The Frostwolf smiled, and Pavla felt her heart flutter. The Orc was gentle with the black wolf puppy, and for a being as bulky as and supposedly savage as the man who stood in front of her this struck the young Draenei as surprising. He carefully turned the puppy so that she could see the sex, stroking behind the beast’s ears as it struggled to turn and sink its fangs into his reddish-brown hand. The pup yelped and squirmed, and the Orc smiled toothily at the young Draenei. In his deep brown eyes she found warmth, and so she smiled back shyly. The Orc’s grin widened, and he chuckled, pushing the puppy outwards towards her. The wolf squirmed again, and once more tried to find freedom through her fangs.
“Do you want me to hold her?”
The Orc grinned and spoke in a low, booming baritone. Even the harsh language of these people was foreign, and Pavla again smiled sheepishly.
“I don’t understand,” she replied.
“He said that this is of the great Nightstalker, the companion and mount of the Frostwolf chieftain Durotan.”
Pavla folded her arms across her chest, and glanced to her right. A young Draenei male greeted her with a warm smile.
“You speak their language?” she asked, again surprised.
“I often come to these swap meets.”
Pavla looked down at her hooves to hide her smile. The Orc looked between them and chuckled again. He then spoke again.
“He wants to know if you’re interested in the puppy.”
“I have nothing to trade.”
The Draenei male translated her words back, and the Orc stared past her into the sun, lost in thought for a moment. He then shrugged and dumped the puppy into Pavla’s unsuspecting arms. Startled, she fumbled with the wolf, and nearly dropped the tiny creature before gripping it under its front legs.
The Orc laughed and looked to the other Draenei, speaking at length in his native tongue. The Draenei male’s grin widened, and he nodded enthusiastically as the Orc gestured wildly. Finally, he turned back to Pavla and exhaled through his teeth.
“Our friend here says that he saw your rifle when you arrived. He says that all hunters should have the honor to work alongside such a magnificent specimen. Unfortunately, the Orcs typically breed their wolves as mounts, and while such breeding is specifically controlled the more spirited males often find mates that would not produce wolves of adequate size. Still, these puppies often exhibit the spirit of their fathers, and are as loyal lifelong companions as any Orc mount. He bestows the honor of taking one of these puppies upon you as a gesture of friendship.”
“He said all that?”
Pavla turned back towards the Orc and bowed her head in thanks. The Orc reached out and gave the puppy a last scratch behind the ears. The wolf responded by sinking her teeth into his finger. He laughed, smiled around his tusks at Pavla a final time, and then turned to help another Draenei. For a long moment Pavla watched, transfixed. It had been her first encounter with an Orc, and they were nothing like she had expected….
“The noble savage.”
Pavla furrowed her brow, and snapped back into reality.
“Is that what you were thinking?”
Her face flushed blue.
The Draenei smiled.
He laughed and she glared at him.
“Name?” he asked.
“Pavla. I’m Pavla,” she said unevenly.
“I mean the puppy.”
“What’re you going to name her?”
Pavla bit her bottom lip and looked from the puppy to the man who would one day be her husband.
“I think I’ll call her Natasha.”
Pavla wiped the first tear from her cheek and stared into the inky darkness, aware of the cool weight of the rifle in her lap. She couldn’t sleep. The idea of losing time in such a way terrified her now, and such fears easily chased sleep away until the early morning hours. She knew they probably wouldn’t come at night or in private. Everyone else had fallen in public, their skull smashed open either with a well placed bullet or the swing of a Draenei hammer.
Instead, she sat awake, waiting, and for the first time in weeks, she stayed in an inn.
The rain just wouldn’t stop. Not for three fucking days. She knew her luck couldn’t last; not that luck mattered anymore. She had ridden back to Booty Bay in the downpour, her mood blackening with each step Falla took towards the goblin city. She had never been a woodsman, but her years in Zangarmarsh had taught her how to survive out in the field, and she was always adequately prepared. However, her supplies were dwindling, and there was no shelter against the monsoon that had ravaged the peninsula. Everything was drenched, and she was cold and tired. At the time, a warm bed was worth the risk. Now, however, she was changing her mind.
She had decided to not even sleep in the bed, instead pushing the goose down mattress and wooden frame up against the door as a barricade. She balled up the sheets and tossed them into the closet, where she now sat, hours later, her rifle cocked and ready. She would not go out without a fight. Not like the others.
In the darkness and the steady drum of the rain, she fell back to those old memories. It was hard to believe it had been more than thirty years. Time had once been meaningless to most Draenei, and she had been no exception. Now, though, she felt it nipping at her heels as though it had suddenly taken notice of her. She found herself remembering more, drudging up old memories that were once good and warm and cherished, but now were dust and black.
This is how she spent her nights now, and tonight was no exception.
