Topic Change (RP Story)
Mishkwaki would have to give Kickfeather long hours of mining ore for him or convincing her to take young Degan on a few challenging hunting trips. At one point, he had even decided to remind the warrior who it was who had caused her older sister’s pain, encouraging her to return to the front and see what martial services she could provide there, advising her to keep a cool head. She had gone there immediately, mostly determined to prove to him and anyone else that she didn’t need to be told how to handle herself. All he could do was pray she was right, hoping he did not push her down a path that would get her killed simply because he needed to keep her distracted and away from the Bluffs. To keep her, more specifically, away from Margaritha as she worked on her Sunwell experiments.
Kickfeather’s hopeful impatience had compelled her to constantly look in on the priest, incessantly inquiring if she had finished her work and causing much distraction. But even with the distraction removed, it took Margaritha time and numerous tries, her supply of stolen power slowly dwindling. But then one day, she approached Mishkwaki holding two things in her hands. One was a vial filled with a viscous liquid, shimmering like the sun dappled surface of a rippling stream. The other a large bowl containing a thick, oily salve that glittered like diamonds.
“There is only one way to find out if it will work, hmm?” Mishkwaki asked. She nodded as she handed him some gloves.
Instructions were given as they both knelt by Red Earth’s bed and carefully undressed her and removed her remaining bandages, exposing the raw and mottled skin that covered her body. Her fur had not begun to grow back, and it was questionable if it ever would. But the hope was that Margaritha’s long hours of work would allow it to happen.
She did her best to feed the unconscious Red Earth the potion while Mishkwaki donned the gloves and began applying the salve. Starting at her hooves and moving up her legs, Margaritha soon joined him, beginning at her head and using her slim fingers to ensure the ointment reached every fold and crease in the skin of her face, scalp and neck.
As they moved along, a startling effect began to take place. Surprised at first, the old Bull was assured by the small Forsaken that it was what was supposed to happen. The salve was reacting to the warmth of her body. Mishkwaki continued his work but watched in fascination as the areas already covered began to glow. A dull luminescence, it reminded him of fireflies, though it was millions of them covering Red Earth’s body.
This is how they would leave her, Margaritha instructed, until the glow had faded and the salve had dried, leaving her encased in a delicate, crystallized shell. It would take, at best, a few days, the potion working from within as the salve worked without. They would then wash it off and hope for the best.
She attempted to hide her bewilderment. But as the lifts carried her up, she found herself firmly clutching the supports of the lift cage and cursing under her breath. It was much faster than she expected and her destination so steep and high above the flat expanse of the plains. As the young Shu’halo stepped off onto the bridge, a Shu’halo Bull who had ridden alongside her gave her a reassuring smile as he passed.
“Welcome to Thunder Bluff,” he greeted, sure to speak in the Mother’s Tongue.
So much for hiding her ignorance of the place. But she shook off her trepidation as she crossed the bridge and started walking the firm earth paths of this amazing city. Her first time in Thunder Bluff, what this young huntress from a small, isolationist nomadic village found was all a bit overwhelming.
But exciting as well. It was why she had so eagerly volunteered to make the trip to visit this now supposed center of Shu’halo civilation. Her curious nature had gotten the best of her. And to her satisfaction, it was immediately being sated. Strange people and Shu’halo all around her speaking to each other in the strange, gruff language of the orcs. Or even other languages she also did not know. Homes and shops though certainly made with traditional materials, were built with permanence in mind, not ready to be taken up when the seasons called to move. The streets were well tamped and worn. And of all she sensed around her it was the smells which caught her attention the most. Everything from baking bread to drying fish; stabled animals to burning fires; tanning leathers to the sweat of the skin of the people around her. A cacophony of scents both brilliantly alive and stale at the same time. She was sure she could spend many hours exploring the streets of this odd place, and she wanted to. But she had come here with a task to perform.
She approached one of the nearby Shu’halo merchants, trying her best to limit her concerns of his latest customer, a walking dead man. Her rather wide berth of him as she sidestepped to allow him to pass, was obscured from his vision by the tall stack of kodo hide leather he carried before him. Walking dead. The thought made her shiver. She’d heard of them from the stories the Walker would tell when she came to visit the village, but to actually see one in person. It almost didn’t seem real.
“Most of them aren’t so bad once you get to know them. At least the ones that come around here,” the merchant assured her, noticing she was staring at the Forsaken as he walked down the street.
An embarrassed quirk in her smile exposed her guilt. “Is it really that obvious that I am a stranger to this place?”
“It’s nothing to worry about. We get all sorts around here who don’t know their way and are trying to find something. I am Brother Ahanu, by the way. Ish-ne-alo.”
He offered her a drink from his waterskin, which she accepted obligingly, grateful to be welcomed so comfortably. Returning the gift, she then introduced herself, “Flying Bear. Of the Swifthorn Tribe.”
“Well, Sister Flying Bear, what brings you to the Bluffs?”
“I’ve come to deliver a message from my tribe to someone who might be here. Red Earth of the Blackhide. I’m told she is the Chief of a clan called the Ishnu Por Ah. Do you know where I might find them or her?”
