This story is about what happens to the Orcs and Humans in Kalimdor as the Burning Legion marches towards the World Tree.

Warcraft: Desperate Alliance
By
Vaulander

Grikk sighed as he looked up at the night sky. The stars were beautiful here. He leaned cautiously on the roughly made banister and leaned his battleaxe against it. Thrall had been wise to lead them to this land, with its deep and verdant forests. Even now, a week after leaving the barrens and starting the work on the outpost Grikk still loved the sound of insects buzzing and the night creatures moving about. The smell was so full of life here, not dry and dusty like the barrens or the old and tired feel that permeated Lordareon. It was a shame that they had to share this fine land with the pesky humans, but it was necessary. Apparently some prophet or oracle had fooled Thrall into doing so, to make war against the demonic Burning legion. And they had won a victory of sorts. Mannoroth the Destroyer had been slain by Grom Hellscream, at the cost of the brave warrior's life. But the victory was more profound than just the death of a great demon. The burning curse that had plagued the Horde for so long was finally broken. Grikk himself had suffered sorely by it, and when the demons withdrew their power he too had fallen into apathy and despair. Until Thrall and Grom had freed him along with the other interned Orcs. But now he and his brothers felt new and reborn, as if a dark fog had finally lifted from their hearts, and he found himself smiling more and even laughing with the joy of living. Although there wasn't much to be joyful about at the moment. Grikk and a combined contingent of Alliance and Horde warriors had built a small outpost to determine how deeply the Scourge was penetrating Kalimdor, one of many outposts surrounding the main camp. And now he was stuck in this watchtower with Beren, a Human footman, Kiniea, an Elven sorceress, and a dour and grim Dwarven rifleman. Some sort of idea that both Thrall and the Human leader Jaina shared was that the soldiers should learn to work together. The human spent most of his time polishing his armor and waving his sword around, making not so veiled threats and challenges, while the elf woman barely deigned to speak to him at all, burying her face in her spell book. Only the dwarf seemed willing to speak to him, and even asked him questions about different matters. This was surprising to Grikk, since the Horde had all but eradicated the Dwarven kingdom of Khaz Modan during the second war, and the Dwarves were famous for holding grudges. They nursed it and kept it all their life, and then passed it on to their children who passed it along to their children. Even now they still held a grudge against the elves for some problem that had transpired when the world was young, and although no living dwarf knew exactly what it was, they knew Dwarves had been wronged, and they were not about to forget it just because it happened a few measly millennia ago. But the razing of Khaz Modan was much worse than whatever it was with the elves, and also much more recent. The grim dwarf was the last person Grikk imagined would show any sort of companionship with him.

Tyrande Whisperwind absently stroked the ears of her great tiger as she sent the mental commands to her spirit owl, guiding it around the forest. Strangers roamed in her beloved land now, strangers who paid no heed to the suffering of the trees they murdered. Strangers who had slain beloved Cenarius, the demi-god who represented the spirit and will of nature. The spirit owl found the invader's encampment, and Tyrande watched as the pink and green people moved about, fortifying their position. They must be made to pay for what they had done. Although most of her forces were engaged somewhere else, she still had a number of Archers at her command, and silently she slipped away to gather them for an assault on the invaders before their position became too strong.

"Don't see too many stars below the mountain," the dwarf said to Grikk and leaned on the banister beside him. The dwarf only reached to his waist, but was powerfully built. He leaned his rifle beside the Orc battleaxe. His name was hard to pronounce, but apparently he went by 'Gneiss' above ground. Grikk looked down at him.

"How can you live like that… in a tomb?" he said, his human speech not very good. "How can you live without the wind on your face, the sun on your back?" The dwarf laughed merrily.

"And how can you live with the rain in your eyes, the dust in your mouth, and the wide open sky all around, with no roof over your head? Why does the birds fly and the fish swim?" Grikk grinned, showing jagged teeth.

"But still, the stars are nice, huh?" he said and turned to look at them again.

"Yes… like sparkling diamonds on black velvet," the Dwarf agreed. Then he looked at the Orcish Battleaxe. The blade was broad and heavy, with several notches, and on the other end of the handle there was a metal piece attached, with a short vicious spike for ripping and tearing. But the handiwork on the piece was artful and elegant, in a rough pattern.

"That looks good, did you make it?" Gneiss asked and Grikk chuckled.

"No, my… mother's father did," he faltered on the words. "He gave it to my mother, and she gave it to me. Never lost it either, even in the…" he stopped speaking, and the Dwarf looked away.

"It's a shame you didn't stay where you belong, Orc," the human said harshly, and Grikk turned, the words burning his pride. "You murdering beasts should all have been wiped out!" Grikk reached for his axe, and the human drew his sword with an ominous hiss. The elf looked up, and the first words of a spell passed her lips as Gneiss stepped in between the human and orc.

"Hold it now, lads," he began, but the human pushed him aside and stood in front of Grikk.

"My whole family, murdered by you swine!" he said angrily, and Grikk took a step back, his eyes going between the footman and the elven sorceress. She too had reasons to hate him, to hate Orcs.

"It was the curse! You don't understand, we are free now!" he stuttered in broken human speech. The human tried to push him backwards, but didn't accomplish much against the bigger size of the Orc. Grikk bristled and stepped forward, but was intercepted by the dwarf.

"I said hold it there, lads!" the dwarf bellowed. Grikk and the human stared each other down over the head of the irate dwarf, but finally their tempers cooled down. The elf aborted her spell with a snort of derision at the foolishness of 'lesser races' and turned back to her book. Gneiss looked at both Beren and Grikk. Then he sighed and shook his head wearily.

"The enemy is out there, lads, not in here. We must stand together against the foe, or fall separately. Yer chief is wise, Grikk. As is Lady Jaina. Our own differences must wait until the Undead are taken care of." Grikk shrugged and put his axe back against the banister. Beren gave him a last hard look and sheathed his sword, and then returned to polish his helmet.

"Besides, I too know what it is like to be cursed," Gneiss smiled teasingly. "Dwarf beer is very good, and when it gets its claws in you, you do whatever you can to get more!" and he laughed at the surprised group. Then Grikk chuckled uncertainly as Beren laughed at the dwarf. Kiniea just huffed. Gneiss turned at her smiling mischievously.

"Ye should try some too, lass, goes well with roast pig, put some hair on yer chest and some meat on yer bones!" he chuckled, and Kiniea looked furiously at him for his nerve, but didn't answer. The dwarf turned around, rolled his eyes in an exaggerated way to the orc and human. "I guess there is no helping some people!" he guffawed, and Grikk and Beren laughed. Kiniea gave him a hard stare but fumed in silence.

The silent night elf archers flitted in and out of the shadows, moving among the trees as they headed for the invader's camp. Tyrande smiled grimly as she led the regiment, using only hand signals and low owl-like hoots to guide them. Now the glow of campfires could be seen through the brush, and the Sentinels slowed down as they approached. Their sharp night vision could easily pick out the guards in the watchtowers scattered around. The rest of the camp was silent, sleeping. One of her captains moved up to her.

"They are many, Priestess," she said in the elven tongue, a beautiful flowing language that contained very few sibilants, perfect for whispering. "We should strike while they are unaware, while they sleep." Tyrande nodded.

"I will create a diversion, my sisters. We will strike when they are confused." She drew an arrow, and said a silent prayer to Elune, the Moon Goddess. The head of the arrow started glowing with a silvery light, and she could see the air shimmering around it from the heat. She bowed her head in gratitude, and nocked her bow.

"On my signal, sisters," she commanded, and the Sentinels disappeared silently among the trees surrounding the camp. Tyrande smiled in approval as she turned towards the camp, arrow ready to fire. Now, where would it cause the most chaos? Ah, yes, there, she thought, looking at the center of the camp where the food supplies were stashed. "Elune, help us this night," she whispered as she drew her powerful bow and let loose. Shining like a falling star the arrow arched over the camp and fell right through the tent ceiling. A few moments passed without any reaction from the camp, and then she could see the tent glowing from within, until suddenly the tent walls caught ablaze. Now there was a reaction, Tyrande noted with satisfaction. A lot of the guards in the towers were shouting and pointing like fools, but they didn't leave their posts. The other tents and hastily constructed barracks got busy and people rushed out, wearing hastily thrown on clothes and armor. A quick bucket chain was assembled, and soon most of the camp's inhabitants were clustered around the tent. Now was the time! Tyrande mounted her Tiger and called out in the voice of the Owl, and suddenly the forest started spilling out archers. Quickly they moved between the silent tents to reach the middle. All the women had arrows ready, and as they came upon scattered groups of bewildered invaders, the arrows flew, cutting them down. There, the leader! Tyrande raised her fist in the air, and the Sentinels gathered as they charged forward. Now the invaders had caught on to the danger, but they had rushed to douse the fires, many of them leaving their weapons inside their dwellings. The paladin that was in charge still carried his massive warhammer, and he urged the armed warriors forward. Tyrande pointed at him for a moment before she drew another arrow.

"Kill him!" she commanded, and as one the sentinels stopped running and aimed. A swarm of arrows headed straight for the human paladin, but he called out to the sky, and the arrows shattered harmlessly against some sort of energy field. Cursing Tyrande saw the invaders charging towards them with axes and swords. "Fire at will!" she bellowed, and the Archers immediately found their targets and started firing, cutting down the first line of defenders. But more came, and the pink people wore heavy armor and large shields, covering the bigger green people who bellowed their war cries as they ran for the Night elf line. Tyrande cursed again as she fired again and again at the defenders. A moment's clarity made her look over at the paladin, and the glowing nimbus surrounding him had disappeared. A quick prayer to Elune, and her arrow was again suffused with the silvery light. Aiming carefully she let loose, and followed the arrow with her eyes as it struck the paladin straight in the chest, felling him. Just then the first of the defenders crashed into her archers, cutting the women down brutally. And then all hell broke loose as a swarm of horrifying creatures and demons burst through the forest on the other side of the camp.

"Bloody hell!" Gneiss swore as the small group saw the Night elves attack, and they all reached for their weapons and rushed down the rickety ladder leading down to the ground. Grikk was first down, and he charged forward to defend the camp, with Beren hot on his heels. Grikk only wore shoulder plates held together with a bandolier across his chest, while Beren wore full plate armor, so he lagged behind from the weight. And then they both turned as they heard the horrifying wails of the enemy coming from their side of the camp. Undead, hundreds of them along with the first wave of the Burning Legion! Grikk heard the crack of Gneiss' rifle and then some sort of horrifying machine flung something at the tower, and a vile green cloud filled it, with Gneiss hanging over the banister, retching and gagging helplessly. Beren was in front of him now, facing some half spider half man creature, and Grikk charged up beside him. The spider thing flung something at them, like a black cloud, and Grikk spun around behind Beren as the footman raised his shield. He could hear the smattering of something like hail, and as he stared black bugs fell down at Beren's feet. Then Beren fell as the spider thing flung something else at him, a white sticky ropelike web that engulfed the human and held him tight. Beren cursed as he tried to cut the strands off to free himself, but Grikk did not have the time to help him. Roaring he leaped over the fallen human and swung his axe hard, hitting the Fiend full in the chest, cleaving it almost in half. The thing screeched and collapsed, the wound spraying blood and a black tar like substance. Wiping his eyes Grikk looked around.

"Bloody hell…" he gasped in awe as a monstrous being seemingly made out of spare parts lumbered towards him, bellowing inarticulate. It had two arms on his left side and one on the right, carrying a variety of cleavers and chains. Grikk roared in defiance and charged forward to strike. But the monster was faster, swinging both his left arms at once, and Grikk ducked low and parried the lower arm, but the beast was strong, and he staggered back. Growling the beast swung his right hand, holding a vicious meat cleaver and Grikk was forced to roll sideways to avoid it, but he couldn't avoid the left arms, and the bigger of them hit him hard in the chest throwing him on his back and knocking the wind out of him. Luckily he had not been struck with the weapons, only the forearm, but he was still dazed from the strong blow. The thing gurgled in a horrible attempt at laughter and raised his cleaver to finish it as Grikk heard the crack of a gun, and the thing staggered backward, a hole in its chest bleeding profusely. But still it came, and Grikk struggled to get on his feet when he heard a woman's voice shouting incantations, and the horrifying monster slowed down. Taking his chance Grikk got up on one knee and slashed the butt of his axe across its leg, the spike ripping through the flesh as he readied the axe for a massive swing that hit the monster in the shoulder, cutting diagonally down to the opposite hip. The thing went down with a sickening gurgle, pulling the axe out of his hands. It still tried to move, but Grikk kicked it hard in the wound, finally killing it. Grabbing his axe he wrenched it free, bellowing his triumph and defiance at the scourge that still kept coming. Turning around, he could see Beren being attacked by the smaller humanoids, and he ran to help, kicking one of them away and striking another. They screeched in rage and fell upon him, their fangs and claws ripping and tearing as he struggled to fight them off. Slowly they brought him to his knees from their combined weight, but he roared and shook them off, axe swinging left and right. Then something weird happened. He felt a jolt of energy, and his vision flickered for a moment, until everything seemed to shimmer. Magic! Someone cast a spell on him!

Kiniea staggered towards Grikk and Beren with Gneiss reloading his rifle behind her. By the light, those last spells had zapped her energy too much! Beren was down, some ghouls ripping into his helpless body as he screamed, and she could see that most of the defenders were dead already. Where the night elves had gone she didn't know, didn't care. She saw the massive Abomination fight Grikk, and she shouted yet another spell to help him. The strain on her energy made her stagger, and her head was spinning. She was all drained now, there was no energy left to use. Unless she used her own life energy, in reality hurting herself to power the spell. The green giant struggled to kill the Ghouls that swarmed him as he helped Beren, but it was no use. Beren lay still now, his blood soaking the ground. They would die, she knew it. But someone must warn Jaina of the scourge's arrival! Grimly she started casting her strongest spell, an invisibility shell that hid the target from plain sight. She raised her shaking hands and pointed at Grikk, and then she fell to her knees as the completion of the spell burned through her, making her moan with the searing pain.

"Run, Orc, run…" she gasped weakly, but the green giant just stood there, roaring at the enemy as they ran past him. Her vision faded as she fell forward into oblivion.

Grikk slashed left and right, cutting through the small creatures as they rushed past him. What the hell was going on? Why wouldn't they fight? He turned and saw the elf woman lying on her stomach, dead or unconscious, he didn't know. Behind her the Dwarf fired, reloaded and fired again, as fast as he could against the overwhelming tide of death that raced towards him. Grikk turned again. There were still enemies flowing into the camp, and there was no way they could push them back. Grimly he hefted his axe and ran towards the elf woman, scooping her up in one massive arm as he kept running, now heading for the dwarf. Gneiss stood there gaping at what appeared to be Kiniea floating quickly through the air, and then Grikk scooped him up with his other arm, groaning at the weight.

"Bloody hell, is that you?" the dwarf gasped as the orc jolted him with every heavy step. But there was no answer as Grikk put everything he had into running fast and hard to get away. Gneiss watched as the scourge ripped through the camp, and the last defenders went down screaming. Then Grikk went into the forest, his long powerful legs still running hard. They were safely away, into the forest where the unknown Night elves waited. That didn't sound so good either, Gneiss grumbled as the jolting started to hurt his ribs. But it was probably better than remaining in the camp.

Thrall smiled proudly as he overlooked the main camp from his position on a small hill on the eastern side. His people had all pitched in to get it organized, and battleaxes that cleaved skulls and cut flesh with ease also chopped wood fast. In the old days weaklings or cripples had been forced to do the menial work, but not so now. First of all they were too few to sit by and watch others work, and second the practice of using young Orcs had replaced the use of slaves, since hard work did wonders for the strength and endurance that was needed on the battlefield, and Thrall knew well the injustice of slavery, having suffered it himself. But now there were not many young Orcs left. The Horde had been barely over three thousand strong when they manned the stolen Alliance ships and headed for Kalimdor, and during the voyage less than half had arrived, the rest perished in the Maelstrom or fell during the grim and bitter trek across the barrens. What remained were mostly warriors and elders. But the Horde adapted better than the Alliance counterpart, already being used to living in crude camps and roughly constructed dwellings. To them this was just like home, although home was a place that none of them had seen for too long. The human warriors, knights and footmen alike were burdened by their lack of good accommodations and blacksmiths to see to their equipment, and especially the Knight's horses were suffering from a lack of food, being used to hardy grain. Here there were only grass and vegetation, and the human supplies were running dangerously short. Worst off were the Elven magicians, used to the luxurious dwellings of the Mage towers. They were sorely ill-equipped, wearing loose flowing robes and skirts, and only slippers or light boots. There were no full tables here, laden with food and wine, nor big libraries with spell books. They held their tongue though, apparently keen on keeping their all too obvious discomfort from their allies. They also seemed afraid of the forest, nervous and jittery at the animal sounds coming from it. Only the Dwarves from Khaz Modan seemed to take things in stride, and some of the more industrious ones had already started building makeshift armories, and were discussing where to find good ore for their smithies.

Thrall's smile became sad as his eyes roamed over the other side of the camp. There was a section that was apart from the others, and with good reason. In the internment camps some of the wardens had decided to solve the 'Orc problem' with unorthodox means, and several of the Orc females had been made barren by the use of red hot pokers. This had taken away all chances of bearing young, or ever feeling the touch of a lover from these women, and instead filled them with a bitter undying hate of humans, males in particular. In a horrifying parody of solidarity other women had done the same to themselves. Now they lived only to kill and kill again, and none of them would reach old age, seeking death and the release from the never ending pain on the field of battle. During the liberation these women had fought the hardest, even more viciously than the males. The extent of their rage and hate had not been fully understood until two drunken humans had come too close to their section of the camp, and before anyone had time to react or even realize what was happening, the women had charged out to kill, and the two were brutally slain in a matter of seconds. The only thing that prevented the fragile alliance from falling apart and the whole camp to start fighting internally was the presence and quick action by the Tauren, led by Cairne. Even so, Roka, the first burned and leader of the War maids as they called themselves had charged one of the Tauren in her rage, and it had taken three of them to control her. In between incoherent curses and screams of rage she had made it very clear that as soon as the common enemy was beaten, the Alliance was next on the list. Now the section was carefully avoided by the humans, and in truth most of the Orcs also. But Jaina Proudmoore had surprised them all by going into Roka's tent alone, even though the War maids made no distinction between male and female humans. She didn't speak of what she saw, or what the Orcish women told her, but her face was pale and tears flowed when she left. Se also sent Elven priests down to see if they could do anything, but the War maids drove them off with curses and stones.

Roka was becoming a problem, in fact. She seemed to consider the War maids separate from the main Horde, and demanded a seat in all councils, where she spent her time staring hard at the human leaders. And she carried a lot of weight with the Horde, so Thrall could not simply dismiss her. True, the War maids were a powerful force, and they had suffered greatly after the second war. If she could only control her bitter hatred she would be a great leader, and a big help to Thrall, but most of their conversations were fruitless and his advice to quell her raging emotions fell on deaf ears. Thrall figured he could not blame her, if someone took a hot poker to him, he would certainly not forgive. The problem was that not all Humans were the same, as he well knew, and those that had originally performed the heinous act were long dead, so the War maids spent their time hating innocent people. Or, innocent of that particular crime, that is, he chuckled.

Tyrande rode hard and fast, at the head of a cadre of her elite Huntresses. She had managed to evade the Burning legion after the ill-fated assault on the invaders outpost, and had met up with some of the scouting parties of the Sentinels. The call had gone out, to all corners of the forest, and all the Sentinels would soon know that the long awaited enemy had come at last. Privately Tyrande was horrified, although she did not show it on her face. The nightmare that had haunted her sleep for ten thousand years had sprung to life as she was hunted by Archimonde and his guards. She also felt a small measure of regret at what had happened in the invaders' camp. Maybe the strangers could have saved themselves if it was not for her and her Sentinels. True, they had murdered Cenarius, and they showed no respect for the trees, but still, they deserved better than what had happened. Warriors should die by the sword, or arrow, not torn apart by ravenous parodies of life. She shuddered at the image of warriors screaming as they were being eaten alive, and her Tiger felt her discomfort, but she urged it forward as the small group raced for the resting place of the Druids. Only with their help did they stand a chance against the massive odds that was stacked against them.

"War chief, the Human leader requests words with you." Thrall turned. It was Jubei, stoic and grim as always. He would never get used to how silent this man was, or his brethren. Jubei and his clan were the last remnants of the Burning Blades, a clan that had been even more affected by the vile curse than the other clans, and at the end of the Second war they had fallen upon themselves in their madness, decimating what had been one of the strongest clans of the Horde. After the smoke had cleared, there were less than one left in twenty, and the survivors had all sworn a grim and bitter oath that they would never again fall sway to the seductive power of the Burning Legion. Then they had parted ways, scattering across Azeroth to learn how to deal with the dark hunger for blood that they all carried inside themselves. However, they were not able to totally quell the rage inside, but they did learn how to control it, and focus it, and after a few years, they all convened to discuss what they had learned, and how they had dealt with it. They had also practiced their techniques and methods, until they were able to control the bloodlust to such a degree that they could focus its dark power in their fighting techniques. Unlike most Orcs, they preferred long slim swords to battleaxes, for the ease of use and speed of attack. With the demise of the vile Mannoroth, their unearthly control and focus were even more powerful since they no longer had to struggle to keep the bloodlust in check. Although Thrall had spent most of his youth fighting for his life in the Gladiator arena, he knew that these stoic swordsmen were more than a match for him.

"Yes, Jubei, I will come," Thrall smiled. Jubei bowed respectfully and waited for Thrall to move, since the remnants of the Blademasters now considered themselves his personal guard. That was another thing about these men, Thrall mused. While Orcs in general had a sort of 'rough and tumble' attitude towards each other, the grim Blademasters were exceedingly courteous and respectful to their fellows, probably from the fact that it made it easier to control the rage and helped others deal better with themselves, and although the dark curse was broken, their habits and mannerisms stayed the same.

Gneiss poked the small fire he had set up, and skewered the unfortunate rabbit that had stumbled into his trap. It was all skinned and ready to roast, and already his mouth watered from anticipation. If he had not been there to experience it, he would never have believed something like this. The Orc had kept running for hours, never once stopping or slowing down, despite the dwarf's insistence that he could run on his own. Grikk had just bit his teeth together in grim determination to get as far away as fast as possible, and for some time Gneiss thought the Orc was afraid. But he realized that this was not true. The green giant had in fact charged into battle with one of the horrifying monsters that comprised the vanguard of the Scourge, and only the necessity of alerting the main camp made him run. And run he had, for endless hours until Gneiss thought he would never stop. He was sore and aching from being jolted by the strong arm of the Orc, but finally the Orc had stopped. But it was not a gradual process, the Orc had simply started to stagger, and then fallen flat on his face, barely avoiding to land on Gneiss and Kiniea, and had lain still on the ground, not moving and hardly breathing. After a bit of grumbling and cursing the dwarf had gotten up and examined both Grikk and Kiniea. The orc had a massive bruise on the side of his chest where the Abomination had hit him, and although Gneiss had no healing skills or knowledge, he knew busted ribs when he saw them. It was amazing that the Orc had managed to function at all, not to mention run for hours with a cumbersome and heavy burden. What was wrong with Kiniea he had no idea, she was still unconscious, although her skin was reddish, as if she was blushing all over. He had tried to make them both as comfortable as possible before setting up camp. After that he had set up some basic traps, and then found a small stream to wash in. The Orc had been torn and cut by the Ghouls during the fight, and all through the night the blood had kept flowing, staining both dwarf and elf. Luckily it seemed the bleeding had stopped, so Gneiss left the wounds alone, hoping they would heal better by themselves.

Kiniea woke up to a world of pain. Her whole body felt as if she had been horribly sunburned inside out, and she had a screaming headache of the kind that makes you wish you were dead. Although the mere thought of moving frightened her, she curled up into a ball, arms around her head and whimpered.

"Look who's awake!" she heard the dwarf's cheerful voice. Was he still alive? And come to that, why wasn't she dead? Then the cool sensation of a wet cloth hit her burning forehead, and she jerked back, causing even more pain.

"Agh… Don't… Go away…" she whimpered, but Gneiss laughed.

"Cheer up, lass, can't be that bad. At least you're not dead!" he chuckled as he wiped her face against her feeble resistance.

"I wish I was," she griped, but couldn't help smiling through the pain. Slowly she opened her eyes, and wished she hadn't. Mercy, even her eyeballs hurt! Or was that just the bright light? Now that the shock had cleared, the wet cloth felt good against her skin, and she took it from the dwarf's hand and pressed it against her skin. The sweet smell of roasted meat hit her nose, and groaning she slowly sat up.

"Grikk is still out, I am afraid," Gneiss said and looked worriedly at the orc. He had not moved at all for as long as he had been lying there, his axe still in his clenched hand.

"Is he…?" Kiniea asked weakly as she looked at the green giant.

"No, he is still alive, but I think he has some broken ribs, apart from that its just cuts and bruises," Gneiss answered as he went over to the Orc. "But I don't know if his ribs have punctured his lungs or not." Then he bent down and touched the injured side. Before he had time to blink, a green hand grabbed his throat in a vice-like grip, and he choked as he tried to pry the fingers loose. Grikk opened his eyes and snarled at the vague shadowlike thing that stood over him, poised to strike.

"Eggh! Gragh oo!" Gneiss gasped, but Grikk still held on as he wrestled the dwarf to the ground.

"Grikk no! It's Gneiss!" Kiniea shouted feebly as she struggled to rise. A spell came to her mind, but her head filled with pain as soon as she called for power, and she fell to her knees, cradling her head.

Now Grikk had the enemy down, and his other hand raised the axe. The creature lashed out, a hard fist hitting his ribs, and the pain made him growl and blink his eyes. Slowly everything went into focus and he stared down at someone he knew. It looked like… his grip loosened, and Gneiss coughed as he feebly struggled to get some air in his lungs.

"You… stupid…" he began, but was cut off by a fit of coughing. Bloody hell that orc had a strong grip! Grikk dropped his axe and got up on his knees, looking down at the dwarf he had almost killed.

Anea rode in the lead of her small squad of Sentinels. The call had gone out, and as they had practiced for millennia the Sentinels patrolled the forest. Although they were moving in small groups, their purpose was to harass and scout, and she had about 10 archers under her command. Only the strongest and fiercest of the Sentinels joined the ranks of the Huntresses. The use of the wickedly sharp glaives took ages to master, and each and every Huntress had made their own weapons, forged by steel and magic, with a drop of blood encased in crystal at the center of the glaive. The blood was the link, the anchor that made the glaive return to the owner's hand. A strong will and endless practice was required to make the glaive move just an inch, and to make a throw and have it return took close to a thousand years of dedicated effort. A precious few of them could make their glaives bounce from one enemy to the next, and then return, while only three or four of the best warriors could bounce it three times before it returned. Anea had been training for almost three thousand years, and she could barely control her glaive enough to slash two targets. But she would get better. She had only heard stories of the dreaded Burning Legion, but she welcomed, nay, hungered to show her courage and skill in battle. The outlanders would perhaps prove a challenge too, and one of the Owl scouts had seen a small group of them heading north. Anea and her squad was on the hunt for them, although the tracks seemed to show only one person. The tracks were deep, as if the person was carrying something heavy, and the footprints suggested running. One of the heavily armored humans, perhaps? She motioned to speed up, and the archers followed her, running easily through the night.

Jaina Proudmoore sat in the small house that the peasants had constructed for her. Although not especially luxurious, it was a bit more homely than the other buildings in the camp. The meeting with the Orc Chieftain Thrall and his friend Cairne the Tauren chieftain had gone relatively well, even though that Orcish woman had been there, glowering at her. But the news had been ill welcomed. The Scourge had ravaged Lordareon, and King Terenas was slain. There was no going back. The news did not affect Cairne much, since he had never seen Lordareon in the first place, but Thrall had reacted differently. Perhaps he was somewhat pleased that the human nations were destroyed? She could not blame him if he did, but he did not seem to relish in the news. Roka, the warrior woman was smiling widely though, and Jaina hated her for it. On the other hand, she herself had seen what the prison guards had done to the Orc, and to her friends.

In fact, Jaina was starting to like and admire Thrall. He was quietly confident, strong and dedicated to the survival of his race. Not like herself, who felt lost and alone. She never wanted this, all she wanted was to study her magic in peace and quiet, and now she was responsible for the Lordareon survivors, and everyone expected her to know what to do. Nobody ever thought she couldn't handle it. And her teacher and mentor, Antonidias was dead. He had been like a grandfather to her, helping her, supporting her and encouraging her when she was heartbroken over the lost relationship with Arthas… Arthas who had turned against his own people, who slew his father and her mentor, who willingly gave up his soul to serve the darkness. But it could not be true, she told herself, knowing it was. That was not the Arthas she had laughed, fought and played with as they grew up. That was not the Arthas she still… loved. Reports and sightings of a dark sword in his hand came to her mind. A dark sword covered with runes. That must be it! That sword was the thing that had turned him, controlling his actions! Jaina knew well of cursed items, and curses themselves. The Horde had suffered greatly from their curse, but it had been broken. And so could the cursed sword Arthas carried be broken. All she had to do was research what she could of its nature-

"Milady, you are needed," a voice broke her line of thought, and quickly she wiped her eyes of the tears that had run down her cheeks.

"Uh, yes, I am coming," she said and straightened her clothes as she went to the door.

Gneiss, Grikk and Kiniea sat around the small campfire, finishing off the rabbit and broth. They were silent, lost in thought. So many things had happened. So many changes. Grikk thought of how things had been before. During the curse all he felt in battle was an ecstatic euphoria, to kill and kill again heedlessly. But during the battle of the outpost things had been so different. There had been rage, excitement, the rush of adrenaline, but also… fear. It was hard to admit, even to himself, but when he first saw the Abomination he wanted to scream and run. But he couldn't. As Thrall himself had said, "Courage doesn't mean you are not afraid, it just means that you control your fear instead of the other way around." But still, Grikk was afraid. Afraid to fail, to die, to get hurt, and to let down those who depended on him. But what he feared the most was the fear itself. That sickening feeling in his stomach, the way his hands shook. He had lived with the Demon Curse for so long that he had forgotten what real feelings were like.

"Why are you so glum?" the Dwarf interrupted his thinking. "You both sit there like little kids who lost their dogs! Yeah yeah, things might look bad, after all, we have the scourge yapping at our heels and the Night elves are all around us in this forest. Grikk may have a couple of busted ribs, who knows what is wrong with Kini, and I only have eleven bullets left. But at least the weather is nice!" he grinned at them and held out a hand, palm up. Almost on cue, a drop of rain splattered down into it, and the first thunderclap could be heard before the skies began pouring. They all laughed, even Kiniea, glad to break the gloomy mood.

Anea and her archers silently moved through the forest. The rain was messing up the tracks of the invader, but they led almost straight north, and she was pretty certain it would not change. She sent her owl up regularly to scout ahead, and finally it reported sighting of an invader up by a small brook. More than that, the owl was not able to convey, but Anea grinned and motioned for the archers to pick up speed. Grinning they complied, as eager to engage the enemy as she was.

When they got to the brook, all they saw was an elven female washing herself. Outcast! Scowling Anea rode her tiger up behind the woman, making no sound, while her archers followed silently. What pathetic wretch was this?

"You dare come back to Kalimdor, Outcast? And you brought strangers with you!" Anea said harshly. The woman spun around with a surprised yelp, fear on her face. Anea saw that it was not a woman, just a half grown girl wearing a flowing skirt stained with blood. She couldn't be more than two or three hundred years old, if that. The girl took a frightened step backwards.

"I asked you a question, bitch!" Anea snarled, and her tiger growled menacingly. Anea laughed inside when the girl cringed, staring at the tiger.

"But… uh… outcast? Lady Jaina told us to com-" she stuttered, but a vicious backhand from Anea made her stagger backwards, hands on her face.

"You Quel-Dorei are not welcome here!" Anea roared in fury, the Quel-Dorei sounding like 'scum' in her voice.

"Why you…" the girl said angrily and started moving her hands, magic incantations from her lips. Anea felt her blood turn to ice. Magic-user! Quickly she reached for her glaive to cut the girl down before the spell was complete, but in the blink of an eye the girl groaned and fell to her knees, her arms cradling her head. Anea looked surprisedly at the girl, then at her archers, and was about to ask what the hell was going on when a frightening roar erupted from the bushes. As Anea and the archers turned around to look a green gigantic man came charging out holding a massive waraxe and still roaring. Taken aback Anea fumbled for the glaive, but the greenskin was close and swung his axe. Anea hastily raised her shield and closed her eyes, expecting to die. After a moment she opened them again. Looking over the edge of her shield she saw the green giant towering over her, less than an arm's length away. Then there was a loud crack almost like thunder, and she jumped in the saddle. Another invader was there, short and stocky with hair all over his face. He held a metal pipe thing aimed at the archers as he spoke harshly. She didn't understand the words, but the meaning was clear.

"That's right ladies, drop those arrows! NOW!" Then Anea focused on the warrior. He leaned forward and growled something in a deep voice, but Anea still couldn't understand.

"Grikk says… Grikk says no kill tonight. You leave. Tomorrow we gone, I mean, he says we will be gone tomorrow." It was the Elf girl, groaning through what seemed like pain. Anea stared at the warrior called Grikk in impotent anger and futility. He would have killed her, had the axe struck, and it burned her that she had been taken unaware like that. Thousands of years of training and she had been surprised like a little child! Her hand went to her glaive, but the green giant scowled and before she knew it he grabbed her by the throat with one hand and lifted her out of the saddle. Frantically she grabbed the hand, trying to pry it loose. Mentally she commanded her tiger to remain still. The warrior was strong enough to snap her neck in an instant! The elf and the other short creature yelled something at Grikk, but she couldn't understand, all she heard was the pounding of her heart as Grikk held her up. Her archers stood uncertain of what to do. Their leader was in grave danger, and the bearded one still pointed the pipe at them, and they had seen what it did to a nearby rock. Slowly Anea was released, but she fought back the gagging reflex, staring bravely at the giant in front of her. He growled something at her, and she looked at the elf girl.

"Grikk says... No kill tonight, understand? Honor. No kill" She smiled apologetically for the awkward words. Perhaps the warrior spoke a different language than the bearded one and the Quel-Dorei? Anea looked at Grikk again. He gave a questioning nod with his head, and she nodded uncertainly. Something like a grin spread on his face, baring his teeth and his hand reached out and clasped her forearm in some sort of greeting. Surprised Anea watched him turn his back and reach for the elf girl. Without a further glance he half dragged, half carried her the way he had come. The bearded one kept his eye on the archers as he moved backwards, following the other two. Anea and the archers remained, still stunned by the way the encounter had gone. After a while one of her archers, Linie, came up to her.

"Don't worry, Anea. We can follow them and kill them when they sleep. We will have our revenge for what that beast did to you!"

"No… no," Anea said thoughtfully. "He could have killed me twice, but didn't. And I did accept his honor. We cannot kill them now." And then she grinned at the archers who looked at her in surprise and disbelief. "But we will follow them!"

By the time the three came back to the camp, Kiniea was walking without support, the crippling headache had eased off.

"Bloody hell, save us from noble heroes!" Gneiss said in disgust. "You should have killed her, Grikk!" He put his rifle aside and sat down by the dying remnants of the fire.

"Perhaps… and in return, the archers would have killed us, yes?" he said and reached out to help Kiniea sit down, but she declined his help.

"Well… yes… they would." Gneiss admitted.

"Now I have her life, and her honor," Grikk said smiling uncertainly. Alliance warriors seemed to be nervous when orcs smiled, for some reason.

"Just don't let your own honor blind you to the dishonor in others," Gneiss muttered grimly. Then he turned to Kiniea, who sat silently, staring into the embers. "And you, why didn't you just 'zap' them like you sorceresses like to do?" he asked irritably. Gods, he hadn't had a beer in too long! Both Kiniea and Grikk looked at him, taken aback by his tone, so unusual in his otherwise cheerful demeanor. Finally the elf looked down in embarrasment.

"I… I can't," she whispered, horrified to hear her own words. She had been unable to admit it, even to herself.

"You can't? What, do you need to read your spellbook or something?" Gneiss asked, shocked at the thought of the magic he had counted on was no longer available.

"N-no… I just… can't. When I call the power my head screams. I burned out back at the outpost… I should be dead." She looked up, tears in her eyes, but she didn't bother hiding it anymore. She was useless! All those years of endless practice and study gone! She might as well BE dead!

"Here lass, don't take it so hard," Gneiss said soothingly, seeing the look on her face. "Maybe it is just like a bad hangover, I am sure it will pass," he started uncertainly, but then stronger to cheer her up, and himself too. Grikk said nothing, he just stood up and grabbed his axe before moving to a thicket of young tree saplings. Gneiss and Kiniea stared at him, wondering what he was doing. Wordlessly he cut off a sapling and tore off the foliage, ending up with a staff about 6 feet long. Still in silence he went back to the fire, grabbed his knife and reached for Kiniea.

"What are you doing!? Don't! Please don't kill-" she tried to back off, and Gneiss moved forward to stop the Orc before he killed the elf, but Grikk grabbed the hem of her skirt and with a quick slash of the blade he held a long strip of cloth in his hand. Looking at her he picked up the sapling and tied the jagged knife to it to make a makeshift spear. He gave it to her, and she held it in her hand, staring at it as if she had never seen a spear before.

"You still don't trust me, no?" he asked sadly. "Always think Orc only wants to kill." Gneiss looked down, admitting his shame. Kiniea looked at the spear, still confused.

"What do I do with this?" she asked, and Grikk smiled.

"Can't fight with magic, fight with spear!"

"But… I don't know how?" she said, still holding the spear awkwardly.

"I will teach you."

Anea and her archers hid among the trees, watching the giant orc and the little elf facing each other.

"Did you hear that her magic is gone? Perhaps the other Quel-Dorei are failing too," Anea whispered to the archers.

"Bah! Do you see that? The bitch is pathetic! A baby could kill her!" Linie whispered harshly. It seemed the events at the brook had enraged her even more than Anea herself. "Just say the word, Anea. We can kill them all from here!" Linie whispered hotly.

"I told you no." Anea said firmly, still watching the orc. The play of muscles under his skin, the broad and powerful shoulders… Not like the Druids of the Claw, although she had only seen a few of them ages ago before they returned to the Emerald dream. They were more fuzzy looking and stocky, not as muscular and… masculine as the green giant. The ultimate warrior. Then she mentally shook herself. What was she thinking? He was the enemy! Worse, he was an outsider and another race! Such thoughts were not… right.

Kiniea backed away, waving her makeshift spear uselessly in front of her, trying to keep Grikk at bay.

"What are you waiting for, Kini? Attack me!" he roared as he charged forward, sweeping his axe at her. Yelping she dropped her spear and turned to run. Grikk stopped and sighed in frustration. "No, I wont hurt you, stupid girl," he said. Then he picked up the spear and gave it to her. Embarrased she took it, and then yelped again as he slapped her.

"Hey, what the hell are you-" she started, but Grikk slapped her again, harder, but not hard enough to break the skin. Gneiss made to stop him as Grikk slapped again, and again.

"Get angry! Get mad! Fight me! ROAR!" he bellowed as Kiniea staggered backwards, shielding her face. A moment of indecision flashed across her face, and then she screamed in rage and humiliation as she charged forward, flailing her spear wildly as if it was a stick. Grinning Grikk backed up, blocking her feeble strikes with the shaft of his battleaxe. Then he dodged a wild swing, grabbed the spear and pulled, sending Kiniea face first into the dirt.

"No no no!" Gneiss argued as he stood up. "You can't teach her like that! She is not strong enough for brute tactics like that, you fool!" Grikk looked down at him.

"She doesn't have much time to learn, and rage has always worked for us!" He stared challengingly at the dwarf.

"Yeah, but she is not an Orc, you cannot teach her like that, Grikk!" he turned to Kiniea, who had gotten up on her feet and was brushing the dirt off her clothes with a dark look at Grikk. "Here is what you do, Kini," he started. "You keep low, and move in under his defenses, while keeping your shield up-"

"She is not a dwarf either, you rock-eating mole, and we don't have a shield for her!" Grikk roared in frustration.

"We can make one easily, and you know that! All it takes is your axe and some-" but the tone in Kiniea's low voice stopped them both as quickly as a thrown brick.

"You are both right. I am not an Orc. And I am not a Dwarf. I am an Elf… without magic." And she dropped the spear on the ground and walked away, head bowed. Grikk and Gneiss stared at each other dumbfoundedly.

"Hey, lass, we didn't mean it like that," Gneiss said weakly as he hurried after her. Grikk slowly picked up the spear and struck the butt of it into the ground, where it stood, the ends of the cloth strip fluttering in the wind.

Anea and her squad had slept a little away from the three invaders, with the owl keeping an eye on them. At daybreak the three went on their way, and the Sentinels followed behind stealthily. They were headed somewhere specific, their straight route showed it, and Anea wanted to know where.

