Whitecrow sat in the small cottage in the Barrens, chatting with Ferruk and Nerissa. It had been months since he'd seen them, and it was that time of the year for him. They were visiting the famous Groll and Shantille, who were out and about at the moment, but due back anytime. Ferruk and Nerissa had met them after the Nerissa Accords had become Horde law.
Despite his impatience, Whitecrow had agreed to wait for them to return before continuing on his journey. Nerissa politely claimed she'd heard a sound outside, and with a kiss on Ferruk's cheek, left to go see what it was, giving Whitecrow and Ferruk the perfect opportunity to talk.
"Going to Ashenvale again, are you?" Ferruk asked as the door closed behind his wife.
"Every year," Whitecrow told him tersely. "I've never missed."
"It's been years, W.C. If she were going to come, she would have." His face was sympathetic, and Whitecrow turned away, unable to see the pity in his friend's eyes.
"Maybe soon, I'll stop going. But not this year," was Whitecrow's answer.
The door opened, and a heavily pregnant elf walked in, followed by Nerissa, and then by a massive orc. Nerissa made introductions, and Whitecrow sat back down after the women were seated.
"So, you're just traveling though?" Groll's voice was deep and mellow.
"Yes, I'm on my way to Ashenvale. It's a yearly trip for me," Whitecrow told him.
Shrewdly, Shantille responded from the other side of the table, "I sense a mystery. Care to satisfy my curiosity?"
"No," Whitecrow said, his voice rumbling deeply within his chest.
She sighed dramatically, and Groll snickered. She tossed a spoon at him, which he caught before laughing openly. "Don't mind my wife," he told Whitecrow, "she's so used to getting her way without argument every time she's pregnant that she just doesn't know what the word 'no' means anymore."
"Maybe you ought to give her a break from being pregnant," Whitecrow suggested with a chuckle.
"It's not my fault," Groll told him smugly, "she rapes me, you see."
An outraged gasp from Shantille had them all laughing, even Shantille joining in, in the end.
"Well," Whitecrow told them some time later, after their impromptu luncheon had been cleared away, "I think I'll be on my way. I'm in a bit of a rush to get there and get settled in."
They walked him to the door, the men coming out with him. Ferruk held the reins of his kodo as Whitecrow mounted, patting it on the shoulder as he said, with a voice thick with emotion, "Be careful, old friend. I hope you find what you're looking for."
He turned away at Whitecrow's nod, and stood beside Groll. The pair watched him ride away before Groll turned to Ferruk. "I don't suppose you'll tell me what this is all about?" When he received the expected shake of the head from Ferruk, he sighed. "You would tell me if it were anything that endangered the Horde, though, wouldn't you?"
Ferruk scowled at him, and Groll sighed. "I know. But you have to know that I had to ask, too." Ferruk relented, nodding slightly.
As the two turned back to go inside, they were followed by the "caw, caw, caw" of a crow. When the door shut, the strange bird that had uttered it lifted from the roof of the cabin and took wing in the direction that Whitecrow had already flown on his kodo.
2.Many Years Past
The black calf was exhausted. His fur was matted in some places, rubbed down to skin in others. His coat was dulled by dust that had become mud from the sweat that drenched him. But he didn't stop, pursued as he was by Night Elf scouts of an unknown number.
He didn't remember ending up here. He'd traveled through dangerous lands, surviving by hook and by crook, but growing ever more hungry and frightened. He'd fed himself somewhat, but he couldn't keep up with his massive body's demand. He was already big for a bull, and still growing.
It was the worst possible scenario for him, though. Not only was he starving, and lost, but now he was hunted by those whom he knew he could not resist or overcome. Death seemed nearer and nearer with every passing moment as darkness teased around the edge of his vision.
Yet he lifted one hoof and put it in front of the other. Again. Then again. Just one more time… maybe one more.
He stumbled, leaning heavily against a tree. If only he hadn't got caught up in watching that Night Elf bathe. If only he had run away the moment he saw her. If only he'd… done everything differently from the beginning.
His shaggy head shook as he tried to clear his vision. He knew that he was in desperate trouble now, because he was hallucinating. A bird had landed on the branch of the tree he was leaning against.
It was white and cream, with beady red eyes that stared at him. The beast opened its beak, and screamed at Pingowingo. "Caw, caw caw!" Pingowingo blinked, staring at it. Then he blinked again, slowly and carefully.
It was still there. It hopped down the branch towards him. "Caw, caw, caw!" it shrieked again. Then it hopped to a nearby tree. Shaking his head, Pingowingo followed it, tail dragging in the dirt behind him.
Soon, it was only the sound of the strange bird's cawing that led him onwards. He couldn't see, his vision hazed over by exhaustion and weariness. He staggered from tree to tree, with no knowledge whatsoever of where he was.
