Stranger Meetings is yet another one of those stories I've made to explain where Vodral is when my computer goes down. Coincidentally, I'd recently created a new character just before my PC had an aneurism, so I used this to introduce her, too!
Happy reading, but mind your kids, I don't censor swear words when I write.
Chapter 1: Stranger Meetings
Silence stronger than even Echo in the presence of Narcissus* reigned over the reed-ridden bog, perhaps made heavier by the thick coats of mist that enshrouded the area. Somewhere below those enigmatic clouds, a large and crumpled form lay still as any grave, his body painted with the glum hues of dirt and blood. He remained motionless for what seemed like centuries, long enough for the carrion birds to descend from the sky in hopes of picking a meal from what little flesh remained exposed by his armor. Several of them gathered nearby, cawing and shrieking with excitement as they crept quietly towards the first potential feast they’d seen in days.
However, just as they were about to commence their macabre ceremony, the figure lurched and gulped eagerly for air, springing to life as suddenly as if he’d been pulled back by the Loa Lukou itself. He rolled on his side and planted a hand into the muck to steady himself, eyes shut tightly and shoulders heaving with the effort to breathe. The birds scattered when he began to retch, though they remained ever watchful on the branches of a nearby tree, for there was still plenty of time left for this poor soul to die.
When at last his stomach had ceased its restless stirring, the figure raised his head and squinted at his surroundings, his gaze filled with a mixture of exhaustion and bewilderment. His painted brows knit together as he attempted vainly to process what he saw: a forest of cat’s eye reeds spread into the horizon, each individual stalk springing from a pool of mud that was nearly as vibrant a blue as his skin. Mushrooms frequently barged in on the congregations of reeds, and though other plants displayed wounds undoubtedly granted by animal intruders, the fungi remained virtually untouched.
“Wheah de net’ah am Ah?” he rasped. His hand shot up to his throat moments after he’d spoken, his brows knit in obvious confusion.
He had barely the time to ponder how long he’d been unconscious before a voice chirped from somewhere behind him,
“Good question! I’d estimate Zangarmarsh, by the smell of it. And, coincidentally, by the fact that I have a map.”
More than a little alarmed by the fact that he’d somehow managed to miss the scent of an intruder, the figure rolled onto his back and glanced wildly in every which direction.
“What de –”
“Say, you’re Vodral, right? Fellow in that unit… what’s it called… bugger. Sergeant though, right?”
“Mos’ be callin’ me Red, jeh, but wh –” he paused to clear his throat, “who - wheah is joo?”
“Look up, it’s a really great direction to try when you’re lying on the ground.”
Dutifully as a dog, Vodral forced himself onto his knees and tilted his head back to search for the inscrutable voice. His eyes skirted by the undersides of unreasonably large mushrooms and a sky hidden by layers of clouds before they chanced upon a tiny, pink-skinned creature poised upon the top of a fallen log. With no small amount of surprise, he tilted his head to the side and leaned towards the thing until he discerned what it was: a blood elven girl with skin the tone of a smart sunburn, clad entirely in leather that – against all logic – had been dyed maroon and pink.
She smiled and swung her legs in the air when he spotted here. “Hullo there, stranger.”
The silence lasted a matter of seconds before Vodral, ever the honest soul, exclaimed, “Dis’s fuckin’ weahd.”
“Well, that’s great. I’m Beolne ‘Two Hands’ Aeva, myself, and you were knocked off the face of the world.”
Two Hands folded her legs at the ankles and continued casually, “I found you on one of the little floating rocks at the edge of the Outlands. Your raptor was waiting nearby, but when I tried to get him to come with me he just sort of, er… well, he tried to eat me first, then I kicked him and I guess he decided he didn’t want to try to eat something that hits back. In any case, I got you back up. Took a bit of work and some maneuvering, though, you really ought to work on losing some weight. Almost snapped my rope - twice.”
Vodral scowled darkly at her from behind a mess of bangs and muck. She raised her hands defensively and said,
“Look, hey, I could have just left you there to die.”
“Ah coulda’ used mah hahtstone.”
“Yeah, well, that’s assuming the rest of you didn’t slide off the rock before you got up. You were already slipping when I got there. What got you, by the way? It looked like there was some sort of scuffle, but… I’m no tracker, I couldn’t tell what’d happened.”
“Do Ah look like Ah know?”
“No, but you don’t look like you know a whole lot of anything, either, so I guess that makes sense.”
A long, heavy sigh escaped Vodral as his hand drifted up to rub at his bruised temples. His every attempt to make sense of the situation failed horribly – had his mount slipped on the rock face and he’d fallen from the saddle, or had he been attacked? If the latter was the truth, who would travel all the way to Zangarmarsh, of all places, just to knock him off a cliff?
Deep inside him, a tiny voice quipped, “everyone on the face of Azeroth except maybe your mother, and even that’s under debate,” but he ignored it. There were more important matters at hand.
“How fah is we from civilization?”
“The ride would take a few days, most likely. My hawkstrider may be able to carry you, if you’d like to give her a try.”
“Joo find a hahtstone anehwheah neahby me?”
