in ambush. In the Hillsbrad Foothills, hidden enemies…are everywhere."

* * *

Shadows danced across the walls of the small stone chamber as the raging wind whipped through the ancient trees of Silverpine Forest.

"So he is dead, then."

Her slender fingers toyed with the signet ring lying on the oaken table. Cyrus dared look no higher. Still, it was a pretty hand, a hand to die for. Many men already had. But Cyrus had no intention of joining that number.

"Yes, milady," he said aloud. "And so are all the others who might oppose you. Baron Vardus was hunted down about a month ago, and Lord Falconcrest was killed in Stromgarde just five days ago, both by Alliance forces. The warlocks of the Argus Wake have been slaughtered." Cyrus allowed himself a brief smile. "As you can see, the Dark Lady has agents everywhere. Lord Northfold and I are yours to command. The Syndicate is yours, milady."

"I see." There was a short pause. "Thank you, Cyrus."

Cyrus had known from the start that she was dangerous. But he knew that Perenolde would not stay in power for long. He knew that the rewards would be great if he helped her achieve her goals, as long as he remained in control. Up until that moment he had. Now she had addressed him by his first name, throwing all of his carefully prepared plans into confusion. What did this sudden intimacy mean? Did it–

"Look at me." The sound of her voice silenced his turbulent thoughts. Slowly, hesitantly, he raised his eyes to her face, and drank in every feature: the dark hair cascading freely down her back, her lips, curled upwards in a slight smile, her deep, dark, laughing eyes. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

"You have done well."

"Lady Sylvannas keeps her promises," he managed hoarsely, unable to tear his eyes away.

Heavy footsteps sounded in the tower above, pulling Cyrus out of his trance. A batrider had landed. In this weather, the message had to be urgent. Cyrus was halfway to the door when it opened. Alar stood in the doorway, water dripping from his black leather armor.

"The orcs are returning to Dandred's Fold, my lord. They plan to take Perenolde's documents back to Orgrimmar."

He needed to say no more. Cyrus had no idea why the orcs had such a deep hatred of the Syndicate. Their hatred had simply served his purposes; it made them the perfect weapon against Lord Perenolde. But that hatred could just as easily turn against him. If the orcs searched through Perenolde's documents, they would find names that did not appear on the wanted lists in Tarren Mill or Southshore, among them his own. They would realize that the Syndicate was far from defeated, and they would take action. Cyrus could not allow that.

"How long before the reach the manor?"

"There is not much time. This cursed gale prevented me from warning you earlier."

"Then spread the news among Malthis and the others. Ready the horses and barges. We ride."

Alar grinned, and the darkness of his sightless eyes seemed to deepen.

"Of course, my lord," he hissed, and vanished into the hallway.

Cyrus saw her again as soon as he turned around. But now, his uncertainty had vanished.

"Duty calls, milady. I must take my leave of you."

"Then I shall delay you no longer," she replied, lifting her arm gracefully. She was waiting. Cyrus took her delicate hand in his, raised it to his lips, and kissed it softly. She smiled approvingly as she slipped on her gloves.

"Goodbye, Cyrus." With a flick of her wrist, a portal opened in midair before her, as if she had somehow torn a seam in the fabric of reality. Without another glance in his direction, she stepped through the hole and was gone. The portal closed behind her, leaving no trace of ever having existed.

Five minutes later, having donned his heavy chain armor, Cyrus strode out of the keep, letting the fortified ironwood doors swing shut behind him, and mounted Shadowstab.

"For the Dark Lady!" he shouted above the torrential rain as the men fell into formation behind him. All of them had sworn fealty to Sylvannas when he had, on that fateful day in the Tirisfal Glades. But today, something had changed; he now served another as well. When she had arrived at the keep earlier in the afternoon, he had thought only of how his services would be rewarded. But as soon as he saw her face, he knew he would fight for her, die for her, whenever she gave the command. My soul belongs to the Dark Lady, but my heart is hers. He let Shadowstab break into a gallop.

"For Lady Perenolde!"

* * *

Gol'dir raised his arm to shield his face from the rain and squinted ahead at the ground they had yet to cover. Dense fog concealed everything further than twenty feet away. The storm had arrived sooner than any of them had expected, and the late afternoon sun was now completely hidden by heavy clouds. Krusk and Drull were directly ahead of him, and Tog'thar lagged behind slightly, hindered by an old wound in his leg. Torak could maintain a much faster pace than the rest of them, and Gol'dir had long since lost sight of him.

All of a sudden, Torak came into view again, his huge frame rising through the mist ahead. Ignoring the rain, he turned back towards his companions and laughed.

"What, has the rain already conquered you? You're as weak as the humans!"

Gol'dir shook his head. Young orcs these days. Still, he had to admit that Torak's strength was incredible. He studied the young warrior as they walked onwards. Torak was over six and a half feet tall, and more muscular than any orc Gol'dir had ever seen. His bald head and bare arms gleamed in the rain as if made of steel. Gol'dir would not have been surprised if they were. He thought back to when he had first seen Torak, that morning in the abandoned Strahnbrad inn where the Syndicate had held him. The young orc had been completely surrounded by Syndicate guards, but still he swung his mighty greatsword left and right, seemingly impervious to his opponents' blades, as Alar's daggers made short work of the guards from behind. Watching him, Gol'dir felt like he was back in the internment camp, looking on as the young Warchief rallied the Horde and beat back the human defenders.

Gol'dir sighed. He was growing old, and he knew it. Soon I'll be back in Orgrimmar, away from the humans, the undead, and this damned rain.

"Up here," Torak called through the fog. Moments later, they had all made their way up onto the slight rise on which he stood. The ground ahead of them sloped downwards as it neared the shores of Lordamere Lake, and there, barely visible through the mist, was Perenolde's manor.

"We'd best be careful," Krusk said quietly. "Anything could be lurking down there."

Slowly, silently, they made their way down to the manor, peering through the mist for any sign of the Syndicate. Nothing. Then Gol'dir heard the sound of hoof beats, growing louder by the second. He turned to warn the others, but it was too late. The huge shapes of horsemen, at least ten of them, loomed out of the fog behind them, wearing the black and grey of Syndicate enforcers. Tog'thar, who was still bringing up the rear, barely had a chance to turn around before he was cut down by an outstretched blade.

Gol'dir's axe was in his hand in an instant, and he backed up warily. The horsemen had fanned out to the sides, forcing the orcs closer and closer together. Gol'dir's back was to the lake, and there were enemies on three sides. They were trapped.

Then the riders charged. Drull leapt out of the way of an oncoming horseman, and Gol'dir ducked under the blade of another. He turned to see the one who appeared to be the leader, his curved blade glowing with magical energy, bearing down on Krusk. The orc raised the metal shaft of his battle axe to block the blow. Gol'dir heard the clash of steel on steel and saw a brilliant blue flash. The shaft of Krusk's axe shattered, and the glowing blade decapitated him in a single stroke.

Another horseman was already nearing, and Gol'dir had no time to react. At the last moment, Torak lashed out with his huge sword, knocking the man from his horse. Gol'dir brought his axe down forcefully on the skull of the fallen man, and he was still. Another rider charged, and this time Torak dropped into a crouch, swinging his blade in a wide arc and swiping at the legs of the man's mount. The horse reared up as Torak's blade bit into its legs, flinging its rider onto the shore. Torak was upon him in seconds, and plunged the greatsword into his chest. He pulled hard and extracted the bloody blade, but it was too late. The leader of the horsemen had charged again, his outstretched arm holding the cruel, enchanted blade. The sword tore through the links of Torak's chainmail jerkin like a knife through butter, and buried itself in his gut. Slowly, the huge warrior stumbled, sank to his knees, and fell face-first into the lake.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gol'dir saw Drull fall before an advancing rider. And he knew it was over. Without Torak, he stood no chance against such odds. He looked back at the horse bearing down on him, its nostrils flared, the cruel steel of its master's blade dripping blood and rainwater. To die in battle is honorable. It has been a good life. He could feel the horse's hot breath on his face. Roaring, Gol'dir raised his axe and swung it at his opponent with full force. And then he saw no more.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.

Last edited by Flamestrider; 09-28-2008 at 08:52 PM..
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Old 03-04-2007, 11:42 PM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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Is there anyone who's actually left alive by the end of the story?
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Old 03-05-2007, 08:45 AM
Timolas Timolas is offline

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Dead orcs.
There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.
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Old 03-05-2007, 07:58 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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It does seem a bit excessive, doesn't it. Don't worry though. Soon enough, you'll be meeting characters who don't die immediately after they're introduced.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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Old 03-05-2007, 08:32 PM
Doomsday Doomsday is offline

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aww what's the fun in that?
-I tread the path of Righteousness. Though it be paved with broken glass, I shall walk it barefoot; though it crosses rivers of fire, I will pass over them; though it wanders wide, the light of the Emperor guides my step.

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Old 03-06-2007, 10:07 AM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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Really really good.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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Old 03-10-2007, 08:34 PM
Inquisitor Inquisitor is offline

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Wow, that was really good. It was well written, had good action (action that was not, I add, excessively described), and had good pacing. My only qualm was with the opening lines of the prologue:

Originally Posted by Flamestrider
The sun had passed its zenith, and its rays danced on the few remaining russet leaves on otherwise barren branches. Then the winds picked up, sweeping down from the lofty Alterac Mountains into the foothills and shaking the limbs of the battered trees.
The first sentence especially strikes me as being somewhat overwrought. Also, I think you could do without the word "lofty" (the sentence sounds a little over-the-top with that word in there).

Also, I think it was a good move to not really describe the battle at Tarren Mill. I suppose you could go into a little more detail (a few specific images), but I think describing too much of the battle would draw attention away from Sarim, especially since Sarim didn't seem all that interested in the battle. What stands out to him is the girl who's about to be killed, and I think you were right to focus on that.

Anyway, very good job. Please keep it up.
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Old 03-11-2007, 10:58 AM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Originally Posted by Inquisitor
The first sentence especially strikes me as being somewhat overwrought. Also, I think you could do without the word "lofty" (the sentence sounds a little over-the-top with that word in there).
I suppose it is. I was trying to go for an epic exposition, and I guess I overdid it a bit. I'll probably tone it down a bit.

I'm now going to put up Chapter 2. Once again, the beginning of this chapter has very little to do with either of the two before it. But by the end, some things should start falling into place.

Chapter Two: A Time for Heroes
"All hands to port! Ready at the cables!"

Shouts and curses filled the air as the Dawn's Light and the Spirit of Northshire drifted slowly into the Southshore harbor. Adrianna could hardly wait to disembark. It had been five days since the ships had set sail from Stormwind, and the weather had not been kind. She gazed out over the prow of the ship. Through the mist, she could make out the houses and farms of Southshore, and beyond them, the distant foothills. And somewhere to the north… Adrianna turned away. She didn't want to think about it.

"Light grant that we are not too late." Captain Meledar stood beside her, fully armored as always. "You were born in Tarren Mill, were you not?"

"Yes," Adrianna replied quietly. Five years. Has it really been that long? Somehow, she felt guilty that she had not returned, that she had not…. There was nothing I could have done, she told herself. There's no use wondering what might have been different.

"We shall drive the undead back to Silverpine and establish a bastion of hope in these Light-forsaken lands," Meledar said, perhaps sensing her apprehension. His face was set with determination, and there was something reassuring about the resolution in his voice. "Do not worry, lieutenant."

The Spirit of Northshire came up against the dock with a slight bump, and the deckhands hopped over the sides and swiftly moored the ship. Adrianna disembarked and hurried towards the end of the dock, where a lone figure was standing. She knew immediately who it would be.

"It's so good to see you again," Marshal Redpath said in his usual moderate tone, allowing a brief smile to cross his face. "You've grown so much," he added with a hint of almost paternal pride. Adrianna said nothing, but she could see that he too had changed. He seemed so much older, so much wearier than when she had seen him last. Redpath turned to Meledar, who had followed her to shore. "Captain Meledar Sunshield, I presume?"

"Yes, sir. My paladins and I are at your service. I see you are already acquainted with Lieutenant Adarin."

"I've known her since she was just a child," Redpath replied fondly. "Her father, may he rest in peace, was one of the bravest warriors I have ever known."

Meledar inclined his head slightly in a gesture of sympathy. For a long time nobody spoke. Though they had spoken only of her, Adrianna could see that memories of past sorrows had returned to both men. These last ten years have been hell for us all. Then she heard quick footsteps, and turned to see a dwarven woman, clad in the rugged leather armor of a Khaz Modan mountaineer, approaching the group with a worried frown.

"Captain, this is Lieutenant Tamra Stormpike of Dun Garok," Redpath said, seeming to shake off whatever thoughts had been troubling him. "Tamra, Captain Meledar Sunshield and Lieutenant Adrianna Adarin of the Silver Hand."

"The situation's grim, Marshal," Tamra interjected, cutting short the formalities. "Many o' my lads are still wounded, and they cannae fight with ye. I can only give ye around two hundred men." Tamra looked around nervously. "I must get back to Dun Garok. There's still much to be done before we join ye in battle tomorrow."

"I understand, Tamra," Redpath said, nodding soberly. "We'll all do what we can." As Tamra began to walk away, Redpath turned back to Adrianna and Meledar.

"The undead attacked Dun Garok only three days ago. The dwarves managed to drive them back, but Captain Ironhill and other brave warriors died in battle, and many more were grievously wounded. And that's not all: The undead attacked Hillsbrad again last week, and slaughtered Magistrate Burnside and several members of the Hillsbrad Town Council. Magistrate Maleb has journeyed to Hillsbrad to try to restore order, but the town won't hold out much longer. That's why we need you. The forces of Dun Garok have already arrived, and allies from Stromgarde and Dalaran will be arriving soon. If we don't deliver a serious blow to the undead now, and drive them from Tarren Mill, they will overrun the foothills in a matter of weeks."

"Can we retake Tarren Mill?" Adrianna asked. "Is it possible with so few soldiers?"

