Notes: An account of Ornasse's journey to Outland, written in sections for each area.
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.
The otherworldly strangeness of the marsh seemed a fitting match for the druid's mood. The oddities before his eyes paled to those behind, and the most alarming thing was that he was growing fond of each.
It was astonishing to think that such a place could exist so near to the savage peninsula, a lush oasis of plants and creatures he had never seen the likes of in Azeroth -- nor the Dream.
He had finally reached the Expedition little more than a day ago, the red dust of Hellfire still clinging to his coat as he stepped into the cool shadows of the strangest forest he had ever seen. It was beautiful, in its own alien way, and the perpetual dusk draped the marsh in shadows, the sort of shadows perfect for hiding.
Now he moved effortlessly among them, stalking his prey amidst the fungal growth. Nagas, the expedition leader had explained. It was a strange thing to see in this foreign place, but it meant he would not have to spend any extra effort to learn their habits or the best method to slay them. Nagas, the expedition leader had said, kill as many of them as you can. He did not question it, no doubt the necessity would be explained to him in time. For now though, mindless slaughter was exactly what he wanted.
Ornasse hung back, crouched in the deep shadows as the swamp creature strode past. He afforded them a grudging respect, having tangled -- literally -- with one earlier and still bore the stings to prove it. He wanted the chance to study one more closely, their physical form seemed to defy gravity and their diet had to be ravenous. Presumably carnivorous, based on the eagerness to devour him.
Tracking the naga, however, was simple and afforded his mind the chance to wander elsewhere. Since that night in Shattrath, everything had been different, but not in the fascinating way that Zangarmarsh was. Different in that he saw doubt where he never had before, different in that he actually gave a damn what someone else thought. And most distressing of all, different in that suddenly he couldn't bear to be away from her. He who had often gone centuries without speaking to another person, felt a tight ache in his chest whenever she left. He wanted to go with her, as he had that night in the Barrens, to guard against the dangers she would face, but she was too proud to allow it.
Varul's words rose again in his mind, and he lashed angrily at one of the naga sorcerors, hissing as it incanted an ice spell at him. You only care because it's her home, he had said scornfully. Your motivation isn't to heal the marsh, it's to win her favor. It stung so much because it was true in part. He had expected Varul, of all the druids of the Circle, to understand that, so the backlash had surprised Ornasse.
The naga's spear, crusted with mire, plunged dangerously close to his flank as he whirled upon its partner, a flurry of teeth and flashing claws. Familiar though they were, the naga were still dangerous, and he could not afford to lower his guard in spite of his confusion over that damnable goat.
You are impossible, she had said, and then kissed him anyway. Now he stood on the other side, wondering how he had arrived, as he had when he stepped into Draenor. Both new worlds were foreign, dangerous, and often frightening, but not without their merits. He turned to watch a giant insect, glowing brightly green as it bumbled its way through the waterways. And, he amended, not without their beauty.
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 burning 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.