Two Hands looked up thoughtfully, then shook her head. “Not that I recall. A whole lot of blood, though, you fell a long way. I’m amazed you didn’t crack your skull open. Erm… sorry for just dropping you in the dirt, but it’s really hard to carry someone three times your size and I rather fancied giving up in favor of breaking my spinal column.”
Vodral grunted in reply, “Yeah, shoah, s’fine… Jus’, help me get back to town. Maybeh dey got a hahtstone dere, somet’ing Ah can use…”
“… A medic?” Two Hands suggested.
“Ah dun’ need no medic.”
“Trust me,” the elf replied as she waved her hawkstrider over, “once you get a good look at the state you're in, you’ll change your mind."
- Ho, ho, guess who's in mythology class!
Chapter 2: A Different Sort of Monster
Of all the unfortunate situations Two Hands had gotten used to in her field of work, having a nine-foot troll leaning up against her back was not amongst them. She cleared her throat and shifted uncomfortably as his armor jabbed into her flesh, threatening at every bounce of her hawkstrider’s steps to dig in a little too far and draw blood. By the silence that had befallen him an hour earlier, she suspected he’d slipped back into unconsciousness, but the occasional, suspiciously directed stab of his tusk to her scalp made her wonder if he was just faking it.
Two hours of riding in the same, awkward position eventually proved enough for Two Hands. She yanked on her hawkstrider’s reigns and barked, “Whoa – hey, I said whoa! That means slow down, not run headlong at the damn tree! Naa’ru, you’re a stupid bird.”
The commotion was enough to rouse the troll behind her. Vodral groaned and planted his palm on his forehead, the other gripping harshly at the saddle. The slight sway of his body as he tried to sit still was more than a little reminiscent of a drunkard, something that Two Hands took note to as she dismounted and scolded her brown-feathered ‘strider.
“Wheah’s we, now?” Red growled.
“Deep in Bumfuck, Nowhere,” replied Two Hands. “We’ve killed about half a day, so it’s break time. I’d suggest you hop off the saddle and lay down for a bit, or you’re really going to feel it tomorrow.”
Vodral’s answer as he slid off the bird was something along the lines of “mmgfmfmf mmmkay.” He landed in the muck with a loud thunk, followed shortly by the rattling of his armor.
Two Hands whirled around and hissed, “Oh, for… Shhhh! D’you want everything in the area to know we’re here?”
The troll shot her one of his well-practiced Sergeant Looks™, the sort that had sent countless rookies running to the nearest restroom for fear of ruining their trousers. “Whussit mattah?” he snarled, “All dat lives up heah is a buncha’ ovahgrown mushrooms an’ some Cenarion Cihcle suppohtahs.”
“And the bloody Bog Beast.”
Vodral stared at her as if she were an orc that had just said a six-syllable word. “De Bog Beast.”
“Yes, the Bog Beast.”
“How ol’ is joo ‘gain?”
Two Hands regarded him austerely. “Hey, just trust me on this one. I’m serious. It lurks beneath the pools, listening for its latest victims. I read about it in a book.”
Yet again, Vodral’s hand introduced itself to his forehead. He grumbled a few words of disbelief in trollish, then caved in and said, “Aright. Fine. Ah be quiet, so de terrifyin’ Bog Beast dun’ get us.”
As Two Hands settled down and returned to pulling spare bits of firewood from her pack, Vodral muttered, “Dis’s stupidah dan Owa when he gets in ‘un a his protestah moods.”
With their travels halted for at least a little while, the two settled down by the makeshift fire and warmed their hands by the flames. Curious, Vodral shot the elf a sidelong glance and looked her over for the first time since their initial meeting. She was small compared to him, that much was for damn sure*, but for her own kind he suspected she could have been considered a tad taller than average. While the rest of her mud-spotted form was uninteresting, her hair looked as though it had been lopped off very recently by someone who thought the art of hairstyling involved slashing randomly at a person’s head with a serrated blade.
Eventually, Two Hands shot the enormous, red-clad troll at her side a similar look.
“… What?” she huffed.
Vodral shrugged and looked down to his gauntlet, doused in grime. “Tell me ‘bout dis beast we gotta’ be worrehin’ ‘bout.”
Two Hands paused for just a few seconds too many. “Well, he – what do you want to know?”
“What’s he look like?”
“Um,” she bit her lip and looked off to the side, “he’s very large.”
Vodral fixed her with an incensed glare. “EVEREHT’ING in de Outlan's is lahge. Can joo get a bit moah specific?”
“Well, now we’re down to evereh livin’ bein’ in Zangahmahsh. Joo on a roll, gihleh.”
“Still no dice.”
Two Hands tossed her hands into the air in a universal gesture of frustration. “I don’t know; we’ll cross that bridge when – if – we come to it!”
“Does dis beast happen to be havin’ it out foah joo?” Vodral dryly asked.
“What? No, he just wants to eat people, especially annoying trolls that ask too many questions about him. You should really just lie down and get some rest, you know.”