"I don't know, truth be told," Redpath said after a long pause. "I'll dispatch a scout to survey the activities of the undead. As far as I know, they don't know that we're planning a counterattack. With the element of surprise on our side, we may be able to best them." Redpath paused again. "But I'm not sure if it matters anymore. If we don't stop them now, they will only grow stronger. Tomorrow it will be five years exactly since the town fell to the Forsaken. We must retake Tarren Mill, or we doom the men and women of Hillsbrad to a fate worse than death."

"Five years is too long already," Meledar said. "The undead are abominations of nature. Their very presence in Tarren Mill is blasphemy against the Light. We–"

But Adrianna had stopped listening. She had noticed another figure, a woman, watching them from afar, wearing hooded crimson robes. Could it be? What would she be doing here? The woman had evidently noticed her gaze, for she began walking towards them. As she drew closer, she threw back her hood, revealing shoulder-length blonde hair and a wry smile. The two men became aware of her presence, and Meledar trailed off.

"Captain, this is my sister, Jenessa, a…mage. She went to study in Dalaran when I came to Stormwind," she added hurriedly. Well, it's not exactly a lie.

"Ah," Meledar said. "It's an honor to make your acquaintance, Ms. Adarin. Your sister is among my most accomplished lieutenants."

"Captain Sunshield and I still have much to discuss," Redpath cut in. "We'll leave you two to catch up." He paused for a moment. "I am delighted to see you again, both of you."

Adrianna watched them go, eternally grateful to Redpath for getting Meledar away from Jenessa. Above all else, Meledar was a man of principle. Sooner or later he would learn the truth, but at least it wouldn't be right after they arrived. Of course, she was grateful to Redpath for a lot more than that. Her mother was visiting relatives in the Capital when the undead armies seized it, and her father subsequently joined Lord Garithos's campaign to drive back the Scourge. He died in the battle that ended with the liberation of Dalaran, and Redpath took charge of his daughters, organizing and funding their respective journeys to study in Northshire and Dalaran. He had been one of the lucky few who managed to escape from Tarren Mill and take refuge in Southshore, and now he lived only to see the undead driven from his hometown.

Adrianna turned back to her sister. Jenessa's smile had vanished, as had all traces of the eager, idealistic girl to whom she had said goodbye more than five years ago.

"Everything has changed so much!" Adrianna said at length as they left the docks and began walking towards the center of town.

"Yes." Jenessa said nothing more, but Adrianna detected a hint of bitterness in her reply.

For a long time they walked in silence. The sense of guilt that had been nagging at Adrianna on the ship had returned. What if I had gone to Dalaran and Jenessa had come to Stormwind? Would everything have turned out differently?

From an early age Jenessa had shown an interest in the arcane arts. In Dalaran, she happened to meet and fall in love with a fellow student. They were soon married, and had their first child. And they happened to return to Tarren Mill for a visit just before the Forsaken besieged the town. Somehow, Jenessa had managed to escape, but her husband and infant son had not. Adrianna wasn't quite sure what happened after that. Jenessa never returned to her studies at Dalaran. She spent a few months in Southshore before vanishing again. Since then, Adrianna had only seen her once, two years ago, when she had come to Stormwind in search of a certain infamous tavern.

Adrianna had never developed the unwavering ideological conviction that she saw in Meledar and many of her other fellow paladins, but the changes in her sister still worried her. Five and a half years ago, Jenessa had been the idealistic, passionate one, but since then, the youthful spark in her eye had vanished, replaced by a bitter wit and a thirst for revenge. Adrianna looked once more at her sister, who had made no attempt to break the silence. Can things ever return to the way they were? Can shattered lives be rebuilt so easily? Tomorrow, at Tarren Mill, at least she can find revenge. It's not the way of the Silver Hand, but it's something.

* * *

The wind swept down from the north into the cool valley of Mulgore and across the looming mesas of Thunder Bluff. Standing alone atop the northern face of Elder Rise, Rann Thunderhorn closed his eyes and let the wind blow over him. It was his favorite spot on days like this, when he just wanted time to think. Cairne Bloodhoof himself had once said that all changes, great and small, were carried on the winds of Kalimdor. Rann turned and opened his eyes to see the Banner of the Horde, proudly positioned atop Cairne's tent, being battered madly by the winds. Well, he said to himself, the world is certainly changing.

Rann did not need the winds to remind him how much the world had changed in the past few years. It had been over six years ago that his people first met the orcs and settled in Mulgore. Six years since he himself had ventured alongside Cairne and Warchief Thrall into the ancient caverns of Stonetalon Peak. Now, many brave soldiers were crossing through the Dark Portal to wage war against the Burning Legion, but Rann could not help feeling that there were still other threats closer to home. The evil beneath Silithus was destroyed, the Scourge Invasion was repelled, and yet…Rann forced himself to stop thinking about it. I should be taking this opportunity to relax; I don't know when I shall have a chance to return. He gazed down at the Kodo herds treading slowly across the gentle rolling hills far below, and managed to forget the world's problems. Whatever happens, Mulgore is timeless. These valleys will always remain.

"You wanted to speak to me?"

Rann turned around, startled. It was Ashem. In her training as a druid, she had learned not only to assume the form of a predator but to move like one, and Rann had not even heard her approach. She smiled childishly at having successfully surprised him, and Rann could not help smiling back.

"Yes, my love. I must leave for Orgrimmar before midday, and I am not sure when I shall return. Warchief Thrall has asked to see me, and he said it was urgent."

The childish smile disappeared from her face, replaced by a worried frown. Such a message meant that a dangerous journey lay ahead, and she knew it.

"Where will you be going?"

"I don't know," he replied. "I was told to prepare for a long trip. But I will come home," he reassured her. "I will return safe."

As he embraced her once more, Rann looked up at the sun inching its way across the clear sky. Almost noon.

"I must leave now," he said quietly, and with the wind now behind him, he began to walk back towards his tent to pick up his packs. There were times when he would have gladly given his life for the Warchief and the safety of the Horde. But not this time. Now, he had Ashem. He had promised her that he would return. And come what may, I will.

* * *

Wearily, Haldar Starkhelm pushed open the battered doors of the Stromgarde chapel. The day seemed long already, and it was barely past noon. But orders were orders.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

Aron Nials stood at the foot of the altar, his back to Haldar. He turned slowly, looking even more haggard than usual. After Prince Galen Trollbane was murdered on that same altar by agents of the Horde, The Council of Arathor unanimously voted to grant Nials, who had coordinated the evacuation to Refuge Point during the Syndicate attacks more than a year earlier, the title of Regent Lord of Stromgarde. The three months that had passed since then had not been easy for any of the people of Stromgarde, least of all Nials. The great nation of Strom, which had endured since the dawn of civilization, was on the verge of collapse. The Trollbane line had come to an end, and nobody knew what the future would bring. It had been Stromgarde's darkest hour, and Nials had seen the nation through it.

Now, things were looking less grim. The Boudlerfist Ogres had been driven from the city, and the death of Lord Falconcrest just over a week ago had put the defenders of Stromgarde on the offensive for the first time in more than a year. But the battle was far from over. In the past few days, the Syndicate had redoubled their attacks, and Haldar was in the midst of it, rallying the soldiers under his command to hold off the Syndicate advance. Today had not been good so far. But Ilyama died fighting to reclaim this city. I must finish what she started.

Haldar brought himself back to the present. Nials seemed to be sizing him up. Finally he spoke.

"You've shown remarkable courage and leadership for a man of your age, Captain Starkhelm."

"Thank you, sir," Haldar said, not sure how to respond.

"I'll get straight to the point, then," Nials said at length. "The forces of Southshore are preparing for a massive strike against the undead in Tarren Mill. I'm dispatching you to aid them along with two hundred men. You must leave shortly after midnight tonight. Report to Marshal Redpath when you arrive tomorrow morning."

Haldar had trouble finding words to express his outrage.

"This is ridiculous! We can barely hold the front lines at home, and you want me to storm off to Hillsbrad to fight the undead? We defeated them in the Basin over two months ago, and they pose no threat to us now. Excuse me, sir, but the Syndicate is our primary concern here."

"Stromgarde is a member of the Grand Alliance," Nials replied. "The Alliance requires our assistance, and we shall grant it."

"But my wife–"

"That's an order, Captain."

Haldar bowed his head and exited the chapel. Forgive me, Ilyama. Three years ago, after her death, he had sworn never stop fighting the Syndicate until Stromgarde was secure. Now he had to break that vow, and at what seemed like a crucial turning point in the battle. I'll fight for the Alliance in Tarren Mill. But as soon as that battle is over, he vowed, the days of the Syndicate are numbered.

* * *

With a heavy thud, the tip of the staff struck the ground in the middle of the Drag. It was mid-afternoon, and the longest street in Orgrimmar was jammed with merchants, peddlers, pickpockets, and crowds of customers. But Gavin Darkweave did not have to push his way through the street. As they heard the slow, regular pound of the staff against the stone floor, the crowd seemed to part to make way for him. One of the perks of being an old cripple, Gavin thought wryly. People imagine that you're wise and powerful, and they usually give you the benefit of the doubt. The old orc glanced down at the grinning imp's skull fixed atop his gnarled staff. Of course, this old thing also makes matters easier.

The strips of canvas shading the Drag from the relentless sun disappeared as the broad avenue opened up into the Valley of Wisdom, and the heat served as an unwelcome reminder of the less appealing aspects of old age. But Gavin had nearly reached his destination. Two Kor'kron elite guards stood in front of the gate, their ornate gilded armor gleaming. They stepped aside as Gavin approached. He walked down the broad halls, passing more elites, Darkspear warriors, and young shamans who eyed him with more than a little suspicion. Let them suspect me if they wish. I have simply followed my calling, and ever since Hammerfall I have served the Warchief to the best of my ability. Finally, he reached the end of the hall, and two guards flung open the doors to the innermost chamber.

"Gavin. It's been a long time," Thrall said, rising from his seat as the doors closed behind the old orc. "I have need of your skill once more."

"Greetings, Warchief," Gavin replied. "How may I be of service to the Horde?"

"I've received a most troubling report from Hillsbrad," Thrall said. "Three months ago, I dispatched four warriors to Tarren Mill to investigate the activities of a group of human bandits known as the Syndicate. Five days ago, they were murdered on their way back to the Undercity along with a companion they met in Lordaeron. The Forsaken scouts who discovered the bodies have concluded that the Syndicate was responsible." There was a long pause.

"What's more," the Warchief finally continued, "This news arrived at the same time as another, even more disturbing report. An agent of mine in the area, who goes by the name of Bonemaul, wrote that he has urgent information for me. Apparently, he did not think it safe to disclose that information in his letter. Something is amiss in Lordaeron. I want you to travel to Tarren Mill and discover what you can. You will not be alone. I have already spoken to your companions, and I have asked them to meet you tomorrow morning on the shores of Bladefist Bay. I take it you remember Tarren Mill well enough to open a portal?"

"Yes, I remember Tarren Mill," Gavin said. And suddenly he felt the sensations rush through him again: the heat of the flames and the sounds of screams, which he had not heard at the time but which had haunted his memories ever since. How much have I changed since then? How much can one change? "I didn't think I would ever return. But I can take us there."

"Thank you, Gavin. Your services to the Horde will not go unnoticed," Thrall said, evidently greatly relieved. "But I must warn you: do not attract undue attention. I ask this task of you because I know I can trust you, and also because you are not immediately recognizable as my agent. Bonemaul will await you in the Alterac Mountains; listen closely to what he says. But do not speak of him to the Forsaken. He is not well-liked among their kind."

Thrall paused for a moment in contemplation.

"Something tells me that this mission is more significant than perhaps either of us realize at the present. Only time will tell. But you have your orders. Now go forth, and bring glory to the Horde."

* * *

Guaffle Cloakshadow paused as he reached the top of the ridge, and quickly scanned his surroundings. This is what they call reconnaissance, he said to himself with a touch of pride. Very important stuff, reconnaissance.

The young gnome stroked his already graying whiskers thoughtfully. Now, where was I? He stared off into space for several seconds, and then started suddenly. Oh yes! Reconnaissance! I'm on a very important mission, he told himself. The Marshal told me personally to investigate the undead in preparation for…oh…what was it again? Ah well, it probably wasn't very important. With any luck, I'll get a promotion. Corporal Cloakshadow. Hey that's whatchacallit– alliterance!

Guaffle began to walk onwards down the hillside. Alliterance. Is that right? Something like that. I can never get these human words straight. All of these languages will pay off one day, though! That I know for sure. Where was I again? Never mind. I'm sure it will come back to me in time. Guaffle's course had brought him back to the road, and, as he looked around once again, he spotted a battered signpost at a nearby crossroads. He approached it and inspected it cautiously.

The sign pointing left was marked "Silverpine Forest." The sign pointing straight ahead read "Tarren Mill." And the sign pointing back the way he had come simply read "South." Guaffle inspected this third sign carefully, and pulled a small compass from one of his many pockets. Well, it's telling the truth, he concluded, and turned to the other two signs. And then he remembered. Oh yeah, reconnaissance! I'm supposed to go spy on the undead. He said something about Tarren Mill too. But I've got a better idea. There are more undead in Silverpine Forest, right? That's what I heard, anyway. So if I go there, that's even better reconnaissance. Guaffle made up his mind before giving the idea any time to settle. Silverpine it is, then.

Checking his compass once more just to make sure, the young gnome resolutely turned and walked westwards, into the orange glow of the setting sun.

* * *

It was shortly after sunrise, and a light breeze was blowing in over Bladefist Bay. Rann slowed his pace as he approached the shores. He was not the first to arrive. An old troll crouched several feet from the lapping tide, gazing off to sea. Two cruel battle axes were strapped to his back. A long crest of gray hair rose from his otherwise bald head, and his skin was a peculiar shade of dark green never seen on members of the Darkspear tribe. With some surprise, Rann realized that he was looking at a forest troll. Would the Warchief entrust one of them with such a mission?