Ahanu smiled again. “Of course. Trade with a few of them often enough. They have a small lodge on Spirit Rise. Just take the bridge over there to the north. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. Just look for the old Bull named Mishkwaki who keeps the place. He’s usually sitting outside the door.”
The words of Ahanu reassured her. She knew Brother Mishkwaki, though she had not seen him in many years. Her delivery would be an easy one and then she could relax and perhaps take a little time to explore this newly discovered world of the city before returning to the village.
She bounced a little as she crossed the long bridge, enthralled by the sturdiness of the structure made of nothing but wood and rope that allowed her and even wagons and mounted kodos to cross over the deep gap between the rises. Already in the brief time she’d been here, she had seen enough to fill her friend’s minds back home with wonderful images when she would tell them about her visit. Someday soon maybe they too would be coming to see it themselves if all went well with her delivery.
The lodge was indeed easy to find. She found an old Bull knelt by a line of potted herbs he was tending by a small and unusual longhouse. Built and painted similar to the other buildings nearby, it also had strange mechanical contraptions hanging from the roofbeams, clinking and whirring, pumping out steam from small exhausts while metallic tubes leading into the side of the lodge shivered.
The Bull turned his head to see who had hailed him and then he rose to give her a proper greeting, offering his hand and a small plate of snacks he had set on a small stool nearby. He then tilted his head a moment, hearing something she could not. His smile then brightened as he turned his attention to her again. “I think I should know you. They at least say I should,” he remarked, pointing to the birds singing in the trees.
“I am Flying Bear. But you may not remember me. I was very small the last time you saw me. I am Swifthorn. I come bearing news.”
“News? Good news, I hope. We could always use more.”
“Is The Walker here? I was told to deliver my message to her.”
“Today may be your lucky day,” Mishkwaki replied, brightly. “Come.”
He beckoned her to follow him into the lodge. Pulling open the door for her, she felt a waft of chilled air escape the building and when she stepped in she noticed it was much cooler inside than out. She reflexively reached over to rub her arms.
“Apologies for the condition of the air,” Mishkwaki said as he pointed in the direction of where the metal pipes she had seen outside were leading into the lodge. “The Matriarch. . .mmm, excuse me, the Walker has been complaining it’s been too warm. We’ve been trying to keep her comfortable.”
“Who’s this? Oh!” exclaimed a young Shu’halo woman. She was not much older than Flying Bear and like MIshkwaki, a familiar face. Kickfeather pointed at her intently. “I know you! You’re from. . . .wait, WAIT, don’t tell me. . . ! Shining Trees! Mama’s village! Flyyyyyyyyyyyyying Bear!”
Kickfeather snapped her fingers, proud she’d been able to recall and making Flying Bear chuckle.
“Good to see you, Sister. What you doing here?”
“I come bearing a message from the Council. They asked me to talk to your sister. Is she here?”
“Yup! Though. . . .you can’t talk to her right now.” Kickfeather turned her attention to Mishkwaki. “She just woke up again for a little bit. Held my hand and tried to tell me about a dream she had. She called me by name this time. That’s a good thing! She knows who I am! But then she got tired again.
“So, you’ll have to wait a bit,” she informed Flying Bear. “But don’t you worry. You’ll be able to tell her what the Cou-
“Heeeeeeey, what? The Council sent you?”
Flying Bear nodded. But her attention was much less on her message now. She was leaning curiously to try and get a better look past Kickfeather at the figure lying upon the bed mats at the other end of the room. “Is she. . .sick?”
“Por Ah, I hope not,” Kickfeather said, worriedly.
“No, no. Merely asleep,” Mishkwaki reassured. He took a hold of Flying Bear’s arm and lead her towards the bedside as he continued. “Many months ago she was very seriously injured. Close to death. But she survived. It was only recently that she first woke up. So she’s weak and can only stay awake for short periods. But each time it’s a little more. Her words are coming back slowly as well. And it is good she called Kickfeather’s name. It means she remembers things. Por Ah has kept her spirit strong.”
“A gift from the Ancestors! They decided to bring her back with them while they visit during Winter’s Veil,” Kickfeather beamed. “Don’t be shy. Come take a look. You won’t disturb her, she’s always slept like a rock.”
Going to the other side of the bed, Kickfeather bent over her sister and began to straighten her blankets, opening them up a little so she would not get too warm. She then reached over and started pushing wild strands of her mane away from her sleeping face. “I think I’ll have to start her braids for her soon.”
Flying Bear approached tentatively to get a better look at Red Earth, unsure what to think or what to do. Red Earth was not just a Blackhide shaman, but a Kodo Walker as well. Someone whose connection with Por Ah had set her on a prophetic path that few could endure. Flying Bear had been ready to pay the greatest respect to her, deliver her message to her and be impressed by the grace of her reply. She had not expected to find this, the shaman she had grown up knowing to revere being bedridden, thin from weakness and. . . .
Flying Bear gasped. She knelt down by the bed and looked Red Earth over carefully, blinking a few times to be sure she was seeing correctly. Reaching down, she ran her fingers along the soft fur of Red Earth’s arm, then looked between Mishkwaki and Kickfeather in disbelief.
