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The screech sounded from one end of the makeshift hospit to the other, and Knert cringed. Hurriedly, the troll hunched over his patient, packing pre-cut squares of gauze against an injury in an orc's leg.
"You put my earthroot where I keep my peacebloom, and mixed bloodthistle with silverleaf! Are you still too lazy to read the field guide, or are you actually trying to kill these people?!"
The mercenary began unraveling a roll of gauze, grunting as he started to wrap the quickly-soaking bandages. "Hrf. Like dat'll do much fo' morale."
This elf has been shot in the chest and you packed it with gauze! Moron!
You didn't blindfold this tauren?! He's been stabbed in the eye, DOLT!
Why would you put wet cloth on this orc?! He's been burned all up his chest and arms, you pointless sack of-
"And, done! Joo sure jur good ta fight, mon? Ain't nobuddeh gonna blame ja fah sittin' back down."
The ex-Gurubashi helped the orc stand, albeit unsteadily. "Not today, troll."
The orc's voice was rough with pain and gravelly by nature. In one arm, he gripped an ax; resting on the other was a shield scored by the ferocity of the battle raging just a short jog from the opening of the overcrowded tent. Knert nodded in what he hoped was an optimistic fashion, secretly thinking that the orc would be lucky to survive the first few minutes of a good fight.
But, then, he thought philosophically, he would be fortunate to survive the first few seconds of the front buckling and all those Alliance paying us a visit here.
The mercenary stood, stretching his injury slightly. It was still tight, still healing. A lucky stroke from a human swordsman had raked his ribs, and he felt it best not to try his luck. A short jaunt back to the infirmary was what he felt his best choice. Having bandaged it and given it several hours to mend, the troll had grown bored and assisted with the medical work with what he knew. Now, though, it was time to return to the fight.
Knert was short for his breed, standing at only six feet, seven inches at his tallest and, when hunched, barely cresting six five. Undeterred by his diminutive size, the troll had clearly been in several fights - enough so that they were noticeable in his visage.
A scar, since faded, formed a slight ridge that angles from his left eye to his earlobe. A bump on the troll's nose displayed proudly where it either healed unevenly once or was broken so many times that the regenerative properties so depressingly common in trolls could not compensate. His eyes glinted mischievously, working with his array of innocent smiles and self-appreciative smirks to form an overall roguish appearance.
As with most trolls, Knert was wiry to the point of what would be considered unhealthy in a human - though it was quite average in a troll. Whereas most of his kind tower at seven feet tall while only weighing two hundred pounds, Knert boasted slightly more bulk; weighing in at one eighty and six seven, the short troll flattered himself that he was stronger than most of his kind. A slight, permanent bend in his left arm was a reminder of a hunt where his prey put up an improbably good fight.
Boiled leather was clearly the troll's armor of choice. A vest, fastened by various species' teeth, adorns the troll's chest. Wrapping his outer upper arms were two sheets of leather that leave the inner flesh mainly unobstructed; bracers studded with metal adorned his wrists - the troll's only concession to higher protective standards. Near the wrist, clasps were visible to chain his axes to. He was careful not to obstruct any joints with armor, preferring mobility and speed over sheer obstinate damage prevention.
Knert's weaponry found itself in the shape of two axes, pointed at the bottom and top of the haft, and a long, flexible ash spear. The spear was slung over his right shoulder, point down. The axes were in waist sheathes - tied in such a way that they could be torn free in a hurry. He walked out, then hesitated, wondering if he was still needed.
Augh! You sackless, rock-brained pig !@#$%^! Were you about to cauterize a simple gash?! I ought to have you strung up for treason!
The axes came free, and the hafts felt good in his palms. Definitely time to go.
Fighting is hard.
Nothing is quite as exhausting as combat, and the rush of adrenaline that many ride through the fight can only last so long. So when Knert, fresh from the medic's tent and still breathing easily, hit the line, he hit it like he was fired from a cannon.
