A pleasant, cool mist swept over Cham as he calmly trekked over the road of Feralas. His dark red and yellow plate armor creaked softly as his purple and red cloak shifted along with his movements, the red and black tabard wrapped around him also doing likewise. The man straightened up his hood with a flick of a finger, then rubbed his dry and faded black muttonchops while touching upon something concealed behind his cloak. The ghostly apparition floating over his stone mace peered about, gazing in awe at the monumental trees which covered the sky with their heads full of lush, green leaves and sturdy branches. Her wispy hand swept a stray strand of spectral hair away from her face and she glanced to Cham with a curious tone.
“Why would you spend your vacation day here?” Reichel hovered over Cham, examining his gaunt and cold face. His natural, vibrant expression was absent, replaced with a stony one more fitting for poker. His bright, glowing blue eyes darted to the ghost as his shoulders shrugged slightly.
“Because,” he replied simply. A smirk flashed from the corner of his lips, a sign of weakness which only a child bore when holding a secret. Reichel mused to herself and slowly trickled a finger down her spectral cheek.
“I see,” she noted factually. She failed to resist smiling but turned her gaze away and floated elsewhere around him. She studied some far off ruins, the moss covering the aged white stone with thick roots tearing up from the ground to incorporate them with nature. She was curious what surprise Cham had in store but managed to contain her enthusiasm. Her ghostly white eyes caught sight of a yellow and blue butterfly mingling with a slight breeze in the wind. Once it recovered the insect took heart and fluttered away beyond the dewy green hillsides.
“Are you sure you’re alright, though?” Reichel asked with concern. “Even the living dead know how much they can take before enough is enough.”
“Lady,” Cham started with an exaggerated tone of seriousness. “I am a death knight. I have the pain tolerance of practically fifty Khaadgrims and can take a decapitation without a grunt of pain. I can do whatever I need to do with or without this armor.” Cham crossed his arms and huffed triumphantly. Despite his silly demeanor she knew he was right.
“It wouldn’t have hurt to at least check in with Feathermoon. Even if you say that other things could happen.” She nibbled on her lower lip and added, “Like getting caught and tortured.” The thought horrified her, more for the fact it’s happened before. Though it’s not that Cham was harmed in any way; he thoroughly humiliated his captors through the powerful weapon of speech when they couldn’t get a rise out of him. But she always wondered if he knew his limits, and if the day came that he reached them that things would truly turn out for the worst.
“Lady!” Cham barked out with another exaggerated tone. “I may not drink blood and skull hump things like other death knights but I can still hold my own! Now stop worrying and let me surprise you without you worrying about stuff that gentle and kind women worry about when thinking about their beloved ones!”
Her cheeks flushed from a transparent gray and blue to a darker blue. She mused aloud and knew he heard it. Their spiritual connections fought against each other as Cham grinned brightly. In return Reichel sunk into the mace until nothing but her hands clasping her face could be seen.
“You’re horrible,” she uttered weakly. Cham laughed aloud with such sincerity and warmth that it put her at ease. She smiled shyly and giggled a bit, but quickly stopped when Cham halted in his tracks near a small valley off the side of the cobblestone road.
He extended his arms away from his sides and graciously stated, “And we have arrived!”
Reichel glanced around and tilted her head. “We have?” She felt a tinge of disappointment.
“The path to the surprise!” Cham extravagantly announced followed by similar gesturing. “Yes, this wonderful small valley shall lead us straight to the real surprise, and then some!”
“What?” Reichel gasped slightly with confusion. “You shouldn’t just announce things like that all of a sudden!”
“I am now taking the first step to the surprise!” He took a step and lost it, flailing his hands and cheering like an idiot. “Woo! Yeah, took the first step to the surprise, I am feeling EXUBERANT!”
The poor apparition queued a face palm and head shake. Cham simply laughed and continued down the grassy trail. Despite his antics she knew he had his eyes locked on something, but she couldn’t tell exactly what. The small valley opened up to large grassy hills with hippogryphs soaring quietly through the air above them. Such beasts found plenty of room to fly with the trees extending as far as a thousand feet above them. Reichel felt a sense of calm overcoming her as she looked over the naturally-formed sanctuary.
They reached an open area of rolling hillsides and Cham stopped to admire his surroundings. Even though his normal bodily functions ceased he took in the fresh air and calmly exhaled. Reichel stifled a bit of laughter and put a hand over her mouth. But when Cham looked to her with crossed eyes and an incredibly exaggerated expression of anger she completely lost her composure.
