[Story] Between A Tree And A Hard Place

100 Tauren Shaman
14455
The ground began to go uphill. Rather than continue traveling parallel to the incline, Kaeev decided to go straight uphill, since the crest did not appear to be far away. It did take him a little longer than he thought it would, for the ground was still wet from the rain and made it slippery at times.

He crested the hill, and found himself on the edge of a road that stretched to the east and to the west. From what he could see, the road was clear. He looked at the surface of the road, sniffing it briefly and then sniffing the air as he pondered the notion of continuing east on the road. It would certainly be a much smoother trip, with far less rocks, roots, trees or brush to have to maneuver through. But then, a wolf traveling on the road would look suspicious. Malagan had sensed his magic before; the shaman didn’t doubt the human would see through his “disguise” if he laid eyes on him.

His pondering on the decision was interrupted by the startling sound of a horn, coming from the west. He looked in that direction, but could not see far enough down the road to tell what might be approaching. He shut his eyes, slowly inching off the road as he mentally uttered a call which, to his surprise, still worked. His vision came in his mind, and drifted westward on the road. The first shapes he could discern were that of nightsabers approaching fast. That realization was enough for him to stop moving his vision forward. He recognized the group of night elves riding these large cats; it was the same group that had been pursuing him, and Malagan was at their lead!

Kaeev ceased his call abruptly, fearing that the human may have drawn close enough to his vantage point to sense his magic like he had before. Frightened into action by the thought that he may have been spotted, he turned and ran back down the hill, which quickly became more of a dangerous slide. Reaching the bottom in a skid, he leapt off his hind legs into a run to the east, maneuvering through the rocks and roots as quickly as his speed would allow. The brush was so thick at times that he could not even see what was ahead of him.

Suddenly, after breaking through another wall of brush, Kaeev found nothing but empty space in front of him. He had reached the edge of another ridge, and his momentum was carrying him over once again. He let out a distressed yip at this, trying to turn around as he skidded off the ridge, his blunt claws making a vain attempt to hold on as he slid down the steep incline, making plenty of noise in the process. Rocks and bushes buffeted the shaman relentlessly as he tumbled down the steep side of the ridge, while he futilely tried to slow himself down with his paws whenever his claws met the earth. As he neared the bottom he managed to get on all fours facing downward, just in time to see numerous jagged rocks at the base, and a large, fallen tree on level ground just ahead of the base.

None of Kaeev’s efforts to slow his descent had worked, and the rocks at the base were rushing swiftly to meet him. If he didn’t act quickly, he would face serious injury or even death. His thoughts raced on what to do, and the idea that came to him sounded risky, but he took the chance anyway. As his momentum brought him to the edge of a large rock close to the base, with a great shove of his hind legs he launched himself off the ridge. He barely landed on the fallen tree, and as he landed, one of his hindpaws slipped and struck the wood hard while he tumbled forward across the top, falling over the other side onto the grassy loam with a ‘whump’.

With the wind knocked out of him, Kaeev drew in ragged breath as he lay on the ground for several moments, his breath coming out in soft whines. When he mustered the strength to get up, he howled in pain as he put weight on the hindpaw that had struck the tree. He pressed onward in a slow stumble for some paces, limping badly, when his ears then pricked at a growling sound he heard behind him.

Kaeev turned to see a bear-like creature emerge from the fallen tree that was apparently hollow. The creature had the look of a bear, but it stood on its hind legs like a humanoid, with various beads and feathers woven into its fur, and a loincloth around its waist. It snarled at him with an angry look in its eyes, and it was brandishing a crudely-made spear in one hand.

Kaeev had only heard tales of furbolg in these parts; this one was the first he had actually seen. His wolf ears wilted, and an exclamant he rarely uttered in his native tongue came out as a soft, accented ‘woof’.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
With a motion of the hand, Malagan brought the company of night elves and their nightsabers to a halt. He looked around, eyeing the woods around them with suspicion. One of the night elves, the same one who had tried to stop Malagan in his torturing Kaeev back at the camp, strode up alongside the human.

“Report, Sergeant Raveneye,” commanded Malagan, sounding annoyed.

“Sir,” answered Raveneye, with the same annoyance showing in the way he spoke that word. “We’ve been searching all through the woods south of Maestra’s Post and Astranaar. The tauren’s hoofprints trailed east but soon disappeared.”

“‘Disappeared’?” said Malagan with a glare.

The sergeant continued, not flinching at Malagan’s gaze. “Where his prints left, tracks of Ghostpaw wolves appeared, going in all directions. Not a trace of him anywhere.” After a pause, he suggested cautiously, “..It is possible, sir, that he has met his fate through them.” His suggestion was what he inwardly hoped, for the whole chase felt to him like a waste of time.

Malagan made a pull on his reins that made his nightsaber snarl, and turned so that the human now directly faced the night elf. “He’s out there somewhere, elf,” he said, anger welling within him as he pointed down the path. “Out there, and getting closer to Splintertree Post with each passing moment.”

“If he’s alive,” came Raveneye’s doubtful reply. “Ghostpaw can be rather vicious beasts, especially when they’re hungry. They rarely leave much trace of their quarry, going even so far as to lick up the blood of their kill from the ground.”

Then, as he thought more on the subject, doubt left his voice, but cynicism came in its place. “And even if he is alive, he is a shaman. We saw vivid proof of that. What good is there in chasing him when he was able to level our camp while in chains? We’re lucky no one was killed; I don’t think fortune would be so favorable if we confronted him unfettered.”

“His ability does not matter,” said Malagan while sneering. “He stole one of the most detailed maps we have of this area.” He leaned forward, his face coming too close for the night elf’s liking. “Perhaps you’d like to explain to my superiors how you let such a thing fall into enemy hands, Sergeant.”

Raveneye’s rank was spoken with condescension. He sat up straight, his superior height apparent. “In the hands of an enemy whose escape was facilitated by your torture. Or, what did you call it? Your ‘sort of fun’? Feel free, Knight,” he retorted, unintimidated as his voice echoed the human’s contemptuous tone. “I’d be happy to tell your honorable superiors what you think ‘fun’ is.”

It was then that Malagan realized an oversight on his part: Raveneye could not have quoted him like that unless he knew the Taurahe language also, something the knight was not aware of until now. The sergeant had heard and understood every word of the language spoken by and to Kaeev. This realization only made the sergeant’s words cut deeper. Malagan’s grip on the reins tightened, as did the clenching of his teeth. For a tense moment they stared each other down, before they noticed that their subordinates were watching.

Malagan turned his glare on them. “What are you lot gawking at? Get moving and find that tauren!”

The other night elves hastily obeyed, to Raveneye’s displeasure. And for now, there was little he could do about it. As much as he was growing to loathe Malagan ever since the human first arrived to oversee matters at the camp, the human held the higher rank. The sentinels would obey Malagan first. And before the sergeant could voice his protest, Malagan strode off after the sentinels, goading them onward on the path eastward. Gritting his teeth in frustration, the sergeant quickly followed, hoping this chase would be over soon, one way or another.