A human staggered back, gasping for air and clutching at his chest with one hand. Sweat dripped from his face, his helmet lost somewhere in the fray. The orc that had just kicked him in the abdomen grunted, his own hand scrabbling at a wound somewhere in his side. Deciding this was as good a place as any to join the general brawl, the fon let out a war shriek and dove at his prey.
The soldier swept his blade up in a standard block - diagonal, at an angle to the ground, trying to deflect force from the attack by bleeding momentum from it. The axe crashed into the sword with a scream of metal-on-metal, batting it to one side but not biting into flesh. A backstroke from the same swing crushed into the man's armor, creating a rent and caving it inwards slightly. The breathing became heavier, slightly wet. Knert's eyes narrowed.
The two traded blows and the troll, fighting fresh and with two blades to the human's one, swiftly gained the upper hand. A series of devastating strokes battered into the fighter's side, tearing a big enough gap for Knert to thrust the pointed head of one of his axes through. The man stumbled, too winded and injured to push back against his opponent. The mercenary grunted, shoving the dying human aside and turning. There were plenty of foes that could actually threaten him on the field.
A draenei - some sort of rank, judging by his kit - stood before him. A massive hammer glittered in his fists, and in his eyes was the sort of anger that comes from watching a personal friend get fatally wounded by a troll.
The hammer hurtled towards him, and Knert could hear the whisper of it parting the air. He grunted, stepping to the side and letting it crash into the dirt. The incredible muscles coating the draenei vindicator's forearms flexed, whipping the instrument of war about and reversing it's direction with a speed the mercenary had previously thought impossible. The head of the bludgeon narrowly missed the head of the troll, and Knert swore angrily.
The plate garbing the vindicator seemed to slow him not at all, a white light gleamed from the eyes of the visor. A deafening roar, full to the brim of righteous fury and challenge and determination, boomed from his full-face helmet. The weapon swung back around for a horizontal sweep, and Knert realized that if he did not do something offensive then he could die here.
The swing began, and the mercenary lurched at his foe. The sharpened butt of his right axe scrabbled for purchase as he hooked the back of the paladin's right shoulder; the haft of the left axe formed a right angle to his forearm, and he stepped into the blow, reducing the force and taking the impact in order to secure a grip on one of the draenei's elbows. The two stood, locked in a weaponized embrace.
The troll heaved mightily, using the powerful muscles in his back to pull his foe close. At the same time, he braced and shoved his head forward and up; the draenei stumbled, and the gap between helm and neck was just wide enough for the powerful headbutt to punch the tusks preceding it clean through his throat, nearly shearing his head off.
A shove, a shake. That fight was done, and a spear narrowly missed the troll's left eye as he tried to reassess the fight. The Horde was mighty, but it rested on the shoulders of individuals. Fighting as a unit escaped them, and few would put their neck out for a tribeless mercenary such as himself. As an independent contractor, there was no one to pay should he die.
But that wasn't a likely outcome.
The spearman was untrained - he had been rushed through basic, a testament to how seriously the Alliance regarded the Horde threat. Knert did him the respect of battle, turning to face him and letting his weapons flicker in parries to the jabs and rough swings arrayed against him. They sparred back and forth, muscular cuts and sweeps contrasting to clumsy jabs and clubs, skill matched against reach, forte to foible.
The troll's weapons wove ghosts in the air, and the spearman chased after phantom strikes and feints with the haft of his spear, desperately blocking attacks that never came. A swift, almost serpentine step closed the distance between the two; a sickening crunch heralded the arrival of Knert's axe in the spearman's collarbone. He turned, letting the human sink to the ground, groaning because he couldn't summon the breath to scream.
Knert stepped back, withdrawing to catch his breath. He watched the fighting around him - there was no shortage of it. Shrieks of pain and challenge rent the air, weapons on armor rang through the day. There was never a shortage of fighting. He sighed.
There was more to do.
Edited by Trenk on 12/2/2012 2:45 AM PST
The battle had faded by nightfall. Nursing their wounds and mourning their losses, the two factional forces backed off steadily through the course of the battle. The ring of combat and the howls of the wounded traded places in prevalence, and each force sent cautious medics to collect their injured. Minor skirmishes could be seen, but few enough were killed during them; they were simply guards of the medics reacting too strongly to a nearby opposing force mimicking their job.
