A/N: Hey there, people. Yes, I know: holy shitballs. I liiiiivvvveeee. Are any of my good ol' readers still around? I hope so, 'cause y'all are awesome and a big reason I finally worked up the momentum to pick up where I'd left off with this and other stuff. I hope maybe there are some awesome new readers out there too. And if anyone has read my profile, you'll know I am working on soooommmething totally neeeewww! Wooooohhh! Ok now, interwebz, please don't eat my divider line here. Commence chapter 2 redux.
Dawn broke and lifted one dusty layer of gloom from the forest. Galmak grunted softly and stirred as his hunter's instincts sensed the beginning of the day. He'd managed to sleep a little, but not before he'd spent the bulk of the night worrying about the plan he'd formulated. It was a simple plan; too simple for his liking, with only one possible option: he would have to take the draenei southward, backtracking to the Emerald Sanctuary where the druids could cleanse the fel poison from her body. He would lose all the progress he'd made toward getting out of this cursed woods and the rapid pace he'd set over the past few days would be for naught.
But of course there had, after all, been a purpose to his rush north through Felwood. Sitting up, he turned his eyes away from their scan of the surrounding forest toward the sleeping body huddled nearby on the ground, a tip of a blue tail just visible protruding from beneath the blanket. The draenei – Hyara, he corrected himself, and his pronunciation sounded far better in his head – would have been dead had he come along a day or two later.
Her cat lay pressed against her uninjured side, green eyes following the orc as he stepped over to lay a light hand on her shoulder.
"Hyara." His voice came out gruffer than intended. She opened one eye, sleep shaken off instantly.
"You barely slept," she said.
Galmak raised an eyebrow. "That's true. I take it you did likewise."
"No." She shook her head, shifting her body to sit and wincing with the movement. "I slept. Gink told me you looked as though you were mentally pacing most of the night."
Galmak's mouth quirked in spite of himself and he reached for the bandage on her head to cover the half smile. What he saw beneath it surprised him – not only was the gash healing rapidly, but daylight revealed that the underside of the bandage and the side of Hyara's head were caked with a dried blue substance.
"It's blue," he commented, and immediately felt foolish. Of course her blood was blue; he'd heard as much before, but had always assumed the sin'dorei who called draenei 'blue bloods' were speaking figuratively.
"Oh no, not at all," Hyara remarked to that, a touch bitterly. "They're experts on the color of draenei blood."
As are my people. I ought to have known. Galmak stood abruptly and turned away to finish packing up the camp. No time for any more ridiculous reflection; he'd done plenty of that last night and it had cost him his sleep.
Hyara paused for a moment, gathering her strength to stand, and watched the orc as he worked. He was odd; not at all what she would have expected, had she given any thought to what a face-to-face meeting with one of his kind would be like. She'd expected ferocity, barbarism, even murderousness; at best, very bad manners. Galmak showed none of these things. Instead, he'd shown her only compassion and kindness that surpassed many Alliance she'd encountered. And on top of that…
Oh Light help me, he's rather attractive, in a different sort of way. It was an absurd thought for she, a draenei, who had barely strayed within ten paces of an orc before last night. Hyara felt her cheeks grow warm, but Galmak was paying her no heed as he packed up his things and she continued studying him. His hair was a deep midnight blue, worn long and pulled back into a ponytail. He had the characteristic tusks protruding from his lower jaw, and his skin was a shade of green that reminded her of leaves in summer. Broad shoulders and the slouched posture typical of orc males gave him a massive look, but as far as height went Hyara guessed him to be only about as tall as herself. Enormous fingers with black nails moved deftly over his riding wolf's harness, tightening here, adjusting there, with a precision and gentleness she wouldn't have believed possible from such hands. An engineer's precision; the thought popped suddenly into her head and she wondered if she were correct. There was a grace of movement about him, surprising with his massive, muscular build, and a sensitivity to his deep brown eyes that spoke of a quick wit behind his rugged features.
Hyara dropped her eyes just as he glanced her way, and she felt her cheeks flare again. The wound was obviously scrambling her brain; fel poison did stranger things even than she had been led to believe. She whistled for Gink to cover her embarrassment and the big cat came bounding back out of the trees from his brief morning hunt.
C'mon, old boy, I need your steady shoulder or I might not get to my hooves.
The feel of Gink's mind told her he knew what had been running through her head a moment ago, but he said nothing and braced himself against her leg as she struggled upright. Pain throbbed in her side and she felt the skin pull and tear where dried blood had clung to her leather tunic. She thought she succeeded in suppressing a low moan.
