I apologize for taking so long to write this chapter. I was at a loss as to which direction I wanted to take the story, and how I wanted to flesh out my characters in the long-term. Then, real life became a distraction.
I promise to update more regularly. Thank you very much for the follows, favourites, and reviews so far! I deeply appreciate them.
The Path of Nature
Near a heap of fallen leaves of various shapes and shades of green, there was an elven lady of violet skin tone on her knees. There was a slight breeze as the wind would blow her long, navy hair to various directions around her. She appeared to be staring out over an expanse of waters nearby, which was illuminated with a purple glow by the aura of Teldrassil, and any onlookers would see that she was in deep thought at this point. Although it was never uncommon for an elven Sentinel to have a facial expression that held a degree of gravity, she did appear to be especially immersed within her mind.
She was wearing gear typical to that of a member of the Sentinel army of the night elves – a mix of light plate and leather wrappings around her body, exposing some parts of her abdomen. The uniform allowed for quick movements, but also reasonable protection. Beside her, and but a few inches from her right hand, was a sharp glaive, which required naught but a small ray of light to shine and glare. This was a glaive of high quality Kaldorei creation; a prime melee weapon of choice for many millennia.
She let out a sigh, as she picked up a small stone beside her and threw it into the waters. Her mind was occupied with many thoughts, largely stresses induced by the recent shaking apart of the world by Deathwing's return. Deathwing, formerly known as Neltharion, was an enormous black dragon consumed by madness, whose only goal was to shatter Azeroth and end life there once and for all.
The night elf people suffered grievous harm from the Cataclysm. Darkshore, which was a region that they held strong grounds on, was completely ripped apart. Travelling through the terrain there was near-impossible, which delayed Sentinel reinforcements to Ashenvale significantly. The Horde used this to their advantage, and had been pushing harder than ever to acquire Ashenvale and drive the night elves out there once and for all. Since Ashenvale is one of the ancestral lands of the night elves, they would continue to fight for it to the bitter end. It was a majestic forest dear to the heart of any Kaldorei.
So many losses, with more yet to come.
The elven lady knew this all too well. She knew that the next few months of her life would probably be some of the most difficult she would ever experience. Reaching Ashenvale would prove challenging, for the state of Darkshore was mostly unknown at that stage, but fortunately, she would not be doing so without company.
And that company was nearing her location. As typical to most elves, she had an excellent sense of hearing. She could hear from a long distance behind her the footsteps of her father, familiar to her as she knew how he would walk. With it, she could also hear one that was quicker paced and perhaps even ever so slightly more silent.
So my father managed to convince the Gilnean boy, then.
She let out a sigh, before rising to her feet, picking up her glaive and a satchel made of strong fabric, and approaching the direction from which she could hear the sounds. Her father, Elzarion Nightstrider, was lecturing the boy about why preserving the balance of nature was of utmost importance to the continued existence of Azeroth.
The old elven man was interrupted when he noticed her approaching the duo.
"Ah, my daughter approaches us, Gunnathor," stated Elzarion.
Gunnathor was still in the form of a human. He looked up to the tall elf briefly before turning his attention to the approaching lady before him. In a moment of shyness, he found himself eager to get behind her father, but he stopped himself in hopes he would not offend them. He was unsure as to what night elves considered rude, so was extra cautious of his actions.
Soon they stopped walking as his daughter stood before him. She, too, was quite tall by comparison to the human, but not quite as tall as her father. She was about only an inch shorter than Gunnathor would be in the form of a worgen.
"Ishnu-alah, Azshindra. I trust all is well with you this day?"
The elven lady paused before answering, locking her bright silver eyes upon the human for a few moments, inspecting him and eyeing him up and down. It was a natural reaction of caution induced by her many years as a member of the Sentinel army. Gunnathor knew she was doing this, but did not return any eye contact. He merely looked to the ground.
"I am well, father," she responded. Her voice sounded quite authoritarian but also hinted with caution. "It is good to see that you've another student to take under your wing from the… outsiders."
