[Story] Trial by Felfire II

The vultures wasted no time, descending upon the fallen sin’dorei like an angry black cloud. The druid watched impassively, his ears flicking toward the harsh squawking as the birds quarreled over the choicest scraps. The cold, efficient brutality of nature was something that often surprised city-dwellers when they wandered outside of their stone cages. Soon the blood elf would be reduced to little more than the pale sand itself, and — at last — might provide some use.

He crouched at the very edge of the forest, where the trees abruptly ended and the pale, strange sand crept up among the roots. It was an ideal place to stage an ambush, and he had spent most of the afternoon with this diversion. For now though, he rested, squinting his eyes against the steady ache in his joints as he settled to the ground. There were days when he could forget his age, but this was not one of them.

Terokkar was the first place on Draenor where he had really felt comfortable — the marsh had its appeals, but the pale green forest had embraced his heart. He could not Dream, but here he could imagine, if the light was right.

Had it really been a lifetime ago that he first heard those words? He could scarcely remember, the memory hazed by age, but he knew he had sat in the Moonglade, enraptured by the sight, and by the words Cenarius spoke.

Kill or be killed.

Adapt, or die.

Balance must be maintained.

The laws of the wild were simple. The laws of people were another matter. And the sin’dorei, he could not even begin to contemplate. He’d reached the village under the veil of night, and at first his keen senses had detected nothing amiss. The druids were asleep of course, lulled by the feathery hum of the moths’ wings, and the breeze that shook the branches above. But as he drew closer, the unmistakeable smell of death reached his nostrils, sending the hair along his spine bristling. The druids of the outpost were dead. All of them, save a handful, and the elf’s mind had been seemingly addled by what he had seen, for he spoke nothing but nonsense in spite of Ornasse’s pleading. All of them dead, in moments. There had not even been time for them to flee. He had sworn to unravel the mystery, and in a few days’ time, he had — the trail had led him to a sin’dorei village deep within the woods. He had wrested the means from their twisted hands, but not the motive. What reason, what possible gain could they derive from the druids’ slaughter? Even the most vicious of predators did not kill without purpose.

And what was his own purpose? Surely not vengeance; a druid’s place was guardian and protector. Balance, the voice reminded him across the centuries, must be maintained. Yet the urge would not leave him, pecking at his mind insistently as the vultures pecked the carcass. He felt for the first time in his very long life that his will was not entirely his own; he was never the sort to surrender to the vague concepts of will or fate. Action beget consequence: kill or be killed. And yet, as his paws carried him to his next unwary victim, he felt that they moved of their own accord, guided by something yet unseen.

Adapt, or die. He would not tell his comrade. Already the other druid questioned Ornasse’s motivations, to speak of this would only pour fuel onto the fire. Though he had tried to explain the importance of curbing this new, ruthless predator, Varul persisted that he acted purely for his own interest. Or more accurately, for Zharya’s interest. Ornasse was not certain how she would feel about the prospect; the huntress’s devotion to wiping out their enemy burned white-hot, but she may also feel that his help was an unwanted intrusion into her territory.

Besides, there were a hundred things he wanted to say to her before they discussed ‘work’, and he knew it was unlikely he’d get the chance. In her own way, she was as unfettered and elusive as he was, though she retreated to her sniper’s perch and the metallic gleam of her rifle, rather than the depths of the woods. But she went where her will — and the promise of coin — carried her, and all too often it was away from him.

No, for the time being the hunt would be his own, padding the green-shadowed trails that already smelled familiar to him. And it had begun.

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[Story] Two of a Kind

[[ This takes place when the twins were children. ]]

“Vajarra? Where is your sister?”

She peered warily over the edge of her book. Her father stood in the doorway to the twins’ small room, frowning at Vassanta’s bunk. Which was, Vajarra noted, unmade.

Vajarra gave a petulant shrug. “I don’t know. I’m mad at her,” she said, turning the page with deliberation.

“Vajarra.” He was frowning more now, the lines around his mouth etched deeply with concern.

“But she doesn’t ever -listen-!” she cried, snapping the book closed on her pillow. “If she wants to go and get in trouble, I–”

He had crossed the room in one great stride and stood now beside her bunk, his tail-tip switching in agitation. Vajarra stopped short, knowing better than to push her luck further.