“It’s so beautiful!” Cham screeched with the expression still locked on his face. “Oh my gods, I’m having a meltdown!”
The poor ghost couldn’t take any more and hovered below the mace’s head. She clutched her sides and laughed until her throat felt hoarse and rough. Cham continued on with a bright smile on his face as Reichel recovered from her battle with laughter. A few hippogryphs bellowed from above, almost mirroring the calm and tranquil feelings circulating between the two.
The death knight stopped in his tracks again and put a hand above his eyes. Even though the shade was plentiful the gesture came from a habit of theatrics, and Reichel crossed her arms and playfully scolded the impulse.
“Is that Berl?” Cham said curiously. Reichel rested herself upon the death knight’s head and looked in his direction. The figure afar seemed to be sizing up a very large tree in the distance that stood in the exact center of the sanctuary. He used his rifle as a walking cane and wore a green cloak lined with gold which covered his head like a hood. The man turned around and revealed a large, black beard braided in two with a thick mustache gracing the base of his bulbous nose. He calmly waved when his amber eyes caught sight of the two.
Cham waved with a snap in his gesture and a bright grin. Berlshenk made his way to them and nodded.
“Fancy meetin’ you two ‘ere,” the wizened dwarf stated sincerely. He patted the tabard wrapped around his brown leather chest piece, particularly around the emblem of white winged boots, the same as Cham’s tabard. Berlshenk’s gray chainmail leggings jingled softly as he shifted his weight from one leg to the other. Reichel studied the dwarf’s entire right side and felt a pang of unease drip down her heart. Purple stains seeped through the worn, yellow bandages in different places almost like the wound were weeping.
“What’re the chances, huh?” Cham said with a chuckle. “I can’t really say I’d be surprised to see you out here in the wilderness, though. What’s the occasion?”
The mountaineer cleared his throat and glanced to the large tree standing in the center of the sanctuary. “Seems like there’s been a gnoll infestation ‘ere. It’s bad news fer everyone so I’m bein’ commissioned by Feathermoon n’ Camp Mojache on a neutral basis ta remove the problem.” Berlshenk tapped the ground with his rifle and murmured to himself.
Cham quirked a brow at that. “Who’s your partner supposed to be?”
“That’s the exact problem,” the dwarf noted calmly as he looked to the death knight. “Khaadgrim was my partner fer today but somethin’ came up. I’m tryin’ ta find a solution fer this myself.”
Reichel added her thoughts with a slight scold. “You know as well as we do that protocol’s important. I’m afraid you’ll have to abandon this request, Berlshenk.”
“Bah!” Cham yelled out. Reichel fell off his head and held a hand against her chest to calm herself. “It’s an important day, but I’m not gonna let this slide. What’s your plan, Berl?” Cham looked to the dwarf with a grin and awaited his explanation.
“Well then,” Berlshenk started with a nod and gazed over to the tree. “I’m sure you’ve noticed there’re no encampments on this side of the tree. They’ve situated themselves on the other side, and they’ve been robbing nearby travelers of anythin’ they got.”
Cham brushed a thoughtful hand over his mustache. “They got anything dangerous? This’ll really suck if they robbed a military caravan or something.”
“Afraid so,” Berlshenk answered. “A few days ago they managed to ambush a weapons caravan. A few of the guards escaped with some injuries but the rest of’em got imprisoned.” The dwarf scratched the side of his head and reluctantly added, “And, ah, it was a shipment of rifles ‘n explosives, so keep that in mind.”
“Crap,” Cham stated with slight irritation. “Well, this could get a bit more fun, but I don’t want it to so I hope we’re not in for any other surprises.”
Berlshenk nodded. “I’m recommendin’ we sneak in ‘n find the prisoners before causin’ any chaos. They’ve got the numbers; we gotta try n’ secure’em before doin’ anythin’ seriously over handed.”
“Shall I conserve my magics for healing?” Reichel asked.
“That would be prudent,” the dwarf acknowledged. “I’m more than certain most of’em will be injured, so dedicate yer energy ta keepin’em well.”
“Alright.” Reichel closed her eyes as she crossed her arms and pressed her hands against her shoulders. A green aura permeated throughout her ghostly form and sank with her into the mace, causing the weapon to glow green as well.
“Damn,” Cham cussed to himself. “You know, I was planning to show her an amazing sight but these stupid gnolls ruined it.” He punched the palm of his hand and growled. “I know you want this done quietly but I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not enthusiastic about the plan.”