The troll stared at Two Hands long enough to make her clear her throat and look off to the side. Seeing this, he snickered and laid back against the log they’d settled by, his classic, crooked grin cocking the corners of his lips. “’Mmmhrm… Lemmeh know if aneht’ing shows up. Dere’s a whole lotta’ monstahs in dis area, an’ not all a dem look like joo’d expect dem to.”
- Some might consider this point moot, as everything ever is smaller than Vodral, except maybe Fel Reavers. He argues he's bigger, but for some strange reason not everyone seems to agree.
Chapter 3: Everyone's Got A Theory
Night descended quickly upon the marsh. It swept over the country like a ghost and stole away the sun, leaving the mortals below to wander in the fungi’s’ ethereal light. The creatures of the day had long since retired to their hovels, replaced now by the shadows that stalked the evening, and one particularly restless troll.
Or at least, that’s what it would have been like, if Zangarmarsh wasn’t located in outer space.* Since it was, however, nothing changed except a quick swap of a few species. A few constellations might have moved a bit, but as he considered the Outlands’ sky about as exciting as staying sober for longer than five minutes, Vodral failed to notice.
Instead, his attentions were focused on the dying fire pit and the deep, unsatisfied rumble of his abyssal stomach. He nudged the remaining embers with one of his toes and grumbled a few curses, his mind straying to where the elf had gone. A few minutes into his hour-long slumber and she’d disappeared, leaving him alone with her hawkstrider for company.
Vodral glanced up at the bird begrudgingly. “Loveleh evenin’, ain’t it,” he scoffed.
The bird looked down its beak at him; much in the same way his superiors would when faced with the repercussions of his drunken antics. He rolled his eyes and grunted, “S’cuse me foah stahtin’ to tryin’ convasation, sweethaht. Wheah’d joo gihlfriend go, eh? Ain’t vereh nice to be leavin’ joo guest ‘round unattended.”
With no small amount of indignance, the hawkstrider ruffled its feathers and stared off elsewhere, its posture similar to that of a sentinel. Vodral gave it a harsh look and pulled his knees up to his chest, then glanced around his shoulders. The scenery hadn’t changed – just miles of miles of overgrown mushrooms, reeds, and the occasional creature that looked as though a child had put it together instead of the gods.
Frustrated, Vodral turned back to the fire pit and blew a clump of crimson bangs from his eyes. He was on the verge of laying back again when his sensitive ears caught the schluck of a boot as it was pulled from the suctioning grasp of the mud. Instantly he whirled around again, his hands reaching instinctively for the daggers he kept hidden beneath his belt. He was about to unsheathe one and throw it when he caught sight of the intruder.
She raised a finger to her lips and waved her free hand wildly, her eyes as wide as a deer’s.
Vodral cocked his head to the side and opened his mouth to speak, but the urgency of her expression silenced his words. She slid over the log and pressed her back to it, chest heaving as she tried to regain her breath. After several moments, she lifted herself up and peered cautiously over the fallen tree, then fell quickly back upon her bottom and turned to the troll.
“Now,” she whispered, “would be a really great time to move.”
“What de loas bein’ wrong, joo scared?”
“Yes, I’m bloody frightened! Just about pissed my pants!”
“The m – the Bog Beast.”
Vodral narrowed his eyes at her and sniffed at the air. “Doan’t smell not’ing out a de ohdinareh.”
“Well,” Two Hands snapped as she carefully crawled towards her hawkstrider, “that might be because he’s underwater.”
Noiselessly, she began to strap the saddle onto the bird, whose demeanor had changed from defiant to anxious. Vodral shot a cursory glance over the area and took another whiff of the air. Shortly thereafter, his lips fell into a frown darker than a Grimtotem’s hide.
Two Hands kicked a bit of muck over the fire pit and bent down again, staring at him incredulously. “You coming?”
“Jeh,” he answered, “Ah’m comin’. Get saddled up.”
“Still feeling alright, yeah?”
In the midst of Vodral’s response, Two Hands stole back to the mount and swung a leg over its side. She ducked her head and directed the bird to her wounded charge, who climbed up behind her and, meanwhile, masked his grimace of pain with the stern visage of a man who knew that showing weakness in times of toil could lead to the loss of his troops’ morale. As soon as the pair had settled, Two Hands pressed herself as low into the saddle as she could get and urged the bird into a sprint, headed northbound.
A half hour later, and her nerves had settled a pinch, though a chef might have argued it was more of a sprinkle. Vodral remained silent for the entirety of the time, but when he saw her shoulders slouch, he slid a hand back to his side and groaned.
Two Hands lofted a brow and looked back at him. “You sure you’re alright?”
“Fine, jus’ – slow de bihd foah a second, will joo? De bouncin’… Ah t’ink Ah broke somet’ing…”
Nodding, the elf whispered to her ‘strider and then said aloud, “Alright, buddy, just let me know. If something’s wrong, I know first aid quite a lot better than the average footman.”
She was about to correct herself by saying “footwoman” when something rather sharp and unpleasant pressed into her back, just to the right of her spine.
“Ah,” she said.