"Watcha doing here, tauren?"

Rann stepped back with a start. The old troll had never turned around, but somehow he knew that Rann was watching him. Rann had never encountered anybody with such acute powers of observation. His mind raced as he tried to think of a response. Thrall had stressed that he keep his mission secret. But what are the odds that he would be here at this hour unless the Warchief sent him?

"I am Rann Thunderhorn, son of Marn," he finally said. "Warchief Thrall instructed me to come here."

"Ah, you too?" The troll rose and turned to face Rann for the first time. "I am Ano'jin of the Amani tribe. The Warchief told me I would find my companions here."

The Amani Tribe? Rann wondered. They left the Horde a long time ago. How did he come to work for Thrall? But there was no time to pursue such thoughts.

"We have a visitor," Ano'jin warned. Rann turned to see an old orc limp towards them, supporting himself with a long gnarled staff on which the skull of a lesser demon had been fixed. The orc himself wore ornately embroidered blood-red robes, and a murky violet crystal slightly smaller than a fist hung from a chain around his neck. As if to dispel Rann's few remaining doubts, an imp peered out from behind its master's legs, looked around quickly, and then darted out of sight again. A warlock. This just keeps getting better and better.

"Greetings, travelers," the old orc said as he drew closer. "I am Gavin Darkweave. The Warchief told me to come here today. He told me there would be two others. I presume I am in the right place?"

"We received the same message," the troll said. "I am Ano'jin of the Amani tribe."

"Rann Thunderhorn, son of Marn." I'm not sure I could imagine a more unusual set of traveling companions. Gavin, who seemed to have assumed the leadership of the party already, spoke again.

"The Warchief no doubt told you both that discretion is of the utmost importance on this operation. Let us decide now what we shall do. One of us should journey into the mountains to search for this Bonemaul while the other two investigate the death of the orcs."

"I'll search for Bonemaul," Rann volunteered. "I have never been to Alterac, but I am no stranger to the mountains."

"Very well. Ano'jin and I will see what we can find. Let us meet in Tarren Mill in three days' time and share our discoveries. Are you ready?"

Rann looked at the old warlock suspiciously. How does he plan to get there? That was something the Warchief had not mentioned. Does Gavin know something I don't? And what–?

The questions vanished from Rann's head as Gavin raised his staff with both hands and clutched it tightly, muttering something incomprehensible, then rammed it forcefully into the ground. As the sockets of the imp's skull began to glow, a small hole appeared in midair and began expanding. As the rift grew, Rann could discern the details of another landscape: broad rolling hills dotted with autumnal trees buffeted by a heavy wind. The rift had apparently stopped expanding, and now stood just over seven feet tall. Ano'jin glanced back at Gavin, nodded, and stepped through the portal.

"After you, tauren," Gavin said, and the imp by his side grinned maniacally. Rann turned back towards the rift. Dark energies crackled around its circumference, and even looking at it made him feel uneasy. Who could have guessed that this would come of following the Warchief's orders? He shook his head grimly. Just ignore it. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the Nether and into the Hillsbrad Foothills.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.

Last edited by Flamestrider; 09-28-2008 at 08:55 PM..
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Old 09-28-2008, 09:07 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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So, the moment you've all been waiting for/stopped waiting for a long time ago/didn't actually ever care about/didn't actually ever know about. I just edited the prologue and first two chapters (the parts I put up earlier) to reflect my current versions and also fix some formatting issues. I will now post chapters 3, 4, and 5. This is not the end of the story, so don't expect closure, just a really intense cliffhanger. If I did my job right, that is. Not much has changed in the first couple of chapters, but if you haven't read them before, I suggest you do so, as the others won't make any sense. Even if you have, it might be a good idea to reread them, because it's been forever since I've updated this.

Without further ado:

Chapter Three: Old Hatreds

Haldar glanced over his shoulder at the soldiers following him and raised his hand to shield his eyes from the rising sun. They were still behind him. And still awake, thank the Light. Rising in the middle of the night to walk for hours across the foothills to fight an enemy who had done nothing to him was not Haldar's idea of a morning well spent. But orders were orders.

"Southshore is in sight, captain," said the man directly behind him. Haldar climbed the last few paces to the top of the rise, and looked out over the horizon. At the base of the hill, the broad Thondroril River emptied out into the Great Sea, and the roofs of Southshore were visible on the opposite bank. The winds carried the calls of soldiers and stablehands across the valley. Southshore was preparing for battle.

Haldar turned back to the soldier who had spoken. Sergeant Telar Steelblade was clean-shaven, wide-eyed, and wide awake. Not long ago I was like him. A few more battles will change that.

"Good," he said aloud. "When we reach the town, I will seek out Marshal Redpath. While I am gone, see to it that everyone is ready. The Marshal may order the attack at any time."

Half an hour later, Haldar stepped through the open doorway of the Southshore inn, more than happy to escape the blustering winds outside. Three men and a dwarven woman sat at a table in the center of the room. One of them, a hefty man with steel-gray hair who appeared to be their leader, stood up as Haldar entered.

"You must be Captain Starkhelm," he said, "I am Marshal Redpath, commander of the forces of Southshore. My companions are Lieutenant Tamra Stormpike of Dun Garok, Archmage Ansirem Runeweaver of Dalaran, and Captain Meledar Sunshield of the Silver Hand." The dwarf and the mage acknowledged him with curt nods, and the paladin eyed him warily. "You'll have time to exchange proper greetings later. But not now. In fact, captain, you arrived just at the right moment. Let me review the plan of battle once again. Captain Sunshield and I will lead our forces to Tarren Mill along the road, and engage the Deathguard in the southernmost part of the town. This should give Lieutenant Stormpike and her specialists time to approach from the river, and Archmage Runeweaver time to bring his mages around from the west. Captain Starkhelm, I want you and your men to accompany the Archmage, and make sure the Forsaken don't send reinforcements from their encampments around Hillsbrad. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," Haldar said.

"Good. There's just one problem. The scout I sent last night to survey the Forsaken defenses never returned. The Forsaken may already know that we are coming. But even if they do, there's no going back. If we succeed in surrounding the Forsaken, we should be able to overwhelm them. It will be a tough battle either way. Do not let your guard down."

"Excuse me, sir," came a voice from the doorway. A young woman with long brown hair, wearing the tabard of the Silver Hand, had entered the inn. "Everything has been prepared. The men are ready to move at your command."

"Thank you, Adrianna," Redpath replied, and she withdrew. He turned back to the commanders seated around the table. "Well, then, this is it. Light willing, Tarren Mill will be ours before the day is through." Redpath took a deep breath, and inclined his head in a brief prayer.

"We move."

* * *

The tattered fan of an abandoned mill turned madly in the cold wind as Ano'jin and his companions strode across the fallow fields surrounding Tarren Mill. As they approached the road, they stopped, and Rann gazed out towards the mountains to the north.

"Well, this is where we part ways, then," the tauren said. "I will move as quickly as I can."

"Go then," Gavin said. "Find this Bonemaul, whoever he is, and hear whatever he has to say. We can only hope it's as important as the Warchief seemed to think."

"The spirits be with you," Ano'jin said simply. The Warchief was right to put his trust in this one, he said to himself as Rann strode off towards the mountains. He is young, but he has spirit, and he knows the battlefield. The old one, though… He pulled himself out of his thoughts and looked around as he turned and followed the warlock south, into the town. Everything was eerily familiar; the same walls that once concealed the humans lurking in every shadow now stood before him in varying states of disrepair. I never thought I would come back here, and yet here I am. The ways of the spirits are mysterious indeed. Ano'jin glanced over at the warlock, and realized in surprise that he too was gazing around with a worried frown, as if recalling troubling memories. We all have parts of our lives that we would rather not remember. But I wonder, what are his?

Undead workers and guards watched impassively as the two of them pressed onwards towards the center of town. Before long, an undead woman wearing a black hooded cloak and tough leather armor approached them.

"Greetings, travelers," she said. "I am Darthalia, Executor of Tarren Mill. What brings you to the foothills?"

"We are here on behalf of Warchief Thrall," Gavin replied. "Several orcs were ambushed and killed by the Syndicate near here recently. We are here to find out what we can."

"And the tauren… he was not with you?" There was a pause, and then Gavin spoke again.
"He arrived here with us, but he has his own business to attend to."

"Very well, then. Alar can assist you." Ano'jin became aware of a movement behind him, and spun around instantly. At this hour, shadows were practically nonexistent, but somehow another Forsaken had managed to conceal himself in them. Alar smiled eerily at him, and Ano'jin realized with a start that he had only hollow sockets where his eyes should have been. He turned back to Darthalia, visibly disturbed. Alar had managed to escape his detection altogether, which was practically unheard of, and that it should happen here…

"Alar was a companion of the orc Torak Stonehewer," Darthalia continued. "He was the one who discovered the bodies, and he can take you to the site of the ambush. But before you depart, I have a favor to ask of you. Recently, my scouts have reported greater activity among the humans in Southshore. They may be planning something. If you could perhaps stay in Tarren Mill and delay your investigation until the situation becomes clearer, we would appreciate it greatly."

Ano'jin and Gavin exchanged glances. At length Ano'jin said "I don't think the Warchief would like to be kept waiting. I will stay behind in Tarren Mill while my companion starts investigating the ambush. If the humans try anything, I'll make them wish they never left their mothers." We'll see what the warlock comes up with. Gavin would not try to undermine their mission. That much he was sure of.

"Very well," Gavin said. "I shall return before long. Good luck." He raised his staff and chanted a brief incantation, and a demonic felsteed appeared beneath him in a burst of flame. Alar had already mounted a skeletal horse, and within moments, they were off, galloping away to the northwest. Darthalia turned to Ano'jin.

"You honor us with your presence here," she said. "I don't believe you mentioned your name."

Ano'jin, of the Amani tribe. The words echoed in his mind even after he took his leave of the executor, granted additional weight by returning memories, by the relics of a time when they had been more than just an empty title. It all began that fateful winter in the foothills twenty-five years ago. The witch doctors of Zul'dare had spoken of strangers from the south who also fought the humans. Zul'jin decided to travel to the foothills to see this Horde for himself. Ano'jin was among the warriors he had chosen to accompany him. Before they reached the coast, they were surrounded and ambushed by humans, and the few survivors were taken to Tarren Mill in chains.

Ano'jin stopped suddenly, his reverie interrupted. Wandering south through the streets of Tarren Mill absently, he had stumbled upon a square he remembered all too well. The old barracks and armory of the Tarren Mill guard stood on either side of the courtyard known as Gallows Square, and a pair of crumbling towers still loomed over the small street connecting the square to the center of town. Five cages, now empty, hung several feet above the ground, the rusty chains that held them up creaking as they swayed in the wind. Three others lay on the street nearby, presumably destroyed when the Forsaken captured Tarren Mill. Ano'jin knelt down and ran his fingers across the battered iron slowly. The same. They kept us inside without food or water. Like animals. On the fourth night of their captivity, a small band of orcs attacked Tarren Mill, freed the trolls, and escaped through the shadowed streets, back to their encampment on the coast. They met with Warchief Doomhammer, and Zul'jin pledged his service to the Horde. That was then. One by one, the survivors of Tarren Mill died, until it was just Zul'jin and himself. Then Blackrock Spire fell, Zul'jin vanished, and only he remained.

The sound of footsteps brought Ano'jin back to the present. He glanced around to see deathguards grabbing their weapons and heading south. So, the humans are here already. I could use a good battle. Ano'jin stood up and grasped the familiar handles of his twin axes.

"Vengeance for Zul'jin," he whispered in his own language, and entered the fray.

* * *

It was noon by the time Alar slowed to a trot and slid off his mount, beckoning for Gavin to come closer. Gavin dismounted and summoned Grixzil. There was no obvious threat, but it never hurt to be cautious, and an extra pair of eyes was always useful. The imp darted ahead of its master and rubbed its hands together in excitement as it reached the low rise on which Alar knelt. Gavin was considerably slower, and when he finally reached them, he almost wished he hadn't. The first orc lay in a shallow, muddy puddle, and though the rain had long since washed away the blood, it had only augmented the stench of the corpse. Gavin turned away in disgust, and his imp cackled shrilly.

"The others are closer to the shore," Alar said, and Gavin was more than happy to move on. They walked down the hillside in silence, and Gavin took in his surroundings. The heavy fog that clung to the shore could not conceal the manor that loomed ominously out of the mist to their right.

"This was the home of Perenolde, was it not?"


"I thought they were going to the Undercity. What were they doing up here?"

"I don't know. They told me nothing."

It was the type of response that seemed designed to preclude further questions. But Gavin put it out of his mind. They had reached the other bodies. Two were humans in dark grey clothes and black leather armor. Whatever valuables and personal items they had carried had long since been looted by their companions. It was clear that they were Syndicate enforcers. But he could discern nothing else. Here, it seemed, the trail ended.

Then Gavin had an idea. He knelt down beside one of the bodies and rolled it onto its back. A layer of crusted mud and dried blood covered the man's tabard, and Gavin set to work scraping it away. Many Syndicate leaders had been nobles in Alterac, and many still ordered their men to ride into battle bearing their crests. And sure enough, there it was. Old habits die hard, Gavin mused to himself. I know that all too well.

Gavin studied the symbol carefully. The tabard was torn where something had pierced the man's chest, and much of the crest was badly faded. Gavin made out half of what looked like a black mountain on a field of grey. He pulled a dull blade from one of his many pouches, cut the square of cloth bearing the symbol away, and pocketed it for later inspection. At last, Gavin turned reluctantly to the task that he had been avoiding: inspecting the bodies of the other orcs.

Here it was the same story. One was headless. Another had a gash running diagonally across his chest. The third had been stabbed through the throat. All of their faces were bloated beyond recognition from the past five days of rain, and all–

Gavin stopped. With the one on the hill, that makes four bodies. There should be five. He turned to Alar, who was gazing up at the clouds rolling in from the southeast.