Roka stood by the opening of the large tent that the Warmaids claimed as their own. Her fellow 'maids were either still sleeping or talking quietly. She was watching the training field, in the middle of the camp. Thrall was there, laughing and sparring with the warriors, and there were also alliance warriors there, although there were no sparring between the orcs and humans. They were not yet comfortable enough with each other to do that. 'Accidents' could happen all too easily. Roka sighed inwardly as she watched Thrall. He was strong, highly skilled, brave, and honorable. He would father good strong children. Everything a woman could wish for… and everything she herself could never have, now. She had even gone to the Elven priests in secret after the Warmaids had driven them off, hoping and praying to the spirits that they could make her whole again. She had bore the unpleasant task of letting the priests examine her wound with their eyes and hands in grim silence, but she knew by the look in their eyes what the answer was. The damage was too extensive, and the wound too old. One of them offered some sort of potion to help with the pain, but she had scoffed him. What orc would stoop to that for just a bit of pain?

She saw some of the other women of the horde, unspoiled and whole, giving him the eye and cheering his sparring. She could see the flash of his teeth as he smiled at them. Smiled like he never smiled to HER! The only time he really saw her was when she was arguing with him, being difficult just so he would talk to her. Otherwise he never truly saw her. It was the humans who had done this. They had taken Thrall away from her! But they too would suffer. They too would lose. She would make sure of it, no matter the cost!

"Roka, where are you going?" Riksha asked as Roka picked up a heavy spiked mace and went to leave.

"The humans must pay," she said with a pained voice. "They must pay for what they have done!" Riksha gasped and stood up.

"It is not allowed! The Warchief said-" she started, but stopped when she saw the brief glimpse of anguish in her friend's eyes. Aye, Riksha was not blind, nor stupid, and she knew her best friend. She knew that Roka dreamed of things that could not be. And she knew that there was nothing she could to about it. Roka was stubborn.

"The warchief… is wrong," Roka said harshly and closed the tentflap behind her.

Thrall grinned as he saw Roka come up to the training field, carrying her favorite weapon. She was fearsome with it, and even the veteran warriors gave her respect for her skill. She was a good warrior to have on your side, he smiled.

"Have you come to join us, Roka?" he called out to her, but she didn't answer. Her muscles were tense, he saw, and her face dark. What was she up to? And then he saw her eyes lock on the closest human, and he realized her intent just as she roared and charged forward, her weapon held high.

"No! Roka!" he shouted and ran to block her off. Surprised shouts came from both the orcs and humans as Thrall and Roka clashed together and staggered backwards from each other from the impact. She snarled and tried to get around him to assault the footman again, but he blocked her off, his hands pushing her back.

"What are you doing, Roka?!" he shouted at her.

"Out of my way, Thrall!" she yelled as she again tried to bypass him. This time he grabbed her arms and held her still.

"I told you no, didn't I?" he growled in a low voice, for her ears only.

"You know what they have done! They must pay for it!" she shouted, trying to wrench free of his hands. The humans and orcs stepped warily away from each other as the atmosphere turned tense. All eyes were locked on the two orcs struggling in the middle.

"The guilty ones are dead already, woman!" Thrall snarled, frustrated that Roka would not let the subject lie.

"I am not a woman anymore, Thrall," she whispered brokenly as her shoulders slumped. She looked up at him, square into his eyes. "I cannot bear you sons, and I cannot be your mate. I can not be anything," she said, shrugging off his hands and turned around, walking away.

"Huh? What?" Thrall stuttered, not sure if he heard correctly. He saw her hand go to her belt, and then the flash of a blade before she dropped to her knees and fell forward, a bloodied knife in her hand.

"What the-" he cursed and ran towards her as the blood slowly stained the ground under her body. "ROKA!"

Grikk, Gneiss and Kiniea ran smoothly through the forest, heading for the main camp where Jaina and Thrall would be. Grikk and Gneiss were surprised at how well Kiniea kept up, knowing she was used to leisurely studies, but they made sure they didn't push her, just let her set a comfortable pace. She still carried the makeshift spear, and it felt more comfortable in her hand, not alien as it had in the beginning. She had dropped her cloak, as the weather was warm, and it had hindered her movements and got caught on bushes and branches. Her bodice was dirty and bloodied still from when Grikk carried her, and her flowing skirt was ruined, so she had cut it even more, so it reached only to her knees, instead of brushing the ground. She was filled with a strange elation as she ran, a strange sort of freedom. Never in her life had she even dreamed that she would be running side by side with a dwarf and an orc in a deep forest. The fresh air flowed into her lungs with every breath, filling her with life and vitality.

As they came into a small clearing with a small stream running through it a frightful shriek erupted from a heavily overgrown thicket beside them and humanoid creatures erupted, brandishing swords and clubs. They were weird-looking, horns on their heads, fur all over their bodies, and they ran on cloved hooves instead of feet. Grikk, Gneiss and Kiniea skidded to a halt in surprise.

"Satyrs!" Kiniea breathed in fear as the creatures quickly closed the distance between them. Grikk stared in stunned amazement for a moment before instinct kicked in and he charged forward, roaring in challenge. He heard the crack of Gneiss' rifle and one of the satyrs screamed and fell, blood spraying from its shattered head. A bigger satyr stopped and shouted dark incantations, weaving its hands and Grikk heard Gneiss shout in pain or surprise.

But Grikk was no longer bound by the demon curse, and instead of rushing blindly into the fray he suddenly stopped right in front of the Satyrs, throwing their timing off before he leaped sideways and swung his axe hard, catching one of the creatures by surprise and felling it. It took only a moment before the others caught their bearings and screeched with rage as they attacked.

Gneiss frantically tried to wipe his eyes, but they were still very fuzzy, and he couldn't see clearly. He didn't dare to fire his gun, since he couldn't see Grikk or the satyrs clearly, and he didn't want to accidentally hit the orc.

"Grikk! Get down!" he bellowed, and as one of the shapes either fell or threw itself to the ground Gneiss fired, hearing a scream of rage and pain. Desperately he started to reload his rifle with fumbling fingers. What had the satyr done to him?

"Kini! Help him!" he yelled at the elf, and she jumped, holding the spear uncertainly in her hands.

"But-" she stammered, so afraid she wanted to cry. She could see the satyrs surrounding Grikk, slashing and swinging their weapons as he did his best to dodge and parry. There were at least seven or eight of them, and she could see the blood flowing from where they had already hit him.

"Do it now!" Gneiss bellowed at her, and with a frightened look at him she ran to help the orc.

Anea and the sentinels hear the screaming and clash of steel and Anea charged through the woods, the archers hot on her heels.

"Damn! The cursed ones? Here?" Anea cursed in surprise. The satyrs usually did not move this far south. Perhaps they were called by the Burning Legion whom they had served in the past?

"Hurry! We must help them!" she shouted and urged her tiger forward.

"No! Let them die! We can kill the cursed ones afterwards!" Linie argued, and Anea pulled the tiger around so hard it growled in pain.

"Do you question me?" she said angrily. "I am in command here!" and she turned and rushed to aid the invaders. The other archers hurried after, fingers grabbing arrows to fire. Linie cursed and followed, muttering darkly at her leader's foolishness.

Kiniea screamed as she ran forwards, her spear held as a lance before her. One of the satyrs who were too busy trying to kill Grikk to notice her shrieked in pain as the makeshift spear impaled his thigh from behind, and it turned with a growl of rage. A small elven woman stepped back, fear in her eyes as he roared and waved his sword menacingly. He charged forward and she staggered backwards, flailing the makeshift spear to keep him at bay. He laughed horribly in glee as he chased after her. He hadn't killed an elf in ages!

Kiniea cried with fear as the satyr laughed and drove her backwards. Waving the spear she closed her eyes, knowing she was going to die, but suddenly the spear shuddered in her hands and was pulled downwards. A gurgle made her open her eyes again, terrified of what she would see. The satyr was down on his knees, the spear buried in his throat and he grabbed it and feebly tried to pull it free, blood flowing freely from the horrible wound. A fit of rage filled her and she pushed the spear forward viciously and the creature fell backwards, hands falling down limply, surprise still evident in eyes that turned glassy with death. Kiniea looked for Grikk, and saw him cut down another of the beasts just as a sword slashed down his back, making him scream with pain and fall to his knees.

"Grikk!" she shouted and ran forward again, but was almost thrown aside as a big black cat with a rider charged past, the large shield bumping her. It was the Night elf woman!

"Die, accursed ones!" Anea shouted as she threw her glaive at the closest one. It turned in surprise just to have the lethal spinning star slash the side of its neck and bounce to lodge in the back of another. The first one stared dumbly at its own blood flowing down the hairy chest, tried to put a hand over the gushing wound, and sank down to the ground. Anea laughed harshly and waved the glaive back, and it jerked out of the fallen body of the other satyr with a sickening crackle of bone as it returned to her. The others had seen her now, and she raised her shield to block a vicious swing before she swung the glaive still in her hand at the arm, severing tendons and arteries before she wheeled her tiger around to gain distance. She glanced over at Grikk, and saw him up on one knee, his axe raised to ward off a blow from the leader of the satyrs. He was wounded and wouldn't last much longer she judged in the momentary glance. The other satyrs bellowed and charged forward to attack her, and she threw the glaive again as she jolted her panther to dodge to the side. A rain of arrows cut down four of them, and the two remaining stared in fear at the advancing archers. Shouting in rage and frustration they turned to run away, leaving their fellows where they had fallen, but Anea charged after them, the glaive returning to her hand.

Grikk fought to get back on his feet, but he was very wounded and weak. The satyr leader laughed and kicked, the hoof glancing Grikk's head, stunning and felling him. Raising his sword the satyr moved to strike as several arrows hit him in the chest, and he staggered backwards and fell, the sword clattering on the ground.

Anea closed in on the fleeing satyrs, and threw her glaive, which bounced from one neck to the other, felling the beasts before whipping around and returning to her hand. She grinned in pride. That throw was perfect! She wheeled around to tell her friends when she saw the scene before her. Dead and dying satyrs lay scattered like rag dolls, with Grikk on his back in the middle of them, cursing in a rough, unfamiliar language. The young Quel-Dorei girl was on her knees, trying to staunch the bleeding, and the bearded one was still trying to shake off the effects of the satyr spell. Her sentinels stood and watched warily, arrows on their bows in case the invaders tried any tricks. She grinned and languidly guided her Nightsaber panther forward until she stared down at the fallen warrior.

"That is one life repaid," she smiled at him. He reached weakly for his axe, but let it lie. The Quel-Dorei girl gasped and stared at Anea, but she ignored her. Now that she was in control she looked closely at the green skinned warrior. He had stood against a group of accursed ones alone, and still lived! Her eyes moved to the veins standing out on his powerful arms, and then followed them up to the broad shoulders, the massive chest moving with every ragged breath as dark blood flowed down his stomach… blushing she shook the awe off and got off her panther. Her hand went to her belt, and she looked over at Linie in case she tried to challenge her again.

"Here, warrior, drink this," she said and held out a crystal flask. "The tears of Elune." The warrior stared uncomprehendingly at her, but accepted the flask. A suspicious look at her face, and then he pulled the stopper out and drank deeply, emptying the flask. Anea could feel Linie's accusing stare on her back as the warrior sighed, eyes fluttering before they shut completely.

"What did you do?!" the Quel-Dorei girl asked frantically as the warrior stilled. "You killed him!" She reached to pick up her spear, but Anea took a step forward, planting her foot on the shaft.

"Do not be so hasty, little girl," Anea said with contempt in her voice. "He still breathes, does he not?" The girl put a hand on the warrior's chest, and then bent over, ear to his chest to listen for the heart, and Anea felt the fire rise in her, urging her to crush the girl's head in rage. Again she shook herself. Envy? Jealousy? What was wrong with her?! She turned her back, avoiding the looks of the archers. What would they think if they knew…?

"Gneiss! Gneiss! Look! He is… look!" Kiniea said with surprised glee as the horrible wounds on Grikk's chest slowly closed up. "Grikk is going to live!" and she smiled widely at Anea's back. "Thank you!" she almost laughed, but Anea only waved her hand as to say it was nothing. Grikk is going to live…

Roka floated through the air, weightless, with occational flashes of light before her eyes. She didn't feel any pain, not even… there. No pain at all. She could hear echoes of voices, voices she knew she should recognize, but right now it didn't matter. A faint smell of flowers suffused her. Is this what death was? What about the eternal battlefield they all knew waited for them at the end? Was that wrong? It was good that they were wrong, she thought idly, with faint traces of shame for not wanting the battlefield anymore.

"Is she awake?… wake… wake..." a closer echo came to her. She turned her head trying to see if there were others in this place. The clouds lifted and a burning sun entered her eyes, making her blink and tear up.

"The potion may have affected her badly…ly…ly…ly" another echo came, and again she turned her head. "Think nothing of what she says until it is gone from her blood… blood…blood…" Her eyes opened fully, and the blurred images focused.

"Thrall!" she whispered, and the sound of it sounded weak and somewhat eerie in her head. He stood by her, arms crossed and a grim look on his face. Idly she looked around before focusing on him again. She didn't know where she was, certainly not in the house of the Warmaids. Then her eyes locked on the human leader, Jaina Proudmoore. What was she doing here?

"I do not need fools, or weaklings. I need strong warriors. Which are you?" she heard Thrall ask gruffly. Roka whimpered and looked away, too ashamed to meet his eyes. "The Warmaids are strong, fierce and proud," he continued. "And I need you to lead them." Then he glanced over at Jaina momentarily before returning to Roka. "And I need you to work with us, not against us," he said sternly. "We do not accept enemies within our own camp, do you understand me?" Then he turned and left the room. Roka shuddered and closed her eyes. Why couldn't they have let her die? Now she had ruined everything, made things even worse!

"He has been watching over you ever since they brought you here. Almost two whole days without sleeping," she heard Jaina say off-handedly.

"Just… just go away," Roka croaked, trying to sound strong, but failing.

"Why should I?" Jaina chuckled. "It's my house!"

Grikk woke slowly from his potion-induced sleep. He could hear the clash of wood and heavy breathing a little away from him. A weather bitten hand held a water skin to his mouth, and he choked briefly before he managed to swallow. Looking up he saw Gneiss beside him. The dwarf grinned as Grikk grabbed the water skin and sat up. The noise he heard turned out to be the Night elf huntress and Kiniea practicing, substituting wooden staffs for spears. The other archers were sitting around a small campfire nearby, watching silently. Grikk rubbed the sand out of his eyes and watched the two elf women more intently. They were both crouched low, warily circling each other, moving on their toes, staffs held like spears, at the end of the shaft, giving them longer reach. The Night elf had cast off most of her armor, wearing a sleeveless tunic that reached to mid-thigh, boots and metal braces on her forearms. Kiniea wore her bodice and ragged skirt, although she had tied her hair back and seemed to have some painting or something on her face in broad stripes, giving her a catlike and feral look. Grikk had no idea how long this training had gone on, but Kiniea was running with sweat and breathing heavily, so it must have been quite a while. But he could see that her skill and confidence was increased, for she was not timid like before, just wary. Although she was not as sure on her footing or spear work as the Night elf, she had improved a lot. The night elf moved like a cat, however, and it was clear that she was both highly skilled and dangerous. The tip of the staff wove through the air like a snake looking for a target, and her eyes were cold and calculating. From time to time she spoke in elven to her student, illustrating with short and sharp movements. Kiniea seemed to pick up quickly, and Grikk smiled as he saw her dodge and roll a move that would have sent her to the ground gasping for breath the day before. The elven race seemed to have a natural grace and agility that was very well suited to this kind of fighting, and Kiniea was using it for all she was worth. But she was in no way a match for the Night elf if the match was real, he could see that. The Night elf woman was more experienced, more ruthless, and stronger than her student, and Grikk knew the humans would consider her to be very beautiful. She wasn't to him, though. Her teeth were too small, her jaw too narrow, and even though she was well conditioned, she was not muscular like the Orc women. And those long pointy ears were ridiculous. And of course, instead of beautiful green her skin was almost bluish and pale. Her breasts were too small, and her hips too narrow. Not like the War maids and Riksha in particular. He remembered well the first time he had seen her. His brain had fused and he had just stood there, gaping at her beauty. Even after he realized that the human scum had ruined her, he still couldn't keep his mind off her. But the War maids were all hostile to males, and he had never approached her. How awful that she had been hurt so badly! He would have fought the whole Horde for her hand, and there were many young males in the ranks. With a sigh his eyes returned to the two fighting women.

"She has improved a lot, don't you think?" Gneiss whispered as they both watched. Grikk nodded thoughtfully.

"Yes… now she fights like an elf," he mused. "I wonder…" he said thoughtfully as he stood up and picked up his axe lying beside him. Kiniea's spear lay nearby, and he picked it up as well while his eyes locked on the Night elf.

"Grikk, don't mess about…" Gneiss said hesitantly as both elf women turned questioningly towards the Orc. Kiniea looked quickly at her new teacher, fearing a confrontation, but was taken aback at what she saw. A soft, almost invisible blush had come over the Night elf, and her left hand fluttered nervously at her throat. A certain tenseness had come over her body, and although most men had no idea what to look for it was clear as glass to another woman. The night elf was… Ugh! How could she?! That was disgusting! Grikk was ugly, and even worse, he was an Orc! Quickly she glanced at the night elf archers, but they seemed oblivious to their leader, their eyes were watching Grikk warily. Kiniea looked back at the night elf leader, and her eyes spoke volumes of disgust and loathing. She must have read her eyes, for the blush deepened, and then her eyes turned hard and cold, with a very clear message: "Speak and die."

Grikk moved up to the Night elf, holding out the spear. Hesitantly she took it, avoiding his eyes. Grikk stepped back, readying his axe.

"Grikk, what are you doing?" Kiniea asked hesitantly. "Are you going to kill her after she helped us?" Grikk frowned, still annoyed that these "allies" had so little faith in him.

"It is a testing… want to see if what she teaches you is good," he said in that peculiar broken accent. "Tell her, Kini. Tell her no kill," he said as his eyes locked on the opponent. Kiniea spoke briefly, and the night elf nodded. The archers relaxed, but still held their hands on their bows and arrows, just in case. Grikk grinned as the elf woman grabbed the spear and crouched, her eyes wary. Then he roared and charged forward to strike, and the elf took a step back before ducking and sidestepping his lethal swing. Grikk recovered and spun around, ready to parry the counter that was sure to come. Their weapons clashed just inches from his face, and he stepped back as the elf pressed the attack with several short jabs at his stomach. He broke her advance with a vicious swing of the butt of the axe, the sharp spike lashing out, but she avoided it and ducked again as he lunged forward swinging the axe diagonally down. Again he spun to defend, but her assault was different this time, her foot striking the back of his knee, felling him to the ground. Amazed he rolled quickly as the spear jabbed down into the ground by his throat. He got on his feet as the elf smiled in triumph. Apparently the brute strength approach wouldn't help him here. He nodded in acknowledgment of her skill as he started circling warily. Although the spear was not as good at bashing through shield and armor as the war axe, it was just as deadly against lightly armored enemies, and the weight and range of it gave her the advantage, since the war axe was both shorter and heavier, leaving him little room for error. Once the axe was swung, it stayed swung, and recovery time was greater for him, despite his superior size and strength. Time to use the brain instead of the arm, he thought briefly before the elf lunged forward, the spear jabbing high low and middle in consecutive strikes. Although it had no serious power behind it, the spear was quick as lightning in her hands, and he had to strain to keep up with it. Growling he retaliated with short alternate strikes of the head and butt of the axe, but the elf danced and dodged away from his lunge, spinning her spear around. It crashed down on Grikk's left shoulder plate, doing no damage, but scoring a hit in the informal match. Grikk cursed as he heard the other night elves giggle, and saw the grin of the Huntress. He charged again, but instead of swinging the axe, he waited for the expected dodge and followed it, grabbing the elf with one hand and pulling her back into the one handed axe swing that halted right before the blade cut into her face. They stopped there, his hand on her chest and the axe right before her eyes. She was blushing furiously, and at first he didn't understand why, until he felt her chest move as she breathed heavily. Quickly he removed his hand and looked away.

"Why do you help us, miss?" Gneiss broke in, and Anea turned, grateful for the distraction. She had no idea what the dwarf said, and looked questioningly at Kiniea, who translated. She nodded thoughtfully as she heard the translation.

"The Burning Legion is the enemy of all life… should we help them win by destroying each other first? Do not misunderstand, we still have unfinished business with you intruders, but that will have to wait. For now we face the same enemy."

Riksha fumed impatiently in the dwelling of the War Maids. Stupid, stupid woman! If Roka had not done such a foolish thing Thrall would not have ordered the War Maids to stay inside, and sent the Tauren warriors to guard their every move! Now they couldn't even go out into the forest to heed the call of nature without one or two grim faced guardians. If Roka had only forsaken her foolish dreams and hardened her heart to their grim existence they could have been in the front line of the army, gaining honor and glory alongside the males! She clenched her fists in her frustration. She was bigger and stronger than Roka, although Roka was the better warrior, but she felt a distinct urge to challenge the stupid woman for the ruler ship of the War maids. But the other women held Roka higher, both for her skills and because she was the first burned. The others were as usual chatting in low voices among themselves. Growling in anger Riksha opened the door, and the others watched in silence. Almost immediately the light was blotted out by the large bulk of one of the Tauren warriors.

"Yes?" he rumbled slowly. Riksha held back her frustration.

"We need fresh air, and sun. There is no room to practice in this place," she said as calmly as she could. The bull-head just looked at her, as if he had to find the words from a long way off, but that was just their way.

"No. The War chief has commanded that you stay inside, Riksha," he rumbled. She gritted her teeth, biting down her cry of outrage.

"Please, it is cramped in here, and the air is getting heavy. Can't we get some fresh air outside, there are many of you to make sure we will not stray," she smiled pleasantly, hating herself for it. But the Tauren would not be rushed in either thought or deed, so she had to almost plead for them to change their mind.

"No, the War chief has com-" he started.

"No male tells me what to do!" Riksha roared, her patience snapping. "You get him over here and see if he wants to tell me what I can and cannot do!" and she slammed the door shut in the Tauren warrior's face. Her rage inflamed the pain down below, but she almost welcomed it, using the pain to build her rage to such level that she wanted to grab her axe and chop through the wall!

Roka lay in the human leader's bed, watching Jaina looking through her books and tomes. The incision she had made in her own chest was almost healed, and it had gone so incredibly fast. It still stung a little bit if she moved suddenly, but considering how fast it had healed up to now, she would be fine by morning. Idly she kept looking over at Jaina as the small human woman seemed to scour through her books, looking for something in particular. Finally she seemed to find it, for she clenched her fist in some sort of victory gesture. Roka inched backwards as Jaina came towards her, exaltation in her blue eyes.

"I have found it!" she almost cheered and shoved the book in Roka's face, almost bumping her nose. Dutifully Roka glanced at the open page, but she had no idea what the scribbles on the page meant.

"Found what?" she asked, uncomfortable to have the human so close to her.

"I can make you whole again, Roka!" Jaina grinned widely.

Anea led her sentinels north alongside the strangers. Although all three of them were hardy runners, the Orc and the Dwarf made so much noise they could wake a graveyard. Although the Quel-Dorei girl was less noisy, even her footsteps rumbled in Anea's ears. How these three had come so far from their outpost without being waylaid by the darker denizens of the forest was beyond her. She was still awkward and nervous about the Orc, and her eyes kept stealing sideways to look at him. He ran relentlessly, his heavy footsteps booming on the ground, and it seemed as he was actually looking for twigs and dead leaves to run on, as if he was announcing his presence for all to hear. Or maybe it was just ignorance on his part. The dwarf with his shorter legs was struggling a bit to keep up, since he had to move twice as fast to maintain the same speed, but he grimly kept going, not saying a word. But the Quel-Dorei girl fascinated her. She had learned so much in such a short time, and Anea would stake a good bet that if you changed the color of her skin and her reddish brown hair, she could pass as one of the Kaldorei in only a few hundred years.

Suddenly she felt a chill go through her body, and the hair on the back of her neck tingled. Warily she looked around, narrowing her eyes. It had felt like… like someone was watching her. But nothing moved as the small group kept heading north. And unseen, unnoticed, the sleepless eye of a Sentry ward watched them disappear around a bend in the trail.

"Better be moven, mon," Uguru the witchdoctor told the leader of the small forward scouting party. "We be getting some visitors soon. They be comen up the path by da big rock." Torg stroked the head of his dire wolf and checked the nets that hung by the saddle. The knights that were with them got to their horses and mounted up. Although they were too big and noisy to act as scouts, the small group were also considered a strikeforce to delay the enemy while the main base was notified. Torg nodded in approval.

"Tell me more, old one," he asked respectfully and the Witchdoctor smiled.

"They be around a dozen women with bows, an Orc warrior, a longbeard with his rifle, some sort of spearman, and a woman riding a big cat."

"Eh? You sure old man? An orc with night elves? Was he captured?"

"I don't know that, mon. Perhaps… perhaps not. The trap be where I set it, and if we hurry we can be waiting for them there." Torg nodded, curious to what was going on.

"We will go and wait for them, old one, while you signal to the main camp. Better do this safely in case it is a trap," he said and then nodded to the human knights. "Ride out!"

Grikk and the small group were heading steadily north. He did not know how long the Night elves would keep up with them, since they were getting closer to the camp, and although he had never seen it himself, having stayed behind at the outpost, he knew that it couldn't be far. The night elves didn't speak much, but he could see in their eyes that they were getting wary. The camp was bound to have some sort of sentry system going to alert of enemies. Pretty soon there would be a challenge from the guards.

The Stasis trap appeared out of nowhere in front of them, and Grikk knew enough about them to know that there was only a few moments before it would go off.

"Watch out! Tra-" he yelled, in Orcish or human, he didn't know as the stasis went off with a high pitched buzzing sound. Although the traps had once stunned everything but orcs and trolls, they had been adjusted so they wouldn't affect dwarves, humans or Quel-Dorei anymore. Something in the blood of the protected races was added to the trap to keep them out of harm, or something. Grikk had never really cared about such things. When the trap went off, Grikk, Gneiss and Kiniea kept running, not able to stop in time, but the Kaldorei were not so fortunate. Although elven, they had been apart for so long that minute changes had altered their blood. Even so, the effect of the trap only jolted them briefly, making their bodies quiver for a moment, and they were able to keep going. Not so for Anea's panther though. It was completely stunned in the middle of running, and both it and Anea tumbled over on the ground, landing in a sprawl. Almost instantaneously the Archers disappeared among the trees as Anea groggily struggled to get free of her panther who lay half on top of her. Then her eyes widened as a wolf-riding orc and a group of heavily armored knights charged towards them, and before she had time to react or even reach for her glaive a thick net trapped her on the ground.

"Run sisters! It's a trap!" she yelled as she tried to disentangle herself.

Grikk and his friends stood to face the scout party as they circled Anea.

"What the hell is going on?!" Gneiss demanded angrily of one of the knights. "We are on the same side, fools!" but the knights dismounted and pushed him aside as they went to grab Anea. Kiniea stood there agape, watching in stunned amazement as Anea was lifted up on her feet, still helpless in the net.

"Well, well, what do we have here? An enemy girl all alone?" one of the knights leered at her. She just stared back imperiously. Torg and Grikk looked at each other briefly in silent agreement. They both knew what human males did to females, of any race. There was no honor in that.

"I will handle the prisoner, knight," Torg said commandingly as both he and Grikk moved in between Anea and the knights.

"I don't think so, greenskin! Those women have attacked several of the outposts, and its time for one of them to learn a lesson, isn't it, lads?" he looked at his fellow knights, who all backed him up. Grikk looked at Kiniea, who stared in horror at the thought of what would come. He glanced at Torg.

"There are archers among the trees. They can cut us down in the blink of an eye. They too understand honor," he muttered in Orcish, and saw the almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgment from Torg. "We cannot let the human scum defile her," Grikk muttered, his low tone clearly showing where he stood.

"I am in command here, human," Torg said calmly. "The prisoner is my responsibility, not yours." The leader of the knights put his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"You think so, blackblood? There are five of us… and only two of you," he grinned threateningly as his friends also reached for their swords. "I trust you understand what I mean. Of course… soon she will be your responsibility, when we are done with her." And he reached out to touch the Nightelf, who shirked back from his hand. Anea had expected beatings, perhaps torture… but not that! By Elune what beasts were these pink skins?!

However, Grikk already had his axe in hand, and it took but a moment to glance over at Kiniea and Gneiss. Their eyes told him everything he needed to know. He swung his axe hard.

Uguru got an almost audible shout from one of his Sentry wards, and quickly his mind unraveled and his vision blurred. After a moment his mind was filled with images from the ward, images of blood, rage, fighting and people screaming. Getting his bearings quickly he pulled back from it and his mind reached out for the network of sentry wards that connected the Witchdoctors together. Calling his brethren he relayed the situation, and then turned back to view what was going on.

The proud arrogant knights never expected that the two Orcs would challenge them, so when Grikk suddenly cut one of them down with a vicious attack they were taken aback for a moment, but they rallied quickly. Yelling with rage they drew their swords as Torg also joined the fray, his heavy war blade clanging against the arm brace of one of them, but not doing much damage.

"Grikk, you stupid bastard!" Gneiss roared as he pulled the hammer back on his rifle and fired at the leg of another knight, the bullet punching through the metal greave and ripping into the soft part of the thigh. The knight staggered back with a groan of pain, but surged forward, his sword raised as Gneiss frantically tried to reload the rifle.

"Kill her!" the second knight yelled in rage and went for Anea who had fallen to the ground, still entangled in the net. But her panther, now free of the stasis trap effect roared and stood over her, ready to defend its master.

"Run Gneiss!" Kiniea shouted as she pushed him aside, confronting the wounded knight. Her stomach was like ice, and her hands shivered on the makeshift spear, but she stood fast, glaring at the knight. He batted the spear to the side with his shield, and swung his broadsword viciously, and Kiniea barely avoided it, the tip ripping her left shoulder. It didn't hurt much in her adrenaline rush, and she whipped around, the spear jabbing at the knight's leg. It glanced off the armor, and the knight pressed the attack. Dodging and weaving like Anea had taught her she kept the spear moving and darting at the knight, keeping out of the shorter reach of the sword. But now Gneiss was ready, and fired again at the same leg, finally putting the knight down, screaming in pain at his torn up thigh.

Anea had pulled her knife and was frantically cutting through the strands of the net, trying to free herself as the battle raged around her. She could see Grikk and the other Orc battling three of the human knights, trying to protect her, and doing a good job of it too. Apart from the incident with the satyrs and the mock fight with Grikk, she had not seen the brutal and savage way the Orcs fought before, and again she was amazed at their raw power. One of the knights staggered back, his metal shod foot treading heavily on her ankle, and she had to suppress a cry of pain as he stumbled backwards over her legs. Grikk took advantage of the situation and his axe crashed down hard on the hastily raised shield, numbing the knight's arm from the impact and almost shattering the shield.

Torg who was still astride his dire wolf was unused to such close combat, being trained in sweeping attacks and raids with the speed and maneuverability of his wolf, was crowded by the two remaining knights. His wolf could not move around, being blocked by them, and as he frantically tried to disengage one of the knights moved in behind him and cut his wolf, felling it and dragging Torg down with it. Just as the other knight raised his broadsword to kill him, the air was filled with buzzing and flashing lights.

Thrall had been notified of what was going on by a Headhunter messenger, and immediately he ran towards Jaina Proudmoore's house. He was accompanied by Jubei and Koran, two of his bodyguards, as well as the messenger. When he came to her door he didn't worry about the guards, who startled tried to ask his business. He just slammed the door open without breaking stride, and charged inside.

"Thrall!? What's-" Jaina exclaimed, while Roka sat up quickly, staring at the group.

"No time! Hurry, we must go to the second scout group!" Thrall yelled, and Jaina stood up.

"Why? What's going on?" she asked, now a little upset that she had been so rudely interrupted from her research.

"Just do it!" Thrall commanded urgently, and Jaina concentrated, making a note to let him have a piece of her mind later for his rudeness. The room blurred as the magic unfolded, and the familiar lurch in her belly came as the Teleport spell jerked them away.

The fighting stopped as the teleport spell reached them, all of them watching the bright light coalescence into several shapes. Anea hurriedly finished freeing herself and tried to stand up, ignoring the pain in her ankle. The shimmering forms seemed to be three more Orcs, a blue skinned creature, and a human female. A little behind those another Orc appeared seeming to sit on thin air, and fell to the ground with a groan.

"What the hell is going on here?!" Thrall roared angrily, taking in the scene. Two knights were down, someone was trapped inside a net, and one of his raiders was on the ground with two knights standing over him, swords raised. A little apart a warrior was confronting a third knight. There was a dwarf messing with his rifle, and some sort of female was holding a spear uncertainly. His two bodyguards drew their long swords with an ominous hiss.

Linie and the other archers watched from the trees as the fight erupted, and then saw the appearance of the newcomers. Among them the rumored leader of the green skins, clad in black plate armor. Grimly Linie drew an arrow, aiming carefully. They may have captured Anea, but they won't get away free, she thought to herself as she let loose.

"No!" Anea yelled in shock as she saw the single arrow streak out of the trees. Everyone stood still, mesmerized by the arrow that unerringly headed straight for Thrall. Everyone but Grikk. Dropping his axe he ran as fast as he had ever done, ignoring the knight who took his chance to stab him in the back. He felt the pain briefly, but kept running, desperately trying to outrun the arrow. The two bodyguards tried to block his path, but with one last effort he launched himself through the air, crashing into Thrall and bringing him down. The arrow struck him right between the shoulder blades.

"Run, Anea, run!" Kiniea yelled at the night elf who had just thrown the net to the ground. Anea didn't even take the time to think, she just jumped onto her panther and rushed towards the forest. The only thing that followed her was a spear thrown by the Headhunter, but it fell short as everyone else stared in shock at Grikk and Thrall on the ground. Grikk laid still, blood flowing from the cowardly stab the knight had given him, and the arrow in his back stood straight up. Carefully Jubei and Koran lifted him off and laid him face down on the ground, careful not to disturb the arrow. Then they readied their swords, glaring at the knights as Thrall grumbling got to his feet. Jaina stared at the fallen Orc as Kiniea ran forward, kneeling beside him and crying.

"What happened here?" Jaina asked sternly, looking at her knights. One of the three still standing stepped forward.

"We were going to interrogate the prisoner, but the black bloods interfered," he said viciously, glancing at Grikk. "Without provocation that one killed Sir Levin," he said and spat on the ground. "We had to fight."

"He is lying!" Kiniea shouted with tears running down her face. "We know what you were going to do!" Jaina stared surprised at her. She had never seen such a bedraggled sight. The woman was dirty, her clothes torn, and she held a spear as if she knew how to use it. But she was clearly a High elf.

"Yeah, right, you are going to take a woman's word over mine…?" the knight started, but caught himself as he saw Jaina's eyes harden.

"Kini's words are true," Gneiss interrupted. "These 'noble' knights were going to have their fun with the prisoner. Grikk… disapproved," he smiled grimly.

"Do you see, Thrall? Do you see what they are? I told you we shouldn't ally with the humans," Roka said triumphantly behind him. Thrall sighed in frustration. Just the thing we need right now, he thought. Of course Roka would jump at the chance of sowing discontent.

"You shut up, bitch! Who cares what you think!" the knight snarled viciously.

"I do," Thrall growled menacingly and stepped forward, flanked by his guard. Gneiss looked around nervously, seeing the tense grips on the weapons.

"Look, lads, lets just calm down here, right? We can-"

"He still breathes! Grikk breathes!" Kiniea cried in relief.

Anea rode hard into the forest, trying to find her archers. She had never been so afraid, so angry and so sad in all her life. Grikk was dead, trying to protect her against his own allies, and it was one of her archers who had felled him. Part of her was relieved that the object of her unnatural desire was gone, yet another part of her screamed with pain and loss.

"Anea! Thank Elune you are safe!" Line said in relief as the archers appeared among the trees. In fury Anea rode right up to her, pulling back so hard her panther growled and smashed her gauntleted fist right into Linies face, sending her sprawling on the ground with a yelp of pain. The others stared in shock as Anea jumped off her panther and grabbed Linie, pulling her up with one hand and slamming her fist into her face again.

"I know you fired that arrow, you stupid wench! I did not order it!" she yelled harshly.

"I was trying to-" Linie squealed, but another hard fist silenced her, knocking her unconscious. Anea let her drop to the ground, standing up and looking at the remaining archers. They all stared at her, wondering if their leader had lost her wits.

"By Elune, what is wrong with you?" Alane asked nervously. "You used to be one of the nicest Huntresses we knew." The others nodded in timid agreement.

"You have all seen the power and might of the invaders, have you not?" Anea asked harshly. "Yes, we can fight them, and yes, we can fight the burning legion, but we cannot afford to fight both, do you understand?!" she almost yelled, her pain and grief over Grikk almost overwhelming her.

"But Priestess Tyrande wants the invaders destroyed, Anea," Alane reminded her.

"You like those three invaders, don't you?" another archer asked.

"Don't be foolish! That's nonsense!" Anea blurted out, but the treacherous blush betrayed her. "I just think they would make better allies than enemies!"

"Linie was right," Alane said accusingly. "You are a traitor!"

"Say what?" Anea said angrily, her hand going to her glaive.

"Are you going to attack US now, Huntress?" Alane growled and reached for an arrow. "You can stay here with the invaders, for all we care. We are going to let Tyrande know we have found the invader's main base. Come, sisters, we must leave before they send out scouts to find us!" Alane beckoned the sentinels, and hesitantly they turned to leave. Anea sat on her panther, watching them walk away stoically, but inside she was in turmoil. Oh, mother Elune, what was going on? Everything had turned into such a mess!

"Come with us, Anea," Onaya said pleadingly as the others disappeared among the trees. "You are still our leader, no matter what Linie and Alane says."

"No… let them go. They will see that I am right," Anea said, steeling herself so that Onaya wouldn't see her confusion and anguish.

"Huntress… please. We need you… I… need you," Onaya pleaded. She was the youngest of the archers, barely into womanhood, just like the Quel-Dorei girl.

"You should go with them, Onaya," Anea said gently, forcing down her feelings. "Otherwise they will label you a traitor also."

"Why, Anea? Why do you stay? Was Linie right? Do you really like these invaders after all that they have done?"

"What do you think?" Anea snapped, her guilt making her angry. Onaya shirked back for a moment, and then she smiled uncertainly.

"I think I will follow my leader, whatever she decides to do."

Jaina had transported them back to the camp, into the Priests quarters, since Grikk was in dire need of healing. After he was brought back from the edge of death, Thrall had ordered the two groups interred separately, Grikk, Kiniea, Torg and Gneiss in one hut, and the four surviving Knights in another, after the wounded knight had been treated for his leg. As always, the Tauren was trusted to be impartial, and thus now guarded three huts. The War Maids had heard about the incident, and it fueled their hate of human males even more. And thus again the fragile alliance was in danger of breaking up. Thrall, Cairne, Jaina and Roka had withdrawn to the council building to discuss matters and try to figure out what to do about the last incident. Of course Roka was all over it like a wolf on a wounded lamb.

"Didn't I say so? Maybe you too can see it now that our own warriors protect the enemy from the humans' horrible doings!" Thrall groaned and shook his head. Could she never let it lie?! Now of all times they needed cool heads and deep thought, not to make things worse!" But it was Cairne who responded.

"Humph… humph… calm yourself, young one. Not all Tauren know honor either. Does that mean that all Tauren are honorless?"

"That is not the same!" Roka brushed him off.

"I know full well what evil lurks in the hearts of men," Jaina said quietly. "Bad things happen in war," she said with gritted teeth. "I don't like it any more than you do. But it is not always easy to stop it."

"Grikk or whatever his name is sure stopped it, didn't he?" Roka grinned approvingly.

"He went against my direct orders to keep the peace!" Thrall said angrily.

"What, he should just stand there and watch those beasts violate another woman?" Roka shot back angrily.

"How do you know the dwarf and high elf wasn't wrong? Maybe the knights only tried to scare the night elf woman?" Thrall countered. Roka bristled and went to argue, but Jaina interrupted.

"I don't think they were, and we all know that. Men thing with their… you know..." she said and blushed, but continued. "What we have to do is interrogate all of them and find out what really happened, so we can decide what to do with them."

Kiniea was sitting on a small bed in the hut they were interred in, with Gneiss pacing the floor, grumbling angrily. Grikk lay on one of the beds, still unconscious although his wounds had been healed.