“Let’s get the prisoners outta there before you go trigger happy, aye?” Berlshenk chuckled softly and tapped Cham’s foot with the stock of his rifle. The death knight grinned maliciously and acknowledged the mountaineer’s request with a nod.
They concealed their approach by travelling as far as possible from the tree. The hillsides provided useful cover as they made their way closer towards the gnoll encampments. The ugly, bipedal looking dogs didn’t have a clue they were being watched as Cham and Berlshenk situated themselves near one of the camps.
“Whaddya see?” Cham asked quietly. Berlshenk peered over the encampments with his rifle’s scope and responded in short bursts.
“Mostly armed with crossbows; they haven’t touched the shipment at all. Rest of’em don’t have anything spectacular besides crudely sharpened melee weapons.” Several tents of tanned leather spanned each small hill, some using the thick roots of the tree to acquire stability. “Looks like they hollowed out parts of the tree for storage. We’re gonna need ta move closer, can’t see from ‘ere.”
They cautiously relocated closer to the encampments, keeping low while using the hills for cover. Berlshenk glanced through his scope once more and kept watch of any activity near the hollowed sections of the tree.
“Huh,” Berlshenk mused to himself while furrowing a brow. Cham looked at the dwarf with inquisitive brows. “Found the explosives. They’re all tucked in one of the caches.” He gestured towards the storage right beneath a thick root with a tent draped over it. Cham squinted and noticed part of a barrel sticking out from the shadows of the storage.
“Good distraction,” Cham mentioned with a mischievous grin. “Do you think they divvied up the prisoners?”
The mountaineer continued scoping out the camps until a loose congregation of wooden cages caught his eye. The prisoners helplessly sat in them, some with arms crossed while others fixed an expression of grief on their worn faces. They all wore the same red and gold leathers along with red and black tabards, but a few of them had their hoods over their heads. “Found’em. They all look alright, but what’s more interestn’ is that they’re not Horde or Alliance forces.”
“Great. I think I know where this is headed.” Cham felt a pang a horror stretch across his throat.
Berlshenk affirmed his fears. “Freelance Carriers. I guess something got mixed up. Khaadgrim’s in one of the cages.” He handed Cham the rifle. The death knight peered through it and spotted the Kor’kron, a bald orc about six feet tall with light olive skin and arms crossed. His dark brown eyes kept their focus forward, his black and gold plated armor dressing him in an almost statue-like state. His fangless face issued nothing but contempt from his surroundings, yet there was a hint of progress brewing with each movement of his worn and battle-hardened face.
“Oh man,” Cham uttered grimly. “Maybe we should just leave him to work this all out?”
Berlshenk frowned slightly at the notion. “What happened with all that protocol talk?”
“One, that was Reichel. Two, Khaadgrim doesn’t have his helmet on. You know what that means.”
And indeed the dwarf did. “ Even with that said, you planned somethin’ out fer the missus; can’t simply cancel it after all this work, aye?”
“Damn right.” Cham returned Berlshenk’s rifle. “This is gonna get ugly no matter what we do, so here’s a new plan: I’ll grab Khaadgrim’s attention so he knows we’re here. When he does his thing you ignite the explosives and I’ll get the prisoners.”
The dwarf gave a slight chuckle. “I like how ya assume Khaad’s gonna take charge. What if, by chance, he actually defers to yer lead?”
“You know he’s going to lead,” Cham refuted. “Kor’kron always take lead when a leading officer’s being stupid! It’s like you running away before a fight starts; we know what you’re doing but it’s a passive act for you so you go by instinct.” Cham’s grin figuratively bought the mountaineer down to his knees. He was right, and Berlshenk could only snicker because it was more true than reality.
Both felt confident of their foresight. Berlshenk readied his rifle as Cham fled from the dwarf’s side and perched behind the closest hill near the prisoners. The imprisoned carriers felt hours pass by before the two did anything else.
Reno scoffed to himself. He swept a hand through his vibrant blonde hair as his blazing orange eyes looked up to the sky in hopelessness. “This is ridiculous. Couldn’t they eat us sooner? Is this how they tenderize meat?” He scoffed again and leaned onto his cage. “I suppose their choice of spices are natural for any mindless creature. Fear and terror certainly do wonders to living food!” The other members spoke with silence.