"Where's the last one?" Alar looked out towards the lake, and he too froze.

"On the shore, halfway in the water. That's where it was."

"Then he may still be alive?"

"That I doubt. The tides may have dragged the body back into the lake. The frenzies here do not often dine well. Very little of the corpse may still remain." Gavin looked out into the mist that draped the lake. Everything Alar said made sense, but something didn't feel right. And if one of them had survived…

"Thank you for your assistance," Gavin said aloud, making up his mind. "I'm sure you have your own affairs to attend to. I'll continue this investigation on my own."

"What do you plan to do?"

"Silverpine Forest is on the other side of the lake, is it not? If one did survive, he probably swam that way to escape the Syndicate. I'll see what I can find."

"As you wish," Alar replied, mounting his skeletal steed. "Be careful. Silverpine can be very dangerous for those who are not prepared."

Gavin watched him gallop off into the distance, and then his gaze drifted upwards. The sky was darkening rapidly. It was going to rain. Again. This weather is relentless. Grixzil was growing increasingly agitated; imps and water did not mix well. Gavin sighed and dismissed him with a gesture. I won't need him where I'm going. Pulling a bottle of bright blue liquid from another pouch, Gavin downed it in a gulp and felt the change wash over him. The first step was always off-putting, but his body adjusted quickly. Wasting no more time, Gavin stepped out onto the surface of the water and walked west, into the mist, as the first drops began to fall.

* * *

The humans had come quickly, and it seemed they brought the rain with them. It came down in torrents all around Ano'jin as he swung left and right with his axes, and memories of the war came flooding back. In Lordaeron, it rained all the time. But five years in Kalimdor was enough to make anybody forget what it felt like. Ano'jin buried his axe in the chest of another spellcaster, and felt the adrenaline grip him once again. Yes, it's been far too long.

By the time Ano'jin had reached the front lines, the humans had already advanced past the southern guard towers, and were pushing the defenders northward through the streets. Darthalia herself was in the midst of the fray, laying lowing opponents on all sides, but the silvered blades of the enemy paladins were all too effective against the deathguard. It was not long before Ano'jin heard the sounds of battle from the west, and headed over to investigate. These humans were mages, which made them tricky opponents. But get close enough and their magics are useless. As Ano'jin extracted his axe, he turned and saw a bolt of frost streaking towards him. He flung the axe towards his enemy, and rolled out of the way, then heard a faint cry as the blade found its target.

Ano'jin darted to retrieve his axe, and that's when he saw them. The glint of their sharp steel blades through the rain. The blood-red fist on their tabards. The vassals of the one they called Trollbane. Ano'jin's grip on his axes tightened instinctively. The ones who killed Nassura. She had been his companion in battle for untold decades. They had survived Tarren Mill, survived the entire war together. And then the humans came, a dozen men with dwarven rifles, the weapons of cowards. They trapped her in a cave in the highlands, and cut her head from her lifeless body, as if she were another nameless beast, another trophy for the magistrate's wall. No longer. Ano'jin's first victim didn't even have time to cry out before the axe found his throat. But Ano'jin was already gone, a shadow that moved among them in a silent, deadly dance. They call themselves troll hunters. His blades were dripping with fresh blood already. Now we see what happens when the hunters become the hunted.

* * *

Jenessa slowed her pace as she approached the row of crumbling houses, ignoring the distant cries from behind her. She had left Runeweaver and his mages behind long ago. The battle could wait. She had reached her destination.

Memories came flooding back as soon as she looked up, moments she had barely noticed at the time. Drawing back the curtains to let the first rays of light into the room, while Gareth still slumbered. Pressing her face against the thick glass still cold from the early morning dew. Pausing in the doorway to lift Tamin onto her shoulder, where he would sleep peacefully for hours. Now, the window was just an empty frame littered with ancient shards of shattered glass. Now, all the paint had peeled from the door, exposing the warped and rotting wood beneath. Now Gareth and Tamin existed only in her memories. It won't ever be the same again. Jenessa had known that already, had known it for a long time. I chose my path to control my future, not to recreate the past. But still she had to return, to see the house one last time, to truly convince herself. Now I've seen it, and I was right. The past holds nothing but false promises.

At that moment, an undead man appeared in the doorway, fumbling with a helmet as he ran from the house. He saw Jenessa and froze, dropping the helmet and grabbing for his sword. But Jenessa was faster. Her hand shot up instinctively, and a ray of dark energy flew from her fingertips and struck her opponent in the chest. For a moment he stood motionless, the terror growing on his face as the shadowy energy seeped into his flesh. Then there was nothing, and the now lifeless corpse fell back through the open door. Jenessa gazed into the dark interior of the house. I need to take one look inside. And that will be all.

Jenessa stepped over the body and into the house. For a moment, she thought she had stepped into the past, Everything was exactly as she left it five years ago. Then she heard the water dripping slowly through a leak in the roof. She saw the cobwebs that had collected in the corners, and the layers of dust that coated the walls. There was no dust on the table or the chairs, or on the open door to the bedroom. But nothing had been moved. Something about it struck Jenessa in a way she could not entirely describe. Then the old rage that she knew too well began to return. This was once a life. This should have been my life. And the Forsaken took it all. They took everything from me.

The Forsaken woman who had been hiding behind the door to the bedroom chose that moment to make a dash for the door. She did not get far before she was felled by another shadowy bolt from Jenessa's outstretched hand. Ignoring the bodies, Jenessa let her feet guide her, as they had had done so many times before, down twisting streets to the central square. The Forsaken had managed to hold a defensive line on the southern side of the square and they seemed to be successfully repelling the human invaders. Behind the ranks of the deathguard was a Forsaken in flowing black robes, mounted upon a skeletal horse. Jenessa closed her eyes. He chanted some inaudible words, and raised one withered hand high above his head. The horse reared up as– No. Her eyes snapped open and the horseman exploded in a pillar of flame. The fire spread quickly, scattering the tightly packed ranks of the deathguard, and Southshore soldiers and paladins burst into the square.

The Forsaken had now seen Jenessa, and another mage drew back his arm in preparation for a spell. Now, Hazzran, she commanded mentally. She felt a rush of energy as the dark presence in the back of her mind obeyed her summons. The enormous form of the voidwalker materialized behind her enemy, enveloping him in darkness made visible. Then the voidwalker released its victim, and a lifeless body fell to the ground. Jenessa caught a glimpse of Meledar Sunshield, and saw the surprise on his face turn to self-righteous anger. Let him think what he wants. This is my revenge. And I will have it, whatever it takes.

* * *

The steel blade gleamed briefly in the rain, and that was all the warning Haldar needed. His left arm flew up instinctively, and the axe struck his now battered kite shield with enough force to send him reeling. Haldar's sword was already moving, cutting a wide arc through the air, slicing upwards at the old troll's exposed side. Then the second axe descended, catching Haldar's sword in the notch beneath the blade and pulling it to the ground.

The battle had been going smoothly until just minutes ago. Redpath's plan was working; the deathguard were occupied with the paladins and the Southshore forces, and his advance from the west had been uninterrupted. They had made it as far as Gallows Square before this berserk troll appeared from nowhere and started massacring his men by the dozen. Then Haldar found him, and they had been locked in combat ever since, each of them anticipating the other's attacks as if they were his own. But now Haldar was feeling the strain of battle in his arms. Gritting his teeth, he ignored it, and concentrated on his opponent. If there's anything I hate more than the Syndicate, it's these damn forest trolls.

The tip of the axe struck the cobbled street, pinning Haldar's sword to the ground. Haldar threw himself backwards, pulling his sword free, and sprung back onto his feet, throwing his shield arm up to parry another blow. But the troll was faster. The axe slipped around the edge of Haldar's shield and tore through the sleeve of his chainmail jerkin to bury itself in his forearm. With a vicious snarl, the troll pulled the blade back, severing the leather straps of the shield and tearing flesh and bloody mail alike away from Haldar's wrist.

Haldar's fingers were numb, and the shield slipped from his grasp. Blood was dripping from his wound onto the wet cobblestones below. He raised his sword and managed to block the second axe, but then the troll's leg swung up and caught him in the chest, sending him sprawling. The next thing Haldar knew, the troll was on top of him, straddling his chest and pinning his right arm to the floor with one powerful hand. He raised a bloody axe above his head and grinned savagely at Haldar. "Disa da end for you," he hissed in broken common, and brought the axe down.

Just seconds before the blade reached Haldar's face, some invisible force struck the troll's arm, jolting the axe from his hands and sending it flying. Moments later, a second wave of force sent the troll sprawling backwards and this time, for a split second, Haldar saw a spectral, glowing hammer strike him in the chest. As he pulled himself to his feet, Haldar felt his left hand bathed in a warm glow, and realized that the wound had disappeared. He looked around in amazement, and his eyes met those of the young woman he had barely noticed in the Southshore inn two hours earlier. She flashed him a brief, reassuring smile, and in that moment, Haldar felt his exhaustion melt away.

The enraged roar of the returning troll brought Haldar to his senses, and he quickly grabbed the axe of a fallen soldier in his left hand. When the troll attacked, Haldar fought back with renewed vigor. At the next opportunity, he scanned the square for his rescuer, but she had vanished. She gave me the means, and now I must finish what I started. Haldar had the troll in his sights once again. I will destroy this brute.

* * *

Adrianna ran back through the narrow street towards the main square, pausing momentarily to say a blessing for a soldier who was struggling against his undead opponent. Moments later, out of the corner of her eye, she saw him deliver blow after blow, driving his enemy back towards the wall of the ancient tower. Adrianna's sword still rested in the scabbard on her back. In her training in Stormwind, she had received the highest marks in swordplay. But in battle, the powers granted to her by the light had always been sufficient. There are others to do the fighting, like Meledar, and that captain from Stromgarde. My duty is to ensure that they survive.

Adrianna emerged onto the main square and took in the scene in front of her. The bodies of the fallen were everywhere, but the Southshore forces had advanced more than halfway across the square. She heard the blast of gunfire from the east. The dwarves were advancing, and it would not be long before the undead were completely surrounded. Several deathguards were making their last stand on the steps of the ruined church, and as Adrianna hurried towards them, she recognized their opponents. Sweat ran down Redpath's brow as he went to toe to with an undead woman who could only be the executor herself. Around them, Meledar and three other paladins were fighting four deathguards in jet black plate.

As Adrianna looked on, one of the deathguards thrust his sword through his opponent's throat, and the young paladin collapsed on the steps with streams of blood rushing from his neck. Another paladin knocked his adversary to the ground with a well-placed hammer strike, but just as he delivered the finishing blow, the bloody blade of the first deathguard pierced his side. The third paladin parried two of his opponent's jabs before the third caught him in the chest, and the tip of the spear slipped through the links in his chainmail. Leaving their executor to take care of the Marshal, the three surviving deathguards closed in around Meledar, who brandished his silvered longsword to keep them at bay.

Adrianna focused intently on the deathguard directly in front of Meledar, and he dropped his weapon, shrieking in agony. The Light could bring pain as well as remove it, and such intense exposure would sear any flesh. Meledar acknowledged Adrianna with a nod, and thrust his sword backwards under his arm, impaling the deathguard behind him. In one fluid motion, he pulled the blade back and stabbed the unarmed Forsaken in front of him, then raised the glowing blade again in time to deflect the final deathguard's spear.

Adrianna turned her attention to Redpath. Thus far, he had managed to block every blow from the executor's weapon, a cruel barbed mace of gleaming obsidian. Once again, the executor swung her mace in a downwards arc, and Redpath threw his arm up at the last second, intercepting the weapon just inches from his face. Adrianna could see the strain of many years in battle taking its toll. The executor saw it too, and grinned maliciously as she bore down on his sword with unholy strength, pushing the blade closer and closer to his throat. Redpath's eyes met Meledar's for a split second, and something, some tacit understanding, passed between them. Redpath leapt backwards, pulling away his sword, just as Meledar deflected his enemy's blow and stepped back rapidly, Both men spun one hundred and eighty degrees in unison, their blades outstretched. The executor had just begun to raise her mace again when Meledar's silvered sword struck her head from her shoulders in one swift stroke. Redpath plunged his sword through the chest of the final deathguard moments later, and then all was still.

Both men had seen too much fighting to react with any emotion. Redpath nodded grimly at Meledar, who merely wiped his blade clean with his gloved hand. The battle was not over yet. All around them, humans were fighting for their lives against the undead. But the Forsaken were leaderless now. They wouldn't last much longer. Redpath and Meledar were coming down the steps of the church. Adrianna hurried forward to meet them. And that was when the first riders appeared.

* * *

Layers of sweat coated Ano'jin's skin, and his aching arms seemed heavier with each passing second. And still the human advanced, with a triumphant, bloodthirsty snarl. His energy seemed limitless, his strength and speed supernatural. Ano'jin had already lost one of his axes, and he knew he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.

With a deft flick of his wrist, the human sliced upwards with his longsword as he slashed out horizontally with his axe. Ano'jin deflected the first blow and dropped into a crouch to avoid the second. The human hooked his sword on the notch in Ano'jin's war axe and pulled it towards him, wrenching the axe from Ano'jin's grasp. In desperation, Ano'jin swept out with his outstretched leg, knocking his assailant off balance, and scrambled to retrieve his weapons. His fingers closed around the shaft of the axe, and he spun around to face his opponent, just as the human's blade plunged into his gut.

Ano'jin's head and shoulders crashed back onto the ground. He couldn't lift his head, but he could see blood running in thin streams through the gaps between the cobblestones. His blood. He heard a faint rhythmic pounding in the distance that seemed to be growing louder. Is this it, then? Is this what it's like to die? The human was talking, and though Ano'jin did not understand the words, the tone was clear enough. Scorn. Contempt. At the far end of the square, Ano'jin saw the rusty fallen cages that had held him so long ago. Like an animal. No! I will not die like this! The pounding was louder now. Summoning strength he did not know he possessed, Ano'jin grasped his axe tightly and lunged up at the human, who stumbled back in surprise. Regaining his balance, the man advanced again with a scowl, only to leap out of the way once more as a Forsaken horseman bore down on him.