"That Orc is the luckiest idiot I have ever had the misfortune to meet!" Gneiss grumbled, adding more unpleasant epithets as he came to think of them. Kiniea said nothing, she just kept wiping Grikk's forehead with a damp cloth. She wondered how that Night elf woman could ever desire him. She knew of some elves that had relationships with humans, even though the humans were so short lived and… different. She could almost see why, for some of the human males were attractive in their own way, but she couldn't even begin to imagine someone ever loving an Orc. They were big, brutish, and ugly as sin with their small pig like eyes and tusks. What children would such an unholy union create? Green elves or pink Orcs? Some twisted mix of the two? Her thoughts were interrupted by the door opening, and she looked up as Gneiss stopped his angry pacing. Thrall, Jaina, Cairne and Roka came into the room, looking around in silence. Kiniea quickly removed her hand from Grikk's brow, afraid they would misunderstand. She didn't want ANYONE to think she was like Anea.

"Wake him up," Thrall commanded gruffly, and Kiniea shook Grikk by the shoulder. It took a little while, but Grikk seemed to rouse from the slumber. Slowly he sat up, his eyes widening as he saw Thrall and Roka.

"Explain what happened," Thrall commanded, and Grikk started talking, but was interrupted. "In Human, so Jaina understands." Thrall said irritably.

Slowly Grikk started explaining, from the moment they left the outpost up until he had fallen with the arrow in his back. Gneiss and Kiniea filled in everything they could think of as the four leaders listened and asked questions intermittently. Kiniea even told Jaina of her loss of magic, causing Jaina to start in compassion and empathy. When the full story was revealed, the leaders took their leave and headed to the knights' hut, and questioned them. After that, they returned to the council hall.

"Onaya, have you ever had feelings that you couldn't control, couldn't help, but you knew were wrong?" Anea asked the remaining archer hesitantly. They had moved closer to the enemy encampment, and were looking to see if the dwarf and Quel-dorei girl were anywhere in sight. It was twilight now, the best time for scouting, since the still lit sky contrasted with the dark forest, making it hard for eyes to adjust to the shadows. They would be hard to see now. Anea also had her owl flying over the encampment, noting buildings and people moving about.

"I don't know," Onaya hesitated. Could Anea see that? Did she know? Would she be angry? Maybe she would send her away! "Uh… what do you mean?" she stalled.

"Oh, you know, wanting something you knew was wrong," Anea said off handedly.

"Yes…" Onaya said timidly. "I want… I want to have hair and skin like that Quel-Dorei girl," she burst out, ready to sink or swim. "She was beautiful!"

"Oh, you want to have pale skin and brown hair instead of bluish and black?" Anea said and smiled.

"Are you angry, Anea?" Onaya asked hesitantly. "Do you think I am wrong?"

"Hah! No, that is nothing compared to…" she started but halted herself just in time. But the blush came back.

"Compared to what?" Onaya asked curiously, noting the blush.

"Never mind," Anea said. "It is no longer important," she almost choked, thinking of Grikk lying dead with an arrow in his back.

"Oh, I know! You want to help your invader friends!" Onaya smiled. "I don't think that is wrong, no matter what Linie says."

"That is true, but not exactly what I was thinking," Anea said seriously. "Have you ever thought of the druids and… you know… marriage?" she asked slowly, and she saw Onaya blush at the implications of marriage.

"Well… yes… yes I have," she said and giggled. "You know, Tyrande went with most of the others to wake the druids," she hinted.

"I don't want the druids," Anea said in a broken voice.

"Oh? Why not?" Onaya asked curiously.

"I wanted…" Anea started, looking at Onaya's expectant face. "I wanted Grikk."

The raven flew over Kalimdor almost impossibly fast. Below it was verdant forests, laughing rivers and mighty mountains. Leaving the forests the raven flew over the weather bitten Barrens, with its rolling hills and valleys of brown earth. There was a stain over Kalimdor now, a dark cancer spreading rapidly. The legion had returned, and before them came the Scourge, spreading the unholy blight that sucked the life out of the land, leaving only dust and withered trees behind. As the raven watched, small lights of resistance were winked out by the dark as the invaders made their way towards Mount Hyjal and the Great Tree. How long until the Tree itself was attacked? Maybe a week, maybe less. It was time to do something, to bring the three factions together to try and hold it back, no matter the cost. The raven turned north with all haste.

Kiniea walked towards the training area nervously. The first thing Gneiss had done when they had been released was to drag her over to the dwarven smithies, and had argued and commanded until the smiths had scrounged up some old armor for her, along with an excellent quality Spetum spearhead. It was but a moments work to carve a shaft for it. The armor was something else; it was originally designed for the Dwarven heavy infantry that was all but decimated during the second war. The heavy infantry customarily wore a double layer of chain and plate, but everyone agreed that it would be almost impossible for Kiniea to bear that weight on her slender frame, and even so, the plate was made for a different body type, and would not fit without extensive modifications. So they went for just the chain mail. However, the mail was designed for a much broader, but shorter torso, and thus hung like a tent on her, ending just by her bellybutton. The industrious dwarves led by Gneiss were quick to fix it though, cutting links and using wire to tighten the fit better. The arms were removed, leaving her with bare arms, although they added some of the left over chain mail to the shoulders, strengthening them. For her arms, they modified some heavy leather bracers, and finally her thighs were covered by metal plates, strapped around the back. They had no helmet available in her size, and she didn't really want one either. When she was fully armored, Gneiss had advised her to go practice, but when she asked him to come; she saw one of the smiths bring him a large tanker of the preciously hoarded dwarven beer. She didn't ask again.

Grikk sat a little nervously in Thrall's longhouse. The Warchief was there, along with the Tauren chieftain. The grim Blade masters were guarding the entrance stoically, not deigning to look at him, since they had demanded he surrender his axe upon entering. He had never been this close to Thrall before the interrogation at the guard house. Uncomfortably he cleared his throat as both Thrall and Cairne watched him in silence.

"Tell us about the Night elves, warrior," Thrall rumbled.

"Yes, Warchief!" Grikk barked nervously. Hurriedly he started recounting the tale of their trek towards the main camp, but after a few seconds Thrall held his hand up for silence.

"Yes, I know all that, you told us earlier," Thrall smiled. "What we want to know is how do they fight? How do they think? Why did they accompany you here? Are they a threat to us, or would we benefit from their help?"

"Yes, Warchief," Grikk responded slowly, going over everything from the encounters in his head. He had given reports before, of course, so he knew the importance of them, but this was the first time he had been asked to do a strategic or tactical evaluation of another force, and he didn't want to mess it up.

"Take your time, warrior," Thrall said kindly. "Everything you remember, even the smallest thing is important to know."

"Wait a moment, good Orcs," Cairne rumbled slowly. "This is important information here, we should share it with our allies." Grikk just looked surprised at him, but Thrall nodded thoughtfully.

"Jubei, please send runners to Thane Stoneaxe and the Paladin Arius," Thrall commanded, and the blademaster bowed and left the longhouse for a moment before returning.

"It is done, Warchief," he said respectfully while Grikk sat waiting nervously.

Kiniea stood and watched the people training from a little distance, unsure of what to do. She could see human knights and footmen sparring and jousting, with Paladins and Mountain Thanes a little apart. On the other side of the large area were the Orcs and Trolls, roaring their war cries as they clashed in mock battles. The trolls threw their spears at straw targets also. The dwarves with their limited ammunition were basically just watching and cheering, more often than not with large tankards in hand. But there were not a single elf in sight. Timidly she shrank back, wanting to let the whole stupid idea go. But she had faced the accursed Satyrs! She had fought a fully armored knight! Well, the last fight might have been unwise, from a political standpoint, but she had! These people here were if not friends, at least allies. Clenching her jaw she stepped into plain sight. It took a little while for the others to notice her, but slowly activity ceased as everyone turned to look at her. Kiniea swallowed deeply, steeling herself.

"This is the training area, right?" Oh, so stupid! Of course it was! Nervously she licked her dry lips. "Only Gneiss said I had to practice…" she faltered at their stares. Then one of the knights started laughing at the unbelievable sight of a slender elf woman decked out in heavy armor with a Spetum in her hand. In the blink of an eye the laughter spread all over the Alliance group, and Kiniea blushed in humiliation and embarrassment, wanting nothing more than to throw the spear down and run away.

"Get back to your books, little girl, and leave the men's work to us!" one of the Footmen mocked her, and the laughter increased.

"Yeah, go and bake us a pie, woman!" another joined in. Other words were spoken less loudly, but yet Kiniea's keen elven ears heard them, and her blush deepened. Totally devastated by the welcome she turned to leave, her head bent and tears already running down her face.

"You let dogs speak to you this way?! Kill them!" another voice roared, but this was harsh, raw with anger, and not human. Surprised Kiniea turned around again, and saw one of the Orc warriors stride briskly towards her, a massive war axe in his hands. The laughter increased at the words "kill them" as if Kiniea could no more do so than turn her head around full circle. Kiniea stared at the Orc as he came closer, although he seemed different than Grikk. A few others like him followed, and as they came closer Kiniea realized they were females! They wore leather shirts, covering their breasts from view, but apart from that wore the same armor as the males. Even though they were female, they were still more muscular than human males, and about the same height. The one who spoke to her stood right in front of her, staring down sternly, axe in hand. Behind her the others waited, carrying a variety of weapons.

"Did they burn you?" the leader rumbled deeply, something tender in her eyes that Kiniea didn't expect.

"Huh? What?" Kiniea stammered, intimidated by the much larger Orcs.

"Did they burn you, so you can't…" the Orc said hesitantly, as if she was thinking of something else.

"No… no," Kiniea said slowly, misunderstanding the Orc. "I burned myself." She could hear the women gasp as they stared at her, but their eyes were full of respect and compassion. What did they know of it? They were savage brutes, just like Grikk. How could they know what it was to lose the magic?

"Sister!" the leader said and grabbed Kiniea by the forearm, surprising her. Before she knew it, the Orc woman pulled her into an almost crushing embrace, and Kiniea balked at having her face pressed against the larger woman's chest. Then she was released, but before she could recover her wits, the other women crowded her, giving their rough support and acceptance. As they were smothering her, the leader bent down to look right into her eyes.

"The Warchief said no vengeance on human weaklings," she said in a broken accent. "Roka disobeyed, and she is locked inside the human leader's house. I lead the War maids now. I am Riksha." Then she winked and lowered her voice. "Everyone heard humans spit on you. No one can say vengeance for burning. Big dishonor. You must kill. No can walk away. Kill!" she almost growled the last word, and the other women nodded sternly.

"But…" Kiniea said hesitantly, not sure if she understood the Orc correctly. "I don't want to kill them, I just want to practice?" The Orc women looked at her in disbelief.

"You want humans spit on you and not care for honor?" Riksha said in astonishment. "You want to bake pie? You want to get on knees and get 'present'?" she said, coldly repeating some of the words that the footmen had spoken.

"But I cannot fight our allies!" Kiniea shot back, stung by the words. The Orc women chuckled grimly.

"Not allies, only same enemy," Riksha said darkly. "How many of your kind have humans hurt?" That stopped Kiniea short as she thought of Anea and what the knights would have done to her. "You live on knees, baking pie and getting 'present' all your life, sister, or you stand up and kill, get honor back, get respect," Riksha challenged harshly. "Roka disobey the Warchief, but Roka is right. The humans must die for what they have done!"

Roka sat up in the bed, looking curiously at Jaina who was mixing ingredients in a small bowl while chanting elven words over it. Slowly she got up and moved closer, not wanting to disturb. After a little while, Jaina sighed deeply and looked up, smiling.

"It is complete. Soon we can begin," she said wearily.

"You can really make me whole?" Roka asked hopefully.

"Yes… but there is something we must do first, Roka," Jaina said kindly. "The wound has to be fresh." Roka felt her heart sink. The priests had said the same. There really was no hope, was there?

"We are going to have to make it fresh," Jaina said uncertainly, holding up a sharp knife.

Akei, one of the War chief's personal guard had seen the altercation with the elf woman and the human warriors, but paid no heed to it until Riksha and the War maids approached her. He watched as the women spoke and apparently something went on there, for the smaller woman was surrounded by the War maids, held and hugged briefly before Riksha talked to her. He tried to hear what was said, but only caught bits and pieces of Riksha's broken human words, and couldn't quite understand. Then his eyes widened in alarm as the women turned and marched back towards the center of the training area, the bigger Orc women flanking the Elf woman as some sort of escort. Quickly he strode to meet them, staring sternly at Riksha.

"There will be no fighting here, Riksha!" he growled warningly in Orcish, ignoring Kiniea. "You know what the Warchief commanded!" Riksha only smiled haughtily.

"We will not fight, that is for her to do. The human dogs dishonored her, and so they must die!" she said heatedly, also in Orcish.

"Bah! She is one of them, or close to it. What does she know of honor?" he said mockingly. Riksha glowered at him.

"You heard what they said, Akei," she countered. "All women know that dishonor."

"Honor..." Kiniea said the Orcish word thoughtfully, as if she was tasting it. "Grikk teach… honor," she said in faltering Orcish, the rough words almost sticking in her throat. All of them looked at her, and Akei bowed in respect.

"So be it, elf warrior," he said in human. "Wait here, I will speak with the human leader here," and he turned and found Thane Grimshield who overlooked the human part of the training grounds. The dwarf was short and stocky, armed with the customary axe and hammer that the Thanes had mastered, and wore heavy armor, dented and cracked from many proud battles.

"Aye, greenhand, what's with the elf lass there?" the Dwarf asked him and put down his tankard, wiping foam off his moustache. "She looks as if she borrowed her husband's armor, and I didn't know we were playing charades," he guffawed, amused at his own joke.

"No, blackbeard," Akei said seriously. "It is a challenge of honor. She wants to taste the rush," he said grimly. Akei and Thorlaug Grimshield had fought side by side during the battle to save Grom Hellscream, and they had both found an admiration and respect for each other which few men know, even as they were of different races.

"Ah… yes, the rush," Grimshield smiled with eyes alight. "It is good to kill, to be left standing when your enemy lies dead before you, to know you are so alive." His eyes dimmed and he frowned. "Just too bad someone has to die for you to feel so good."

"I no longer kill for pleasure," Akei said distastefully. "Mannoroth is dead."

"And a good thing too, lad," Grimshield smiled. "Anyways, we can't have open war in the camp, there has been too much of that already," he said seriously.

"No, the War maids are out of it, only the elf warrior will fight. You heard what the humans said to her," Akei reminded the dwarf.

"Aye, I did, greenhand," the Dwarf said solemnly. "Too bad the humans cannot control their hunger for such things," he said grinning. "Ask a knight if he wants a good battle or a woman and you fight alone!" they both chuckled.

"Do you think the lass is up to it, lad?" Grimshield asked as he looked at her. She seemed tense and nervous, but her hands were steady on the Spetum.

"Does it matter? Honor is not free," Akei shrugged his shoulders.

Jaina had called for a priest and a sorceress to aid with the restoration of Roka. She thought the Orc woman would back out when she explained that she would have to cut away all the burned and ruined skin inside her in order for the salve to work, since the body would only remember what it was supposed to be, instead of what it had been, and thus could be restored from the blueprint that were in all living things. Roka had not understood half of it, and Jaina was no better at explaining, but Roka accepted that the wound had to be fresh and 'un-healed' for the restoration to work. She also had to remain completely still while Jaina cut, so that she would not slip and do even worse damage, and they could not give her any potion for the pain, since the salve would not work if other effects were instilled in the patient. Thus Roka had by her own suggestion been tied down on the table. The young sorceress had been called so that she could slow the bleeding with her spells, while the priest would help with the healing process.

"Oh Gods, I can't believe the humans really did this to her!" the sorceress Kelea gasped as she saw the horrifying ruin between Roka's legs.

"And now a human is making it right again," Jaina said through gritted teeth as she picked up the knife. She had never been so close to it, seen it so clearly as she did now, and her heart cringed in her chest. The Orc twisted slightly in embarrassment at being scrutinized so carefully.

"Are you ready, Roka?" Jaina said hesitantly. What if she couldn't really do it? What if she failed? The salve had been used to restore limbs and fingers after battle, not such a complicated organ as this! Would Roka be able to bear children, or would it not work?

"I am ready," Roka said with such strength and faith that Jaina cringed. She must not fail! Kelea blinked away tears and gently took Roka's hand in hers, smiling reassuringly down at the Orc. Roka wondered about that, was that supposed to help the healing? Then she hissed through clenched teeth as Jaina started cutting. She released the elf woman's hand and clenched her own as the pain came in waves from down below. Faintly she head the sorceress chanting a spell as Jaina cut deeper.

Kiniea and the rude footman circled around the ring. The other knights and footmen were laughing and cheering, and the footman was eased, relaxed as he taunted her. Kiniea moved as she had been taught, low, crouched, ready to spring with the spear held in front of her. She ignored his chatter as she concentrated. The armor was heavy, and she was not used to it, but it didn't impede her movements.

"Come, little girl, don't you want to play with my sword?" he laughed and then lunged forward, slashing his sword downwards to frighten her. Kiniea dodged sideways and stabbed, but the footman easily parried with the shield. He laughed and swung again, making Kiniea duck and move backwards. She retaliated but as she stabbed for his chest the sword slashed down and struck her shoulder hard, but the armor deflected it with a rasp of metal against metal. Groaning in pain from the blow she staggered backwards, losing her concentration and waving the spear wildly to keep him at bay. Then she heard Riksha and the other women shout a word in Orcish, over and over again, the dark chant taken up by the other Orcs as well. Encouraged by this, she surged forward, the spear darting quickly at the footman, who laughingly backed as he parried her strikes.

"Let's stop this little game, girl," the footman taunted her, "and come to my tent and I will let you make it all up to me!" He backed it up with a vicious slash that hit her thigh, scratching over the metal plate to the edge where it cut into her flesh.

"Here is for your sword!" she shouted angrily, both at the cut and at his foul words. She swung the Spetum down overhead, and as the footman raised his shield to ward off the blow, she kicked low and dirty as hard as she could. Groaning with pain the footman curled up helplessly on the ground, his hands going to his groin. There was an audible groan of empathy from the other knights and footmen as she kicked him in the shoulder, rolling him over on his back before she slammed the Spetum into his chest, impaling him. The only thing that kept it from going all the way through was the metal prods on the side of the spearhead. Silence filled the air as the footman convulsed and choked, blood pouring out of his mouth and nose, and then he went still, the last sigh of his breath leaving his lungs. Shaking with adrenaline Kiniea put her foot on the metal breastplate and wrenched her Spetum out of the dead man. She stood there, staring down at him for a moment before she looked around. Everyone was staring at her, mouths open in astonishment. Then suddenly the Orcs all roared, waving their weapons in the air in a savage cheer of approval. Kiniea staggered, leaning on her Spetum as the pain from her thigh finally hit her.

Jaina had blood all over her arms and dress now, even though Kelea did her best to slow Roka's heartbeat. They could all hear the table creaking as the Orc woman strained against the ropes, clenching her jaws hard to not scream with the horrible pain.

"Jaina, she is bleeding too badly, we must stop this and let it be," the priest said worriedly, looking at the pale green woman on the table.

"Just a bit more, then I am done," Jaina said as she concentrated. What remained of Roka's privates was a horrible mess, and it was hard to see with the dark blood flowing. She could hear Kelea crying, unable to watch anymore, and she had spent her power already. There was no purpose for her in the room anymore. Jaina felt the tip of the knife scrape something, and Roka roared in pain, her tense arms jerking hard against the ropes, snapping two of them. Jaina and the priest stared in horror at the sudden surge of blood that poured out of her.

"Jaina, we must stop! She is going to die!" the priest said hurriedly before he started chanting to heal, but Roka's weak voice interrupted him.

"No… no," she whispered weakly, her arms limply falling back down on the table. "It is better this way… no more… pain," and she shut her eyes.

Greinak crouched low, his eyes examining the tracks of the animal. Some sort of deer, apparently. He and his fellow Headhunters were in charge of hunting for the outpost, since the Dwarven riflemen were too noisy, and didn't have the necessary skills to hunt well anyway. Greinak had been one of the best hunters even before his tribe of Shadow Trolls had met up with Thrall and the Horde, and thus he went further out and hunted longer than the others of his tribe. He had been tracking this animal for hours now, and it didn't seem to act as other deer or animals, the trail was too haphazard for that. Perhaps the corruption of the Burning Legion had altered the animals in some way? Deer usually went in circles around bodies of water and good feeding grounds, but not so this one. That made it very hard to predict its movements, so Greinak had to follow the tracks carefully. His long quiver of javelins was full, so he had plenty of chances to bring down whatever he could find, even if some of the javelins broke or were damaged.

"Hi, did you drop something?" a girl's cheerful voice interrupted his thoughts, and Greinak looked up irritably. A young girl stood behind some bushes, smiling at him. Her hair was peculiar, seemed to be covered by leaves or moss. Probably some stupid little thing girls did, he mused disinterestedly. Besides, he had seen enough weird things in the last couple of months to make a green haired girl pretty ordinary.

"You be gone, girl, you scare the hunt," he muttered angrily. She just laughed merrily at him.

"Be gone? That is not very friendly, is it? What are you hunting anyway? There is nothing here! I have been looking for my friend for ages! Have you seen her? Elsa was supposed to meet me here two hours ago!" Greinak groaned. Stupid chattering little girls!

"Will you be quiet? You scare the deer away!" he growled impatiently. The girl looked at him in surprise, and then her cheerful face turned into a scowl.

"You hunt deer? Why?" and then her eyes focused on the quiver of spears he had strapped on his back. She took a few steps forward, through the bushes, and Greinak's eyes widened in shock. She was half beast! The tracks he had been following that had moved in such irregular patterns were hers! Quickly he reached for a javelin, but the girl raised a spear and threw it hard, hitting him full in the chest. He staggered backwards in his crouched position before he fell, his hands feebly grasping the shaft to pull it out. But the spearhead was cut into splinters, so that it could not be easily removed, and after a second or two his hands fell to the ground.

"Oh… I am sorry! I didn't mean to…" Nini said in horrified regret as she saw the weird humanoid die, the expression of surprise still on his face. She didn't mean to kill him; she just wanted him to stop hunting deer!

Sir Agnon, or Aggy as he was called by his friends looked down the hill, his tired eyes straining to see through the shadows of the trees. He had been awake for more hours than he could count, and so had most of the 4th strike force. He was leading a party of knights, footmen, priests, and mortar teams, accompanied by a force of Raiders, Grunts and Headhunters. A small group of witchdoctors were present too, but they resided in a small tent behind the defense line, keeping an eye on things through their weird wards.

Unlike other Knights who held the sword as the most valuable weapon, Sir Agnon wielded a heavy Morningstar for close combat. It was a round metal ball, studded with spikes on a long wooden shaft, capable of being swung with either one or two hands. Most knights thought the weapon too heavy and unwieldy to be used on horseback, but Agnon was no pansy nobleman. No sir, he was a low born smith's son, and proud of it. He had worked at the bellows and anvil for most of his life, and was big and massively muscled from it. He had started his career as a regular Footman, but due to bravery and a bit of luck, he had been advanced to Captain, and then earned his spurs in one of the most brutal battles imaginable; the mission to rescue Grom Hellscream, where fire fell from the sky and hell-spawned demons charged battered defenders. But Agnon knew that worse was yet to come, a vast unholy army that made everything else seem like a walk in the park in comparison. And he was so tired! If only he could close his eyes for just one moment! He could even sleep standing up, leaning against his horse if he would only let himself. But he could not. His men, his allies depended on him, and he could not let them down. The Scourge was coming; the Witchdoctors had seen the outer rim of wards blotted out as they passed by, ghastly shades scouting ahead. He could sleep when he was dead, and he knew death was coming.

"Head up, Brute!" he said to his horse, who was also tired, although allowed to sleep whenever it wished. Some sort of animal companionship had kept the horse by him at all times though, ready and eager for war. It was no glorious steed, this. Due to his size and weight, Agnon had trained a workhorse, one of the strong and sturdy plowing horses that could go all day long. Although it wasn't as graceful and fast as the other knights' horses, when it built up speed it wouldn't stop for anything and a charge would slam through any line of defenders. Agnon smiled and patted it on the neck reassuringly.

"Lord Agnon, the witchdoctors need speak with you," a rough voice told him from behind.

"What?" Agnon asked tiredly, although he heard the voice loud and clear, it took a while for is overtired mind to comprehend. It was Krigh, the leader of the horde warriors, a big and brawny grunt, his axe held casually in his left hand. During their time together, they had almost become close as friends, for Agnon's skill and size was impressive for a human, and the Orcs even respected his common man honor, not full of useless antics as the nobles', but straight and true, pretty similar to the Orcs' own.

"I said-"Krigh started, but Agnon gestured.

"I know… just tired, that's all," he smiled sheepishly.

"Krigh knows Lord Agnon no sleep," the Orc said grimly. "Even Krigh and Orcs sleep, but Lord Agnon never sleep." A green hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Human need sleep like Orcs. Cannot fight well if no sleep. Lord Agnon must sleep too." Agnon smiled.

"I've told you, Krigh, my friends call me Aggy," he said and returned the shoulder grab. "Besides, I have to be ready when the enemy comes, you know that."

"Some Orcs sleep, some awake," Krigh started, frowning. "When enemy come, all Orcs awake. We watch, you sleep. No can fight without sleep," he repeated. Agnon chuckled tiredly.

"Okay, my friend, I will sleep. But not until I have made sure everyone is prepared," he admitted. Krigh shook his head wearily.

"Fool human always 'make sure', always prepare more. Agnon is not going to sleep."

"Probably not," Agnon said wearily. "Probably not. Now let's go and see what those weird Witchdoctors want."

"Roka! Roka!" Jaina shouted as the Orc woman faded away. Hurriedly she grabbed the bowl of salve and scooped up as much as possible in her hand before starting to smear it into the wound. Had she cut enough? Would it really work? The questions raced through her mind for just a brief moment as she spread the salve all over and chanted the words in a rushed voice. She could feel the magic rising in her as she finished and released the spell, the salve turning warm on her hands.

"Cast your spells!" she commanded the priest, who stared at her for a moment.

"She is gone, Jaina. It is too late," he said a little smugly. Jaina glared at him angrily.

"CAST YOUR SPELLS!" she yelled, and he jumped back as she hurled the bowl to the floor by his feet, shards flying everywhere. Hurriedly he obeyed, ancient syllables passing his lips as he put his hand on Roka with a look of distaste. Almost immediately the flow of dark blood slowed down to a trickle, and then ceased altogether. The mingling of the two spells almost made Roka glow eerily as they chanted over and over. Finally the casting was complete, and Jaina stared at the still form of Roka on the table, tears running down her face.

"I can't believe you are crying over an Orc," the priest muttered haughtily. "One less to worry about, in my opinion."

"Get out of my house," Jaina said through clenched teeth. How dared he!

"What? You can't be serious," the priest chuckled.

"GET OUT!" Jaina almost shrieked and raised her hand, the blue shimmering of a spell surrounding it as she glared at him. He backed away, staring at her in shock as he went for the door hurriedly, muttering curses. Jaina went to slam her hand on the table, but hit Roka's leg instead, the flash of the unreleased spell glaring at her eyes. Roka jolted, and Jaina rushed to her, apologizing frantically, but Roka was still not responding. Then she saw the broad chest rising just a fraction as the Orc drew breath, and Jaina bent her head down. There was a heartbeat, faint and weak, but beating steadily. Overwhelmed by relief Jaina sat down heavily and buried her face in her bloodied hands, sobbing freely.

Grikk had been a little uncomfortable as he spoke his thoughts of the Night Elves. The human paladin and the warrior dwarf had asked so many questions! Even Thrall had started rolling his eyes as their allies kept grinding the same things over and over. The paladin had been the most annoying of all, asking about their beliefs, and if there was any chance of converting them to the "Light" which seemed to be his whole goal in life. Finally they had been satisfied, and Grikk was glad he was done with it. No wonder the Alliance had been so weak in the first stages of the second war, they could never agree on anything! If it hadn't been for the betrayal of Gul'Dan the Horde would surely have defeated Lordareon if all they did was talk, talk, talk.

He wearily headed for what seemed to be the Orc side of the camp, and all around him he heard chatter of some sort of fight at the training grounds. At first he paid no heed to it, and when he heard of some woman doing the fighting, he figured it was just the Warmaids having their fun.

"What was that?" he asked and grabbed the closest footman. "Did you say elf?"

"Why, yes I did, Orc," the human said and stared at Grikk's hand on his arm. Grikk removed it quickly. Elf warrior woman! That could only mean…

"Where did she go?" he asked hurriedly as he saw more footmen coming closer, staring at him.

"Ah, she went with those Warmaids of yours, back to where they belong," the footman said grinning as his friends backed him.

"Ah, okay, thank you," Grikk said and looked them over. This was not good. They were just waiting for an excuse. Perhaps the new alliance was more fragile than he had thought? Hastily he made his way towards the Orc side, keeping his ears peeled for more information.

Agnon and Krigh made their way to the Witchdoctors' tent. A young troll opened the tent flap for them, and they entered, coughing a bit from all the smoke that the witchdoctors seemed to relish.

"Good to see you, mon, we have news," the leader of them croaked, a withered old troll who could barely stand anymore.

"Right, what is it?" Agnon asked tiredly, the smoky room making his eyes burn even worse than before. Krigh just drew in the curly smoke deep into his lungs, smiling a bit.

"The dead come for us, mon, will be here soon," the leader croaked. "Better be ready for them."

"All right, how soon?" Agnon said, his tiredness momentarily forgotten.

"I be saying two or three hours, mon, if not sooner," the old troll croaked.

"What! Why couldn't you have told me this sooner?! By the light, we don't have much time!" Agnon almost yelled as he ran out of the tent and over to the troops. Krigh stood there for a moment, and then caught himself and ran after him. Agnon rushed over to his horse, vaulted on top of it in full plate armor, making it stagger and cry out for a moment, but Agnon had no time for explanations or apologies, he just pulled it around and charged for the hill where they would make their stand.

"Knights! Take your positions in the first line, Raiders on the flank!" he yelled, and the knights quickly donned their helmets and mounted their steeds, with the howling wolves of the Raiders moving among them. "Footmen! Grunts! Second line! Mortars, third line, and Headhunters also!" he bellowed. Krigh came up beside him, holding his axe tightly.

"Krigh think good plan, friend Aggy," he started. "But Krigh don't think Orcs want to wait for knights. Orcs charge with you!" and he bellowed something in that hideous language of his, and Agnon saw the grunts mingle with the knights, side by side.

"Aye, I am sorry, friend Krigh," Agnon said, using the same term for friendship that the Orc used. "You command the horde."

"Ah, human worry too much, think too much. We fight, we die. Only matter why!" Krigh smiled grimly. "This good fight, yes?"

"Excuse me, Lord Agnon," one of the dwarves approached them. "Should we fire a few loads to clear out the trees for your charge?"

"No… no… it will be more effective if you fire when the scourge is already among the trees, hopefully it will halt their advance," Agnon said thoughtfully, almost slurring the words as his horrible tiredness came back, bringing friends. He grabbed his water skin, took off his helmet and poured a good amount of cool water over himself.

"Told you no sleep no good," Krigh chuckled.

"Here sir, try this, it will wake you up," the dwarf said and handed him a small brown flask. Dwarven beer. Yes, that would wake him up, if it didn't put him to sleep right away. Agnon hesitantly pulled the cork out, looked at the swirling brown liquid, and then tipped it all back, swallowing fast. The dwarf laughed as he started coughing, his eyes watering.

"Aye, that will wake ye fast, lad!" He said merrily, and the other mortar men also laughed. "Now ye be ready for war!"

"Milord, I see movement!" one of the knights yelled out, and Agnon dropped the flask and grabbed his lance. His eyes were still watering, and he quickly brushed his forearm to wipe the tears away. By the Light, there WAS movement among the trees!

"Mortars, ready!" he yelled, and Krigh grinned. "This be bad for them!" he said with a vicious grin. Then the Scourge burst out of the tree line, and Agnon heard the deafening boom of the mortar cannons. The shells screamed as they dropped right among the trees, exploding with splinters and metal shrapnel. Trees fell and creatures screamed in rage and pain.

"Charge!" Agnon yelled, along with Krigh yelling whatever in Orcish, and the whole first line started moving, the knights lowering their lances, and the Orcs bellowing their war cries. This is it, Agnon thought. The last final stand!

Grikk stood outside the Warmaids' barracks, hesitating at the door. Riksha was in there! Well, so was Kiniea too, of course, but Riksha was there! Grikk was suddenly very conscious of his odor. He smelled of blood and sweat, dirt and grime. He smelled of war, and from what he had heard, that was not pleasing to women. He was scarred and bruised too. Maybe he should jump in the river and clean off? Or maybe wait until the bruises had faded? The scars he could do nothing about, and wouldn't if he could either. He had won each and every one of them in honorable combat, and he was proud of it. Maybe Gneiss would know what to do? He was just about to turn and leave when the rickety door was thrown open.

"Grikk!" Kiniea cried and flung herself into his surprised arms, squeezing him tight. He was taken aback by her fervor, and dropped his axe. Her armor chafed his already sore chest, and he pushed her away gently, looking her up and down. She had changed. Chain and leather armor covered her, and her stance was different, more confident. But her eyes were red and puffy.

"I… I killed him, Grikk! I killed him!" she burst out and started crying, reaching out for him again. He hesitantly put his arms around her, not sure what to do. What was wrong with killing? Gently he led her into the barracks where he saw the Warmaids staring at them. And he saw Riksha.

"She has been this way since we got here," Riksha said in Orcish and looked at him curiously, and he became embarrassed that he held the crying Kiniea. "What is wrong with her?"

"I think the humans teach their children killing is wrong," Grikk replied as he gently released himself from Kiniea's grip. "Maybe the Elves teach the same."

"Pah, they still go to war among themselves, and with us! How foolish!" she spat. Grikk forced his hungry eyes away from her, looking around.

"Where is Roka?" he asked as Kiniea composed herself. Riksha grinned proudly.

"She is interred with the human leader for disobeying the Warchief. I am the leader here now!" she took a challenging pose, staring at him. "Do you question that, warrior?"

"You should have led them from the beginning," Grikk said hesitantly, the flame burning inside him.

"Hey, it's not fair that you speak Orcish, Grikk! I can't understand," Kiniea complained, and he turned to her, smiling.

"You are right. It is hard for you to be with the Warmaids if you cannot understand," he said approvingly. "They will teach you to fight and kill with honor!" the maids voiced their agreement with savage cheers.

"You have taught her already… Grikk?" Riksha asked, and Grikk nodded.

"Gneiss, I and some night elf woman named Anea taught her," he started, and hesitated. "Well, Anea mostly."

"I sure hope she got away after the fight," Kiniea said worriedly, and Riksha looked curiously at her.

"Fight? What fight? What were you doing with Night Elves anyway?" Kiniea smiled sheepishly and started explaining, with Grikk commenting, but mostly devouring Riksha with his eyes. If she noticed it, she didn't comment or act on it.

The line of knights crashed into the advancing undead, with the Orcs right behind them. Agnon buried his lance in the chest of one of the larger monsters. A practiced twist of his arm and the lance snapped. He dropped the handle and reached for his Morning star. His sturdy horse reared, slamming its hooves into a ghoul who tried to slash its legs. All around him Agnon heard the hoarse shouts of Orcs fighting, horses dying and screaming, the howls and hoots of the undead and metal on metal. In the distance he heard the howls of wolves as the raiders made their sweeping attacks. Dark chanting could be heard further forward, and he yelled commands to stop it. A piercing cry full of anguish, sorrow and hate chilled the very bones in his body, and his movements faltered as his fingers almost grew numb. He struggled to control his horse, which skittered and tried to run away from that ghastly cry, and the undead surged forward.

"For the Horde! Kill!" Krigh roared and the grunts faced the scourge head on as the knights struggled with their steeds. Agnon struggled as his horse bucked and wheeled about, but finally gave it up and vaulted off, dodging the panicky kicks from it. Almost instantly he was brought to the ground by gibbering ghouls, and he rolled and kicked to get them off. His Morningstar felt good in his hand, and he swung it relentlessly, crushing skulls and cracking ribs as the scourge pushed them back up the hill. Men and Orcs fell, the screams of the dying deafening in his ears, and he knew they would not last much longer. And yet the undead pushed forward, and his heart shriveled in his chest when he saw the robed necromancers, their dark incantations filling the air as dead men arose again and fought their comrades. Krigh came charging towards him, his body torn and ripped, and Agnon saw the empty look in the dead eyes. By the Light, they must not break through!

"Mortars, FIRE!" he yelled, knowing the shells would strike friend and foe alike. The Mortar teams knew it too, and knew their duty. Agnon heard the screams of the shells just as what was once Krigh swung his axe, and then he heard no more.

"Now is our time, Onaya," Anea whispered as the moon vanished behind some clouds, leaving the camp dark save for scattered camp fires. She would see Grikk again! Her owl had been scouting the camp all day, and she had a pretty good idea where he was. He was in some sort of building with that Quel-Dorei girl. The owl had even watched the girl's fight with the human, and Anea had been pleased at the outcome. She told her panther to wait in the woods while she and Onaya swiftly made their way into the camp, slipping through the shadows like wraiths. Anea had left her large shield behind, carrying only her Glaive, while Onaya had her bow and quiver, of course. The guards and posts were laughably easy to circumvent, and they quickly moved around the outskirts to the building they were looking for. It was a little apart from the main camp for some reason, but that just made it easier. Anea could see light in the windows, and silently she snuck up to it, peeking inside. The room was full of Orcs, Grikk included, and Kiniea was there too. Apart from Grikk, the Orcs seemed to be female, and Anea felt her heart lurch as she saw the way Grikk stared at one of them. His… woman? Anea swallowed, and almost jerked when she felt Onaya's hand on her shoulder.

"Come away, Anea, there is nothing for you here," Onaya whispered compassionately, and privately relieved. She had been disturbed by the revelation that her leader wanted to be with an Orc, and was glad that it didn't seem to be working out. He fit better with those green ugly females anyway. Anea looked at her, a weird expression on her face.

"Go, Onaya. Find the others. Forget you knew me. Go!" she whispered back, and put a hand on the windowsill. Without another word, she vaulted into the room.

"What! No!" Onaya whispered surprised, and then followed her leader.

Roka woke up to a world without pain, and at first she thought she was still dreaming. She was lying on the table where the casting had been done, although the ropes where removed, and she was covered with a blanket, keeping her warm. In the meager light provided by a candle she could see Jaina sleeping in her bed. Roka slowly sat up, feeling the dried blood on her stomach and thighs. She was a bit light headed, but that was natural when losing a lot of blood, and she had almost lost it all. Careful not to wake Jaina she slid to the edge of the table and stepped down. She was still naked from the waist down, and afraid to look in case it was just a dream she found her clothes and put them on gingerly. She could see the moon through the window, and knew it was almost midnight. She opened the door, said nothing to the two footmen who stood guard outside, and headed for the small lake nearby. Not many were out and about at this time, basically just a few guardsmen dozing at their posts, and she reached the lake without incident. The last part she was staggering around, weak from the loss of blood. Finally she was at the water's edge, and looking around she pulled her clothes off and stepped slowly into the lake. By the spirits the water was cold! Steeling herself she got as far as to her thighs, and with one swift leap she dived in, holding her breath against the icy chill. Spluttering and coughing she reemerged, shivering as she whipped her hair back out of her eyes. On second thought she waded back to her clothes, picked them up and brought them into the water as she returned. They needed washing too. The cold water revitalized her, made her feel new, as she WAS new. She was whole again! At first she couldn't believe it, but there was no illusion or wishful thinking now. The pain was gone. She could live again!

"Ergh… huh? Who is there?" Thrall said sleepily, his hand quickly going to the handle of his warhammer. "How did you get past the guards?"

"It's me, Roka," he heard a female speak, and he lay back and closed his eyes.

"What is it? Can't it wait until tomorrow?" he grumbled and let go of the warhammer.

"No, it can't wait another second," she replied, something soft in her voice he had never heard before. "I am whole again, Thrall." His eyes shot open, widening.

"Wha-" he started, but was silenced by a cold and wet body on top of him. What was she doing?! She was… naked!

"I've seen humans do this, Thrall," she said whispering hoarsely, and before he could react she pressed her mouth against his. It felt… weird. Weird but definitely interesting. As his body reacted to hers, he put his arms around her and did it again.

