It was a good night.
Two blade throwers and a half-built ship in Zoram'gar were burning in an unquenchable fire. A wagonload of supplies and the wyvern nests in Hellscream's Watch also blazed cheerfully.
Jeremy Slater really wished he'd thought to bring some smorcs.
He smiled cheerfully at the non-combatants nearby in the Watch and tossed them a casual salute. He and the other Crusaders wouldn't be bothering them, and the Hordies knew it--or at least, he hoped they did. He glanced over at Adinas, who stood by, wordlessly watching the skies for the inevitable reinforcements. Kyalin was somewhere around, he knew not where; one thing he'd learned about Wardens was that you didn't see them unless they wanted you to.
An undead mage had already shown up, tried valiantly to help his comrades, but had wisely chosen to retreat and regroup when he realized how badly he was outnumbered. Wily fellow; he looked familiar, this one, and not to be trifled with, if he was the one Slater had in mind.
"We should get out of here," Slater said at last. "Before they arrive in force."
But no sooner were the words out of his mouth than he was set upon from all sides--by guards and by frostbolts. The guards were no match for him, as the ones before hadn't been, but those frostbolts were problematic.
Slater fought slowly backwards, past the burning wagons, hoping to give his companions time to escape as they too nobly fought back against overwhelming odds (and succeeded in surviving, no small feat). The Horde pushed him back, shoved him down the hill, then shouted "Lok'tar ogar!" at him.
"We burned your fortresses, you dogs!" Slater shouted back. "For the ALLIANCE!" And he laughed a contemptuous laugh.
His hippogryph Valiant nudged him from behind, and he mounted up for his usual victory dance: three dive-bombings on the defenders, then away.
After the third pass, he turned toward Astranaar and safety--but at least one guard was unwilling to let him escape. Valiant let out an ear-rending screech as a javelin passed through his body, and Slater found himself falling, falling, his jaw clenched desperately against the scream that he knew would do nothing but make the Hordies feel good about themselves.
Surface tension is a funny thing. You would think that water would always be soft and welcoming, but hit it after falling far enough, and it can be like a rock. It was almost that when Slater hit it, and he saw stars.
The cold of the water seeped under his armor plates, dragging him down, stinging his open wounds. He would have chuckled if he'd had control enough to do so. So this is how I leave this world, he thought. Well, no offense, but the whole place was a raw deal anyway. Whatever You have in mind for me next, I'm looking forward to it.
And the world vanished in a swirl of blackness.
Edited by Kyalin on 4/7/12 11:37 PM (PDT)
Was it a good night?
The primary objective was, for all intents and purposes, achieved. The sawblade throwers at Zoram'gar could not participate in the defense when the Admiral's ships arrived, added the Horde's two new vessels to the blockade of wreckage that previously barred the way out, and returned into the fogbank. Hellscream's watch had even been threatened, it was a clear success, wasn't it?
The sawblade throwers will be operational again in two days time, and that's being generous. The hunters will continue to hunt, and the foragers will continue to forage.
That was the thing that annoyed her the most. Not the numbed muscle or the rent flesh that ached and stung. For everything they'd given that night, for the losses suffered as a result of that fiasco at Hellscream's Watch, there was not even a meaningful dent in that wretched monument to Hellscream's aggression. The supply lines would remain cut, but so long as they could hunt from the woods to the North, did it matter?
Lying in a cot in Orendil's retreat, she still shook and shivered. She didn't know if the second attack was out of revenge or out of Jeremy's memory, but the failure of the second attack was only masked by its apparent success. She slew five hunters out in the wilds before one of the defenders that had made the first attack such a disaster had returned, and like an idiot she remained.
She knew she hadn't fought poorly. She took full advantage of every opportunity to twist the contest to a fight on her own terms, at one point playing dead after a frostbolt had knocked her into the lake. The arcanist, however, was indomitable and unerring. She returned soon after the feint, reclaiming the upper hand, but the upper hand was only fleeting. While she may have been able to dispatch him, she probably wouldn't live through the ordeal either.
The sentinel commander paced back and forth, shaking her head disbelievingly. "How did you think this was a good idea!? What? Did you think they wouldn't fight back!? Why didn't you just leave it alone!?"
Not so soon, no, she didn't. The news surprised her that the outskirts of Astraanar were falling under attack again, but when she returned, the assailant was gone. She was simply too late.
"It was him... it had to have been him." She muttered, staring up at the ceiling. The commander smacked her in the head soonafter. "Shut up!" She shouted, seething with rage even as her words calmed. "Those sentinels, the ones who gave their lives because you don't know when to quit... they were better people than you. It's you who we should be committing to the earth tonight, not them."