His heart beating faster than ever before, Ano'jin dragged himself to his feet and glanced around in amazement. All around him were undead warriors on skeletal horses, driving back the humans. He looked back at his opponent, now caught in battle with the first rider. We both spilled blood on the battlefield today. But next time, little human, you won't have your paladin friend to watch over you. Next time, he vowed as he limped out of the square to tend to his wound, your life is mine.

* * *

Haldar saw his chance and dropped low, rolling under the outstretched blade of the rider and into a nearby side street. He knew he could not hope to defeat a horseman alone. As he was about to leave the square, he turned back one last time to see the wounded troll hobble away into a street on the far side. Someday, I will find that bastard and finish him. But now, there are more important things at stake.

Haldar dashed through the street, passing Southshore soldiers running in the other direction. The undead had no cavalry when the battle began. Where did they come from? His worst fears were confirmed as he emerged on the side of the main square. The riders were everywhere, scattering the humans left and right. There was no sign of the Marshal or Captain Sunshield. No sign of the girl who had saved his life. This is insane! How did this happen? All around him, soldiers were running, throwing strategy to the winds. His own men were among them. Those who stood their ground were dropping like flies. Haldar did the only thing he could: he ran south, leaving Tarren Mill behind him in rain and chaos.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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Old 09-28-2008, 09:08 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Chapter Four: Calm Before the Storm

Frozen winds howled all around Rann Thunderhorn as he trudged onwards up the icy slope. He had come far, following the road alongside the sheer cliffs of Sofera's Naze, passing a ruined human guard tower where a pair of brutish ogres had attempted to stop him, and continuing along the road to Strahnbrad until he spotted a weathered trail marked by a single ancient pike anchored in the ground. He had followed the trail for more than an hour, deeper and deeper into the mountains, until it finally came to its end, on a peak overlooking Strahnbrad far below. Here, Bonemaul would be waiting. But who is Bonemaul? Planting the blade of his axe firmly in the snow, Rann glanced around. There was nobody in sight. And what does he have to say that's so important?

"Bonemaul!" he shouted, and the words were swept up by the howling wind. Still nothing. Just as Rann was about to turn around, he felt a cold blade against his throat.

"I am Sarim Bonemaul," came a hoarse whisper from behind him. "Who are you?"

"Rann Thunderhorn," he managed carefully, all too aware that the slightest movement from either of them could mean instant death. "Warchief Thrall told me to come here. He said you had information about the Syndicate. He asked–"

The knife was withdrawn, and Rann let out a deep breath.

"I apologize for my abruptness. These are trying times, and there are many who wish me harm." Rann turned to face the speaker for the first time, and recoiled instinctively. He's undead. The Warchief's most trusted agent is undead. And although his remaining flesh was the same sickly shade of grey as that of other Forsaken, Bonemaul's shoulders were broader than those of any human, and his face… An undead orc. Well, that's a first.

"Does my appearance surprise you?" Bonemaul asked wryly, and Rann averted his gaze. "Rest assured, my loyalties lie with the Warchief alone. In life I was a member of the Frostwolf Clan. The Forsaken were the ones who killed me, their alchemists were the ones who cursed me to live like this, to see if their plagues worked against orcs. I bear no love for the Undercity, and as soon as the pact between Horde and Forsaken was announced, I sought out Warchief Thrall and offered my services. I have the unique advantage of being able to live among the undead, and see what other orcs cannot."

"So you watch the Forsaken for the Warchief. What does this have to do with the Syndicate?"

"Not long ago, I tracked a Forsaken courier deep into the Alterac Mountains," Bonemaul continued. "It was a routine investigation, nothing more, until I saw him hand his letter to a human wearing the colors of the Syndicate. I followed him to an abandoned farmhouse near Strahnbrad, then turned back and found out everything I could about this Syndicate. I observed them for weeks, watching the same messengers travel twice more between the Undercity and this farmhouse. Then, several days ago, the Syndicate seemed to drop their guard. Almost all of the humans at the farmhouse vanished overnight, and I managed to get inside and search the place."

Bonemaul stopped and drew the greatmace strapped to his back. Removing several of the strips of leather wrapped tightly around the handle, he flipped a hidden switch, and the butt of the weapon shifted, revealing a hollow compartment in the shaft. He carefully pulled three sheets of weathered parchment from the compartment.

"This is what I found. They are written in the human tongue, but I took time to learn it in my long years of undeath." Rann nodded silently.

"‘My lady, we have learned through our mutual friend Ansilas that your interests do not coincide with your father's. We can grant you what you seek, and we ask nothing in return, save your cooperation when the time is right. Our courier will await your reply.' He paused briefly, then continued with the next letter. ‘We have agents among your kind as well. Do not be surprised. One will seek you out. He will see to it that your demands are met.' Bonemaul turned to the final page. ‘Your requests have been carried out. Our agent will provide you with the items you desire. You know where to find him.'"

Bonemaul passed the letters to Rann. He could not read the strange flowing script, but the symbol at the bottom of each page spoke for itself. The royal seal of the Undercity. Hardly daring to speak, Rann handed the papers back.

"Who would have access to that seal?"

"Only Sylvannas and Varimathras. One or both of them is behind this."

"What do you know about the Syndicate? Who received these letters?"

"Her name is Beve Perenolde. Her father was the lord of the Syndicate until his death at the hands of a band of orcish adventurers not long ago. I've intercepted a number of Syndicate communications, and it seems the entire organization is in turmoil. The past few weeks have seen the demise of not only Perenolde but two other powerful Syndicate leaders. New leaders with new loyalties are rising to power. The humans of the Syndicate have always led dangerous lives; internal power struggles are not new to them. But this is different. If these letters tell the truth, and Beve has orchestrated all of this, then she is far more dangerous than her father, far more dangerous than anybody anticipated.

"I don't know what the Forsaken are planning," Bonemaul continued, returning the letters to the secret compartment in the shaft of his club. "But I doubt that Beve is the only ally they have cultivated in secrecy. The future of the Horde may depend on these scraps of paper. We must get them back to the Warchief immediately."

"Yes," Rann replied. His mind was reeling. The Horde cannot afford a civil war. But if we don't act, who knows what the Forsaken will try next? "Do the Forsaken in Tarren Mill know you?"

"They know the name Bonemaul, but not who bears it. We will be safe there."

"Then let's go back to town. We'll lie low for a few days until the warlock who brought me here returns. He can take us back to Orgrimmar, back to the Warchief. After that, our fate rests with higher powers." Rann turned his head into the wind and felt the gusts whip past his face just as they had during his ascent, as if nothing had changed.

"Let's just hope they will be merciful."

* * *

Haldar topped the rise and looked down over the makeshift encampment on the outskirts of Southshore, and the knot in his stomach tightened. Wounded soldiers were everywhere, and villagers hurried to and fro, hauling buckets of water and bandaging maimed limbs. He motioned to the men behind him, and they hurried down the hillside, carrying the wounded bodies of their companions. Haldar had lingered outside Tarren Mill for almost an hour, gathering his men together and saving as many injured soldiers as he could. But looking down over the camp, he realized that there were too many of them, too many wounded. Supplies are scarce. Half of them will not live out the night. He turned to Telar Steelblade, who still stood behind him, gazing in horror at the bodies of the fallen. He's still young, still too easily shaken by the sights of war. But he's devoted to his regiment. He will learn.

"Find out how many we lost, and make sure the wounded receive the attention they need." Haldar looked back towards the camp and took a deep breath. "I'm going to find out what the hell happened back there."

He hurried down the slope, through murky puddles of blood and water, searching desperately for a familiar face among the crowd of anonymous soldiers. Then he recognized the dwarven woman from the Southshore inn. Tamra. Pushing his way through the crowd, he caught up to her and seized her arm.

"What happened back there?" Tamra stared at him coldly.

"Your guess is as good as mine, Captain, It's a nightmare. If ye'll excuse me…" The dwarf tried to extract herself from his grasp, but Haldar held firm.

"Where's the marshal?"

"Dead. Ye hadn't heard?" Haldar's eyes widened, and he released her arm. "Your men surely have problems of their own," she continued. "Tend to them. Answers will come in time." So saying, she disappeared into the crowd. Haldar stumbled on until he reached the bottom of the hill. Wounded soldiers lay on blankets strewn about seemingly at random. This is absurd. Somebody must know something.

"Who's in charge here?" he demanded.

"I am." Haldar spun around and found himself facing a man with long, unkempt hair and three days' worth of stubble on his face. And three pints in his gut, from the look of it. "Captain Farren Orinelle at your service. Transferred to Stormwind, they told me. But not. Instead I get a bloody promotion and another lifetime in this shithole." Orinelle limped over to a nearby rock and plopped himself down on it. "What do you want?"

"I'm Captain Starkhelm of Stromgarde, and I want to know what in the nether happened back there, and what we're supposed to do now." Orinelle snorted contemptuously.

"You and the rest of the regiment, kid. Listen, I saw the marshal cut down by a horseman with my own eyes. Now I'm supposed to take charge. My leg feels like it could split open. I don't know what's going on. Nobody does. You're a captain. You've got your own men to worry about. Do yourself a favor and put your own affairs in order until we hear from Stormwind."

"So we're just supposed to sit here and wait until the undead regroup and slaughter us all?" Haldar demanded, but Orinelle had returned to nursing his wounded leg, and was no longer paying attention.

Maybe they're right. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking about what happened back there, or why. But nobody else is. Something doesn't feel right. Haldar turned to see Telar calling for bandages as he tallied up the number of wounded. He's a good lad, and he knows what he's doing. He'll make sure the men are safe. Haldar had made up his mind, and he approached Telar.

"Keep things under control here for a few hours. I have to see to something. I'm going back to Tarren Mill."

* * *

Edmund Hawkeye smiled smugly as he approached the Strahnbrad inn, knowing full well that hardened assassins lurked in every corner, ready to kill without the slightest hesitation. He knew they were watching him, knew that they resented him. Who can blame them if they're jealous? After all, I'm only seventeen and I can outshoot them all. None of them met personally with Lady Beve after only a year in the Syndicate. He had received the letter just that morning, instructing him what to do and where to show up when the job was done. Nobody's gonna try to stop me now. Nobody's gonna tell me I'm too young for this. By the time he pushed open the door, Edmund's confidence had conquered his fear entirely. And then he saw her.

Lady Beve Perenolde was sitting by the fireplace, in formfitting leather armor, her luscious dark hair pinned up in an elaborate curl that exposed the soft skin at the nape of her neck. She was watching him as he entered, smiling. Edmund stopped in his tracks, trying unsuccessfully not to stare. By the Light, she's beautiful. She motioned for him to take a seat.

"Well, Edmund," she said, when he had seated himself opposite her, "tell me what happened."

"I found the tauren and followed him, like you said. He met up with Bonemaul on a mountaintop. He, Bonemaul, he's undead, but sort of stockier, built like an orc, and he carries a greatmace. Neither of them saw me."

"Did you kill them?" she asked matter-of-factly.

"No, I–" Edmund stopped and swallowed hard. For a split second, disappointment crossed her beautiful features, and then her smile returned. But Edmund had seen it. I let her down. "The wind was too strong; I couldn't get a steady shot. I didn't catch much of the conversation, but they left together. I think they were returning to Tarren Mill.

Lady Beve snapped her fingers, and two men clad entirely in black seemingly materialized out of the shadows. She handed one of them a slip of folded parchment on which writing had somehow appeared during their conversation, and said "take this to Lord Ansilas." The hooded figure nodded, and both of them vanished as quickly as they had appeared. Lady Beve turned back to Edmund, and seemed surprised to see him still there.

"You may go," she said simply, and Edmund's feet carried him mechanically out the door and through the streets of Strahnbrad. He paused under a crumbling archway and ran one shaky hand through his hair. I let her down, was all he could think. Then he froze. I can still redeem myself, he realized. When my bullet is the one that destroys Bonemaul, then she will notice me, then I will be able to see her face again. Edmund swung his rifle from his shoulder. His fingers tapped nervously against the barrel as he began the long walk into the foothills. I have to see her face again.

* * *

It was late in the afternoon, and the silence hanging over Lordamere Lake was interrupted only by the steady drip of water from the boughs above. The rain itself had stopped almost an hour earlier, but the heavy clouds masking the sun had not dispersed, promising another downpour to come. It's as if the whole forest is holding its breath, Gavin mused as he stepped carefully through the dense undergrowth near the water's edge. Waiting.

The low islands known as the Dawning Isles had always been uninhabited, but now, the silence was almost oppressive. Gavin winced at the loud crack as a decayed branch snapped beneath his heel, and felt the forest stir around him. Times were hard and food was scarce for the beasts of Silverpine Forest, and Gavin knew that he had been noticed. Summoning Grixzil with a swift hand movement, he stopped in his tracks and scanned the forest slowly. Nothing. Letting out a silent sigh of relief, Gavin turned back to his original course, and found himself face to face with an enormous snarling worg. Grixzil landed a fiery dart between the beast's eyes, but the missile only served to drive the worg into a frenzy. Then it was upon him, knocking him to the ground, snapping at his throat with gleaming fangs. And then all was still.

Gavin lay still for several seconds. Dark blood dripped slowly onto his face. I'm still alive, he said to himself. Squinting up into the canopy, he found himself staring at an enormous figure clutching a giant sword, silhouetted by the few rays of sunlight that penetrated the clouds. With considerable effort, Gavin extracted himself from under the heavy carcass, and pulled himself to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he looked up and met the eyes of another orc, bald-headed, more than a foot taller than himself.

"Torak Stonehewer, I presume?" he asked, regaining his breath. Who else could it be?

"That's what they call me" the other orc replied, wiping his blade clean. "But how do you know that? Who are you?"