Agnon had lain there among the dead for countless hours. Krigh's attack had buckled even the powerful plate armor he wore, and his collar bone was broken. Only the armor kept his arm from sagging down, although it hurt so bad he wanted to scream. He hadn't though. When he came to his senses, he realized he was lying right among the advancing Scourge, and any movement or sound would mean instant death. Death, and then living death as the Necromancers chanted their unholy words of power. Agnon had almost cried out in fear as the bodies all around slowly arose, dead voices grunting with the strain. Even wolves and horses had been raised, and what was left when the Necromancers had done their foul deed was eaten by the ghastly Ghouls. Every second had dragged out for an eternity as he expected to be discovered alive at any moment. The Mortar teams, brave dwarves all, had done a thorough job of obliterating everything hit, and Agnon was covered with torn limbs, body parts, grass, bushes and even metal splinters. His before so shining armor was now just fit for scrap. He had been trod on, run over by those meat wagons the Undead used, and only the debris and armor had kept his bones intact, apart from the collar bone. Now only silence reigned, the Scourge having moved onwards. Shakily he pushed up with his good arm, and rolled over on his stomach, careful not to disturb his left shoulder or arm. When he opened his eyes for the first time in hours of strained motionless he almost screamed. Right beside him was the severed and mutilated head of a footman. It was dark now, the moon shining coldly on the ravaged battlefield, and Agnon got up on his knees, surveying the carnage. A shaking right hand reached for a sword, and he used it as a lever to get to his feet, his left shoulder screaming pain as gravity dragged it down. Turning slowly he looked at the hilltop, just a blasted out crater now. The dwarves must have dropped all their shells on the ground and detonated them all at once, and from the scattered body parts the undead must have been right up there. Although they had not halted the Scourge's advance, they had given them pause, since the ravaged corpses were unfit for raising as new servants of the Necromancers. They had not given their lives cheaply, although Agnon knew that it probably didn't matter much. Just another senseless battle, lives thrown away for nothing. What was the use anyway? Every fallen warrior strengthened the Scourge, while weakening the Alliance. There was no sense, no reason to this! Agnon fell to his knees, his head bent as he lost hope, lost the will to keep trying.

"Your self control is formidable, and your tactical skill is excellent. All you need is experience and you will be a great leader." The voice was cold, emotionless, and Agnon turned around quickly, wincing a bit from the pull on his shoulder. "Do not throw it all away by failing now, Knight." Agnon strained his eyes, and saw a cloaked figure approaching on foot, a jingling sound from hidden armor the only sound. He could not make out a face, for the hood concealed it, but long ashen hair fluttered in the wind. He struggled to get on his feet, leaning on the new found sword.

"Who are you, stranger?" he asked hesitantly, for the figure had a chill aura that gave him goose bumps.

"Who I am is not important at the moment," the stranger chuckled. "You are. My master has a certain… interest in you."

"I serve Lady Jaina Proudmoore, commander of the Alliance," Agnon said proudly, straightening his back.

"Lady Jaina…" the stranger said slowly, as if the name brought up memories of some sort. "Very well then, Sir Agnon, you will-" the stranger said.

"My friends call me 'Aggy'" Agnon said absently as he studied the stranger.

"Aggy," the stranger said mockingly. "Well then, 'Aggy' you will deliver this message: Your Lady Jaina must meet me at the location marked on this map," and he held out a parchment. Agnon couldn't quite make out the markings at 20 yards away, but it really didn't matter.

"Says who? You have not told me your name, good Sir," he said in challenge.

"Arthas," the stranger said and chuckled, one hand going to his hood, pulling it back. Agnon gasped and took a step back.

"Arthas! Arthas the traitor prince!" he said in shock and raised his sword.

"The same," Arthas laughed.

"I will never lead her into your trap, I would rather die first!" Agnon yelled angrily and took a step towards Arthas, the sword raised.

"You would fight me then, with your injured shoulder? Come!" Arthas laughed and pulled his own sword, a dark jagged blade that almost shimmered in the darkness. Agnon lunged forward, but Arthas easily blocked the overhand swing and slammed the hilt of Frostmourne down on the cracked left shoulder plate, and the pain drove Agnon to his knees, clenching his teeth. Quick as a snake the blade rested against his neck, beneath the edge of his helmet. The blade was so cold! So horribly, horribly cold!

"I will not kill you this time, Sir Agnon," Arthas said coldly as he put pressure on the blade, splitting the skin and drawing blood. "But defy me again and I will give your shriveling soul to my King!" Agnon watched in terror as Arthas' left hand started shimmering with a greenish unholy light, and then screamed in unbearable agony as Arthas slapped his hand down on the injured left shoulder. A vicious backhand knocked him to the ground, the hooks on Arthas' glove catching on the eye slit on his helmet and pulling it off. Arthas turned his hand, and the helmet fell to the ground.

"Fail to deliver the message, and I will find you, 'Aggy'" Arthas said coldly and put the tip of his dark sword against Agnon's throat. "Do you understand me?"

"Y-Yes, Prince Arthas," Agnon whispered in terror. His left shoulder and arm burned terribly from the unholy green light that Arthas had struck him with.

"Good. Take the map. I don't have much patience," Arthas threatened, and threw the parchment in Agnon's face. Hurriedly Agnon struggled to his feet and scrabbled up the hill, disappearing into the forest with a terrified look behind him.

Arthas shook his head wearily as he watched Sir Agnon disappear among the trees. Why the Lich King wanted that pathetic wretch was beyond him. No courage among the knights these days. He had not known that Jaina was leading the alliance survivors, and the revelation disturbed him. Why was she here? She was a complication, a loose end he did not want, nor need. He realized that a part of him longed to see her still, even after everything that had happened. Was Frostmourne unable to take all of his soul? Was there some things too holy to be corrupted, after all? No. That could not be. The Lich King's power was beyond any such barriers. The part of him that still lived inside must have some purpose, otherwise it too would be gone. He shook his head, trying to remove the image of her smile from his mind.

"Reveal yourself, Shade," he commanded, and the air shimmered before him as a ghastly wraith materialized.

"You called, master?" it asked, and he gathered his thoughts as he sheathed Frostmourne.

"Seek out Kel-Thuzad, and tell him the messenger is on the way. I want him escorted, the fool is likely to run right into the tail end of the Burning Legion. There is an undiscovered Alliance outpost a few hours from here. If he does not seek it… encourage him to do so. He must not know that he is guided, otherwise he might stray from the mission. Do you understand what I have said?"

"Yes, my Lord," the shade whispered eerily.

"See to it," Arthas commanded as the shade disappeared. He reached out with his mind, calling his steed as he bent down to pick up Agnon's helmet. The man had been a skilled commander, no doubt about that. The tactical positioning of his forces had been brilliant. Too bad the Banshee had disrupted the horses to such a degree, otherwise the Alliance and Horde warriors could have held the hill for longer, perhaps even stunted the Scourge to such a degree that they had to find another way to reach the main camp of the alliance and horde survivors.

Despite the fact that Archimonde had relieved the Lich King of command, the combined power of Kel-Thuzad and Arthas had enabled them to keep a small group of the Scourge still under the Lich King's command, and although it was foolish to challenge the Burning Legion head on, they could still wreak havoc. And now Arthas needed to speak with the leader of the alliance. It was just coincidence that it was Jaina…

"Enemy!" one of the Warmaids yelled, and suddenly all of them had weapons in hand, staring at the two nightelves who just entered the room. Grikk and Kiniea stared at them in surprised shock. Anea took a step back, almost bumping into Onaya.

"Grikk! I… I…" she started, but stopped. Now that she had jumped into the room, full of female Orcs, with Grikk and Kiniea here, she didn't know what to say. The moment of truth was here, and she was speechless! What COULD she say? He couldn't understand her, she couldn't understand him, and having that Quel-Dorei as an interpreter was very uncomfortable. How could she tell him that every time she saw him her heart pounded and her hands shook? How could she let him know that all she wanted was to touch him, to hold him close? Would he understand? Would he even CARE? She was not his kind! Although his kind looked rather ugly, even though they were broad and stocky like the males.

"What are you doing here, Anea?" Kiniea asked, her eyes cold and stern. "You don't belong here." Anea jerked back, stung by the words. She really didn't belong, did she? Grikk smiled and took a few steps towards her, speaking in that rough deep voice of his. Anea looked at Kiniea, her throat constricting painfully.

"Grikk says he is glad to see you got away," Kiniea said reluctantly. The orc woman that Grikk seemed so interested in lowered her weapon and spoke in a different language, and Grikk translated into the language he used with the Quel-Dorei, who rolled her eyes and repeated it in elven.

"You come to this house unbidden, Night elf. What do you seek?" The translation was a little staggering, but Anea understood. At first, she didn't know what to say, but since she had already put herself and Onaya in grave danger, she might as well try anything. And the Orcs were a barbaric people, as far as she knew. Maybe they were similar to the Furbolgs in their ways?

"Tell her… tell her I challenge her," she said nervously. "I challenge her for Grikk." Kiniea rolled her eyes theatrically and sighed in disgust, but Anea stared at her. "Do it!"

And so the awkward chain of translations began again, and even though Grikk seemed confused, he relayed the message to Riksha. The orc woman looked uncomprehendingly at her, and then looked questioningly at Grikk and Kiniea, then at her fellow Warmaids. Nobody seemed to understand.

"What for?" was the reply that Kiniea relayed. Anea looked around, wishing to Elune she could just disappear, but now the Warmaids blocked the window, with Onaya nervously almost hugging her from behind.

"What does this elf want, Grikk?" Riksha asked in orcish, but Grikk shrugged his shoulders.

"I have no idea. I thought she would take the chance to get back to her own people after the fight, but what she is doing here I don't know. She must know that she is caught."

"Elf sister, you understand what she says. Tell us," Riksha looked at Kiniea, who made a face.

"The Night elf, Anea… loves Grikk," she said, rolling her eyes. All of the Warmaids and Grikk looked at her in astonishment. "She wants to fight you for the right to be with him," she continued, her disgust plain on her face. Everyone looked over at Anea, who cringed under their gaze.

"Tell her… tell her no need," Riksha said in a stunned voice. "We are useless to males now." Kiniea looked at her, not understanding.

"Useless? Why?" Riksha looked at her.

"We are burned, as you are. You know that, sister," Riksha said, her voice tinged with rage. Kiniea looked at her questioningly.

"Just because you can't use magic, doesn't mean you are useless, does it? Or is there something with you orcs that means you are less worth without magic?"

"Eh? Magic? We don't use magic, sister," Riksha said and looked at the other Warmaids, who seemed as confused as she was.

"Kini, the humans burned them… here," Grikk said and motioned low. "They cannot mate anymore," he added sadly, looking at Riksha.

"WHAT?!" Kiniea said in shock. "The humans did what?!"

"They thought you knew… and you didn't mention you burned your magic away, not your… ability to mate, did you?" Grikk asked her, and Kiniea stared at Riksha.

"He is right, sister," Riksha said, looking at her. "Tell the night elf there is no need for fight. She can have him, I have no use for him." Grikks face fell as he heard that, and Kiniea's heart wrenched for her friend. What a horrible thing the humans had done!

"You may be burned, but you are still not useless… to me," Grikk said, looking at Riksha.

"No," Riksha said in a definite tone of voice. "I need no man."

While the orcs and Quel-Dorei girl talked, Anea slowly inched her way backwards, until Onaya was almost in contact with the orc woman behind her. Judging the conversation and the women's attention, Anea suddenly spun around, pushing the larger orc woman to the side.

"Go, Onaya! Go now!" she yelled, and Onaya dove through the window instantly. Deftly Anea spun around, facing Riksha and threw her glaive. Almost impossibly fast the orc woman reached out and caught it in her hand.

"Nice try, but not good enough," she growled with a grin as she dropped it to the floor. That was the last Anea heard before the blow from behind knocked her unconscious.

Thrall broke the embrace and sat up, his back to Roka. She turned, looking at him nervously.

"Did… did I do something wrong?" she asked hesitantly. Thrall waved a hand.

"No… Not at all… It's just…" he started, but silenced.

"It's just… what?" she asked, sitting up beside him. He looked so serious, so stern as he sat there, and she feared his reply, feared it like nothing else in the world!

"I cannot be your mate, Roka, and I cannot think of children with you," he said slowly, turning his head to look at her.

"Wh- Why?" she stammered, trying to swallow the lump in her throat, feeling the knife twist in her chest so bad she wanted to scream. "Is there someone else? I can be better than her!" she choked.

"No, it's nothing like that," he chuckled and looked at her, straight into her eyes, and she just wanted to grab him and clench him tight. "The Legion is still coming for us, Roka, and I cannot give my word to you now. We could both be dead tomorrow."

"What? Is that it?" Roka almost roared, the relief almost making her cry. "You almost rip me apart because of a bunch of Demon weaklings? You fool!" And she slapped his shoulder irritably.

"Eh? What?" Thrall responded, looking at her as if she had lost her mind. She just grabbed him and pulled him tight, holding him almost painfully hard.

"We are here now, you fool," she said almost laughing. "Tomorrow comes later, and even so, we are not beaten before the fight!"

"Oh, well, in that case…" Thrall said and reached out for her again, the hunger awakening, "why don't I put this blanket over you so you don't get cold?"

DA 10 – Tightening the web.

Two shapes stood facing each other, bathed in the soft moonlight. The training grounds were silent now, there were no watchers in the cool night, apart from the occasional animal who stopped to look at the silent shapes. The ordinary susurration of insects were soothing, up until there was a harsh hiss from two blades being pulled from their sheaths. Hands gripped the hilts firmly, muscled arms moving slowly in salute. Legs moved, stances shifted as they circled slowly. Then, a random owl hoot from somewhere in the forest marked the beginning of the dance. A quick lunge, a feint and a parry, and the two combatants circled warily again, all senses alert. The moon's cold light blinked in one of the blades, and the warrior used it to his advantage, angling his weapon briefly to flash the other before lunging forward again, blades clashing. They spun, weaved and dodged as the blades clashed over and over, the sound echoing eerily through the night, until they both suddenly stopped moving. A single drop of dark blood fell silently from one of the blades.

"You have become better, Akira," Jubei said and bowed in respect.

"It was luck, this time, Jubei," Akira replied, bowing with a smile. He let two fingers wipe off the small amount of blood on the tip of his sword before he sheathed it again. "But next time I won't ask luck for help," he grinned.

"Oh, overconfidence? Then you face two enemies instead of one," Jubei said in good humored rebuke. "Nevertheless… your skills have improved," he said and wiped the few drops of blood off the side of his neck where the blow would have killed if it wasn't so controlled.

"We better get back, Jubei," Akira smiled. "They have certainly had enough privacy, don't you think?" They both chuckled.

"Aye, it is time," Jubei smiled and sheathed his Katana. They moved through the camp in silence, nodding occasionally to the camp guards who held the palisade. A shadow moving where no shadow should be made them turn their heads, squinting into the darker corners of the camp.

"Jubei," Akira said in a low voice, and Jubei nodded.

"Behind the storage hut, go left," he commanded in a whisper. Akira acknowledged, and then both of them let go of their thoughts, letting their minds and spirits dissipate, until there was nothing but action, action without purpose or form, and they ran towards the storage hut. Guards who looked right at them saw nothing, their minds unable to recognize any distinction, and they were ignored… like rocks or trees were ignored.

Reaching the hut they split up, each going around it to the back from opposite directions. A female form huddled behind the hut, clad in a night blue cloak, a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder. Her head was bent, and they heard muffled crying. Her hair was dark, and they could see one of her pointy ears protruding from it, a bluish tint to it, and Jubei cleared his throat.

Onaya looked up startled, she was discovered! Looking around frightfully she saw nothing, no sight of whoever had made that sound, and she stood up, a hand reaching for an arrow just in case. Then she shrank back against the wall as a tall shape appeared in front of her, almost appearing out of thin air. It was an Orc, tall and muscular, although more slender than Grikk and the other male Orcs. He carried a sword in a scabbard on his hip, and wore loose flowing pants, sandals, and arm braces. Looking at his eyes, she saw his calmness, his security, and she swallowed hard. Trying the 'over the shoulder look' she suddenly bolted to the left, running as fast as she could until she suddenly slammed into something right in front of her, where nothing should be. As she staggered backwards and almost fell from the impact, another Orc appeared in front of her, smiling. There were two of them? He was dressed much the same way as the first, although he seemed younger. Fearfully she looked from one to the other, desperately searching for a way to escape. The ominous hiss of the young one drawing his sword terrified her, and she stared at him, backing away until the sudden blow on the back of her head felled her.

"Should we bring her to Thrall, master?" Akira asked as he looked down on the fallen Night elf girl. "She has probably scouted the camp, and we cannot allow her to report to her clan."

"Why not, we are going that way anyway," Jubei agreed. Akira grabbed the unconscious girl and nonchalantly threw her over his shoulder, as if she was a sack of potatoes.

It was a good thing they were both awake, for Roka and Thrall were visited two times that night, first Jubei and Akira with the Night elf archer, and then as Akira was sent to wake and gather the Alliance leaders, Riksha and the Warmaids accompanied by Grikk brought the still unconscious Anea to Thrall's hut. The two Night elves were disarmed, but otherwise left alone until they regained consciousness. There were enough warriors there to kill them within moments if they tried to resist or escape anyway.

"So, what were you doing in our camp, elf?" Thrall said as the apparent leader of the two night elves regained consciousness. "Assaulting the leader of a regiment is not the best way to start negotiations." He smiled as he saw her look around, seeing the leaders and their guards in the room. "Yes, we have all wondered about you night elves, and your purpose for assaulting our settlements. "Perhaps… we could come to some sort of truce?" he offered and smiled. The woman looked uncomprehendingly at him, and Jaina translated.

"There will be no truce with outcasts and defilers," the reply came through Jaina, and Thrall looked at Cairne. Now the other woman awoke, and she gasped when she realized the situation, but a command from the leader silenced her, and she stared at Thrall and Cairne with fear in her eyes.

"Hmmm… hmmm… I have heard of these Kaldorei in my years, yes, hmm, I have." Cairne said slowly. "They keep the forests safe, they do. The Centaur will not come here." Thrall waited for more words, but apparently that was all that Cairne would say.

"What do you mean, outcasts?" Jaina asked in elven, but the elf woman said nothing.

"She means us, milady. The Kaldorei cast us out eons ago, and we went across the sea to Quel-Thalas. We have never returned until now," Kiniea said respectfully, also in elven, looking at Anea.

"What was that?" Thrall asked, a little annoyed that he was kept out of the conversation, and Jaina explained.

"Eh? We have the Burning Legion on our heels, ready to destroy this world, and these Kaldorei wage war on us for something that happened thousands of years ago?" Jaina shrugged her shoulders.

"They must know the Legion is coming, don't they?" she answered. Then she turned to the Kaldorei. "You do know the Burning Legion is coming, don't you?" she asked in elven. The elf woman waved her hand dismissively.

"The Priestess is gathering our forces now. We have defeated them before."

"Don't you think that combining our forces would be beneficial to all of us?" Jaina smiled invitingly, but the elf woman looked haughtily at her.

"We have no use for you. My squad already know where you are, and they are returning to our Priestess to report. Soon they will come."

As Jaina turned to Thrall explaining what was said, Anea put a hand on Onaya's arm, comforting her. Why was she speaking like this? She would love to stand beside Grikk and his kin! But sitting here in front of the outlandish leadership she felt obligated to obey the Priestess and her commands. She knew she was just making things more difficult for herself and Onaya in doing so, however. She didn't WANT to be Grikk's enemy, not at all! She listened to the crude language of the outlanders as she steeled her heart in order to do her duty as they turned to look at her again.

It was just before dawn when the scouts of the small hidden outpost saw the heavily armored figure stumble towards them. They had heavy ballistae mounted in the towers, able to take the approaching figure silently, since rifles were noisy and might attract the attention of the scourge, which had mercifully passed them by unaware of their presence. As the figure came closer, they realized it was human, and alive.

"Halt, who goes there?" One of the scouts challenged, and the armored man raised his bowed head, apparently spotting the outpost for the first time. He moved faster, staggered forward as if drunk. "I said halt! Who goes there?" the scout said again, urgency in his voice.

"Ag-Agnon!" he croaked hoarsely, somewhat surprised at his own voice as he tried to run. Finally he had reached the outpost!

"Agnon who?" he heard in reply, and now he heard the crank of the ballistae being armed. Almost panicking in case they would actually kill him after he had come so far he dropped to his knees.

"Agnon, commander of the 4th strike force!" he croaked a little louder. Then, overcome with weariness he slowly tipped over to the side, laying on the ground.

"4th strike force? Weren't they annihilated earlier?" one of the scout's whispered. "How did he survive?"

"Never mind that, let's get him in before he dies!" another said.

They put him on one of the bunk beds, and with his armor so beaten and dented, they had to basically cut it off. As soon as they saw the blackened left arm, they called for the outpost commander, a Paladin named Alando. While they waited they kept a close eye over the wounded man. He had sunken into a delirium, whispering half words and sometimes shouting denial in his fever. The blackened arm twitched, and occasionally he would clench his hand into a fist so hard his nails would cut his palms. Some of the younger guards shuddered in horror as they saw the dark blood flowing slowly from the cuts. His right hand clenched some sort of parchment so hard it was impossible to get it.

"Right, what goes on here that is so urgent?" Lord Alando said gruffly, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He silenced as he stared at the man on the bunk, his eyes drawn to the blackened and twitching arm.

"My Lord," one of the guards spoke hesitantly, "he came staggering to the camp less than an hour ago, and collapsed at the gate. He claims he is Lord Agnon from the 4th strike force, and his armor shows that he was someone important, sir."

"And what of his arm, lad?" Lord Alando asked, feeling something dark emanating from it. It looked like it was seriously affected by gangrene, but it was obviously still functioning, to judge from its movement.

"I do not know, milord," the guard said apologetically. "Lord Agnon fell unconscious before we were able to speak with him."

"Hmm… We shall see what can be done," Lord Alando said thoughtfully as he looked at the blackened limb. "In Lor Mani!" he chanted, and his hands were suffused with the white healing light. The guards respectfully moved aside for him as he stepped closer to the delirious man on the bunk, and then reached out gently and grasped the black arm by the shoulder and hand.

"AIEEE!!" Lord Agnon screamed in agony as his body convulsed, and Alando almost jerked back in shock, but kept holding the arm despite the man's weak attempt to push his hands away with his healthy hand.

"Milord!" one of the guards blurted out nervously. "His arm! His arm is smoking!" and Alando looked down and saw the white healing light from his hands burning the blackened arm. Shocked he released it, and Lord Agnon's screams abated as his body calmed down. The black hand curled itself like a vicious claw in cramps. But that couldn't be! How could…?

"Everybody out!" Lord Alando commanded, and hesitantly the guards obeyed. "I said out!" Alando said sternly, and the last stragglers left quickly. He could see the man's eyes fluttering open, staring at the ceiling unheedingly.

"What… did this to you, Lord Agnon?" Alando asked the man. The eyes circled around and focused on him, and what he saw in them made his soul sick. It was fear, fear as he had never known looking back at him.

"Prince… Arthas… touched me," Agnon croaked, and Alando stared in horror. The betrayer! What was he doing here on Kalimdor? And what horror did he command to do something like this? "He told me… to give this… to Jaina," Agnon croaked, struggling to keep control over the pain in his arm. He tried handing the map to the paladin, but his strength failed him and it fluttered down on the bunk bed. Alando quickly snatched it up and looked at it. "She must get it!" Agnon insisted, "or else!" and he found the strength somehow to grab the paladin by the arm. "She must!"

Lord Alando looked into those eyes, and even beyond the wailing fear, he saw deeper… into a living nightmare. Jaina must get the scroll. That was all there was to it.

The rickety machine coughed a couple of times as Quarter-Jack started it. Quarter-Jack was one of the Gyrocopter pilots, and thus called because he had a quarter Gnome blood in him. His Mother had been Half Gnome, half Dwarf, courtesy of her mother, and now he himself was ¾ Dwarven. This of course had earned him lesser status among his clan, and especially among his fellow pilots. While Dwarves in general were stoic, hard working and down to earth, the Gnomes were more inventive, less apt to reality, and thus had invented a lot of contraptions, where the original Gyrocopters were one of them. They had been very successful in the second war, but Dwarves had taken over the production of them, refined them and actually made them work better than half the time. Sturdy and strong Dwarven constructions had enabled them to attach gatling guns onto the hulls, and thus became a viable fighting force instead of just a suicidal scouting tool. However, Quarter-Jack still had the inventive mind of the Gnomes inherited from his mother's side, coupled with the down to earth common sense of the Dwarven side. Even so, his experiments and various prototypes were distrusted by other Dwarves. He had been testing the attachment of an additional propeller assembly at the rear of the Gyrocopter, to increase the speed of it, and also reworked the steam engine to run on alcohol instead of refined lamp oil, but after having used half a barrel of the strong beer with no great success the other dwarves had forbidden it, so he had to brew his own, and it was not nearly as strong as the good stuff. However, he was able to outrun the others in terms of speed with just the green beer that he used.

He had been given a mission of the utmost importance, and it required a steady hand, a brave heart, and a lot of luck. He had to bring a map to Jaina at the main camp, and the Burning legion was blocking the way. In order to get some sort of diversion, the rest of the pilots would escort him part of the way and then split off, drawing the attention away from him. They were all waiting in their Gyrocopters, engines humming as he got the blasted thing started and climbed in. He knew they were laughing at him, but that was all right. Sooner or later he would get his Speed-o-copter fully functional, and then the laughter would be from him! Slowly they all lifted off the ground, and headed north. He didn't engage the rear propeller yet, since he only had about 30 minutes of fuel, but all he had to do was pull a lever and hopefully the thing would start. The others fanned out, keeping him in the rear, since he had removed the gatling gun to save weight. It didn't take long for them to see where the Scourge had passed by, the land was stripped and dying in a broad belt heading north.

DA 11 – Retrospect

These Night elf women were not so beautiful now, Arthas chuckled as he watched their bloodied remains on the ground. The weaker Ghouls had finally gotten their turn to feed, and they fought over the corpses as they tried to get the best meat, dragging them around like rag dolls. There were nine of these archers, and they had done an excellent job in avoiding the Burning Legion and the main force of the Scourge, but luck had been against them as Arthas and Kel-Thuzad had come across them. The elves hadn't even stood a chance. The Necromancers were chanting their vile spells over the corpses as the Ghouls fed, not to raise them, for their corpses were too mangled. No, they caught the spirits before they left the vicinity of their former homes, and chained them to Ner-Zuhl's dark will. Of all his dark deeds, this was the most damnable of them all, Arthas chuckled. Murder, rape, robbery were all bad, but compared to this unholy ritual they were minor. The souls would never rest now, never know peace, and even if their shades where exorcised the spirit would remain, still chained to the Frozen Throne, and after a while they would again roam the land as Banshees. He could hear the faint whisperings, the agonized screaming as the dark spells of the Necromancers reeled the helpless souls in. Then in a momentary flash he imagined Jaina's torn body on the ground, her soul's helpless screams as the Necromancers bound her to eternal suffering and pain, and his heart lurched in his chest. The horrifying image drove him to his knees, his hand over the plate mail covering his chest. What was wrong with him? Why did he care about some foolish human woman?

"Arthas," came the dark hollow voice of Kel-Thuzad. "Is there something wrong?" Shrugging off the skeletal hand on his shoulder Arthas gripped the hilt of Frostmourne hard, gaining strength from it.

"Just showing my respect," Arthas said in a harsh laughter as he stood up, hiding his eyes from his companion.

"But of course," the Lich chuckled, looking at him carefully.

"No matter, let's get these wretches going, we have a lot of work to do," Arthas commanded, shutting down what was left of his heart for the task at hand.

They were heading for the meeting place, which was on the map that the luckless Agnon had been given. The Lich King had told Arthas and Kel-Thuzad that the fragile Human Alliance and the shattered Horde could be used to break the Burning Legion's advance, and how that could be accomplished. It was a small chance, almost minuscule, but with the right information perhaps they could still be useful. Thus the reason for the meeting. All he had to do was find her trigger, lure her to believe, and perhaps play on what had been in order to dupe her. What could have been… or what should have been? Angrily he shrugged the feeling off as he mounted his dark steed.

"Let's get moving!" he commanded, and the dark forces still under their command rushed to obey the dark will of the Throne.

Aces High

The small force of Gyrocopters still headed north, watching the devastation and ruin left behind the Scourge's advance. Hands gripped throttles anxiously as they drew nearer to the rear elements of the enemy. By unspoken agreement they all went higher, gaining altitude and making themselves less audible to the ground, although nothing could really cover up the sound of two dozen Gyrocopters. Red Six first spotted the enemy, a wing of Gargoyles arising from the forest on the left flank, and a complicated contraption of small flags and strings started clattering as he sent the message, which was relayed across the line. Red One and Blue One, the wing leaders, sent their orders via the semaphore systems and both wings converged on Quarter Jack, keeping tight formation in front of him, to maximize firepower.

"Bloody hell!" Ragnar, or Blue Three cursed as he looked around and spotted three more Gargoyle wings coming from almost directly below the Gyrocopters. Since a wing was around a dozen units, they were now outnumbered two to one, if not more. Quickly he relayed the news, although most of the others already knew it. Ragnar double and triple checked his ammunition and gun as his stomach tensed up. This was not a good idea! Why couldn't the commander just have given the bloody message to some horseman? It was insane to fly into the grave like this! Then he got a grip on himself as he saw Blue One give the order to scatter. The Undead spread out, to make it harder for

the Gyrocopters to focus fire on them, and the Blue and Red wings divided, still keeping their units pretty close together. That blasted Gnome hung onto Red wing's tail like a baby to a mother's skirt, but it was no wonder, Ragnar thought irritably. Those useless fools had no stomach for war! Then he grabbed the handle for his gun as the first Gargoyles came within range. Blue four and six opened fire first, the crackling of their guns hurting his ears as he too started firing into the enemy formation. The vanguard of the Gargoyle wings fell quickly, their black blood spraying in the air, but then the undead forces converged, the howls and shrieks from the unholy creatures filling the air as they dove in to attack, using claws hard as steel to rip into the fragile wings of the gyrocopters. Already a couple of Gyrocopters were spinning out of control, plummeting towards the ground as smoke came from busted engines. Although no order was given, the gyrocopter pilots broke formation, scattering to draw enemies away from Quarter Jack. Ragnar looked over at his Gyrocopter, and saw the daft bugger standing up, messing around with that blasted contraption of his.

"What the hell is that gnome doing!" he roared as he rolled the gun lever like a maniac while steering with the other hand. Already his Gyrocopter was damaged from scratches and cuts, but he moved in closer to Quarter Jack, trying to keep the blasted vermin away from him. The rear contraption was giving out foul black smoke, liable to be visible for miles and miles, and Ragnar cursed again.

"Get in the bloody seat and go!" he yelled, but of course the stupid Gnome wouldn't be able to hear him.

Quarter Jack stood over the rear engine crying with frustration. The bloody thing wouldn't work! Why wouldn't it work now? It had bloody worked before! Even the ultimate repair method, a hard kick, did nothing more than make the engine cough pathetically. He knew his Gyrocopter had no driver, and was probably going all over the place, but he didn't really care. His mother's race's famous absent-mindedness kicked in, and he didn't even flinch as a Gargoyle screamed past him, surprised by the Gyrocopters erratic movements. His eyes and mind hit the "Emergency" keg of strong dwarven beer, which was pretty much standard in all the Gyrocopters, emergency being if you were stranded and needed to keep warm, or more common, if you needed a drink. The spout was just about the right width… Without hesitating he pulled the fuel line off the tank of green beer and broke off the tap on the beer keg, jamming the line into the hole, struggling to keep it from spilling all over. Just then the engine decided to give one last dying cough, but instead of the foul green beer, it got a mouthful of almost pure alcohol. It didn't roar to life as much as scream. Quarter Jack almost fell off as the Gyrocopter surged forward, rolling as it went almost straight up.

"Bloody hell!" Ragnar roared in terror as one of the propeller flaps flew straight over his head, barely missing his wings. The rear propeller assembly was shredding flaps left and right as the engine screamed. He could see the insane gnome struggling to get back in the seat, but then had to look away to take care of the enemy. Then a loud boom rocked the air, and his Gyrocopter was pushed away by the blast. Frantically he banked and turned to see if Quarter Jack was gone, and what he saw filled him with awe. The entire propeller assembly was gone, and instead an almost white tongue of flame was shooting out of the rear of the Gyrocopter. The blasted thing was rolling and wavering on its course, but finally Quarter Jack got into the seat and took control, and all that was left was the afterimage of the flame as the gnome sped away across the sky, leaving Gargoyles and Gyrocopters alike behind.

"Keep your mind on the mission, you crazy bugger," Ragnar grinned, "don't hit a mountain on the way!" Then he looked around quickly. The situation wasn't good at all. Less than half of the Gyrocopters remained, and the undead Gargoyles got reinforcement every minute from below. Blue One was nowhere in sight, and neither was Blue Two. Thinking he was the one in command, Ragnar started signaling to withdraw, the mission accomplished when he heard a horrifying shriek that chilled him to the bone. Terrified he looked around frantically, and saw the horrifying shape of the skeletal dragon rise from the darkened woods. The creature saw him and opened its giant maw, shrieking again. As his entire body grew numb from the horrible cold, Ragnar banked hard to face it and reached for the handle of his gatling gun. The engine redlined as he gave full throttle straight for the monster and started rolling the gun handle.

"For Khaz Modan!"

Dark Ritual

Lord Agnon twisted and turned on the small bunk bed, struggling to resist the dark voice in his head. A young sorceress, Iliana was trying her best to tend him, and had for most of the previous day, but there wasn't much she could do besides wipe his feverish brow and make sure the blanket was covering him. Lord Alando had gone back to bed hours ago, and now the whole outpost was quiet, the only sound the feverish babbling from the afflicted knight. They had moved him to isolation, so that his garbled shouting would not disturb others.

COME TO ME, LORD AGNON, the dark voice urged him in his feverish mind, and again he recoiled at the coldness of it. YOU KNOW YOU ARE MINE!

"No… no… never-" he protested feebly, but the dark voice was unrelenting.

I AM YOUR MASTER NOW! Then the voice grew strangely silent, as if waiting for something. Through his fevered dream Agnon could still sense something, a soft touch on his face as the tired sorceress tended him. Agnon exhaled in gratitude, glad that the dark voice was gone, but more so because the young elf woman was almost caressing him. He had seen her in a few lucid moments, and his heart and loins ached for her.

WOULD SHE BE HERE, WERE IT NOT FOR ME? The dark voice spoke, slyer now. WOULD SHE TOUCH YOU, OR EVEN LOOK AT YOU?

"Huh? No? What?" Agnon replied feverishly, confused by the sudden change.

I SEE YOUR HEART, AGNON, the voice said almost soothingly. I KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT YOU HUNGER FOR. Agnon didn't reply, knowing in his heart the guilt that lived there.

SO ARROGANT THEY ARE, SO... SUPERIOR, the voice said almost harshly. THEY WOULD NEVER EVEN LOOK AT YOU, WOULD THEY? DO YOU THINK SHE EVEN KNOWS YOUR NAME?

"She cares… she cares… otherwise…" Agnon protested, but the dark voice laughed in his head.

SHE OBEYS ORDERS, AGNON. WHY WOULD A 'HIGH' ELF CARE ABOUT A HUMAN LIKE YOU? Agnon screamed in his dream, his heart wrenched as he knew the truth of it. All of his life he had wanted… wanted to love those beautiful graceful elven women, but none of them had even looked at him.

THE STRONG DON'T BEG, NOR PLEAD, AGNON. THE STRONG TAKE WHAT THEY WANT! The voice roared in his mind, almost pushing him forward. TAKE HER! SHOW THE ARROGANT ELVES YOUR STRENGTH! I KNOW YOU WANT TO!

"No! I cannot!" he jerked in the bunk, making Iliana take a step backwards.

WHY NOT? I WILL STRENGTHEN YOU, GUIDE YOU, GIVE YOU EVERYTHING YOU WANT, LORD AGNON, the voice said soothingly. YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE ELVEN WOMEN YOU WANT. I WILL TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING!

"Ah, you are awake!" Iliana smiled widely at the human as he sat up in the bunk, the dark arm still twitching. His dark eyes locked on hers, and she felt a sudden fear in her chest. "Lord Agnon… what is wrong?" she asked timidly as he stood up on shaky legs.

Nobody heard her screams for help, nor the ugly sound of the dark fist breaking her resistance. When he was done, he looked down on the unconscious girl, her clothes ripped from her bruised body.

NOT SO HIGH AND MIGHTY NOW, IS SHE? The dark voice laughed in his mind. Agnon grinned darkly.

"No, no she is not," he said contentedly. He felt the dark satisfaction flow through his body, the chains that bound him previously gone. He could do whatever he wanted. Who was there to stop him anyway? Only himself, and he didn't feel like doing that anymore. The dark voice was waiting, expecting something from him, he felt.

"What is your will… master?" he tried as he looked around the room for clothes or armor. The voice told him, and he shuddered from the magnitude of the evil he had willfully committed himself to, but then he shrugged it off. What had people ever done for him? Hard work, sacrifice and pain, for what? So they could lock him away in some shed out of sight? No. He knew what the future held now. Anything he wanted, any elven woman he could want! Looking around he found a knife, and started the dark ritual. The elf girl was pulled to the middle of the floor, still unconcious, and her jugular cut open. With the blood flowing he started marking the runes around her rapidly dying body. His voice chanted ancient syllables, some which were so dark and terrible that even Gul'Dan had feared their use. The red glyphs and runes glowed in the dark, and the small shed was filled with an ominous humming, dark and dreadful.

The first part of the ritual completed, he started carving more glyphs in her skin, blood flowing more slowly from her now. His hands were drenched in it, and he smeared it on his chest, following the dark voice in his head. Every drop of blood spilled strengthened him, her eternal life stolen, and taken for his use. The dark arm was no longer twitching, but working perfectly, and the dark stain spread faster and faster, although he didn't notice and didn't care, he was euphoric with the surge of dark power from the ritual. Finally he reached the end, and as he chanted the last dark words, her eyes shot open, and she stared in abject horror at what he had done. Her mouth opened to scream, but the dark hand closed around her throat, and he bent down in an unholy parody of a kiss, her body convulsing with wracking pain as the ritual was completed. Her body aged in a second, firm skin turning wrinkled and saggy, but still he held her, until the equivalent of aeons turned her body to dust beneath him. The dark runes on the floor brightened their glow until they were painfully bright, and then flashed out, leaving scorched marks on the floor. Lord Agnon fell to the floor on top of the dust, his body wracked, not with pain, but extasy as the dark ritual burst through his body. After what seemed like an eternety, and yet far too short, he got up on his knees.

VERY GOOD, LORD AGNON, the dark voice spoke in approval. NOW YOU MUST LEAVE THIS PLACE BEFORE THEY FIND WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.

"Yes master," Lord Agnon nodded curtly and stood up. His entire body was blackened now, but he didn't care. All he cared about was the dark pleasure flowing through his body, and the image of the crying elf girl in his mind as he took her.

Rage of the Slayer

The Gyrocopter had arrived at the main camp, although nothing was salvageable of it now. The landing had not been very good, and it was a pure miracle that the dwarf had survived at all. He was now in the care of the priests, while the urgent message lay on the table in Jaina's house. Everyone of the leaders were gathered around it, discussing the situation. Despite everyone's rejection of the idea, Jaina was unrelenting in her wish to go through with it, and even though everyone told her no, she would not be budged. She did however concede to letting Thrall send an escort with her, after lots of arguing. He had chosen Akira, the second most skillful of his Blademasters, and although Jaina hadn't spoken to this Akira before, she felt safe in his presence. As the hour of the meeting approached, the other Alliance leaders continued their pleading to keep her from doing such a foolish thing, but to no avail. Luckily she had seen this place before, so she could use her magic to reach it, instead of having to travel by land. Jaina and Akira stepped into the ring of runes, and she cast the spell to take them to the meeting place.

Arthas grinned as he saw the glowing glyphs in the air, announcing Jaina's arrival. He had not really thought she would go through with it, but he was somehow glad she did. His forces were waiting close by, and he even had some Crypt fiends burrowed just a stone's throw from the meeting place. Two shapes shimmered in the center of the glyphs, a small female form and a much larger one. He wondered a bit about the second person, but he ignored it as Jaina fully appeared. She was so beautiful, by the Light! The old words stung a little bit, and he knew there was no light anymore. Not for him. He forced his eyes over on the companion, an orc dressed in pants, and wearing a sword on his hip. Hmm… some sort of guard, probably. Not really much to look at, he had seen bigger orcs. Something in the strangers eyes held him for a moment. It was a calm surety that he didn't expect from the savage brutes.

"Arthas!" Jaina exclaimed, something eager in her voice. "Arthas!" she said again and took a step forward, but the Orc put a hand on her arm, and she stopped.

"Hello Jaina," Arthas bowed jokingly, just like old times. "Long time no see. Didn't expect you to bring your dog with you," he mocked. Jaina looked at the Orc quickly and said something Arthas couldn't hear, but the orc just stared at him. Did he understand? Who cared? He shrugged.

"Arthas, come with us! I think I know how I can make you well again!" Jaina smiled hopefully, her eyes alight. Something flared in his chest, and he couldn't control it.

"Come with you? Why? So you can just walk away and leave me behind again?" he almost choked angrily.

"Huh? What? I thought we decided-" Jaina stammered.

"You decided! You!" he blurted out painfully. "I never said you couldn't study! I never said you would be locked in the castle! You decided!"