Her father responded with a warm smile, "Yes, and I am certain he and the others have much potential!"
Elzarion gazed down to the young human standing next to him. Gunnathor's face quickly became red. Although he generally did not react well to meeting new people, he did not feel threatened, and as a result, his worgen side remained subdued, much to his relief.
"I certainly hope he realizes that he is quite fortunate to have such an opportunity!" she exclaimed.
Gunnathor finally found the courage to look up to her face. He wanted to give her an answer in return, but found himself too afraid to utter any words. He could only focus on her facial features, perhaps silently admiring them.
Night elven women are blessed with beauty. he thought.
"Are you grateful for this opportunity, boy?" she asked, sounding rather imposing.
Damn it Gunn, focus! Just answer her. There is no need for me to be such a coward!
Yet the human was still unable to muster the simple bravery to answer the elven lady. In the form of a human, he found it very hard not to fear. He knew that if he failed to gather the courage to utter a simple answer, his worgen side would take matters into its own hands. That would create an awkward situation for him.
"Y-yes!" he finally answered. "I am."
Elzarion detected from his voice and delayed answer that Gunnathor was indeed afraid to meet new people, and his cautious daughter was not at all being accommodating to this reality. He also noticed that out of the form of a worgen, the young Gilnean has little to no courage, for he was a great deal less fearful when first encountering the old druid and in that form.
"Good," responded Azshindra, smiling for the first time in this encounter, which was returned with a sigh of relief from Gunnathor.
"Interesting. Very interesting," muttered Elzarion. Gunnathor turned his attention to the old elf, giving him a questioning look.
"What is interesting?" he inquired.
The elf rubbed his beard for a few moments, staring out to another direction. He then shook his head in response.
"Do not be concerned about that," he said. "Now, I think we ought to introduce you to your fellow students. They aren't far from here. As I have mentioned earlier, they are Gilneans such as yourself."
Great! As if I've not encountered enough strangers today.
Gunnathor and Elzarion walked beside one another, with Elzarion being one step ahead, leading him to where the other students would be. Azshindra followed closely behind. Although Teldrassil was a safe haven by leaps and bounds, rumours of corruption lingering deep within the boughs caused her to be more vigilant. She held a sharp glaive in one hand, ready to use the weapon should any strange creature be bold enough to attack them.
Elzarion continued to talk about natural balances to Gunnathor. The human found his ideas rather foreign, unusual, but also interesting. However, many of the terms Elzarion used were unfamiliar to the Gilnean. He was not comfortable enough in the presence of the old elf to ask questions, but he knew he would have ample opportunity to do so in the near future.
As they were walking and as Elzarion was lecturing, Azshindra would occasionally look in front to their direction, studying the human; the way he walked, the way he answered questions, and the way he carried himself in his general demeanour. Although ever so cautious of strangers, she was particularly intrigued by Gunnathor, as he did not betray much of himself upon the first encounter, which was what humans normally do in her experience.
Gunnathor suspected that he was under the watchful gaze of the elven lady behind him, but he dared not turn his head to her direction to confirm this. He, too, was cautious of the elven woman. She was extremely proactive, but anyone who had been in the presence of a member of the Sentinel army would have known that it is only natural for her to be that way.
It was no longer than fifteen minutes before the group approached a small hill, upon which two wolf-like humanoid figures were seen sitting beside one another. One of them was clearly much larger, but the other seemed to have a more feminine figure.
"Ah!" exclaimed Elzarion, interrupting his own conversation, pointing. "There are the two I spoke of. I think you'll be quite fond of them!"
You're optimistic. Gunnathor could only sigh.
"Jessica! Alfred!" called Elzarion.
The two wolf-like figures immediately rose and began to approach the group after Elzarion's call. In naught but a few moments, two worgen were standing before them. They bowed briefly to Elzarion, and Elzarion bowed back. Gunnathor was not sure what to do, so stood frozen.
He looked up to the two worgen.
One of them was a burly male with red eyes, a wide body frame, thick thighs, light-grey fur, and a few prominent scars on his face. He had the look of a fighter and seemed to be of great strength even for a worgen. He wore brown-coloured and rugged leather clothes that were tight-fitting, with his arms and the lower part of his hind legs exposed.