Dodge the matter while you can, human, he thought to himself. You won’t be able to forever; I’ll see to that.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev did the only thing he could think of as the furbolg drew near with the spearpoint forward. He answered the furbolg’s growls with growls and barks of his own, his hackles raising as he bore his wolf fangs and made every effort he could to look equally or more menacing. He even managed to stand on his hind legs briefly as he spread out his front paws, snarling and barking. And then, in the midst of his vocal efforts, Kaeev heard himself roar.

“..Rrrrraaahhhhhh!!!”

The furbolg was visibly startled by this, drawing back slightly. Bolstered by the indication of fear and the fact that his voice seemed to have returned, Kaeev continued to roar, limping slightly as he made sudden advances on his hind legs with each roar until the furbolg lost its nerve completely and retreated into the trees.

Kaeev was amazed that the idea actually worked, and soon noticed that standing on his hind paws felt unusually easier to maintain. He looked at his front paws, and to his further astonishment, saw not paws, but hands. He was back to normal again.

Now it all made sense, he thought. He must have somehow reverted to his normal form during his fierce display. That, and the sight of a wolf suddenly transforming into a much larger tauren, was what really scared off the would-be attacker. He checked himself; he still had on the cloth pants like before, and to his relief, the parchment was still in his one pocket.

It was about then, as the adrenaline subsided, that the throbbing pain returned to what was now his hoof, enough that a step on it made him fall down. He bit his lip hard as he nursed the injury; his hoof was only bleeding slightly from deep sc%*%@*%, but where there was not sc%*%@*%, was deep bruising and swelling. The pain was too great to put any weight on it.

Unless...

He cradled the injury gently in both hands, and bowed his head as he began to chant. With this, his hands began to glow a soft blue.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev parted one last line of brush, bringing the road to his view. It was an arduous climb back up the ridge, but the shaman didn’t want to chance continuing on below. He was lucky he had only encountered one furbolg; he didn’t want to risk running into more of them. The road felt to be the safer alternative, the smoother one at least.

He wasted no time. As soon as he saw that the coast was clear, he stepped onto the road and broke into a trot heading east again. His hoof had healed well enough with his call, the only lingering indication of injury being a slight soreness he felt there. It was not enough to slow him down, and for that, he was very grateful.

After journeying for a time that proved only to be uneventful, a bridge came into view ahead. Kaeev recognized it and took heart: the Falfarren River! Not only was Splintertree Post not far, but he remembered that this was the point from which he, under Sergeant Ugath’s command, had diverted from the road. But, alas, that was as far ahead as the shaman could remember before awakening as a prisoner. He ran up onto the bridge, and stopped, looking around as he caught his breath. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember how his mission had gone awry.

Moments passed, and with them, no new recollections. He went over the events surrounding his capture over and over again in his mind, and still he could not remember for himself. It was like searching a book with blank pages right in the middle of it.

The shaman frowned. Try as he might, he could remember nothing new. Did a man--whose only delight seemed to be in his misery--actually tell him the truth? Had the shaman truly failed in his mission? He stared at his shimmering reflection in the running water below, as if some answer was to be found there.

As his mind lost itself in the swirling current, an answer came. It was no thunderous, earth-shattering revelation, but a soft assurance that he had told himself before, that once again stirred his heart and mind to hope. No, he was not a failure yet. Not while he still lived. Not while he still had the map in his pocket, which he knew he did. Not while he was still free. Not while he still had the Earth Mother’s aid. Not after having made it this far. As he remembered the numerous times in the past few days how the Earth Mother had aided and guided him, he lifted his eyes heavenward as he mentally gave thanks.

With this gesture, Kaeev could also tell by the dimming light filtering through the canopy that eventide was approaching. Not about to spend one more night out here with Splintertree Post so close, he nodded and continued his trot with faith renewed.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev was completely unaware that some distance behind him, on the other side of the river, stood Sergeant Raveneye. He had a bow with an arrow drawn, following the tauren as he waited for the right moment to fire. If the arrow didn’t slay, he thought, at least it would wound the shaman badly enough for a second arrow to easily finish him off. This chase had dragged on long enough, and he wanted to end it now.

He muttered a curse under his breath as the sound of Malagan and the remaining sentinels quietly approaching on their nightsabers reached his ears. He took final aim, but before he could let the arrow fly, Malagan was by his side. “What do you think you’re doing!?” hissed the human in an angry whisper as he pushed the bow aside. “I want him alive!”

Already irritated by the interruption alone, the human’s words only fueled the sergeant’s frustration further. “Oh, now you want him alive?” he hissed back as he relaxed the tension on his bowstring. “You’ve been trying to kill him up until now, and all we have to show for it is a dead nightsaber and wasted arrows. I could have changed all that just now.”

“Your ambition has no place here, Sergeant. Keep thinking for yourself like that, and I’ll have you relieved and reprimanded,” threatened Malagan.

The sergeant was about to retort with a threat of his own, when an eerie, unnerving sound caused everyone to look around. The sound was howling, almost wailing. It began as distant, but only seemed to grow louder and closer. Even more unnerving was that the sound seemed to come from nearly all directions. Then, the trees about them began to waver with a sudden breeze. It was as if the forest itself had suddenly found its voice.

Malagan, not nearly as familiar with the area, exclaimed, “Sounds like the wails of the dead!”

The sergeant shook his head. “Ghostpaw,” he whispered, drawing his bow taut as he looked beyond the bridge. The sound had also caused Kaeev to stop and turn. The moment their eyes met, the shaman turned again and took off in a sprint.

The sergeant cursed under his breath again; they had lost the element of surprise. Malagan saw this, too. Quickly, the human charged toward the bridge, shouting, “After him, all of you!!”

“No, wait!!” exclaimed the sergeant, trying to shout over Malagan’s cries for the sentinels to stand their ground, but to no avail. They charged with the knight, but as they approached the bridge, a large pack of Ghostpaw wolves suddenly appeared out of the trees, closing in on them from both sides of the path.

The sentinels’ charge had quickly degenerated into mass confusion. The river, wide and deep with the previous rain, combined with the narrow bridge to create a chokepoint for the sentinels. In addition, the feral instincts of their nightsabers had taken over. Rather than obey the commands of Malagan and their riders and pursue the shaman, they were busy trying to fend off the Ghostpaw. Those that did obey their riders left themselves open to attack.

Raveneye had yet to get back on his own nightsaber as a pair of the wolves came at him. He felled the first with an arrow, and dealt a sharp kick to the other as he leapt onto his mount. He did not have to get far to catch up with the others, as only so many could fit onto the small bridge at the same time. Malagan had managed to get across unscathed while the sergeant broke through the rear, slaying a few Ghostpaw with more arrows as he went. As a few more wolves fell to the sentinels’ arrow fire, Malagan and the sergeant both shouted for the party to press on across the bridge.

