Chapter 7 -Beginning With The First Steps
The goodbyes had been said and there was nothing more to do but move forward. The town these people worked so hard to rebuild was far behind the journeying caravan. All that was left to occupy the eye were the dusty hills and dead trees rolling through southern Westfall.
A little over half an hour passed from their departure and Moonbrook was completely out of sight. Calonos, Reide, and Alvarin commandeered the runaways on horseback, bobbing up and down as their mounts trotted along. Theldin immersed himself back in the crowd, far behind the three to arm the young and healthy citizens with whatever weapons they could offer: swords, pitchforks, sickles... anything the supplies provided. They assisted Calonos as the guardians of the march.
The feeling of shame was quite popular among the march. It didn't feel right to just let Verkus burn Moonbrook down without a fight; to flee with their tails in between their legs almost seared the idea of cowardice in their hearts. But it was the smart thing to do. Everyone was thankful to be alive and believed the right decision was made.
As buzz and murmur hummed throughout, Calonos repeatedly went over the plan in his head. Getting far away from Moonbrook was only the first part. While Verkus' soldiers tear up their new ghost town, Calonos and everyone else would head south to Ceridge, famous for its lighthouse that guided lost sailors to safety. The small port town was built about a decade ago and remained neutral to both Alliance and Horde where travelers and businessmen were free to come and go as they pleased. The town, as small as it was, served as a part of the Order of the Golden Scales, a guild with influences all throughout Azeroth, stretching as far as places like Ratchet and Gadgetzan. These trading hot spots were crucial to every faction in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms; the Alliance, Horde, and even Verkus never conflicted with their territory.
Ceridge was usually in good business...so long as there were boats and ships there to give good work. Hopefully there would be ships able to bear the weight of both the people and their supplies. To find something as puny as several rafts would be even worse than nothing at all. Such pitiful chunks of wood strung together with a small piece of cloth would be a joke. No, they would need something bigger. Much bigger. Something large enough to support a few hundred people along with horses, wagons, crates, and bags was required.
If Calonos was lucky someone he knew would still be in town. There was a night elf, Norius, who had come all the way from Darnassus. As a traveling hunter and merchant, he mostly sold the hides of creature he hunted. The Order of the Golden Scales never failed to provide him with good business since he spent a lot of his time in Ceridge. During his times in the little town Norius had learned another useful trade: buying and selling ships.
He became friends with Calonos several years ago. Norius was very handy with a bow and had learned the ways of the hunter. Well experienced in his craft and with stunning accuracy, it seemed that there was nothing Norius couldn't hunt. Norius spent a good share of his time in Ceridge, so if he really was in town, this lone wanderer might be able to get Calonos some worthy vessels.
If Norius was absent, Calonos would need to obtain such transportation any way he could, be it through gold or if it was necessary, intimidation and threats. Once they had their tickets out of Westfall, it was a two to three day sail of hugging the mountains to the southern Savage Coast of Stranglethron Vale. Verkus' records showed that Horde had recently set up a base along the bottom of the coastline. It would be foolish for them to sail past the encampment; Calonos' ships would be sunk with ease. Ceridge had never housed any vessel fit for naval warfare. The people were merchants, not fighters, so fighting was out of the question.
Instead Calonos would have to disembark along the northern coastline and cut into the jungle. Staying on any sort of road was crucial. Stranglethorn Vale played host to countless beasts that wouldn't hesitate to rip them apart. Once they were out of the camp's range and deep into the never-ending halls of green, Calonos needed to continue heading south. The port, Booty Bay, was built right along the sea at the very bottom tip of the Eastern Kingdoms, so even without any kind of resistance to their march, it would still be a pretty long trek.
If his people managed to survive those jungles, Booty Bay, which was also greatly influenced with the Order of the Golden Scales, would offer them safety for awhile. The goblins there welcomed just about everyone that didn't bear the mark of a Bloodsail.
They obviously couldn't stay there too long, for Verkus' soldiers would sooner or later come banging down the gate. Neutrality wasn't enough to stop Verkus from coming for what he wanted. Eventually he'd catch up to Calonos.
Sure, Moondbrook's refugees might not have forever, but they could eek out what time was offered. So long as there were ticks on the clock, the four leaders would use their precious time to plan the next move.
The stress was becoming quite the weight on Calonos' mind as they trudged across the wasteland of dirt. He remained disturbingly silent, doing nothing but looking out into the distance. Reide was bothered by his brother's quietness. He could see the captain's face was blank and empty of expression and emotion. This usually meant he was deep in thought, often too deep.
"Calonos?" he tried, riding up next to him. The warrior did not give an answer.
"It's probably not the best of ideas to bother him, Reide," Alvarin intruded. "He needs-"
"No, no. It's alright," Calonos glanced over. "I'm just trying to think ahead." He looked back at the refugees and could see the fatigue on their faces as many of them drug bags and carried boxes. "We should give them a break soon."