Sherelandia had a new pet! It made the dryad very happy. She couldn't wait to show Mylune; Mylune didn't have any pets nearly as cute and unique as this one! Mylune would be so envious!
Although he was still kind of soggy.
It was meant to be. Sherelandia had seen him fall from the direction of that nasty orc camp and into the lake at Astranaar. It was obvious they were trying to drown the poor, adorable thing, because they'd tied metal plates on him before they'd thrown him off the cliff.
It was obvious why they'd done it. Orcs were mean, cruel people who hated cute things--and this one was as cute as they came, a cute shade of pink, with a fluffy curly coat (even if it was a very thin, scraggly coat).
So she'd done the only thing that made any sense. She'd jumped into the water, taken all the weights off of him, then brought him back to her home to dry him off. Now he was all sprawled out on a pile of leaves, growling in his sleep.
Poor thing. He'd obviously been very abused. He was covered in cuts and bruises and burns, and all up and down his back were horrible scars like what you'd get from a whip. Those mean orcs! She'd have to tell her sisters, and they'd go pay back the orcs for picking on the poor thing.
Well, she'd take good care of him now. Nobody would pick on him anymore, not while he belonged to her.
She poked the fire over which she was cooking some carrot broth, while she stared at her new pet uncertainly. She wasn't entirely sure he was an herbivore--he didn't have sharp teeth like a carnivore--but who knew? Maybe he was a fishavore. She'd have to see what he showed an interest in.
He stopped growling for a moment, and stirred. Oh goody, he was going to wake up and he could meet his new owner! Sure enough, his eyes opened and focused on her. His eyes were green, her favorite color! Then they shut again, and he resumed his sleeping growl.
Green eyes. Well, that settled it. It was meant to be.
Sherelandia the dryad had a new pet, and she was going to take extra-good care of him from now on.
Edited by Kyalin on 4/9/12 6:47 AM (PDT)
These just weren't the old days any more. The old confidence, that feeling of invincibility had long gone, never to return. Now simply surviving was what she'd consider a victory these days, even if a pyrrhic, and hollow one. Her return to Darnassus this just didn't bring the same feeling of relief and accomplishment. It may have been why she proceeded directly for the only place she had ever felt comfortable: underground, in the city's small barrow den. Cool, dark, and lightless, it was enough to send most in the other direction, but Kyalin was like a mole down here. She knew well enough where she was going.
Down below, a single torch illuminated a set of temporary quarters that she kept near one of the few holding cells. They were empty this evening, but had to be watched otherwise until someone from one of the larger complexes on the mainland could arrive to receive their occupants. For that purpose, Kyalin kept a pile of straw, a low table, two barrels of water, and a minimalist wardrobe, usually stocked with a change of clothes, a copy of the Vigilant times, and at least two or three bottles of rice wine, typically the Feralas reserve. That was the first thing she reached for, pouring herself a small cup of it before she unhooked her cloak and tossed it on the straw. The holes would have to be mended again, all but the one.
She sat down, picking up the small cup filled with the clear liquor. She typically liked to sip at it, but instead she just gulped it, putting down the ounce or two quickly before she began to pour another one. Her eyes flicked up to a figure standing near the portcullis: another Kal'dorei shaking her head. "That isn't good for you, you know."
The woman stood at nearly seven and a third of a foot, clad in that ugly blue and gold regalia that signified her rank of Rear Admiral. She kept a large glaive strapped to her back of course, more of a reminder of where she came from than anything else. But even so, she'd always seem foreign, human. Kyalin set the bottle down, not even bothering to make eye contact. "What are you doing here, Anolyn? Don't you have some forms to fill out or something? Or a pretentious human noble somewhere to impress?"
"I came to see how you were doing. Not well I see." The admiral shot back, employing that perpetually stern expression, as always. "Kyalin, we expected a reprisal. You've said it yourself, we can't be paralyzed into inaction against people who are going to try to kill us anyway."
Kyalin shook her head. "... and Slater?"
"We haven't recovered his body yet. He could still be alive, Kyalin."
Kyalin only shook her head. "It's not likely... by Elune... what a disaster..."
"Disaster, Kyalin? Is that what you call it? Three of you saved hundreds of lives for what you did before that attack, and with the disruption at the watch, their supplies are more strained than they would have been if not for your attacks. With fewer hunters they'll have a harder time dealing with the furbolgs to their rear and our own scouts, let alone trying to launch further attacks against us. That comes with a cost, but consider what you've gained!"
"Lives are just numbers to you, aren't they, 'admiral'? The sentinels that fell that night, Slater, just an 'investment' to you, right?"
For the first time she'd ever seen it, Kyalin could tell that the words stung. Anolyn looked hurt. "If that's the way you're going to have it then fine. I'll leave you in peace... and I'm taking this with me." She said, reaching for the bottle, but Kyalin pulled it back. The admiral retracted her hand, frowning. "I told you before, Slater's body wasn't found.. and if you give up on finding it, I'm not going to forget. Maybe you should think about that before you decry others as cold."