With less of them now remaining than nightsabers, the Ghostpaw ceased their pursuit as the remaining sentinels hurried across the bridge. Three of the sentinels were without their nightsabers, as they had fallen prey to the Ghostpaw. Raveneye looked back in time to see this and, to his dismay, that one night elf was among the casualties. The Ghostpaw howled--whether in mourning for their own loss or in victory for their kills, the sergeant did not know--as they then feasted on the bodies of the lone elf and the nightsabers left behind. Their blood-stained muzzles made for a grisly sight.

And even as the three who were lucky stumbled to the rear of the group with various injuries, Malagan commanded all to continue at all speed without so much as a glance to check for wounded or dead. And once again, Sergeant Raveneye found himself being left behind with the wounded amid his own futile attempts to belay the knight’s order. “Madness!” he then exclaimed, almost throwing his bow to the ground in anger. He turned to the three wounded and whispered urgently, “Silverwing Grove is a short travel to the south; I do not think the wolves will pursue if you hurry. Go, now. Haah!” And with that, he took off on his nightsaber as fast as he could to catch up with the others.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
“Malagan!”

The knight heard Raveneye shout his name behind him, but he continued his lead of the sentinels undeterred. Surprisingly, in a few moments the sergeant had caught up and was by his side.

“We have wounded and dead back there, Knight! We can’t leave them!” shouted the night elf at him.

“Tragic,” responded the human coldly, with little or no emotion in his countenance. “We will press on, and recover the map.”

“Damn the map!” cursed Raveneye in reply. “We’ll be in range of Splintertree’s defenses by the time we catch up to that shaman!”

“Not if we shoot first!” said Malagan, breaking from his stolidity. “Our bows are better than theirs, and we are better with them than the orcs. We can shoot farther, and suppress their ability to attack while we make ours to take back the map.”

Raveneye gaped, aghast at the knight’s fallacious zeal. “..This isn’t even about the map, is it?” he almost whispered, but the volume of his voice soon returned, his tact thrown to the winds. “Nature herself has sided with that shaman, and she is stronger than any number of orcs or arrows! This isn’t courage, it’s hubris! You tempt slaughter!”

Malagan suddenly raised a fist at this, as if to strike the sergeant, but he withheld. “Then,” he said with anger on his face and in his voice, “you can pride yourself in escorting the injured to Silverwing Grove. Sergeant, you are relieved!”

The knight continued ahead, relaying his orders to the sentinels following him as Raveneye flagged in his pursuit. The sergeant was dumbfounded, stunned at being stripped of his command, and this because, he felt, he was the only voice of reason in this chase. He had tried to reason with Malagan when he saw heaven and earth tremble at Kaeev’s torturing. He had tried to reason with him when they had lost track of the shaman after Maestra’s Post. And finally, he had tried to reason with him when they had suffered actual losses to the Ghostpaw. All that, in vain! How could his commanding officer not see things as he did, that this chase would only end in their ruin?

In the following moments where Raveneye had tried without success to fathom the method to Malagan’s madness, he noticed that he had come to a complete stop. His nightsaber gave a low growl and looked to him expectantly for his command. He thought for a moment, before his face hardened with anger. “We aren’t going back to Silverwing Grove,” he said to the large feline, as if it would understand. “Not yet. I would rather save the rest of them or die trying, than live with their blood forever on my hands.”

His nightsaber gave another low growl as it returned its gaze ahead, and its body tensed, readying itself as it seemed to know what Raveneye had in mind. The sergeant steeled himself for what was to follow.

“I’m through with trying to reason. Fly!!

And with that shout, he took off after Malagan and the sentinels, hoping he might avert disaster, not meet it.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
The surrounding trees became a blur as Kaeev literally ran for his life. Branches that dared protrude out onto the path were knocked aside, or even broken. Under normal circumstances, the shaman’s speed would rival that of the nightsabers pursuing him, but the shaman was reaching his limit. After so much running and hiding from the night elves after his escape, he knew he could not go on for much longer.

The shaman had heard the Ghostpaw howls, but he did not know of how they had intervened on his behalf. Even with their help, he could hear that the sentinels had closed the gap fairly quickly. He took the last turn in the path, and the post’s front gate was in sight and open! Breathing in loud heaves at this point, he hurried on as the sounds of his heartbeat, the stampede of nightsaber paws and the voice of Malagan blended in his ears. Splintertree Post was so close, but so was Malagan.

Then, a short distance from the gate, it happened. Both of his legs, burning and leaden from so much exertion, buckled, and he found his face suddenly hitting the dirt. In the midst of the disorientation brought on by this sudden impact, he faintly heard the seemingly distant cry of Malagan giving the Darnassian command to fire. He was a stationary target, and was defenseless. He shut his eyes tight as he braced for the end.

To his surprise, the hiss of arrows was heard overhead. He felt no sting of arrows, and he heard none land near him. He looked up and saw why. An unfortunate orc gave a cry of pain as they fell from the post’s battlements, pierced by an arrow, while the rest managed to take cover safely behind the front wall. He wasn’t the target?

His confusion then turned to panic at what he then saw: the gate had begun to close! “…No! Wait!” Kaeev gasped as he struggled frantically to get up. The shaman began to scramble on all fours to make one last push to make it inside the post. “Stop!” he shouted hoarsely, but it was in vain. The gate fully closed with him only yards away from it. Managing to get on his hooves for just a moment, he stumbled to the now-closed gate and roared in frustration as he threw his own weight against it, without success.

As he collapsed, exhausted and defeated, he heard an all-too-familiar, mocking laugh behind him. He turned and looked, and there was Malagan, with a sinister grin on his face, approaching with the needler in one hand and his dagger in the other. The sentinels were some distance behind, firing their arrows at the battlements overhead in volleys with an almost mechanical efficiency. The orcs could be heard shouting overhead, but very few arrows were being returned compared to how many were coming at them. The post’s front defenses were effectively pinned down, just as Malagan had planned so he could approach with little or no danger.

“So close, but not enough, eh cow?” said the human with derision, obviously finding amusement in the shaman’s pitiful state. “You did a fine job getting this far, but now it’s over. I’ll be taking back that map, and you’ll return to your precious Horde as nothing but the dead body of one who miserably failed them.”

Kaeev tried to fend off a sudden drowsiness that came over him as the human locked eyes with him again, and he again began to hear Malagan’s words in both mind and ears as he drew nearer.

“Your beloved Earth Mother, She has failed you!”