“This. . .this is her?” She looked between Mishkwaki and Kickfeather, both of them nodding. “But-“
“But nothing. Don’t question a miracle. I don’t. Not anymore anyway. HA!” Kickfeather laughed. At that moment, Kickfeather then decided that perhaps it was a good time to start her sister’s braids. “She doesn’t know. Haven’t gotten around to showing her. Maybe when she wakes up next time YOU can tell her!”
Red Earth didn’t realize she was waking at first. She had been so long coasting effortlessly in and out of darkness and dreams, her mind had forgotten what being awake was. At first, these odd, newer moments of light-filled images and moving shadows, the sounds she heard, were also, to her mind, dreams. But then it began to recognize differences.
Senses. It was her senses. She had them, she was being told her, and they were being used. The idea was almost foreign to her, it had been so long. But something within her told her to start thinking about it and start recognizing the difference. To start labeling what was happening. Listening, she could listen. And if she tried to listen, the noises became. . . voices. If she focused, the moving shadows became. . . faces. Faces which would send her mind racing in search of a name to call them because it knew there was something each one was called. But all the seeing and hearing made her. . . .feel. That was that was. Feeling. And it would make her feel tired. And cold. And aching. And. . . .she wasn’t quite sure what else. Feeling these things was overwhelming even in these short moments. It was something she hadn’t known in forever. And it would push her back into the darkness.
But each time she woke, she began to push back. It was if her mind was dancing happily with excitement every time she was awake. It craved the stimuli and urged her to put more effort into it even though it became exhausting. But soon every waking moment became easier to handle. And as her senses cleared she started putting names and labels to those sights, sounds and feelings she recognized. And then she remembered she could speak.
When she tried she knew right away it was a failed effort. The sound that came out of her lips did not match the word she had in mind. It was nothing more than a dry, raspy whisper. And the people sitting beside her didn’t respond correctly. They were too excited about her just trying to speak and were doing nothing to fulfill her request.
She pushed to remember what things she could do to make herself be heard. Her hand moved to touch the arm of the one sitting closest to her. It surprised her, but made her bellow even more excitedly as she clasped Red Earth’s hand into hers. This was her sister, she suddenly remembered. Yes, and she had a name. She could try to say her name. She pushed to remember and speak it as loudly as she could.
It had to come. She remembered she had to really grab her sister’s attention if she was going to get what she wanted. So the word, her sister’s name, had to come. Red Earth pushed the word passed her throat. “. . . .kick. . . .”
Kickfeather bounced excitedly, exclaiming even more as she spoke to the other who was with her. Red Earth recognized him too, but was becoming too tired to try remembering his name right now. “My name! She said my name! She remembers us!”
This time Red Earth tugged on her sister’s hand. And pushed to speak even more. “KICK.”
The sound of her voice felt dull and dry even though she was attempting to shout, but it was enough. Kickfeather’s attention turned fully to Red Earth now and she urged her to keep talking.
Again she tried. Just one more word. What she had tried to say at first. It was easier now and came out an urgent whisper. “Water.”
Kickfeather moved quickly to attend to her request. But Red Earth never got her drink. She was satisfied, knowing she could communicate. And with that hurdle now accomplished, she let the exhaustion of the effort take over and fell back asleep.
A pair of tins with a note attached finds its way to the Ishnu Por Ah lodge. No sign of where they came from or how they got there, and the outside is addressed to Red Earth.
Hello, Mama Red.
I don't know if you remember me; it's been a long time, and even though I'm still rotty, many things have changed.
I heard about what happened. (Don't ask how, I really doubt you'd approve of some of my new contacts!) I'm no healer, not even when I was less rotty, but I hear these are good for burns. One's made from Fire Leaf out of the Borean Tundra. They use it up on Mount Hyjal plenty, with the war going on there. The other is a Forsaken balm. Follow the directions carefully, and don't get it in your eyes. Really. You know the reputation of these things, though I've done business with the vendor before and he's trustworthy enough.
Say hi to the Ishnu for me. Earth and Moon treat you well, and hide your steps.
Thunder Bluff was just as it had always been. Over the years it had had its trials-zombie invasions, a tribal coup, the loss of a great leader-but it had remained resilient and always come back to the pastoral, small city showcasing tribal unity. As Red Earth slowly walked the path that meandered around the pond, this was the thing she noticed, how little it all had changed. It was both pleasant and disconcerting at the same time. And not because the city itself had gone through another test of will from which it needed to come back. The year had been kind to Thunder Bluff.
But the sameness of it had drawn her interest as she walked the familiar streets she hadn’t seen in almost a year. The largely Tauren population still dominated the streets, despite the Horde’s attempts to make it more a part of the nation through trade and militaristic demands. A few strangers still fished away out of the small pond which never seemed to be short on stock. The merchant and craftsmen’s voices rose up in greeting as she passed as they did with all people, though a few took an extra moment to praise Por Ah for her and expect a blessing in return. It was something she thought she would never get used to even though her path as a shaman had been set for her since she was a child, but she thanked them for their prayers and dutifully returned one in kind. Even Sister Pala, who had made several trips to the lodge after she had heard of Red Earth’s return, stepped out from her inn to rejoice in seeing her up and about.