As promised, she turned and left. Kyalin just sat there for a minute, though it felt like an hour, cradling that bottle. She replaced the cork and set it back on the wardrobe, reaching again for her cloak.
((It'll get there! Yeesh. Can't ya let some folk take a holiday?
And since I'm here, it is a a good thread. :) The dryad part had me laughing. Totally didn't see that coming. Looking forward to its continuation.))
Edited by Adinas on 4/9/12 11:30 AM (PDT)
It was late in the evening. Another day gone looking and finding nothing. It was almost time to call it quits for the day, at least for the crusaders. The divers Admiral Luniarra had provided to assist were just getting started.
Adinas was starting to get worried that he would never find out what happened. Not that it would make a difference to Jere being gone or not. But, it always helped to have closure. Leaving a fallen comrade behind was something he never wanted to do. Not just for the fear of them being turned into the creatures he despised the most in this world. It was just what they deserved. Leaving one of members behind was a show of disrespect that Adinas could never do. At least he would do everything he could to prevent it.
Luckily Adinas did not have to deal with losing one of his Crusaders often. Even if had been able to grow callous to such events for the sake of defending himself from being overwhelmed with grief, this case was different. Jere was different. He had worked with Jere since the Scarlets and they had founded this group together. Though their methods were different they shared a common goal, a common vision, a common hope.
So many missions had been run together. Jere sometimes led a team on his own but Adinas almost never went on missions in the field without Jere along. They had survived so much with relatively minor injuries considering the damage they caused to the enemy. The worst injury Adinas could recall was that time Jere wanted to "spoil" some plague wagons by dropping in some potions to turn it solid. Of course, even then it wasn't the forsaken that did them harm. The potion caused the plague to "boil" before it solidified, causing the wagons to burst and knocking them off into a tree. Adinas broke his shield arm and Jere got a broken ankle trying to make a graceful landing. Good thing there had been a couple others there to help them withdraw. Still, even in that case it had been a success, four plague wagons neutralized and a dozen forsaken frozen to their knees in the now taffy-like plague goop.
Adinas returned his thoughts to the task at hand. Given the time that had gone by it was all but certain that Jere was gone. He was drafting a condolence letter. There was no one to send it to. Jere had no family to speak of and no one that he was courting seriously. At least none that Jere ever mentioned. Adinas never pried on this topic after it was dismissed by Jere the first time he had asked about it. Others had asked and Adinas always listened intently but Jere was as tightlipped as possible on the topic. Occasionally something would slip about having a mother and grandfather, but that wasn't much for detail.
Someone to receive it or not, Adinas would write the letter out of respect and to help with his own grieving. If someday someone showed up asking about Jere it would be there for them.
A couple hours pass.
After completing the letter Adinas stood and walked over to once again look out over the lake where Jere had fallen. Activity could be seen in several areas but no word of anything of interest yet.
Walking quickly up behind him Athanion broke Adinas' thoughts with a shout, "Sir!" A pause, "Sir!"
Adinas slowly turned around and looked at Athanion, "Yes Athanion?"
"We found something, or the elves found something that is." declared Athanion.
Adinas while reaching for his gauntlets and helm replied before Athanion completely finished, "What did they find?"
Quickly Adinas started walking and motioned for Athanion to move and he would follow. "They found some armor, I have not seen it but they said it looks like it is for a human," stated Athanion.
Adinas didn't say anything else, he wanted to see and so he followed silently behind Athanion with a million thoughts running through his mind.
Edited by Sherelandia on 4/9/12 1:16 PM (PDT)
Whatever he was, Fluffy was not a good pet.
For one thing, he refused to answer to his proper name. He kept insisting that she call him "Galeas"--and, he said, that didn't mean "Fluffy".
For another, he wouldn't let her brush his coat. How was it supposed to grow back full and lush if he wasn't groomed? But first he ran away. Then he hid the brush. Then he broke it.
And he wanted clothes--not just pants, either, but a shirt and shoes! She understood wanting to cover up those horrible ugly scars, but he didn't seem to understand that it would just mat the rest of his fur, maybe even rub it clean off!
All in all, he was more like a kaldorei than a cuddly pet. But even kaldorei knew how to frolic with squirrels and rabbits, and he didn't even know that.
Very disappointing. Maybe she'd have to hold off on showing him to Mylune until she got him trained--which was going to be hard, because he didn't respond to being snapped on the nose with her fingernail.
Sherelandia lay frowning at a patch of moss, trying to think of a way to make Fluffy mind his manners, when he came sauntering up and sat down nearby. "I ate the fish," he said in a placating kind of tone. "It was very good. Thank you."