The words came with a tone and feel that was almost too compelling to not believe. Nearly his whole life had been spent believing in a false deity, offering prayers and thanks that were heard by none, only to realize now that he had been living a lie! Deep down, Kaeev knew that such thinking was the real lie, planted in his mind by some vile spell that Malagan had tried on him once before, but that thought was fading fast with every moment the human was looking him in the eyes. And this time, no matter how hard he tried to muster the will, he could not tear his gaze away from him, even as Malagan brandished his dagger, ready to deal a lethal blow!
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
The spell suddenly broke at the sound of a snarling bark that caused Malagan to look away. A lone Ghostpaw wolf came charging from the side and leapt at him with fangs and claws fully bared, tackling him to the ground. Kaeev snapped out of the trance, a hand going to his temple as the knight’s lying words left his mind, and pain came in their place. As the pain quickly subsided, he saw and recognized the Ghostpaw--the same one that had found him and guided him--caught in a grapple with Malagan, who had his hands on the wolf’s jaws, as the wolf tried to get at the human’s face or throat with his fangs. Then, with a sudden shove, Malagan threw the wolf off himself, and it landed against Kaeev’s body.

The wolf was quickly back on his paws, but instead of going in for another attack, he stood his ground between Malagan and Kaeev. Having felt what sort of dark magic the human was capable of, Kaeev feared for the animal’s life. “What are you doing!?” he exclaimed frantically between heaving breaths at the wolf. “Run! ... Get out of here!!”

Malagan, who had dropped both his weapons at the Ghostpaw’s initial attack, got back on his feet. The knight was not wounded, but he was furious. The wolf did not heed the shaman’s warning. Instead, it continued to block Malagan’s way, growling viciously at any attempts to go around to get to Kaeev.

“Stupid animal,” spat the knight as he cautiously reached to the ground for the nearest of his two weapons, which happened to be the needler. The wolf saw this and, with a bark, lunged at him.

But this was what Malagan was waiting for. He grabbed the needler, while his free hand suddenly came up high. The wolf gave a strangled yip as Malagan caught him out of the air in a vice-like grip on the throat. Kaeev gaped at the human’s unnatural strength. With little exertion, Malagan was single-handedly holding the wolf suspended. The animal merely gave gurgled yips and growls as its limbs flailed helplessly in its struggle to break free.

Then, to Kaeev’s horror, the human’s hand began to darken with some vile sorcery, and the wolf’s silvery-white fur began to wither and discolor, like paper burning in a fire. “I don’t need a blade to kill you!” shouted Malagan.

NO!!” Kaeev bellowed. The shaman was so spent that, since reaching the closed gate, he could not muster the strength to stand; or, so he thought. Seeing the wolf’s terrible suffering at the hands of Malagan spurred on one more effort. He suddenly found himself standing, reaching with his shackled hands to try to free the Ghostpaw from the human’s dark grasp.

But Malagan anticipated this, too. As the shaman launched himself up and forward, Malagan tossed the Ghostpaw away and thrust the needler at him. The needler met Kaeev’s shoulder with such force that it pierced. The shaman screamed in pain, and with the scream, lightning flashed overhead as thunder rippled with deafening force. Malagan was unfazed by this; in fact, he only grinned more fiendishly at this result.

The grin left his face when Kaeev, in spite of the unbelievable pain, suddenly grabbed the shaft of the needler as a power far different from the knight’s began to well within him. Electricity began to sizzle all around the shaman’s body, forcing Malagan to let go of the needler lest he get shocked. The knight stumbled backward and fell as with a howl, Kaeev ripped the bloody instrument out of his shoulder. The shaman bore his teeth in a hateful gaze, his grip tightening on the needler until it snapped in half, at which it broke apart like brittle glass.

It was then that Malagan knew he was truly at the shaman’s mercy: a shaman with broken shackles, barely clothed but towering in terrible majesty. Both of them were trembling, Kaeev from exertion and lingering pain, and Malagan in fear.

The knight pointed frantically at Kaeev. “Kill him! Kill him NOW!!” he screamed desperately in Darnassian. And with a roar, Kaeev thrust his hands forward. Wind answered swiftly with a sudden blast that made even the front wall behind Kaeev reel from the force. The sentinels did get a volley off before they, along with Malagan, were thrown backward, but the wind deflected all the missiles, which buried themselves in the wall behind or landed harmlessly on the ground. Then, the shaman’s legs buckled from exertion again, and he fell again onto his hands.

There was a brief moment of bewildered silence that followed before Malagan regained his senses. He stood and was about to command to fire again...when someone else beat him to it.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Fire! FIRE!!” came the hoarse shout in Orcish from atop the battlements of Splintertree Post. The orcs had recovered from the wind blast first and, finally free from the sentinels’ attack, they returned fire in earnest. Malagan hit the dirt awkwardly but just in time as the volleys came and, to his surprise and dismay, many arrows found their mark amongst the sentinels. Contrary to what he had supposed, the orcs had just as much range on their bows.

But Malagan, like before, took little regard for the casualties sustained from the orcs’ retaliation, only cursing under his breath at the error itself. He refused to admit to himself that, as Sergeant Raveneye had often expressed or implied, this was folly. His focus still remained on Kaeev, who at the moment was struggling to get back up. It did not matter to the knight if the whole company of sentinels was slain in the process--he would have that map back, and slay the one who he felt was the cause of all this trouble. He arose after another volley, gritting his teeth in anger as he clenched a fist that began to darken again. He began to advance again on Kaeev, and opened his mouth to command the sentinels, when the voice of another again commanded before he could.

Retreat! By Elune, retreat!!

Sergeant Raveneye had shown up at the sentinels’ rear just in time to see Malagan inflict his horrific magic on the Ghostpaw. “Dark arts,” he whispered with dread and a chill going up his spine at the sight. He then drew back in a brief moment of fear as the claps of thunder and lightning came with Kaeev’s scream, and the subsequent blast of wind nearly threw him off his nightsaber. As soon as he saw the orcs return fire, he knew this fight was lost. Fear then turned to anger as he, just out of range, saw sentinels falling to the orcs’ arrows, while Malagan pressed forward heedless of their impending annihilation. “See what your pride has cost us, fool,” he whispered before he made the shout for the retreat. The other night elves were of the same mind as he, and all those that had not fallen to arrows obeyed, quickly falling back the way they had come.

Everyone, that is, except for Malagan. He turned on them, unwittingly leaving his back exposed. “What are you doing!?” He exclaimed in frustration as the sentinels retreated. “Get back here and return fire! That’s an order!”

His eyes fell on Sergeant Raveneye, who was retreating with them, and he glared in hatred, dancing in rage as the sentinels continued to disobey him. “Deserters, all of you lot! And I’ll have you hanged, Raveneye! You’ll regret--!”

The knight then went silent, his face frozen in a mask of pained surprise as several arrows found themselves buried deep in his back. After staggering a few paces without uttering another word, the knight Derrick Malagan fell dead to the ground.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Wheezing as he struggled to prop himself up and clutch his bleeding shoulder, Kaeev looked on and saw the last of the night elves meld into the trees as Malagan fell, and the orcs’ howls and cheers of victory filled the air. The shaman could hardly believe it. It seemed as though his ordeal was finally over.