Outside of the more exuberant greetings, however, she could see how they made attempts to remain tactful in her presence. Their eyes looked at things about her they did not want to talk about. But Red Earth knew it was not because they wished to avoid offending her. It was nervous anticipation, simple politeness or even awe that held their tongues. Because things had changed. And before she had been able to leave the lodge on her own, the word of those changes had spread before her. But she knew in time they would be as familiar with it as they were with the streets they walked every day. And maybe one day someone would talk to her about them. When they did, she would be ready. And being honest with herself, she wasn’t sure if she was ready now. So she gratefully allowed them their silence.
The walk from Spirit Rise to the pond turned out to be a more tiring adventure than she had expected. But she forced herself to make a full round of the water’s edge before ending her journey on the southern end shaded by the trees. Her legs sore from the short trek, her arms, too, from carrying the staff she used to assist her, her body sang in aching relief as she slowly lowered herself to take a seat. She considered that maybe she had done too much for the day making this walk and wondered if she would be able to make her way back on her own. But glad to be somewhere different than Spirit Rise, she shrugged off her doubts. A rest by the cool waters would refresh her and then she would see what would need to be done next.
She had something to do while she enjoyed the change of scenery. After a time of quiet sitting, she took out a leather roll tucked in her belt, unraveling it along the grass beside her. Taking out the pen, ink and paper she had brought with her, she would write a series of much delayed letters. Brother Mishkwaki had kept up many things while she was absent. But after a time, the things he considered less important had fallen to the side. This included a number of friendly correspondence. Though she understood why he had let a few escape him.
To Maggot Lord Abominus,
My friend, it has been a long time since we have crossed paths, though I am aware you have knowledge of why. Por Ah set me on a difficult path, one I had to travel alone while it was decided if life or death would be my destination. I am blessed to finally be able to write to you and others to let them know that I have been turned towards the land of the living once again.
We have had our differences in the past. And I have no doubt that we will continue to have them. Your definition of a promise of simple friendship is certainly not the same as mine. But despite your unconventional ways and unwanted attention, there is the very rare occasion when I do take notice kindly.
Not long after I woke, they told me of what you had secreted to my bedside. Though your little, wormy friend was eventually ushered out of our lodge once discovered, his presence and the gifts you left with him showed your respectable attempts to make use of our ways to aid my healing. I am very appreciative of this and that it shows how much you have embraced our culture. I wanted to thank you for it all. It is because of the efforts and love of those surrounding me in my life that I am here today.
This still does not mean I will marry you. But perhaps I will stop threatening to kill you. Perhaps.
Earthmother guide you and may our paths cross again, my friend.
Red Earth of the Blackhide
It has been a long time and much has happened. I apologize that no one sent you a response sooner concerning your letter and gift. But I do take pleasure now in being able to write to you myself. I am very much on the mend. I have been for some time now, but it has been slow. But every day I gain a little more. I have been told the degree of injury done to me was quite intense. I have been awake now a few months though and still cannot remember what exactly happened myself. I remember pieces of dreams. At least I think they were dreams. And fear. But that is all.
I no longer fear now. I have been blessed to be able to remember everything and everyone from my time before, including you, and I think that is all I really need to remember. I do not think it is necessary for me to know the trauma and pain I endured in order to move forward. Though I am near the end of my healing and have faith that my full capacities will be returned to me in time, there is significant change that has occurred since I last walked this world more than a year ago. Not just around me, but also upon myself. We have not seen each other in a long time. Maybe some time soon you will visit and see for yourself. Por Ah has given me something to tell me where my path leads. I just have to understand it and follow, though I already have a feeling that it no longer centers on the happenings of the Horde. So I suggest that perhaps you should visit me sooner than later.
Much effort was put into my recovery. It is because of others like yourself that I am alive today. Por Ah continue to guide them all. Your gifts were late in coming, my burns much improved by the time they were received. But the thought was very much appreciated and I will make sure your salves and balms will get used by those in need. I am not the only victim in this war of worlds that has engulfed us. They will get use. And once again, thank you, my friend, for your help and concern.
Earthmother guide you, as always
Red Earth of the Blackhide
There were other letters to write, but two was enough for now. Folding her letters, she stored them away with her writing implements. She would give them to Brother Mishkwaki later to be delivered. Evening approaching, the activity around the pond began to quiet. Shops stored their wares and closed for the day. One by one, the fishermen packed up their gear and their catches and headed home. Even the wind seemed to fade away with the gentle setting of the sun. With the quiet in the air, the pond itself took to the calm, ripples fading and leaving a glassy stillness.
Red Earth pushed herself forward to lean over the edge of the pond and gaze at her reflection. She studied the shimmering copy of herself. Putting her finger to her face she followed the image of it as it came to the corner of her eye, slid down her cheek, traced down her nose, moved over her lips and under her chin. Her hand then reached down to the water, her finger breaking the surface and shattering the liquid mirror, her face disappearing beneath rippling circles.
She tried to imagine what it was like. To think, not so long ago, none of it existed. Her face, her whole body, torn by fire. Melted away. And her life barely tethered to this world. But now her she was, her face, her fur, everything, miraculously restored nearly perfectly. Nearly.