Vodral leaned down til he was beside her ear, then cheerily remarked, “Keep ridin’. Joo gonna’ wanna’ make shoah joo doan’t go too fast, d’ough, oah mah hand’s gonna’ slip, an’ den who knows what’ll happen aftah dat, jeh?”
Two Hands steadied her grip on the reigns and replied, “Aha. Well. Yes. Very good advice, that. Now, and I don’t mean to be rude, but I am mildly curious as to why you pulled a knife on me.” She slid a hasty glance to him and continued, “Maybe you could enlighten me?”
The blade pushed a fraction harder against her skin, causing her to draw a sharp breath and look foreword again.
“Shoah t’ing,” Vodral snarled, “Jus’ keep on movin’.”
“De reason,” his voice dropped to a murmur as he adjusted his hold on the dagger’s hilt, “bein’ dat Ah did catch a scent back dere, an’ what do joo know – it wun’t native to dis area! Pretteh curious, jeh? So’s Ah t’ought foah a moment an’ got anot’ah whiff… An’ den Ah realized somet’ing.”
“And that would be?”
“If joor ‘beast’ exists,” a malicious grin crossed his features as he twisted the tip of the blade against her flesh, “den he shoah as de net’ah smells a helluva lot like a blood elf. T’ree, to be exact… ‘Un’s a bit on de smallah side, de ot’ah two is decent sized… all a dems tryin’ to disguise dey smell, but dey usin’ de soahta’ techniques dey teach to civilians. Joo know… covah jooself in mud, slap a lil animah piss on jooself heah an’ dere… Dun’ always woahk so well when joo trackah knows what he’s lookin’ foah, d’ough it does t’row joo off at fihst, Ah tell joo dat.”
Two Hands bit sharply at her lip. “Look, I was planning on telling you, I just –”
“Ah wun’t finished talkin’,” growled the troll. His tusk scraped her jaw as he spoke, and despite the cut that followed, she bit back a yelp. “Befoah joo go off rattahlin’ joo explanation, Ah want joo to heah mah t’eorehs. See, de fihst ‘un goes a lil somet’ing like dis, shoaht an’ sweet: joo messed up. Dis woulda’ been fine, if it wun’t foah de fact dat de peopah joo pissed off got a tempah meanah dan de Loas on a bad day. So’s joo go on de run – tryin’ to get outta’ dey reach – an’ joo jus’ can’t seem to fin’ a escape. De onleh place joo can t’ink to go to wheah dey woan’t follah is de Outlands… an’ so joo come heah, t’inkin’ dey wun’t follah joo, an’ on de way joo find a meatshield. He’s unconscious, jeh… but when he wakes, well, big fellah like dat oughta’ do, right? An’ evereh’un knows trolls is credited foah dey viciousness.”
Two Hands gripped nervously at the reigns and tried to say, “You’ve got it all wr-”
“Joo realleh wanna’ intahrrupt me right now?” Vodral sneered. “Aftah all, Ah’m de ‘un wit’ de knife.”
“I’ll give you that.”
“Glad to see we ‘greein’. Now, wheah was Ah… Ah, de ot’ah t’eoreh. Dis ‘un comes up a lot in mah life. De name Red carrehs a lot a weight in dese pahts, an’ Ah admit dat Ah ain’t always been a saint.”
“By the way you pulled that knife out without me noticing, that’s a given,” quipped Two Hands.
Vodral chuckled and played with the blade’s hilt in his palm. “Smaht gihl,” he remarked. “But not smaht ‘nough to keep her mout’ shut. As Ah was sayin’… Ah’ve had peopah get angreh wit’ me befoah. Sometimes dey so upset ‘bout t’ings dat happened in de past, dey come back lookin’ to extract a lil bit a revenge. Now, dis’s all well an’ good – joo angreh wit’ me, joo get de chance to try an’ settah t’ings. Unfo’tunateleh foah dems, none a dese attempts at redemption done aneh good.
“Given mah past ‘speriences, Ah feel it’s fairleh likeleh dat joo ‘un a dem mislead souls. Joo see me ‘lone in Zangahmahsh, figgah Ah’m a good mahk, jeh? Nice price on mah head, could be a easeh collection. So joo call up joo buddehs an’ joo decide to take me on a ride t’rough de wildahness, ‘til joo shoah we fah ‘nough out dat joo an’ joo friends, who’s follahin’ to enshoah t’ings dun’ go wrong, can kill me wit’out leavin’ no evidence.
“Now, dis’d all be a great plan,” his voice descended into a deep-throated growl, “if Ah was a idiot.”
Two Hands fell silent, her head bouncing to the rhythm of her hawkstrider’s steps.
“But ah… dese ahdeahs was jus’ off de top a mah head,” Vodral admitted in a languid tone, “Ah could be wrong on a few t’ings. How ‘bout joo cleah it up foah me, jeh? Ah’m shoah dere’s a coupah blanks joo could fill in.”
“Quite a few, actually, though I do admit you’ve a very vivid imagination.”
Red quirked a brow and tilted his head to get a better look at her. “’Mm? Den what’d Ah get wrong?”