But at what price? The shaman did not share in the orcs’ reveling, for it only took a glance at the still, disfigured body of the Ghostpaw to count the cost. He knew he owed the wolf his life, but never got the chance to really thank him. Instead of leaping for joy, Kaeev’s heart wrenched in sorrow, and he spoke a single word in a sob: “Why?”

He then looked to the rejoicing orcs on the wall, and tried to shout over their revelry between heaving breaths. “Open the gate!” he said, and got no response. “I have urgent news, open the gate!” he tried again.

Instead of a response, one of the orcs pointed beyond him, shouting to those with him, “By Hellscream’s Axe, look!!” Kaeev turned to look with the rest of the orcs, and where Malagan’s body once lay, there were only burnt arrows on a smoldering patch of ground. Kaeev saw no figure retreating into the woods. It was as if the human’s body had simply burned away into nothing. The shaman had looked barely too late to see the entirety of what had happened, and thus he was left to wonder again just who, or even what, his slain tormentor was.

The revelry finally hushed as the orcs too wondered among themselves what sort of foul magic they had just witnessed, of which Kaeev only caught a glimpse. The shaman, with much effort, managed to stand with quaking limbs. He let his tired hands drop to his sides, as his shoulder had mostly stopped bleeding by now. “I said open the gate!”

“‘R what, tauren?” laughed an orc guard with derision from atop the wall, while a few less trusting guards drew their bows on him. Whatever astonishment they had at the shaman’s sudden display of power just moments earlier was already forgotten. Other guards chuckled with the orc who spoke. “Y’look like you took a wrong turn in this forest. Ye’re a long ways from Mulgore!” Then there was laughter among them.

“IDIOT!! He’s one of ours!!” boomed another voice that Kaeev recognized, which also made him sigh with relief. The guards went silent instantly and shrank with fear as Blood Guard Stoneaxe suddenly appeared on the wall, buffeting them both physically and verbally with all manner of insults. The guard who mocked briefly lost balance under Stoneaxe’s assault, barely saving himself from a nasty drop by grabbing the wall as the officer bellowed to the other guards, “Open the gate for him. NOW!!”

Kaeev staggered backwards, almost falling down as the gate to Splintertree Post opened promptly. Stoneaxe had moved from atop the battlements quickly; he was already there to greet Kaeev. The shaman glanced behind himself, and his heart sank again upon seeing the Ghostpaw’s body in the distance. The sight of it, for him, served more as a reminder of his failures than his blessings. Surely there was something he could have done to save the wolf? Could he do something now, knowing that Stoneaxe was eagerly awaiting him?

He hesitated for a long moment. I’m sorry, he thought to himself, as he made his choice and stumbled through the gate, stealing one more sorrowful glance at the body. The chance to intercede seemed to slip away as the gate closed with an abruptness that, had Kaeev not been looking back and reacted quickly enough, might have caught his tail.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Still breathing heavily, Kaeev then faced Stoneaxe and gave a weak, pained attempt at assuming a position of attention and saluting.

“Sir...” said Kaeev between breaths and a cough or two. “Grunt Kaeevanrash, reporting back.”

“Sit. Down. Grunt,” said Stoneaxe emphatically, his foul mood persisting. Kaeev needed no second bidding, dropping to the ground with a ‘thump’. Fear then began knotting his insides; it didn’t look like he was going to avoid the officer’s wrath this time.

“Where is the rest of your squad?” questioned Stoneaxe.

“..S..slain, sir. We were ambushed by night elves; I was taken prisoner,” answered Kaeev, feeling he had little choice but to trust Malagan’s word regarding what happened. He held his bloodied hands forward, showing the broken shackles as evidence.

“And only you live?”

Kaeev simply nodded, still catching his breath.

The blood guard’s voice leveled as he then began to pace back and forth, his steely gaze never leaving the shaman. “Tell me, Grunt. This is the ‘urgent news’ you bring? That was a grand display of your command of the elements just moments ago, and yet you could not support or sustain your own comrades with such ability? How can I know you did not simply lose your spine and abandon the party to save yourself, only to get caught later?”

Kaeev shook his head in protest, but Stoneaxe continued before he could give a verbal reply. The orc’s tone of voice grew increasingly dangerous. “Why shouldn’t I just brand you like a horse so any who see you will know you are nothing but a coward?”

The shaman then drew forth the folded roll of parchment from his pocket, offering it to Stoneaxe. “What is this?” said the orc with annoyance as he snatched it from Kaeev’s grasp and unfolded it quickly. He held it out in both hands, looking it over.

Kaeev lowered his head and shut his eyes for a brief moment as he mentally uttered a quick prayer. When he looked up again, the orc’s visage was changing. His hazel eyes slowly widened as he scanned the parchment repeatedly. He even began to gape a little, as if in astonishment. Then, looking up and noticing that all eyes were on him, his mouth shut and his face hardened. Quick to guard his surprise in the presence of his subordinates, his former gaze returned as he folded the parchment, grasping it in one hand and beckoning Kaeev with the other to follow.

“My quarters. Now.”
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev soon found himself sitting in a hut that had been furnished as private quarters for Blood Guard Stoneaxe, there at Splintertree Post. He had been left there alone to wait, presumably while Stoneaxe went to have some choice words with his subordinates outside. Kaeev could hear him yelling outside from time to time, but not well enough to make out what was being said. I’ll hear it loud and clear soon enough, he thought to himself with a sigh, unsure of what to make of Stoneaxe’s reaction to his presentation of the map.

As he waited, his thoughts drifted to his surroundings, the hut that he sat in. It was not anything that luxurious. It was a single room, with a straw bed in one corner, and in the corner opposite that stood a metal brazier. The brazier burned dimly, it being the primary source of light in the room. Near the bed, there was a stone table with a couple of wooden stools. Various other parchments were on the table, as well as a candle that was not burning. He himself sat on a third stool adjacent to the brazier. The place seemed rather nondescript, the only real luxury being its privacy.

And just as Kaeev thought that, he barely heard footsteps before the door flew open as Stoneaxe burst into the hut. Kaeev quickly stood and assumed a position of attention, though his lingering fatigue made him take a bit longer than normal to do so. He flinched as the orc then slammed the door behind himself, walking past the shaman without so much as a glance. The map was in the orc’s hand, which he unfolded and d%@%%d over the table near his bed. He then took the candle to the brazier, lighting it and bringing it back to the table so he could better see the map. All this, having yet to acknowledge Kaeev’s presence.

Kaeev looked over, only moving his eyes, and could see in the candlelight that there was at times surprise, even amazement showing in the blood guard’s eyes, like he had seen before. Such moments were brief, for more often than not his brow was furrowing in thought at what he was reading.