Sherelandia made a dismissive noise and went back to her contemplation. (She liked that word. Fluffy had used it when she'd accused him of sulking. He said, "I'm not sulking, I'm contemplating." It made her think of going to a shrine, which in turn made her think of butterflies and moonlight and playing with butterflies in the moonlight. These were very good thoughts.)
"Sherelandia." His voice broke through visions of colorful, fluttering wings. "I don't think I belong here. I think...no, more like I feel there's somewhere I need to be. It's all feelings; I can't quantify any of it, which for some reason is driving me bat-guano insane."
That was another annoying thing about Fluffy. He kept using big words that didn't mean anything to her, so all she could make of what he had to say was that bats were following him around pooping on him because he should be somewhere else. She'd much rather think about butterflies, because that was just gross.
"I can't understand why," Fluffy went on, "and I don't know where, but I need to go."
"You can't leave!" Sherelandia said. "The orcs will get you and whip you again. You don't want to be whipped again, do you?"
Fluffy put his hand over his shoulder and rubbed the scars through his shirt. "I don't think the orcs did this to me. I think..." He paused and closed his eyes. "No, it was a man. A man with a white beard. Smaller than I. And...yes, while not him, I need to get back to people like him. It's where I belong, Sherelandia."
"Butbutbut they'll hurt you!" This idea made Sherelandia feel very very bad, and she showed him by making her eyes fill up with tears. There, now Fluffy would understand how sad she was.
"I don't think they will. For some reason, the bearded man was different, and...no, I don't feel that I liked him very much, compared to others." He put his face in his hands, and Sherelandia forgot her own sadness for a moment. "Sherelandia, in my dreams I see faces, cities, forests that aren't like this one, and they're not just my imagination. They're all real, I just can't place them. And all through, there's a nagging insistence that I need to remember--not just for myself, but for their sake."
Sherelandia had scooted closer to him without realizing she was doing it, and now he put out his hand and took hers. It sent a shiver through her arm, and she suddenly wanted to do anything, anything to make him happy.
"Sherelandia, I need to go back to these people and places. I need to remember what they are--because I think they're part of who I am. Will you let me go? Please?"
His eyes were wide and earnest, full of...something. And green. She liked green. It couldn't be a coincidence.
Fluffy frowned a little, but Sherelandia went on. "You're my pet. I found you, and I'm going to keep you. So if you have to go, then I'm going with you." She paused, trying to think of something else to add to it, something that would shut down any argument, but all she could add was a firm nod and a "So there."
He sighed a little. "Well, thank you. I don't know if I can do this alone, anyway. Truth is, I don't even know where I'm going yet. I barely know where I am."
Sherelandia stuck out her lower lip and gave it some thought. It seemed to her that, if you went south, past that rabbit warren where the baby bunnies came out to play and gosh they were cute--Where was she? Bunnies, south of the bunnies and over the mountains, there was--
"A place where people with beards live, Fluffy!" Sherelandia said happily.
The Warden never tended to sulk, but certainly kept her distance from the sentinels of Astraanar this evening, keeping to the spot where the divers had pulled the armor from the lake. She just stood there, observing her surroundings, but the aversion was easy enough to explain. In all truth, if a troop of orcs were to come down upon her, the commander knew that half of the sentinels would look away, and the other half would purposely miss, at least until they had their assurances.
It may not have been entirely deserved, the commander thought to herself. Death is a reality of war and the Horde hardly needed an excuse for killing. The attack on the watch was simply convenient, enough grounds for the military outpost to justify a 'reprisal'. That only if anyone actually believed the Horde's 'right' to be showered in everything they demand and to kill anyone who doesn't go along. A gesture, not an apology, at the very least was owed, if for no other reason than to send the message that the cooperation between the Sentinels and the scattered remains of the watchers was still valued.
Kyalin noticed her from a few yards away. Holding her hand out in a halting gesture as the commander approached.
"Warden, I understand that you may not want to speak to me but...."
"It's not that." Kyalin interrupted, proceeding a bit closer. "Look at what's in front of your feet."
The commander looked down. "I don't see anything."
"Don't you? Look at the grass and the brush commander. It's sitting a bit lower than the rest of it, isn't it?"
"You're saying something has been here?"
"I know something has been here." Kyalin said definitively. "...something bigger than a fish. Whatever it was was laid here and... I'll bet if we follow it... yes, see how some of the clovers have been detached by the stem? The grass is matted down in the same direction here heading.... heading over that way."
The commander nodded. "Well... glad to be of help... shall we follow it then?"
"Not by ourselves of course."
Edited by Galeas on 4/10/12 7:24 PM (PDT)
Galeas couldn't remember things clearly that had happened prior to his fall, but he was almost certain that adventuring didn't usually work like this.