The four leaders didn't expect every Moonbrook citizen to have the physical endurance of a soldier, but for mothers and small children, it was impressive to see them make this effort to travel into the unknown. They all deserved a break, but their destination was just beyond the horizon, about another fifteen minutes from view. Calonos knew they were tired and sympathized with his followers, but he really wanted to push through until they reached the ships, despite their slow pace. Unfortunately, the sun wasn't going to set anytime soon, so the gleam from the lighthouse would not be able to guide their way.
Calonos looked back at the old man. "Alvarin? What brought you back to Westfall in the first place?" He wanted to shorten their travel through conversation.
"I came to check on you two, my friend. Word gets around about your actions faster than you think, and I felt like I should leave what Elwynn Forest has become and come assist you." Alvarin felt deflated as he exhaled a gloomy sigh. "I miss the old Azeroth."
"As do I, and thank you," Calonos chuckled in agreement. His smile shriveled away when he remembered the rubble that Sentinel Hill had been reduced to. "It's a shame that word spread to the wrong sources!" Quietness returned. "Tell me," he said, trying to change the subject, "have you ever been to Ceridge?"
"Once. I went a few years ago with a clergy to get a ship to sail up north to the Wetlands. I don't expect it to be the same. Light only knows how much they've changed since the last time I was there."
It had been a few weeks since Calonos and Reide last rode down to the lighthouse. They normally had the luxury of time to enjoy what the town had to offer. It was one of the few beauties that remained in the Eastern Kingdoms. Calonos and Reide, along with everyone else, looked at it as a means of escape from the depressing scene Verkus had created from these once noble lands. It was a shame that they were paying Ceridge a visit with such serious and pressing matters. Unfortunately, there was no time for the traditional hours spent fishing or a visit to the tavern.
"Have either of you been to Stranglethorn Vale before?" Alvarin asked. The two brothers shook their heads.
It was a rarity for Calonos to say that he had not been to a region in the Eastern Kingdoms before, but most of his duties, to Wrynn or Verkus, never took him that far south. He had mostly been confined to Westfall and north from there.
While he had never actually seen these unknown territories with his own eyes, Ulthrist had always told him about his past travels to Stranglethorn Vale and even the lands far to the west, Kalimdor. As a child in training Calonos was always thrilled to hear the stories and tales of his master. They gave him the desire to explore and that sense of adventure that burns inside most young boys' hearts. It seemed a bit childish to him, but it was like going on one of those grand adventures Ulthrist had always talked about. Calonos couldn't help but smile inside; he was finally going to get the chance to see parts of Azeroth his childhood curiosity had always driven him to seek out.
A small smile managed to creep across his face as a tiny stick eeked out from the horizon. It was the lighthouse. "See that? We're almost there," Calonos said to Alvarin.
Such relief was greatly welcomed by the three. "No doubt the people will be happy to know how close we are," Reide smiled.
Calonos looked behind again, scanning the horizon. The smoke that rose from Sentinel Hill's destruction had subsided, but there was a certain unsettling haze that continued to loom over the northern Westfall stretch. It was almost like a reminder of the evil that tore the settlement apart. And while there were no sign of soldiers Calonos just knew they were on the move. Yes, the troops grew close to the nearly defenseless caravan, but their first destination was in sight. Getting out of Westfall would give them much breathing room for some time.
Fifteen minutes passed and the refugees were halted at the entrance, eager for that step closer to temporary safety. Calonos rode forth to confront the man that guarded the entrance. He appeared to be a member of some sort of militia. Armed in leather armor, a shield, and a broadsword, he stood his ground.
"Please state your business here. Traveling merchants?" he asked with curiosity.
"Far from it, I'm afraid. Runaways," Calonos sighed. "Is Norius in the town? I'm a friend of his and I need to speak with him. It's of great importance."
The guard felt like this rider could be trustworthy. With a herd of men, women, children, and several horses clouding the earth behind him, there was no way he could've been a bandit. He stood aside, "I'm not sure if I know that name, but you're free to look. You all may enter."
Calonos nodded in appreciation as his horse trotted on through the entrance. His mass of followers were close behind. It was nice to see that Ceridge still looked nice since his last visit. Aside from the lighthouse, the little port town didn't have anything really flashy to attract the attention of wealthy travelers; there were no castles or manors. In a swirl of shingled and thatched roof houses that dotted all the way down to the docks, the thatched houses seemed to dominate in number. As small as it was, Ceridge was very lively. Conversations irradiated the town with the glow of its happenings: bartering, gossip, and laughing were all through out. Numerous sets of eyes turned to look at the new arrivals just outside.
The clustered refugees stepped through the main entrance in admiration for town and its vast view of the murky sea from the docks. This was nothing new to Calonos or Reide, but many of the Moonbrook citizens had never strayed far from their homes. It was a new experience for them. Impressed, they eyed the towering lighthouse. It stood at least six stories tall with its glass eye forever watching the waters. The light on top would not reveal itself until the sun went down and Calonos, hopefully, was far away.
"Wait here," Calonos said to his brother. He spotted a tall figure by the docks. "Norius?" he called out, dismounting.