The other worgen was a female who had the exact same fur colour, but had eyes that were closer to yellow than red, and was almost as tall as the male beside her. She was less hunched over than he, which was typical to a female worgen. She had a sharp muzzle, and a mane that was neatly brushed. She was wearing cloth robes that were dark grey in colour.
"Gunnathor Hill, this is Jessica and Alfred Williams," introduced Elzarion. His daughter continued to pay more attention to the environment than the introductions.
"'appy to met ye fella," replied Alfred in a friendly manner, who immediately extended out his large paw to shake Gunnathor's hand.
Although hesitant, Gunnathor shook hands with the worgen, and then looked to the direction of the female.
"Pleasure," was all she said, as she nodded to him in greeting.
"Jesse's me twin, in case ye haven't noticed," said Alfred, who then let out a bellowing laughter.
There was a moment of pause before Gunnathor merely replied with, "I… see."
There was a sudden gush of wind, which blew multiple leaves and twig strands on the ground over the group. As everyone brushed the leaves off with their hands and paws, Gunnathor coughed a little.
"Well then! Perhaps we ought to head off to Dolanaar and get some rest before our big journey this evening," stated Elzarion.
Everyone else except Gunnathor nodded.
"Evening?" inquired Gunnathor.
"Yes," confirmed the elf. "We night elves function best at night, and I believe most worgen are no different!"
The old elf chuckled briefly before elaborating further on his point.
"Perhaps it would be an excellent opportunity for you to start feeling more at ease with your second form, Gunnathor."
Gunnathor frowned in response. He knew that over the next few weeks, he may be forced to remain as a worgen for longer periods of time, and that gave him a strange sensation in his stomach. The reality is, however, that this would be but a part of the challenges he was yet to face, and he suspected that already.
"Fine, then," replied Gunnathor, clearly unimpressed with that statement.
"Don't worry mate, was also like ye. Hated meself," said Alfred, shaking his head. "But I learned. It is a gift we 'ave! No Curse as they call it!"
Jessica nodded in agreement to her brother's remark.
The group soon started making their way to Dolanaar. It was only a half an hour's walk from where they were located, which gave Elzarion the perfect opportunity to once again lecture continuously on subjects which have been of interest to him for many millennia, mostly related to nature, wildlife, and the balances thereof.
Expectedly, his daughter followed closely behind, paying close attention to their surroundings. Gunnathor was listening closely Elzarion's words, but he found himself unable to keep her out of his mind. Although she was quite frankly frightening to him, there was an element about her that prevented him from keeping the Sentinel out of his mind. Even though he had been in Darnassus for a few weeks, which crawl with Sentinel guards, he never before felt threatened by a woman. Where he came from, there weren't many women to begin with.
There was a sudden silence from Elzarion as he abruptly ceased his incessant lecturing. He realized that perhaps it is not the right time to overload the three druid hopefuls with information they are likely to hear once again in their journey to Feralas.
"Yes, yes, perhaps I shall stop there," stated Elzarion, rubbing his beard. "We can talk about that later."
Elzarion looked down to Gunnathor before him, and noted from the nuances of his current facial expressions that he was in a state of discomfort.
"I am sensing some anxiety from our newest addition here," he said, "so perhaps it would be more prudent if you three talked a little about yourselves, your backgrounds, and what you hope to gain from your training."
"Excellent suggestion, father," exclaimed Azshindra, with a voice that betrayed skepticism. Gunnathor looked to her direction, and she returned to him a sharp stare. He immediately turned his head away.
She seems uncomfortable with my presence. thought Gunnathor.
"Let's start with Alfred," suggested Elzarion.
"Me?" Alfred cleared his throat. "Be 'appy to!"
Alfred scratched his mane, gathering his thoughts. As with most cursed Gilneans, there was some trauma involved regarding their transformations into what they became.