War was a sensory experience, Knert opined. He had watched the orc he bandaged fall to a pair of dwarves, watched a small squad of tauren and trolls lose their cool entirely and fatally overextend, smelled the reek of fear and death, heard the screams of pain and challenge, heard the din of arms and armor and the clashing thereof. He even tasted blood, his own and others'; he tasted ashes from the remains of warriors blasted to ash by those Gifted by powers beyond his ken. Above all, though, was the feel.
Some gloried in the sensation of impact, shrugging off pain and injury for the chance to return the damage. Some, the mercenary knew, enjoyed the fight to feel the rush, both physical and mental. Others fought for their families, or their countries, or their friends. Some of these fought out of fear, not for themselves, but for their loved ones.
He, on the other hand, fought for money.
Knert once counted himself among the Gurubashi. He was a warrior there, hardly the best, but quite skilled nonetheless. He was at the fore of the soldiers trying to push out the adventurers in Zul'Gurub, fighting with simple nationalistic pride and taking a simple, vindictive pleasure in driving outsiders from the jungle. Slowly, though, he began to notice the changes in the leadership. Logic and cunning were leached steadily out of decision processes in favor of sheer bloodlust. Questionable allies were made, and the might of the nations that may otherwise have ignored them turned their attention upon the Gurubashi.
The troll survived the ensuing battles. He notched his tusk his fair share of times, wading through parties of bold adventurers and paid soldiers alike, his axes carving shining arcs in the dim light. When Hakkar shredded Jin'do, Knert decided he liked his odds better when they were against a tribe instead of against a god and struck out on his own. The suffix 'fon was taken, acknowledging his tribeless state.
Suddenly forced to realize his limitations as a hunter, the fon decided to try his hand at mercenary work. Minor contracts and short-term deals kept him fed and boozed even as accumulating friends kept him alive. Soon a small business fostered, with him at the head. Their luck was in when the Horde needed fodder and began buying out mercenary contracts; time and time again he survived missions deemed too dangerous for full-time soldiers. Today he found himself shoulder-to-shoulder with official soldiers, earning his keep on the very front of the frontline.
The change in venue did not rob him of his conviction in the Loa. Shirvallah in particular called to Knert, and he was blessed with the ability to invoke minor sorts of hex magic and voodoo to enhance his fighting ability.
The dim grasp of voodoo magics was restricted mainly to some weak healing spells that augment his natural trollish regenerative traits and explosive, evocative bursts of magic that are usually strong enough only to stagger a prepared foe. This could manifest in several ways, from great, spiralling ribbons of concussive force that connected with the impact of a hefty punch to simple orbs of dark matter that rocketed forward from Knert's fist.
Where the rough and ready hex magic shone was in personal enhancement. Strength and speed could be exaggerated quite heavily, allowing Knert to stand toe to toe with ogres, tauren, and average sized trolls alike. Such expenditure of energy was exhaustive, and between physical and magic extertions it was easily possible for the troll to leave himself useless for hours or even days after a fight. Even exhausted as he was, though, Knert recognized the needs of his few men. In order of importance, they needed him to stop reminiscing, and they needed him to get up and get their pay.
"Hnnh," The troll spat in the dirt, squinting at the tent that housed the Horde general. "Up you get, lads. Let's go see what the pay looks like after they try and gobbo us out of it."
Edited by Trenk on 12/2/2012 4:47 AM PST
Trenk, one of the aforementioned men that Knert was concerning himself over, was standing with his hands bound between two grim-faced elves and before another.
The elf to his right was taller than the others, though they all stood above him. Each was dressed in the red and gold of Silvermoon, each delicately structured and fine-haired. Aesthetically, all the Death Knight could do to tell them apart was judge by their hair color. One sported raven hair, the second red, and the third blonde. Though the two at his sides boasted the cloth-padded plate favored by elves, the one at his fore bore the sort of filigreed cloth afforded only to magisters.