"My name is Gavin Darkweave. I was sent to Tarren Mill to find out what happened to you and your companions. Alar led me to the site of the ambush and I thought perhaps one of you might have escaped across the lake."

"Alar?" Torak growled, his expression darkening rapidly. "That bastard was the one who betrayed us, the one who killed my companions and left me for dead."

"But I thought the Syndicate-"

"It was the Syndicate," Torak explained. "But Alar rode with them, wearing their colors. I saw the eyeless sockets behind his mask. It must have been him."

Gavin looked down for the first time and saw the fresh scar marring Torak's right side. Whatever inflicted the wound had cut clean through the links of his chainmail, and although Torak had apparently managed to stem the flow of blood somewhat with scraps of his shirt, Gavin needed only one look at the wound to tell that the blood loss would have been immense. No ordinary orc could have survived a wound like that. How he managed to stay alive for five days in the middle of the wilderness is beyond me. Even now, the pain would be unbearable.

"Drink this," he said, producing a vial of translucent red liquid from his robe. "It will ease the pain." Torak took the vial with a nod, then hesitated and looked Gavin up and down, sizing him up. Right, the whole warlock thing again. At length, the huge orc eased his suspicions and gulped the potion down. It's become something of a pattern by now. I don't exactly like the Forsaken, but at least they don't distrust you the moment they see you.

"So Alar is working with the Syndicate," Gavin mused aloud. "Why? What do they have to offer him?"

"That I don't know. But he's the reason they knew we were coming. We told him before we left that we were headed for Perenolde's manor, to see what we could find. Apparently he thought that whatever secrets lie there were worth protecting." Tentatively, Torak moved his arm and realized that the wound had almost entirely healed over. "I didn't want to return there myself, in my condition. But this potion of yours has worked wonders. We should return to the manor immediately."

"Perhaps," Gavin said. If what he says is true, how many others are implicated? "But it has grown late. A storm will come tonight. I say we find shelter, and head to the manor tomorrow."

"Very well," Torak said, after a long pause. "The fortress called Fenris Keep is nearby. Not long ago the Forsaken drove out the minions of the Scourge and retook the keep. We should be able to take shelter there from the storm."

"Then it's settled," Gavin replied. "Tomorrow, fortune willing, the storm will have passed." Torak said nothing, simply shouldered his sword, and motioned for Gavin to follow him north. Tomorrow, fortune willing, everything will become clear.

* * *

"Vile Witch."

Jenessa tried to ignore him. Captain Meledar Sunshield, the shining standard bearer of the Silver Hand just hours ago, had now apparently been reduced to flinging petty jabs at her from the opposite wall of their cramped cell. After all this, the one thing I really regret is that they locked me up with him. She tried to focus on the one interesting feature of the room, the tiny barred window looking out onto Gallows Square just above street level. But there really wasn't very much to see outside either.

"Betrayer of the Light."

Jenessa sighed. "Give it a rest, will you?"

"It's because of your dark soul that the Light abandoned us on the brink of victory. Because of you, the undead still rule in Tarren Mill."

The other insults had merely annoyed her, but Jenessa's pride would not let this one pass. She spun around furiously and faced the paladin for the first time.

"I was the one who broke their line of defense before the main square. I destroyed the elite mages who rode alongside the commanders of the deathguard. On my own. I did my part."

"I can't believe somebody as devout as Adrianna could have a sister so tainted, so far from the Light," Meledar went on as if she hadn't spoken.

Did he even listen to a word I said? Childishly, impulsively, Jenessa thrust one arm out towards him as if in preparation for a spell, and he flinched briefly before coming to his senses. The whole prison had been ringed with an enchantment that prevented all spellcasting within, as both of them had realized within their first minutes of captivity.

"Gotcha," Jenessa muttered under her breath, and Meledar merely shook his head in disgust. At least it shut him up, she thought, and turned back towards the window. When she was first pushed into the cell, and realized that the power she had sacrificed so much for, the power she had come to rely on completely, would not respond, she panicked. But she had pulled herself together quickly, and now, she was perfectly calm. They haven't killed me yet, so they must be keeping me alive for some reason. I have looked demons in the face and made them bend to my will. Let them do their worst.

As Jenessa gazed out at the lengthening shadow of the solitary deathguard patrolling the square, she heard the bell toll in the distance, six times, slowly. So it's six o'clock. Almost sunset. Sooner or later, something's bound to happen. Until then, we wait.

* * *

The undead warrior emerged from the undergrowth, ignoring a faint rustling noise in the vicinity of his knees, and carefully scanned the forest around him. Seeing nobody, he beckoned back towards the way he had come, and another figure, covered almost entirely in black leather armor save for a worn grey tabard, stumbled into the clearing after him, clutching his side. A few drops of blood fell from his fingertips to the forest floor below. Together they approached the weathered walls of the keep, and the undead man rapped on the gate three times with his fist.

At that moment, Guaffle noticed a fascinating fern swaying in the corner of his eye, and turned his spyglass away from the keep briefly to examine it. When he returned his gaze, both figures were gone. Oh well. So they went inside. That part was obvious anyway. He put the spyglass back into a pocket and jotted down everything he had seen, ending the entry with "6:00 (I think. The sun isn't out so I'm not sure. This not is just to remind me of that.)"

This is reconnaissance, he told himself once again. Still got plenty of time. And so Guaffle sat in the undergrowth in sight of the keep, and he waited.

* * *

It was late in the afternoon by the time Tarren Mill came into sight, and Rann had spent the greater part of the descent listening to Sarim tell of this life: his youth in the valleys of Alterac among the Frostwolf Clan, and the strange tales that circulated during his adolescence, when the undead began to roam the land, and chaos spread throughout the human kingdom of Lordaeron. On the subject of his own death, Sarim said nothing, and Rann could understand why. A painful death is horrible enough, but to be forced to recall it, to relive it? That is true torment. As they approached the outskirts of Tarren Mill, Sarim grew strangely quiet.

"I have not been back here in quite some time," he explained as he gazed at the decrepit buildings all around them. "It brings back memories."

Rann had no memories of Tarren Mill to look back on, but there was enough happening in town to make anybody stop and stare. As they approached the center of town, he saw fresh bloodstains dotting the streets, and undead blacksmiths piling mangled weapons and armor together near their forges. In the main square itself, Forsaken laborers were tossing bodies, some human, some Forsaken, into an enormous bonfire.

"Let's head to the inn, and find out what happened here," he suggested, motioning towards the large building on the southern end of the square. But the interior of the inn was hardly more comforting. Forsaken men were seated in groups of three or four all around the room, and though every table was occupied, the room was entirely silent save for a few hushed conversations. Here and there, several undead soldiers picked halfheartedly at plates of food. I've never seen a tavern so damn quiet, Rann thought, and shivered reflexively. Then he caught sight of Ano'jin, seated alone in a corner of the room, just as the troll seemed to notice him as well.

"Back so soon?" Rann asked, crossing the room to greet the old troll.

"I never left," Ano'jin replied. "The humans attacked Tarren Mill, so I stayed and helped with defense while Gavin went off to investigate." He turned towards Sarim, who had followed Rann across the room. "Is this…?"

"Sarim," Rann replied, and Ano'jin nodded slowly. He understood. For a few seconds nobody spoke, and the eerie silence of the whole room became increasingly oppressive. "Let's go take a walk outside while the sun's still out," Rann suggested. Anything to get away from these damn undead.

As they walked through the deserted side streets west of the main square, Rann went over everything Sarim had told him on the mountaintop. In a secluded alley, Sarim removed the letters from the secret compartment in his club and began to read quietly.

"My lady, we have learned through our mutual friend Ansilas that your views–"

"Stop right there," Ano'jin interjected. "Did you say Ansilas?"

"You know who he is?"

"He's the one who won the battle today for the Forsaken. The executor was dead, and the humans were on the brink of victory, before this Ansilas and his horsemen rode in from the north and drove them off. The commanders of the deathguard appointed him the new executor after the victory."

"It can't be a coincidence that Ansilas, whoever he is, becomes Executor just as the power balance in the Syndicate swings towards Beve and her lackeys," Sarim replied, returning the letters to their hiding place. "But it shouldn't change anything, as long as Ansilas doesn't know who we are. We just have to lie low here until your warlock friend returns."

"Gavin should be back within two days," Ano'jin said "We'll leave as soon as he returns. The Warchief needs to see these letters as soon as possible."

At that moment, their conversation was cut short by the tolling of the town bell. It was six o'clock. Rann became aware of hunger gnawing away at his stomach, and realized that he hadn't eaten anything all day.

"How about a meal?' he asked, and then thought of what he had seen in the tavern. He turned to Sarim. "Do undead, er, do you–"

"Eat?" Sarim cut him short, with a hint of bitterness. "I don't need to. I could go without food, water, or sleep for years. But I've never met anyone, living or undead, who would want to live that way. Eating, sleeping, all our routines are what make life possible; without them, we are lost. Even death doesn't change that. You heard those bells just now. Ordus up there worked as a bellkeeper his entire life, until the plague took him. In his undeath he does the same thing, every hour, without fail."

Sarim fell silent as they entered a large square and passed a lone deathguard walking in the opposite direction. Rann was expecting him to continue, but apparently he had said his fill.

"Well, listen, the sun will be setting any minute now. And it looks like rain tonight. Let's head back to the inn, get some food, and take the opportunity to relax. How does that sound?"

Nobody replied. Ano'jin was right beside him, looking over at a couple of broken cages, apparently lost in thought. Sarim had stopped several paces behind them and stood motionless, as if riveted to the spot. Rann followed his gaze downwards through a prison window into the eyes of a human girl, who quickly averted her gaze.

"Sarim. Ano'jin. Let's head back to the inn," he repeated, and this time, both of them heard, and tore themselves away from whatever had been so fascinating. We're all tired, Rann said to himself as they began to head back towards the main square. Some rest will do us good. Soon, Gavin will return, and we'll all be back in Kalimdor. All we have to do is wait.

* * *

Dusk fell rapidly over the foothills and lingered there long after the last rays of sunlight had passed from the horizon. The air was still and eerily silent, and Adrianna moved cautiously, ears perked for the slightest sound. This close to Tarren Mill, company was not good news. Passing an abandoned farmhouse, she heard footsteps, and stood against the wall, listening as they grew closer. As the stranger rounded the corner, Adrianna thrust forward both palms, ready to invoke the power of the Light at any moment, and found herself face to face with the very same soldier from Stromgarde she had aided earlier on the battlefield. His rugged features registered shock one instant and a sort of panic the next, and for a moment the two of them stood motionless in a stunned silence. Reddening, she averted her eyes and brushed a few loose strands of hair back over her ear nervously. The man looked down at his bare blade, as if surprised to see it there, and hurriedly sheathed it.

"Sorry about that, I…I thought you were one of them," she said at last. "What are you doing here?" On the last line she finally met his gaze, and he stared at her blankly for a moment.

"It's…there's something about what happened this afternoon that doesn't seem to fit," he said, seeming to shake off whatever thoughts had been preoccupying him. "I went back to Southshore, but nobody there knew what was going on. I had to come back, you see. I saw something, during my escape that– I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I don't even know your name."

"Adrianna Adarin, Lieutenant in the Order of the Silver Hand."

"Haldar Starkhelm, captain in the Stromgarde army. What are you doing here?"

"The undead took my sister and my commander alive. With Marshal Redpath dead, it would be suicide to attempt another attack. But I can't just leave them. I know Tarren Mill well; I was born and raised there. If I could get into town unseen at night, I might be able to save them. I have to do something." There was another pause. "What were you about to say? What did you see?"

"Yes. At first I thought I had imagined it, but as I reflect on it now, I'm sure it was real. At least one of the horsemen in Tarren Mill was not undead. I saw human flesh where another blade had pierced his armor." I think the Forsaken have allies, human allies, who helped them win that battle."

"But the Forsaken are allied to the orcs."

"I know. It doesn't make sense. I don't know what to make of it. But that's what I saw." Haldar frowned slightly and glanced around at the deserted hillside. "You want to go back to Tarren Mill tonight." It was a statement, not a question. "Let me come with you."

Adrianna stepped back several paces in surprise.

"I owe it to you, you saved my life," he added hastily, almost desperately.

" No, please, I mean, of course. Thank you." What in the name of the Light has come over me? She took a deep breath and collected her thoughts. "I was thinking of moving in late, when the streets are empty."

"Of course. But it could rain at any minute. That barn looks like it hasn't been used for three or four years. Let's rest there until it's time."

Tarren Mill came into view the fading light as they approached the edge of the hill on which the old barn stood. The ancient door creaked audibly as Haldar pushed it open, and the boy crouched by the window on the opposite wall spun around in surprise, grabbing at a slender rifle leaning against the wall.

"Calm down, son, nobody's going to hurt you," Haldar said slowly, and Adrianna could only stare. He was barely more than a child, but his grip on the rifle looked horribly familiar. Slowly, he lowered the gun, and Haldar let out a deep breath.

"What's your name?" Adrianna asked. "Where's your family?"

"E…Edmund," he managed. "I haven't got one. The undead killed them, all of them. What are you doing here?"

"We're going into Tarren Mill," she said after a moment's pause. "We have to–"

"Take me with you," Edmund blurted out, and Adrianna stopped, taken aback.

"That's no place for a lad like you," Haldar said. "Get yourself back to Southshore. Somebody will–"

"No, Haldar," Adrianna interrupted. She thought of Jenessa, thought of everything Edmund must have suffered. If revenge is all he has to live for, who are we to tell him he can't have it? "Let him come."

Haldar looked at her, confused, then slowly nodded.

"Alright, you can come along. Get some rest now. We move in a few hours."

Darkness had fallen over the foothills at last, but through the window, Adrianna saw the light of a bonfire burning in Tarren Mill. She didn't want to think about what was feeding those flames. Light grant that it's not too late.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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Old 09-28-2008, 09:09 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Chapter Five: Midnight

Gavin stumbled onwards through the forest, brushing aside the undergrowth with the butt of his staff and trying to ignore both the bitter winds biting at his face and the stream of images that kept rushing through his mind. The worg was upon him, knocking him to the ground, overpowering him, snapping at his throat with gleaming fangs– It could have killed me. It would have killed me, if it weren't for Torak. I'm getting too old for this.