"So ye, me name's Alfred as ye know," started the burly worgen, warming himself up to his own story. "I was once a blacksmith working in Duskhaven. Was a 'appy life I tell ye! Ha' a beautiful wife and two daughters. Loved them very much."
Gunnathor frowned, knowing that perhaps this was going to be yet another one of the many tragic stories to be told of Gilneans whose lives were ruined by recent events.
"Well, te cut a long story short, I lost 'em when the feral worgen invaded. I was bitten trying to protect them an' failed. They were taken away by an alpha, I think. I spent many moons in the woods looking for them, an' they were not found. The bite became more painful, an' before I knew it, I was changing. Next thing, I woke up in a cage a beast.
"Was confused, I was! Angry too. But, it was soon made clear to me tha' I was one of the lucky worgen to be caught an' fed that potion. Was a mindless bloodthirsty mongrel, apparently."
There was a slight pause, which allowed Gunnathor an opportunity to slip in a question.
"Did you ever find out what happened to your wife and daughters?"
Alfred shook his head in response, "No lad. I tried looking them when we landed in Darnassus, an' never found. I presume that they are either dead or feral right now."
"What fate is the most kind, Alfred? Feral mindlessness or death?" asked Elzarion, raising his long elven brows.
"By the Light, I 'ope they are feral. I know tha's not the answer ye want te hear, but maybe there's a cure for it, and I can 'ave them back in my arms… one day," responded Alfred, letting out a gruffy sigh.
Elzarion smiled, "You are right Alfred, I do not agree with that response, for the longer a worgen remains feral, the harder it becomes to return them to their original selves. However, though you may be a something more than a human on the surface, your heart is still clearly very human."
Jessica returned that statement with a glare towards Elzarion.
"And that means…?" asked Jessica.
"Humans have always fascinated me in one way," responded Elzarion, "and that is their ability to hold on to hope. I've been taking the time to inform myself of human history lately, and it is clear to me that your race has endured a hefty amount of suffering in recent centuries. From what I can deduce, hope is a primary attribute that has prevented you from extinction."
Gunnathor nodded in response, but briefly felt ashamed of his own lack of education. He did not know much about the history of his race, for he never had the chance to learn about it nor was he in the presence of those who had knowledge thereof.
"'ope or not, find them I shall, and if they are feral, I will protect them until there is a cure!" exclaimed Alfred passionately, banging his fist against his rounded chest.
"Enough of that now," commanded Elzarion, "So, Alfred, what do you hope to get from your training?"
Alfred scratched his chin before responding, "I want te be more than just a blacksmith, teacher. I've seen what ye druids 'ave done 'ere an' elsewhere. I want more for meself!"
"Remember that as a druid, your goal is to walk the path of nature," said Elzarion. "If you will allow it, nature will guide you in the directions where you will find your purpose. Never forget that."
Alfred nodded enthusiastically in response.
There was a few moments of pause, as they continued on their short journey to Dolanaar. The wind was picking up again, and so the various fallen leaves would blow over their faces, some getting caught within the long hair of both elves.
"Well then Jessica, tell us your story!" said Elzarion.
"Alright," she said, letting out a single cough. "Yeah, I was a priestess of the Light. I served in an obscure part of Gilneas. I had no close family of my own, for I was much too preoccupied with my services in the chapel to be involved with starting a family. Alfred was the closest family I had, but I didn't visit him as often as I had hoped."
Jessica looked to Alfred for a moment, before continuing with her story.
"Upon the day the feral worgen invaded, I was in the chapel as usual. However, this time, there were children practicing songs. My duty that day was to oversee the children and help them practice.
"After but a few hours, the children were exhausted and so was I, so I lead them into the gardens to have a rest and let them play for a while. Before long, we were warmly greeted by the presence of a black worgen that had blood splattered all over his fur. The children were terrified and to tell you the truth, so was I."
She nodded before adding with a tone of pride in her voice, "But I knew my duties."
"As you should!" exclaimed Elzarion.