She continued to watch as the ripples settled away and restored her reflection, the orange and purple sky framing her dark silhouette.
“Still hard to believe?” a young Shu’halo voice asked.
Red Earth lifted herself from the edge of the water to greet her visitor. Standing above her was a wiry, female Shu’halo who took a step back so as not to tower so much over Red Earth. Shifting her weight, she repositioned the rather large plainstrider she carried across her shoulders. This was Flying Bear. A young huntress from the tribe that Red Earth once called home, she had been sent by that tribe to give her a message. She had had to wait awhile to do so since Red Earth had not been in the proper state to accept the message when she had first arrived. And since that time had learned to make herself comfortable during her extended visit to Thunder Bluff.
“I see you’ve brought us dinner.”
The smile on Flying Bear’s face brightened. “I do what I can while I’m here, Walker. And I’ve found the hunt is always promising in Mulgore. Sometimes I think maybe it’s too easy.”
“Indeed. Mulgore is a rich place. Always has been. It is why we are so blessed to have had it returned to us,” Red Earth replied.
“I . . . suppose.” Flying Bear did not sound very assured.
Red Earth patted the grass next to her, beckoning Flying Bear to join her. The huntress debated the offer, but then remembered with whom she was speaking. And not wanting to disrespect, she shuffled quickly to lay down her catch and take a seat. To further ensure her hesitancy did not offend, she took Red Earth’s hand and briefly touched it to her forehead. Red Earth took the significant of honor in stride.
“I’m sorry, Walker, I don’t mean to belittle such a gift . . . .”
“But.” Flying Bear had to stop and consider how to express what she was thinking. “The kodo are fat.”
“Fat? Well, they are afforded a very nice, green valley. Not like the kodo in the Barrens.”
Flying Bear shook her head. “It isn’t that. Mulgore is still touched by Winter’s Veil. The season is thin. But by spring, the kodo are still fat. I’ve heard they get fed to help them along. But they’re kodo. They don’t need the help. And fat kodo, they’re not good hunt. And . . . they don’t taste right.”
This made Red Earth chuckle as she looked at Flying Bear’s recent catch. “Is this why we’ve been getting more plainstrider and rabbits from you lately? It’s true, they do a few things different around here because of the city’s permanence. And maybe they are things that aren’t really necessary. Perhaps it’s something you should put before Thunder Bluff’s elders.”
Flying Bear’s eyes widened. “Me? No, I couldn’t.”
“And why not? You don’t strike me as a shy one. They are no different than the Elder Council of the Swifthorn. Any Shu’halo can bring their voice to them. And I’m sure you will have a number of opportunities to come before them in the future as a representative of the Swifthorn.”
Despite the encouragement, the huntress blushed. “I’m no. . .representative. I’m just a messenger. A hunter back home. When I go back, I’m just going to be a hunter.”
Red Earth simply smiled and nodded. “So tell me, messenger, why haven’t you gone back yet?”
“Well, I had to stay to make sure you got Greatfather’s message. Once that was done, I was going to head back. But then I thought, maybe I could spend a little more time here. Learn more about Mulgore and the Horde. You know, scout out the place. So I could bring back lots of information for them. So I someone else back to tell them not to worry and all was good. I mean, I know you and your sister have been doing that. Telling them about things when you could visit. But I thought being from the villages. I mean you haven’t lived with us a long time now. . . .” Flying Bear’s voice trailed off. She was hesitant, not wanting to offend.
Red Earth nodded reassuringly. “I understand. And you’re right. Both Kickfeather and I being away hasn’t kept us as connected.”
“I’ve been thinking though that I’ve been silly about it,” Flying Bear confessed. “Not sure why I’ve really stayed. I mean, after all, you’ll be coming home soon enough to stay yourself. You can tell them everything.”
“To stay? And why would you think that?”
“Well, why wouldn’t you?” When Red Earth didn’t answer right away, Flying Bear began to insist. “Walker, you’re just like your ancestor, Greatfather Windchaser-“
Red Earth lifted her hand to silence her. “I am not Windchaser.”
“Well, no, of course not. You aren’t HIM. But with what’s happened to you. How you are now. They’’ll tell stories about it for generations. You’re Hinwikcheka now, Walker. What else could that mean?”
With those words, Red Earth silently leaned forward to look again at her reflection. The surface of the water had gotten darker as the sun dropped past the western mountains. But it did not hide the face that stared back at her. It was a face she had looked at over and over again for the past two months. And still she had trouble believing. But as much as she tried to deny it, Flying Bear was right. It was just like Greatfather Windchaser, the first of the Blackhide shaman. In some ways. She had faced the elements and in so doing, the deep red fur she had been born with had become pure black.
She had become Hinwikcheka, a True Hide.
He lived in the age when the gods still appeared before us and walked among the people and you did not need saptas to see the true nature of the spirits. It was a time when the Barrens were not barren, but a lush, green plain that our people roamed and hunted freely. There were no centaurs or harpies then trying to overtake it.