Finally, Stoneaxe arose, taking the map to Kaeev and looking him right in the eye, holding it up near the shaman’s face at the same time. “Grunt Kaeevanrash,” he said with suspicion, “how in Hell’s teeth did you get your hands on this??”
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev’s response was slightly belated, as he was collecting his thoughts before speaking. He could not help but sound nervous. “The camp where I was held prisoner, sir. They had it there and I..stole it as I escaped, sir,” he answered.

Stoneaxe eyed him, the suspicion persisting, but only did so briefly. “Where?” he responded, going back to set the map on the table. “Show--” He then saw how Kaeev had remained at attention, and he waved a hand dismissively. “At ease, Grunt. Show me where this camp is.”

The orc’s tone of voice suggested to Kaeev that he had calmed down for now. The shaman nevertheless approached cautiously. He looked down on it, this map he had managed to smuggle his whole way back to Splintertree Post. This was the first really good look the shaman actually had of it. The map was of all of Ashenvale, much like the one shown him when he was first briefed at Kargathia Keep, only this one had far more detail. Numerous landmarks, outposts, lakes and paths were clearly noted, some water damage notwithstanding. Most of these also had Darnassian writing next to them, but he could not read that. His finger drifted to the western portion of the map, for he knew that was where the sea was. In the northwest corner, near the top edge, he saw a marking of a building that resembled a tower. He recognized it, for it looked like the tower he saw in the fog, and he recalled Stoneaxe naming the place as Maestra’s Post. He planted his finger north of the tower marking. “Right about there, sir.”

One of Stoneaxe’s hands hit the table as he looked at and spoke to the shaman with disbelief. “Your squad was ambushed by night elves. You were taken prisoner...” The said hand then pointed a finger on the opposite end of the map, on the marking denoting the location of the Horde’s lumber camp where Kaeev’s mission first began, and ran across to where the shaman had indicated. “...You were taken all across Ashenvale where you then managed to make your escape, and by some incredible luck managed to elude that demon and the night elves--in their own land--and make it back here!?” The orc’s finger stamped on the marking for Splintertree Post as he concluded what even to Kaeev sounded like a story that was beyond belief.

Kaeev gaped slightly himself, momentarily dumbstruck as he mentally came to grasp what he had managed to accomplish. “..Sir, I know it may sound absurd, but yes,” he answered Stoneaxe. His eyes then lowered as he thought on it all, and added with a hint of reverence in his voice, “The Earth Mother heard my prayers to deliver me and bring me back safely. I would not--” He then corrected himself. “I could not have done this on my own, sir.”

Stoneaxe eyed him again, still skeptical. “And how did ‘she’ help you?” he asked, the skepticism lacing his voice.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev then went on to relate his whole story. He told of his capture (at least what he could remember, or what Malagan told him of it), his discovery of the map, Malagan’s torturing and his miraculous escape. He told of the many encounters he had from there, of his breaking through the defenses at Maestra’s Post, the Ghostpaw and how they had intervened, and even the brief furbolg encounter, culminating in his final push to Splintertree Post that evening. While relating this series of events, Stoneaxe had permitted him to sit, and occasionally the officer would look to the map to reference certain locations he knew as Kaeev spoke of them. The orc listened quietly and intently the entire time. Sometimes, at least Kaeev thought, he showed genuine interest.

After the shaman concluded his account, an anxiously long moment of silence followed before Stoneaxe gave a soft nod.

“..I believe you, shaman,” answered Stoneaxe before breathing a sigh. It was the first time Kaeev could recall the orc addressing him that way. Stoneaxe looked back at the map as he said, “I can often tell if someone is lying to me by the look in their eyes, and as astonishing as your story is, that look is not there.”

Kaeev sighed in relief, and nodded in thanks. He then raised an eyebrow as he recalled something the officer had said earlier. “..You mentioned a ‘demon’, sir?” he asked, not knowing the orc was referring to Malagan with that term.

“Human, demon,” answered Stoneaxe with, by his tone, little care or regard for Malagan. “Whatever he or it was, he is dead now, that’s all I care. That’s what all the orcs who saw his body burn away say he must have been. I have heard of demons using such trickery before, masquerading as humans. With traces of them still in the area, that explanation suits me well enough.”

Kaeev nodded again, recollecting having caught a glimpse of the evidence himself.
Stoneaxe, now seeming more relaxed than Kaeev had ever seen him prior, continued. “I have heard the Warchief himself speak of his admiration for your people, and how your people remain close to the world and the Spirits, even in perilous times. ‘There is wisdom in that,’ he said, ‘wisdom that is far stronger than their arms, wisdom that I hope our own people can regain, with their aid.’”

He lifted the map with a hand. “Now I understand what he meant when he spoke those words, for I have witnessed it myself by your account. I showed this map to every scout and spy we have at this post, and they all agreed that this map you have provided is indeed authentic.” He then couldn’t help but laugh as he added, “Frankly, you’ve made them all look bad.”

Kaeev laughed too, though still nervously. “This map,” explained Stoneaxe, “verifies every location of Alliance camps we have on our maps, and tells us of others we did not even know existed. And not just Alliance camps, either. They have also marked numerous settlements of naga, furbolg and other demons in the area, several of which I can say without a doubt we were not aware of.”

The orc shook his head in amazement, and even a smile began to creep on his face. “I don’t even need you to report a route, because I can already see one on the map that our wind riders can use to reach the western shore safely.” He then placed a friendly hand on the tauren’s shoulder. “I misjudged you, Grunt. You have done all I have asked of you and more.”
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Stoneaxe then paused in thought. “I will send word of the others’ deaths to their families; those that have them, anyway. But you, you are to be commended. You honor your family and your people with your deeds, Grunt Kaeevanrash. Now, seek out our healers and get those wounds of yours looked at. Oh, and..” He pointed to the shaman’s wrists, still weighted with the broken shackles. “Talk to one of our scouts; they should be able to get those off you. Get yourself a good meal and some rest. On the morrow, you will depart with an armed escort to Orgrimmar to deliver the map personally. I will ensure they stop at the lumber camp on the way so you can retrieve your things.”

The last part of the orc’s sentence puzzled Kaeev, and it showed in his face. Stoneaxe explained further. “I do not think the Alliance would be so bold as to make another attack in the very near future, after what casualties they have sustained tonight. We can use that time to our advantage and make copies of this new information as well as pass it on to my leaders in Orgrimmar.”

There was a brief, awkward silence as Kaeev still looked puzzled as he wondered what having his things with him had to do with all this. Stoneaxe saw this, heaved a sigh, and spoke frankly. “I am having you reassigned, Grunt Kaeevanrash. I think we can both agree that your ability has not been put to proper use the majority of your time here in Ashenvale.” The orc’s more professional bearing and tone of voice had returned as he commanded. “I will have you pass that recommendation as well as the map, to my leaders. It will likely take some time for them to determine where to send you, and so when you have delivered as I have asked you, you will await further orders with your tribe in Mulgore. I will send word to you there.”