"Arthas… come with me," Jaina said pleadingly. "I won't turn away again, we can make everything all right! I will make sure of it, I promise! Just get rid of the sword, Arthas," she smiled uncertainly at him. "I will take care of everything, Arthas." Looking at her, his hand shivered as he slowly reached for the swordbelt. He had wanted her so much! So very very much! Just to hold her… just once more… he would give- And then his hand touched the sword handle, by accident or design, who knew? But the dark will of the Lich King flowed through him again, strengthening him. He saw her face fall as he grinned darkly, his hand clasping the sword and drawing it with a metallic hiss.

"No, Jaina. It is too late for that. I serve the Frozen Throne now." She saw her take a step back, and even though tears rolled down her cheeks, he didn't care. The orc reached for his own sword, drawing it. It was long and slim, and Arthas was surprised that any orc would use such an elegant weapon, but he grinned as he raised Frostmourne.

"You will come one way or the other, Human," the Orc said sternly as he moved into some sort of stance. "Lady Jaina wills it." Jaina touched his arm, apparently trying to hold him back, but the Orc shrugged her off, his eyes totally focused on Arthas.

"Come and take me then," Arthas laughed as he summoned the power, infusing Frostmourne with a greenish glow.

"Akira, don't!" Jaina said urgently, but the Orc shouted something and charged forward. Arthas grinned and flung the Death Coil at him, but just as the green flare was about to hit the charging orc, he shimmered and split into two!

"What the- NO!" Arthas shouted in horror as he heard Jaina scream, the Death Coil suffusing her body. Then he had to defend himself as the two orcs attacked. He parried one blade, but to his surprise the second went right through him as if it was nothing! He swung Frostmourne with two hands at the second orc, and it vanished in a flash. Illusion! Then he staggered backwards as the first one, the real Orc kicked him in the chest. He quickly glanced over at Jaina, and saw her leaning on her staff. Apparently she had gotten a spellshield up just in time, and he sighed in relief, then turned to face the orc. Time to teach this greenskin a lesson! The Orc, Akira or whatever Jaina had called him didn't seem to want any though, he charged forward again, the slim blade flashing as Frostmourne rose to meet the challenge. Arthas grinned as the blades clashed. The Orc was unarmored, while he himself wore full plate armor, and his sword was heavier. All the odds were stacked on his side, and even so, he had reinforcements just a shout away. Akira seemed to be horribly quick and agile though, the slim blade was moving so fast Arthas had a hard time to keep up. Even though Arthas had been trained since he was a boy this Orc was at least as good, if not better. Too late Arthas realized his mistake. The armor he wore was heavy, and it slowed him down, as well as the weight and heft of Frostmourne. Slowly and surely Akira brought him on the defensive, and then suddenly the orc spun around, his foot smashing into Arthas jaw, stunning him momentarily.

"HAI!" Akira yelled, and the blade drove into Arthas belly, through the armor.

"Arthas! No!" Jaina screamed as he staggered backward and dropped to his knees, one hand trying to stem the flow of blood. The orc seemed to wait for him to either get back on his feet or surrender, but he could wait for ever for that, Arthas raged in his head. "Come, I command you!" he called mentally, and the Orc took a few steps backwards as the Crypt Fiends emerged from the earth. Now the hoots and shrieks from the rest of the force could be heard in the distance as they rushed to aid their commander. At Arthas call, one of the Fiends moved up to him and he chanted the dark spell, his hand going to its ugly head. Akira grunted in wide eyed surprise as the Fiend dropped to the ground, its carapace charring into a husk as the blood stopped and Arthas grinned, standing up. Now Jaina and Akira was surrounded by five Crypt fiends, and they knew reinforcements were coming.

"Akira, come quickly!" Jaina urged as she started the teleport spell, but the orc raised his sword again, looking at the undead forces. Then at Arthas command one of the Fiends threw its web, holding her in place, breaking the spell. Frantically she cast another, a summoning spell, and a Water Elemental rose from the ground, ready to do her bidding.

"For the Horde!" Akira yelled and charged the Crypt Fiends, while Arthas laughed. They were his now, there was no escape! Grinning he sheathed Frostmourne to watch the show of the Orc struggling against the overwhelming odds. What he saw astounded him. Although he had seen the illusion before, it still surprised him when Akira shimmered. How the illusion was controlled he had no idea, but the Crypt Fiends couldn't figure out which one was real either. Quickly they fell, although the illusion was broken and Akira was bleeding badly. Now the rest of the undead forces were upon him, ghouls by the dozens and the horrifying abominations with their putrid, open sores. A flash of light distracted Arthas for a moment, and he realized that Jaina had gotten away. Then a horrifying roar of burning rage made him jerk around to stare at Akira. The orc was hopelessly outnumbered, wounded and weak, but something within him still kept him going, and the sense of control, of calmness was gone from him. Instead of the controlled, harnessed movements he had used before, the blade lashed out in wild raging strokes, wounding and killing enemies mercilessly. Finally the brute went down, and the ranks of undead closed in around him. Arthas knew it was over. Shame really, such a good warrior uselessly wasted like that. He made a mental note to keep the blade, honoring the Orc's skill.

DA 12 - Unsung Heroes

Thrall sat in his barracks, mulling over the recent report that had come from the dwarven messenger. Jaina had just left for her perhaps ill adviced meeting with Prince Arthas. Roka was still here, and they discussed the options. It didn't look good, actually worse than he had imagined. The Burning Legion was advancing fast, with large forces, supported by the Undead Scourge. From the sightings of the dwarven pilot the enemy had just ravaged their way north, leaving nothing alive. The Fragile alliance stood little chance of defeating them, the terrain was not to their advantage, and there was not much holding the alliance together anymore. And now they apparently had a third faction in the mix; the Night Elves, or Kaldorei as they were apparently called. The problem with them seemed to be their love for nature, but they should be smart enough to realize that the alliance only took the resources they needed, while the Burning Legion destroyed everything just to watch things die. Grumbling Thrall stood up, pacing the floor.

"You think they will reconsider, Warchief?" Roka asked as she saw the grim look on his face.

"I don't see why not," he murmured in reply. "They have nothing to win by fighting two fronts, and neither do we. Whatever their problem is I am sure we can work something out when we are safe." Roka smiled invitingly at him.

"Why don't we let it rest until tomorrow? We both need sleep, don't we?" Thrall grinned at her.

"Sleep, was it?" Then he frowned again and went to the door. "Jubei, get me that elven spearwoman, Kiniara or whatever her name was," he commanded, and Jubei bowed. Then he turned back to pacing.

"You can never let go, can you?" Roka frowned. Thrall only grunted, but she knew he would never give up worrying or striving for the Horde. In fact it was one of the things she admired so much, just… just not ALL the time!

Grikk and Gneiss sat on a log outside the Warmaids barracks. Kiniea was inside, probably sleeping by now. It was a cool night, and the stars was out. They didn't speak much, they had caught up on things earlier, and now they just sat in peace. Gneiss had a small jug of Dwarven beer, but after the first sip Grikk had declined, so the dwarf had it all to himself. They both sat up straight as they saw Jubei approaching, and Gneiss put the jug down.

"Where is your companion, the elven woman?" Jubei asked in orcish, and Grikk motioned to the door of the warmaids barracks. Jubei nodded and went over to the flap that covered the entrance.

"I wouldn't do that, lad," Gneiss grinned. "The girls are in a foul mood tonight." Jubei gave him a blank stare and then pulled the flap aside and went in. Grikk and Gneiss moved closer to the opening to get in on the fun, but all they caught was some whispering, and then Jubei came out, a sleepy looking Kiniea in tow. Gneiss and Grikk quickly stepped away from the entrance, trying to act casual, but Jubei grinned.

"Expected a riot? I am too old for that," he chuckled. "Besides, my blade is all the woman I need." That was all he said before he led Kiniea quickly to Thrall's barracks. Gneiss and Grikk stared after them, then sat down again. Just before Kiniea disappeared through the door she shot a nervous glance at them, and Grikk smiled widely, urging her on. The door closed behind her.

"What is going on, Grikk?" Gneiss asked curiously, but Grikk just shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know, Gneiss," he said as he dared another sip at the strong Dwarven beer. Ugh! The taste hadn't improved much, and Gneiss chuckled.

"This is for real men, not little boys," he teased, and Grikk grinned.

"We Orcs don't get courage from bottle, we carry it in our hearts!" he jibed.

"Ach, it's not courage, lad, but I can't shoot straight unless I had a pint!" Gneiss laughed. Grikk smiled, but as he looked at the old Dwarf's hand he could see that the faint tremors were gone.

Jaina reappeared in the spellcircle she had constructed in her hut. After the faint spinning and queasiness faded she sank to her knees, holding herself and biting back the sobs. She had hoped so much to get Arthas back! Maybe what he said was true? Maybe he was lost because she had not wanted him? Oh, Antonidias, how I wish you were still with me, she thought to herself as she steeled herself and stood up. You would know what to do. Wiping the tears that ran silently down her face she prepared herself to confer with Thrall. The presence of Arthas and a group of undead so close to their base was disturbing. Also, she would have to tell of Akira's fall, and she didn't look forward to that. One last look in the mirror and she set out for Thrall's hut.

Grikk sat alone now, Gneiss had fallen asleep, his hand still holding the jar of beer. A jingling sound made him turn his head, and he saw a footman, fully armored coming towards the Warmaids hut. He had his helmet off, carrying it in his hand, and Grikk judged the man to be very young, maybe not even 20. One thing was sure, if the Warmaids knew he was there, he wouldn't reach 21. Grikk nudged Gneiss, who grumbled something but finally sat up. His eyes widened as he saw the human.

"Are you crazy lad? Leave before they kill you!" he whispered urgently. The man just kept approaching, smiling slightly.

"I am looking for the elven woman, is she here?" he said in a clear voice, and Gneiss groaned and looked at Grikk, who just shook his head in awe at the human's foolishness. Then they both turned in alarm as they heard the door open behind them, and Riksha came out, carrying her waraxe, followed by the rest of the maidens. The Footman's eyes widened, and Gneiss saw him swallow hard, but he still came forward. Hah, at least the lad was brave, or maybe he WAS insane.

"You look for Kiniea? Why? To give her 'gift'?" Riksha snarled. "We have gift for you, human!" she said and raised the axe. The other Warmaids growled, their weapons ready in eager hands.

"Please, I mean no harm. I came to apologize," the man stuttered, but doggedly standing his ground.

"We accept no apologies!" Riksha growled and stepped forward, the axe raised to strike, but Grikk blocked her, his throat tight as he knew she would get angry with him.

"Stop. He is young and foolish. Let him be, and maybe we can see what this human thinks honor is," he told her in Orcish, a half hesitant smile on his lips. Riksha glowered at him for a moment, but then smiled wickedly in return.

"You are right, let's see if this human whelp knows of courage and honor," she replied in Orcish before signaling to her warmaids to surround the footman. He stood there, surrounded by the larger Orcs, their faces grim and hostile. Gneiss stood awkwardly on the side, not sure what was going on but not liking it very much.

"You want apologize, human? Speak!" Grikk growled in his most intimidating voice, and the footman turned to him.

"Uh… pardon me, sir, but I was looking for-" he started, but Riksha cut him of brusquely.

"No speak to elf, you speak to us!" she growled, taking a step closer and towering over him.

"What? Excuse me, but-" the footman started again, a little fire in his voice, but was pushed sideways by one of the warmaids.

"You no speak apology? You die!" she growled threateningly at him as he recovered just in time to be pushed the other way by another. He crashed into Grikk, losing his helmet on the ground.

"You no speak on training field, human," Riksha growled threateningly. "Why not? Human scared?"

"I'll be damned before I apologize to a bunch of bullying Orcs!" the footman growled angrily, but was pushed again, harder this time, and as he staggered backward one of the warmaids moved aside and tripped his leg, making him fall heavily on his back. Grikk winked and gestured to Gneiss to assure him just as the Human got on his feet angrily.

"Right! Which one of you bastards is first?!" he roared and drew his sword. The warmaids raised their weapons, eager to take the offer, but Grikk raised his hand as he laughed. The footman clenched his teeth and took a step forward, the sword ready.

"We no need apology, human," Grikk grinned. "We just need to see honor. Kini not here, with warchief. She be back soon."

"Yeah, right! Tell another one, won't you?" the footman growled sarcastically, and Grikk turned to Gneiss, not understanding the meaning of the man's words.

"It's true, lad, Kiniea is with Thrall, the orc warchief," Gneiss replied. Grikk looked between them, and something clicked in his mind.

"You say me lie?" he growled and took a step forward. Gneiss moved forward sure of bloodshed this time.

"Look what Thrall gave me!" Kiniea's voice interrupted them, and they all turned towards her. She was walking beside one of the biggest wolves Gneiss had ever seen, a monster that could eat a whole horse, and she looked very small beside it. It kept nudging her side with it's head, pushing her off balance and making small whining sounds, while Kiniea alternately scolded it and talked soothingly to it in what Gneiss assumed to be elvish. He heard Grikk say something in orcish that sounded both surprised and nervous, and then the orcs moved forward, weapons held in wary hands.

"Get away, Kini, that is Bloodfang!" Grikk said urgently as the Dire wolf growled at them and got in front of her protectively. "He is crazy wolf!" and the Warmaids voiced their agreement, but Kiniea knelt beside the big head and cradled it. The wolf licked her face quickly, and then stared at the Orcs, baring its vicious teeth and snarling.

"I think her name is Starsong, and she is not crazy," Kiniea said. "Are you, Starsong? You are a good wolf, aren't you?" she continued in a soothing voice, and the wolf barked, the hair on it's back going down again.

Gneiss looked at the apprehensive orcs and sidled up to Grikk.

"Crazy? Looks fine to me," he whispered. Grikk looked at him.

"Wolf won't howl at the moon. Wolf crazy. Last Orc who try to ride lost hand," he murmured.

Now the human footman walked towards Kiniea and the wolf, sword in hand, but suddenly he stuck the tip of it into the ground and knelt on one knee.

"I am Geir of Tymsbrook, and I wish to apologize for my fellows and pledge myself to your protection," he stated in a formal manner. Kiniea looked surprised and somewhat amused as she stood up.

"Oh, by the hammer and forge, save us from noble heroes," Gneiss muttered irritably, and Grikk grinned, remembering another incident a few days past. If the footman heard it, he didn't show it as he remained bowed, his eyes on the ground in front of him.

"Apology accepted," Kiniea replied just as formally, "but I don't need a guardian, Geir, I can fight for myself." At this all the Warmaids grinned, but the footman was not to be denied.

"Aye, ye can Milady, but my Honor demands that I keep you safe."

"Your honor is a good thing, Sir, but I have my own," Kiniea grinned.

"Even so, Milady, I cannot let you-" Geir began, and Gneiss groaned and put his hand over his eyes in despair as Kiniea took a step forward.

"You can't let me what? You think to tell me what I can and cannot do?" Kiniea said in her most arrogant elvish way. The Dire wolf growled warningly, as if responding to Kiniea's thoughts.

"Give it up while you still can, boy," Gneiss said in a half whisper as Kiniea glared at him.

"I apologize for my rudeness, Milady," Geir said doggedly, "but I cannot risk your safety."

"Oh, whatever!" Kiniea exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation.

"My sword is yours!" Geir replied, grinning in victory as he stood up and sheathed his blade.

Jubei stood alone on the training field, looking at the forest. He had gotten the news of Akira's valiant death, and he grieved where nobody could see him. Smiling sadly as the echoes of Akira's quick laughter came to his mind, he pulled his blade for the final salute. Akira had been a very skilled warrior, albeit rash and flighty, so his 'dance', a pattern of movements and steps were loose and flowing, quick and light, unlike Jubei's own, which was more solid, with broad deep stances. Who would do his own dance, when he was gone?

The thought lingered for a moment until Jubei focused on his blade as he held it in front of him. His breathing deepened as he slowly moved his feet and arms according to the pattern, a little uncertainly at first, since the 'feel' of it was different from his own way of doing things. When he was done, he immediately repeated it, faster this time as his surety grew. Faster and faster he moved, every jump and leap flowing smoothly, his heart pumping and his breathing fast and shallow, fitting the dance. Soon, as his body learned the steps, he didn't have to think about them as he moved, immersed in the dance. This was what Akira's soul and spirit felt like, light and full of life, not dark and brooding as his own, and Jubei could almost feel his friend beside him, his quick smile and happy laugh always ready to lighten Jubei's own grim mood.

When the last movement was complete, Jubei stared at the sky, his blade pointing down to the earth. Smiling through the tears, he raised it towards the sky as the moon shone upon it.

"Bring us Honor on the other side, my friend," he whispered as he sheathed the sword.

Tyrian walked the patrol, torch in hand, as he had so many times before. Checking the doors, waving to the guards in the towers as always, he wondered again what the point was. They were forgotten here, the Scourge had already passed, and after the excitement of the Gyrocopters it had all gone back to the same dull grind. The Gyrocopters had not returned, probably all dead and the mission failed, but there wasn't all that much they could do about it now. Hopefully things were going well in the main camp now. His wife and little girl had gone ahead along with the other women and children, while he stayed here to guard against the Legion. Would he see them again? His beautiful wife Lisil and daughter Hildir, both beautiful and happy go lucky. He too was lucky to have them in his life, he smiled. Then he shivered in fear as an unnatural darkness engulfed him, filling him with nameless dread, and he barely had time to see how the darkness swallowed the light from his torch, dimming it as if it fed on it before a coarse hand came over his helmet and he felt the sharp edge of a dagger pressed against his throat. Eyes darting around in terror, he saw the darkened arm of Agnon! A low moan of horror and fear came from his throat as he knew that his family would have to do without him.

"Where is the armory?" Agnon's dark and cold voice by his ear made him shiver. He motioned with his hand, pointing at a building almost in the middle of the camp, and he thought he felt Agnon sigh in annoyance. Then the hand on his helmet tightened, and the blade pushed in and pulled back, cutting his throat. As he convulsed he heard the former knight chuckle.

"That's all right, I can just borrow yours," was the last thing he heard before the darkness took him.

Lord Alando woke up in a cold sweat, memories of a dark dream fading fast as he reached for the Light, letting it fill his soul and nourish him. But still there was a dark feel in the air, something he had never felt before. Almost immediately his thoughts went to the knight in the infirmary, the stranger with the black arm. Grumbling he sat up and reached for his pants as the eerie feeling in his heart nagged him to get moving.

"What's he doing at the armory again?" one of the tower guards commented idly.

"Hmm? Oh, he is probably just gonna mess with the weapons again," another replied as they saw the footman open the door and stepping into the armory. "Easier to dream of knighthood when you can play with the armor, eh?" he chuckled.

Lord Alando stared in horror at the dark sigils on the floor of the infirmary hut, the blood spattered all over, and the vague humanlike pile of ashes in the middle of it. Lord Agnon was nowhere in sight. While he had heard of dark unholy magics, and even fought it on the field of battle, he had never seen or felt anything like this. The dark energies that emanated from the glyphs were still very tangible, at least to Paladins and other followers of the light. From the size of the ashen figure, he assumed that it was not the black armed knight, but someone else. Perhaps the Sorceress? Knowing that he would not be able to withstand the dark atmosphere much longer, he pushed the bed closer to the wall and threw his torch on it. The whole building would have to be burned to purify it, and after assuring himself that it would catch on fire, he closed the door and hurried towards the gate of the camp, knowing that Agnon would seek to escape.

Lord Agnon laughed as he stepped out of the armory, now carrying a vicious spiked morningstar and a heavy shield. It was too easy! This new darkness that shrouded him seemed to respond to his thoughts as it moved with him. The guards in the towers didn't seem to realize that their friend was now lying behind some building, so he would probably be able to bluff his way out. Grinning inside the helmet he casually walked towards the gate, the darkness trailing him.

"You'll go no further, fiend!" a voice called out behind him, and he turned in surprise. The commander of the camp, Alando was running towards him, the heavy maul raised. A look back at the towers told him that the guards were now alert, and his chance for a silent escape gone. Damn, just the thing the Lich King had warned him about! Growling he raised the shield, readying his morningstar. He could feel the emanations from the Paladin's Divine aura, just as he probably felt the darkness around Agnon.

"A duel then? If you Paladin's honor such things," he spat as he heard the crank of the ballista being turned. Soon they would be able to shoot him down unless he could avert them somehow.

"Don't speak to me of honor after what you have done!" Alando sneered and raised his hammer to the sky. "An Corp Xen!" but as the bolt of pure light streaked towards Agnon, he raised his shield and bellowed his own dark incantation.

"An Lor Sanct!" and the shield was suffused with darkness. When the Holy Bolt hit the darkness, it was swallowed whole, disappearing as if it never existed. Where did the words come from? He didn't know, they were just there in his mind, waiting for him to utter them. Quickly he turned towards the towers, his morning star waving like a wand.

"An Lor Grav!" he chanted and heard the panicky shouts of the guards as an unnatural inky blackness filled the towers, blinding them. He turned as he heard another chant from the Paladin, and grinned as whatever spell it was struck the field of darkness surrounding the towers impotently. Now he could see just the tiniest sliver of fear in the Paladin's eyes, and he laughed.

"It is midnight now, Paladin, your light is gone," he laughed as he stepped forward, brandishing his morning star. "You stand alone, your guards helpless children in the darkness. Will you fight me now, steel on steel, with no magic?" he challenged.

"I don't know what Arthas did to you, fiend, but I will send you back to the grave!" Alando cursed as he readied his maul. Agnon laughed.

"Back to the grave? I am not dead!"

"You will be, fiend, you will be!" Alando roared and ran forward, swinging his maul. As Agnon raised his shield, the powerful impact threw him backwards, the shield shivering and almost breaking from the strain. Damn, he hadn't realized the Paladin was so strong! Alando pushed his advantage, another mighty swing almost crushing his head had he not ducked. The swings were wild, furious, desperate… he wants to end it quickly, Agnon realized as he moved backwards to regain his balance. Avoiding another wild swing he saw his chance and bashed his shield into Alando's face making him stagger backwards, blood running from his nose. Off balance, the Paladin raised his maul to ward off the blow that would normally come to the head, but Agnon shifted the swing and the morningstar crashed into Alando's knee instead, crumpling the armor and shattering the bone beneath. The Paladin screamed as he fell to the ground, his leg useless. Agnon took a step forward, putting his foot on the shaft of the maul, holding it down.

"You shall not have my soul nor body, fiend!" Alando croaked, clenching his teeth against the pain. "The light will keep me safe!" Agnon grinned wickedly inside the helmet.

"That's okay, I have no use for weaklings anyway," he chuckled as he swung the morningstar.

DA XIII – The Call of the Earthmother

Quarterjack blinked his eyes against the smoke as he absently batted the cinders out of the remains of his beard. After 15 tries he had managed to create a miniature replica of the flame engine that had thrown him almost half way across Kalimdor. Trying to adjust the flame to make it either more or less powerful was not a big success. The Dwarven beer was just too powerful, and if he closed off the flow the internal pressures in the tank and fuel chamber became too high. Conclusion: Once you started the engine, it would flame until it was good and done. That wouldn't do. Irritably he went around the table to where his drawings and calculations were. He had tried various combinations of green beer and the good stuff, to see if that would make the roaring jet flame more controllable. Maybe two separate fuel tanks would do the trick? Then the pilot could adjust the mix to the speed needed. Outside the door he heard a crash and the gibbering laughter of Goblins. How was he to work in such a racket! Those blasted little buggers had no idea what great inventions they were disturbing with their stupid pranks! Angrily he stood up so fast he bumped the table, almost tipping over the inkwell as he headed for the door.

Any normal person would call the large room hell. It was full of smoke, loud metallic hammering, and various shouting and loud talking. The roaring furnaces gave everything a reddish, almost eerie glow, and people milled about or worked hard. Dwarves and Orcs worked at the anvils side by side, heavy hammers pounding red hot metal, groups of trolls cut and carved wood, and the infernal Goblins were running amok with their own devilish inventions, most involving gunpowder, or "Boomsand" as they called it. Dwarven smiths and artificers sang their working songs, while the Orcs sang their own with their rough deep voices. While the words and melodies were different, the rhythm was pretty much similar. In the din of the workshop it all sounded awful though. This place was the closest thing Quarterjack had ever come to heaven, and he still smiled like a fool when he saw it. After he had been patched up from his crash, they had taken him here and given him his own little room where he could do his research in peace, but he found himself spending a lot of time just in this big room, grinning. So much knowledge and imagination, all gathered in this room! It was amazing the things they could create!

"You be getting somewhere, mon?" a voice caught his attention, and he turned and looked up. The troll Vil'Jin grinned at him, wiping his hands on some dirty old rag.

"Ach, no, the blasted mix won't work right!" Quarterjack grumbled. Then he jumped as a handful of firecrackers went off by his feet, and he heard the cackling laughter of Goblins scurrying away. "You blasted buggers! I'll crack your heads!" he roared in rage and took after them as they teased him.

"Kaboom! Ahahahah! Kaboom!"

"No, no chasing them," Vil'Jin grinned and held him back. "Here," he said and put a small stone in his hand. "Watch!" With this, he narrowed his eyes, aiming at one of the little imps, and threw his own rock. One of the Goblins squealed and fell, the rock hitting him right in the head. Curling up into a ball, it started crying pitifully, but was brutally kicked aside by an Orc as it blocked the path to the furnace. The goblin crashed against a table leg and lay still.

"Bloody hell, that was cruel!" Quarterjack stared aghast at the large Orc who started heating a piece of metal disinterestedly. He himself would have just given the goblins a well deserved ding on the ear.

"Nah, Gobbers everywhere, breed like rats," Vil'Jin laughed. "One dead, five more take his place. Who cares?" Quarterjack breathed a sigh in relief as the goblin squirmed for a moment and then scurried off.

"Well, that's one who won't bother me again, I think," he grinned sheepishly at the bigger Troll. Vil'Jin chuckled.

"Gobbers never learn, mon. You keep rock handy."

The ground shook and trees shivered as they marched. The low rumble of a storm went ahead of them, announcing their presence. Fifty of them had fallen during the long trek, and only about 150 remained. Occasionally a bellow would sound from the lead, and it was echoed and repeated down the line. The bellow was not just an encouragement, but also a reinforcement of herd spirit and familiarity. Unlike the eastern Bloodhoof tribe led by Cairne the herd was made up of the loosely knit western tribe, and the outsiders, the loners, outcasts and others who preferred to live alone or in small family groups. They had all heard the call of the Earth mother, the urging to head north into the shadowy forests around Mount Hyjal. What would happen there was anybody's guess, but getting there was paramount. Above them the shrill shrieks of a few young nests of Wyverns called out every so often as they circled warily, watching the area for any further sign of the dark army that had decimated them earlier. They too had heard the call of the Earthmother, and although they did not speak any comprehensible language, they had joined up with the Tauren, and they used various tones that were universal for caution, warning, bloody hell we are in trouble, and so on.

Tam 'Bonehead' stubbornly plodded onward leading the herd, occasionally bellowing to urge the rest on. The heavy tribal totem was uncomfortable and unfamiliar on his back, and weighed him down. He would be the first to admit that he wasn't leader material. He was the second son of Marn Thunderaxe, and his older brother was set to take the totem when their father passed away. This had not happened though. They had both fallen in that horrifying attack of the dark army. Anyone would have been a better choice than Tam. He had spent his young years running about chasing the females, or cows, and just loafing around doing nothing. He was lazy, rather dim witted (according to the others, who gave him his nickname) and irresponsible. But that was okay, for he was the second son. But he had picked up his father's halberd and totem, and since everyone knew what they had to do anyway, nobody really cared that much. Things would probably change later, and someone else would take the totem from him, but for now, the rest of the herd smiled amusedly and let him do it. But it wasn't all the same to Tam. He had picked up the totem, and as long as he carried it, he would do his very best to make his father's spirit proud, and make up for all those years where all he did was disappoint him. The totem was much heavier than it seemed though. Not just wood, but the horrible responsibility weighed him down. He was responsible for the whole herd, every bull, cow and calf among them, and if anything went wrong, it would be his fault. No wonder his father's face had always been so drawn and haggard.

Raising his head to look forward he saw the looming forest ahead of them. Bellowing hoarsely he pushed himself to walk faster. Half way there! He knew they were tired, he had kept them going for two days without sleep, and very short rests to eat and drink, but if he could keep going, so could they. His tired ears heard a lessening of the rumbling that told him they were falling behind, and he bellowed again, stomping his feet a little harder on the ground to give them that extra boost to keep going.

Springflower irritably pushed forward, ignoring the admiring eyes of the bulls around her. Her brother was insane! How could he even consider entering the forest in his condition? The dumb bonehead was bleeding from badly bandaged wounds, and he was dragging his hooves along the ground. Even the handle of the halberd was dragging a long line where he walked. The rest of the herd had slowed down in respect for his stubborn will to lead them well, but finally they had all stopped as his steps became more and more stumbling. Springflower rolled her eyes as she heard the weak croak he uttered to lead them on, and saw him ponderously stamp his hooves.

"Tam, what are you doing?" she asked irritably as she came up to his side. He barely looked at her, his head bent as he dragged onward.

"Must keep going! We are almost there!" he said hoarsely, still forcing himself onward.

"But you can hardly walk, Tam! You have to rest!" she told him sternly. This made him glance up at her, but he increased his pace and kept going, another stubborn croak to the herd.

"I am not tired!" he said, but it sounded weak even to himself. "Father would not rest!" Springflower felt the tears well up in her eyes, thinking of their father, but grabbed Tam's shoulder.

"You are not father, Tam!" she rebuked, but he shrugged her off.

"Must keep going. Very close now. Father would not rest," he said, more so to encourage himself than anything. Springflower stood there and watched him struggle on, leaning on the halberd. Stubborn stupid… bonehead! She cursed under her breath.

"Look, Tam," she said pleadingly as she caught up to him again. "The calves have been walking for two days! They are hungry and tired. We must stop, at least for a while, don't you think?" she grabbed his shoulder and squeezed it gently.

"Oh? Calves? Of course," Tam answered and turned around, looking at the herd. They had prepared for rest, the bulls surrounding the cows and calves in the middle. Good, Tam thought. Good defensive position. He staggered back to them, his sister grinning behind him.

"We rest for a while, eat, then keep going," he told them as he grabbed some food from one of the carts, eating it without really tasting it. He didn't notice the grins around him, nor his sister rolling her eyes.

Quarterjack followed Vil'Jin to the Troll section of the hall. The smells from their area was almost overpowering, a pungent and cloying scent of herbs, oils and smoke. The other Trolls nodded to him as they entered, and Vil'Jin led him to his own little corner. There were several clay vessels there, most of them with some sort of divider in the middle, making two sections.

"I found something that maybe help you, mon," Vil'Jin grinned. "You want fire that doesn't die? I make some. You look. You see, okay?" and he pulled two clay bowls to the edge of the table. Quarterjack obediently watched as the troll started mixing oils and other ingredients in first one bowl, then another recipe in the second bowl. Then he held the bowls down so the dwarf could see inside them. "One bowl, nothing dangerous. If little troll eat, little troll get belly hurt, nothing more, okay? Other bowl, nothing bad, if little troll eat, little troll throw up, then fine, okay?" Quarterjack rolled his eyes impatiently, and Vil'Jin grinned. Very very carefully he poured some of the thick sludge from the first bowl into one of the chambers of a divider pot, and then some of the lighter fluid in the other chamber.

"Ah, some sort of chemical reaction going there?" Quarterjack looked more interested now. Vil'Jin carefully put a lid on the pot and smiled. Then he suddenly threw the small pot against the wall, where it shattered. Whatever the two mixes were, together they erupted in a vile black smoke. As the smoke cleared, Quarterjack stared at the wall, where the mixture burned.

"There, bucket, hurry, put it out!" Vil'Jin urged him, and Quarterjack rushed to grab the bucket and splashed the water on the burning patch of wall. The flames dimmed, but as soon as the water flowed away down the wall, the flames rose again. Vil'Jin and the other Trolls laughed as Quarterjack stood there staring.

"Fire no die until all mix gone, okay? Make big pots for catapults!" Vil'Jin cackled enthusiastically. Quarterjack shuddered as the imagined burning bodies running around in chaos. How horrible! He had to give it to the trolls though, when it came to organic alchemy they had no equal. He had seen some of their salves and mixtures after coming to this workshop, and some of the things they did was amazing. One particular salve would heal wounds so fast it was unbelievable, and he had even seen the trolls testing it by cutting deep into their own flesh and then smearing the salve on it. Wounds that would take days or even weeks to heal were fine in a matter of minutes.

One of the dwarven smiths had told him about the Orcs too. Apparently they were very primitive, and had lived as hunters and gatherers for several thousand years before coming to Azeroth. Metal had been scarce and hard to come by, so they had used wood, bone, leather and stone. That was all they really needed back then. Hell, even in the first war the most advanced weaponry they had was made of bronze and poor iron. But they learned very quickly, given the chance and the supply of material. The smith had told him about the first time he had seen an Orc smith work. It was horrible. The big oaf had grabbed a lump of iron and a hammer, and then pounded the metal brutally without heating it up even halfway properly. You could almost hear the metal screaming in pain. However, with the guidance and tutoring of the Dwarven smiths, the Orcs had learned at an alarming rate, and they were at least the equal of humans in intelligence. However, they still retained their racial way of thinking, and hadn't shown much interest in the more advanced arts of metallurgy or machinery. The dreaded Catapults that had wreaked havoc in the wars were still made the same way as they had always done it. Heavy logs roughly cut and strapped together with leather and rope, mounted on wheels and dragged by either slaves or the massive Kodos they had found in the Barrens. Their armor were at least an inch thick of metal, and heavy as lead. It was rumored that the infamous armor of Orgrim Doomhammer, now worn by the Warchief Thrall was mostly bronze and iron, heavy thick sheets of it. However, just because they were new to metallurgy and stuck to basic designs didn't mean that they were lazy or complacent. Quarterjack had seen one of the old war axes that had been brought over from Draenor. It was a simple stone tied to a wooden handle. But the stone had been so expertly and meticously cut that it was as smooth as polished glass and sharp as a razorblade. It was amazing considering all they had to work with was other stones at that time. It was hanging on the wall now, a showpiece to the craftsmanship of the Horde. The only thing that broke the pattern of the Orcs technology was the swords of Thrall's guards. The shape was thin, long, and slightly curved. As far as Quarterjack knew, no other race or group on Azeroth used a similar type of weapon. These blade masters must have learned smithing somewhere, probably taken dwarven prisoners to teach them how, and then made their own kind of blade. They had learned the benefits of folding the metal to make it stronger and more supple, but like the master craftsman who made the stone axe, they hadn't settled for just good enough. Even the dwarves settled for maybe a hundred foldings, but these Orcs had gone far beyond that. Each blade was folded somewhere between two and four THOUSAND times. That must have taken months! He could imagine how strong those swords were, and the care and attention to detail that had gone into their creation.

"This help you mon?" Vil'Jin asked, bringing Quarterjack back from his thoughts.

"Well…" Quarterjack answered uncertainly, not wanting to disappoint the Troll. "It is not exactly what I am looking for, but I am sure I can find some use for it. How did you do those mixes again?"

Thrall and Roka watched the small group leave in the early hours of the morning. The elven spear woman had been given a saddle for the wolf, and although uncertain and a little nervous, she was riding it awkwardly. It came equipped with the nets that the raiders used, and although she didn't know how, they might come in handy. A broad and heavy scimitar was also sheathed on it, although it was probably far too heavy for her to use. With her walked Grikk and Gneiss, and some human Footman that they hadn't seen before. The night elf women, armor and weapons returned also went with them, since they were of course the main purpose for the trip.

"They are going to their deaths, aren't they?" Roka whispered as the small party disappeared among the trees. Thrall sighed.

"What else can I do?" he muttered and looked at her. "Maybe they are lucky and are well out of it when the Burning Legion catches up with us." He put his arm around her shoulders and turned away, striding into his hut, the ever stoic Jubei watching him.

A low growl, sounding both like a warning and happy at the same time came out of the bushes as the small party left the war camp behind. Starsong, Kiniea's wolf growled a challenge in return, and Kiniea felt the wolf's muscles tense. Smiling she caressed it's head soothingly, and it relaxed somewhat, but still stared intently at the bushes. Anea laughed and called her panther forward.

"What the hell is this?" Geir gasped and put his hand on the hilt of his sword as the large black panther emerged, excitedly rubbing against Anea.

"No fear, lad," Gneiss grinned at him. "Orcs are not the only people who ride wild beasts," he chuckled. Apparently satisfied that the panther would not rip them all to pieces Geir took his hand off the sword and moved closer to Kiniea. Both elf women soothed their beasts and hesitantly Starsong went forward to sniff this new addition to the party. Apparently they decided not to fight, and Anea mounted her panther with a happy smile. Onaya also smiled and caressed the panthers head.

"Finally I feel safe again," Anea muttered in elven, and Onaya grinned.

"We must keep going," Grikk grumbled. He hefted his war axe grimly. "We have little time. Soon the demons will come, and we must reach the Night elves and ask their aid." Anea looked at him as he spoke, still not too clear on what he was saying, but he sounded angry. Did he miss the woman that didn't want him? She had both dreaded and wanted to see him again, to spend time with him, knowing how much it would hurt, but unable to help herself. Onaya smiled uncertainly at her, trying her best to support, but what the hell did she know? She was just a kid!

Grikk took off running at an easy trot, and the others followed silently. Uncertain on how to really ride Kiniea held back on the reins, but Starsong wouldn't let some overgrown cat get the better of her, and bolted forward, almost throwing Kiniea off the saddle.

"Whoa! Hey! Hang on here!" Kiniea squealed in elven, but the wolf didn't listen, and Kiniea saw something that could be a grin on the wolf's face. Oh, you think so, Starsong? She thought, taking up the challenge. With a deathly grip on her Spetum so she wouldn't drop it she leaned forward, determined to show the wolf she wasn't some little kid you could mess around with. Once she got over the initial surprise, the wolf was actually very easy to ride. She could feel the muscles move and the rhythmic bounding as it surged forward, easily catching up to the others. She caught Grikk's approving grin and the astonished look on the human's face as she drew up to their side.

Anea frowned irritably as they ran. Grikk and Gneiss were bad enough, but this metal clad human was horrible. The armor he wore clanged with every step, almost shouting their presence around for all to hear, and she could see birds taking off as the party crashed through the forest. If there were any enemies around, they would have plenty of time to set up an ambush before they even got there. Still annoyed she led the party north-west towards a settlement she knew was maybe a day away. Hopefully the elves there would be well disposed to discussing a treaty at least, and from there they could reach the main settlement with owls or something. She just hoped that Priestess Tyrande Whisperwind, the leader of the sentinels would at least think about it.

Springflower woke up and looked around. Most of the herd was awake, silently preparing to start moving again, and she stood up. Where was he? Oh, there. She moved up to her brother and smiled, but there was no reaction. He was still standing where he had stood before the rest, leaning on the halberd and watching the herd, guarding them.

"Hey, it is time to get moving, Tam," she urged him, and then realized that he was asleep, standing on his feet!

"He has been asleep like that for the last 3 hours," Silverbrook whispered behind her with a chuckle.

"He is trying so hard to live up to what father was," Springflower told her friend. She shook his shoulder, and Tam almost fell forward as he woke up, but caught himself, looking around.

"Right, we ready to go?" he smiled tiredly as he looked at the herd, and they all stood up and packed away the equipment. Resolutely Tam turned towards the distant forest and started walking, the herd coming up behind him, calves and cows in the center with the protective ring of bulls around them. Tam was heartened by the way the herd moved as one, and he bellowed loudly in encouragement as he picked up the speed. The answering calls from the bulls assured him that nobody was straggling behind, and he hefted the halberd excitedly. He was doing it! He was leading the herd!

Kiniea breathed deeply, sucking in the fresh and vibrant air in the forest. Her friends were with her, and they were again trekking through the woods. Starsong rumbled in agreement as she kept loping gently along the path. How could she ever have locked herself up in a room with a book when she could have been free to run wild like this? Kiniea frowned. Starsong felt her elation, and picked up the speed somewhat, pulling ahead of the others. Kiniea grinned and leaned forward in the saddle.

"Hyah! Run for it! Run!" she yelled and laughed, and the wolf rushed forward.

"Race! Race!" Gneiss laughed as Anea urged her panther after the wolf, and the big cat dug his claws into the ground and accelerated quickly. Loud whoops and laughter echoed as Kiniea vanished among the trees with Anea hot on her heels. Grikk frowned as he ran faster.

"Come on, Grikk, let her have some fun!" Gneiss panted as he too ran faster. Onaya and Geir followed them. Grikk started to really sprint now.

"Something wrong! Hurry!" he yelled as he pulled ahead. Just then a searing scream came from up ahead, and Gneiss cursed as he put everything he had into running, while Onaya and Geir with their longer legs left him behind.

Kiniea and Anea were silent as they saw the horrible sight in front of them, and their beasts fidgeted, attracted to the smell of blood. Almost a dozen night elf women were dead, hung on poles around some sort of altar, covered with blood and incomprehensible scribbles. Kiniea could remember some of the glyphs there, and she was very worried. She looked behind her briefly as the others caught up to them.