Windchaser was a young shaman. A noble, young bull with hide as red as the earth of the plains and long braids adorned with many feathers. He was an honored hunter as well, reknown even at such a young age. It is said the Wind was his friend and would whisper to him during his hunts, telling him where the best prey could be found.
One season, a great sickness befell the tribe. Many were weakened and some met death. There were not enough strong warriors to protect against the Swifthorn enemies and word was spreading across the lands that other tribes were becoming sick as well. Many shaman searched for a cure, but with no luck. Even the great Thunder, elder shaman of the Swifthorn and mentor to Windchaser, had trouble finding a cure. So he called upon his young charge.
“I have tried all that I know with all that I have available to me here in the village, but to no avail. And the spirits are strangely silent. At my age, I am no longer the swift and able hunter I once was. But I am in need of the heart of drakes for another brew which may heal this affliction. You are still strong, Windchaser. The sickness has not taken you yet. Go, my young brave, hunt for me.”
Without hesitation, Windchaser gathered what he needed and set off into the plains. But he was unsure of where he might find the small dragons he needed. Climbing a gentle rise he looked over the wide and open land. The rolling wind brushed against him, the feathers in his braids twirling and dancing. He gazed across the sea of grass and to the north he saw where he must go. A tall, lone mountain, a glowing orange and smoky mist hiding the very top of its peak. That is where I will find them, he thought to himself, and headed for the mountain.
The mountain was Dreadmist Peak, when it was young and overly proud. It was full of a child’s energy then, and boldly made its presence known, spitting out toxic fumes and churning out molten rock.
A full day’s run took him to the base of the mountain and when he arrived strange noises came from the thick of the brush there. Searching through the trees and thickets he found an injured kodo, a young cow torn in many places by wild beasts. But it was no ordinary kodo. It was a white kodo, a rare and sacred prize. To bring home the hide, meat and bones of one would bring great honor and good medicine.
Windchaser lifted his axe to kill the beast when the kodo pushed itself with great pains and crawled towards him. Windchaser stepped back, hesitating. He brought his axe up again and again the kodo crawled to him only to stumble. The young shaman hesitated once more. When he lifted his axe a third time, he looked into the eyes of the kodo and could see the strength of life still within its spirit. Windchaser let his axe down and instead laid his hands upon the beast. Calling to the Spirits, he asked them to heal the kodo and they did so. Its wounds healed and its strength returned, the white kodo rose and looked upon him. Then it spoke.
“I would have brought you much honor, young brave. Why did you not kill me?”
“Much honor in the eyes of others, but not within me. You were weak, the kill too easy. And your spirit was still strong. You were not ready to die.”
“And what of the needs of your tribe? My meat would have provided food, my hide, horn and bones robes and tools.”
“But now you are strong of body once again. You may go back to your herd, grow and have many children as strong in spirit as you that may provide well for us later. Our hunts were blessed this past season and plentiful, there is no need for such. The needs of my people are of a different sort and now I must continue my hunt to help them.”
“You search for a cure for your people,” the kodo said. “The winds whisper to all creatures. It is known to many. You have spared my life, noble brave, and for that I am in your debt. I know what will cure your people. Follow me and I will show you.”
Windchaser followed her without hesitation up the side of the great mountain. It was another day’s travel into the mist and to the very peak itself. To the edge of the great crater the kodo led him. Along the walls of the bowl mighty drakes of black and red slept. Windchaser pulled out his bow to begin his hunt but the kodo stepped before him.
“Watch and listen.”
Looking into the crater, the kodo let forth a long trumpet which echoed against the walls. It was no simple roar but a melodious song that it bellowed. The drakes awoke and roared in unison. Beating their great wings, they lept up and spun through the air as if in a dance. Then they plunged into the liquid fire below.
The Kodo nodded. “Now it is time. To get your cure you must go in after them. Do not be afraid. Trust me as I have trusted you.”
The heat of the fire below spoke of pain and death. The glowing churn sputtered with menacing laughter. Again, Windchaser looked deep into the Kodo’s eyes. He saw no lie within them. So he stepped to the very edge of the precipice.
“Spirits, protect me.”
And into the chasm he leapt. The pain came fast and the heat singed his fur casting him in flame as he fell towards the molten pool. Then just as he thought the fire would take him fully a great wind swept under him and carried him out of the crater setting him down upon the other side. There, the white kodo stood waiting and it kicked dirt upon him to put out the flame covering his body. Then rain fell from the mists above to cool him. The kodo smiled and bowed to him.
“You have shown me great trust and wisdom, young shaman. You have let me guide you even unto certain death.”
Then before his very eyes, the beast shed its hide and from it rose a beautiful woman her own fur and leathers a pure and shining white. From her braids, the ground and the very air she pulled ornaments, herb and stone and wrapped them tightly in the fallen hide. Reaching to him, her touch returned his strength and drove away the pain.
“For generations to come you will be remembered as one who trusted wholly in me. The ways of the shaman, the call of the Spirits, shall be blessed upon your family from this day forward. The fire from this mountain has marked you and will do so with following generations. In this way will the Swifthorn know that I trust you to care for them as I do. Go, my brother and child, tell them what has happened here so they will know it is true. Take this bundle, remember the song that I have sung and the dance you have seen. These will heal your people.”