The briny scent of the ocean reached him, making his nostrils twitch. He staggered onwards, though. He was on the vision quest that would make him into a full-fledged bull, no longer a calf. So he followed the creature of his vision, as any true vision-questing Tauren would do. The vision quest was the rite of passage undertaken in the 18th summer of life. Surviving it meant social acceptance of the Bull he had become on his birthday.
He was tired- too tired. He wasn't going to make it; he knew it in his very bones. He would never become a bull, dying a fledgling calf. Despair deepened, knifing into his gut like a sharp piece of iron.
Eventually, he did give out. The albino crow hopped towards him, its beady red eyes malevolent and sharp. It pecked at his nose, driving excruciating pain through his whole body. He thought to himself, Okay, okay, I'm coming.
He crawled onwards, then, unable to drag himself to his feet. Then he was there. He landed, muzzle-first, in a puddle of water. He drank deeply, sucking in great gulps of the precious fluid.
Then he slept. The purifying, healing waters of the Sunwell poured through him, restoring him somewhat, and easing the painful cramping of his muscles. The albino hopped towards him, its head cocking backwards towards the woman following it.
"Caw," it said to her. She gathered Power, and began to chant. "CAW!" screamed the crow, its wings flapping agitatedly as it hopped in front of the fallen Tauren. The woman's words ceased. She stared at the albino. "Caw!" it told her, and flapped away.
She sighed and sat down. Then, changing her mind, she left food for the bull, and left. If he could find her, then she would help him. It was her test, to see if she had understood the message of the albino crow, the only she had ever seen.
So far as she was concerned, not killing him was gift enough. She would also mislead the trackers she knew followed him. That was all, though, unless he found her again. Then… well, then she would see what came of things.
Pingowingo followed the cawing of the albino again. He'd found himself at a strange well, and found a piece of meat beside him. At first, he had devoured the whole thing, before realizing it was cooked. A thrill of fear ran through him when he had eaten, until he realized it was ridiculous to think that he'd be poisoned. If whomever had left it intended to kill him, poison would have been the least likely route.
So he went on his way, still exhausted, his coat still matted or bald or dirty. He had considered cleaning himself in the water of the well, but somehow had felt that it would be in some way sacrilegious to do so. So he hadn't.
Instead, he'd tried to get his bearings, only to find the albino crow screaming at him again. He followed it, willing to accept the strangeness of it because of the vision quest.
As he walked, he wondered idly if white crows were also guardians of the Underworld, and if they carried souls there, as did their black brethren. Then he realized that there was probably no answer to this question, since doubtless no one knew they existed. Maybe none did, besides this one.
He soon lost the train of thought, though, as his body's weakness tugged at him. He followed in a daze, staggering often, though not as often now as before.
It was this that found him staggering into a camp before he even realized it was there. It was, surprisingly, the scent of food that jerked him out of the fog, an instant before the crow's familiar "Caw, caw, caw!" split the air.
He looked up groggily, to find himself face-to-face with the very thing he dreaded most: a Night Elf scout.
As if things couldn't get worse, though, the crow's shrieks had just awakened her. He might actually have stumbled right through her camp and on his way if it hadn't seen fit to scream right then. Rage and fear filled him in equal measure.
As the elf's lilting voice filled the air, he raged inside. He turned and began to run, but roots leaped up out of the ground, wrapping around his legs and sprawling him across the grass.
"Vrek da alock," the elf told him. He had no idea what she'd said; it was a language he didn't know. To him, it was gibberish at its finest.
She squatted down beside him, and shocked him to the core of his soul. She handed him some food, then sat down on a log beside her campfire. She patted the log, as if in invitation. He stared at her, his liquid eyes blinking foolishly.
She smiled, for little did the young bull know, but he looked almost adorable, despite his dangerous size and his already vicious horns. He slowly sat up, but didn't approach her, even when the roots fell away.
"A shinklesims," she told him. He blinked again. "En vit secethfrizen ve jes nesemitz." He still didn't understand her, of course. But her voice sounded kind, as if he were a frightened, wild animal she was trying to put at ease. And, he realized, maybe he was.
To what purpose, he had no idea, but it was better than what he expected, so he ate ravenously. As he did so, he kept her in the corner of his eye, scared that she might change her mind at any moment.
She just smiled at him. When he was done, she gestured at him to follow. Wary, he decided to do so. He was pleased when they came out onto a beach by the ocean.
Then he stared in shock as she let the robe she wore drop to the ground. Leggings and a tunic followed along with various other clothes. Then, without looking at him, she walked into the water, her lilac hips swaying slightly as her pale, nearly white hair swayed in synch with them.
She wasn't a heifer, or a cow. He shouldn't be looking at her. He shouldn't be reacting to her as he was. She was beautiful, beyond anything he'd ever seen, yes. But that was no excuse for being sexually aroused by a species not his own, was it?