He had no possessions save the clothes on his back and that stupid brush--where did she keep finding brushes?--and Sherelandia had even fewer. But what took forever in setting out that night was her insistence on saying goodbye to all her "other" pets, individually and extensively.
Finally, he had convinced her that yes, they would all be just fine; no, they didn't need to be reminded that they should brush their teeth and wash behind their ears; time was of the essence so could they get going please before the bear decided to find out which of the two of them was really the stronger?
Sherelandia tearfully concluded her farewells, and then they set off through Ashenvale, she on her own four feet and he on the back of her dear, dear woodland friend Stripey the nightsaber. Galeas really wished she wouldn't refer to the animals as her "woodland friends". It made him feel like he was in some kind of weird bedtime story. His life was weird enough as it was.
Riding a nightsaber was an unusual experience. It seemed to him that he was used to a different style of riding, one that didn't swoop up and down quite so much. One that had a saddle, too, because he kept trying to use stirrups that weren't there. But he didn't have a lot of time to think on it; mostly, his concentration was centered on hanging on for dear life.
Up and down, up and down, over huge tree roots that pushed out of the ground taller than he stood, down into little clefts, between trees and around rocks. At first it was more roots than rocks, and their passing was marked only by the ti-thuff-ti-thuff of Sherelandia's hooves and the muted whu-whump of Stripey's padded paws on the fallen leaves. But slowly, roots and moss and leaves gave way to more and more rocks, until they were standing at the foot of a range of steep hills.
"Shh!" Sherelandia said as Galeas tumbled down from Stripey's back, feeling more than a little unstable. "There are orcs and dead people all over here. They'll eat you if they can."
"Wish I had a sword," Galeas muttered.
"Why for? I'll protect you," Sherelandia promised.
"Uh...thanks. I guess." Galeas didn't doubt her intentions, just her level of skill--and the strength of her arm. To his eyes, she was a wispy kind of thing.
Stripey could not be asked to come along into the dangerous world beyond, so they scrambled up the slope without him, dryad and man. Once they arrived at the top, Sherelandia stood, her fists on her flanks, triumphant, looking over their next obstacle.
Galeas, however, flattened himself to the rock. "Get down, will you?" he hissed. "You're like a target dummy up there."
"Did--did you just call me a dummy?" the dryad demanded, clearly offended.
"No. Never mind. Just get down before someone points an arrow at you."
Slowly, reluctantly, Sherelandia lowered herself as close to the ground as she could manage. The two of them then scanned the arid savannah before them.
"Big place," Galeas observed, even as something tugged at his memory. He'd seen this before. Where had he seen this before?
"It is very big, and very open, with not many beautiful trees," Sherelandia said in a tone of sorrow. "The trees died when the world was broken apart long, long, long ago."
"By demons. Nasty evil demons."
Demons. The word evoked revulsion...green fires...dead things moving around as if alive. And...how to turn aside their power, nullify it, make them flee and cower before a power that judged them by its mere existence...
Galeas shook his head; he could process this later. "And the people with beards, where are they?"
"Far, far away, on the other side of this place. They dig in the rocks for things to help them remember." Sherelandia paused. "Maybe they have something to help you remember, too, Fluffy!"
The plan had seemed foolproof, but as with anything created by imperfect beings, it soon revealed its flaw.
A large one.
Filled with lava, smoke, and running right across the Barrens as far as the eye could see.
Galeas and Sherelandia stood near the brink of the Great Divide, he looking down at the seismic activity and she looking at a passing herd of gazelle.
"Well, this certainly is inconvenient," Galeas murmured, rubbing at his hair.
Their journey had been long, perilous so far. They had had to resort to a very circuitous route through the Barrens, sometimes even stealth, to avoid orc patrols and outposts. He was unarmed, and he could not trust Sherelandia in a fight--especially considering how distractable she was.
Like right now, her legs twitching and trembling as she visibly fought the urge to go romp with the gazelles. He had to give her credit for her self-control, though; it was likely that never in her life had she been required to refrain from doing whatever she wanted.
He looked back down at the chasm. To try to cross it would be suicide; the heat from the lava alone would probably cook them before they got halfway down. And to try to go around it...he had no idea how long that would take.
"A very large spanner in the works," Galeas said.
"What?" the dryad said absently. "What works?"
"No, I said 'a spanner in the works'."
"A what in the works?"
"Never mind; it'd take too long to explain." He looked yet again at the obstacle in their way.
Sherelandia made an inarticulate noise. He was grateful that she didn't decide to argue with him again about whether he should try to explain something to someone with absolutely no frame of reference.
"Anyway, the plan's fouled up."
"We're going to have to find a way around this."