Home! The sudden, unexpected prospect of going home for a time brought both surprise and joy to Kaeev’s face, and for a moment he was speechless with those emotions. “My people were prisoners once,” said Stoneaxe thoughtfully. “It is a fate I would not wish on many. Now get some food and rest, Grunt. Dismissed.”

The orc’s direction registered with some delay. “Sir,” Kaeev then said, standing at attention and saluting hastily in response while Stoneaxe returned the salute. He then turned and went for the door, but paused as he reached it. Some unfinished business still nagged at his mind.

After some thought, the matter felt pressing enough to Kaeev that it didn’t matter to him if it meant testing Stoneaxe’s patience or generosity. He turned back to the orc. “Sir, if I may...” he began.

Stoneaxe had sat down to study the map some more, and looked up to the tauren, not appearing to look irritated. “Yes, Grunt?”

Kaeev then explained. “Sir, just outside the main gates lies the body of a Ghostpaw wolf. I mentioned how these beasts helped me; this one stood out among them the most. I owe him my life, and would like to render thanks with a proper burial.”

Stoneaxe thought for a moment, and then nodded. “Very well. Get with the gate guards and tell them of your errand, and that I sent you. Let me know if they give you any trouble.”

“Yes, sir,” Kaeev affirmed before departing the hut, beaming a smile.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Later that night, sleep was eluding Kaeevanrash. Perhaps this owed partly to the fact that he was sore all over, but his thoughts on the past several days’ events were proving far better at fending off the body’s desire to rest. He was about as troubled as he was grateful about everything, his restless mind racing back and forth between one thing and another as he tossed and turned on a smaller straw bed in one of the guards’ huts there at Splintertree Post.

For starters, there was the thought of home. The opportunity to return for a time was a welcome one. Kaeev had joined the ranks of the Horde almost a year ago, and since then had never got the chance to come home. The shaman never had been that far away, but that seemingly short time spent in service to the Horde made things seem different. His purpose wasn’t just about preserving his tribes, his family, or even his people anymore. New faces, new races, and new threats once spoken among his family and people only as old visions or legends had become real. It made home as he remembered it seem distant in both time and space.

Then, there was his mission. He had done as Stoneaxe had asked, but he knew in his heart that this would only enable Horde efforts to expand in the area. That wouldn’t bother him, if it didn’t mean the deforestation would likely continue. He didn’t want to be part of that. At least, now, he knew he won’t have to be.

Then, there was Malagan. Kaeev had heard orcs speak ill of humans frequently, but he himself had few actual encounters with them. Of those he had come across, most of them seemed fairly intelligent, but also rash at times in their judgment, even disrespectful. But they were a different people, a different culture that he knew little or nothing about. Perhaps much of their ill was done in ignorance, but this man..no, this man was not who he was ignorantly. Malagan knew of his kind, of his calling, everything that made him what he was, and mocked it all. It was not blind prejudice, it was just plain evil. The extent of the man’s knowledge was and would likely forever remain a mystery to Kaeev. He would have to settle with the notion that maybe the human was in fact some disguised demon, as Stoneaxe and the other orcs had speculated.

And finally, there was the Ghostpaw wolf. The mere thought of the beast saddened him. He was able to give the wolf a proper burial like he had requested of Stoneaxe, but his feelings of guilt were not buried with it. The heaviest of all the burdens on his mind was the harsh truth that his calling as a shaman had gone neglected for some time. And yet, here he was: alive, for the most part well, and free, while others were dead. And in the case of the wolf, dead for his sake.

Turning onto his back, Kaeev lifted his hands to look at them, as if he might see in the dark the very faint markings painted on his hands, to no avail. All the thoughts on his mind together were bittersweet in sum, with the bitter holding more sway. He breathed a sad sigh as he let his hands rest, moments before fatigue finally overcame him and he drifted to sleep.

His resting hands no longer had shackles. And yet, shackles of a different kind remained.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
The shaman opened his eyes after what felt like a short time. He grumbled a sigh, and turned over again on his bed. The tossing and turning continued again for some time before out of frustration he got up, resigning himself to take a stroll outside. He donned a robe, and rolled his shoulders a few times to try to alleviate his soreness, when, to his brief surprise, he felt no soreness at all. It seemed odd to him that the pain would have gone away this quickly. Oh well, nothing to complain about, he thought as he opened the door of the hut and ducked to step outside.

He looked around the post as he closed the door quietly. There was no one around, not even guards where he thought there ought to be. The torches around the post burnt low, so most of the light illuminating the scene was that of the moon shining through the forest canopy. He shrugged, not thinking much of it as he began his late-night walk.

As Kaeev walked, however, he began to grow increasingly puzzled by his surroundings. It was unusually quiet, and he had yet to see anyone. The only sounds he really heard were his own steps and the occasional breeze. He stopped to look around again, and still found no one. And yet, rather than troubling him, he simply thought it was all a little strange. In fact, he even felt an air of peace, another thing that had eluded him in addition to sleep. “Hello?” he finally spoke in his own tongue, with caution in his voice. The word was not loud, but audible enough for anyone fairly close by to acknowledge.

An answer came suddenly, a distant but piercing howl that came like a chilling gust of wind from behind him. His fur stood on end as he turned quickly to face its source, and gaped in astonishment. There were no people, no huts, nor towers, torches, or walls that were previously there. It was as if Splintertree Post had completely vanished.

That was when it dawned on Kaeevanrash, when the reason for everything he had thought strange since he arose from bed became clear. He had not left his bed. He was having a vision, one more vivid and real than he had ever seen before. And while the shaman had been privileged to see visions in the past, it was uncommon for them to come without wish.

He looked past what was now a clearing. There was a bright light like that of Mu’sha in her fulness, but rather than shining on him from above, the light shone at him from ahead, past the clearing and into the trees. He knew instantly where it was coming from, for in the same direction was the place where he had buried the dead Ghostpaw. He quit his walk, and ran with haste toward the site.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeevanrash reached the burial site momentarily. And there, just as he had hoped, was the Ghostpaw’s spirit. He had seen the wolf alive enough times to recognize it now, but its appearance had changed. It was much larger, and its coat no longer needed Mu’sha’s blessing to shine, for it now had a glow of its own. Kaeev knelt in reverence.

The wolf spoke before he could, the voice deep and reverberating through the shaman’s body. “Hail, chosen of the Earth Mother. I am glad you have come.”

Kaeev quickly answered. “And I am glad you came,” he said, referring to their many meetings previous as well as this one. “I would not have escaped without your aid. I thank you.” He shook his head as he looked at the ground, mentally recollecting his ordeal and having terrible imaginings of how this all might have ended had this now-spirit not intervened. The shaman looked up, asking, “Do you have a name, Spirit?”

The wolf spirit gave a soft and slow nod. “Among my pack, I was called ‘Swift Moon’. And, the aid ultimately was not mine to give.” The wolf began to pace back and forth like he had when he and Kaeev had first met, his luminous eyes more piercing in their gaze than they ever were before, never straying from the shaman. “There were few forces in this land whose ears were not filled with your cries of agony. Your prayers to the Earth Mother did not go unheard. She answered, calling upon the Ghostpaw to find you and do all that we could to ensure you return to your post safely. I knew you were the one She spoke of when you spoke to me in your mind.”