And so Windchaser returned to his village. At first they did not know him for now his hide was no longer red but black as charcoal. But when he spoke his tale, they knew who he was and that it was true. He showed them the medicine bundle and taught them the dance, and with it the people were cured.
Windchaser was the first. And with every generation since, his family has given birth to a child strong with the Spirits. And as promised by the Earthmother, they have always from birth been marked with the burn of the mountain. That is how the Blackhides came to be.
When Red Earth had sent her message requesting to meet she wasn’t sure what their response would be. So much had happened in the several months she had been in convalescence. Things among the Horde and in the world had grown tenser, even with the successes against the minions of Deathwing. Within all that, the Shu’halo of the Horde had been balancing a fine line between their loyalty to the Horde and their own independence. The desires of those she had come to represent seemed small in comparison. But now she stood across the fire from Chief Baine Bloodhoof and a council of Thunder Bluffs elders, Cloudsongs, Ragetotems, Runetotems and others among them. She had not expected so many to be interested. But noticing how some took long, curious glances at her when she arrived, she realized they had not all come solely to hear her petition. She should have expected there would be more than the passing interest for some in her recent transformation.
She decided to take it all in stride. The change of her fur from the red of her birth to the prophetic black of her family’s history made clear where her Hunt would take her. Por Ah had given her this gift and one should not deny anything She gave her Children. For the first time in Red Earth’s life, she had no doubts of what Path she was meant to walk. And she would use it to her advantage. They had been lured by curiosity and now they would willingly listen. The more who were aware of her proposal and shared in the decision, the better.
Her newly acquired confidence was kept in check as she modestly paid homage to all who had come, thanked them for taking the time and shared a pipe with them as tradition called for. Once the formalities of ceremony had been concluded, Chief Baine addressed her. “Welcome, Sister. I understand you have all come here as representatives of the Swifthorn tribe.”
“Yes, Great Father. This, as you may know, is my sister by blood, Kick Feather. And this is Flying Bear of the Shining Trees clan,” Red Earth introduced. Sitting just behind her, her two companions greeted the Chief in turn. “Sister Flying Bear has been chosen as messenger by our Chief, the most honorable Greymane, asking us to make an appeal on behalf of the Swifthorn to the leader of the Shu’halo nation.”
“What would the Swifthorn tribe have of us?” Chief Bane asked.
Red Earth took a deep breath and began.
“As we all know, several years ago, the Bloodhoofs asked all the tribes to join together to form a Shu’halo nation and to ally themselves with the Horde in repayment for the lands of Mulgore they had helped us reclaim. Most tribes heard the call and came together and are now proud to call Thunder Bluff and Mulgore their home state. And many Shu’halo warriors have gone on to become dedicated members of the greater Horde nation.
“But not all the tribes agreed. Some put on thin masks to hide their disagreement, simply to take advantage of the gifts the Horde might provide. The result, a vile coup which led to great loss and a wounded Shu’halo nation. But other, more honorable tribes, spoke honestly and rejected the pact. The Swifthorn, as you know, were one of those tribes, choosing not to accept the mandates of the Horde for fear it would harm the ways of the Shu’halo.
“And so they’ve continued living separate, nomadic lives. At times their hunts have taken them in sight of Mulgore. But they never stepped foot onto this land out of respect for you who chose to make it your home. They were content and have thrived many seasons and have been able to preserve their way of life without getting involved in greater world events.
“But over the past year, the world has come to them. Their hunting trails have been torn apart by Deathwing’s upheaval. The Alliance and quillboar too have further severed the lands they roam. The Grimtotem are more aggressive than ever. And they’ve been confronted by people with weaponry and skills they are not equipped to defend against.”
“If the Swifthorn are asking to join us then you do not need to speak further. We would gladly welcome them,” Baine said, and there were nods and words of agreement among the others.
“We are grateful that you remain so open to the Swifthorn, but if you are asking the Swifthorn to join the Horde. . . .” Red Earth shook her head. “Sister Flying Bear here came from out villages not too long ago. She is young, curious and impressionable. She has had a chance to see what a wonder Thunder Bluff is as she waited for me to regain my strength. And even after seeing the great nation that has been formed for the Shu’halo and the Horde, she still feels as the tribe does.”
“And how do you feel about the Horde?” Chief Baine asked Flying Bear.
Flying Bear gasped a little. She had not expected to be addressed. But with a nod of encouragement from Baine, she scrambled to gather her thoughts and speak. She hoped she would say something that would not offend. “The Horde is not for us. They. . . .they ask too much. If we give them what they want, what’s left for us? I don’t know. I. . .that’s the easiest way I can say it. I’m sorry.”
“The debate over the Shu’halo’s place among the Horde is one that will be ongoing for some time, I have no doubt. But what of the Swifthorn then? If they don’t want a place among the Horde, then what is it they do want?”
“Passage,” Red Earth said simply. “Permission to pass through Mulgore. Move through the land to reach hunting in the Barrens to the north or back through to the south, as the seasons prescribe. It would mean they will hunt in Mulgore as well. But the Swifthorn are hunters who pride themselves on their efforts to leave minimal impact on the lands they travel.