Pahlu looked to the side and stared at several gnolls throwing in different ingredients into a cast iron cauldron. The brown furred tauren snorted slightly as he accidentally tapped the cage with one of his horns. “I suppose in hindsight we’re fortunate that our shipment was made of defunct weaponry. The humor is lost on them in the end.” The tauren felt his heart somewhat ease as he trailed a finger over the stub where his other horn should be. Some of the other carriers slightly nodded but Reno carried no sentiments.
“Sure,” he started cynically. “But in the end we’re still going to get chopped up into mincemeat for some stupid looking dogs.” He scoffed and crossed his arms. Pahlu peered almost pitifully at him, wondering if the human’s reasons for joining were sincere. Even recognizing their impending deaths all of the carriers casted a slight, sour look towards the bitter blonde.
“And what’s the high and mighty operator have to think about all of this?” Reno shot a glare towards Khaadgrim. “Have you made your peace, orc? Did the fatigue from years past finally catch up to you?”
“Did your mother not teach you any manners?” Pahlu asked calmly. He gave a curt snort as his ring nose jingled. Reno scoffed in the tauren’s direction without looking towards him.
“I wouldn’t expect some bull to understand the concept of manners.” The blonde egotistically bellowed. “I can’t even believe an animal like you would even dare bring the subject up. How hilarious!”
“Disgusting,” a night elf quipped as she glared at Reno. “I’ve never heard of such animosity within our ranks. How did you even gain entry into the union?” She slightly lifted her head up in defiance, glowing eyes of silver piercing through the human. The other members sympathized with her and kept their gazes of irritation towards the blonde.
“Yes, only a filthy nature lover like you could sympathize with the Horde.” Reno shook his head despite feeling the heat of numerous eyes searing through his skin. “I admit though, perhaps I should’ve listened to my instincts and killed all these savages at first sight!”
“Arrogance for arrogance!” the night elf barked. “Your hatred only blinds you to the true dangers. When will you learn –”
“Enough.” Khaadgrim’s voice pierced through the arguing carriers like thunder. “Recia, you know full well of pride. Speak nothing more.”
Recia opened her mouth to speak yet found no words to depart. She erred on the side of respect and lowered her head while a few strands of silver hair swept over her face. Pahlu gave a sigh of relief while Reno scoffed at the orc’s method of containment.
“Reno,” the Kor’kron started calmly, his body unmoving. “You know why you’re here. Do I have to remind you?”
The blonde gritted his teeth as fury boiled in his heart. “Do I look stupid to you, orc?”
Khaadgrim’s gaze caused Reno to slightly recoil. “No,” the orc said with a gentle tone as he slowly looked away. “But you’re becoming the exact image of your father.”
The young man felt his heart split in twain. No words escaped him, his sense of arrogance clouded by the vision of his father’s face. The thought and the orc’s words mingled together and choked him with unbridled fear. He conceded his actions and looked away with a frozen expression of regret.
“Despite what’s been said, our situation is as it seems.” Pahlu furrowed his brows and looked to Khaadgrim. “Even if we escape these cages there are enough gnolls to eat us thrice times over.”
“I’ve never seen so many gnolls in one place before.” Recia scanned the area and took note of the amount of camps bordered around the tree. “This cannot be a natural happening. I’m sure the Sentinels would have done something if they heard of this.”
The orc gave a slight nod. His mind continued to process the situation until a small beam of light hit his eye. He blinked and peered to the hillsides, catching sight of Cham deflecting the sun’s rays off of a piece of metal. The death knight waved with a happy smile but Khaadgrim made no attempt to respond.
Several gnolls approached the cages while bickering in growls and grunts. One pointed to Khaadgrim as if insisting but another gnoll growled in protest and gestured to Pahlu. The orc slowly cracked his neck and subtly tilted his head to the others.
“Pahlu, break the others out while we distract the gnolls. Do not hesitate as soon as combat begins.” Khaadgrim looked Pahlu directly in the eyes, who felt more uneasy than confused.
“With all due respect, sir!” Recia peered around with worry glossed over her face. “There’s too many of them, you’ll be slaughtered before you can even do anything!”
Reno slowly looked up and frowned. “And what do you mean ‘we’?”
The orcish juggernaut lifted himself up. The gnolls looked to his direction, weapons armed and waving menacingly as if the beasts snatched up all the confidence in the world. A spear strayed too close to the cage, and when the orc took a step forward he thrust his hand between the thick, wooden bars and gripped the spear’s shaft. A yelp filled the woods as the unfortunate gnoll flew towards Khaadgrim and slammed into the cage.