But Gavin knew that wasn't true. You don't have to be too old, whispered an all-too familiar voice in the back of his mind. Ever. The power is yours. You just have to reach out and seize it. Tentatively, Gavin prodded the dark, pulsing energy tucked away in a corner of his consciousness, and felt Grixzil perk up in anticipation. Then he returned to his senses sharply. No! He dismissed the imp with a wave of his hand, but could not shake his troubled thoughts. Even now, he could feel the heat of the flames, hear the anguished cries, smell the charred flesh, all the suffering he had caused the last time he unleashed that power. And still it tempted him, and he had almost–

Gavin shook off his thoughts as Torak's hulking figure materialized in the gloom ahead. As he approached his companion, he saw stone walls through the trees.

"This is Fenris Keep?" he asked, and Torak motioned for him to be quiet. A few seconds passed with no sound but the howling wind, and Gavin tried to make out whatever it was Torak had noticed. Then the huge orc leapt at a nearby fern, and there was a high-pitched yelp. Several seconds later, he came into view again, holding a struggling gnome by the collar several feet from the ground.

"Alliance scum," Torak growled. "What should we do with him?"

"Well, you could put him down, to start," Gavin suggested, and Torak dropped the gnome, who quickly brushed himself off and began making complicated interlocking motions with his hands.

"Gnomes are tricky little bastards," Torak said. "Let's just kill him and get it over with."

"Wait. I think he's trying to tell us something."

They both looked at the gnome, who was still gesticulating furiously.

"What in the nether is that supposed to mean?"

* * *

So much for International Sign Language, Guaffle said to himself as he looked up at the blank expressions on both orcs' faces. I should write to them and complain. But this isn't the right time. Orcs, orcs, orcs. Orcish would probably help. Too bad it's such a boring language, otherwise I would have learned it. Let's see, let's see. Visual clues. They're both bald, they both have beards. Coincidence? He considered this for a moment. Irrelevant! He concluded. Something else. One of them is big, like an ogre. Maybe that'll work.

"Lok oddokk Gronogril denash?"

Blank faces. Uh…murloc. He had no idea where that one came from, but it was worth a shot.

"Ublurglblglubglab udghilbldl?"

Both orcs were looking at him like he was crazy. The bigger one growled something angrily. Probably orcish. Doesn't help. Think, think, fast. This is never going to work. Just say something!

Desperately, Guaffle blurted out a question in the first language that came to mind.

"Anybody speak demonic?"

* * *

Torak was getting angry.

"If he wanted to say something, he would have said it by now. Step aside and let me finish him."

But Gavin just motioned for him to wait. Why he insists on indulging the little bugger I'll never understand. Torak turned back to the keep in frustration. And then the gnome spoke again.

"Xarathi Axher Eredun?" The voice was impossibly sinister. Now that's not even natural. Torak was just about to interject when Gavin replied.

"Axhym. Xhanal Odur."

The gnome perked up and began speaking so rapidly that Torak stopped even trying to follow the conversation. This is probably the most ridiculous thing that's ever happened to me. It was several minutes before they finally stopped talking, and Torak glanced back over his shoulder to find Gavin alone.

"You let him go?"

"Of course," the warlock replied. "He had no quarrel with us. And it was worth the trouble. He told me that a human entered the keep about four hours ago. Maybe Alar isn't the only one of the Forsaken working with the Syndicate."

"The gnome could be lying. Or he could just be mistaken. I'll be on my guard, but we don't really have a choice. With wind like this, the storm will be upon us in minutes. Where else can we go?"

"You're right," Gavin said. "we'll keep an eye out for Syndicate agents, wait out the storm, and head back to Tarren Mill in the morning."

They crossed the clearing to the walls. Torak rapped twice on the massive ironwood gate, and a barricaded window slid open. The smell of rotting flesh was followed swiftly by the ragged snout of a gnoll.

"What you want here?" the gnoll snarled in broken orcish.

"We are servants of the Horde, and we seek shelter from the storm," Torak said. "Let us through."

The band of undead gnolls known as Rot Hides were minions of the Scourge who sided with the Forsaken after the recapture of Fenris Keep, when the Lich King's control over their feeble minds was broken. The less time we have to spend near them, the better. But at least they're not very bright. The gnoll scowled and disappeared from view, and moments later, the gate creaked open. Their timing could not have been better. Just as the gnoll replaced the bar across the gate behind them, the rain began to fall, and within seconds, it was a downpour.

The gnoll motioned for them to follow him to the right, but Torak didn't move. For a split second, he thought he saw Alar in a corridor to the left. Swiftly but silently, he approached the entrance to the hall. Nothing. Maybe it was just a shadow. And then he felt the blade prick his wrist.

"You aren't getting away this time," Alar whispered, emerging from the shadows behind him. Torak tried to lunge at him and felt his muscles give way even as he moved. He tried to grab his sword, but couldn't lift his arm.

"It will wear off soon, but you'll have other things to worry about. I'm going to kill you myself. Slowly. I'm going to watch you die." He circled Torak, mocking him with those eyeless sockets, then turned to Gavin, who had been forced to the floor by a pair of humans wearing Syndicate colors. "And you. You should have abandoned your little hunt on the lakeshore. Now you will die here. Your magics will not save you." He snapped a pair of dull lead manacles around the old orc's wrists and seized his face in one bony hand.

"I will enjoy killing you. But everything in time. My master wants you alive. After he's done with you, you're all mine." He released Gavin's face and stood up, returning his knife to its sheath.

"Throw them in the cells," he said, and strode away down the hall. A peal of thunder sounded in the distance. The storm was beginning.

* * *

The rain was coming down in curtains now, and it had been going on for so long that Haldar had almost zoned it out entirely. He glanced around the room at his companions. In the far corner, Edmund had fallen asleep cradling his rifle, probably the only possession he still had. Adrianna slept too, her head resting on Haldar's shoulder, and seeing her there, so serene in the midst of so much chaos, made all the day's fighting, running, and planning seem like so much sound and fury. Can't this moment last just a little longer? She muttered something inaudible and shifted slightly, and an anguished expression suddenly shattered the illusion of tranquility. Haldar averted his eyes. A nightmare. And who can blame her? Her own sister imprisoned in Tarren Mill. She could be dead by now for all we know. We have to do this.

"Wake up," he said aloud, and her eyes slowly opened. She looked at him in benign surprise, and her expression grew serious when she recalled where they were and where they were headed. In the corner, Edmund stirred.

"It's time."

* * *

Bonemaul is one of your kind, stocky, built like an orc. He is traveling in the company of a young tauren. They will be in Tarren Mill by nightfall. Kill them.

Ansilas read the letter twice over, in silence, then handed it back to the first of the humans, shaking his head. Little Beve, always full of surprises. How she got the information so quickly, he would never know. But he had learned long ago not to doubt her accuracy.

"You know where they are?" he said at last.

"Yes, my lord," one of the undead replied. They took a room in the inn this evening. There's another with them, an old troll who fought for us this afternoon."

From outside came a loud thunderclap. At least an hour since the storm started. More than half an hour since the eleven o'clock bells. On a night like this, they'll be asleep. Tonight will see the end of all our problems.

"The troll may not know anything," Ansilas said aloud. "Pity. He should have been more careful picking his friends. Kill them all."

* * *

Adrianna peered into the dark alley, silent save for the ceaseless patter of raindrops. On a night like this, even the Forsaken had taken shelter indoors, and Adrianna knew Tarren Mill well enough to avoid being noticed by the few deathguards still patrolling the streets. Beckoning for her companions to follow, she slipped into the shadows, then darted lightly up all-too familiar rooftops until she reached the roof of the inn. Several seconds later, Haldar and Edmund appeared behind her, and the three of them gazed out through the curtains of rain over the main square of Tarren Mill.

"We're close," she whispered. "The prison is on Gallows Square, to the west. I just need to know which streets to avoid, and we can see almost the whole town from here."

"We can start by staying away from this square," Haldar replied, directing her attention to a group of six or seven figures making their way through the rain from the town hall on the north side. "It looks like they're headed this way."

"I don't think they–" Adrianna stopped in midsentence as a brilliant flash of lightning lit up the square, and the figures crossing it. Two of them were human. "Light protect us. Humans. You were right. Where could they be going?" An ominous rumble of thunder sounded, not far away.

"Let's not wait to find out," Haldar suggested.

He was right. Strange as it was, they could not allow this discovery to get in the way of their mission. She turned to find Edmund paler than usual, clutching his gun tightly.

"Don't worry; they didn't see us," she said softly. Let's go."

She and Haldar began to work their way down the roof, towards the deserted street behind the inn. Edmund hadn't moved.

"Come on. Let's go," she repeated. After a moment that seemed like a lifetime, he finally nodded and followed them down. He's scared, that's all. After what we just saw, I should be scared too. Light help us all.

* * *

Shouts rang in his ears, in languages he didn't understand. Flakes of soft snow drifted lazily to the ground. Tarren Mill was awakening, and every minute that passed meant more humans lurking in the shadows, waiting for the fleeing trolls to show themselves. Ano'jin's knuckles were pale from gripping the unfamiliar orcish axe that had been thrust into his hands. He stayed close to Zag'an and Nassura as they rounded another corner. Zul'jin and the others were ahead of them, out of sight. The sounds of battle echoed on both sides, and for one fateful moment, Ano'jin hesitated. Then Nassura tackled him, shoving him to the ground just as the faint twang of a crossbow string sounded in a nearby window. His eyes snapped open in shock, and the first thing he saw was the splatter of blood across the snowy tiles in front of him, followed swiftly by Zag'an's body. His lifeless eyes stared straight into Ano'jin's, and blood seeped from the crossbow bolt buried in his forehead.

"They'll get you too, you know," the dead troll said. "Sooner or later. You'll see."

Ano'jin awoke with a start and sat bolt upright. The walls shuddered from the force of the storm, and Rann still slept, somehow, on a bed that was barely half his size. Just a dream. Ano'jin fell back on the bed with a sigh of relief. He had had many nightmares about that night in Tarren Mill, more than twenty years ago, but none so vivid as this one. Shuddering, he resolved not to worry about it, and rolled over to try and get back to sleep. As he stared into the gloom to the right on his bed, a troubling thought occurred to him, and when he leaned forward to get a better look, a flash of lighting from outside illuminated the room and confirmed his suspicions.

Sarim Bonemaul was gone.

* * *

Adrianna slowed to a halt and Haldar stopped behind her as they emerged on the edge of Gallows Square. He could hardly believe that it was here that he had battled the troll, here that she had saved his life, just hours earlier. He looked back at Edmund to make sure he was still following them. Something's wrong. He's been acting strange ever since we came down from the roof.

"That's strange," Adrianna whispered. "The square is empty. I was sure they'd have guards here."

Cautiously, they moved around the perimeter of the square to the prison entrance, and then Adrianna stopped abruptly. Face down on the wet tiles in front of the prison was the body of a deathguard, his skull crushed by some immense force. Two other lifeless bodies lay nearby, a little further out into the square. The prison door itself stood ajar, and beyond it, a narrow staircase descended around a corner and out of sight.

"Watch my back," Adrianna said, her face set with resolve.

"Listen, Adrianna," Haldar warned. "Whoever— whatever killed those guards could still be down there right now."

"I know. But I can't just leave them there. Stay here with Edmund and keep an eye out for the Forsaken. I'm going in."

* * *

Heavy, even footfalls echoed out above the howling wind, and both Jenessa and Meledar turned their heads towards the source of the noise. It could be an interrogator, a torturer, or just another guard bringing in whatever it is these undead eat. But at least something's happening. The footsteps grew nearer and nearer, coming to a stop right outside the door to her cell. Jenessa could feel Meledar tensing, and she hardly dared to breathe herself. She heard keys jingling, and the door creaked open. An undead man stood in the doorway, but he was no deathguard. He seemed somehow out of proportion, too broad-shouldered, too stocky, and his face…an orc? Then she saw the greatmace he carried, and the memories began to rush through her mind.

The orc charge down the hillside towards her, brandishing the mace in both hands, and she closed her eyes, knowing it would soon be over. And then she heard the crunch of bone, and life never seemed more vivid than when she opened her eyes again to find the orc standing in front of her, above the body of one of the undead, shielding her from the others. Their eyes met for a moment, and she was sure. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words would come out.

"My name is Sarim," he said slowly in the common tongue. "I'll get you out of here. Follow me."

Meledar rounded on her angrily. "Consorting with the Forsaken. What have you done?"

"He's…trying to help us. Just trust me. Do you want to get out of this place or not?"

Apparently the paladin had listened to her this time, because he fell silent and followed them down the hall. The bodies of the jailor and four guards were sprawled out at the foot of the stairs, and Jenessa could not help but stare. He did all this alone…for me? Sarim continued up the steps towards the street, and as he rounded the corner, Jenessa heard a familiar cry of shock. Adrianna? She was still trying to wrap her mind around everything that had just happened when Meledar grabbed the sword of a fallen deathguard and flung himself at Sarim.

* * *

"Wake up! Wake up!" Rann's eyes adjusted to the gloom and he made out Ano'jin standing over him, clearly agitated. "Sarim is gone!"

Rann leapt to his feet and crossed to the far side of the room. Sure enough, the third bed was empty.

"Wherever he went, he took everything with him," he said, as he searched the area around Sarim's bed.

"Maybe he didn't go. Maybe he was taken," Ano'jin suggested. Thunder sounded in the distance. "We best be on out guard."

He was right. Rann shuddered, grateful that he had learned to sleep in his armor. He grabbed the handle of his greataxe and turned back towards the door. It was open. His eyes went wide.