"You're a cutie."
He turned back to her, to find her leaned down and tickling a prairie dog with a long stem of grass. Galeas sighed in extreme irritation and looked around, since she clearly wasn't paying attention to anything but her current game.
He had thought he'd heard a noise for some while, just a soft rumbling that he'd chalked up to the lava and such over which he stood. But now, it was a little more distinct--and regular in pattern. Something large--wooden--was moving off in the distance.
"Sherelandia," he said abruptly. "Let's go see what's making that noise."
"What? Already? We just got here, Fluffy," she protested.
"That's Galeas, and I think I'm beginning to have an idea of how to get across. If I'm actually remembering and not just being crazy, the thing making that noise might just be the key to it."
"And then something about spangles?"
"Just...say goodbye to your new friend there and let's get going."
Grek wasn't a dishonorable orc, not on the whole. He fought bravely on behalf of the Horde, and had taken many lives of the Alliance filth who stood between the Horde and its dominion over Kalimdor. He had never surrendered, never backed down, and proudly bore the scars of his battles against more powerful warriors. And now he was staying up all night to guard the catapults that his unit was taking from Crossroads to Malaka'jin, a fitting trial to show his endurance.
Still, he was a male, and males had urges. It was hardly his fault that Urnna wasn't nearby when he needed her--but Zebla had been, in fact had said she needed a "partner" for a ritual to appeal the loa, and what were comrades for but to help each other?
And besides, Urnna hadn't even agreed to marry him yet. She didn't have a claim on him. No debt of honor there.
Yes, all in all, he had comported himself with the greatest of honor and dignity and charity toward everyone. He was above reproach, and the uneasiness he felt was only weakness. Probably some holdover from human captivity in Lordaeron. The humans' morality was so self-contradictory, it was no wonder that they had no conviction or dedication to this wa--
Then he saw stars, and he crumpled to the ground in an insensible heap.
The human, whom Grek had neither seen nor heard sneaking up on him, dragged him back by the ankles into the concealing darkness. Hushed whispers could then be barely heard.
"Tie him up now?"
"No, not until I take his armor."
"Ew, his feet smell. Why are you doing this?"
"So they'll think I'm an orc."
"I don't know, he's pretty big."
"So am I. Now hush, they'll hear us."
"You look silly."
"You'd look even sillier. Now tie him up and put him behind a tree while I go get this done."
The figure that stepped back into the torchlight had a similar silhouette to Grek, but wasn't quite as big or bulky. He carefully adjusted the helmet, hefted the huge axe, then hulked his shoulders and stalked over toward the catapults.
Galeas had almost gotten the catapult started when a voice broke his concentration with words in another language--words he nonetheless understood: "What are you doing?"
Galeas startled, but then lowered his brows into a deep scowl and jutted out his jaw. "Thought I heard something here," he answered in the same language.
"Is that you, Grek?"
Galeas just grunted, hoping she wouldn't look too closely, and continued with his fiddling. "I want to make sure nobody tampered with the machines," he said.
A second orc guard appeared and shook his head. "Just leave it for the goblins in the morning, Grek. They can run the safety checks."
Galeas snorted. "A goblin doing a safety check? Have kodos started flying as well?"
To his relief, the orcs began to laugh. "Good point," the female conceded. "What do you mean to do?"
"Going to take it out a ways into the field, fire a few shots. See if it still works right."
"Since when are you an engineer, Grek?" the male asked.
Galeas paused, considering his options, when the female spoke up. "Oh, let him," she said. "If it falls apart and kills him, at least we don't have to worry about him humping every girl in Malaka'jin."
The other two laughed again, and waved him off as they walked away. Galeas sighed hugely in relief, but then clambered down from his chosen vehicle. The conversation had given him an idea.
As he worked a few pins loose from another machine--pins he somehow knew were vital to its operation--another voice whispered to him out of the dark, this time in Common: "I didn't know you spoke Orcish, Fluffy."
Galeas started again, then shook his head and went back to his work. "Neither did I. Good thing I do."
There was a puzzled silence as Galeas finished up and hopped back into the pilot's seat of the still-intact catapult. "Climb on. We're leaving."
Edited by Galeas on 4/16/12 5:43 PM (PDT)
"Fluffy, you're crazy."
"Oddly, I don't think that's the first time someone's told me that. Here, put your hand here and don't move it until I say."
Sherelandia put her hand on the knot while Galeas completed it. "Okay, thank you; now move your hand so I can tighten the rope."
"I still don't get why you're doing this. We could have stolen wyverns."
"They'd have noticed one wyvern missing right away, much less two, and I'd have had less excuse for it. Plus, you have to feed them--and I'm pretty sure you don't want to part with any of your new friends just for that."
