Unlikely Heroes: The Harpy Queen Skrch
This story is fourth in a series set more or less between WCIII and WoW. It helps if you've read the Phage Marrowice and Veren Redmorning entries, but it's not necessary. I've treated the harpies more like WCIII harpies than WoW, for those who notice that sort of thing. This is why they are covered with feathers rather than looking like, oh, hairless supermodels in thongs. As usual, my policy is that if there is no official Blizzard explanation, I am allowed to make things up. So unless you are Lorok, who by frequent help and useful criticism has earned the right, do not email and try to tell me Fel Orcs can't turn gray or that harpies do not reproduce the same way as Daphnia longispina, because I will laugh at you.
Thanks for reading, ladies and gentlemen and parthenogenetic organisms of all ages!
It was another hot day in the Barrens of Kalimdor.
Most days in the Barrens were fairly warm, even at the tail end of the year. One watching the herd of kodos graze close to a grove of palm trees would never guess that it was nearly the end of winter and the beginning of spring. (As Humans and Orcs count it, at least. The kodos are not generally consulted, the Elves tend to be reticent, and the Undead are not known to concern themselves excessively with dates.)
This particular group of kodos was not large. Perhaps ten of the lumbering gray reptiles grazed in and around the grove. Given that kodos are not strictly herbivorous, it may be preferable not to mention exactly what they grazed on.
One smallish specimen wandered out of the shade in pursuit of a particularly succulent tidbit. (For the sake of taste, the author will refrain from identifying this tidbit as, for example, an unusually slow rat.)
The kodo was chomping busily when it noticed the shadow passing over the ground in front of it. As the patch of darkness wheeled in place, a very old instinct recognized the shape of feathered wings. A mesh pattern stretched between the two separate sets of whirling pinions, making a peculiar shadow.
Birds circled over the kodos almost all the time. Mostly they were too small to give any trouble to a two-thousand-pound animal with a sharp horn, a heavy but agile tail, and an impressively strong jaw. So the kodo did not bother to look up, and it ignored the niggling of age-old instinct that suggested something was not quite right.
It might have been a better idea to take note of the sound of quibbling voices, speaking a language the kodo would not have understood even had its brain been rather larger than it was.
"Scrrr-AH! Quit pulling!"
The creature might have been mistaken for a bird, silhouetted against the harsh sky. A human would have recognized the shape of the head and the breasts, the front-facing knees that no bird would ever have, but kodos are not quite this bright. Besides, this particular herd had been rather lucky thus far and so the concepts of wings and feathers still belonged only to the overarching idea of birds.
Even a kodo's luck can change rather suddenly.
"Look, this was your stupid idea. I said we should just dive down and scratch its eyes out." This harpy flew a little higher than the other as they circled, her larger wings holding her up with greater ease. Her pinions were brown.
"We did that last time," said the smaller harpy. The feathers that kept her from being quite naked were blue in color. "I'm bored with the noise they make. Besides, isn't Mother always saying we should try to think creatively?"
"How about the time you magicked one to sleep and I clawed its heart out?" the brown harpy said hopefully.
"That was too creative," the blue harpy said, panting with the effort of holding up her half of the burden. "She found out."
"Scrrr. Right. Fine. Can we drop it now?"
The two harpies each let go of one corner of the large spider web they carried. A rock as large as a harpy's head tumbled out of the rough net and plummeted straight down.
There was a crunch. The kodo squealed. Then it fell over.
The two harpies hovered improbably in place, flapping their wings slowly. They let go of the web. It drifted down, light as a leaf.
"That wasn't very much fun," the brown one said critically.
"I suppose we'd better eat part of it," the blue one said. "So we can tell Mother we Aaaaa!"
The two went head-over-talons in different directions as the backwash from giant wings tumbled them out of the air. They righted themselves in time to see a much larger creature circling their kill, gliding on pinions of sunset red.
The harpy queen Skrch glumly inspected the dead kodo. A mane of crimson feathers streamed behind her in the wind. This was picturesque, but also perennially inconvenient, given that it is not technically possible to braid feathers and hardly easier to trim them with talons.
"Not again," groaned Skrch. "I can't leave you alone for five minutes without finding something dead afterwards…"
"We were going to eat it!" said her youngest daughter Ckkk.
"Yeah," said Vrawk.
Skrch raised a crimson eyebrow. "All of it?" said her powerful soprano. It carried very well over the prevailing updraft.
Her children avoided her eyes as they hovered in place. "We were going to share," ventured Ckkk, the blue storm hag with the clever ideas.
"With everyone?" Skrch said.
"Yes," Ckkk said virtuously.
Skrch rolled her eyes. "How were you going to get it back to the nest, exactly?"
Guilty silence followed.
"I thought so," Skrch said. "Well, you can just help me carry it back, then."
"But it weighs half a ton," Vrawk said. "Even the little ones are heavy."
"Then you should have thought of that before you dropped a rock on its head!" Skrch snapped. She flexed her talons. "We'll have to do it in bits. And if I catch either one of you eating the liver or the brain, I will bat you so hard you'll hit the ground in Orgrimmar. Jhha?"
"Jhha, Mother," said her children.
"It's not like it's any good raw, anyway," said Ckkk.
"Spoiled you, that's what I've done," Skrch said, lighting on the kodo's side. "It's what I get for rearing every single one of you, instead of eating the smaller ones like any sane queen would do." She held her tail feathers up out of the way as she extended a fingerlike wing-talon and made a careful incision. "What I deserve for going to all this trouble to try and raise smart fledglings, the kind that are going to survive to grow up and not get shot down for doing something evil and stupid."
The kodos began to edge toward the other end of the grove as the wind changed, carrying the harpy's scent to them.
"And instead I get you," Skrch went on. "And four more just like you, and two eggs that are going to turn out just the same when they hatch. Why did I have to be a queen?" She finished bisecting the kodo. The spine gave her some trouble, but she used her foot talons as well as the ones on her wings. Skrch had very sharp claws.
Why not my sister? she wondered silently, for the thousandth time. Krrik would have loved having a horde of bloodthirsty little krrrahk following her everywhere. But nooo, she ended up a rogue. She's sitting on a nest full of pretties while I'm lucky to have a couple of old shields to line my bed with.
"Scrrr," Skrch muttered. The ancient curse had no translation, but might possibly have once meant something like pull out my feathers and boil me in oil.
"Sorry, Mother," Ckkk said tentatively. "We won't do it again."
"You said that last time," Skrch said, but without anger. There was no point in being angry with them. It never got anywhere. She wrapped her lower talons around the kodo's spine and hoisted its severed front half as she lunged skyward.
It takes a certain degree of magic for a creature with pinions to hover in place, and rather more for it to survive with hollow bones and human knees. A certain element of extranatural power was also required in order for Skrch, weighing less than a hundred pounds, to hoist five hundred pounds of dead weight. Be the flight muscles ever so steely, five hundred pounds is five hundred pounds.
Skrch lumbered through the air back toward her nest, some five miles as the harpy flies from where her daughters had been trying out their new game. Behind her, Ckkk and Vrawk carried the kodo's other half between them. There was much argument as their wings occasionally got in each others' way.
The harpy queen panted. The sun was hot, though noon was still hours away. The Barrens stretched out in front of her. The way to her nest was strewn with rocks, and towering trees, and a gray Orc on a wolf trying to fight off five centaurs.
"A what?" Skrch said aloud. She turned in air, which was difficult carrying half a dead kodo, and wheeled in for a closer look.