“She is your sister,” he said gently. “You cannot let her wander alone, you are a team. For always.” He knelt beside her now, and reached a large, strong hand to smooth her hair.

She nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. As she slid down from the bed, he caught her in a hug. “My little flower, go and find my little terocone. It is nearly time for supper.” She grinned crookedly, squeezing him tightly in return. He smelled faintly of gunpowder and the sweet smoke from his pipe.

“I will, papa,” she said, trotting out into the warm evening light of the terrace. All of the stalls in the market had closed for the evening, only a few straggling tired-looking vegetables and a crust of bread remained there now. Vajarra frowned thoughtfully, her eyes roaming the courtyard. Where could she be?

“Vassanta!” She called out for her sister as she wandered the wide stone streets, brushing past a regiment of soldiers returning to their barracks. They spared her a curious glance before continuing on their way.

She blinked hard, fighting back tears of worry and frustration. “Vassanta, where are you! I didn’t mean it!”

Something poked her between the shoulderblades, and she shrieked in surprise. Vassanta snickered behind her impromptu helmet, a cracked gourd shell. “Scared you?”

Vajarra glowered, pushing the tip of Vassanta’s “sword” away. It had possibly been a weapon at some point, but was now dulled beyond recognition. “That isn’t funny! You’re going to be in big trouble!”

Vassanta leapt deftly onto the wall beside her, crouching like a spider as she surveyed the city below them. “I’m not in trouble,” she said, tucking her sword into her belt. “I’m scouting.”

Below, in the city’s lower ring, white tents speckled the ground like mushrooms. At first there had been only a few. But they seemed to come every day now, shuffling across the arch with their bundles, hope written on their strange faces. And they were an endless source of fascination, even Vajarra had to admit, these odd looking people from far away. She could not imagine living in a tiny tent in the market, but they seemed content enough.

“There’s orcs here,” Vassanta said gravely, turning to look back at her sister.

“No there’s not,” Vajarra scoffed, crossing her arms. “Stop trying to scare me.” And then, very reasonably, she added, “If there were orcs, the soldiers would kill them.”

Her sister’s expression hardened, the one that meant there was no dissuading her from what she was thinking. “There are orcs, and I’ll show you.” Before Vajarra could protest, Vassanta had skittered down from her perch, and was descending the ramp into the lower tier at a heady trot.

Vassanta slid against a wall, her makeshift sword drawn. “Shhh!” Vajarra squeaked and ducked behind her, as one of the bird-people doddered past them on the path. It raised its feathers and cocked a beady, curious eye at the pair, but continued on its way, clutching a leather bag closely to its chest.

“That was close!” Vassanta adjusted her gourd helmet, which had slipped down over the nubs of her horns. “I’m pretty sure they are dangerous,” she added, eyeing Vajarra accusingly. “Next time don’t make noise!”

Vajarra gulped and nodded, peering into the tent flaps as they slunk past. Most of their inhabitants were occupied with preparing their evening meals, crouched over dented pots and open flames, just as their mother was far above in their house. It made Vajarra feel suddenly and absurdly afraid, and she hurried to catch up with Vassanta again.

The far end of the circle was hidden in long shadows, the evening light unable to reach into its corners. Here Vassanta ducked behind a post, tugging Vajarra with her. “Look,” she whispered, nodding toward one of the tents.

She didn’t want to. She wanted to run back home, away from the strange people and strange smells and bird-people. But what if there really -were- orcs here? She would have to tell their father. He no longer served in the army, but Vajarra knew he still kept his armor and sword, she had seen him cleaning it before while he sat before the fire.

Vassanta nudged her sharply in the ribs, jarring her out of her thoughts. “Ow,” she said, frowning at her sister.

“Are you scared?” The words seemed to bite Vajarra.

“No,” she whispered, but she meant yes. Trembling, she leaned around the edge of the post, her eyes searching the area quickly so they could just go home.

There were four of them. A mother and father, and two young ones. The father sat with his back toward them, working on a skin that lay across his lap. The mother stirred a pot of something slowly, and grunted softly to the two children. Vajarra stood riveted by fear, watching as if in a dream. The smaller of the two orc children had discovered a fat beetle and popped it into its mouth, its older sibling howling with their eerie laughter. The male turned to look, but Vajarra thought that he could see them from the corner of his eye. It was enough to break her trance, and she turned and fled as fast as her hooves would carry her.