Berlshenk pulled the trigger of his rifle. The sound of exploding gunpowder rocked the side of the tree as wooden shrapnel and fire consumed the tents surrounding the explosives cache. Gnolls cried aloud as enflamed bodies ran out of the blazing heat and caught other things on fire. Cham laughed amidst the carnage and sprinted towards the prisoners while Khaadgrim broke out of his cage.
The muscle-bound orc slammed a plated boot into his cage’s door with a forceful grunt. Gnolls from every camp charged towards Khaadgrim with different weapons ranging from crossbows to maces made from sticks and rocks. The Kor’kron utilized the stolen spear he acquired and started ripping through the ugly bipedal dogs with each stroke. Each strike, every swing and thrust, flew with such grace that the carriers almost felt hypnotized by the display of combat prowess.
Pahlu jerked back when Cham broke the lock of his cage and opened the door. “I’m sure Khaad told you to do something before we started this; go do it!” The human gave the tauren a lop-sided grin and joined the orc in the fray. Pahlu hurried to the other cages and broke the locks with his hoof, but as soon as he came upon Recia’s cage one of the gnolls leaped towards him with a sharpened stone sword.
Pahlu readied his fist until a bullet tackled the beast through the abdomen. He balked for a minute before looking towards the side and catching eye of Berlshenk waving towards him. Hope engulfed the tauren’s heart and once he shattered the remaining locks he led the carriers towards the dwarf.
“Unbelievable!” Reno said breathlessly as he kept up with the others. “All three of them are here at once?”
Recia narrowly evaded a stray crossbow bolt with a roll. She glanced towards Cham and Khaadgrim fending off the gnolls, her fists tightening at a lingering, desperate sensation of regret accumulating within her chest. Reno looked over his shoulder and grunted angrily as Recia raced back towards the two with a crude stone sword in her grasp.
“What the hell’s that woman doing?” Reno stumbled to a stop and sprinted towards Recia while grabbing a stray spear during the run. “Of all the crap, this has got to be the stupidest thing ever!”
Pahlu ushered the rest towards Berlshenk. They knew nothing of combat like this, the years of battle experience in motion right in front of their very eyes. Pahlu’s haggard breathing spared his heart some expense and he felt his mind clear up to fully absorb the scene before him. The two lone fighters were narrowly holding off the hordes of gnolls at bay with all they learned. He gasped when one of the gnolls stuck a spear into Khaadgrim’s arm, but the orc didn’t hesitate for even a millisecond as he tore it out and skewered the offending gnoll with it. Within the same second Pahlu watched in awe as the brutish warrior flung the gnoll into its comrades to cause more chaos within the chaos.
In Cham’s case the gnolls were losing their weapons rather than doing any substantial damage. The death knight’s body acted like a pin cushion and each attempt to pierce him caused another weapon to be lost. Even more terrifying was that each strike caused an unholy laugh to project out of him that unnerved some of the gnolls. Pahlu noticed some of them running beyond the hills and away from the camp, and it seemed like the battle was slowly coming towards their favor.
The battle quickened towards more favor as Berlshenk opened fire on any ranged gnoll. The tauren listened as bullets whizzed past him and hit their marks. There were no delays within the rhythm of bullets flying into the fray, and any who dared contest the dwarf’s ranged territory was met with a barrage which caused collateral damage of more dead gnolls.
The other carriers finally made it to the dwarf and the tauren started his way towards the battle. He found a crude mace laying in the grass as if it lost its way from the fight, and with a content snort he snatched it and mustered all of his tension into a war cry. Berlshenk scowled at the act and muttered something in dwarvish. A gnoll attempted to flank the tauren but the mountaineer sniped it through the neck.
“Damn it!” Cham barked as he crushed a stray gnoll at his side. “Khaad, three friendlies in the fray, keep watch!” He gripped his mace and a bolt of blue energy flashed through it. Reichel felt a warning course through her as she projected a beam of green energy into Khaadgrim’s wounded arm. After it sealed she increased her focus and a thicker aura of green bloomed over the mace.
“I told you to retreat!” Khaadgrim bellowed to Pahlu. The orc stabbed his spears into a gnoll and threw it into another group of its friends. “This is not the time for heroics, get out of here now!”
“If you didn’t want heroics you should’ve left with us!” Reno tripped one of the beasts and stabbed it through the neck. His heart threatened to beat out of his chest but his focused eyes kept control, panoramically scanning over the battlefield. “How did these stupid things procreate so much so quickly!?”