"Who screamed? Are you all right?" Geir asked her worriedly, and she blushed somewhat and looked away.

"Surprised, that's all. Nothing to worry about," she brushed him off. Onaya and Anea moved among the bodies, their faces hard. Grikk also had a look at them.

"This didn't happen long ago," he said warily. "Some of these wounds are-"

"Akkh!" Gneiss cried out and staggered forward, falling on his face with an arrow protruding from his back. Instantly Starsong bolted to the left as more arrows came flying through the air, and Kiniea was flung backwards so she almost lay on her back on the wolf. She heard the metallic pings and clangs as arrows bounced off Geir's armor, and Onaya squealed as her arm was hit. Grikk cursed roughly and charged along with Anea. Starsong kept running, trying to get her master to safety, but Kiniea managed to sit upright and forced the wolf around to aid her friends. She saw more of the accursed satyrs, some carrying bows obviously stolen from the murdered night elves, and others carrying clubs. She also saw Gneiss, arrow in his back, lying still on the ground, and she screamed in rage and grief, urging her wolf forward as she held the Spetum like a lance. Grikk and Anea was already fighting, with Geir rushing in to help. Aiming for one of the club wielding satyrs she leaned forward and held the Spetum with both hands, trying to control the wolf with her knees. The impact was so hard that Starsong yelped, dancing crazily on two legs as her front legs were raised off the ground. Kiniea stared into the hateful eyes of the satyr, but her rage drove her to press her Spetum forward, forcing the beastly half man backwards and down. It gurgled in pain as she jerked the Spetum out of its chest, and then grunted one last time as Kiniea impaled it viciously one more time. Then she looked up, searching for another one to kill in payment for Gneiss, but the remaining ones fled in panic as fast as they could. Staring after them for a moment, Kiniea remembered Gneiss, and jumped off her wolf and ran to him. Falling to her knees, she gently tried to turn him around, careful not to disturb the arrow. He coughed weakly, blood staining his lips. Grikk and the others also returned, and Gneiss smiled weakly.

"I guess… I guess this is as far as it goes," he whispered, trying to chuckle.

"Gneiss, my friend…" Kiniea said brokenly as she started sobbing. His hand grazed hers for a moment, and then he reached for his belt.

"Here," he said weakly as he tried to pull out his bottle of beer. "Gives you strength in your heart, and hair… on your chest," he smiled as his last laugh turned into the last sigh and his eyes closed. Beside her Grikk roared out his grief.

"We shall find them, and take our vengeance for your friend, and for our friends too," Anea said to comfort her. Onaya nodded as she bound her arm. Kiniea grabbed the bottle of beer out of Gneiss' unresisting hand and wiped her tears. Her face turned cold and hard as she promised herself she would not cry until his killers were all dead.

DA XIV – The Hunt for Vengeance.

They made the pyre on the top of a small hill, barren of trees. Anea and Onaya refused to let them kill trees for the wood, but there were plenty of dead wood around, and Grikk's axe had no problem chopping it up. The human footman, Geir, had his doubts about the smoke alerting others to their presence, but kept his silence. He had not known Gneiss, nor the night elf women. He also did not know the burial customs for neither Dwarves or Nightelves, and his suggestion about burial had been met with cold stares. Onaya was the only one crying, the rest were grim and silent as they laid the fallen on the pyre and lit it, sending their spirits to wherever spirits go. Then they set out, following the trail of the Satyrs.

Kiniea rode almost without thinking about it, and Starsong carried her effortlessly without any difficulty. The happy free thoughts were gone now, pushed away by visions of blood and death, satyrs screaming as she ran them through with her spetum, and she wasn't even aware of her hand clenching the shaft so hard it cramped. Beside her rode Anea, her face also cold and harsh, although she was probably more used to things like this. On their flanks Grikk and Geir ran hard, trying to keep up with the wolf and panther, with Onaya silently bringing up the rear, an arrow ready at all times.

Anea glanced at Grikk, running beside her. It felt good to have him there, him and his axe, and Onaya behind her. She wasn't too certain about the Quel-Dorei girl or the heavily armored human though. Kiniea was still very inexperienced, despite her natural elven aptitude and grace, and she didn't trust the human at all. But with Grikk and Onaya at her side, she could take on anything. She was getting worried though. The Satyr tracks led almost straight for the Kaldorei outpost, and the creatures wouldn't be foolish enough to dare the wrath of the sentinels, would they? Just then Grikk started slowing down, a hand held up to signal the others.

"This… this not right," he said thoughtfully as he sniffed the air, nervously licking his lips. Kiniea looked at him, as Starsong also sniffed the air, growling menacingly.

"What is wrong, Grikk?" Kiniea asked curtly, eager to continue the hunt. "We are wasting time here." She patted Starsong's neck, but the wolf kept growling, the hair on its back rising alarmingly. Grikk scowled at her, and Anea looked questioningly at them both, not understanding.

"I feel… demons are near," Grikk said hesitantly, his hands nervously gripping his axe. Kiniea rolled her eyes.

"Don't be foolish, Grikk, they are all further south," she half smiled. Geir reached for his sword, drawing it slowly.

"What did he say, sister?" Anea asked curiously, noting the heightened tension, even her own panther was reacting to it.

"Demons…" Kiniea stared at her. "He thinks demons may be near." Anea and Onaya looked at each other, worry on both faces. Then Onaya started running, and Anea wheeled her panther around hurriedly.

"Hey, what is wrong?" Kiniea called after them, and Anaya twisted in the saddle.

"The outpost is just up ahead!" and then hurried after Onaya, her glaive in her hand. Kiniea looked at Grikk and Geir, and then they took off after the Night elves.

Anea got to the top of the small hill, staring down into the basin below. Her heart twisted in her chest. Beside her Onaya sobbed quietly. She heard the outlanders running up behind them, the noise of their movements like thunder in her ears, but she did not care. Not now. Satyrs were moving around in the wasted remains of the outpost, and the trees, the living trees that were the strength of the Sentinel way of life… Corrupted.

Tam and the herd had halted, the bulls gathered in the center of the herd, with the calves and cows nervously listening. Above them the young Wyverns screeched their warnings. The herd was cut off. A large force of undead blocked the way to the forest, and another force had come in from behind, cutting off any retreat. They were trapped.

"I say we split the herd in two, and try to go around the main enemy force. Then we join up in the forest," Tolg said angrily, staring at Malar who threw his arms up.

"Are you stupid? That just means the enemy can cut us down divided!" He grabbed a twig and started drawing in the dirt. "Here, we split, and the main force splits to head us off, holding us back until the rear elements can come and crush us, we stand a better chance holding together, right here!" Tolg grunted.

"Their numbers are too vast, they will encircle us and still crush us. We just die together instead of apart, that's all," he muttered. Springflower nervously walked up to her brother, who stood a little apart, staring at the enemy forces blocking the forest. Above her she heard the shrill cries of the Wyverns, getting a little more tense now. At least they would be able to get away from this nightmare, she thought enviously, and then saw what they were screaming about. Some sort of flying creatures arose from the rear army, circling around before heading towards the herd.

"Tam, what shall we do? They will kill us all!" she said nervously to her brother, who shrugged. "What, are you just going to die with honor, just like father did?" she said a little angrily now as he didn't seem too worried. Silverbrook came up to them too, also looking to Tam for answers.

"No, Springflower," Tam smiled wearily. "I don't think dying with honor is going to be happening today." Then he turned and clomped over to the group of arguing bulls and banged the haft of the halberd on the ground for silence.

"Ah, our glorious leader!" Malar mocked. "What brilliant plan have you come up with to save us?" and the others tried to hide their amusement, but Tam was well aware of what they thought of him. Tolg, his best friend tried to say something, but Tam interrupted him.

"No brilliant plan, Malar. Just an idea. What do the Kodos do when they are afraid?" he asked innocently, and Tolg blinked, and then smiled widely.

"They run of course, any fool knows that!" Malar said irritably. Springflower scowled at him and he blushed. "Well… we are not Kodos, Tam, we don't run in panic," he amended, trying to apologize somewhat.

"And what do you call a herd of Kodos running in fear?" Tam smiled as more of the bulls got the gist of his thinking. Malar looked at Springflower who nodded at him.

"Uh… a stampede?" he tried, a little nervous with Springflower staring at him.

"Excellent idea, Tam!" Tolg exclaimed. "Who would be foolish enough to stand against a stampeding herd of Kodos!" Then he looked around helplessly. "Tam… we only have five of them…" Tam grinned as he saw their faces fall.

"Don't need Kodos. The enemy forces are smaller than us. If they don't move, we run over them. We don't stop until we are well into the forest." The others went to object, but Tam raised his hand. "We make a spearhead, bulls along the lines and the others in the middle. Then we just run." He looked up at the circling Wyverns, then to the advancing rear enemy. "And we better do it fast!"

Torg, the Raider captain that had been involved in the unfortunate fracas with the humans earlier in defense of the strange Night elf woman had gotten new duties. Instead of being outpost commander for the Horde, he was now one of the outrunners, the scout screen. Some may have cursed their bad luck for losing power and position, but Torg loved it, and so did his dire wolf. Instead of being cooped up waiting for things to happen they were doing something! They had both been healed after the fight, and were as good as new, and glad to be out and about. He and the other scouts were well beyond the grasp of the Sentry net, far into what was considered no man's land. The Scourge had not come this far yet, but he knew it was just a matter of time. His partner, Grimmak rode a few yards off to the side, both of them hurdling through the woods at high speed. There were an unusual number of owls about, apparently. Maybe they had been driven north by the oncoming darkness. The way their eyes followed him made him a little uneasy though.

"Here, I see tracks!" Grimmak whispered harshly, and Torg wheeled his wolf around, moving up.

"No more than a few hours old, it seems," he continued as Torg looked at the tracks. He wasn't really good at judging tracks, after all he was more of a fighter than a tracker, but even he could see something out of the ordinary here.

"A herd of big mountain lions? I thought they ran alone?" he muttered, and Grimmak grinned.

"Looks like it, doesn't it? But see here, something else went the same way…" and he pointed at the faint tracks of slippers or light boots. "Besides, didn't your elf woman ride a big cat?" he teased, invoking the new joke among the outrunners. Torg's elf woman.

"How many?" Torg asked irritably, annoyed at having the joke in his face again. Grimmak chuckled and looked again, his hand waving vaguely.

"Twenty at least… maybe twenty five."

The squad of Sentinels watched the two greenskins through the eyes of the Sentinel Owls. Others were tracking the other parts of the Orc scouting screen. It would be just a moment's effort to wipe them all out, but Priestess Tyrande was still assembling her forces, and wanted to wait until they could make a concentrated assault on the Outlanders' base. Having the scouts suddenly vanish would remove the element of surprise, since the outlander scum would know something was going on and thus be even more alert than they already would be. They would have to be careful with the big one though, he seemed to be more alert than the smaller one, who just kept his eyes on the ground. As the two outlanders kept going the Sentinel Owls were ordered to stay further away just in case.

"Do you think we can take them?" Geir asked the giant Orc beside him, and Grikk grunted, still a bit nervous from the dark feeling around the outpost.

"Of course we can! We have killed these before!" Kiniea growled angrily, filled with her dark thirst for vengeance. Something inside her urged her on, something dark and feral that she had not felt before, but it strengthened her, made her feel powerful. The beast was stirring inside, and raising her spear high she unleashed it.

"No, Kini, wait!" Grikk cursed as the elven woman rushed down the hill towards the satyrs, then he hefted is axe and charged after her.

"Stupid girl!" Anea cursed more viciously as she urged her panther down the hill, her hand clasping her glaive tightly. Onaya and Geir looked at each other a moment before they too rushed down to join the battle.

The Satyrs were taken by surprise, but they rallied fast. Kiniea ran one down as the others raced to make some sort of formation, but when Anea joined the fray they were almost organized. Both riders used their speed to elude their enemies, but Grikk and Geir crashed right into the enemy line. The enemy formation opened up and then closed in on them, forcing them to fight back to back as the elven riders harassed the enemy from the outside. Arrows were flying from Onaya's bow too, fired with a chill and deadly precision.

Geir fought for his life, his swordarm slashing and chopping frantically. The satyrs were not very skilled fighters, but they didn't have to be. They were so many that the ones behind pushed the others forward, almost smothering him and Grikk. He almost cried with terror and panic as the enemy just kept coming, and were it not for the armor he would already be dead. Grikk buffed him from behind, the strong back of the orc supporting him. He could hear the wolf and panther screeching and raging on the outside of the circle, and occationally he heard the hoarse yells of their riders. Then the pressure on his back suddenly vanished, and he heard Grikk roar, in rage or pain he did not know. Terrified he quickly glanced back, and saw the orc striding forward, the axe swinging vicously at the retreating satyrs. Moving backwards quickly Geir followed the Orc so he wouldn't be left surrounded by the enemy. He was so tired he could barely raise his sword and shield to ward off the attacks of the enraged satyrs in front of him. Anea and Kiniea took the chance to cut in front of him, holding the enemy advance and giving him room to breathe. Now even Grikk returned to hold the line, and they stood there, four side by side as the dwindling forces of the satyrs were halted, wavered and broke. First one, then others broke away, running for the ramshackle huts they had constructed, and Kiniea yelled in raging triumph as she broke the line to pursue, followed by Grikk and Anea. Geir almost fell to his knees with exhaustion, but staggered on to help. His armor was buckled but not pierced, and he ached all over.

Tam and the bulls formed the herd into the previously agreed on formation, and slowly the herd gathered speed, heading straight for the forest and the dark army blocking it. Loud bellows of defiance and pride broke out as they thundered onwards, Tam in the lead. Even the cows and calves bellowed, pushing hard in the desperate stampede. Tam grinned as he saw the enemy formation split open, unwilling to face the might of the Tauren. Now they were going at full speed, an unstoppable avalanche of hooves and horns. Nothing could stop them now!

"Tam!" he heard Tolg yell just as he saw it himself. The stampede would crash against the forest, the trees breaking up their charge so the enemy could clip them from both sides! What to do now? What to do!?

"Bulls on the left, follow me! Tolg and bulls on the right, hold the right flank! Center just run!" he bellowed frantically as the forest drew closer and closer, the waiting enemy at the ready. He hefted the halberd of his father as he suddenly broke from the point and headed left, right towards the monstrosities, not knowing if the left flank followed him or not. Some sort of demon, four legs and some pathetic looking wings raised his own weapon in challenge as Tam lowered his head, horns pointing right at the demon's chest. He thought he heard his sister yell his name in fear just before he crashed right into the demon, and then the resounding thunderous clash of the left flank of Tauren also charging the enemy line. Both Tam and the demon staggered backwards from the horrendous impact, the demon sinking down on its hind legs, two horrible gashes in his chest from Tam's horns. But this was his game, they didn't call him 'Bonehead' for nothing! Bellowing in rage and triumph Tam shook the fogginess off and lunged forward, the mighty halberd swinging down at the stunned demon, cutting its burning head almost in two.

"Raaaahh!" BOOM! The shock from the mighty stomp surprised and jarred the monsters rushing to engage him, and he swung the halberd again, holding them at bay as his warriors bellowed their own loud warcries.

"Hold them back! The cows and calves must escape!" he roared as he rushed forward again. But the dark army had recovered from the surprising tactic, and the commanders whipped their minions into a maddened frenzy as they rushed forward trying to overwhelm the smaller force of Tauren.

Father would not fail! Tam kept yelling inside his head as the dark army welled forward like a dam bursting. Must protect the herd!

DA XV – Sons of the Earthmother

Kiniea sat on her wolf, looking around dully. The ground was soiled with dark blood, and the bodies of dead and dying Satyrs littered the ground. She had killed and killed again, like a bloodthirsty beast. Like an… Orc caught in the ravenous blood curse of Mannoroth. Was this what she had become? A brutal slayer without mercy? Her parents hadn't raised her to do this! Idly she shifted the Orcish warblade to her left hand and ran her right through her hair to get it out of her face, not realizing or caring that the hand was stained with blood, and that she smeared it across her forehead. In her senseless killing rage she had lost the spear somehow, and just pulled the blade from the saddle. Her right arm ached now from the strain, but she shook it loose and looked around again for her spetum. There it was… stuck to the wall, impaling what looked like a female with a little baby in her arms. Swallowing deeply she urged Starsong forward, and the wolf obeyed.

The satyr woman was still alive, breathing in ragged gasps while still holding her dead baby in her arms. As she noticed Kiniea her eyes widened in fear and she started whimpering pitifully. Kiniea looked at her. The satyr seemed to be young, and it was amazing it was still alive with the spetum right through her body like that. One of the spikes on the head had slashed into the baby's chest on the way through its mother, and it had bled to death. Kiniea steeled herself as she looked into the young female's eyes and reached out.

"Noarrh… Noarrh," the young satyr girl begged terrified as the horrible elf with the cold eyes and hard face reached for her. No! She would not have her baby! She tried to twist away, shielding her little daughter Omraka from the enemy despite the tearing pain in her stomach as the cruel spear held her impaled against the wall. The big wolf licked its jaws, and she gasped in horror. It wanted her baby! No! Not her little Omraka!

"Arrgh!" she gasped as the murderous elf grabbed the spear and jerked it out of the wall and out of her, the sharp spikes on the base of the spearhead tearing the wound even more. She staggered forward a step from the pull, and then fell, turning herself so she wouldn't fall on her little girl. The wolf growled, and frantically she curled up around her baby, the blood gushing out her front and back now that the spear was gone.

"Mina bet Omraka," she whispered to the still and lifeless form in her arms. My little Omraka…

Kiniea watched as the satyr girl died, listened to her whispering to her dead baby. The language was a twisted and corrupted version of elvish, the original language spoken thousands of years ago, but she recognized the meaning, and the burning blade of shame cut her heart. She had done this?! Light show her mercy! Never again! She would never be like a mindless beast again! She cursed and threw the bloodstained spear down beside the young satyr girl. A shaking hand reached for the bottle of dwarven beer in her belt, and she pulled it out. Now Gneiss, now I know why, she thought as her heart shriveled at the thought of what she had done, what she had become. Pulling the cork out she put the bottle to her mouth and swallowed deeply, coughing with tears running from her eyes at the burning sensation. It opened a gate within her, and she sobbed, tears flowing with shame and disgust.

"Aye, over here Grikk!" she heard Geir's voice somewhere deeper into the ruined village. The others had gone to hunt down the last of the Satyrs, going shabby door to shabby door rooting the creatures out. Wiping her eyes dry, smearing even more dirt and blood on her face she urged Starsong towards the sound of Grikk's axe crashing through the door.

She arrived as both Grikk and Geir charged through the door of some sort of longhouse, a little better constructed than the other ramshackle huts. Here even she could feel the taint of the demons, and it made her a little nervous. What was waiting inside for them there? Anea and Onaya waited outside, weapons ready just in case. Anea couldn't bring her panther into the house, and Onaya would be foolish to go in to close quarters with just her bow in any case. Suddenly Geir staggered out and fell to his knees, convulsing and reaching frantically for his helmet. Kiniea and the Night Elves rushed forward to see what was wrong, but Geir got the helmet off as he threw up all over the ground in front of himself. Now Grikk came staggering out too, his face pale and the axe shivering in his hands.

"What's wrong? What is in there?" Kiniea asked timidly. She had never seen Grikk this disturbed by anything, but Geir waved her away.

"Don't… don't go in there," he gasped before he convulsed again. She got off her wolf and strode towards the door, her spetum in hand, and when Grikk tried to stop her she pushed him aside and stepped in. She couldn't quite see in the half light, but as Anea pushed her sideways to enter the light shone in through the door.

"Light have mercy!" she gasped at the horror in front of her.

"Mother Elune!" she heard Anea cry out as the night elf rushed forward. Now the stench hit her. It was a vile mixture of blood, various alchemical mixes and something else… Sobs and whimpers could be heard from various places of the room, and stepping forward she saw the table. It was made of rough wood, crudely axed and it had manacles at each corner. Various runes were cut into it, and she saw the blood that had run in the deep grooves. She recognized them, and realized it was an altar, or at least a much modified one. And it was used for sacrifices… the manacles left no doubt. She turned her head as she heard Anea, the great and merciless warrior sob as she moved along the wall, crouching down to whatever it was that made those pitiful whimpering sounds. Moving closer she saw what they were. Night elf women… all naked and chained to the wall like pieces of meat. In a corner lay those too far gone for chains, whatever had been done on the table had broken them over and over again until their minds shattered. What kind of beast could do such a thing?

"Fall back, the herd is safe! Fall back!" Tolg yelled triumphantly as the last calf disappeared among the trees, and the right flank swung around, holding the line as they backed up to the woods. He could see some of the bulls from the left flank also closing in as they held the monsters back before suddenly breaking and rushing into the woods, following the main herd among the trees. They had done it! They were free and clear in the forest! The undead army seemed reluctant to follow them in, and Tolg knew the elusive Night elves kept a close watch on the forest. His flank hadn't lost many, maybe only four or five warriors, which was amazing all by itself. Grinning he joined up with the main herd in a small clearing, calling names and moving about in the confusion.

"Where is Tam?" he was stopped by Springflower who looked nervously at him. "Is he coming in behind you?" Tolg looked around, but it was hard to see with everyone milling around.

"Don't know… he held the left flank," he smiled uncertainly, leaning his totem on the ground. "I am sure he is okay," he reassured her and himself at the same time.

"Tam… is dead," a warrior said reluctantly. "We are all that remain of the left flank," he indicated a few other warriors, and Tolg looked over them.

"Nine? Only nine?" he said, his heart falling as he heard Springflower sobbing.

"Aye," one of the nine spoke. "He led us right into the heart of the enemy, and he would not stop fighting and struggling." He looked down shamefully. "I… I had not the heart to stand beside him, that is why I stand here now," he whispered. The other of the left flank shuffled their hooves and bowed their heads too.

"You cowards!" Springflower accused with tears running down her face. "You just stood by and watched him die!"

"That is not true!" he rebuked. "We held a way open for them!" And then he looked away. "But he would not take it… and we were cut off." Tolg put his arm around her comfortingly.

"Your brother gave everything for us, and we live now, for his sacrifice," he soothed her. Springflower glared at him and pushed his arm away.

"Are you stupid? I don't care about honor and sacrifice! My brother is dead!"

Kiniea helped Anea and Onaya free the captives, and ordered Grikk and Geir to find whatever clothes were available. Those who were too far gone for any help... she and Anea gave release, tears running down their faces. Onaya gathered whatever weapons the Satyrs had, and it was a rag tag group that left the remains of the outpost after putting everything to the torch, especially that dark longhouse. Geir kept his helmet on after washing it out, for it seemed that the Night Elf women were terrified of him, and he walked ahead with Grikk, while Anea, Kiniea and Onaya brought up the rear, helping the weakened captives along. There were fifteen of them, all young, all horribly abused, and if Kiniea didn't know, she would never have thought that these pitiful wrecks had once been brave Sentinel warriors.

"When I find the beasts that did this…" Geir growled under his breath, his hand on his sword as if he expected someone to jump out of the bushes.

"Aye, the humans are a horrible race," Grikk spoke without thinking, his axe over his shoulder. Geir glared at him.

"What was that? Are you saying we humans did this?" he growled angrily. "I would never even think of it!" His sword started sliding out of the scabbard.

"Put your sword away and keep your helmet on, human," Grikk spat on the ground. "The women are already afraid."

"And you Orcs are so much better, huh? After everything you did!" Geir spat back, stung by the words Grikk said.

"Aye, we were cursed, and we slaughtered men, women and children recklessly," Grikk rebuked, "but we never did anything like this!"

Kiniea rode up to them as the small group of women halted, watching the horrible human and weird Orc arguing in some foreign language.

"Is there a problem?" she asked through gritted teeth. "I have women who needs brought to safety, and I will not have you two making difficulties, understand?" Geir and Grikk looked at her, a little taken aback by her commanding voice.

"No problem, milady," Geir said after a moment and sheathed his sword. Grikk just nodded and grunted, a half smile on his face at the change in her.

"Anea told me there is another outpost a day and a half away north of here. I want to get there as soon as possible, understand?" she commanded, feeling a little weird bossing the giant Orc and heavily armored human around. "See to it!" Amazingly enough, Grikk nodded and Geir bowed. She rode back to the women, feeling a little out of sorts with herself.

"By the Light, she is beautiful," Geir muttered to himself as he watched her ride back. Grikk scowled at the words.

"Get moving, human!" he growled as he hefted his axe and started walking.

Tam smiled in confusion as he walked among the small huts and tents of his childhood village. The halberd was shimmering in his hand, light as a feather, and the large totem on his back seemed to hold him up instead of weigh him down. It was like a dream. He heard bits and pieces of Tauren talking, but he saw nothing, as if they were just around the corner and kept moving around. His walk seemed to be almost instant, but very long at the same time until he reached the center, where the Chieftain's hut was… his father's hut. And there was his father, but instead of the weary old bull he had been when Tam last saw him, he was young and strong, the father Tam remembered from his childhood. His father held the halberd, and the Tribal totem was on his back. Tam looked in dreamy confusion at his own hand, still holding the halberd too. The totem was still on his back.

"F… father?" he spoke uncertainly as he moved forward. There were nobody else around, and now even the voices were gone. Just him and his father.

"The Earthmother is very pleased with you, Tam," his father spoke solemnly. "You have done very well." Tam tried to speak, but his voice was gone, and he was held still by his fathers approving look burning into his heart.

"But your duties are not finished yet, Tam," his father spoke again. "The Earthmother still needs you." Then Tam felt as if he was falling backwards, his vision fading fast.

"I see you, Tam, I see you," his father's voice came from a long way off.

"Father!" he cried as the dream ended.

"Raaah!" the bellow burst from his throat as he stood up, right among the undead army. The halberd was in his hand, and the totem on his back giving him strength and courage. Around him the remains of the left flank also stood up, shimmering as if they were still caught in the dream, some holding their totem's and others… others Tam couldn't remember seeing before holding some sort of incense burners.

"For the Earthmother!" Tam roared and raised the halberd high. The others raised their Totems beside him, and as one Tam stomped hard as the totems crashed to the ground. The gibbering undead were thrown back by the impact, but surged forward, eager to kill them again as the Tauren raised their Totems for another earth shattering strike. The shimmering Tauren waved their incense burners around, speaking words that Tam couldn't quite hear, but he felt his brothers' strength flow through him as he swung the halberd at the closest enemy.

The herd stopped their dejected march north as the mighty bellow erupted far behind them, the earth shivering with a loud booming noise just after.

"Is that…?" Springflower asked hopefully looking at Tolg, who had led them after Tam was lost.

"It can't be…" he said hesitantly, but he smiled in vague hope at her. Another loud boom shivered the ground under them. She turned and started running, and the rest of the herd followed suit, Tolg commanding the warriors to the front. Small trees and bushes were torn aside as the herd charged, their hooves making the ground shake. The herd burst out of the woods like a river breaking through a great dam and Tolg roared as he saw the blink of a halberd rise and fall repeatedly in the middle of the undead army. The outer parts of the dark army turned in surprise as the herd charged right into them, the resounding crash making the entire army quiver.

The trapped mind that was the Lich King laughed as the mighty army of Vas'Grel, one of his jailors were shattered by a small force of renegade Tauren that nobody had worried about. He could see it all, like pieces of a puzzle coming together. Vast forces were moving, even the land itself, it seemed. Soon he would be free again. But it needed much care, many plans to implement to get there. His mind withdrew from the renegade Tauren, searching for another piece of the puzzle, another soul torn between light and dark, just like Arthas. Time was running out, and he knew the light must have this one in order to do what was needed to break the Burning Legion. His mind's eye closed in on a young elven girl, riding a dire wolf…

DA XVI – Rites of Blood

The herd had crashed into the dark army, trampling and goring anything in their path as they forced their way to the center where Tam and the remains of the left flank struggled. Every bull, cow and calf had fought, using hooves, horns and whatever sticks or stones they picked up. With the leaders vanquished it seemed as if the dark will empowering the dark army had dissipated, and the undead lost all coherency. Some stumbled around in confusion, dropping their weapons heedlessly, others panicked and tried to escape, but most of them just stood still, empty eyes staring into nothing.

As the last of the dark army was destroyed, a deathly silence filled the field for a moment or two, and then a resounding bellow of victory and defiance erupted from the Tauren. Everyone had better watch out!

Springflower staggered onwards, trying to find her brother Tam. She had fought hard in the battle, and her whole body ached from the strain. Her horns, previously so meticulously shined and polished were stained with dark blood, and she was sure they were scratched and chipped now too. She had picked up a massive broadsword that one of the enemy warriors had dropped earlier, and even though it would take a human two hands to use it, she held it in one, and it still felt like a feather. Though rusty and notched it had cut through the disgusting undead like a hot knife through butter.

Then she saw him up ahead, talking to some shimmering beings she had never seen before. They looked like Tauren, but they were translucent, as if they were not really there, just images projected from somewhere else, and she hesitated. Then Tam saw her and turned to face her, a big smile on his face, but it didn't look like her brother. Her brother had been uncertain, struggling with the heavy burden of too much responsibility, almost broken by it. This bull in front of her stood strong and straight, a calm surety in his eyes that spoke of confidence. A true Chieftain.

"Tam?" she started hesitantly, "Tam!" Grinning she hurried forward her brother. Others of the herd approached too, eager to greet the chieftain they thought they had lost. All but one.

"Springflower, you were magnificent!" Tolg said in awe as he grabbed her arm, holding her back. "I have never seen anything like it!" he grinned approvingly. Slightly annoyed at being stopped, but very pleased with the look in his eyes Springflower hesitated for a moment.

"Not now!" she said apologetically and shook him off as she ran to embrace her brother.

As the herd gathered around their Chieftain, the shimmering otherworldly Tauren slipped away to examine the remains of the undead army. The Earthmother had a mission for them too. The very laws of Nature had been horribly twisted and bent out of shape by the necromancers and their Demon masters, and if they could find out how it was done, they could find a way to undo it…

The rag tag little group of messengers and refugees had traveled for hours since leaving the corrupted outpost and the cursed longhouse. The refugees were very weak from their horrible treatment so the group had not moved very fast. Finally Kiniea had ordered a halt, and they had made camp in a small clearing. Onaya had gone hunting and felled a fine stag, and after Grikk had carried it back on his massive shoulders it had been enthusiastically slaughtered by Grikk and Geir, skewered on wooden spits and was now roasting over a large fire in the center of the clearing.

"Looks done!" Grikk said for the tenth time as he reached for one of the spits. He could care less if it was raw or cooked anyway, and he could feel the great yawning hunger in his belly.

"No, no, no! Have you no manners? Where I come from it is Ladies First, you barbarian!" Geir rebuked him with a laugh as he grabbed the spit from Grikk's hand and gave it to Kiniea.

"Oh yeah?" Grikk replied as he reached for another spit. "Where I come from it is…" he started, muttering in Orcish as he tried to translate. "First to fire, get pushed in!" and he chomped down on the piece of meat, juices running down his chin and chest. Geir and Kiniea stared at him for a moment and burst out laughing.

"I guess it is true what I hear; 'Don't get between an Orc and his food!'" Geir joked as Kiniea giggled. There was a muffled grunt as Grikk devoured the meat and reached for another spit.

The Kaldorei sat a bit apart, huddled together as they stared at the outlanders. The Quel-Dorei girl could almost be one of them, but not the other two. They knew all they ever wanted to know about the horrible human, but the green giant was a mystery. Sure, they had heard about them and some of them had even faced them in battle, but they had never seen one in peaceful conditions like now. Anea kept silent about her disturbing attraction for him, and a stern look at Onaya kept her quiet too as they listened to their sisters whisper about him, answering questions reluctantly. And in fact, even Anea was eager to learn about him, even though she too was disgusted by his beastly way of tearing into his food. While the human way of talking and body language was very similar to elven, the Orcish body language and gestures were understandable, yet very different, almost alien. Finally Anea stood up and smiled reassuringly to her sisters as she approached the fire to get some food for them. As she approached Kiniea smiled widely and Geir nodded respectfully. Grikk was too busy stuffing his mouth to pay her much heed, and that annoyed her for some reason.

"Won't they join us?" Kiniea asked cheerfully in elvish as Anea reached for a few of the spits. "The fire is warm, you know!" Anea straightened up and stared pointedly at Geir.

"Hee-uhman," she said harshly, mimicking the outlandish language, and Geir jerked back as if stung. The smile faded from Kiniea's face, and Grikk momentarily stopped eating as he reached for his axe.

"Tell her no fear, Kini" he said as he looked at Anea who almost blushed at his attention. "Human do nothing!" and he glared at Geir who scowled.

"Oh, that's all right then! I can go and eat somewhere else!" Geir said angrily, but there was a note of pain in his voice. "Don't want to eat with a bunch of elves anyway!" And he stomped off, leaving his food behind. Kiniea looked remorsefully at his retreating back and then glared at Grikk.

"That was unnecessary!" she scolded him before she hastily grabbed Geir's food and took after him. Grikk just grunted and waved to the small group of elves to come to the fire. Anea smiled shyly at him as she sat down, close enough to be near him but not so close as to cause any suspicion. As Onaya and the others approached Grikk awkwardly started handing out food, trying to be 'well mannered' as Geir had put it. Graciously accepting the roasted meat the night elves sat down and started to eat daintily. Their empty stomachs wouldn't take any delays however, and soon they were all ravaging the meat like starving animals, just like Grikk himself.

Kiniea shyly followed Geir around a bend in the path, leaving the camp behind. He stood there, very firmly looking away from the campfire and the sounds of laughter from it.

"I am not a monster, milady," he said in a low hurt voice as she came up to his side, hesitantly holding out his food. He batted it away with his hand, and it fell to the ground. "I fought for them!" his voice raised a little bit. "I helped save them! And they think I would…" he broke off, the thought too dark to say out loud. Throwing his shield to the ground he sat down on a rock. "What am I even doing here? I should be home working at the farm instead of being shipped all the way out to this blasted country fighting to help people who hate me!" He rested his head in his hands. "And I am not even good at it," he whispered quietly. Kiniea said nothing, just bent down and picked up the meat, brushing it off as she sat down beside him on the rock.

"Here, good as new," she said cheerfully. "Even monsters that can't fight need to eat!" and she smiled teasingly at him. He looked at her, unsure on how to respond to her joke, and chuckled weakly.

"Thanks," he said as he accepted the meat.

Thrall, Cairne and Jaina Proudmoore walked thoughtfully back to the main camp. It had been a very weird night so far. First the dreams, then the clandestine meeting with what apparently was the leaders of the Kaldorei, a stern and grim woman riding a tiger, and a rugged man who either had a very intricate headpiece or horns growing out of his forehead. But the main thing had been the Prophet, who identified himself as Medivh, the man who had opened the first Portal between Azeroth and Draenor. Jaina had heard all the stories of his birth, youth and the corruption and chaos that had stolen his soul and led him to bring the Orcs here to this world. Apparently he had found some way of returning from the dead to make up for all the wrongdoings he was responsible for. The alliance that Thrall had wished was now effective, and they had decided to break camp in order to pull back closer to the World Tree that the Kaldorei held in great regard. Apparently that was the seat of their power, and Jaina did have some knowledge of it from all her studies. Until tonight it had sounded more like a fairy tale however.

"Thrall, the messengers you sent out, they are not necessary anymore, right? We should call them back. If what the Priestess told us is right, they are heading right into dangerous territory!" Jaina spoke.

"The Outriders could perhaps-" Cairne began, but Thrall cut him off.

"No. They are too far away, and scouting south of here. They will not return for at least a day, and then they have to catch up to our messengers. It will take too long," he explained. "There is no magical way?" he asked Jaina who shook her head sadly.

"The girl Kiniea has lost her powers. I cannot make a mental link with her, or even find out where she is. As far as magic is concerned, she might as well not even exist. It would have been better if she had never trained at all. I could perhaps find the others, but it would take a lot of power and time to do so."

"Hmm… Let me talk to Drek'Thar," Thrall said thoughtfully. "We may be able to find them."

About an hour later Jubei and the other Blademasters were gathered in their common hut. As his clansmen pondered the information and orders that Thrall had given Jubei he looked at each of them in turn. They were all that remained of the Burning Blade clan now. Only nine left, him included. Once, before the madness of the demon curse, they had been over a thousand strong, a respectable number even though they were the smallest and most reclusive of the Orc clans on Draenor. And now, only nine. There was Kenji the prankster, who loved nothing more than sneaking around unseen like the wind, playing tricks and surprising people. It had gone so far that the human and elven women had complained to Thrall, who had in turn ordered Jubei to talk to him. And Jubei had tried of course, to no avail. Finally Thrall had requested that the Witchdoctors put up sentry wards, only usable by the women themselves. Jubei understood their anger, of course, no woman liked peeping toms, but he was pretty sure that Kenji didn't really ogle the women, having married himself to the sword like they all had done, he just did it because they got so angry about it.

Jubei's eyes turned to Otomo, and he smiled sadly. Otomo had lost more than any of them because of the Demon Curse. He had been married once, or bonded as the Orcs called it, and he had been a father. All that had ended one night, where a regular argument with his mate had turned into a slaughter as the dark curse drove him to rage. He had killed them all, his mate as well as his two baby daughters, and when the blood haze lifted he had tried to kill himself too, unable to live with what he had done. He would be dead now if Jubei himself hadn't found him. As time passed and the other Clan members kept a close eye on him, he had found a way to live again, even though his life was more empty and painful than any of them could imagine. Jubei shuddered and looked away.

"So, the Warchief wants us to find the messengers and then find and kill the commanders of the Burning Legion? Do we bring the messengers back first or just tell them to return to the camp?" Omu asked after a while. Jubei looked up, glad to be distracted from his thoughts.

"Hmmph!" Otomo cut in. "Kill the leaders, that sounds like assassin's work to me!" he said sternly. "No honor! We should kill them all, face to face, no sneaking about like thieves and worms!" at this some of the others nodded their agreement.

"Their armies are too numerous. Not even if we had the entire Horde with us could we do that," Kenji replied. "No, we sneak in and give them their last surprise… ever," he grinned mischievously, and Jubei and the others laughed.

"Yes… such is always your way, Kenji," Otomo said a little sharply. "But there is no honor in it." The others looked at him as the tension rose in the room from the unspoken challenge. But Kenji nodded.

"True, my brother," he conceded. "There is no honor in assassination. But at least I don't make them stand up and fight their friends afterwards. Their kind deserves no honor, and probably don't even know what it means." Jubei smiled and nodded, and the others also seemed to see the point. Otomo wanted to speak again, but Akama cut in.

"And of course, if opportunity presents itself and it doesn't interfere with the mission, we can always kill some of the regular warriors?" he grinned at Jubei who chuckled and nodded. Ah, Akama, always the optimist, Jubei smiled at himself as he reached for a bowl and put it right in the middle of the circle. It was chipped and worn, but it had been brought from Draenor when the clan had come through the portal. It was one of the few remaining artifacts of their clan, and valued and cared for better than any king's crown you care to mention. It was not just a symbol, it was the heart of the clan. As one they all made a cut in their arms, letting the blood drip into the bowl.

This ritual, and others like it was what had almost destroyed the Burning Blade clan during the time of the Demon Curse. In the old days back in Draenor, even long before the advent of the demons, the Burning Blade clan had been considered barbaric and savage even by Orcish standards. They kept ancient customs long discarded and forgotten by the other clans, and among them was the belief that blood was closely tied to the spirit of the owner. The heart was the core of that power, and thus, after every successful hunt, the males would share the heart of the stag, or whatever the creature it was, in order to take part of the creature's spirit. The heart of a bear would give its strength, the heart of a panther its ferocity, and so on. But most important of them all was the rite of bonding, of fellowship that the clan had used to keep together, to share their strength. When the various Chieftains came together in that dark pact with Mannoroth, they had tasted his blood. As they went back to their respective clans, their spirits called out, corrupting their fellow clan members. And slowly but surely the clans succumbed to the dark will of the Burning Legion, turning even more aggressive and savage than before. Not so for the Burning Blade. As the chieftain returned, the customary Rite of Bonding was performed, as it was with all clan members when they came to another village or returned to their own after a certain amount of time. It was also used to support decisions made. The dark blood of Mannoroth did not exude like an aura from the chieftain, like in the other clans where the chieftain was the only one who drank. No, among the Burning legion, the blood was shared by all in the bonding ritual, first in the chieftains village, and then spread to the others as people visited and returned. It spread like a dark plague, its dark power compounded over and over again with every ritual. It went so far that the Shadow Council ordered that the Burning Blade clan be caged like animals, and only let loose upon the enemy lest they destroy the horde from within in their psychotic rages. But they could not stop the rite of bonding. As the survivors of the clan slowly started to fight back against the dark urges of the curse, the rite strengthened them, helped them stand together in a way that the other clans could not.

As the bowl filled up, Jubei reached for it as he looked at his clan, his brothers… his family.