The dryad looked around at the gathering of adoring wildlife and shuddered. "Ew, no."
He tugged at the rope tied around the boulder: the knot was solid and sturdy. "Okay, so here's the plan. We'll use the catapult to launch this boulder across the chasm. It'll carry the rope, which we'll use to get across."
"Just one rope? How are we going to walk on that?"
"We're not. I'll kind of climb across." Galeas considered the puzzled look on her face. "Like a squirrel," he added.
Comprehension dawned. "Ohh, I get it. But what about me?"
"I already thought of that." Galeas handed her a convoluted twisting of ropes, which she considered dubiously. "It's a harness. It slips behind your forelegs and in front of your hindquarters. This part here loops over the rope across the chasm, and I'll tow you with this lead right here. You won't have to do a thing but hold on the whole time."
Sherelandia turned the thing over in her hands. "This still sounds crazy. It sounds like a bad idea."
"I know. It's a terrible idea, in fact." Sherelandia looked at him in alarm, but he shrugged. "The smart thing to do would be try to go around, but I don't know if we have enough time--or even if there is an around to go. And...we definitely don't have any time now. They'll have found the orc we tied up by now, and noticed the missing engine, so let's get this over with and we won't have to worry about it anymore."
The dryad gave him a look of stern disapproval and reached toward his face, her finger cocked to flick.
"Don't do that," he said irritably, moving his nose out of range. "It doesn't work anyway."
Galeas threaded the rope through the harness, then set about coiling the rest so that it would neatly unfurl as the boulder flew. He was almost done when he began to pick up the sounds of the pursuit he'd mentioned. "Aw, nuts," he muttered, looking around; the tiny wildlife the dryad had accumulated was scattering. "Sherelandia, find some cover. We're probably going to have some arrows."
"Ooh, they better not," Sherelandia said grimly, hefting her lightweight spear.
"Don't," he barked. "Just get your harness on. We may have to go fast."
Not enough time, not nearly enough. The orcs would be on them before they got fully across, if not sooner, and if they had a brain in their heads the green fellows would cut the rope, letting Galeas and Sherelandia fall to their fiery doom. Still, it was the only chance at this point.
Frankly, after last night, he wasn't sure if luck tended to favor him or if he'd used up his allotment of it already.
Galeas carefully tied the tow cable to the orcish chest harness, then checked Sherelandia's ropes for security. "All right, say a prayer, because here goes nothin'."
Galeas ignored Sherelandia's frantic questions about why he was going to do nothing, and threw his shoulder against the lever. The boulder launched, the rope uncoiled smoothly, and the first arrows began to rain down around the two. Galeas picked up the orcish axe out of reflex, although he was hoping that the enemy wouldn't get close enough for him to use it...
((Part 1/2. Enjoy Part 2 in the next post.))
And then Sherelandia was jerked clean off her hooves and dragged across the chasm. Apparently, the harness had caught on the rope. "Fluffyyyyyyyyyy!" she squealed.
He saw the oncoming, enraged green faces. He felt the earth shaking under his feet. He saw the arrows. Then he looked down and remembered that there was a tether between him and Sherelandia.
And suddenly, everything he had been looking at retreated very rapidly as he, too, was thrown across the Great Divide.
The world was a blur of speed, and then there was an impact that knocked the breath out of him. Another, and another, and another--each with less force, but still enough to smart. Then he came to rest, and sat up.
His head reeling, he tried to reach up to his face. That was when he realized that he was still holding that giant axe in a death grip, and miraculously had not severed any part of his or Sherelandia's persons with it. He reached out and gave the crossing rope a chop, then fell back to lie on the crisp grass, waiting for reality to stop moving without him.
He watched, passively, as a shaking purple hand moved unsteadily into his field of vision. One of its fingers snapped him sharply on the nose. "Bad Fluffy," Sherelandia said weakly.
The orcs had tried to use the rope to cross behind them, but lost a few when gravity did its unflinching work on the unsecured end. Galeas wasn't sure how many, because he hadn't seen them. The orcs had screamed frantically as they fell into the chasm, but his ear wasn't tuned properly to distinguish between most orcish voices. He sincerely doubted he'd have been able to count any thuds, either.
Consummate professionals, the laws of physics. Galeas felt more than knew that he'd always had an appreciation for things that worked without making exceptions. The very idea of fate, law, and the forces of nature and their custodians playing favorites--or rather, the very idea of people feeling entitled to be those favorites--made him feel cranky.
In any event, the overall fairness of reality gave the human and the dryad quite a head start. It apparently hadn't occurred to the orcs to send for flying scouts to track them. Galeas wondered about that, and even asked Sherelandia.
"Well, it could be this forest we're in," Sherelandia said thoughtfully. "They wouldn't want to fly around too much because the kaldorei shoot them from hiding."