Khaadgrim cursed under his breath. “Cham!” he yelled as he fought his way towards him.
“What?” Cham yelled back as he punted a gnoll away. Another assailant chopped his hand off and it dropped under a pile of gnoll corpses stacking up beside him. He groaned with agitation as he began pulling weapons out from himself and sticking them into the gnolls one by one. “Hey, watch out for a hand!”
Khaadgrim stuck the hand with his spear and flung it at the death knight. “We have to reposition. Mirror my flank and we should be able to draw their attention.” He spun around and kicked a gnoll so hard it spat out blood before soaring through the air and disappearing behind a hillside. “When I stop moving don’t hold back!”
“Gotcha!” Cham’s hand reconnected to his wrist with the sound of crinkling flesh. The hammer crazy knight smashed and crushed everything in his way while mirroring Khaadgrim’s movements. The two positioned themselves around the area where the gnolls passed in full force. Cham felt his body ready to orgasm from the anticipation, and unfortunately his face of furious excitement matched the sentiment.
Khaadgrim dropped his spears and slammed his fists into the ground. A shockwave circulated around him, putting the gnolls in a state of panic and knocking them off balance. The orc let out a roar so primal and fierce that it shook the gnolls at their core. Before the rabid animals could overcome their robbed senses Khaadgrim’s eyes fell under a dark red haze. Many started fleeing as far as they could while the rest met their grisly fate against an orc under a temporary bloodlust. Not a single attack slowed Khaadgrim down as he literally tore gnolls apart in a level of violence unseen by any member of the Freelance Carriers Union.
Pahlu almost lost his focus as he watched the orc’s unrelenting assault. A gnoll stumbled up to attack him but the tauren grabbed and crushed its skull and hurled it aside. He found himself ill prepared to deal with what the Headmaster was about to offer. Cham grinned malevolently as a red ball of pure death manifested within his palm. He ignored all of the attacks against him, taking a spear underneath the ribs and coming out of the underside of his arm pit. His sadistic grin grew with each futile attack and brought an aura of unease around him. The unease fully unleashed throughout the hordes as the death knight shrieked out in laughter and stabbed the ball of energy into the ground.
Reno felt his brain throb as he struggled to hold his own in the waves of atrocious animals. He dispatched another gnoll as the world around him pressurized with what sounded like millions of voices wallowing in pain. It mixed with the wails of dying gnolls as Reno looked towards Cham and watched as the earth around the Headmaster boiled in blood red. Behind the boiling, angry aura stood the Headmaster with a grin so wide it was almost unnatural. Due to the remaining invading gnolls and the melting corpses surrounding Cham the freakish expression was lost to Reno.
Pahlu and Reno managed to convene and fight back to back, warding off any attacks the other could support. The blonde found it difficult to fathom such a moment, but knew deep in his heart that such moments showed the true colors of man and orc alike. As he defended his battle brother a sensation of pride swelled within him, taking away any suspicions or anxieties of fighting beside someone from the Horde.
“Reno,” Pahlu barked calmly while swatting a gnoll from its leap. “We need to convene with Recia. I will follow your lead.”
“Fine,” Reno replied reluctantly. He swept over the sea of corpses and gnolls and saw Recia fighting against a small horde. She bobbed and weaved through the ensuing carnage like a dance of death, and every threat of harm caused her to gracefully avoid the attack and counter with a slash of her crude sword. The blade dancer felt her mind enter an almost Zen-like state. Her vision blurred slightly and her body automated to defend itself as it followed its primal instincts.
But her narrowed sight could not prevent a spear from piercing her side. Recia’s vision went red as she cried out in pain and stumbled onto the ground, dropping her sword in the process. She cursed herself for being so careless, to allow the heat of battle to automate her senses. The stubborn blade dancer refused to accept her fate and she grabbed another sword from a fallen foe. The gnolls around her growled menacingly as they prepared to gut the night elf alive.
Pahlu’s shadow loomed over the gnolls like a vengeful watcher. One of them looked to the tauren with an inquisitive bark and met its death by a bone-crushing hoof. Another one felt its insides tear out from its body as Pahlu’s crude mace batted it several feet away. Reno leaped in front of Recia and parried the unified attack of two gnolls. He sidestepped and thrust his spear through both of them several times before allowing the limp bodies to collapse.
The challenging battle was over for the three. Even though the mangy beasts carried astounding numbers their inability to coordinate greatly cost them. Reno helped Recia up as Pahlu watched Cham and Khaadgrim deal with the remaining gnolls.
