I know it's been a while since I last posted anything, but perhaps this'll tide you over while I work on my longer-running stories. This one I've had around for a long time, two or three years now, and it still holds the distinction of being the story I've reworked most. This is one of a few 'novelizations' of dungeon runs I've written -- I may post the other one, depending on the feedback I get -- as the title suggests, this one is Razorfen Downs, while the other features some of my other characters assaulting Maraudon. But enough from me -- enjoy!
It was a familiar formula: a mismatched band of quirky but lovable heroes, all with massive and oftentimes glaring character flaws, banded together to defeat the ultimate evil (or at least the next best thing to it). That type of story often began with a mysterious meeting with an ominous cloaked figure in a dark tavern. That was the way things worked. Everyone knew that. So… why wasn't anyone stopping?
Sylehil Wildmane groaned and threw off her cloak angrily. "I shouldn't have bought a black one," she muttered. Black was all well and good, but it made you almost too inconspicuous in, say, the shadowed corner of an inn. For three days now the young Tauren had been sitting inside the Red Axe Tavern, sole watering-hole and place of repose for the weary travelers who passed through the Crossroads. By all rights there should've been a queue of heroes lining up to join her quest. The only person to talk to her in those three days, however, had been the barman Krusk. Lurking was thirsty work.
"Maybe we need to start looking more actively," she said to the tawny cougar lounging by her side. Eruhil stared languidly up at her, his brown eyes identical to hers; the taming process, by means of which the hunter bound her mind to a creature's and the creature's to hers, was not without its physical side effects as well. The faintest whisper of a mental shrug brushed her mind – Eru was quite content to lay on the rugs by the fire, it seemed. Sometimes Sylehil envied the big cat his ease of life, but not today. The most important thing now was to clear out the festering hive of Scourge and undead Quilboars known as the Razorfen Downs.
Standing briskly, Sylehil strode out of the inn and into the dusty square that gave the Crossroads its name – the town was little more than an outpost, really, but its location made it both a highly strategic and poorly defensible outpost. Not a good combination… but the bright sun today would keep any Alliance well in view.
"Listen up," she shouted, her words whisked away by the cruel Barrens wind almost before they left her throat. Grimacing against the windswept dust as the wind picked up, she tried again, with much the same result – but this time she felt a hand land on her shoulder, making a slight clinking noise against the mail epaulets that still felt so unfamiliar to her. Turning, she was met with the rather unpleasant red-stained grin of a female Troll wearing sinister-looking leather armor. The effect was ruined slightly by the tall white ponytail the rogue sported; though she was at least a foot shorter than the Tauren, the ponytail made up for more than half the difference. "Come in, mon," the Troll suggested, hooking her thumb toward the Red Axe.
Once seated out of the blowing wind, the Troll leaned eagerly over the stone table toward Sylehil. "Name's Kiv, mon," she said. Sylehil found herself leaning away; she had nothing against Trolls, but Kiv's enthusiasm had drained the blue-skinned woman of any concept of personal space. "Heard dere was a weird type lookin' for folks to help out wit' sometin' aroun' here… guess dat was you, eh?" She grinned again. Sylehil, having almost found her bearings by that point, lost them again. The disreputable-looking Troll talked so fast she was nearly a goblin, and she was certainly short enough to be one. More worrying, however, were Kiv's teeth: she had obviously filed them. It was like being grinned at by a Goblin shredder.
"Yeah, that's me," Sylehil said, pushing Kiv back into her seat. "The Warchief himself has tasked me with destroying all the Scourge in Razorfen Downs. I can't do it alone, but it needs to be done. From the Downs, they could easily attack Camp Taurajo, and after that it's only a few days' march to Thunder Bluff…"
She trailed off as images of the Scourge's undead horde ransacking the Tauren capital filled her mind. Shaking them off with an effort, she continued. "Anyway, you see the problem."