Trenk, for his part, stood at a comfortable five foot eleven, with hair that was a sickly sort of bluish green. He was exceedingly vain, and was proud to boast that he was a whole Forsaken, though the stitching and scars of replaced flesh were visible if he were ever to actually remove his shirt. His body was toned in the way that suggested he preferred to avoid blows than absorb them, though this was largely a carry-over from his days among the living; lately, he had no compunction about mixing with broader, bulkier brawlers because his undead flesh could take quite a beating. Characteristically blue eyes blazed from an angular, sharp face. His helmet lay in his tent, removed after the battle. His armor, though, was very much present - a bronze, studded affair that seemed to take its inspiration from the Pandaren.
The elves' swords were not quite drawn, but the quillons were parted from their sheathes, and this did little to calm the situation.
"I told you, elf, your compatriot was threatening me in the middle of the fight. I defended myself with extreme prejudice, as I think you would have done in my situation."
It was true, as it happened, though the Death Knight had been known to kill people for far less. In this case, he had been carving through Alliance forces when he had had the misfortune to send a hasty bolt of frost magic whispering close enough to an elf's ear that the skin actually turned blue. Incensed, the soldier had immediately turned and, in what the mercenary had felt was an unnecessarily threatening manner, berated, threatened, and gesticulated at him.
"Faramos was a proven soldier, one not prone to fits of rage nor violence. Your excuses ring hollow, Death Knight, much like your soul." The words were clipped, cold enough to be responsible for the frost that rimed Trenk's armor. They were very much a lie - Faramos had been responsible for several brawls and disturbances. Mercenaries were not much cared for, however, and each was beneath even the late soldier's lofty notice.
"What I don't understand is why you, a twice-damned killing machine, good for nothing but slaughter and vengeance, have taken the field for coin. What is the incentive? You do not need gold, you do not need much of what it can buy; in fact, you can and have devoured corpses for food. Your presence is utterly pointless."
"That," replied the Knight of Acherus lightly, "is for me to know. Now, then, if you'll excuse me, this is stupid, you are stupid, and I am going back to my tent."
He turned, but froze at the magister's next words. "I do not think so, carrion. You are a traitor, to your kind and to your contract. Kill him."
( Cont. )
There was the sound of metal on leather, but Trenk was already moving. With his hands bound, he stuffed the elvish warrior's draw, forcing the blade back into it's sheath even as he smashed his head forward in a savage headbutt. Though unarmored, there was a satisfying crunch, and the elf staggered. Less than a second later, a booted foot came up and inverted the would-be executioner's knee.
Spinning to face the second guard, the bound fighter twisted to avoid a stab that raked across his ribcage without finding purchase. Teeth bared in a fighting grin, he gripped his aggressor's wrist and twisted, breaking the fragile bones and letting the sword clatter quite harmlessly to the ground. The soldier's legs buckled, and the mercenary began to drive devastating knees into his chest. Bones cracked. The ensuing coughs were wet, and the dirt was speckled with blood. When the Death Knight ceased his assault, his victim crumpled to the ground, groaning.
Grunting in a manner decidedly self-satisfied, Trenk swiveled towards the final elf.
The man's hand was extended threateningly, palm down, fingers curled. Fire danced in the merry fashion that people expected from campfires, not murderous magi. His chest was heaving, and the temporarily in-check blaze reacted by turning blue on the exhale.
The elf opened his mouth, and Trenk futilely hoped for some witty one-liner, anything that would stall for time, but it was made exceedingly clear that that point had past. Something decidedly elvish and not at all bantering began.
So it came as a decided surprise to both fighters when a large, three fingered hand closed around the elf's hair and jerked his head painfully back. A bowling ball disguised as a tauren's fist crunched into the exposed throat with an odd splunch, decidedly ending the combat.
There was a pause in which the only sounds were from the injured elves crawling away. Trenk surveyed his rescuer: Another of the small band, a hefty tauren warrior. With broad shoulders, arcing horns, and a huge axe, the newcomer could be described only as "excessively manly." It was often opined, when he was not present, and when the others were very drunk, that if he were a human, his beard would tangle with his chest hair. He shook his shaggy mane. The Death Knight looked impressed.