She continued to run, not even looking back for Vassanta, hooves clattering on the stone. She needn’t have worried, it turns out, as Vassanta quickly passed her, panting. She’d lost her gourd helmet, but a look of triumph lay across her face. “See!”

Vajarra felt pale and weary. She glanced to the Terrace of Light, where the naaru gathered. “But why are they allowed here?”

“Don’t know,” Vassanta said, shrugging. Vajarra noted with some amazement that she seemed remarkably unflustered by the idea of orcs being in the city. “It’s because they are brown, I think,” she added after a moment’s thought.

Vajarra got to her hooves again, walking back toward their home. She hadn’t noticed whether the orcs were brown or not, they were frightening anyway. To her relief, Vassanta followed amiably, though her sister seemed lost in thought.

“You mean they are good orcs?” Vajarra asked as they rounded the last building before their house.

Vassanta considered this, and shrugged. “Maybe,” she admitted. “They didn’t eat -you-, anyway.”

Vajarra didn’t find it nearly as funny, but was too tired to argue. Good orcs or not, the idea of them being so near frightened her. The bird-people and the strange pinkish humans were strange, but neither filled her heart with dread as the sight of the orcs had.

Vassanta paused midstep, her hard eyes searching Vajarra’s expression. “Hey…” she lay a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “You’re not really scared, are you?”

Vajarra trembled, willing herself not to cry again. Vassanta pulled her close and hugged her. “Don’t worry,” she said, taking both her hands in her own with a gentle squeeze. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you. You’re my sister.”

As infuriating as she could sometimes be, Vajarra knew it to be true.

[Story] Trial by Felfire

For a fleeting moment he thought that nothing had happened; the scorched red ground warmed the pads of his paws just as it had moments ago, in the torn scar of the Blasted Lands.

One moment, before the overwhelming stench of fel fire clutched itself around his senses, choking in his throat and searing his eyes. The plagued lands of Lordaeron had been bad. The twisted woods of Felwood were worse. But he could not find words for how terrible this was. His vision cleared somewhat, his eyes still stinging but enough to focus on what now lay before him.

He padded slowly forth, as if entranced. He did not hear the cries and shouts of the commanders, the metallic twang of weapons unleashed. He saw only the tide of demons that crashed against the foot of the great stairway, an angry sea of twisted claws and teeth that swelled as far as he could see.

She had never really explained it, what had happened to Draenor, and why she lived as she did. He understood, now.

He lifted his head uncertainly, and chose a path leading north and west. The scorched ground hurt the pads of his paws, and the wild, alien sky afforded no hope of shade. He paused atop a small hill, where a strange plant clung tenaciously to life, on its own. Ornasse was struck by a sudden absurd fondness for it, though its leaves shimmered lightly with fel dust; he presumed the feeling was not mutual. Now he stood on only two feet, the oddity of the sensation soon passing.

From within a pouch at his waist, he drew out a rough brown seed. He could not recall exactly where it came from, but he knew he had been carrying it for some time. He let it fall at his feet, casting his hand over the place in the dust, the faint green light fading after it passed.

Nothing happened. Frowning, he stooped to retrieve the seed, brushing the strange red earth from its husk. He clutched it in his palm, near to his chest, and he thought he felt it tremble. He whispered to it, and the shell cracked, a single wan leaf struggling toward the strange, sunless light. So perhaps there was hope, after all. He tucked it carefully into his pouch again, turning to scan the horizon for the outpost.

Hands clutched at him, tiny clawed hands that seared. Snarling, he fell to all fours, lashing back at the imps in surprise and fury. There were three; one lay beneath his paws, another clung to his back and ears. The third capered and leapt as if to taunt him, screeching its incantations. He seized the wriggling imp in his jaws, clamping down around its midsection, choking at the taste upon his tongue. A streak of fire brushed over his back, singing a track in his fur. Roaring, he leapt upon the imp as it attempted to flee.

He narrowed his eyes, stinging again at the scent of fel fire. One of the imps’ hands still twitched, and he turned away in digust.

There would be more, he knew, many more before his work was finished here. Perhaps it would never truly be finished. But one thing he was certain of: That every challenge he faced, every trial the Legion set before him, every demon that fell to his claws, they were all in her name.