“Were they holding them off this whole time?” Recia asked weakly as she winced from her wound. She wiped the stray purple blood onto her tabard and clutched the gash once more.
“All that talking’s going to open up the wound more.” Reno paid no attention to the night elf as she gazed to him. She fought and won against her thoughts and simply smiled to him. She knew he had difficulty expressing his honesty but the gesture was well received when he arrived to her rescue.
“It seems they coordinated their efforts to protect us.” Pahlu dropped the mace to his side and continued watching the battle. “They shifted their positions to prevent the attacks from overwhelming us.” He still found trouble witnessing the strength of the Headmaster and Kor’kron. Both came from completely different settings yet found discipline to carry enormous power with such responsibility. He knew Khaadgrim received extensive training during his youth but he never imagined Cham possessed such devastating abilities due to his carefree personality.
“You three’re certainly a handful.” Berlshenk shook his head as his scolding words reached the ears of the three. “They wouldn’t ‘ve needed to exert themselves if ya just hid with the others.” The mountaineer holstered his rifle and assessed the three while resting his hands on the sides of his belt.
“This is my fault,” Recia stated with an expression of regret fixed on her face. “I acted without thinking. I thought they would require aid.”
“Don’t ye start makin’ excuses,” Berlshenk fired back with a wave of his pointing finger. “‘N don’t ya start spoutin’ nonsense about how old yer race is ‘n all that nonsense, ’cause it doesn’t apply to ya.” The verbal attacks utterly defeated Recia. She felt no inclination to counter the elderly dwarf in the first place, but making note of her people’s arrogance bit deeply into her.
“Astounding and reckless,” Khaadgrim chimed in with a bitter tone. He buckled his plated helmet and adjusted it by grabbing onto one of the horns protruding from its sides. The orc looked much more menacing without being able to see his face other than his eyes; however, it was the black, stony axe resting upon his back that ran an intimidating current through Pahlu’s fur. “It goes without saying the blame falls upon you, Recia.” He growled slightly as Reichel’s healing energies mended various wounds across his body. Cham hummed to himself and calmly picked out the weapons still stuck in him without a care about the current conversation.
“It’s not all her fault.” Reno threw a defiant gaze towards Khaadgrim. “We joined her too, what kind of idiot punishes one person when others are to blame?”
“Fine,” Khaadgrim grunted as he crossed his arms and glared at the blonde. “With respect to your decision all three of you will receive reprimands.”
“This is not your error, Reno.” Recia cringed as Reichel’s healing channeled through her and slowly closed the gash at her side. “This was my mistake, and I will not let anyone hold it for me.”
“You’re stupid!” Reno yelled. “It’s not like I don’t deserve it either. The only person who doesn’t deserve punishment is Pahlu. He only followed what protocol told us to do.”
The stoic tauren felt his heart ease at the human’s words even though they twisted a truth. For their particular group protocol states that carrier groups of three stick together. However….
“You know I’m right here, right?” Cham slid out a part of a broken spear from underneath his rib cage and then removed the other piece jutting out from underneath his arm pit. “Don’t twist the words up. Since you know that much I know you know that in the event of combat you’re supposed to run while maintaining your flock.” He gestured in mock surprise while looking at Pahlu and Recia. “But, oh, you certainly fucked the flock up, didn’t ya?”
“Regardless I would not attempt to avoid punishment for a wrong earnestly deserved. On the topic of avian creatures, the birds of a feather stick together, yes?” Pahlu shifted uncomfortably. He felt the proverb was incorrectly said but Cham responded with a grin that dissuaded his fear.
“Precisely! So you’re all gonna clean up kodo crap for a whole three weeks.” He smiled as Reno groaned. Recia and Pahlu swapped glances but shrugged at the punishment. For all it was worth the two expected something harsher. Cham nodded to Berlshenk and asked what time it was.
Berlshenk peered up to the sky in thought. “Probably about six ‘er seven. I was campin’ ‘ere fer a while.”
Cham gazed at the elderly dwarf with wide eyes and then sped off towards the huge tree. Khaadgrim quirked a brow as the Headmaster started climbing up it, lifting himself up branches with his death knight powers and vanishing within a thick tuft of leaves crossing over a branch.
“The hell?” Reno mused to himself. He looked between the group and then back to the tree. “Is he gonna climb all the way up there? Talk about a waste of time.”
