Chapter 1 - The Valley of Trials
Xan'Jin tossed about, wondering why his bed suddenly felt more like a jagged rock than a straw mattress. Trying to squeeze in at least a few more hours of sleep, he rolled over to what he hoped was a more comfortable position. This turned out to be a bad move on his part, as he ended up falling and cracking his head against the ground. Adding injury to injury, something large and blunt came down on his back and thrust his face into the dirt just as he was getting to his feet. "Back to work, maggot!" A harsh voice roared from above. Xan'Jin rolled onto his back, dazed and confused. A burly orc in a leather vest stood over him, grinning and slapping a blackjack against his palm. He was definitely not in Sen'jin anymore.
"What da hell, mon?" Xan'Jin felt inclined to ask. The orc responded by smacking him with the blackjack again.
"Don't play dumb! Pick up the axe and get back to work!"
"...what?" Another crack on the head.
"Foreman's orders! No sleeping on the job!" The orc bellowed, looking longingly at the blackjack in his hand. Apparently, he was waiting for an excuse to use it again.
"What job?" The orc got his excuse.
"Come on, make this easier on both of us. I don't like being the bad guy any more than you like getting beaten." The ecstatic grin on his face spoke otherwise. Sensing a pattern, Xan'Jin opened his mouth. As expected, the blackjack swooped down for another attack. This time, the navy blue troll caught it in mid-air.
"Let's start over, mon. Why you be hittin' me?" Xan'Jin forced his voice to remain calm.
"Well..." The orc sputtered, suddenly unsure of himself. "Thazz'ril told me to..."
"Thazz'ril?" Xan'Jin repeated, taking his first look around since his rude awakening. "Who da hell is Thazz'ril? Why do you care what Thazz'ril says?" It looked like Durotar, it smelled like Durotar, and the sun had a tendency to leave everything deep-fried like Durotar. So why didn't this little valley look familiar?
"Huh?" The orc said, now very confused. Xan'Jin released his hold on the blackjack, and now the thick green man twirled the bludgeon between two meaty fingers. "I figured you'd know who Thazz'ril was. I mean, working for someone tends to get you at least acquainted, doesn't it?"
"I don' work for nobody but Xan."
"Now who's Xan?"
This ruined Xan'Jin's little moment of bravado, and it quite pissed him off. He finally got to his feet, stretching his lanky limbs and standing at least a head above the orc.
"I be Xan," he growled. The orc poked him haphazardly with the blackjack. Xan'Jin slapped the object out of his hands. "I don' even know what da hell I be doin' here! I don' need nobody beatin' me wit a stick!"
"Well, you were sleeping next to that axe, so I figured you were-"
"A peon? I be a freakin' troll! You ever seen a troll peon before?"
"I was only getting a little carried away, is all..."
"Jus' get outta my sight," Xan'Jin groaned, and the orc began trudging over to the discarded blackjack. However, the troll caught him by the shirt collar. "Oh, tell me where dis Thazz'ril is. I wanna speak words wit' him." Of course, Xan'Jin didn't and wouldn't – he merely wanted to know what kind of person sends other people to beat a third party with bludgeons for not doing something they weren't supposed to do in the first place. More importantly, he wanted to know how to avoid that kind of person.
"H-he's over there, by the exit. He's the foreman around here." The orc sputtered, who obviously didn't feel good about having the tables turned.
"Right, now I be havin' some words wit' him, so you betta stay away from dere for awhile," Xan'Jin suggested, waited for the orc to leave, then walked in the opposite direction. Now, free to wonder exactly what had happened to him and where it had taken him, he sat back on the rock he had been sleeping on. He definitely hadn't been drinking, because his father would've put a stop to that. Father. This realization brought on a new train of thought. "When joo gonna volunteer, son?" They were his words spoken at dinner the previous night, and it was no question as to what Xan'Jin would be volunteering for. The only thing anybody volunteered for: joining the army of the New Horde.
"Honestly, Xan, you cannot be-" His mother started.
"Leechin' offa us," his father had interrupted.
"...livin' with us forever," his mother finished, casting a dark look at his father.
"I would, ma, but I ain'...special enough."
"He be right about that," his father had put in before his mother could respond.
"What do you mean, special?"
"Take Zai'Zan nex' door. He been raised by dwarves. Gadrin been praisin' his skill wit axes ever since Nesingwary dropped 'im off here."
"Or Taraman. He been havin' those prophetic nightmares lately."
"Da boy be right. He ain' hero material."
"Damn it!" his mother had yelled, getting to her feet. She never swore. "Are you two gonna be cuttin' me off every time I try to speak? Xan, you may not be special, but that doesn't mean you can't volunteer! There's plenty of average people in the army. Why, Rai was a rogue for the Horde, weren't you?"
"Why joo have to bring dis up again?" The rest of the night was irrelevant. It involved much shouting, slamming doors, and fitful nightmares. However, Xan'Jin thought he knew what had happened. Now he just had to confirm it.
Trudging down a small slope and into a flat, circular patch, Xan'Jin caught sight of an orc standing next to a large brazier that was blazing despite it being late morning. He figured this was as good a place to start as any. "'ey!" he shouted, and the orc lazily turned an eye toward him.
"Oh, it's you..." the orc muttered, shuffling toward Xan'Jin. "Name's Kaltunk."
"How'd I get here, mon?" The troll asked instantly. He didn't want any more detours.
"A young couple dragged you here last night. Signed your paperwork and everything. I guess you had a good last night of freedom?" Kaltunk spoke in short sentences, as if Xan'Jin didn't deserve any more words than were necessary.
"Young couple? One had a scar over his eye?"
"I guess. It was dark."
"You're helpful," Xan'Jin muttered dryly.
"Well, I am the master trainer here."
"An' here is...?" Xan'Jin said, knowing full well where he was.
"The Valley of Trials. You know the place. Lived right down the street, I expect."
"Yeah. I know da place."