From Pavla’s journal:
I remember Telmor the way it was; the union of artificial creation with that the world itself had carved through time and precision. The city seemed to grow directly from the mountain itself, its wide boulevards flowing like streams during the first spring thaw. There was harmony in our work; an accord that I believe the new shaman would appreciate. I find it difficult to think that more than three decades have passed, particularly when every time I close my eyes I can see the warm rays of sunlight that would stream through our front window. It is hard to believe that it is gone; to know that the rubble of what was once home is now painted in the blue, congealed blood of my people. It is hard to know that I will likely never return nor do I have the desire to do so…. Sometimes I want to forget, and sometimes I want to remember everything.
All I know now is that the last connection has been severed. The last element of my life that made Draenor home is gone. All that is left is what happened after, and it is now time to bury that as well."
The chill wind howled, and Pavla leaned into the swirling snow. Dun Morogh had been cold. Frigid, actually. The Dwarven mentality for stone and ice was beyond her, and she could not even begin to fathom how they made the transition from the frosty peaks down into the forges buried deep within their mountain home. The contradiction was something that was not lost on her.
The Alterac Mountains were something else entirely, however. The isolation winter provided would certainly ensure an effective barrier for those who wished to remain unfound. Even now, during the summer, blizzards pounded the mountains, one night dropping several feet of fresh snow in the space of only a few hours. The drifts now reached to her waist, and she could feel her joints stiffening with the cold. Each step became torturous, and her hips cried out in pain as she raised each hoof to step against the snow. She had taken to using her long rifle as a walking stick, maintaining her balance by plunging the stock downwards until she hit the rough, craggy earth. The fact that the snow held the gun fast in an upright position was not lost on her.
She camped when she could, and when the weather would allow, but always she was cold. What she had thought would take only a few days of hard climbing turned into a week. She’d packed heavily, as always, but still her supplies dwindled and exhaustion set in. Only Natasha, her gray face white from the snow, seemed at home, and the wolf frequently disappeared, returning hours later without any indication of where she had been. At the end of she wanted to sleep, to lie down in one of the drifts for a few moments and close her eyes. But, that was death, and she had come to far…
He was older now. Much older, though no less imposing than before. For an Orc he was still considerably large and broad chested, and although his hair was now gray and his skin green she would have recognized his face anywhere. It had been seared into her mind like a bad dream.
She had seen him miles off, or rather the smoke from the fire just outside of his tent as he intended. While he allowed her to collapse near the fire he made no move to share either the warm liquor or charred meat he had brought with him.
Finally, after allowing her to catch her breath, he spoke in Orcish. “Your wolf has kept me apprised of your progress.”
“Thank you for the help,” Pavla shot back.
“I don’t aid the enemy.”
“And yet here you are.”
“This is a matter of honor.”
“I’m sure it is.”
The Orc glared at her. “The Alliance makes war on my people in these very mountains. Your own people would love nothing more than to slaughter every last Orc. I could care less about you, your damned people, or those you have allied with. I come because you spared my life once, and honor demands I repay the service.”
“I spared your life because of a kindness you paid me.”
The Orc seemed surprised. He looked to the black worg that now laid beside Pavla. “The wolf?”
“Then you are a fool.”
“And you are alive today because of a fool, Frostwolf.”
The Orc grunted and narrowed his eyes. “What is it you want, Draenei?”
“I want to know where one of your friends is.”
“And what makes you think I even know this Orc?”
Pavla sighed, watching her breath curl around her face. She looked at the Orc from under her hood.
“He knows you.”
“Does he? What is this Orc’s name?”
The Orc’s eyes narrowed again, and he frowned. “Why do you wish to find him?”
“What does it matter to you?”
The Orc chuckled. “Honor will not be satisfied if my actions lead to dishonor.”
“I promise I won’t hurt him… much.”
This time the Orc laughed, his gruff voice echoing amongst the peaks.
“If he has done you ill you may kill him for all I care. I am not concerned with his life. I am concerned that you have dishonorable intent.”
Pavla felt her cheeks flush.
“It is a Draenei matter,” she said evenly.
“A Draenei matter that concerns an Orc.”
Pavla sighed, aware of how many times this discussion had played out in recent weeks. The Frostwolf was certainly more stubborn than either Illumyn or Renawyn, and she knew he could simply leave.
“Fine,” she said.
The Orc looked at her curiously.
“There has been a spat of recent murders within the Draenei ranks. Bloody slayings of those who were on the frontlines during the war with your people and with the Legion after you crossed into this world. There is reason to believe that a group of Draenei are purging our ranks of those they have deemed guilty of war crimes against other Draenei.”
The Frostwolf grunted. “How do you know this?”
“None of your damned business.”
“Fine.” A pause. “What does this Orc have to do with a Draenei problem?”
“He’s still alive.”
The Orc stared at her skeptically.
“He was one of the Orcs who attempted to track the Draenei after Shattrah was sacked. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible that he may know who is doing this.”
“And what if he does?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Do you intend to find these Draenei? To join them?”
“I intend to stop them.”