Kaeev frowned and shook his head, the memory of their last meeting still fresh. “Swift Moon,” he said with remorse in his voice, “Your life came to an end because of me. You could have fled--”

The wolf cut him off. “No,” he said, also shaking his head as he stopped pacing and sat. “Had I left you, it would have been your end that day, and I would have failed the Earth Mother’s charge. I chose to stay.”

Kaeev lowered his head, his eyes going back to the ground again. Notwithstanding the assurance of Swift Moon, the heavy burden of guilt remained with him. In fact, it only grew heavier, for he did not feel worthy of this boon given him. He had been negligent in his calling as a shaman in the past several months he had been in Ashenvale. He had not called upon the Earth Mother for help or guidance regularly as he had been taught to. Not, at least, until this ordeal was suddenly thrust upon him. The shaman began trembling, hiding his face in his hands as he tried to fight against the lump that welled in his throat.

The shaman then felt the wolf’s muzzle under his chin, making a lifting motion to raise his head up. The wolf continued to do this until Kaeev stood. Their eyes met, and the wolf briefly pressed his muzzle against the shaman’s--that friendly gesture again. “Kaeevanrash,” said Swift Moon with a slight sigh, “You did your best in this affliction. I have not come to you to condemn. My death--rather than yours--was my choice. I died doing what the Earth Mother asked, protecting--saving--one of Her People. There are few greater honors to be had than that.”

Kaeev sniffled and wiped his eyes, but he nodded assent. “Your work in this world is far from finished,” continued Swift Moon. “Though you might have wandered from your path for a time, the Earth Mother in Her compassion set Her hand to show you the way back. And you chose to come that way, as difficult as it was.”

The wolf spirit repeated his emphasis. “You came back, and thus you will be blessed. That, my friend, is why I have come.”

Swift Moon lifted a paw, which was nearly as big as Kaeev’s own hand, and pressed it to the shaman’s chest. “Though I am dead,” he said, “I am not gone from this world. As you had our aid in your trial, so shall you have it when called for. You shall have the spirit of the Wolf to hide your identity and hasten your stride. Remember this gift and use it well, to escape danger and come swiftly to others’ aid, even as the Ghostpaw did for you.”

As the wolf spoke these words, Kaeev felt a cold, but calming feeling sweep over his whole body. He drew breath sharply at the initial sensation, instinctively clasping the wolf’s paw at his chest with a hand, but he soon relaxed.

His vision began to blur with the wolf’s parting words. “Go, now. Remember this trial not for its toils, but for a witness that the Earth Mother visits Her own in their suffering.”
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeev’s vision continued to blur until it went dark, and he awoke with a start at a distant howl from outside the hut in which he rested. He looked around in the dim light, and could faintly see how everything was in its proper place again. He could even see the same robe hanging in the place he found it in his dream, and the banter and footsteps of patrolling guards could be heard outside.

He winced as he propped himself up with one hand, the soreness that was once gone having returned. Now he really was awake, left to now ponder on what he had seen and heard. As he sat there, musing on the words and the gift given to him by Swift Moon, he looked down, and saw that his free hand was on his chest, as it had been when the vision concluded. He looked at the hand, still unable to see whether or not the paintings were still there.

But something was different, this time. The guilt and the shame that he felt, like some heavy burden on his back, had been lifted from his shoulders. It was the peace from his vision that remained, now. It was as though he could now literally feel in his heart and mind the words of comfort and assurance that Swift Moon had spoken to him. At this, Kaeev’s emotions overcame him again, and he poured out his thoughts of joy and gratitude to the Earth Mother whom he worshipped, and whose will he would represent anew. He had reawakened to a new sense of his shamanic duties, and with renewed determination recommitted himself to follow and honor the Earth Mother once more. As Swift Moon died doing what the Earth Mother asked...so would he live.

There was just one other thing he needed to do.
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100 Tauren Shaman
14455
Kaeevanrash had done as Stoneaxe had asked of him, leaving Splintertree Post the following morning and making a stop at the Warsong Lumber Camp before continuing on to Orgrimmar. There, he delivered the original copy of the map with a letter with Stoneaxe’s seal to his superiors. The orc’s superiors were pleased with the news, and allowed Kaeev to keep Stoneaxe’s letter with their own seal in addition as proof of his permission to return home. There was still plenty of the day left when this task was complete, and so Kaeev spent this extra time exploring this new orc city. Tauren visitors were not as common then, and so it seemed like many merchants took note of his presence and eagerly sought his attention in hopes of him buying their wares. Kaeev didn’t have much money, and so purchases were left to necessities like food, water and a place to stay the night.

He didn’t have enough money (and perhaps not enough courage) to try flying one of those wind riders back to Mulgore. He’d have to walk home, first to Razor Hill, and then from there past Far Watch Post to the Crossroads, and then by Camp Taurajo to get to Mulgore. It would be a long walk that would take a day or two depending on his pace, but that was all right too. Long walks were nothing new to him.

Through passing gray clouds, rays of the following mid-morning sun streamed across the desert coastal landscape now known as Durotar. There was a trace of humidity in the somewhat salty air, but it wasn’t felt too often thanks to the occasional breeze. Kaeev breathed a satisfied sigh as he left the city of Orgrimmar through its main gate to behold the land. It felt good to hear the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the city fade and give way to the sounds of the land and sea. The breath of wind through the canyons and the caress of the waves on the nearby shore were like voices to the shaman.

The shaman was in a good mood. Enough, that he couldn’t help but ask out loud, “How are you today?” as if the wind and waves would verbally answer him. They didn’t, but that was all right. He was in such good spirit that he felt like he was walking a few feet above the ground. Yes, he was going home. Yes, he had carried out what he had been asked to, but those things weren’t what made him the happiest.

The shaman took another look at his open hands, the old paintings on them having become new. Among his things he had picked up at the lumber camp were the tools and powders needed to repaint the markings on his hands. That was the one last thing he felt he had to do. Now, the streaks of blue and gray on his hands and wrists were rich and bright in their color. As he examined them, the sun briefly broke through and shone in the area where he stood. He squinted as he looked heavenward, and smiled as he shielded his eyes. In his heart, he knew that Her eye was watching, and approved.

The real source of his happiness was the truth of what a white wolf in Ashenvale had told him, both literal and implied. He was a shaman of a people blessed and favored by the Earth Mother, and that meant himself too. He had forgotten Her for a time, but he had not been forgotten. And now, he had evidence to show he would not forget.

His eyes then leveled to the road, and with a grin, a whoop and a shout, he took off in a run down the road.

The road to home.

The End

((Thanks for reading, hope you all enjoyed!))
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