Berlshenk chuckled at the statement. “Beside the gnolls ‘n other beasties roaming around these woods there’s hidden beauty all around us.”
“And speaking of gnolls, your three weeks of punishment begins now by cleaning up all these corpses.” Khaadgrim pointed to Pahlu. “Head to Camp Mojache and request two wagons. There is also equipment to recover.”
“Damn it,” Reno muttered resentfully but kept himself silent when the orc leaned in and cast a glare towards him. Berlshenk rubbed his chin and let out a sigh of relief as Recia followed behind and aided Reno with the bodies.
“Based on our situation what do you conclude?” Khaadgrim looked to Berlshenk, who continued rubbing his chin.
“There’s obviously somethin’ brewing around ‘ere,” Berlshenk started, nodding slightly at the statement. “Dunno what spurred these gnolls ta up ‘n leave their usual haunts, but I get a feelin’ it’s something mighty powerful.” He hesitated for a moment and mused to himself. Khaadgrim felt uneasy at the dwarf’s pause and kept his eyes on him.
“Though, let’s focus on rallyin’ those poor chickadees behind the hill to a safe place, eh?” Berlshenk gave the orc a reassuring look, but he wasn’t moved in the slightest. Khaadgrim decided to keep the investigation inconclusive for now and went to gather up the remaining carriers for debriefing. The mountaineer stood motionless as he felt his whole right side ache as if millions of knives carved through it. He knew something was off with these gnolls, and whatever rallied them together must have been very powerful indeed. However, he decided to leave the thought alone and contemplated on what Cham was up to.
The Headmaster swung from branch to branch like a monkey having the time of his life, laughing aloud with each vine grasped and every thick branch traveled. He reached a spot where the leaves opened up towards the sky and lifted himself with a clawed bolt of purple energy. He felt his body go numb with blissful shock from the moment he caught sight of the ocean horizon shaping the back of Feralas.
He clasped his mace and tapped it against his breastplate. “Reichel?” he said with a gentle tone. “You OK in there?”
A drowsy groan surfaced from the mace’s head. Reichel’s ethereal form slowly appeared from the top of the weapon with her hand rubbing her spectral eye. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she started as she began rubbing both her eyes at the same time. “I fell asleep while focusing.”
“Hey,” Cham said with a grin. “Here’s the surprise, by the way.”
Reichel removed her hands from her eyes and opened them. She felt her breath stolen away by the remarkable view of the area. Beyond the coastline laid a calm, dark sheet of stars that grew as the sun faded away. The ocean itself seemed to sparkle along with the stars in a dance that played with the coming of the night. After the coastline the rolling green trees of the land shaped the wonderful sight with an alluring calmness that nature could only present. Reichel clasped her hands over her mouth and squeaked slightly as Cham slightly lifted the mace up.
“Happy anniversary, Love.” Cham chuckled as a heartwarming smile crossed over his face. The sweet smile reflected off the emotions trailing through the mace, and their spirits entwined to create a memory worth cherishing. Reichel pressed her hands against her chest and closed her eyes. She gently lowered her head and channeled the energy through her, causing a shining aura of green to flow through her. A soft, pleasant hum of magic sifted throughout their ears which caused some hippogryphs to sing. Fireflies began dancing around her brilliant form in a festival of lights.
“Happy anniversary, Honey.” Reichel giggled innocently as she floated around the fireflies prancing around her. Cham soaked in the moment, almost forgetting about his troubles about being a walking corpse. Just because the body was dead didn’t mean the mind had to be, and who’s to say how magic worked anyways? Perhaps death knights only felt anger and hatred because they ultimately locked away their other emotions. Perhaps he was only able to recall his former self because of her, and if she somehow met her demise that he too would find himself hating and resenting until time put an end to his existence.
These thoughts flung themselves off the tree as they passed his mind. He wasn’t going to let all those shitty thoughts ruin his day. What he did know for certain was that he could still feel emotions from the soul still residing in his rotting carcass, and that he wanted to celebrate his anniversary with the woman who forever tied her soul with his. Nothing else mattered right now, and his laugh budded a comforting warmth as Reichel continued playing with the fireflies around her.
Cham reached under his cloak and took out a finely polished trumpet that’s seen years of use. He looked over it and trailed a hand over the slightly bent brass, then pressed the nozzle against his lips. The fireflies danced with the rhythm of cool jazz sweeping through the coming night, and the warmth of Reichel’s innocent laughter carved an unforgettable memory into Cham’s dry and shriveled heart.