"Look out!" he shouted, and dropped to the floor just as a black-clad figure leapt through the doorway, flinging a fan of knives towards them and landing in a crouch behind the table. One of the blades buried itself in Ano'jin's shoulder, and snarling, the old troll tore it loose and hurled it at a second assassin coming through the door. The man stumbled into the room with a cry, and abandoning subtlety, five others followed him. Rann rose to his full height and swung his greataxe left and right, but his opponents only leapt out of the way of the oncoming blade. Ano'jin was battling three of them at once, flailing on all sides with both axes just to keep them at bay.

"There are too many!" the troll shouted. "Get us out of here!"

Letting out an immense roar, Rann brought his axe down with all his might upon the bed in front of him, and as the warped wood splintered beneath his blade, he slammed one powerful hoof into the right half of the frame, sending it flying back into his opponents. That should buy me some time.

"This way!" he called out to Ano'jin, and flung his massive frame against the windows at the far end of the room, already shuddering from the force of the storm. The weathered glass shattered under his weight, and he saw the slick cobblestones of the main square of Tarren Mill rushing up to meet him. He landed with a crash, and seconds later, Ano'jin was beside him, somehow still on his feet. He followed the troll's gaze into the face of a single forsaken man standing in the square before them, wearing the garb of a nobleman under a heavy black cowl. He stood hunched over, with long stringy hair framing a malignant smile, and a slender blade that gleamed in the rain bare in one hand.

"Ansilas," Ano'jin said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

"I must say I'm impressed," the executor said in flawless orcish. With a flick of his wrist, the seven assassins leapt down through the window of the inn. Within seconds Rann and Ano'jin were completely surrounded. "But you've had your fun. This is as far as you go."

* * *

Sarim heard the girl's scream and lashed out with his mace, striking the oncoming sword just above the hilt and forcing it from the human's grasp. The man stumbled backwards several steps, pure rage in his eyes, and Sarim saw the hammer and sunburst on his tabard. A paladin. I should have known. He heard movement behind him and spun around just as the girl on the stairwell thrust her open palms forward, and his world went white. Searing pain flowed through his bones. Powerless to resist, he felt the mace fall from his trembling fingers.

"No! Stop, Adrianna!" Her voice sounded faintly in his ears, a distant echo, and then the pain ceased. Sarim dropped to his knees, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw her, standing between him and the other human, protecting him.

"He's on our side," she continued. "Who do you think just released us? He was only defending himself." Sarim rose to his feet cautiously, and looked from one paladin to the other.

"We need to get out of here before the deathguard find us," he said. "I will explain everything in due time."

For three long seconds, neither of them moved. Slowly, the woman lowered her hands. All eyes turned to the other paladin, who had picked up the sword again.

"Lead the way," he said at last, scowling, and sheathed his blade.

They ascended the steps in single file, and emerged on the edge of Gallows Square to find two other humans lurking in the shadows. One of them stumbled back a few steps and muttered an oath under his breath when he saw Sarim, and the second practically froze, gripping a slender rifle.

"We don't have time for explanations," the female paladin said in response to their stares. "Just follow me."

* * *

Edmund heard her words and fell into stride behind them automatically, but his mind was elsewhere. Fortune smiles upon me once again. I stayed with them, and they lead me right to Bonemaul. But still he didn't move. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead despite the rain. A bolt of lightning tore through the night sky, and thunder followed almost immediately. The storm was drawing nearer. Nobody was watching. It's now or never. His fingers trembled as he slipped the bullet into the barrel, but his aim was as steady as ever. This is for Lady Beve. And he fired.

* * *

The gunshot rang out loud and clear over the roar of the storm, and for several seconds afterwards, Adrianna didn't even hear the pounding rain. She heard the sound of a body hitting the cobblestones. She heard her sister's anguished cry and turned to see Jenessa fall to her knees beside the body of her undead companion. She heard quick footsteps, Edmund's. Then the sounds of the storm returned, and with them came a low murmur from the buildings all around them. Tarren Mill was stirring. Jenessa's head snapped up in the direction of the receding footsteps, and Adrianna saw the fury in her eyes.

"Don't do it!" she cried out, but it was too late. Jenessa's hand flew up, and flames encircled Edmund's fleeing figure. He tried to run, but Jenessa squeezed her hand into a fist, and he jerked violently in the air like a rag doll, landing on his back on the wet tiles. He struggled in vain, shrieking as the flames engulfed him, and within seconds, he had stopped moving entirely.

"Light protect us," Adrianna whispered. He was just a boy. Why did he have to shoot? The sounds of activity all around them were growing louder.

"We need to get out of here, now," Haldar said.

"Come on, Jenessa. We–"

"You're a healer. Do something!"

Adrianna knelt down by the body and caught a glimpse of the bullet lodged within. It was coated with a layer of silver, and the effects were already visible. The flesh around the wound was warped and blackened, and dark blood was oozing from the wound.

"The Light will not aid such an abomination," Meledar shouted from behind them. Adrianna stood up.

"I'm sorry, Jenessa. There's nothing we can do."

"No. Nothing you can do." Before Adrianna even had time to consider what she meant, Haldar spoke again.

"Here they come." Torches had been lit in the barracks, and dozens of deathguards were streaming out of the doorway, weapons in hand. Adrianna looked from Haldar to Meledar and back. Both knew that she would not abandon her sister. But neither of them was going to abandon her. Meledar uttered a brief command, and his blade began to glow a brilliant white. Adrianna readied her hands, and paused for a moment in prayer.

And then the undead were upon them. Haldar and Meledar drew their swords in unison, at the last second, slashing upwards and downing the nearest deathguards in seconds. Adrianna released a wave of Light from her fingertips that dazed the oncoming Forsaken, making them easy targets for the men's blades. She glanced back over her shoulder at Jenessa, to see her still kneeling by the body, practically motionless.

"Jenessa, listen to me, we have to go," she pleaded. Jenessa turned to look at her through tear-stained eyes, and nodded slightly. She raised both hands into the air, then thrust them down towards the ground, and a portal materialized in the air before her, churning with dark energy.

"Where does it lead?" she asked

"Somewhere safe," Jenessa replied, visibly straining to hold the rift open.

The sounds of battle behind her had ceased, Adrianna looked over her shoulder to find Haldar and Meledar standing in a pile of forsaken bodies. They had survived the first wave, but there would be others.

"Let's go then," Haldar said. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the rift, onto the rocky slopes on the other side of the gate. Adrianna glanced back at her sister one more time, and followed him. Through the portal she saw Jenessa turn to Meledar.

"I have to be the last one through. Go!"

"This is sacrilege," he said simply, standing his ground. "I won't be a part of it."

"So be it," Jenessa said after a moment of hesitation. She turned and looked through the portal, straight into Adrianna's eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Turning away, she lowered her hands, and the portal began to contract.

"No! Jenessa!" Adrianna dashed towards the portal, and felt Haldar grabbing at her arm, trying to pull her back. Through the rapidly shrinking rift, she saw her sister raise a gleaming knife into the air.

"Blood for blood," Jenessa whispered. "By my life let his be renewed."

There was a flash of lightning, and she plunged the blade into her arm.

* * *

Even the thunder seemed muted to Ano'jin's ears, and lights danced in his eyes. The streets and buildings around him were an incoherent blur, almost an abstraction, but still his arms moved instinctively, deflecting the assassins' thrusts and striking back, always in vain. When their blades slipped under his guard and found their mark, he felt the jabs only faintly, as if reliving distant memories. He stood back-to-back with Rann, whose heavy arms were likewise marked with fresh wounds. It was all they could do to keep their opponents at arm's length, and Ansilas had yet to join the fray. He circled them slowly at a distance of several paces, his sword drawn, biding his time. We can't hold out like this forever. We have to get out of here.

Rann lashed out once more with his greataxe, and this time one assassin was too slow. The force of the blow flung the unfortunate human ten feet into the air to land with a sickening crunch on the cobblestones, but delivering the killing blow left Rann off-balance and defenseless against the blades of the others. Ano'jin spun around, blocking a jab aimed at the tauren with each axe, and a dagger was thrust into his back. The faint twang of a crossbow string sounded in a nearby window. Roaring, Ano'jin swung both axes behind him, forcing his enemies back, but not before another blade drew blood from his side. He saw the splatter of blood across the snowy tiles in front of him, followed swiftly by Zag'an's body. Again the dead troll looked into his eyes and spoke. The world around Ano'jin seemed to slow down. And he knew what he had to do.

"Get back to Orgrimmar and warn the Warchief," he hissed over his shoulder. "I'll hold them off."

"You can't– They'll kill you!"

"Listen to me!" Ano'jin replied sharply. "Sarim might be dead. The Warchief needs to know what we have discovered. Don't worry about me. I knew long ago that I would die in Tarren Mill. The spirits have a way of making these things work out." Eyes wide with confused fear, Rann hesitated. "Go!" he said again.

Slowly, the tauren nodded, and turned back to face his assailants, slamming his hoof into the ground so hard that the assassins stumbled backwards, stunned. Then he was off, loping across the square towards the nearest alleyway.

"Follow the tauren!" the executor ordered, and three assassins dashed off after him. Adrenaline rushing through his veins, Ano'jin dove at the cobblestones and launched himself into a roll at the last second, springing up behind two of the forsaken following Rann and cutting them down in seconds. The third assassin was closing on Rann, until Ano'jin flung one axe across the square and landed it in his back. As he darted across the square he heard running behind him, and the slow, deliberate stride of the executor. Stooping to recover his second axe, Ano'jin stopped at the mouth of the alley, and turned to face his enemies. Rann was behind him, out of sight. The only way to him is through me. Let them come.

"Who's next?" he snarled, brandishing both bloody axes. Ansilas approached him slowly, sword in hand, stopping a mere foot away from his face.

"It ends here," the Executor hissed, and his words were followed a deafening clap of thunder. Then the sword whipped towards him at lightning speed and slipped into the notches in Ano'jin's blades, wrenching both axes from his hands. He felt the old scars of the second war aching again, and the sharper pain from his fresh wounds. Bells tolled in the distance. Humans use them at funerals. Sooner or later, all of us die. I go to join Zag'an and Nassura. Ansilas drew back the blade and grinned wickedly. And the sword swept down again and it was over.

* * *

Blood began to drip from the wound, and Jenessa gritted her teeth and shoved the knife in deeper. She held her arm directly above Sarim's chest, and the drip became a flow as she cut still deeper into her own arm. As her senses began to dim, Jenessa watched the bullet dissolve in the fresh blood, and the blood become flesh as it came in contact with Sarim's wound. It's working. He was still unconscious, but not dying. Then she lost feeling in her arms, and crumpled in a heap on top of Sarim's body. She closed her eyes and waited for death to take her.

But it did not. Several seconds passed in total darkness, and then her eyes opened to a brilliant glow. Jenessa felt a hand upon her wrist, and the wound was gone. Her eyes adjusted to the light and she looked up into the face of Meledar Sunshield.

"Don't thank me," the paladin said quickly. "Just…don't say anything at all." He ran his fingers through his hair, and Jenessa realized it was the first time she had seen him visibly disturbed. She came to her senses as she heard slow footsteps and weapons being drawn all around them.

"They're coming back," she said, and Meledar just nodded. The undead were moving in cautiously this time. They were surrounded. Summoning her remaining energy, Jenessa recited an incantation under her breath. She felt the demon stir and come rushing through the nether towards her, and then, in a burst of flame, the felsteed reared up at her side. She turned to see Meledar clash blades with two deathguards at once. A third rushed past him, straight at Jenessa, and before she could react, Meledar's hand shot out behind him and a searing ray of light punctured the deathguard's rusty breastplate and went straight through his chest.

Jenessa hoisted Sarim's unconscious body onto the felsteed's back, and pulled herself up after him. She thrust out her arms, sending a fan of flames straight through a group of deathguards advancing towards Meledar, and the paladin glared at her.

"Climb on," she said. He shook his head.

"I have done enough that is unorthodox today already. I will stay, and the Light shall be my judge."' More deathguards were rushing forward. Meledar gazed straight into her eyes for three long seconds, then nodded stiffly in what seemed to be a sort of acceptance.

"Light have mercy on your soul."

Deafening thunder struck, and Jenessa heard no more. The felsteed broke into a gallop, tearing through the streets, faster, and faster, and Meledar vanished into the distance, his shining blade the only light in a sea of black iron. Houses streamed past, dozens every second, and Jenessa clung on for dear life as the wind whipped across her face. As the world dropped away behind her, the slow, heavy peal of the town bell sounded out above the roar of the storm. It was midnight.
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.

Last edited by Flamestrider; 10-20-2008 at 11:25 AM..
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Old 09-28-2008, 09:10 PM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Phew. Quadruple post and all that aside, that's a lot of text. It comes out to about fifty typed pages. But hopefully, some of you guys are feeling up to it. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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Old 10-04-2008, 09:16 PM
Zula Zula is offline

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Wow I wil just say two things: First you got talent and Second you did your job with the cliffhanger thing.
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:15 AM
Dark Avenger Dark Avenger is offline

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I've only read the prologue, but so far it's shaping up pretty good
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Old 10-12-2008, 08:19 AM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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Darkmoon Card: Blue Dragon

I have a kind of vacation next week, I'll read the whole thing from beginning to end then.

I hope this doesn't end up like with Neph's fic, where I said I'd "finish it tomorrow" and forgot about it for half a year.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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Old 10-12-2008, 08:33 AM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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Maybe that's why Neph never posts here anymore.

Too many broken promises.

What a sensitive soul... er... AI?

I'm sorry I haven't read your story yet either, Flame. =(

But I will!
"The Demons did their job well. You creatures are as reckless and bloodthirsty as they ever were."
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Old 10-13-2008, 11:41 AM
Flamestrider Flamestrider is offline

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Take your time, guys. It's not like I was entirely punctual myself.

And congrats on site staff, Aldrius! When did that happen?
Many thanks to handclaw for his amazing rendition of Kargath Bladefist, which is now my avatar.
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