The Orc nodded slowly. “To kill them.”
Pavla sighed and poked at the fire with a stick, allowing an uncomfortable silence to hang in the air.
“I must know, Draenei.”
Pavla shot a glare across the fire, and then began. “Enough Draenei blood has been spilled. We are so few, and I will not weaken my people. These Draenei are good…. Just misguided.”
The Orc’s face shifted, and his brown eyes betrayed his sympathy. “You intend to do this alone?”
Pavla nodded. “There has already been an incident. I cannot even trust those close to me. They would want justice.”
The Orc nodded too. “I understand.”
“Then you’ll help me?”
For the first time in a long time Pavla smiled.
He was gone when she woke the next morning. Even the fire was doused, and a fresh snow had buried his tracks. Stuffed in her pocket was a map of The Barrens. Near Ratchet a single farm was circled in charcoal. Scrawled in Orcish on the corner of the map was a note.
Our debt is settled. Do not seek me out again. Good luck.
Pavla began her track back down out of the mountains.
“I still remember you when you were a child all those years ago. I remember your mother and your sister, and how proud Cladius was of you all. You were everything to him, my dear, and everything to me. In you I saw our future. In each smile I saw a chance for our people to stop running, and to even find happiness. I believe your father saw that as well, and that is why I loved him. That is why I saw his children as my own.”
“He was a good man.”
“Yes, he was, and I mourn him still. To the end he believed in our people, and he believed his children could find happiness despite all the horrors of Draenor.”
“But you don’t.”
The old Harbinger rose from his plush chair and rolled his great shoulders. He glanced at the younger Draenei and then down at his feet, shamed.
“You already know that answer.”
The young woman nodded.
“And you understand that this was not my idea.”
“I am weak, my dear. I wished never to have this conversation with you. I had hoped that I could mourn you as I did your father; as I would a daughter. I had hoped to suffer my guilt in silence, and to die knowing that the woman I saw as a daughter had never known of my betrayal.”
“You know I forgive you.”
The old man sighed, and met sad blue eyes with his own. The woman folded slender arms across her chest, and her posture slumped.
“You offer what I do no seek.”
“You have no regrets?”
“I have nothing but regrets.”
“But nothing. I may love you as a daughter, but you are not my blood.”
“What Berrin is doing is immoral!”
“Do you think I do not know this? He seeks to cover his own sins in zealotry and self-righteousness. He seeks to murder Draenei who committed war crimes so that others will ignore what he did. What is morality between killers, anyway? None of us are clean of these horrid sins!”
The old man sighed as he realized he was yelling. He slumped back into his chair, and rested his chin on his knuckles in a thoughtful pose. Silence fell over the room.
“Turn him over to the authorities, and we can be done with this. Do the right thing.”
His fist came down on the arm of the chair with a sharp crack.
“He is my son!”
“He is a murderer.”
“So am I. So are you.”
The woman paused and frowned. She put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“There is room for redemption,” she said. “There is room to do what is right.”
The old man rested a hand over hers.
“There is, but that is not my choice. I choose to protect what is left of my family, to ignore what he does wrong, and to insure that his life will continue.”
The woman left her hand fall in resignation.
“You’re helping him?”
“To protect him?”
“To make sure he is not hurt. That is what a father does.”
“Do you realize what you are doing to me?”
The old man looked up and nodded, his face hardening.
“I have made a killer of you. Twice.”
The woman nodded.
“I am so very sorry. I regret what I have done to you, and how I involved you in what became of your husband.”
Now there was anger in her voice. “But, you would do it again.”
The woman wiped a tear as it fell down her cheek.
“You deserve your revenge, Pavla. I deserve death for making a killer of you to justify murdering your husband. I have tainted you through my own faults and sins. I did it then, and I am doing it now.”
“I could run.”
“Our people could not run forever.”
“Sooner or later you will have to fight or die.”
The old man stood again, but his eyes remained on his hooves.
“Then, like a cornered animal you will turn around and strike back at me, will you not?”
“I do not ask for mercy then.”
“I wouldn’t give it.”
“Will you mourn me?”
“I mourn all of our people.”
Pavla turned to leave, wiping another bitter tear away with the back of her hand.
She turned back.
“I will do everything in my power to destroy you, but I hope, in the end, you will survive and forgive me.”
“Oh, Karic, I already do.”
The old man smiled and nodded.
“May the Naaru guide you, Pavla.”
“May they forgive you for forcing me to kill my own once again.”
Outside, Pavla watched the Aldor anchorites, and swallowed the lump of hate forming in her stomach. For a brief moment surrender tempted her. Certainly, it would be better than compounding the hatred she already felt swirling around her. In the end, she knew, she feared death; feared what end her sins may bring. The old man was wrong. He had not forced her hand then, and he wasn’t now. He forced the choice, but did not make the choice for her. The future, she knew, was written, and there would be more blue blood spilled. In the end, it might her own, but she would not be alone. The hunt was on.