Galmak had avoided watching her struggle; she could ask if she wanted his help, but otherwise he'd leave her the independence most hunters valued so highly. Now that she was standing, however, he studied her furtively as he rolled up her bedding and loaded it onto his riding wolf. She was tall, of course, as all draenei were, but he guessed she must only be of average height by her people's standards. He thought a little smugly that he might even outmatch her if he straightened to his full height. Her skin was a pale blue, her hair an odd ash blonde that seemed to shift colors as the gloomy daylight caught it at different angles. She wore her long hair loose, unusual for a hunter, but had it pulled away from her face in a wide band at her forehead, revealing the delicate tendrils typical of draenei females. Small horns curved out and downward from her head, and Galmak found himself remembering how smooth they had felt when he'd touched them the night before. The very slight sway of her tail, along with the mischievous look of her full-lipped mouth, made him want to stare a little more than he should. The orc turned his back hastily, but not quite before the soft blue-white glow of her eyes had met his.
An awkward pause ensued, each realizing they'd both been up to the same thing. The orc broke the brief silence.
"Your pack." He gestured toward a sorry looking little bundle on the ground nearby, dirty and bloodstained.
"But no elekk," Hyara sighed and crinkled her nose. Of course the poor beast had bolted off long ago, hopefully to safety.
"No, didn't find that. I'm pretty sure I would have noticed." Galmak snorted a laugh, then was immediately sorry; he would have been heartbroken if it had been his riding wolf that had run off in terror to be lost among the dangers of Felwood. "I'm sure your elekk will turn up safe somewhere," he said awkwardly. Damn it, man, are you trying to make it worse?
Bracing herself against her cat's back, the draenei limped over to what remained of her pack and prodded it with a hoof. It was a mess, but at least it was still here. The buckles were still woven with the pair of reeds she had picked in Ashenvale, as well, which meant the orc hadn't rifled through her belongings. Why would I think he would do that? she asked herself angrily. These bad, ingrained patterns of thought would have to stop, at least while she traveled with Galmak…
"Shit…!" she hissed through clenched teeth and thumped heavily to the ground. She couldn't even lift the small pack; her side had exploded in pain and she felt a fresh trickle of warm blood on her abdomen.
Galmak didn't understand the Draenei word but he could easily grasp its meaning anyway. He leaped over with a growl and pulled back the tattered leather covering the wound.
"Foolish woman… you've broken it open worse than before. Look at that…" Gingerly, he tugged at a strip of Hyara's leather tunic. The thick hide pulled away in chunks like dry bread. Where it dropped to the fel-tainted ground, little curls of smoke rose. The blood on the leather was not a cobalt blue, but a faintly luminous green.
"Not good," Hyara gasped through gritted teeth.
"No. Not good at all." What in hell's name could do something like that to a wound? "We need to get you on my wolf right away; we have a long way to go to the Emerald Sanctuary and it looks like every second is going to count."
Something stirred in Hyara's memory and she shook her head weakly, closing her eyes. "Not the Emerald Circle… too far. I think there's a druid at Talonbranch Glade."
This was surprising, and excellent, news.
"You think. How sure are you?" Talonbranch Glade, the Alliance outpost in northern Felwood, was a mere three or four hours' journey from here, Galmak estimated, although it would probably be four at the pace they would have to take with Hyara in this condition. The Emerald Circle encampment would take at least a day to reach.
Opening her eyes only a slit, Hyara looked to her cat. Gink, am I right? Is there a druid at the Glade?
Gink tore his green eyes away from the malignant, almost sentient-seeming wound in his mistress's side and hesitated a few seconds before answering. They had been at Talonbranch Glade for less than a day, pausing there only briefly at the top of their arc through Felwood. He had seen no druid.
But Hyara might be remembering something from a conversation with one of the residents; she might be remembering something she had seen that suggested a druid in residence. She wasn't certain, and Gink didn't know for himself, but he also wasn't certain she would live to reach the Emerald Circle druids. Her life hung in the balance and he trusted her instincts.
Yes, he said firmly. There's a druid at the Glade.
Hyara nodded. If Gink was sure, it had to be so. "I'm sure," she told Galmak.
The orc allowed himself a sigh of relief and pushed back the despair he'd felt creeping in. The riding wolf was packed and ready; he tossed Hyara's bloodstained pack hastily atop a saddlebag and then helped her, gently as he could, to her hooves. As she scrabbled her way clumsily into the wolf's saddle the wound tore a little further and sent fresh drops of green-tinged blood scattering to the ground. Her breathing quickened from the pain but she held in the scream that tried to force its way between her lips.
Once seated behind her in the saddle, Galmak urged his wolf to a slow lope, Palla and Gink pacing them easily to either side. It was the smoothest gait the animal could manage, and certainly a compromise with speed. He reassessed his estimate; four hours might be optimistic.
But a white lie was in order, he thought. "Just over three hours," he said bracingly. "You'll make it just fine."