"So this is a kaldorei forest?"
"Ye--Um...No. Yes? No." The dryad looked around in confusion.
"Yes or no? Which is it?"
Her brow furrowed. "Both, somehow. It's like it belongs here but it doesn't, at the same time." She stood listening, stock-still like a deer, only her ears twitching; Galeas waited patiently.
Finally, Sherelandia shuddered. "It is both. Do you know about the Emerald Dream, Fluffy?"
"I...don't remember if I do." It sounded familiar, but the details utterly escaped him.
"The Emerald Dream is part of Azeroth, but it's what Azeroth would look like if there weren't people in it. Or, at least, it's supposed to be. That's what Cenarius, our father, taught us."
"So it's basically a copy?"
"What's a copy?"
"Never mind; I think I understand what you mean. So what does that have to do with this forest?"
"It's...This forest would have been here if the Shattering hadn't happened. Someone's caused it to grow back. But it's also not...quite right. Not right at all. It tastes a little like the Emerald Dream, but kind of off. I'd heard that something was tainting the Dream, but I'm really fuzzy on the details." She smiled suddenly, brightly, vacuously. "I wonder if there are squirrels?"
"Focus, Sherelandia, please."
"What? Oh yeah, sorry. Anyway, there was something bad wrong here, but it feels like it's going away. Look." She pointed at a large, pink, very glowy strider that was picking its way through the underbrush. "That isn't right, you have to agree."
"Probably not, though I've seen weirder things."
"Yes. Giant half-man, half-bugs...that talk...but they're dead." Galeas frowned suddenly as the memory came to him unbidden and unconnected to anything else.
"Are you remembering your past now?"
Galeas shook his head. "Let's just get through this mess; I'll figure it out later."
((This is taking me forever to write; a lot of things going on IRL. I'm going to have to bring it to a close soon, though. Three months plus is a long time to be MIA, especially in Azeroth.
((New episode coming shortly, either today or tomorrow.))
((Another two-parter! Hold on to your socks!))
It was slow going, once they were out of the Overgrowth and into the open savannah of the Southern Barrens. The orcs had apparently gotten their act together and sent out patrols, by land and by air, and much of Galeas and Sherelandia's time was spent trying to avoid being seen. Fortunately, the savannah was neither so barren nor so flat as one would think.
They traveled mostly by night, and on one memorable occasion, spent a week pretending to be part of a pride of lions that Sherelandia had befriended. The lions had accepted her right away, but kept giving him strange looks for the first day or two. Then the lionesses seemed to realize that this strange, furless, clawless biped made a great babysitter; they became infinitely more friendly once they knew they could leave the cubs with him to go hunt or have their nails done or whatever they were doing while the little rugrats were gnawing on his axe handle and pouncing on his back.
Galeas was almost certain that his life had never been so weird.
After four or five days of this, the patrols in their area thinned, so they bade farewell to the "family" and resumed their journey south. The cubs looked particularly distraught that "Nanny Fluffy" was leaving, but while it was cute, it wasn't so cute that he wanted to spend any more time as a tackle dummy for them. Sherelandia cried profusely as they said goodbye and for several hours thereafter--at least, until she found a family of field mice to fill the gaping hole in her heart.
Meanwhile, Galeas was keeping a weather eye on that "cloud" they were approaching. It didn't actually appear to be a cloud--it didn't move with the wind, and it was fairly low to the ground--but he was fairly sure that if it was a wildfire, it would have shown some movement or spreading. Anything he couldn't identify or explain was cause for heightened alertness under the circumstances.
He began wishing that the lion cubs hadn't used his axe handle as a chew toy; if it came to a fight, he was going to get the mother of all splinters.
As dawn broke on the last morning of the journey, the two stood at the edge of the pall of smoke--for that was what it was. There was a familiar booming not of thunder, but artillery fire, and Galeas could see figures moving about in the semi-dark.
"Do you think they are orcs, Fluffy?" Sherelandia asked him, her voice very small.
"Not all of them," he replied softly. "But I'm having a hard time seeing which is what. We'll have to take cover and wait for more light."
"Decide if we're going through it or trying to find a way around it." He looked around, then pointed toward a large, twisting tree to their left. "Let's hunker down over there for a bit."
Sherelandia sank down among the roots of the tree. While her coloring didn't actively change, it seemed to Galeas that she became less conspicuous all of a sudden. He wondered idly, yet again, whether camouflage was part of a dryad's natural gifts, or if it was magical, or if it was just Sherelandia. Then, yet again arriving at no conclusion on the matter, he boosted himself up into the low-hanging branches and began climbing to find a comfortable spot.
He almost lost his grip on the tree when he came face-to-face with the orc that had had the same idea.
((Continued in the next post...))