He turned away, unable to join her so long as his body was rampaging with lust. Finally, he made a decision. He walked straight into the water with his clothes still on. They needed to be washed anyway, so why not? Seawater might not be the best way to clean them, but seawater was better than mud and sweat and blood.
Once in the water, he began to disrobe, washing his clothing first, and then himself. Sand made an excellent scrubber, and soon he had forgotten all about the elf. It felt so unbelievably good to be fresh and clean.
Finally done, he stepped out of the water, realizing belatedly that he had nothing to replace the clothes he had removed and washed. To his surprise, he found a robe lying on the ground. It was big enough to fit him, and remarkably lacking in femininity.
He hesitated, hoping she had left it, not someone else. He took it after a few moments' thought. Thus dressed, he shrugged and returned to the camp. The elf looked up as he walked in, nodded at him, and went back to sewing. She was humming as she worked, and Pingowingo was enthralled by the sweetness of her voice.
There was surprisingly little to do, so he dug out a small axe from his pack, making calming motions when she leaped up the moment he did so. Then he walked over to the small stack of firewood she had gathered, and started chopping.
The wariness drained out of her, and she finally sat and went back to her work. He soon ran out of wood in the tiny pile, and went into the nearby woods for more.
As he did so, he felt foolish in the robe, hoping that his leathers would soon be dried out. A bull in a skirt? It was just wrong, and he hoped he wouldn't be seen… of course he wouldn't, so far away from home. He fought back pain and even the threat of tears. Perhaps he would never see home again. Perhaps this was the end of it—of him.
As he wandered in the woods, he felt some of his fear melting away, though. It was beautiful here. Wherever he was, whatever this place was, it had an ancient majesty to it.
He'd gathered enough, he decided, and headed back to camp. It wasn't long, though, before he realized that he was lost.
Once more, despair crawled up his spine. He shook his shaggy mane as if that would dispel the feeling.
It didn't. If anything, it gave him an uncanny feeling of being watched.
He searched the woods, finding nothing there except the normal wildlife for the area, so far as he knew.
Then it dropped down in front of him. It was large, and blue-black, with a mouth full of fangs. Dropping the pile of wood, Pingowingo ran, lowing with unconcealable terror.
The stress of the journey thus far had finally taken its toll, and even as the albino soared over his head with a cacophony of shrieks, he raced away from the menacing cat that had nearly landed on top of his head.
Branches whipped him in the face as he fled, but he paid them no need, even as they laced his muzzle with bright stripes of red.
Finally convinced that he wasn't going to be eaten alive, he stopped running and leaned his back against a tree.
Then she was there again. The elf. Her golden eyes stared into his, and she reached out to run a finger down the bridge of his muzzle. It came away wet with blood. She shook her head at him, and this time he understood her perfectly: "Tsk, tsk, tsk."
Though any Tauren watching might have thought it impossible, his ears drooped even further, rolling ever more downwards. Humiliated, he tucked his muzzle to his chest. She looked at him levelly for a moment, and then pointed two fingers towards her eyes in a 'watch me' gesture.
Then, to his shock, she turned into the cat that had nearly landed on his head.
He knew that druids of the Tauren clans could become cats, but they little resembled the one this woman had just turned into.
Yet still, he felt relief as he sank to the ground beside her feline form. He buried his hands in her black fur, the two of them seeming to meld together where they touched.
Somehow, he could feel no more fear or animosity towards her. It all drained out of him in that moment, and never returned.
They went back for the wood he had dropped, and he soon found himself following her into the camp. She had returned to her native form, to his chagrin, and his body was fully reacting to it by the time they made it back.
She made no comment on his obvious arousal, simply prepared for bed while he rebuilt the fire. He had no idea if she had even noticed. He wasn't sure if he was relieved, or embarrassed.
His body, however, was tired. Indeed, he was so tired that he actually fell asleep, despite the nearness of a luscious female body.
He woke and yawned, stretching his aching body. He was immensely sore, and was glad to see that he'd gathered enough firewood for several days. Strength was one of the benefits of being too big to fit into other races' doors.
She was awake, the food she was cooking rousing him from the deep sleep he'd fallen into. One day, many years from then, he would understand why that was bad for one's health, or potentially so, but for now, his young body knew what it needed and took it.
He didn't assume that she would let him have some of her food, but he was grateful when she did. He smiled, his lips curling upwards, and bobbed his head. She cocked her head to the side and watched him for a moment, then said something in her singsong voice. He assumed it was something like, 'you're welcome,' and left it at that.
He tried to eat more slowly this time, resulting in her finishing before he did. She came over to him, and sat down beside him on the ground. She held a brush, and pointed at him, patting his arm.
He reached for it, but she pulled it away and gestured towards his food. He went back to eating, glad that she didn't mind him waiting until he was done. He knew he was in bad need of grooming, but his hunger was the greater pain at the moment.