"We are one," he said solemnly in old Orcish, a language so ancient it was hardly spoken outside this clan. It was as close to regular Orcish as Celtic is to English. Slowly he took a sip of the bowl, the salty blood dripping from his lips as he passed it down the circle. Respectfully he bent his head and closed his eyes as the old words were spoken over and over, the bowl going from one to the other. The bowl was put down in the middle again very gently as the last drinker bowed his head and also closed his eyes. A moment of silence reigned, and then, on some unspoken agreement that nobody could explain, and never had been able to, they all spoke at the same time.

"We are one."

The small camp was silent now, everyone sleeping except for Onaya and Geir, who had the middle watch, or Dogwatch as the humans called it. It pretty much left you dead tired the next day, since it was hard to sleep before your watch, and only a few hours to sleep during the third watch, or morning watch. What made it worse was that they could not understand each other and couldn't talk, so every minute dragged on forever, and the quiet fire beckoned them to lay down and sleep. Geir spent his time idly whittling at a small piece of wood, while Onaya kept her ears open, an eye at the dark forest and the other on Geir, in case he would try anything 'human' on her or any of the women. He kept his eyes on that wood piece or on the sleeping form of Kiniea however, and didn't look at the Kaldorei women much at all. Sighing with boredom she looked around, but there was nothing except the regular sounds of the forest. After a while of that she got bored, and more and more tired. Finally she overcame her revulsion and decided to try to communicate with the human, just for something to do. Besides, the care and diligence with which he worked on that wooden piece intrigued her. Moving closer, but in no way admitting to being interested, she looked over his shoulder at what he was doing. It was a very simple design, two rounded edges at the top, curving down to a point at the bottom. A small hole had been painstakingly bored through it for some reason, probably to hang it from a loop or something, similar to her own pendants and ear pieces. A letter or rune had been carved into both sides of it too. He noticed her looking, and smiled sheepishly as she tried to pretend she hadn't looked at all. Then he said something, and she recognized 'Kiniea' but didn't understand anything else. She shook her head and shrugged, trying to show she didn't speak his language, and his smile faded. Thinking for a moment, he smiled again and put his hand over his heart.

"Kiniea" he whispered and winked shyly at her. Onaya, her experience with Kaldorei males nonexistent due to them sleeping all the time had no idea what he meant, and only shrugged again as she turned away. Why would make a piece of wood and hold his chest for Kiniea? A gift?

Her thoughts were interrupted as a great flying beast landed suddenly in the clearing, a horrible shriek erupting from its throat. As the others woke up, scrambling to their feet she saw the armored figure on its back. Terrified screams came from the refugees, and with a surprised glance behind her she saw them all curled up, pathetically trying to hide from the gaze of the dark figure.

"I see you have taken my harem for a walk in the woods," Lord Agnon called to the footman and grunt that stood protectively in front of his slaves. "That's mighty nice of you, boys, but I want them back!" his cruel laugh echoed in the forest as he let his dark aura flow towards the group. The undead Wyvern he rode moved slightly, and Agnon forced it down again.

"You will never lay another finger on them!" a female voice yelled angrily, and some sort of elven woman astride one of the biggest wolves he had ever seen came up beside the grunt. A huntress, not one of his slaves, and an archer also came up, and Lord Agnon grinned inside his black helmet.

"Thank you boys for finding me some new toys to play with," he mocked as he looked at the women. "Slim pickings in this neighborhood nowadays!" Both the huntress and the wolf rider charged forward, and Lord Agnon laughed. Just as he knew she would, the Huntress flung her glaive at him, and he brought his shield up just right. The glaive hit it with a clang and stuck there, one metal point right through the shield. The Wyvern snapped its jaws, and Anea barely dodged as she jerked backward, frantically trying to call the glaive back. However, as the Wyvern snapped again, trying to reach her, it exposed its torso, and Kiniea thrust the spetum into it with all the strength of her wolf behind. Dodging and ripping the spetum back out she avoided the dying flails of the beast as it collapsed, making Lord Agnon fall off. But he rolled expertly and got back up on his feet.

"You will pay dearly for that, you damned wench!" he growled in rage and focused his power. Kiniea, taken by surprise had no time to duck, and it hit her hard as a sledgehammer right in the chest, throwing her off the wolf like a rag doll. Shouting dark and unholy incantations the dark force shaped into something like a big clawed hand and gripped her body. Kiniea started to scream as it suddenly squeezed.

Grikk and the others stood spellbound by the waves of fear that came from the enemy. He could hear her scream as the black armored man cursed and raged, the unholy darkness shooting out of his hand and into her. It was just a weak human! Help her! His mind screamed at him over and over, but all he wanted to do was run away, hide, or just curl into a ball and beg for mercy, but his legs wouldn't move, and he could only stand there gaping as the dark fear gripped his heart. DO SOMETHING! But his axe fell from senseless fingers as he stood paralyzed.

"Believe me, woman," Lord Agnon spat as he increased the force of the dark hand, her pitiful shrieks of unbearable pain like music in his ears, "I will take my time with you, oh yes, you and me are going to have some FUN!"

"NO! You shall not have her!" someone shouted, and Agnon looked up. It was the footman, running towards him and swinging his sword wildly. Agnon laughed, and as the footman reached him he sidestepped quickly, shield deflecting the wild swing, and then he swung his own mace, hitting the opponents shield with a loud crash that made Geir stagger sideways out of balance. Agnon grunted in triumph and crashed the mace down on the shield again, keeping Geir on the defensive. Another hard smash, and another. The shield shattered, and Geir sank to his knees with a pained gasp as his arm was numbed from the shoulder down. He swung his sword frantically, trying to get Agnon away from him, but it was easily parried and the mace smashed down on his helmet stunning him and making him almost fall on his face.

"This is all you can do? Pathetic!" Agnon laughed as he kicked the kneeling opponent in the belly. He was rewarded with a retching sound, and he stared at the others, his dark eyes and even darker aura keeping them still, shivering with fear. What a bunch of pathetic wretches! But the footman wouldn't quit, weakly he thrust at him, and Agnon failed to react in time. The sword rasped inefficiently across his armor, but it pissed him off even so. A hard kick to the arm made the sword fly out of his hand and clatter as it vanished in the bushes.

"I would have let you live, you misbegotten wretch!" Agnon growled as he raised the mace to crush the opponent's head once and for all.

Elune, although slower than her sister, had finally ceased her dreamy existence of just following her brother across the sky, and had started to take an interest. Years ago she had blessed one of her children, or cursed, depending on how you looked at it. They were called Moon-Singers in old elven. She had taken one of them, a female, and asked it to sing for her when she was sleeping, when the stars shone more brightly. Then she had sent it out to find someone like itself, an anomaly, someone different. Now, after many years, the Star-singer had found who it was looking for.

Her domain was dreams, fantasies and romance. She ruled the tides, and all the creatures of the world were affected by her. Poets opened their windows at night, and she shone upon them and gave them inspiration. Artists forever made images of her on canvas and cloth. But unlike her brother, Elune was not always bright and shiny. In her dark aspect, she brought madness, delusions and despair. She would need both aspects in order to save her children, but the Kaldorei Priestesses would only worship and revere her light side. Now she had found an empty soul, ready to be filled, a soul to revere and serve the other aspect…

Agnon stared along with everyone else at the shooting star that suddenly fell from the sky towards the crumpled shape of Kiniea. There was no sound as it hit her, a burst of light erupting and shimmering ghostlike across the clearing. He lowered his mace as the footman fell forward, but that was not important now. He saw her ponderously roll over and get on her feet, the spetum held in both hands, tip glowing with an eerie light. Worse than that, the girls he had used for fun and pleasure were also standing up, grabbing what rusty and worn weapons they had. There was a look in their eyes that made him a little nervous.

"You will pay for the pain of my sisters," Kiniea growled through clenched teeth. "All of it!" Her armor was torn and jagged, almost exposing her to him, and her forehead was bleeding, probably from getting smashed against a sharp rock or something. He struck out with the darkness again to break their courage, but she whipped her spear around, the glowing tip slashing into it, sucking it up. The tip glimmered even brighter, and then slowly his power reflected and changed came back at him. It wasn't very fast, or frightening. Just like a wispy glow snaking through the air and hitting him, almost like a caress. Agnon looked around in confusion. He was hungry and tired. Why wasn't he home in bed? Did he forget to eat again? My, those women were beautiful, weren't they? But they looked rather angry, did someone say something wrong? He looked behind him vaguely in case someone was there. Then the effect slipped away, and he whipped around again, raising his shield and mace.

"People seldom think of this," Kiniea smiled almost cheerfully, "but the greatest power of the Moon is reflection. The harsh and brutal light of the sun that shows what is real is changed into soft and gentle dreams by the Moon. Everything changes, weakness to strength, dark to light… oh, and fear to courage," the last was growled out harshly. She waved to the women behind her. As they approached Agnon took a step back, seeing his fate in their cold hard eyes.

"But… but I broke you!" he said, almost pleadingly. Their weapons did not listen.

When the Kaldorei had taken their vengeance they burned the hacked up pieces. The fire burned with a dark, oily smoke, which didn't surprise anyone. The elves looked at Kiniea with more respect, almost awe, even though there had been no more manifestation of Elune's powers in her. Geir was laid flat on the ground, the buckled helmet gently removed so they could examine his wounds. Luckily his head wasn't crushed, but he did have a big juicy bruise on the side of the head. A good sleep and he would probably be better in the morning. However, with the danger of concussion, the women kept bugging him and bullying him gently to stay awake. He was not happy about it, but he knew why they did.

Only Anea saw Grikk slip away and leave the camp. Figuring he had some personal business to take care of, she didn't do or say anything, but just let him go take care of it. However, after ten minutes he had not returned, and she started to worry when she saw his axe lying exactly where he had dropped it. He never went anywhere without his axe!

Grikk sat on the same rock that Kiniea and Geir had sat on hours earlier. He could not face them again. Not after this. He had stood there like a pathetic coward while a human had run to help Kiniea. A pathetic, weakling human! Sometimes he really wished he was still cursed. Then that unholy monster would be dead, and his axe would run red with blood! Nothing could stop him then, he and his brothers had been invincible! Now he was just… Grikk. A weakling coward who let pesky humans fight in his place.

Anea slipped among the trees, looking for Grikk, and she heard him a bit further from the camp. He was muttering and grumbling something in a rough language, probably his own instead of the common spoken among the outlanders. He sat with his back to her, obviously upset about something. Slowly she moved up to him and hesitantly sat down on the rock beside him. He didn't seem to mind, he just kept grumbling, avoiding her eyes. She had no idea what he was saying, but it was most likely about the fight. She wasn't too happy about it either, she had been scared stiff, just like him. But whatever dark powers that fiend possessed, they were as dead as him now. Anea shivered slightly. Being so close to Grikk was making her head spin, and she felt very awkward and stupid. She both wished that Kiniea was there to translate, and glad she wasn't. Maybe there would never be anything. He was apparently interested in another woman, even though this woman was ruined, crippled beyond repair by the humans. The thought of that particular subject was dark and ugly. How could anyone do something like that? But then again, what she had seen of the humans' works lately should prepare her for anything. She suddenly realized that her mind was going all over the place, thinking random thoughts in order to keep from thinking of the fact that he was there, right beside her. There might never be a chance for her. But the only way to find out, was to go for it and see what happened. She smiled shyly as she grabbed his hand, holding it gently. His low-key grumbling and muttering silenced, and he looked straight ahead for a moment, as if thinking. Then he turned his head and looked right at her, and she blushed and looked down. She made to pull her hand back, but then she felt him hold it still. Slowly, still looking at her, a smile forming, he gently squeezed it back.

DA XVII – Dance of the Burning Blade

Jubei and his brothers left the camp at dawn, carrying a minimum of rations and water. Not many saw them leave, and they unraveled just outside the palisades, adapting an easy trot that they could keep up all day, at a speed that would have an ordinary Orc gasping for breath after fifteen minutes. Such was the way of the Blademasters, to flow like the wind, unthinking, unheeding as the miles flew past under their feet. While they could not outrun a horse, at least they could give it a good challenge. Thrall and Drek'Thar had asked the spirits of the earth, and apparently the small group of messengers should be somewhere northwest of the Main Base, two or three days ahead. The tracks were easy to follow, since it had not rained, and they should catch up to them pretty quickly.

Kiniea looked up as Grikk came stomping back into camp, followed by Anea. There was a light in her eyes that Kiniea hadn't seen before, and she frowned briefly, but skipped sideways as Grikk almost pushed her aside to talk to Geir, still sitting on the ground.

"Hey-" she objected, but Grikk ignored her, standing over Geir.

"Why you no fear?" Grikk asked, his grammar stunted in his agitation.

"Huh? Why me no fear?" Geir said a little taken aback. "Hell, I was scared shi… I mean, I was terrified," he laughed. Both Kiniea and Grikk stared at him.

"And still you fight?" Grikk muttered. Geir grinned sheepishly.

"I have been afraid all my life," he started. "The kids used to call me Geir the Coward, since I didn't dare do anything." He looked at Kiniea and blushed. "But one day I figured I am scared banyway/b, so what is there to be afraid of, so to speak," he chuckled. "How can you scare someone who is already terrified?" he grinned and winked at Kiniea who laughed. Grikk stared at him in astonishment.

"So… when you came looking for Kiniea and we pushed you around…?"

"Scared shitless, I mean, yes, I was terrified," he corrected himself, glancing at Kiniea who grinned. Then Grikk started laughing.

"Courage from fear! You brave, Geir, you brave!" he laughed and patted the human on the shoulder so hard his teeth rattled.

Jaina yawned and rubbed her eyes tiredly. After the meeting with the Prophet and the Nightelf leaders they had gone to Thrall's hut to discuss what to do next, and the Nightelf woman had joined them. With them was Thane Grimshield of the Dwarves, her most experienced General, and an old hero from the second war when the Horde had assaulted Khaz Modan, the Dwarven Kingdom of the mountains. During the assault he had led one of the Heavy Infantry legions (1 legion=1000 warriors, called Haer by the dwarves) that the Dwarves were famous for. The Dwarven heavy infantry was the best in the known world at that time, each dwarf wearing enough chain and plate armor to equip four footmen, and wielding their massive axes and hammers. However, they had not been strong enough to hold back the overwhelming number of Orcs that had flooded the halls and corridors of their underground city.

Thane Grimshield had led his warriors in ruthless commando tactics in the underground tunnels, and managed to hold the line at the West Gate, causing a stale mate that allowed them the time to request reinforcements from the rest of the Alliance. The Horde, caught between the grim and implacable Dwarves in front and the human and elven forces at their rear had crumpled with nowhere to go in one of the most brutal and bloody battles of the second war. It had been a costly victory, the Dwarven Heavy Infantry sporting as many as fifteen complete Legions had been reduced to less than one. All of those dwarves were hailed as heroes by their kin, and had remained true to the alliance and their standards.

However, he seemed a little out of his element here. Instead it was Thrall that spoke the most, asking Jaina to translate questions and answers with the grim and silent elf woman, Tyrande or whatever her name was. Jaina herself felt out of place, not understanding half of what the Orc and Night elf were talking about. She was a mage, not a general, and she didn't even feel comfortable leading the remains of the Alliance in peaceful circumstances, by the Light! But she couldn't let her people know that Thrall was leading them either. There were still problems within the camp, years of hostility wasn't so easily dispelled, and she knew that most of her warriors would resent being led by an Orc, no matter how honorable he was. She had to at least bappear/b as if she knew what she was talking about. Groaning inside she screwed her eyes up in an attempt to keep her attention on the discussion.

Gyorn wiped his sweaty brow as he reached down for another sack of flour. The whole camp was moving, everyone grabbing what they could for the trek north. The orders had been given to leave, to move with the silent Night elves to what would be the last stand of the world against the Burning Legion. And Gyorn was so sick and tired of it. He along with the rest of the humans had left their home, their country and gone by ship to this… Light-forsaken Jungle. His wife Jillian lay in a shallow ground somewhere south of here, broken down by the harsh march and the sickness that had befallen Lordareon. He had kept his spirits up, even when they had to share this camp with the Orcs, but now they had to leave bagain/b. Would they ever know peace? Probably not. From the look on Lady Jaina's face when she spoke to them this was just a way of delaying the inevitable. They were all dead anyway, might as well stay here in comfort while waiting for it.

He put the sack down on a nearby cart and returned to the small crude mill for another one when he saw a little child, boy or girl was hard to tell with all the grime and dirt covering its face. It couldn't be more than 2-3 years old. Crying forlornly it staggered around, wiping its face, and Gyorn went over and crouched down.

"Where is your mother?" he asked with a reassuring smile. This caused another burst of crying from the kid.

"Mommy gone, and daddy gone too!" Ah, Gyorn thought as he reached out and pulled the kid close. Orphan. The kid clasped him tight, and Gyorn stood up.

"What is your name, little one?" he asked gently as he headed for a water trough.

"Lill… Lillian" the little girl sobbed. "When is mommy and daddy coming back?" Gyorn said nothing at first, his heart wrenching as he looked at the innocent little face.

"Uh… they're… well…" he started as the girl looked at him. No, they are not coming back, little child, his mind whispered. But he couldn't tell her that. Not now. Putting on his best smile he shook her playfully.

"Well, your parents had to take care of some things for a while, but they want you to stay with uncle Gyorn until they return, you know?" he said cheerfully, nodding his head.

"Really?" Lillian blinked her eyes. Gyorn laughed.

"Really really!" he grinned as he put her down by the water trough. "But we need to get you cleaned up and pretty, don't you think?" the girl giggled, and Gyorn started splashing some water on his hand and wiping her face.

"Ooh cold!" she complained, but Gyorn kept going until he could actually see the face beneath the dirt.

"See? All nice and pretty!" he smiled as he let her see her reflection in the water. "Are you hungry, Lill?" he asked then.

"Yeah!" she said quickly, and Gyorn picked her up again. He turned looking south for a moment, where the Burning Legion would be coming from. You are not getting this one, he told them in his head. No, you will bnever/b get this one! Then he turned abruptly and headed for the makeshift kitchen.

Behind her veil of clouds Elune smiled.

Kiniea gave the order to break camp and get going, and the refugees quickly obeyed, along with Grikk and Geir. Anea was a little miffed about taking orders from a girl half her age, but she went along with it for the moment. Onaya followed her captain, of course, and the group got ready, saving as much of the meat as possible as they started marching. Anea had been a little worried about this Dark Priestess business with Kiniea, but one of the refugees had been an apprentice to a Priestess when they were attacked and captured. The Priestess had been first on the table, arms broken and her mouth gagged so she could not call to Elune for aid. If Kiniea could stop a monster that their Priestess could not, what was wrong with following her? Besides, everyone had seen the burst of light as Elune empowered her. It could not be Heresy if the Goddess herself wanted it to be. And that was pretty much it, Anea thought. It would work for now. But in truth, to her mind, they were Renegades now. The refugees, previously archers and Huntresses, were just regular infantry now, carrying whatever weapons they had scrounged up, and following an outsider riding a wolf. It was such a big mess. The only good thing about all this was that Grikk held her hand in the darkness, smiling his toothy grin at her.

Blushing she urged her panther forward, catching up with Kiniea and the outsiders.

"Kiniea, there is a small lake on the way to the next outpost. We should stop and get some water there," she suggested. Kiniea smiled tiredly at her.

"Good, and I could really use a bath by now!" she replied, her face and armor stained with blood and sweat. Anea grinned.

Jubei and the Blademasters were still running, occasionally sipping water from their flasks and chewing on dried strips of meat from their pouches. The tracks were easy to follow, and the miles went quickly beneath their feet. It was a very nice break from the tedium of staying in the camp and doing nothing. They stopped for a moment at what appeared to be a burned out funeral pyre, and saw the burned remains of a Rifle. So the messengers had run into trouble then? There were a lot of remains here, more than for just a Dwarven Rifleman. They found the signs of battle, and apparently the messengers had followed their fleeing enemy. The Blademasters followed the tracks north.

Kiniea relished the chill water on her body, and the other women did too. She had seen the grisly scars and bruises on the refugees, but hopefully those would fade in time. Her wolf Starsong and Anea's panther were circling the lake, making sure there were no enemies around, while Grikk and Geir were making a small camp on the other side of a grove of trees. After getting thoroughly clean, Kiniea got out of the water and started washing the remains of her clothes, while scrubbing the armor with sand and water. The others also washed the disgusting rags their wore, twisting the water out of them when done. They didn't have time to let the clothes dry properly, but put them on anyway. Kiniea and Anea left their armor in the sun so it wouldn't rust. Then they headed for the camp.

Kiniea stopped as she saw Geir. He had removed his armor, wearing only pants as he and Grikk circled each other, holding wooden sticks and practicing. While she had seen Elf men without clothes before, Geir had hair growing on his chest and arms, giving him a fuzzy look, and he was unshaven. He was more muscular than Elf males, although not as much as Grikk. Something in her mind went click.

"I think I need another cold bath," Anea muttered as she came up beside her, staring at Grikk. Kiniea blushed furiously and looked down. Swallowing nervously she moved forward, and her nose wrinkled at the stench of stale sweat and dried blood.

"Your turn for a bath," she called to the men. Please, please take a bath! her mind screamed as she swallowed to keep the retching down.

Geir stared with his mouth open as he saw Kiniea coming up towards them. Her hair was dripping wet, and the soaked clothes hung on her body, outlining it, and they were ripped and ragged. Bloody hell! Oh yes, he bneeded/b a cold bath bright now!/b A nudge from Grikk broke the spell, and he chuckled nervously.

"Yes, Kini," Grikk said as he dropped the stick and grabbed Geir, pulling him along before the human could do or say something stupid.

Kiniea waited for them to disappear on the other side of the grove of trees, and then turned to one of the refugees.

"Make sure they don't come back, I am going to hang my clothes up to dry," she said, pulling her blouse off and going to the small fire that the men had started. Some of the others did the same, and working together they got a makeshift scaffolding built over the fire, and hung their clothes on it.

"Last one in is a dirty rat! WOOHOO!" they heard Geir yell, and Kiniea rushed towards the grove of trees, wondering what the hell was going on. Ducking down at the edge, she saw Geir running out of the bushes surrounding a small cliff, and diving gracefully into the water. As Anea and Onaya joined her Grikk threw himself wildly off the cliff a moment after, landing with a belly flop that splashed water all over the place.

"Hooh! This water is bcold/b!" Geir gasped as he surfaced. Grikk just laughed.

"What are they doing?" Onaya whispered as the three women watched from hiding.

"Playing like little children," Kiniea chuckled as Grikk grabbed Geir and threw him across the lake.

"Go back to the others Onaya," Anea scolded. "You are too young to watch."

"What, I am fifteen hundred years old!" Onaya argued in a fierce whisper. Kiniea giggled, but then looked down. And I am two thousand one hundred years old… or two thousand one hundred and fifty two, to be exact. Geir was around twenty, and Grikk maybe twenty five, although she wasn't so sure with Orcs.

Humans lived an average of sixty years for commoners. The oldest human she knew about had been one of the Arch mages at Kirin Tor. He had held on until he died at an age of one hundred and five years, and at that time he had been so worn and weak that he was glad to go. She had seen generations of humans born and dead during the years at Kirin Tor. Could she bear seeing Geir weaken and wither away while she was still a young girl? He had maybe forty years left to live. That wasn't even enough to get to know him properly, and certainly not long enough to bond. However, to humans it was an eternity, and probably to Orcs too. The mortal races lived full lives in less time, with more passion and fire than elves, who were more laid back and relaxed about things. Kiniea thought nothing of days passing by, and seasons came and went at the blink of an eye. But humans lived every second to the fullest, filling every moment with life. She remembered thousands of nights in the big library, hearing the human students groan and complain about boredom after merely an hour, when to her the evening passed so fast she hardly got anything done. In forty years Geir would be old and tired of life, while hers had just begun… Ah, who was she fooling? They wouldn't have forty years, they'd be lucky just to have another forty days with the Burning Legion on the march.

And then she blushed even deeper as she realized that she bwanted/b those forty days with him, every moment, every single second.

Jubei and his brothers slowed down as they entered the burned out husk of the corrupted Night elf outpost. There was nothing left alive there, not even the forest animals moved between the massive stumps and ravaged huts. But they could all feel it, the dark memory of demonic forces. Jubei and the others stayed together, examining the ruins before returning to the tracks of the messengers who led out of the outpost, joined by others. Just as they got into the rhythm of running, Jubei felt a ghastly cold along one side, and in one swift movement he drew his blade, turned and slashed downward. He was rewarded with the whispered echo of a scream, and a shimmering in the air, pretty much like what you get over campfires. The others stopped.

"We are discovered," Jubei said in a grim voice as he sheathed his blade.

Arthas led his forces up the small hill towards the corrupted night elf outpost, where he had sent one of his Shades just moments before. With Kel'Thuzad and Silvanas in tow he crested the hill, and saw the Orcs below.

"Well, well, well," he grinned. "Have you come looking for your friend?" he asked as he saw the swords they had, similar to the one he had in his belt, taken from Jaina's escort. "We brought him with us, in a manner of speaking," he laughed as one of the Abominations gurgled and rubbed its belly. One of the Orcs stepped forward, probably the leader from the age portrayed in his face.

"Give us the sword, human, and we will let you go," he said grimly, and Arthas laughed. Hearing the muttered incantations from the Lich and seeing Silvanas nock her bow he drew the Orcish blade.

"I don't think so. This sword fits nicely in my collection, you see, and I am thinking that yours will too!" Kel'Thuzad released the spell right inside the apparent leader as Silvanas released her black arrow.

The blast from the spell would have killed any normal Orc as the deadly cold shock dropped the body temperature below freezing, causing a massive cardiac arrest, but Jubei had an almost supernatural health due to rigorous mental and physical training. Even so, he dropped to his knees with a ragged gasp as his heart jolted and tried to pump blood through veins that had shrunk to almost nothing. As Arthas chanted his own dark incantations Otomo leaped over Jubei, drawing his blade and cutting the dark arrow as it flew towards his master. The broken pieces clattered among the bushes, but he did not have time to get Jubei out of the way as the Death Coil streaked towards him, and Otomo took it right in the chest, falling on his face.

"Kill them!" Arthas commanded and sent his dark forces towards the Orcs. Ghouls, Crypt Fiends and Abominations surged forward as the Orcs used their illusion spells, as he knew they would. As the dark flow reached the images, they dissipated, leaving nothing behind, and Arthas cursed as he realized that the Orcs had escaped, hidden from view by the illusions.

"They will be back, Arthas," Silvanas grinned evilly. "You saw their eyes, they are not just regular brutes. They will be back, and they will kill you!" she rasped, her voice full of hatred. Angrily he slapped her across the face.

"Yes… and I know you will protect me, won't you, slave?" he growled back at her. He laughed as he saw the dismay in her eyes. She had no choice but to obey, after all. Even after they had repaired her body and forced her soul back into it she was still a servant of the Lich King.

The Blademasters forced Jubei to run, to warm him up and drive out the ghastly cold that almost killed him. The pain as his body warmed up was horrifying, but still he staggered forward, while Otomo was carried along. After about half an hour, the group stopped, and Jubei dropped to his knees. Kenji grabbed him and led him over to where Otomo lay. His chest had blackened, and he breathed in shallow gasps as he tried to fight back the dark stain that grew on his body. Jubei knelt beside him and clasped his hand firmly.

"I can't… hold it back… master!" Otomo gasped with a strained voice. "Don't let me become… one of them!" Jubei nodded, swallowing back his tears.

"So be it, brother," he said solemnly as he drew his blade, putting the point lightly on Otomo's chest. The others put their hands on the handle of the sword also.

"Find the messengers," Otomo reminded him, his voice calmer now that he let go of the fight. "Then retrieve Akira's sword, master." Jubei nodded, blinking his eyes. Unlike the weak incantation that Arthas had used on Agnon to turn him, this time it was meant to kill, and the dark stain spread horribly fast.

"We are one… brothers," Otomo said as he clasped the blade with his free hand.

"We are one," Jubei spoke along with the others, and the blade thrust down. Otomo's hand clasped Jubei's almost painfully hard for a moment, and then let go.

DA XVIII – Dark Moon Rising

Geir felt a lot better after the bath, the sore, tender muscles and aches had loosened up somewhat, and it seemed that the women felt better too. They smiled a bit more and it seemed as if the bath had been some sort of cleansing from what that monster had done to them. Maybe after some time they could put it behind them, he hoped.

"Grikk, you and Geir take the lead. We are still going north," he heard Kiniea speak, and he looked over at her. She had been very elusive this morning, and hadn't even really spoken to him. Even now she avoided his eyes. He let his eyes roam over her armor clad body, remembering how she looked when she came from the pool, and sighed. Forcing a smile he nodded at Grikk and started walking.

He was without helmet now, the blow from Agnon had ruined it, and he had no anvil nor tools to fix it, and his shield was shattered. However, after the stick practice with Grikk he felt a little more confident. His sword was big enough to be used with both hands efficiently, and as Grikk had said, he would have to rely on speed and skill to defend himself without the bulky shield. Resting his left hand on the handle of his sword to reassure himself he caught up to Grikk, grinning as the matched the larger Orc stride for stride, setting a brisk pace for the group.

Anea and Kiniea rode on the flanks of the group of women, making sure the pace wasn't too high for the still somewhat weak refugees. The women had found some reserve of strength, for none lagged, and none voiced complaints. Their eyes scanned the forest, but returned frequently to the Orc and Human in the lead.

Kiniea irritably wrenched her gaze from Geir's back and looked around. Catching the admiring and almost worshipping eyes of the refugees she felt very awkward. She was not sure of what had happened in the clearing during the fight with the dark human, she had felt very powerful, very blessed, but that feeling had dissipated. Now there was only an urging in the back of her head, almost like a whisper she couldn't quite catch, telling her to speed north, to where another outpost was supposed to be according to Anea. She had surreptitiously tried to pray to this moon-goddess Elune under her breath, but she didn't know what to say, and she couldn't tell if the goddess had heard her. She didn't feel any different afterwards either, so after a few timid attempts she had given up on it. But she couldn't tell that to the others, they needed all the hope and encouragement they could get. Even now she could see some of the younger ones crying silently at what had happened to them. An uneasy feeling told her it was not over yet, there were still much more to do in the Goddess' service.

Jubei and his brothers stood in reverent silence watching the flames take Otomo's spirit to the world beyond. Grim faces ran with silent tears as the funeral pyre burned. No words were spoken, for there were none to say. They all knew Otomo as they knew each other, and anything worth saying was known to all already. Clenching Otomo's blade in his hand, Jubei knew more would fall. It was the twilight of the Burning Blade clan now, no matter what happened. Slowly he stuck the sheathed sword in his belt, right beside his own. There were fifteen swords on the walls of their quarters back in the base camp. Otomo's and Akira's swords would make seventeen.

As the pyre burned down they wordlessly turned and headed north to pick up the tracks of the messengers.

Torg, former outpost commander and outrider was now part of the 3rd Nightrider Company composed of the weird Night elf Huntresses, Dryads and Horde Raiders, the fastest, most agile of the combined forces. Their job was recon and light skirmishing with the forward elements of the Burning Legion, trying to confuse or deter the enemy scouting parties. The entire Outrider Company, less than thirty Raiders, had been split up and distributed into squads with a similar number of the swift and deadly Huntresses and Dryads. Each squad was about twelve units strong, led by Priestesses. Of course, Torg and his fellow Raiders could care less what the allied Night elves called themselves. The problem was that they couldn't understand each other, and had to make up some sort of hand signals to communicate. That and the apparent hostility between their wolves and the big cats of the Night elves made for a difficult time. But no matter the company, Torg and his fellows were determined to do their best to stunt the advancing enemy. Riding their powerful Dire Wolves the Raiders lacked none of the speed and grace of their Nightelf counterparts as they all moved among the trees like deadly, silent shadows. The owls of the Huntresses flew somewhat ahead of them scanning the forests for any sign of movement, and Torg felt somewhat proud that he had noticed them earlier before the alliance with the Kaldorei.

"These outlanders are interesting, don't you think?" the Priestess Iriana half smiled at one of the Huntresses under her command as they watched Torg and his partner Grimmak split and go around some thick bushes instead of making their mounts leap over them as the Huntresses and Dryads would have. Probably needed to save the energy of their mounts, since the wolfriders were pretty heavy, even though they were more slender than the regular Orcs.

"Could you order them to ride down wind from us? Their stench sickens me," the Huntress complained, and the others who heard agreed. "Filthy brutes."

"The dryads don't seem to mind," Iriana grinned at the rolling eyes of her escort, but she hooted to get the attention of Torg and gave signal to increase the distance, spreading the formation more.

The Renegades lurked in the forest like silent shadows, staring at the satyrs moving among the corrupted and ruined Ancients. They had reached the outpost, but unlike the ramshackle wreck that the previous had been, this was well kept, and well guarded. Whatever Sentinel defenders the outpost had employed were incarcerated in a large wooden mesh encampment in the middle, but the Satyr guards were no pathetic weaklings, nor a small community with females and children included. This was a war camp, and the warriors wore various forms of leather armor, strengthened with bones and wooden splinters, and the weapons, though crude, were kept in excellent shape. A direct assault on this camp would be far too costly to be a viable solution, so the Renegades watched, studied guard patterns, and waited for nightfall. The Nightelf prisoners didn't seem abused, only a little roughed up during the capture, and they sat silently inside the enclosure. Some were wounded, wearing bandages, others were relatively unhurt. There were maybe twenty of them in total. Anea ordered the renegades to spread out and observe the camp to see if they could find some weakness, but as the women returned with their reports, their hope of an easy victory fell to dust.

Discipline was unusually high among the Satyrs, and apparently there was some sort of military system among them, with a stable chain of command, leading all the way up to some sort of enchanter, also known as Hellcaller in their corrupted language. Having gleaned all the information they could during daylight the Renegades withdrew, waiting for the cover of darkness while discussing possible plans.

Torg reined in his wolf, tilting his head as he listened. Something was coming, he could see that Krish, his dire wolf was aware of it too, big ears moving to hear better, and the fur on it's neck was standing up.

"Grimmak!" he whispered harshly to his partner, who wheeled around to join him. Now even the other parts of the company were aware that something was going on, and Priestess Iriana motioned to her forces to scatter, seeking cover among the bushes and trees. Grumbling in irritation she saw that the Wolfriders either didn't understand what she meant, or ignored her. The four of them waited side by side, their warblades in one hand and some sort of small weights in the other. They didn't know what was coming, their numbers, or anything. It was foolish to stand and fight an unknown enemy like that! Irritably she reordered her forces to stand with the outlanders, unable to let them get run down without support. Her Huntresses went up, side aside with the wolfriders, while her dryads took up position behind them, just like the idiotic formations she had seen the outlanders use before. But then again, they didn't seem to realize the advantage of speed and concealment. Sighing she drew an arrow and nocked her bow.

"Here they come!" Grimmak roared as a bunch of small gangly humanoids came rushing around a grove of trees, moving in a weird crouch, using both hands and feet to propel them forward. Torg tensed up, and then held his blade out in front of one of the Huntresses at his side, seeing they were ready to charge.

"Hold it, let them get closer!" he yelled in Orcish, when he suddenly realized that they would have no idea of what he said, but she glared at him and held still. The dryads, not used to this kind of fighting, or much fighting at all threw their spears nervously, and Iriana groaned as the missiles flew short. Forest ichildren/i indeed. Drawing her bow she surveyed the creatures. They were incredibly fast on their feet, and numbered maybe twenty, twenty five.

Torg and his brothers held the Huntresses back as they judged the distance carefully. Closer… closer… closer…

"NOW!" Torg yelled and the wolfriders burst forward, throwing their nets at the leading Ghouls who stumbled and fell to the ground, tripping and hindering those behind. Leaping over them the wolfriders crashed into the bunched up followers, sending them flying as the warblades cut down and the wolves bit. Staying just a moment to take full advantage of the stunned enemy they quickly scattered out to the sides, getting out of the close quarters.

The Huntresses were taken by surprise at the sudden charge but were not long to follow and charged right into the fray, their Glaives flying out before they too scrambled around the group. As the Dryads threw their spears, Iriana frowned. This was too easy. These gibbering weaklings were no match for them, and it was foolish to waste forces like this, unless…

"It's a diversion!" she yelled and then threw herself off her tiger as a shadow flew over her head, claws scratching her shoulder. The dryads scattered in panic as winged humanoids came screaming in from behind, but not all made it. One fell with her flank torn open, and another was frantically wheeling and kicking to shake off the screaming monster on her back. Iriana pulled her bow back and let loose just as the monster raised a clawed hand and slashed across the Dryad's face. The thing screeched in anger as the arrow tore through one wing and lodged in the shoulder, grounding it. The dryad tottered and fell, her face a bloody mess, and the Gargoyle hissed and came towards Iriana in a series of leaps and bounds. Gritting her teeth in anger Iriana got back on her tiger and drew another arrow.

"Come and face the Goddess' wrath!" she yelled as she drew the arrow, urging her tiger forward, closing the distance quickly. From a distance of less than ten yards she unleashed the arrow right into the chest of the beast, the powerful bow so strong that it not only halted the creature's advance, but made it stagger backwards before it fell. Iriana wheeled around and stared at the battle before her. The Raiders and Huntresses were in hard weather, assaulted from both ground and air. Even with the ingenious nets of the Raiders pulling the screeching Gargoyles down, they were overwhelmed, and the Dryads were nowhere in sight, apparently having bolted in panic like the deer they resembled.

"Goddess, grant me strength!" she cursed as she urged her tiger forward, drawing her bow once again. "Curse on you, Dryad cowards!" she muttered as she let loose over and over again. Then spears flew from the trees as the two remaining Dryads rejoined the battle, and the Gargoyles screeched in anger as they took flight.

Torg wheeled his wolf around and chased after the Gargoyles, a net in hand ready to bring another one down but as he leapt over what looked like dead Ghouls one of them reached up, its horrible claws ripping into his wolf's belly, and Torg tumbled to the ground as he heard it yelp. Getting back on his feet he saw the wolf and Ghoul rolling on the ground, vicious teeth snapping, but it was just a matter of moment before his life companion lay still, the Ghoul still biting and ripping. Roaring in rage and grief Torg ran forward, bringing the warblade down in a vicious swing that split the Ghoul in half. Dropping to his knees, he reached out a hand and touched his wolf. There was no pulse, no beating heart anymore, and Torg sat there for a moment before he snapped out of it. Then he grabbed the scabbard and pack of nets from the saddle.

"They are going around to come back!" he yelled and saw his fellow Raiders nod. Running as fast as he could he approached the Night Elf Priestess. She didn't understand a word he said, but when he started gesturing the whole group disengaged from the fight. The wounded Dryad was almost dragged up on her legs and led away at speed by the two others, but the last one lay dead, the horrible wound in her flank had taken her life.

Where is that girl who wore gowns and dresses less than a year ago? Kiniea thought to herself. The girl who thought that a good book was a girl's best friend and the top of excitement was flirting with the novice priests? Now she wore leather and chainmail instead of silk and velvet, and instead of a good book, she held a bloodstained Spetum. A year ago her future held a betrothed through arrangement, years of study and possibly the vaunted title of Archmage. Now she was translating for warriors planning an assault on an enemy camp. Looking over at Geir for a moment she saw him smile uncertainly at her, and she blushed as she looked down. A nudge from Grikk made her look up again.

"You listen, Kini. You and Anea ride through, yes? Make enemy follow you. Half of the elves follow Geir, come from here, and half follow me, come from here," he bent down and started drawing lines in the dirt, and Kiniea bent down with him to see better. "We attack from both sides, same time, catch them unprepared." Grikk finished and gave her a toothy grin. Anea bent down looking over the drawings.

"What did Grikk say?" she asked, and Kiniea translated. "Good plan," Anea conceded. "But they are still more than us, and better armed. We do not have the strength for a full attack on them." Grikk frowned as Kiniea translated. "What we should do is wait for night, sneak in, kill the sentries, and release the prisoners in silence, then get out before they know what has happened."

"There is no honor in that," Grikk grumbled irritably. "We should fight them!"

"Honor won't get our sisters free," Anea retorted, "and fighting will get us killed!"

"Wait, wait," Kiniea said quickly, aware of the tension that was building. Thinking quickly she looked at Grikk's drawings again. "Half the force attack, but run, making the Satyrs follow them, and when only the sentries remain, the other half, led by Grikk," she smiled at him, "attack the sentries and free our sisters before escaping?" The two others considered it.

"How do we find each other afterwards?" Anea wondered.

"Lake?" Grikk suggested. "It is not far, and we can rest before finding the next camp." Everyone agreed, and Grikk clasped Anea's arm in the same way he had done at the first meeting, and she clasped his in return. Then they turned as Onaya called out, coming towards them walking fast. Grikk stared with open mouth and dropped his axe as he saw who followed her. Thrall's guard! What were they doing here?