Before he could react, Two Hands whipped the reigns and sent the bird into a frantic dash. The rapid burst of movement loosened Vodral’s grip on the saddle, and was he flung off the ‘strider with a yelp and, shortly thereafter, a telling WHUNK. As soon as she felt the knife give way, Two Hands turned her mount around and trotted up to him, her own sword suddenly placed in her hands.
“I’m not a murderer.”
Vodral groaned from his spot in the muck and pushed himself up by the elbows. He fumbled briefly for his dagger, but gave up once his body reminded him that the wind had not only been knocked out of him, it had also been strangled, beaten, and thoroughly smashed from his lungs.
Meanwhile, Two Hands slid gracelessly from her bird and crouched by his feet. She dug the tip of her sword into the mire and drew lazy circles with it as she began to speak. “Very impressive speech, though, I have to give you an eight out of ten. The ending line, however; I’m still not feeling the ‘I’m not an idiot, really,’ bit, but that may just be because you’re in the dirt right now and I’m not.”
“Bloodeh witch!” snarled the troll.
An instant later and he was partially on his feet, fist pulled back and ready to send Two Hands’s head reeling.
“Woah!” she hollered, pointing her blade desperately at him. “My time to talk, buddy! Put away the knuckles and no one gets hurt.”
Vodral growled fiercely and remained where he was, until sense grabbed him by the neck and informed him that trying to punch through a sword was probably not a good idea.
“Den say what joo got to say,” he spat at last.
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Two Hands sighed and kept the steel close to his neck. “I’m really not very good at this threatening thing, so bear with me, alright? Alright, good, glad to see you’re seething at a reasonable level now.
“As I was saying before we started this little tumble, you don’t have the story right, and we don’t have much time to be wasting on explanations, either. What I will give you is that I have absolutely no ill intentions towards you. Well, come to think of it, that’s something of a lie. Right now my honest opinion is that you need a good punch to the ole family jewels, but since I’m a nonviolent person and I’m 90% certain you have titanium instead of rubies, I’m going to resist that urge.”
She paused to offer him a smile, only to have holes burnt into her in return. Frowning, she continued, “Okay, not a funny man, aha. Right then, moving on. I’m going to make this quick, ‘ey? Every second we stay is another second they’ve got on our tails.
“Your first guess was closer than the second. I am on the run, yes, I’ll admit to that – but I’m not a criminal. All I do is protect people; I’m a bodyguard, if you will it. Regrettably, protecting some people sometimes knots the undergarments of other people, which can, on occasion, given the right circumstances, lead to a whole lot of people being very upset with me.
“I came out here because I needed to get away, you got that part right on the head. I figured they wouldn’t come all the way to the Outlands, and I could take the time up here to figure out how I’m going to get myself out of this situation. However, well… They followed. I went to the edge of Zangarmarsh to try and find a place to hide, and instead I found some giant troll stranded on a mini… island… rock… thing. It looked like you were in a bit of a rough spot, so I helped you. No ulterior motives, no nothing; it was just the right thing to do, and I’m headed back to civilization anyway, so why leave you behind without a ride?”
Vodral’s glowering lessened by a minute degree. “If dat’s de case, den why did joo lie to me?”
“What would you have said if I told you ‘oh, hello there, I’m running from a bunch of angry men with illegal connections, want a ride?’ I saw your insignias, I knew what you’d think – or better yet, what you’d do.”
“Joo coulda’ taken de time an’ esplained all a it an’ Ah woulda’ been glad to he-”
“Now you’re the one lying,” she said, smiling forcedly, “don’t try and trick yourself into believing you’re the hero. You would’ve killed me or turned me in as a criminal. By saying there was some monster after me, I got you on my side and gave you time enough to get to know me a little.”
Vodral sighed irately and looked off to the side.
“Can I take the sword away from your throat, or do we still have to converse on a steel-to-flesh basis?”
“Coulda’ lowahed it five minnits ‘go.”
Two Hands sheathed the sword at her waist and retorted, “Ahuh, and had a fist punched through my skull, right. Great plan, should’ve thought of it sooner.”
For a time, the two regarded one another with insurmountable caution, until Two Hands stood and held her hand out to Vodral.
“C’mon,” she said, “we’ve given them ten minutes. We need to move.”
Vodral smacked her hand away and rose on his own accord. “How long joo plannin’ on runnin’?”
“However long it takes.”
The troll eyed her up and down, and then grinned broadly, much to Two Hands’s infinite disturbance.
“… What the hell are you thinking?”
“Mount up,” he answered, while picking up his dagger and planting it firmly in the nearest tree, “Ah got a plan.”
- OUTER SPACE.
Chapter 4: And Now, a Brief Interlude; AKA Where's the Hearthstone?
Far, far below the rocky expanse of the Outlands, a small object was plummeting towards Azeroth at a speed never before witnessed in space or time. As it passed through the atmosphere, it burst into flame, visible to the life forms below as a strange star in the sky. Like a bullet it shot through the clouds, a vengeful stone sent by the Loas, its velocity could have made it possible to pass through even the astounding thickness of an orcish peon’s skull.