“Such would not be done without compensation, of course. In return for passage, the Swifthorn would provide a rotation of warriors and hunters to help maintain and protect Mulgore. They will aid you with the Grimtotem on the plains and the northern passes which they will have to take to get over the mountains to reach the Barrens. They can provide protectors for the Wall. Watch the herds to help ensure their prosperity and health. Their aid in protecting the Shu’halo lands would allow your tribes more flexibility in choosing between the efforts of the Horde and the needs of Mulgore.”
“They cannot hide from the Horde as much as they would like if they pass through Mulgore,” said Baine.
“That is a benefit,” Red Earth agreed. “The Swifthorn are in need of knowledge. It is my hope that they will be able to learn more of this changed world without compromising their preservation of the old Ways. They have managed these several years to live in the Barrens without any disturbance from the Horde. Mulgore would be no different. Perhaps better as they would find more connection with the rest of Por Ah’s Children and learn from them. Our pact would be between our tribe and yours, not the Horde. Anything you wish of the Swifthorn would be limited to the borders of Shu’halo lands. And they will ask for no protection from you when they are outside these lands.
“This is what the Swifthorn propose. And we hope you will accept what we think will be beneficial to all involved.”
Edited by Redearth on 4/12/12 4:27 PM (PDT)
((If your character was ever in Ishnu Por Ah or was ever a friend of Red Earth or the Ishnu Por Ah, you can be witness to what follows. Or, you know, you could conveniently have spied. Heh))
Her discussions finished with the Elders of Thunder Bluff, their decision made, Red Earth then invited all the Ishnu Por Ah, both current and former, close friends and allies to meet with her outside the lodge on Spirit Rise. When those who could attend all gathered, she stood before them to speak.
"My friends. My Brethren. My time spent among the Horde these several years was one of required duty and eventual exile. It was the path Por Ah had given me and I’ve stepped forward upon it with a full heart. In these years I have always found comfort in the many gifts She gave me along that journey. She has guided me wisely, shown me many great things, introduced me to many people and put me in places which have challenged and broadened both my body and mind. But as many of you know, though I accepted this path without question, my greatest longing was to go home.
"After all that has happened, I am sure at least some of you suspected this day would come. I have been through a trial which has tested my faith, my resolve, my endurance and my friends. In return, Por Ah has blessed me with my life and a coat of pure black. As I am now a true Blackhide shaman of the Swifthorn tribe, I am called to be their guide, their bridge between this world and the Ancestors. It means I will be returning to them. I will be going home.
"There is great joy in my heart because of this. I have come to truly understand now why Por Ah has guided me away from them and why I am now being sent back. All I have learned I can now bring with me to help them along what has now become a difficult path for them.
"But my joy is bittersweet. When I came to the Ishnu Por Ah, they gave me what I needed most when I thought I was alone. And I have tried my best to give all of you the same thing. Some of you I have not known very long, others I have known for years, and there are some who have gone on to other things. They say you do not chose your family. And though we are all from different tribes and people and were invited at one time to carry this family’s colors, we did not chose when or how are paths would cross, or how connected we would become. Together we have lived, laughed, fought, protected and cared for each other. You have all come into my life, and I will forever be bound to all of you just as I am to those of my blood. No matter what, the words will always remain true. Once an Ishnu, always an Ishnu. We are family and I will miss you all.
"As I am the Matriarch of this family, it is my duty to name who will succeed me. My choice was Brother Mishkwaki, who has kept the house in order while I was healing and unable. He has accepted, but has asked not to take his place as Patriarch immediately, wishing to pursue a personal journey. So Brother Kaeevanrash has accepted the role of interim Patriarch until he returns. Like Brother MIshkwaki, I have great trust in Brother Kaeevanrash and so ask you all too to put your trust in him. Whichever path he leads this family down, I know he will ensure the honor and integrity of the Ishnu Por Ah.
"I leave in a few days time. And, of course, Kickfeather will be returning home with me as well. Though we say goodbye to you all and our immediate focus will be on the needs of our tribe, I promise this will not be the last we see of each other. The trails of the Swifthorn will be crossing across Mulgore from time to time. I cannot say when that will be, but I trust Por Ah will guide us back to you when the time is right. Until that time comes. . . .
"Ishne aloe Por Ah, walk with the Earthmother."
Edited by Plainswander on 4/12/12 4:37 PM (PDT)
From somewhere high above, nearly lost to sight in the cloudless Mulgore sky, a single white feather drifts slowly to earth. The quill is dripping with ink, and as the dark fluid flows from the end, far more than should be contained in a simple nub, the words "thank you, and farewell" can be made out in it's path across the dust.
Silently slipping from shadow to shadow the young tauren made her way towards the shaman with a determined look. Pausing a moment she flicked a quick feline tongue across her blindingly white fur, for once devoid of any of the dye used to give it color, and shifted up to regard Redearth with odd red eyes.
"Red? Know you won't forget us but...want you to have this. Just in case? If you ever have need just think really hard on it and I'll be there before you know it! Anyways...go safely and you'll be really missed."
After holding out a small pawprint shaped pendant Nova quickly retreated back into the shadows with only a near silent sniff to mark her departure from sight.