Torg watched the 3rd Nightrider company as they moved through the forest, leaving him and the wounded Dryad behind. He was without his wolf, and she was blinded, the vicious slash across her face by the Gargoyle had ruined her eyes, and they didn't have the means to restore them. Fully understanding that they would slow the company down, Torg had agreed to lead the Dryad back to the camp, and hopefully they would have no problems on their own. But he didn't have to like it. He had strapped his warblade across his back, and carried some nets in his belt, but he still felt vulnerable without Krish, his dire wolf. The Dryad, Nini or something was crying softly, and he patted her gently on the flank. He could not imagine being blind, unable to see even the ground in front of him. Taking her hand gently he started leading her north, towards the main base. She walked hesitantly, unsure of her footing, but followed along. She started singing something, sounding like a lullaby, but he didn't understand the words, and didn't really try either. His eyes scanned every bush, every tree as he led her on. The sound of the earlier battle would certainly attract attention, and he was far from prepared to take on any hostile forces.

DA XIX – Outcasts and Renegades

Anea studied the newcomers in silence as she kept control over the scouting. The apparent leader of them was conferring with Grikk, Geir and Kiniea, while the others sat on the ground, legs crossed. They were unarmored, save for metal bracers on their forearms, and carried slim swords instead of axes. Seeing their eyes and the way they moved, she realized they were not ordinary Orc warriors, they reminded her in some way of the Wardens, the elite police force of the Sentinels. Trained in tracking, stealth and subterfuge, the Wardens were not regular soldiers at all, but cold, merciless hunters of criminals. Why would the outlanders send such killers to find them? Grikk seemed to be both astonished and very happy that they had joined up with them though, so Anea wasn't too worried.

Jubei listened as Grikk told the tale of their mission, interrupted from time to time by Geir filling in. When they were done, including discussing the tentative plans for assaulting the outpost, he turned to face Kiniea, bowing respectfully.

"What is your suggestion, Shamaness?" The question took her totally off guard, and she looked at Grikk helplessly. He smiled widely and nodded at her. Apparently it was something special that this Orc would ask her opinion, but she had no idea what to say. She also wondered about the 'Shamaness' thing.

"Uh… Grikk had an idea…" she said hesitantly as she bent down pointing at the drawing he had made. Jubei also knelt down, studying it, followed by Geir and Grikk.

"Omu, fetch the Nightelf leader, please," Jubei commanded, and Kiniea saw one of the Blademasters bow and get on his feet, approaching Anea. A bit of gesticulating later, she slowly came up to them, crouching down.

"Yes, Kini?" she muttered.

Birds called out and animals scattered as the herd marched through the forest. Without any concern for stealth, Tam bellowed encouragement from time to time, joined by the other bulls as they trampled bushes and small trees. They were getting closer now, the urging that Tam felt had become more pointed, but it did not lead to Mount Hyjal, rather to a spot close by. Nonetheless, the herd was moving at a rapid pace, strengthened and encouraged by their resounding victory on the plains.

"This is getting old," Torg muttered to himself as he trudged up another hill, the blinded Dryad in tow. Having walked for hours, his legs were tired and worn from the unaccustomed walking. His feet hurt too, the light boots he wore was not meant to grind over rocks and twigs for hours on end. Rain was on the wind, and in the heat the humid air of the forest became very cloying and almost smothering. Wiping the sweat from his brow he shook his shoulders to move the warblade around some. No wonder the Grunts were always in a bad mood, having to walk everywhere, he thought with a half smile. Nini or whatever her name was had quieted down, now just following behind him and occasionally gasping as rocks and other debris moved under her hooves as she stumbled along. He had considered getting on her back and riding her, but discarded the idle thought quickly. She was far too frail and he was too heavy. She wouldn't be able to keep a good speed either, since she couldn't see where to put her hooves, so it wouldn't work.

"We rest here," he said out of habit, grabbing her arm and pulling her over to a small stream gurgling down the hill. Leaning against the trunk of a tree, he stifled a chuckle. It was hard for her to lie down properly, since she couldn't see the ground, and trying to reach down to feel for twigs or rocks in the way was inconvenient. Crouching down as far as she could she sort of tipped over with a yelp, luckily missing an outcropping of rock right by her front legs. Her face turned into a frown as she moved her head around, trying to hear where he was.

"Don't worry, I am still here," he grinned as he pulled a few strips of dried meat from his pouch, gnawing on one while handing her the other. She took it, the wrinkled her nose in revulsion, speaking some weird words in anger before flinging the strip away from her. Torg rolled his eyes and went to pick it up.

"What the hell do you want? Berries and fruit? I don't know where to find it in this blasted jungle," he grumbled, then stopped. There were sounds on the wind, and a faint taste to the air that spoke of dark magic. Nini kept blathering in her weird language, apparently scolding him for something, but a hand on her mouth silenced her. He felt her shiver, and her head moved as if she tried to listen.

"Time to move," he muttered and grabbed her under her belly, lifting her up on her hooves. She stood still, her hands clasping his left arm fearfully as the sounds grew stronger, twigs breaking and bushes moving. Reaching over his shoulder he drew his blade, looking around in a crouch. The strangers came from the right, and he urged Nini to follow him up the hill slowly, making as little sound as possible. Once free of the underbrush, he increased the pace, guiding the stumbling dryad quicker. A triumphant shout behind him made him turn his head, and he swore roughly.

"Go, hurry, to the top!" he roared and started running, dragging Nini along who yelped and hurried up. The group of Satyrs on their tail laughed and burst out of the underbrush behind them. They were gaining quickly, and in desperation Torg flung himself onto Nini, half lying on her back, a firm grip on her arm as she shot forward in panic, screaming and crying in terror as he pulled her arm from side to side to guide her around obstacles. As they reached the top of the hill a wrong step sent a hard jolt through her body as she screamed in pain. Torg hung on for a moment longer, knowing that another jolt like that would break her back with his weight on it, and then flung himself off. Nini sat down on her haunches, breaking her speed fast since without the guiding hand on her arm she was running blindly. She heard the shouts and dark laughter of the Satyrs coming up behind her, and shouted out in fear for the strange Orc to come to her.

But Torg had other thoughts. They could not run forever, he was far too heavy for her small frame, and he didn't know which way to go anyway, the sudden flight had thrown his bearings off, and they could just as well be going from bad to worse. Hefting his warblade he turned to face the enemy. There were six of them, slightly smaller than him but not much, and they carried spears and clubs. The apparent leader barked something, and they spread out, grinning wickedly as they closed in. Torg was tired and aching from the long walk, and he really missed Krish, his dire wolf. He didn't have much experience in fighting on foot, and there were six of them anyway. Reaching for his belt he grabbed one of the nets, holding it ready as he pointed the sword towards them with his other hand.

"Come and die, weaklings!" he roared his challenge as he crouched, looking them over one by one. They laughed and started circling him, ignoring the helpless Dryad for now. This was the wrong way to do it, Torg thought as they cut him off, closing in on him with every step. He needed room to move, and it was growing smaller by the moment. Feinting with his blade he flung the net towards one of them, lunging forward and jumping over the struggling Satyr as it fell to the ground, entangled in the net. The others shouted in anger and took after him as he spun around, both hands on the blade. He met them head on.

Kiniea got up on Starsong's back, readying herself for the coming battle. The plans were made, and everyone knew what to do. She heard the metallic jingle of Geir's armor, and turned around hesitantly. Then she stared in disbelief as he dropped to one knee, sticking his sword in the ground like some noble knight or something.

"Will you bless me before the battle, priestess?" he said teasingly, his head bent and looking up at her playfully. Kiniea huffed and was about to tell him where to go when the sound of another sword being drawn made her look around. One of the newcomers had drawn his sword as he knelt down on the ground, the sword flat on the ground in front of him. Putting his hands on his knees, he bowed deeply. The rest of Thralls bodyguards did the same, along with Jubei, their leader. Kiniea stared at Geir helplessly as the rest of the Renegades also knelt in front of her, but Geir could only shrug his shoulders in apology. Pushing down the panic she looked around, seeing Grikk almost pull Anea down on her knees in the back of the group. What the hell am I supposed to do now? She wailed in her mind as she gave Geir a dark look promising tears before bedtime.

"Uh…" she started hesitantly, trying to make up some sort of blessing. "Eh… Mother Elune," she spoke in old Elven, "grant your warriors courage in their hearts, and the strength of arm to do your will. May the Dark Moon cloud their enemies' eyes, and keep your children safe from harm. In your name, let it be done." And then she put her hands flat together, touching her forehead like she had seen the Priests do it back in Lordareon. The group sat in silence for a moment, and Geir winked at her.

iThat's interesting, /i a soft female voice, almost like a whisper came to her. iMy other priestesses usually ask for good vision and arrows striking true, but I guess I can do what you ask,/i and she heard a humorous chuckle.

"Elune!" Kiniea gasped timidly in surprise, "I… I…" she stammered, her eyes opening wide as she stared at the sky. There was no moon, it was in its dark aspect, and the voice in her head laughed warmly. Looking around at the surprised faces of her friends she closed her eyes and bent her head.

"I prayed to you several times, but there was no answer," she thought in her head, almost accusingly. A warm glow came over her, caressing her gently.

iI sleep during the day, my child, you should know that,/i the voice softly scolded her.

"But I don't know what to do, m-mother," she thought timidly. "I don't know what you want of me?" There was no answer for a moment, and Kiniea sighed.

iWhile the main force of the alliance is preparing to defend the world tree, a few of my sister's children, the Tauren, are marching to stand against the Outcast stronghold of Zzerlast to the southwest of Mount Hyjal. It is a gathering point, a supply dump you may say, for the Burning Legion. From there they will march towards the Tree itself, and overcome it, joined by the cursed Outcasts. You will know these as Satyrs, as you well know, /i the soft voice told her. iYou must free the prisoners of this outpost, and move your forces towards Zzerlast to join up with the western Tauren. If the Burning Legion reaches Zzerlast and join with the Satyrs, nothing will save this world from darkness, even with Furion Stormrage's brilliant plan. You must eradicate the forces at Zzerlast, and destroy the supplies gathered there. If not, the Burning Legion will destroy the alliance, and even if the great Tree itself survives, there will be none left to see it. Do you understand, my daughter?/i the voice asked sternly.

"Why me, Mother Elune? I am just a failed sorceress, there must be someone better," Kiniea wailed in her head, thinking of Anea. "She must surely be-"

iOf all my daughters, only you are pure,/i the voice interrupted her. iEven Anea, who has never read a book of magic in all her life is tainted. Only you are free of its taint. The magic runs through all living things, it is in the air they breathe, the food they eat, the blood that runs in their veins. Even my own priestesses are tainted. I come to them in dreams, through rituals and prayers, only you hear me as you do now, /iElune whispered warmly.

"But mother, I am not strong like her, what if I cannot do it?" Kiniea asked timidly.

iI will show you the way, my daughter, and I know you have the strength. All you have to do is walk the path./i and the voice disappeared along with the warm glow. Kiniea raised her head and looked at the group, still kneeling, a look of awe and respect on their faces.

"Now we ride," she commanded, raising her spear, the glowing head shining on her face.

Nini listened in terror to the shouts and clash of metal from the battle. She had no idea what was going on, holding on desperately to a small tree she had bumped into while trying to escape. The horrible sounds of metal cleaving flesh and screams of pain made her sob in fear. She still had her spears strapped to her back, but she had no idea where the enemy was anyway. Then most of the sounds died down, except for the grisly sounds of something hard and heavy beating on something soft repeatedly. She backed away from it, reaching for a spear with trembling hands as the sound stopped, and dragging footsteps came her way. She let the spear fall as she recognized the mumbling voice of her Orc companion, and took a few timid steps towards it. A hand, wet with something that was probably blood came down on her flank, and the muttering voice spoke clearer. She reached out and touched him, but then the voice faltered and faded to silence as his heavy body leaned against her and sank down to the ground. She whimpered in fear as her head moved around, trying to hear if anything else was coming for her, but the hill was silent now. Trembling she knelt down beside him, her hands reaching out. A broken spear was lodged in his shoulder, and examining further she found at least four wounds, bleeding heavily on his chest and sides. He was still breathing, but he wouldn't last long without help, and with her blind eyes, she could not find the things she needed. Crying helplessly she started pulling on the dry grass on the ground, trying to staunch his bleeding.

DA XX – Sword of the Burning Blade

The plans were made, and Jubei along with his brethren moved silently down the hill, accompanied by Onaya. Onaya was still a little edgy around the grim and implacable Blademasters, remembering how easily they had captured her about a week ago. At a signal from Jubei she stopped and crouched down as the Blademasters vanished, heading for the guards surrounding the prison. According to the plan they would spread out, taking out all the guards at the same time to keep things quiet, whereupon she would come to them so that the prisoners would know they were among friends. Once the prisoners were safe, the Blademasters would attempt to take out the magic using leaders before the general assault.

Tugging at the bowstring nervously Onaya urged herself to keep calm as she waited, her eyes scanning the camp for other signs of life, but apparently the majority of guards where on the outskirts of the camp and around the prison enclave. A flash of metal drew her attention and she saw the nearest guards drop as the Blademasters appeared right behind them, swords already cutting. A dropped spear clattered against one of the walls of the enclave, the sound like thunder in her ears, but everything was silent after that. Heeding the signal from one of the Blademasters Onaya hurried over there in a half crouch.

"No, don't!" she heard one of the captive women whisper fiercely as one of the Orcs thrust his sword between the door and lock, twisting down hard. The warning came too late, as a high pitched screech like a Banshee's wail echoed through the camp.

"A magic ward!" Onaya breathed in fear as she rushed over there. The Orcs wrenched the gate open, and Onaya motioned to the somewhat timid prisoners to come with her.

"This way, hurry!" she whispered fiercely, and after one last distrustful look at the Orcs the captives got on their feet and hurried out, following Onaya as she made her way towards the edge of the camp. Looking behind her briefly she saw the Orcs heading deeper into the camp, searching for the leaders. She knew the magical ward had alerted everything for miles around, and it was no surprise when she saw one of the guards running towards them from his patrol around the camp.

"Keep going! Our forces are attacking in just a moment!" Onaya told the apparent leader of the prisoners as she stopped and drew her bow, the arrow flying true, cutting down the guard swiftly. She almost sobbed in nervous relief when Starsong's call rang out, a solitary howl to the dark moon, the signal to attack. The hills erupted, and she could hear the distinctive warcry of Grikk, the Orc that Anea was so interested in, along with the lighter voice of the human.

Jubei stood in the center of a rapidly closing circle of steel, Otomo's sword in one hand and his own in the other. Already three guards lay at his feet, but the magic ward had ruined the advantage of stealth, and the warriors of the camp had been surprisingly quick to mobilize. He and his brothers had split up during the search, and he wondered briefly how they were doing before he lowered his stance and disappeared into the calm space inside, where no thought would distract him from the dance. While he usually didn't fight with two weapons, he had trained himself to use both hands equally, and in the flow of the dance the swords were part of him.

Geir and Kiniea led half of the Renegades from one side of the camp while Grikk and Anea spearheaded the assault from the other side. In the dark it was a little hard to see, but apparently Thrall's guard had separated, and were now surrounded, cut off from each other, and Geir yelled orders to split in two, and Kiniea relayed it to the elves. The sword felt light in his hand, and he swung it like an axe with both hands as they crashed into the enemy. The elven women yelled as they too fought against the Satyrs. The pressure on the Orcs were lessened as the Satyrs rallied to face the reinforcements, and the Blademasters used the brief respite to the fullest.

Remembering what Grikk had told him about keeping his weight forward and being light on his feet, Geir did his best to dodge and parry as the battle raged, but found himself falling back into the defensive stance he had been trained to do back in Lordareon, holding his sword close to his body with locked arms, almost like a shield. It was almost too easy to block the incoming attacks from the wild Satyrs, but every blow shook his arms and he was slow to strike back, and found himself pushed further and further backwards. His sword started almost vibrating with every strike upon it, until a heavy club hit it just right, and it snapped two inches from the hilt. He stared dumbly at the remains in his hands until a rough hand grabbed the top of his armor from behind and pulled back and down hard, making him yelp as he fell to the ground as another attack went right over his head harmlessly.

"Watch out human!" one of the Blademasters admonished him roughly as he leaped over him to engage the enemy. Geir could only stare as the Orc Blademaster moved like a wraith from a bad dream, dodging and weaving, the sword moving so fast it almost left a shimmering trail in the air. Struggling to get up in his heavy armor Geir stumbled and bumped into one of the Satyrs, making it fall, and he almost threw himself on top of it, stabbing it over and over again with the remaining stump of his sword.

"No!" he cried out in dismay as the Orc who had saved him fell heavily to the ground beside him, blood pouring out of his mouth. Crawling over to him Geir put his hands over the ugly gash in his chest, feebly trying to staunch the bleeding. A green hand grabbed his wrist, and the Orc put the hilt of his blade in his hand.

"Fight with Honor, human," the Orc spoke in a pained gurgle. "Do not let them… take it." As he was about to answer, the Orc shivered, and then lay still on the ground. Hearing Kiniea's call to fall back and regroup, he wiped at the blood on the Orc's chest one last time, then almost leaped to his feet, clenching the Orc blade tightly in his hand as he rushed towards the woods along with the others. As he ran a shadow beside him materialized into Jubei, running side by side with him. He almost shivered in fear at the Orc's appearance, he was covered in blood, his own or the enemy's was hard to tell, and the two swords he held were dripping with it. He noticed the stare at the sword in his hand, and was about to catch his breath to explain, but Jubei gave him no chance.

"This way, human!" Jubei ordered, turning away from the woods and Geir held his questions as they circled around the outskirts of the camp at a dead run. He could hear the battle intensify as the Renegades joined up to face the enemy again on open ground. Staggering in his weariness he almost dropped to his knees, but Jubei hooked an arm under his shoulder and pulled him along, back into the heart of the camp.

"There! There they are!" Jubei growled. "We must take them out!" and Geir saw half a dozen Satyrs, covered in swirls of paint, holding grotesquely carved staffs, adorned with skulls of animals. He could hear their chants as they almost shrieked to whatever dark forces they worshipped, and a faint shimmer surrounded them, like a dark nimbus. Jubei roared something in Orcish, some sort of warcry or something as he released Geir and burst forward, swords at the ready, and Geir pushed himself to follow. The Orcish blade felt weird in his hands, the balance was totally different and it weighed almost nothing compared to the broadsword he was used to, but the razor sharp edge cut through one of the warlocks like butter. Jubei went through the others like a scythe through spring grass, leaving the leader, a huge Satyr that equaled the enormous Tauren in size. Unlike the lesser warlocks, his staff had wicked blades at the ends, and he spun it as he roared his challenge, striding towards them. Eager to impress Jubei, and to honor the warrior that saved his life, Geir hefted the blade and threw himself at the Satyr recklessly. His wild swing was parried with laughable ease by the Satyr, and a hoof slammed into his stomach so hard he crumpled to the ground retching, even with the plate armor he wore. Only Jubei's intervention saved him as the bladed staff swung down.

"Take them out!" Jubei told the groaning human as he saw a few bodyguards running towards them, and then growled in irritation as the Satyr leader slashed his shoulder, drawing first blood. He hadn't seen one of these bladed staffs before, and curbed his usually aggressive dance to figure it out. The satyr roared and charged, and after a few tentative clashes Jubei rolled his eyes. Bah, no finesse, no real skill, he grumbled. Deflecting a massive strike, the force harmlessly diverted aside, Jubei feinted left and then spun right, arms and legs almost moving by themselves in the dance. The Crescent Moon step led into the Rising Wind slash, and the Satyr Hellcaller roared in rage and frustration at this annoying enemy who would not stand still. A hard kick to his knee made him stagger backwards, and he flailed his weapon to keep the relentless Orc away.

It was almost sad, Jubei thought briefly. The second sword added a whole new dimension to the dance, opening up for moves that he had never thought of before, and to waste it on a skill-less brute such as this. The second sword turned the Rainbow slash into the Sun chasing Moon circle. It was beautiful in its deadly grace, and Jubei smiled happily as the hapless Satyr fell to the ground. Jubei sighed, his mind full of the joy of the dance, and looked around, seeing Geir's frantic battle with two Satyrs. He fought like a Grunt, all brute strength and no finesse, swinging the blade hard. Shaking his head Jubei headed over there, twirling Otomo's blade in his left hand to get a better feel for it. Seeing the Orc, drenched in blood with a weird smile coming towards them the Satyr warriors became hesitant, and Geir took advantage of it, forcing his bone-tired arms to keep fighting. The blade, even wielded by weak inexperienced hands drank deep of their blood as it sliced through armor and flesh. Geir groaned and sank to his knees, too tired to stand any longer, and looked up as a heavy hand fell on his shoulder. Looking up he saw Jubei frowning as he cleaned the two swords and sheathed them.

"Stand up, human," Jubei admonished him roughly. "Never kneel before your enemy."

"Aye… aye, I will," Geir said breathlessly as he stuck the sword in the ground to help him get up. Jubei hissed angrily and grabbed him, almost throwing him up on his feet. Grabbing the hand that held the sword he held it tightly, staring into the surprised and frightened eyes of the human. He forced the hand up and around, holding the sword right in front of Geir's eyes.

"Look at the dirt staining it!" he growled angrily, shaking the human hand. "Never again will you touch the ground with this blade as if it is a common stick! Only the blood of your enemy must touch it! Now clean it off and never dishonor it again!" he barked and released the trembling hand. He saw the human look down in shame or fear, he did not care. "Bah, your kind know nothing," he spat and turned away, heading for the main battle. He recognized the sword, of course, and his heart ached for his brother Akama. But why did he give his sword to a worthless human? Was there no one else there to help him?

Two hours later the remains of the Burning Blade sat on their knees a few miles distance from the main force, grieving over the loss of Akama and arguing over his decision to give his sword, his spirit to Geir. Jubei held the chipped bowl in his hands, idly listening to the arguments as he mulled over what to do.

"No! We can not allow the human to keep the sword! It is bad enough that he took it from Akama's body, he disgraced it in his weakness!" Omu almost shouted in anger.

"Bah, he didn't know any better, besides, it is better that he uses it than having it hang on a wall gathering dust," Kenji countered.

"Better to have our brother's sword dishonored by a weak fool who doesn't know what he is doing?!" Omu roared standing up. Kenji also bolted up, staring hard at him as they both reached for the hilts of their swords. Omu broke the battle of wills first, however.

"You take his side against your own brothers, Kenji. Why? Have you no respect for Akama?" he said slowly, unable to believe it. "You take the side of a thief who took Akama's honor for himself?"

"No, I do not, my brother," Kenji whispered. "But Akama gave him the sword, and the human did his best to honor it. Who are we to say that Akama was wrong? By all accounts, the human has served his mission well. He has fought with honor and courage in every battle-"

"And for this you seek to reward him?" Omu interrupted. "Honor is its own reward, and there is no greater gift than a battle greater than the one before. No, Kenji, I cannot allow this. If Akama's sword should be given away, it should be given to someone worthy of it, not a human boy."

"You are both wrong… and right," Jubei spoke finally. "Akama gave him the sword, I saw him fall but was too far away to help," he admitted. "We cannot dishonor the gift by taking it back. But," he continued, giving Omu a look to settle him down, "we cannot allow the human to dishonor it and wield it foolishly." Both Kenji and Omu sat down again, listening as Jubei paused, gathering his thoughts. "The human must be taught to wield it properly, we must teach him our ways, Akama's ways."

"What? Have you lost your mind? He will never be one of us!" Omu sputtered in outrage. The others, even Kenji nodded their agreement.

"Look at us, my brothers," Jubei said sadly. "We are all that remain of our clan. A year ago there were thirty of us, now we are only seven left. Who will remember our ways when we are gone?" he asked them. "We have no children, no sons to take our place, my brothers. We must find students elsewhere, so that our ways still live." That gave them pause, they took knew their time was coming.

"So you think we should give the sword to Grikk instead, then?" Omu asked after a while. "That would be better than letting the human keep it, wouldn't it?"

"Akama still gave him the sword," Jubei said calmly. He looked around at the dubious faces of his clan, and put the bowl aside. He could start the bonding-rite, but it would not be the best idea. He could feel the tension among them, and knew that they would join him in the ritual, not because they agreed with his decision, but because he asked them. That was not right. He would give the human chance to prove himself before they made a judgment. iAkama, my brother/i, he thought as he heard the mutterings of the others, iI hope you made the right choice./i

The Renegades were busy tending to the wounded and dead in the aftermath of the battle. Whether or not Elune had blessed them there were very few dead, only six women had fallen during the battle, but there were a lot of wounded, almost half the original force along with some of the prisoners who had joined the battle once they were free. Taking the camp had provided them with usable armor and weapons, and it was a much more powerful force once they were properly equipped. Most of the weapons that had been confiscated from the prisoners had been found, and Anea was able to muster a small force of archers now, along with the much bolstered infantry. Onaya, despite her young age was given command over the archers.

Geir and Grikk were busy separating the spare provisions and weapons when Kenji and Omu approached them. Their faces were grim and stern as they stared at Akama's sword, awkwardly stuck in Geir's belt. He had found the scabbard, and cleaned it along with the sword itself. Looking nervously at Grikk he turned to face the two Blademasters as they stopped in front of him. Before he had a chance to speak Omu cut him off brusquely.

"You must come with us, human," he almost growled, his eyes going from Geir's face to the sword in his belt. As the two Blademasters turned to leave Geir shot a questioning glance at Grikk, who nodded uncertainly. Swallowing nervously Geir followed them as they set off at a fast trot, splitting up and running on each side of him, like guardians. As they led him into the dark woods, Geir looked over his shoulder, seeing the lights from the fires fade behind him. Had he seen her for the last time? Were they taking him away for his execution? Their grim faces suggested it, and he felt a cold sweat run down his spine as he struggled to keep up in his heavy armor. After what seemed like an eternity of running and growing fear the two Blademasters slowed down to a walk and Geir looked around nervously. They were far from the main camp now, in the middle of nowhere. A hard knot was growing in his stomach, and his mouth was dry. He almost screamed when the other Blademasters appeared out of nowhere, standing in a circle around him. Their faces were grim, and their eyes locked on the sword in his belt. With shaking hands he pulled both sword and scabbard free, holding it up.

"I- If it's about the sword, I cleaned it up, and- and I even found the scabbard for it…" he stammered, swallowing hard. Jubei stepped forward and bowed, although Geir didn't know if he bowed to him, or to the sword he held.

"Our brother gave you his sword, Geir," Jubei started, "but you do not know how to use it. Already you have disgraced the blade, we will not allow you to do so again." At this Kenji also took a step forward, drawing his own sword. It made a menacing sound as it slid out of the scabbard, and Geir took a step back, then stopped, staring straight at Kenji. The Orc gave him an appraising look, something akin to a half smile on his lips, and as Geir looked around, he saw something like approval replacing the stern looks of the others.

"Kenji will teach you our ways, to respect the sword, and to… dance?" Jubei said uncertainly, not used to the human words he seldom used. He could see the questioning look in Geir's eyes, and wondered if he got the words right. Should have asked Kenji to bring Grikk along to translate, he chided himself. At least the human relaxed a bit more, he had looked as if he expected to be killed when he arrived.

"Put sword in belt," Kenji spoke, and Geir obeyed, trying to get it comfortable, but the hard plate of his armor made it a little difficult, and Kenji sheathed his sword and came up to him, taking Akama's scabbarded sword.

"Armor good for practice, make strong," he said as he slid the scabbard into Geir's belt with a smooth movement. "Not good for dance, make clumsy," he half smiled, using short and simple human words. "Put foot… feet? Put feet like so," he showed, and Geir imitated. "Now, hand here, hand here," he showed, putting his left hand on the scabbard and the right on the handle of the sword. "Move feet… foot? Move foot so… other foot," he smiled at Geir's clumsy attempt. "Same time, turn sword and draw half circle. Like open door." Geir looked around at the other Blademasters in irritation.

"What, do you think I am stupid? I know how to draw a sword!" he snapped. Kenji frowned.

"Not just draw sword, Geir," he admonished, stumbling over the unfamiliar name. "No look at them, focus! Con-cen-trate" he said, pronouncing the awkward word slowly. "Omu, we show? Geir, you see, you learn, yes? Open door." He looked at Jubei for guidance, and got a nod in return. Geir took a step back as the two Orcs faced each other, their hands clasping their swords in the same way he was just shown. Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then in an instant the blades clashed together so fast Geir was certain he must have blinked, he couldn't see the movements between sheathed and crossed. The blades held for a moment, then were sheathed again in one smooth movement. Kenji turned to face him again, smiling at the astonished look on the human's face.

"You try," he drew his sword again, holding it up so that Geir had a target. "Try open door."

Kiniea turned away from the group, she had no interest in bearing the curious looks from the newcomers as Anea and Onaya explained her status as a Dark Priestess, and found Grikk sorting the supplies alone.

"Did Geir go to gather more supplies?" she asked as she smiled approvingly. Grikk said nothing for a moment, then turned to look at her before looking down. "What? Is something wrong, my friend?" she asked.

"Two of Thrall's guard took him away," Grikk said slowly, a worried look on his face.

"What, why?" Kiniea felt the faint trace of fear grow inside her.

"He told us he disgraced the sword, didn't he?" Grikk mumbled, unable to look her in the eye.

"What, they are going to yell at him for that? It was just a bit of dirt, I can't see why it's so important," she chuckled nervously, then stopped when she saw Grikk frowning at her.

"Thrall's guards are not like the rest of us, Kini," he said in a low voice, putting his arm around her compassionately.

"Are you saying they will kill him?" Kiniea whispered as the growing fear turned into a claw, clenching her heart tightly. Grikk said nothing, and Kiniea bent her head and closed her eyes. iMother Elune, please keep him safe!/i

DA XXI – Blood and Steel

Geir sat on his knees alongside the Orcs, forming a small circle. The previous night he had practiced 'open door' or Draw-strike as he thought of it until his arms went numb. He was actually looking forward to learning more, and wondered how long they would sit like this. It must have been close to an hour by now, judging by the sun as it rose over the horizon, but the Orcs just sat there, eyes closed. Was this some sort of magic? Was something supposed to happen? His appointed teacher, Kenji, had told him 'no think' but he couldn't help the random thoughts spinning through his head. What would they teach him next? What was Kiniea doing now? Did she think of him too? Would they stop this soon before his knees hurt so bad he couldn't stand?

Grikk busied himself with preparing the equipment they had scavenged so that they would be easily carried. They had food, some crude tents and spare weapons. Ignoring the chatter of the elven women whom he couldn't understand anyway he got things ready.

Grikk was a pretty simple man with simple thoughts, because who really needed more? Grass is green, sky is blue, start getting deep on things and everything turned complicated. Things were, or they were not, end of story. This didn't mean he was stupid, just uninterested in agonizing over things like humans and elves seemingly did. They spent so much time thinking and talking about things that they never got anything done at all. Take his friends, for instance. Everyone could see that Kini wanted to be with Geir, and the other way around, but they spent so much time thinking what if this, what if that, what do I say, what do I do, that they never said or did anything. Geir would come back, of course. Maybe he had been a little too dramatic with Kini, the Burning Blade wouldn't kill him, that was against Thrall's orders, maybe just scare him a little. Of course, when he came back, the two of them would think and worry more, until they spent all the time that they had thinking of being with each other until there was no time to actually do so. He himself wanted to be with Riksha, but she didn't, so that was that. Hurt a bit of course, but she had spoken and that was it, pretty much.

Carrying another pack for examination his eyes met Anea's, on the other side of the clearing, and he saw them light up and a shy smile cross her face. Smiling sheepishly in return he turned away. Now that was something worth thinking about, that's for sure, Grikk grumbled. Apparently the Night elf woman wanted to be with him like he wanted to be with Riksha, but… well… He had to admit though, she was by far one of the best warriors he had ever met, but that was all she was. A warrior. A brother in arms that happened to be female. But how was he supposed to handle it? Obviously they could not understand each other, and using Kini as an interpreter was difficult, because he was well aware of the tension between the two women, although not the reason for it. He had held her hand that night, because it seemed to be what she wanted, and it mattered to her very much. But as for taking her as his mate, no. It couldn't work. She was an elf, and… he was not. Maybe humans and elves could do something like that, since they were pretty much the same anyway, but not him. He could not see the beauty that mesmerized Geir when he looked at Kiniea, nor the charms that other humans obviously saw in elven women. It could not be, and he hoped that Anea would realize this also. The matter settled in his mind, he thought no more of it as he continued with his task.

Jubei and his brothers watched stoically as the human sparred with Kenji using wooden sticks instead of swords. The human was slow, clumsy and weak, and it was a miracle that he had come all this way from the base camp without getting killed. He did however have incredibly fast reflexes and good eyesight, they could see him react to Kenji's movements almost before they were made, but he didn't have the technique or speed to actually protect himself well. He also had a dangerous habit of grounding himself in some sort of defensive stance and just lock up with stiff arms, which was probably some sort of drill from the human training. It certainly looked impressive, and probably worked very well when you were in a tight formation with other soldiers, but when fighting alone it was stupid. But the boy was stubborn. He had sparred for several bone grinding hours wearing more armor than the rest of them had between them.

"No!" Kenji said in frustration. "Must not be still! Always move! No like this," he mimicked Geir's stance, locking his legs and arms, and exaggerated a fierce scowl. "No use armor to help, armor no work, stand no work, must move!" Geir grunted and relaxed.

"What do you mean, armor no help? If I didn't have this armor, I would have been dead in the first camp we freed," he argued.

"Clubs, sticks, rusty spears. Those are not weapons, Geir," Jubei said sternly, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. Nodding to Kenji he took his place, and slowly drew his blade. "You have armor, I do not. Draw your sword, Geir," he told him. Geir hesitated. Armor or no armor Jubei would kill him in the blink of an eye if he wanted. Slowly he picked up his blade and drew it from the scabbard.

"I am ready, master," he bowed like he had seen the others do. Jubei smiled. A moment later Geir saw the blade go through his feeble defenses and clang against his breastplate. Jubei nodded to him and Geir prepared again. In the blink of an eye there was another clang, and another, and another.

"See? Good armor," Geir breathed in relief and thumped his breastplate. "No problems at-" CLANG!

After a second or two Geir dared to look down where the tip of Jubei's blade had hit his chest, so close to his thumping hand that he had felt the pressure on it for just a tiny moment. There was a sting as sweat ran down his chest, and he hurriedly unbuckled the breastplate. His undershirt had a tiny cut right in the middle of it, and pulling it over his head he dreaded what he would see. A tiny drop of blood slowly rolled down his skin, just the barest of nicks. He looked up in fearful respect at Jubei.

"Your defense is not good, and your armor will not help you in a real dance. All you can do is be a better dancer," Jubei grinned. "We must teach you to move, understand?" he looked at Geir.

"Yes, master," Geir bowed.

The clan had taken three of their pouches and filled them with dirt, and was now standing in a circle around Geir, who had taken his armor off. They would throw these pouches to the person behind him, and his job was to not get in the way. When he asked, he was told it would improve his reactions and reflexes, so now he stood there, nerves on end, turning around trying to keep his eye on all of them at once. Jubei smiled and raised his hand, giving the signal to the other six to start. They did it slowly at first, checking his reactions, and then faster and faster. It didn't take long for him to catch one right in the kidney though, he was still too keen on entering that foolish stance. Wincing he staggered sideways and got hit hard by the other two pouches. Jubei walked over there shaking his head.

"You don't make it easy, do you?" Geir gasped angrily as he got back on his feet, staring at Jubei.

"No. We don't make it easy. We make it hard, or we die. You still don't think the right way, Geir. Here," he threw one of the pouches to him and Geir caught it automatically. "Here, move," Jubei said and quickly threw another one, which Geir sidestepped effortlessly. "Why did you catch the first one and avoid the second? Why not this?" he mimicked the rigid stance.

"They wouldn't hurt me anyway," Geir chuckled in confusion.

"So you catch and dodge what cannot hurt you, but stand still and brace yourself for those that do? Why?"

"That's… different," Geir mumbled. Jubei laughed.

"Let me show you, Geir," he said and motioned for Geir to step out of the circle. "I am the wind, you cannot touch me. I am the water, push me aside and I flow back. Watch," he motioned to the others, and they picked up the pouches. "Your ears always listen, hear the breath of your enemy, the beat of his heart, his feet on the ground, the movement in the air. Your eyes, tight focus on one thing, only see one thing, no focus, see everything. Always move, like the wind and water, nice flow, sudden rush, understand?" He motioned and the first pouch flew harmlessly where he had just been. "No stand still, no wonder which way to go, just go," he smiled as the pouches flew faster and faster. Geir watched as Jubei moved in the center, as insubstantial as a shadow as the pouches flew. Point made, the Orcs stopped.

"That must take a lot of practice," Geir sighed.

"Yes, a lot of practice," Jubei smiled. "And a few secrets," he winked. "You try."

Grikk turned at the footsteps behind him, and held his breath as he saw Omu walk up, holding what seemed like Geir's armor. Omu held it out, and Grikk took the pieces.

"We will take the lead, and scout ahead," Omu told him. "One of us will report back every nightfall, if there is nothing serious going on."

"And… Geir?" Grikk asked hesitantly. Omu nodded, trying to keep the displeasure from his face.

"Jubei has decided that the human will learn our ways, since he has Akama's blade." Grikk raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Oh… well… he certainly needs it," Grikk said sheepishly. "He couldn't kill a Gnoll if you tied it to a tree," he chuckled uncertainly, but the look on Omu's face quieted him. "Okay then, I will bring this to the Shamaness and let her know your plan," he said clearing his throat. Omu nodded and left. iBloody hell I am glad you are alive, friend,/i Grikk thought as he stared at the armor for a moment. Then he turned and headed for the center of the small camp.

"Kini," he called, and saw her turn smiling. As she saw the armor he carried, her face fell and she put a hand to her throat nervously.

"Is he… is he…?" she stammered, but Grikk gave her a toothy grin.

"He is training. They wouldn't let him have the sword without knowing to use it, or something. They are going ahead to scout for us."

"Oh… okay," Kini said with a quivering voice, and then suddenly turned her back to him. He moved up and put a big hand on her shoulder, feeling the tremors in her body.

"You waste time, Kini," he rumbled softly. "Every day can be the last chance." She removed her hand, still keeping her back to him.

"I don't know what you are talking about," she rebuked him.

"Strange," Grikk chuckled, "everyone else does," he said and turned to leave. Her hand on his arm stopped him.

"It's not that easy," she whispered, looking down. "What if-"

"What if today is your last?" Grikk said brusquely. "What if you never see him again?"

"What do you care about it?" she said, her throat constricting, "you are just a…" Grikk tore his arm away. "I- I'm sorry Grikk, I didn't mean that, it's just…"

"You are right, I am just an Orc. And I am just a friend, I am not clan. I have no right-" he started apologizing.

"You have every right," she smiled shyly in apology. "And you are all the clan I need," she said and reached for his hand.

"Right then," Grikk cleared his throat after a moment. "Thrall's guard is keeping Geir safe, now let's make sure you are," he said and picked up Geir's breastplate. Kiniea stared at him.

"No, that won't work, it's too big for me," she chuckled, thinking he was joking, but yelped as he almost bashed the plate against her chest.

"Hold this," he said and picked up the back plate over her feeble protests.

"Come on, Grikk, this is ridicu- Urgh!" she groaned as he tightened the straps on both sides, making the pieces tight and snug around her. Looking around he found the pauldrons and upper arm braces, and started attaching them.

"Look, it's too heavy!" she complained on deaf ears as Grikk removed her old greaves and put on the leg pieces of Geir's armor.

"Hmm… I can't find the underarm bracers, he must have kept them, but I guess the leather ones will do for now," Geir smiled as he stood up.

"Look, this is stupid, I can't even move in this," Kini frowned. "Hey!" she griped as Grikk punched the breastplate playfully. "HEY!?" she cried out as a punch made her stagger backwards, lose her balance and fall flat on her back from the unfamiliar weight of the armor. A burst of laughter erupted from the watching Nightelves.

"Kraznak! I mean… sorry," Grikk apologized sheepishly as he reached down and helped her up.

"You stupid idiot, that wasn't funny!" Kini slapped his arm when she got her breath back. "Now get this junk off of me!" She gave the giggling women a stern look, but they didn't stop. Anea and Onaya came walking up, grinning widely.

"Looks good on you, Priestess," Onaya giggled teasingly.

"Yeah? If you want it you can have it, I have armor already," Kiniea grumbled.

"It works for now," Anea said calmly. "After the war we will get you something better." Kiniea looked at the armor that Anea wore, along with some of the women from the camp they just liberated.

"I can't wait," she muttered, shifting her shoulders against the unfamiliar weight. Catching the way Anea looked at Grikk she nudged his arm. "What did you say about wasting time?" she teased him, nodding at Anea.

"That's not the same," he dodged and turned to get back to work.

"Of course not," Kiniea laughed. "Never mind," she said as she saw Anea's questioning look.