Instead, it created an enormous hole in the ground, but not before killing a gnome on the way down and treating Harbingers all across the world to a pleasant SPLAT.*
- Harbingers communicate via their hearthstones, which Vodral "alters" when the soldiers first enlist.
Meanwhile...: By Talash
The turquoise raptor plodded out of the gates of Orgrimmar, sulking beneath its rather ragged-looking rider; the Durotar sun beat down upon the pair, obviously mocking their misfortunes - whatever the hell they were - and only serving to worsen the rider's mood. She crouched low in the saddle, snarling an order into her mount's ear, and the beast stalked further down the path.
Then, something whistled at them. The rider's head snapped to her right, she narrowed her eyes, and one hand went to the mace at her belt. Her intended target - a Gnome warrior of questionable skill - hopped out from behind the rocks and whistled again. Just as the woman prepared to slip from the saddle, there was a flash, and -
- the gnome was no more.
Talash, Enforcer of the Harbingers of War, leaned over in the saddle and just -stared-, dumbstruck, at the crater that had taken the Gnome's place. This isn't to say that the Gnome was no longer there; oh no, he was, just not -whole-. The fact that the splattering had echoed over her own hearthstone intrigued her. With a gentle pat to her raptor's flank, Talash hopped to the ground and strode toward the crater.
"Well, 'least it saves me the trouble of killin' 'im myself," she muttered, kneeling down to peer into the hole. As she brushed Gnome-bits and rock debris aside, a familiar sight met her eyes - at the point of impact was a stone, remarkably like her own. That was when the rogue's eyes widened, and she plucked the still-steaming artifact from the ground (and reiterated her thankfulness for Galerunner's kindness and leatherworking ability).
With a sudden cry - which served to startle her raptor into scampering closer - Talash scrambled to her feet. The young rogue climbed back onto her mount, yanked on the reigns, and cried, "Su! He's alive! Fer fuckssake, he's gotta be alive! We gotta report thi-"
Her words were cut off by the 'raptor screeching and taking off - of her own accord - back toward the gates of Orgrimmar (contrary to her rider shouting curses in Trollish). The stone may not have given them an idea of where to go, where he was, or what happened, but in the rogue's mind ... it was better than nothing.
Chapter 5: Such Devious Plots
Silence dominated Zangarmarsh as Crook, the hawkstrider, made his way through the marsh’s murky fields. With each lift of his carefully cleaned feet, he shuddered and shook his toes in attempt to dislodge some measure of the mud from his scales. He garbled indignantly and shot his rider a glare, reminding her pointedly of his displeasure, but she was more interested in laughing at her passenger’s situation than paying attention to her ride. Spotting him, Crook couldn’t help but chirp smugly; at least someone was off worse than he.
Vodral looked as miserable as a wet cat. His shoulders hunched shamefully, his lips set in a sneer; even his ears drooped in humiliation as he bounced along to the strider’s steps. Two Hands tossed him a bemused glance periodically, to which he responded with a snare more bestial than the cry of a raging Stranglethorn Raptor.
The reason for his displeasure was quite plainly visible: his wrists had been bound tightly behind his back and the rope, subsequently, was tied to the back of the saddle to keep him in place.
“Jeh, jeh,” Vodral barked after meeting one of Two Hands’ stares, “laugh it up. Jus’ remembah dat Ah’m savin’ joo life by doin’ dis.”
“Doesn’t make it any less entertaining,” piped Two Hands.
The troll continued to mutter. “Bloodeh tyin’ me up…”
“You brought it on yourself,” Two Hands countered, “If you hadn’t pulled a bloody knife on me, I wouldn’t distrust you. And anyway, it fits into the plan quite well. Makes perfect sense!”
“Shoulda’ come up wit’ a gahdamn bettah plan.”
“You’re the ideas man. Blame yourself.”
“Soon’s we get outta’ heah…”
“You’re gonna’ thank me for helping you to not die on a stupid little rock in space, I know.”
“Mah ahdeah was moah ‘long de line a stringin’ a cehtain elf by her eahs an’ leavin’ her to wiggah outta’ de situation,” Vodral snorted.
Two Hands gave a laugh and pulled the reigns off to the side. “We’ll see about that when we’re out of this. And speaking of the plan… I think it’s about time we pulled over and had our lil chat, eh?”
Despite his current frustrations, Vodral grinned more venomously than a snake and replied, “Nevah been so readeh to die.”
Chapter 6: The Rebound
(( NOTE: Lots of swearing and violence in this one. Also cans of whoop ass. ))
Crack. The stick snapped like a toothpick beneath the mud-splattered boot of the large, intimidating blood elf. He was roughly the size of a small troll, though his heavy armor – combined with his equally tall, spiky hair – made him seem even bigger than he was. A mask covered his face, the exact sort that was seen on the bandits in Azuremyst Isle.
He hesitated by a nearby mushroom trunk and raised his hand, bringing the trio of elves behind him to a halt.
A second, smaller elf by the name of Trisk approached him and glanced around. “What’re we waiting for, Glen?” she hissed.
“Look straight ahead,” the taller of the two, Glen, answered in an undertone, “do you see that?”