The tall man swung around with a look of curiosity. "Yes, who is there?"A smile shined on his face as he looked down at his old friend. "Ah, Calonos! It's good to see you again," he said, shaking the warrior's hand, "welcome back!" As always, Norius had his ever faithful bow, made out of the finest wood the ancient forests of Teldrassil had to offer, slung across his back with a quiver of arrows. "So what brings you and your...umm..." he glanced back at the army of townsfolk and horses behind him, searching for the right word to call them. "What brings your party," he decided, "to Ceridge?"
"Verkus. Need I say more?"
"He's finally coming after you, is he?"
"I'm afraid so," Calonos sighed. "Somehow he learned of our plans and now we're on the run. I really hate to ask, but would you happen to be able to get us to Stranglethorn Vale from here?"
"Ships for you all?" Norius asked with growing concern. They would need at least three for all of these people.
"Yes. His soldiers have razed Sentinel Hill and-"
"He's destroyed Sentinel Hill?" he exclaimed.
"Sadly, yes," Calonos said, a grim look in his eye. "And Moonbrook is next. These people have fled from there to escape what is inevitable for Moonbrook. I can't leave them behind. Please, my friend. If you can just get us out of Westfall I'd be eternally grateful. I promise to owe you a favor in the future."
It took some time for Norius to answer. He shut his eyes, trying to think. It wasn't very characteristic for him to go out of the way of his work, but this was the rarity where lives were at stake. His friend was in need. Perhaps this was an exception? Ceridge was safe from Verkus, but that wouldn't stop him from plowing through to give chase to Calonos.
"Deal," he finally said.
Another half hour was spent loading everything onto what Norius had promised: three large vessels to take them away from Westfall. He even managed to hire a few crewman who knew how to commandeer across the seas. Norius and Alvarin watched as the refugees loaded their crates and bags into the bellies of the ships. Horse-driven wagons were carefully guided up the supported ramps to each ship's stables in the hull. Calonos, Theldin, and Reide were busy lending as much help as they could.
The three ships Norius mustered were all retired vessels of naval war, identical in appearance. Their wood was soaked in a deep honey color and the sails bore a cream colored canvas. They stood erect over the rest, ready to be put to good use.
"Do you know how to sail?" Alvarin finally broke the silence between the two.
"Bits and pieces, yes. I always get some hands to assist me with all of this. That doesn't mean I haven't learned a bit here and there," he smiled.
"First boat is set to go!" Theldin shouted, fastening a rope to secure a few loose barrels.
A few minutes of preparation passed and then Calonos voiced his confirmation. "Second is done!"
"So is the third!" a crewman shouted. "We're all set for Stranglethorn!"
"The time has come, Calonos," Norius walked over and pat him on the back. "Are we ready to set sail?"
Both of them could see the refugees climbing up the ramps onto their wooden saviors from Westfall. Mothers made a great effort to hold onto their children while young adults helped the elderly up the planks. These people of all ages, shapes, and sizes wanted to leave as soon as possible. Calonos looked across the view of Ceridge. He really hoped this wouldn't be the last time he'd ever see it; this town meant a lot to him. After a long, quiet minute Calonos formed a determined look on his face. "Get us out of here."
"Right. We're off everybody! Let's get these lumps of wood out to sea!" Everyone made their ways to whatever boat they would be on. Calonos and Norius hopped aboard the first, Theldin on the second, and Reide and Alvarin on the third. Calonos felt like this could be used as time to catch up with his old friend once everything settled down.
As Calonos walked with Norius, the elf look down at him and explained to him their plan. "First thing's first," he began, "we need to sail out into the open sea. I don't want rocks to tear our hulls apart. After we've gone out far enough we'll curve south to Stranglethorn, hugging the mountains as close as we can get without danger. From there it's just a straight shot to the Savage Coast." They both hopped on board their vessel. "Does this sound alright to you?"
"Yes, do what you must. My main focus right now is just leaving Westfall." He thought about where Verkus' troops might be at this time. "As far as I'm concerned we are making good time. I'm ready to-" he paused. "Hell, we're all ready to leave when you are, my friend."
"Then get your sea legs ready!" Norius laughed. With the swiftness night elves were famous for he dashed up the ropes, holding on with only one arm. With the other he signaled to the other two ships. "Shove off! We sail for the bloody jungles!"
Calonos slightly winced at the sound of chains grinding like rusty teeth as crewman cranked the anchor out of the water. It groaned with its weighted resistance, but once it was out the ship was moving. He lost his footing and stumbled as the boat came loose; they were finally on the move. He smiled as he saw the other two ships close by, taking off. The three, moving as one, were ready to let the waters of the Great Sea take them away from Ceridge.
Onlookers and Ceridge townspeople stood at the docks to wave farewell to the travelers. Calonos raced to the stern of the ship and frantically returned their goodbye waves. He couldn't blame himself for letting his emotions get the better of him. What if this really was the last time he'd ever see this town? With a hopeful look shining in his eyes, Calonos prayed that the Light would let him return to Ceridge and its lighthouse again someday.
His smile was quickly sucked away, however. As Ceridge was almost out of view, Calonos could see another death cloud radiating in the distance. Moonbrook had been claimed.