"Indeed," stated Jessica. "So, I taunted the worgen with a stick which was conveniently lying nearby. I instructed the children to get inside the chapel. Unfortunately, the beast was clearly unimpressed and proceeded to claw at me, knocking me down, and bit my leg. That was excruciating.
"I kicked the side of his head with my other foot, disorienting him a little. It gave me an opportunity to limp my way into the chapel. Of course the worgen tried to get me, but as the chapel was protected by the potent energies of the Holy Light, the worgen was unable to even get near the door. Hours later, he left."
Jessica then paused, seemingly trying to recollect more of what happened.
"You're clearly very brave," complimented Gunnathor.
"And you, on the other hand, are a coward," remarked Jessica with bluntness. "I can tell."
Gunnathor was taken aback by that, and tried his best to find a way to counter her response. He could only open his mouth and close it again, unable to utter any words.
Elzarion gave Jessica a sharp look, Alfred places his paw over his face, clearly embarrassed.
"Oi!" exclaimed Alfred, "Be nice Jesse, ye got manners, use them!"
"Anyway," said Jessica, casually dismissing what had just happened, "I do not remember much after that. I presume I passed out in the chapel, became feral, and was saved as you two were. It is a wonder the holy energies in the chapel didn't strike me down upon reawakening as a worgen, which I assume I did."
"Someone probably took ye out when ye fainted," suggested Alfred. "'opefully them kids were put in a safe place."
Elzarion cleared his throat.
"So, Jessica, what do you hope to achieve in your journey walking the path of nature?" asked Elzarion. "Why abandon your life as a priestess of the Light? Has the Light abandoned you as a worgen?"
She sniffed the air once before giving her answer. The scents of a nearby town were in the air, which lead her to the assumption that Dolanaar is nearby.
"The Light would not abandon one who is of pure heart," she stated. "Even as a worgen. But, there is one aspect of my past that I have not mentioned. You see, I was always visiting the harvest witches – our kind of druids – as a child. Sadly Alfred and I's father found out, and forbade me, citing their apparent madness. I became a priestess of the Light because that is what he wanted for me.
"But, our father passed away years before the feral worgen invaded, so I am no longer obliged to please him with my actions. Upon landing in Darnassus, I encountered your kind of druids and found your ways… interesting to say the least. I wanted to learn. You, teacher, were the first who agreed to instruct me in your ways."
"And let us hope you will learn enough from me, before nature takes you on your own path!" exclaimed Elzarion.
And at that point in time, the scent of Dolanaar filled everyone's nostrils. It was distinguished by the various stews the residents of the town would cook outside their houses under small fires, especially at this time of the day. Looking ahead, violet wooden night elven structures built against tall trees and the gargantuan branches of Teldrassil could be seen.
The presence of Dolanaar just up ahead did not prevent Azshindra from dropping her guard. She still had her glaive in one hand, and looked around for any suspicious figures in the darkness of bushy plants. So far, there was no danger nearby, but her instincts prevent her from not being too careful.
"Ah, Dolanaar at last," said Elzarion. "Perhaps Gunnathor can tell us his story over at the inn. I am sure we'd all be delighted to hear."
"Delighted indeed," muttered Azshindra quetly, still clearly uncertain of him. Elzarion heard her, but paid it no heed.
And so, the group made their way into Dolanaar and proceeded to locate the inn. Dolanaar was unusually active that day, considering it was quite a small town. Most of the night elves there had not seen worgen yet, but have heard of the Gilneans. As a result, Alfred and Jessica were met with some stares. Alfred didn't notice, but Jessica was clearly annoyed.
Being in a sanctuary, Azshindra was less cautious than she was a few moments before. She knew it was safe to let her guard down now. However, even though she was no longer troubled by the safety of the group, she was still troubled about Gunnathor. Although mostly hidden to all in the group except Gunnathor, she was clearly agitated by him. It was the unknowns of his personality that frightened her the most, for she had not dealt with a human such as him in the past.
There are unknowns in all of us. Exposure of each unknown is a blessing in its own form!
But what was done was done, and the Sentinel knew that. At that point in time, her only goal was to figure out why she felt so agitated by the ginger-headed human.