"Wow. Damn. Guess that's why they call you Splunch."
"Yeah," rumbled the big warrior, "It kind of is."
Edited by Trenk on 12/11/2012 9:55 PM PST
Khalindir and Coorash, the last two members of the merry band of misfits, were still out on the battlefield. One of them, the orc, was standing. The other, the elf, was not.
Coorash stood eye-level with Knert at six foot five, the only other in their band besides Splunch to be able to claim this. He was broad shouldered and chested, with a square jaw that grew stubble that was trimmed only haphazardly. The orc's hair looked as though he grabbed a fistful of it and sawed whatever lay outside his hand off with his knife, which wasn't far from the truth. The marksorc's armor was primarily leather overlaid with chain, and in one fist was clutched a rather large, rather menacing bow - in the other were several arrows. Over his head circled a hawk; at his feet lay an elf.
The order was gravelly, delivered in a deep, low voice. The mage sighed, pushing himself to his feet with a burst of well controlled magic. He stood taller than most, at six foot three, adding to his spindly frame with voluminous robes and flowing, wide gestures. His voice was well modulated and of a pleasant baritone, cheerful and underscored by a mocking pout. "You didn't have to shove me, you know. I could have handled myself."
Coorash snorted. "I'm sure."
They had been out, much as some of the Alliance had, scavenging for items in good enough condition for resale. Nearly-whole hauberks, unbroken arrows, weaponry - it was a profitable experience, looting. It was a dangerous one, as well, which is why the orc hadn't hesitated to heave the elf to the ground and start shooting when a few non-Horde heads wandered into his line of sight.
Unlike many archers, the marksorc wore his quiver at his belt. A swift motion scooped three arrows into his hand - less than a second and a half later, each one of them was humming with deadly precision towards their targets, the thrum of the bowstring dying on the air. One after another, they sank into the orc's prey, and he relaxed and let his bow arm drop only when he was satisfied that they would not be standing again.
"What was that?" The elf was rubbing his head peevishly. Evidently, he'd knocked it against the rent armor of some unfortunate corpse.
"Nothing. Let's get back to our own lines, this is an ugly place to be. Pick up what you've scored and let's go."
A quick tally between the two showed that they'd "liberated" two masterfully forged axes, a dented but reparable chestplate, a small pouch of coins, and a sizable amount of medical supplies. Not a great haul, but a passable one, and one they'd be happy to share out with the rest of the team.
The magus began swiftly murmuring words, and a rift began to slowly open in the air. The edges were opalescent - strands of light wafted in the air, as if rugged cloth in a gentle wind. Between the glowing boundaries of the portal was a shifting image of their mercenary band's command tent, such as it was. At three rooms and barely enough standing room to accomodate ten people, it was more likely to belong to a low ranking officer than the leader of a company, however small.
Coorash gave a sharp whistle and Vestris, his hawk, alighted on his shoulder. He glanced around, then stepped through. Khalindir followed, and the portal sealed behind them.
"Idiots! Brawlin' wit' de full-timahs, I cannot believe jur dumbfu-"
Coorash winced as Knert roared an extremely impolite word.
"-ckery! I oughta sling ja out o' de companeh fo' dis, ja morons!" He paused, inhaling deeply. As he did, the two scavengers let their prizes rattle to the floor. Knert glanced over, nodded approval, and reopened his mouth to continue berating his men.
The words were rough, coarse even in the orcish tongue. The five turned, and Knert groaned audibly. It was an orc, a Blood Guard of some repute. And the Blood Guard was no stranger to wartime looting.
"A little extra profit, eh, boys? Not a bright bunch, are you. Brawling, looting. I'd come out here to deliver you a mission, but it seems that you fit a particular... Archetype that I was hoping for."
"Shut up, Khalindir. De orc is talkin'."
"Smart. The Alliance took no shortage of hostages today. Unfortunately, it would seem some of these are cowards-" he paused to spit "-and some where hauled away unconscious. It is your honor to go liberate the brave fighters and... Dispose of the weak ones."