"Yeh, mon, I do," Kiv said, looking up from her sharp nails, which she was currently picking at with a hook-ended dagger. Sitting up again, she tossed the knife casually into the air. "I'm in," the rogue said, her sentence punctuated by the dull thunk of the knife's hook sinking into the wooden-beamed ceiling above them. Looking up, Kiv sighed resignedly and stood on her chair, tugging at the weapon's haft.
The dagger was still stuck in the ceiling the next day as the pair prepared to leave, which partially explained Kiv's foul mood. The Troll woman snapped at an obviously green Forsaken warrior, literally rattling him as his exposed bones clicked together; she seemed ready to take on an entire regiment of Silver Hand paladins, "holy" magic and all. Her mood seemed entirely out of character with the jovial figure Sylehil had met yesterday, and did not invite inquiries as to its cause. So, of course, she had to ask.
"What's with you, Kiv?" the hunter asked as they walked. The enchanted reins that would summon her kodo mount, Walker, were strapped to her belt. Kiv showed no indication that she had a mount of her own, though, and Walker's saddle wouldn't fit two, wide as it was.
Kiv started, half-turning and fixing her red eyes onto Sylehil. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed, pivoting to walk backwards for a while. Shading her face with one blue-skinned hand, she squinted down the road the way they had come; Sylehil was faintly unnerved to see that her eyes were slightly luminous. "Someone's followin' us, Sylmon," she said, finally. "Oh, I know who it be, alrigh'," she assured the hunter, who was furtively looking behind herself. "Das' not de problem. Problem is, is who it is."
She said no more, despite the Tauren's best efforts to the contrary, and remained sullen and silent until they reached the Barrens Ravine, little more than a glorified ditch that neatly separated the arid Barrens into northern and southern halves. Upon seeing the sole bridge over the cleft, though, her still-disturbing grin broke out and she quickly urged Sylehil and Eruhil underneath the span. Climbing onto one of the bridge rails, she quickly disappeared from sight. Even with the heightened senses of a hunter, and knowledge of the rogues' stealthing magic, Sylehil could barely spot her. Still… it was easy enough to spot the person she had alluded to earlier, merely a dot against the horizon but growing larger at a fair clip.
Details were only poorly visible in the gathering gloom, but it was obvious that the pursuer was a Troll. For one thing, the cyan-scaled raptor he was riding bore the brand of the Darkspear Trolls, those allied with the Horde; for another, less contestable reason, he was blue and sported some of the largest tapered ears the Tauren had ever seen outside of the Night Elves of the Alliance. It was easy to see, at this moment anyway, how the crackpots that theorized the Night Elves' magically-fuelled evolution of sorts from Trolls had come upon their belief.
Kiv sucked in a breath, tensing as the rider approached. As the raptor's claws thudded into the first plank of the bridge, she leapt, catching the rider around the neck and rolling off into the ravine. Sylehil joined the panicking raptor on top of the bridge, grabbing the reins hastily and attempting to calm the beast down. The wicked foreclaws on the raptor's heavily muscled feet could pose a danger to anyone nearby if it went charging around wantonly.
Sounds of a scuffle could be heard over the edge of the bridge; Sylehil peered into the ravine, but cautiously. She had glimpsed Kiv's tendency to throw knives before. The pursuer was on his back, one bare foot planted in Kiv's stomach. She was leaning over him, futilely attempting to stab a second hooked knife into his robed chest. Kiv's balance shifted slightly, sending her toppling over; her knife stuck into the ground and she landed on top of the stranger. Now it looked like she was trying to kiss him, though the man's tusks got in the way. The Trolls gave it their best shot anyway, then just as suddenly returned to the mortal struggle that had been going on earlier.
Sylehil was confused. Despite having just finished her second year in the army of the New Horde, she had never spent much time around Trolls, Darkspear or otherwise; she had a vague notion that this was a sort of display of affection, though it looked somewhat dangerous. An intervention seemed to be in order.