Then she reached out and began to brush him. He hadn't been brushed since he was a youngling, by anyone but himself, and nearly jumped out of his skin.
Scowling, he shook his head at her, his ears snapping backwards in anger. She held her hands up defensively, and put the brush on the ground beside him, patting it before walking away.
He suddenly felt embarrassed. Surely she didn't understand the intimacy of the act she had just attempted, and he regretted rejecting her in such a manner. But he had no idea how to make amends for it.
He finished his meal, and picked up the brush in silence. As he groomed himself, he considered the problem. He was very grateful for all she'd done, and wanted to show her so. But how? They couldn't understand each other, and he couldn't speak anyway. It was part of the vision quest.
It took a long time, but he managed to get one of his arms brushed out. It still looked rather pathetic, with its ragged spots, and the bald spots that left only black skin behind to inform that once there had been gleaming black hair there.
He was proud of his work, but so very exhausted. Just the effort of brushing himself out was more than he could manage. He sighed, and met her eyes as she looked up again.
Quietly, humbly, his ears once more drooping into a downward swoop, he held the brush out towards her. She stood up without a word or even a smile to embarrass him, and took it gently.
She sat down behind him and began to brush his mane first. It was a long time before she was able to draw the brush through it in long, smooth strokes. He sighed unconsciously, the feeling familiar and pleasant and oh-so-gentle.
He almost dozed, but she was working hard to get the mats out, and it was obviously difficult going. At one point, apologetically, she took out some scissors, and snipped, very close to his skin. A large chunk of matted fur joined the growing pile.
Some time later, she began to sing, and he listened quietly to the unfamiliar melody. It was poignant, sweet, and gentle, wrapping around him like a mother's touch. It made him ache with regret and loss, yet it also helped him to relax.
They spent several hours thus, as she sang or hummed and he sat in stony silence, not protesting even when her work stung his battered skin. Finally, she gave up, and led him once more to the beach. They bathed again, but this time she waited as he went in first, politely turned away from him, as if she had sensed his problem the day before and wanted to give him his privacy.
Soon, he was clean again, as much as possible with the majority of his body still matted with dirt and clumps of fur. But for the first time in months, he felt at least some degree of well-being.
They returned to the camp, and she gestured at him to stay. Then she vanished into the woods. He laid down to think about her, lying on his back and looking up at the sky. It wasn't long before he dozed off, as he had felt like doing while she helped him with his grooming.
The next day, she led him up the beach. She chattered away at him, and he listened to her as she pointed out things and told him names of them. He repeated them in his mind, but couldn't speak them out loud.
They walked for most of the morning, until she stopped and began to prepare a new camp. He helped her, not sure why they were stopping already, but willing to accept the decision.
They ate again, he finding that his appetite was back with a vengeance and she eating as delicately as ever. Then she sat him down and helped him remove his leather jerkin before she began to brush out his left arm.
She hummed again as she worked, and the going seemed to be easier. It made sense, as the mats had slowly begun to work themselves out on their own, now that he wasn't constantly running.
She gave up the humming when she was nearly done with his arm, beginning a running commentary. It took him a few moments, but he realized she was telling him what she was doing.
He listened as she chattered at him, occasionally looking up at him with a smile. He studied her as she worked, her fingers light and delicate on his arm. She was working now on his forearm, near the wrist, and the rhythmic strokes of the brush were gentle against his skin.
His ears tilted towards her, flickering slightly as she talked. He watched her lilac face, oval-shaped, tapering down to a dainty chin. Her golden eyes twinkled and glowed, the butterfly marking on it marked in blues that echoed her hair's ephemeral, glacial whiteness.
Her cheekbones were fine and high, her lips full… so full that he found himself staring at them for a moment before she looked up at him. He looked quickly away, his ears dropping in embarrassment.
He swallowed, ducking his head against his chest, and tried to focus on something else. He thought about growing up in Red Cloud Mesa. It didn't distract him. In fact, just trying not to think about it made him want to think about it more.
She finished grooming his arm. She looked up at him for a moment, before smiling at him. Her face seemed almost magic in that moment, and he swallowed again, looking away. He reached out for the brush, to take it from her.
She batted his hand away, chuckling at him. Then she knelt in front of him and reached forward to begin on his chest. She was so close, her slightly sweet scent strong in his nostrils. He stopped her with a hand on her wrist.
Her eyes met his, and he saw a wisdom there. She knew. It was clear in her stare as her eyes held his trapped in her gaze. They stared for a moment, before she nodded, and released the brush to him.
Now, he knew, she finally understood why grooming was so intimate and personal, and why he had refused her the first time.
He couldn't fail to notice, however, despite his youth and inexperience, that she had seemed reluctant to relinquish the brush.