"B'hind enemy lines?"
"An' de payout?"
"A permanent contract with the Horde, and no fewer than fifty thousand gold."
There was an intake of breath, but Knert frowned. "Seventeh five."
"Sixty five thousand and an enduring contract, or nothing and premature termination."
The jungle troll sucked his teeth thoughtfully. Sixty five thousand gold and promise of more was a lot, but premature termination of his contract might well see all his men come out of this alive. He glanced around at the other four mercenaries and realized it was very much up to him. The ex-Gurubashi had personally selected each of his fighters, bar Trenk, but even Trenk had never let him down. They were elite, the best, and he was confident they could do it. Do it and survive, though - that was a trick.
"We'll take de job."
There was an excited mutter behind him, and he smiled despite himself. The orc's hand, temporarily and ominously vanished behind his back, came out to shake. In it was a scroll, bearing the Horde General's signature and the terms of the contract. All that was left to be filled out was the blank line that denoted payment.
There was a world of vindictive pleasure in the orc's countenance and, for a moment, Knert wondered if he'd bet on the wrong raptor.
"Get 'im! Tear his jaw right off!"
Knert sidestepped, agile, lithe, as the silhouette of Trenk's sword flickered through the air between them. His own training weapons, blunted versions of the real things, snapped against the vambrace that protected his friends' right wrist, and the swift double tap that rang through the room was a backdrop to the Forsaken's grunted curse and muted grimace. None imagined that to be an incapacitating blow, not if he was wearing good armor, but any lapse in defense could be fatal. A properly blessed weapon could shear the limb clear off.
In retaliation, the Death Knight lifted a hand from his sword and narrowed his eyes; blue magic, icy and forbidding, flashed across the room and sank into the jungle troll's chest. The spell spiderwebbed out, looking like nothing so much as a sprawl of veins pulsing out of the mercenary's leather cuirass, but the point was made clear. Knert fell back, touching the slightly chilled material.
They regarded each other with mutual respect, then their weapons met again.
Coorash was standing off some distance to the side, his hands a blur. He kept several arrows in his grip at a time, drawing and releasing the bowstring several times without ever needing to dip into his quiver. Eleven arrows arced through the air - before the first touched the ground, the last was leaping from the bowstring. Each pattered neatly into a single target, all within a two-foot spread.
He turned, firing a rapid set of three arrows at targets of varying distance. The shots were complete in fewer than two seconds, but every one hit on the bullseye or near it. It was impressive shooting, but the orc spat into the dirt and stomped off to recollect his arrows.
Splunch was busy. He had left shortly after the introduction of the new job, returning only when he had found a sizable boulder. For reasons best known to himself, he was now lifting it up to his chest, above his head, back to his chest, then squeezing it as if he wished to push his palms together, then finally placing it back on the ground. When asked why, he simply grunted "It's a Splunch thing." and continued his work.
At some point, unnoticed by the others, he had found himself a bucket of rocks. This he lifted in one arm, using primarily his bicep to haul his fist to his shoulder even while holding the handle of the bucket. Everyone ignored him.
Khalindir was, perhaps, putting himself to the greatest use. While the others practiced arts that they were already good at, the mage was busily concocting potions and rashly trying new invocations between and during brews. Many of these seemed to involve holding a field of invisibility, which fluttered and faded pointlessly. Other times he would flutter his fingers and spin an object clean around, or murmur under his breath and assume the shape of one of his compatriots. The best attempt of the latter spell lasted almost five seconds.
The tension was showing in all of them. It was not a simple undertaking that they had been tasked with, and they knew it was unlikely for them to come out of it in one piece. The five suicide contracts looked at each other apprehensively, as if they were unsure they'd ever see each other again.
It was just five days until they set out.
(( So it's been hard to fit it in with the 5,000 character restraint and with my writing partner off, but she's finally back and we settled on Alterac Valley as a medium for the warzone. I'll need to go back and fix this to include scenic commentary, as it's a fairly rough draft, but I dread what it'll do to the character limit. The first post was so overdrawn I had to cut it down to about 75% of the original size. ))
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