The short hop off the bridge made Sylehil stumble for only a second, but it gave Kiv and the stranger ample time to scrabble off each other. Kiv was breathing harshly, and the other Troll – a male with a heavily tattooed face, shoulder-length green hair and the most singularly massive nose the hunter had ever seen – was dusting off the incredibly bright red robe he wore. "Heya, mon," he said, retrieving his jauntily-feathered hat and tipping it to Sylehil. "Nice t'meet joo. Kiv be workin' witchoo, den?" An area of untattooed skin in the shape of a wide V on his forehead made him look rather more serious than he did with the hat on.
The Tauren nodded, perplexed again but recognizing a good situation in which to remedy it. "First off, who are you? Why did Kiv attack you?" she asked, her tone echoed by Eruhil's low growl as he came into view behind the mage. To her surprise, the man flushed a darker blue. "She be very affectionate," he mumbled. Straightening as much as the habitually hunched male Trolls could, he practically radiated willingness to change the subject. "Name's Jusambin 'Fireeyes', mon," he said. "Master o' da arcane arts an' suchlike, capabilly of astoundin' feats o' magic an' pyrotechnics, an' and I also sell food an' water. Wan' some?"
With a bright flash of light and a quiet pop, a loaf of what appeared to be sourdough bread appeared in the mage's outstretched hand. Cautiously, Sylehil accepted it; it was indeed sourdough, though it tasted a bit like the air after a close lightning strike. She judiciously put it down.
"Why joo here, mon?" Kiv asked, red eyes suspicious. "Joo weren' jus' ridin' down de road ta Razorfen Downs fer no reason."
"Dis road goes lots o' places," Jusambin replied airily. "Why, joo goin' ta Razorfen Downs?"
"No," replied Kiv firmly. "Sylmon, we be goin'. Jus, joo follow us, I swear joo gonna lose dose tusks offa joo."
"Mebbe I jus' come witchoo far enough ta see where I ain' goin', den," Jusambin offered. "Wouldn' wanna go dere by mistake. I like my tusks."
Kiv made a noise that sounded like she was choking back an obscenity. "Sylmon, kin I talk to joo? Ova here?" The slight Troll took Sylehil's arm and tugged her a few yards away. There was no use trying to totally escape earshot in such flat and, moreover, quiet terrain – especially with the ears in question belonging to a Troll – so Kiv settled for lowering her voice.
"Syl, I didn' wan' joo ta meet dat guy," she muttered. "'E's a charmin' fellow butchoo can' trust 'im as far as joo kin t'row 'im." She considered Sylehil for a moment. "'Specially as far as joo kin t'row 'im."
"He didn't seem that bad," the young hunter replied. "If Eru hasn't attacked him yet, he certainly doesn't mean us any harm."
"Yeh, well, 'e never means it, does 'e," Kiv snorted. "De problem is, we kinda need 'is 'elp. He be a damn powerful mage, an' joo can' shoot a spell outta de air." She heaved a sigh. "Yup. We gotta let 'im come alon', fer awhile at leas'."
Kiv and Sylehil turned as one to look at Jusambin, who was currently juggling several balls of fire with his eyes closed. Every now and then he would drop one, eliciting a good-natured curse, a foomp noise and a small mushroom cloud. "Already seemin' like a bad idea," Kiv muttered. Sylehil had to stop herself from asking why it was such a problem -- despite Kiv's openness up to this point, the female Troll looked like she'd rather not discuss it. She'd returned to the hook-ended dagger, still stuck point-first deep in the sand, and was grimly tugging on it with an air that said that the chest of anyone who disturbed her would be her next opponent in the fight to retain the weapon.
Troll accents are so much fun to transliterate. You have no idea. I hope Kiv's mostly comprehensible despite it.
Next chapter'll be up in a few days. I've got two and three-quarters written, so we'll see when the third goes up.
Please remember to review!