Trisk narrowed her bright-green eyes and leaned over the trunk, then peered at a light in the distance. “Looks like they’ve set up camp.”
“Rather odd time of day to be settling down, isn’t it?” snapped a third elf, a young redhead whose nickname was Click, for reasons unknown to anyone but his mother.
Trisk brushed a black lock from her face and frowned. “What the hell are they doing, then? It’s mid-day; they’ve had to be resting for a long fucking time. We were three hours behind them, last time I checked.”
The two younger elves looked to Glen, who shrugged. “Beats the shit out of me,” he grunted, “let’s just get in there, knock out the troll, and grab the girl’s head. We’ve been chasing her for far too long already – we can’t lose this opportunity. Nothhelm?”
From the back of the group, a timid, blonde-haired youth raised his head in acknowledgement, his eyes wide as he awaited his orders.
“I want you to go in ahead of us. Stake out the camp; let us know if it’s all alright. This could be an ambush.”
Nothhelm retreated slightly behind the stalk of the mushroom he’d been standing beside for the duration of the conversation. “… Y-yuh-you want m… muh… muh… m-me to go first?”
Glen shot him a look that could have melted fire. “Got a problem?" he snarled.
The blonde lowered his head pitifully. “No… um… s-suh-”
“Sir,” Trisk spat. “Just say it. Sir. It’s not that fucking hard, it’s a one-syllable word.”
Click sighed and regarded Trisk with disdain. “Just let him be. He’s frightened, you know how he gets when he’s scared.”
Trisk opened her mouth to retort, but the deep bass of Glen’s voice interrupted her. “Who the hell cares? We need to move. Nothhelm, get into the field before I throw you back to the pits where I found you. Click, Trisk, you two move in once he’s given us the signal. I’ll bring up the flank and move around the other side. Stay apart from each other; we want to close off their exits so they can’t escape like the last time.
“Oh, and remember!” he interjected as the elves started to move, “Don’t hurt the troll. Just knock him out and leave him where he is. You’ve seen his insignias; if we harm him, we’re enemies to the rest of the horde.”
“Like they’ll accept us either way,” Trisk muttered, but she spoke no further complaint.
All eyes turned to Nothhelm. He fixed each of his comrades with an uncertain stare, then dove into the shadows and snuck towards the camp. His booted feet fell silently in the muck, his movements unusually smooth for someone with such an anxious demeanor. Eventually, he found a decent-sized bush near the edge of the camp’s firelight, and there he settled into a crouch to observe what he saw.
The troll and the elf were certainly there, but something was wrong. Nothhelm watched as the troll stood still, his hands bound behind his back; the girl was pacing in front of him and yelling at him. Occasionally she would wave something in her hands, but from his distance, Nothhelm couldn’t tell what it was. He strained to listen through the noise of the swamp, and managed to pick up a few select phrases:
“… always being rude to me, even after I save your life…”
“… had enough of this…”
“… you’re at your end. I don’t care if you’re a sergeant… this is it.”
Nothhelm pulled his head back and glanced away, his brows knitted in confusion. When he looked up again, he saw the girl whip around suddenly and thrust the item she held into the troll’s stomach.
Time froze as the two stood, connected by a knife. Then, as casually as if she was slitting the throat of a pig for dinner, the girl pulled the blade from her victim and stood by as he fell to his knees. Nothhelm covered his mouth to muffle his cry as he watched her drive a sharp kick into the troll, sending him flat onto his back. His supposed last words, gurgled and terrible, were too quiet for Nothhelm to hear as he dashed from his hiding spot and ran to a new trunk. Sputtering, he raised his sword and flashed it by the dim, eerie light of the fungi, signaling to his cohorts that it was their turn to move in.
As the shadows began to move, Nothhelm covered his face in his hands and drew in several long, shaky breaths. He paused at the end of the third, and then allowed his hands to drop to his sides, where they fumbled for a pair of brass knuckles. While he’d never been sent into battle before, something inside him urged him to prepare himself, just in case.
He barely got the first one on before something powerful struck him in the back of the head and blackened his world.
Trisk moved swiftly through the reeds, her swords held readily in her hands as she darted towards the camp. She passed the slumped form of Nothhelm without so much as a glance in his direction and slipped behind a stalk, pausing briefly to scan the area for Click. Moments later she spotted a flash of red hair, and from there she saw the rest of him, sneaking around to the other side of the camp. Glen followed in suit and headed north, then nodded to show he was prepared.
They waited hardly a moment before darting into the open firelight, and were shocked to see what they found.
Two Hands stood by the fire pit, a bloodied knife held in her quivering hands. She stared quizzically at the body on the ground, but when she heard the approach of the other elves, her head snapped up in an instant. Her eyes trailed from one sin’dorei to the next, her expression developing a sense of bewilderment as she stared at their strong, armored figures.
“Beolne Aeva?” Glen began.
“I… Two Hands, yes – you’re the ones that’ve been following me?”
“Smart girl,” Click remarked.
The trio prowled slowly towards her, backing her against the dying fire.