She nodded weakly and her hair brushed his face. He was surprised to notice that she sat a little lower than him; most of her height must be in her legs.
Not far, Gink echoed the orc in Hyara's head. She found she couldn't respond; her mind felt hazy and wouldn't seem to concentrate on anything but the throbbing drumbeat of pain and the warm trickle oozing down her side. She finally could support herself no longer and slumped back against Galmak's chest.
The orc fumbled in a bag behind him and pressed a fresh bandage into her hand, then guided the cloth awkwardly to her side.
"Keep that on the wound if you can. You're losing too much blood." She was not only losing it, she was leaving behind a trail of it on the road. Would she have any left after three more hours of this?
Hyara opened her eyes to see trees sprouting sideways, the road flashing by topsy turvy. She had slipped in the saddle and Galmak's firm grip was all that kept her on the wolf. Gods, how much time had passed? The sun didn't look as if it had moved. No, she couldn't see the sun through the trees. And it wasn't the sun anyway, it was green. A green glow, pulsing just at the edge of her vision, eluding all but the corner of her eye…
She whimpered weakly, terror catching hold for the first time, and the animal in her gut clawed in panic to get out. She was losing control; or rather, it felt as if something were wrenching it from her. Something wanted in. Her own consciousness wanted out if it meant evading this thing.
Where's the harm in that? Give up, let go. This will end and you'll be free of the terror. The pain will be gone.
I can't… No, you can't… Please, what is this…
She couldn't form a coherent thought. Was she talking to herself now?
Her name jerked her back to sanity, her eyes popped open and the murky forest filled her vision again. Galmak was gripping her arms tightly and he gave her another shake. "You were muttering something. Stay alert. Tell me about yourself, tell me about your family… you have family?"
But it was a brief reprieve; her head was spinning again, her eyelids sinking shut, and the whisper was rising once more in her muddled head. "Galmak… please help me," she managed in a whisper. She felt a hand close around her own and the warmth and solidity of it steadied her a bit. Someone was here and it wasn't this thing in her head. That wasn't real… not yet. The man behind her, holding her on the wolf, was real.
Galmak's voice rose slightly, rhythmically, and she realized he was singing. It was all she could do at this moment to make any sense of the Orcish words. She found herself struggling with them and translating them for herself into Draenei, odd though many of the meanings sounded in her native language. And because of this, the whispers in her head were still for the time. Hyara took a deep breath and forced herself to sing along, quakily and tunelessly, but with her sanity still intact for now.
It was clear to Galmak that Hyara was dying, would likely be dead in a matter of hours at most. Every moment left more blood on the trail behind them and every jarring step sent her body and spirit slumping lower. The druid won't be able to help her.
Maybe not, Palla responded from further up the trail, honestly but gently.
Not even a chance to know her. He found suddenly that he wanted to, very much. And her family, if she had any? They might never learn what had happened to her, a lone draenei hunter known to him only as Hyara, dead among strangers in a gods-forsaken demonic forest. The Alliance at Talonbranch Glade would record that she had been there and died there, but unless someone sought the information and knew where to look…
What can I do, Palla? At least I won't be the cause of her death.
You weren't the cause of any of those deaths, his wolf responded with a fiercely affectionate nudge to his mind. Stop carrying the guilt of events before your birth. Her mental tone softened and he felt her presence grow fainter after his eyes lost sight of her up the gloomy road. You have done everything you possibly could. The Glade is close now. Gink and I are running ahead to alert them.
Galmak pushed the riding wolf to a full-on run and after a few minutes his straining eyes and senses picked out two kal'dorei sentinels sprinting westward along the path toward him. He pulled up to a cautious walk and held his hands in the air away from the bow and quiver at his back.
He barely knew twenty words in Common and none in Darnassian, but fortunately one Common word he did know was "injured," and he shouted it once the elves were within earshot.
Not that it wasn't obvious. As they drew near enough to see Hyara clearly, one of the sentinels gasped and made a motion with her hands that Galmak had no trouble interpreting as some kind of plea to Elune. It was also mercifully obvious that Galmak himself could have had nothing to do with the injury, and so the elves wasted no time trying to get her away from him; instead, one of them darted quick as a hummingbird back down the path to the Glade and the other motioned Galmak to follow her. To his surprise, she kept up easily with the running wolf. They rounded a stand of huge, twisted trees, and at last the warm glow of the village's lights leaped up through the gloom. Among the small crowd gathered to see the disturbance was a kal'dorei man dressed in the robes of a druid healer. Thank the ancestors…
Hyara was singing softly as they pulled her gently off the wolf and lowered her to a blanket on the ground. She didn't stop even as they cut away her tunic and the healer gingerly probed the wound, sending fresh agony spiking through her. They also couldn't get her to let go of the orc's hand; she clung to it as if it were her last and only grip on the world.