“This’s it?” Trisk snapped, “This little… little toothpick is what we’ve been chasing?”
Two Hands huffed and insisted, “I prefer the term slim, thank you very much.”
“Well, slim,” Glen said, his words interrupted by the sheen of his broadsword as he relieved it of its sheathe, “Seems like you just doubled our profit. Attacking a member of the horde militia? Not the best of moves… And if you know who we are, then you know what’s going to happen next, aye?”
“You’re going to offer me apple cider and we’ll have a lovely little chat, then go our separate ways?”
Glen smiled and shook his head. “Not quite, but that’s a lovely thought. Trisk?”
“Kill her. Click, bag the head. Nothhelm, make sure the troll’s out cold – Nothhelm?”
Click and Trisk glanced around, suddenly noticing the absence of their stuttering comrade. As the trio of elves visually scoured the area, Two Hands lowered her eyes and tapped the butt of her sword on the spit behind her.
“Shit – AMBUSH!”
Trisk barely had time to think before a very large, very red, and very angry troll was upon her. At Two Hands’ tapping, he leapt from the ground like a scourge from the grave, the binds about his wrists cut by the dagger now stuck firmly in his enemy’s neck. Burbling, Trisk fell to the ground, her hands clasping desperately at the spurting wound. Click whirled around and called her name, but he couldn’t reach her – Vodral, with the ferocity of a lion defending its kill, leapt between the two, an axe now pulled from his belt and held ready to strike.
“But, you were dead!” Click cried, taken aback.
Vodral cracked a grin and remarked, “Onleh feignin’, brot’ah.”
He threw the axe and struck Click in the shoulder, then – as the latter stumbled back – took to beating him with his fists.
Meanwhile, Two Hands and Glen were not having a remarkable staring contest*; rather, they were locked in a draw, waiting for the next move to be made. Beaming, Two Hands flipped the blade in her hands and stalked circles around Glen, while Glen settled for leveling his blade at her throat and watching her every move.
“Interesting situation we’ve got here, isn’t it?” Two Hands said in a taunting tone. “You chase me for a couple of weeks, got the majority, the muscles, the power… And suddenly, here we are, face to face! Are you rethinking your sentiments on apple cider yet?”
Glen let loose an incensed growl and replied, “I’m afraid it’s not to my liking.”
“That’s too bad. Your friend seems to have reconsidered.”
She cocked her head towards Click, who by now was little more than a groaning, bloodied pulp on the ground. Vodral sat atop his crumpled form, fist pulled back as he contemplated whether or not the poor elf was hungry enough to be spoon-fed another can of whoop ass**. Glen caught a quick glimpse of the two and bit harshly on his lip.
“Such a terrible way the world works, eh?” Two Hands sighed. “What do you want to do? We could kill you right here and now, if you’d like, or you could buck up, come with us, and turn yourself in.”
“Turn myself in?” Glen exclaimed.
In the background, Vodral stood and shook his right fist, then trotted up to Two Hands’ side and loomed. As a nine-foot troll, he was marvelously good at it.
“Well, if you’d rather Mr. Zul’dren here bashes your face in, too, we can go that route…”
Vodral smiled sweetly and cracked his knuckles. Glen looked between his enemies, his hands now shaking.
“Ain’t dat difficult a issue,” Vodral said, “joo eit’ah get joo bones pummahed ‘til joo look like a bunch a puddin’, oah joo live in a cell foah a lil whiah. Whassit gonna’ be?”
“She stabbed you-”
“No, actualleh, she din’t. She stabbed a piece a dis rabbit-t’ing we’d caught foah dinnah, an’ Ah jus’ dropped it undah me when joo got up close. Den, when joo was all buseh talkin’, Ah cut de rope wit’ a daggah we’d put undah mah belt. Joo elves got a helluva lotta mout’ on joos, joo know; Ah woulda’ jus’ shot her.”
Two Hands yawned and asked, “Got your mind made up yet?”
Once more, Glen eyed the both of them – then, carefully, dropped his sword to the ground.
A smile graced Two Hands’ lips as Vodral moved in to bind the elf’s hands. “I’m going to get the kid, Red – I take it the others are…?”
“Deadah dan a dooahnail,” Vodral replied. “Jus’ leave dem. Nobodeh gonna’ miss peopah dat wasted dey life on takin’ down ot’ahs’.”
“Right-o. Well, we’re three hours’ worth of riding from here, and poor Crook definitely can’t hold four people. What d’you propose we do?”
“Walk ‘em, we can’t leave dem heah. Might take us a day longah, but… S’wo’t’ it. De kid okay?”
Two Hands picked her way towards the body of Nothhelm and leaned over him for a second. “Yeahhhh, he’ll be alright. I think I threw too big a rock though, he might not really remember what happened. If he wakes up drooling, then we’ll definitely know I should’ve grabbed a smaller one.”
Vodral laughed and finished binding Glen’s arms behind his back. “Hurreh up an’ t’row him on Crook, den; de day’s wanin’, an’ we still got a long ways to go!”
- This always bloody happens in movie fight scenes, drives me absolutely up the wall.
- Proper English writing just died a little.