Chapter 1: Crumbling
The world was white. Heavy snowflakes made their flurry dance in the wind, always sinking lower and lower to join with the stark white ground beneath the pale sky. Only the darkness of icy boulders and rocks peeking out of the cover made any difference. The snowflakes themselves could really only be seen because shadows painted them in flashes of soft grey.
Coran trudged on, no longer daring to ride on Valhi's back but leading her by the reins. The deep snow hid many dangers and he felt more confident about catching himself, than he felt about letting the elekk find the natural traps the hard way. For each step the snow closed up around his hooves, swallowing his ankles and legs almost all the way up to his knees.
He should go back to the others, he had long since scouted the area enough – not that he had been able to see much. In all honesty, anything white enough could hide here and he would never know until it took a sweep at him. That was why he scouted in the first place, to secure the area and hopefully get some idea of how he and his friends could make it safely down from this mountain. The heavy snowfall did not show any signs of letting up, and they had lost their bearings three days ago.
There was, however, one kind of creature that could never hide from him, and Coran's whole being demanded of him to seek it out. He could not see it yet, but it was a blemish in the air itself; the very existence of one or a few undead nearby. From this distance he could not tell how many there were, or even how powerful they might be, but he could not simply turn and walk away when he knew they were there.
Luckily the Light could simply guide him towards the dark blotch, leaving him able to focus on the surroundings even as he made his way towards his mark. The hand not holding Valhi's reins remained half raised, ready to reach over his shoulder for the hilt of his broadsword. Though he and his friends had been lucky so far, they very well knew that the Alterac Mountains were a dangerous area.
Cold, too. Coran hoped that his limbs would not be stiff when he needed to fight. He had kept moving to avoid freezing too badly, but he had never seen the likes of this snow or cold before he came to Azeroth. As soft and calming as the snow seemed, he figured that those descriptions fitted it best when watched through a window, from inside a warm inn. He could allow himself that thought, childish as it was – he was not made for this kind of climate. Every time he accidentally brushed his chin tendrils or cheeks against his helmet he winced from the burning chill. It did not make him feel any more kindly inclined towards the undead he was tracking. Though he liked to think himself a cheerful one normally, even a vindicator deserve to be in a foul mood every now and then – especially when he's freezing his tail off.
His thoughts were cut off when he heard a roar in a distance. The snow muffled and distorted it, but he could tell from where it came – just the direction he was going in. Valhi nervously snorted, but followed him without hesitating as Coran struggled to speed up through the deep snow.
The roar continued, and it was more than one voice. He recognized the sound from a battle just three days before, when he and the rest of the group were attacked by several yetis. But mingling with those howls was another roar, one he knew from much farther back, from before he even knew what a yeti was. It chilled his bones more than the cold could, with memories of burning red eyes and green skin splattered with blue blood.
He had not actually come to blows with orcs since the flight from Draenor, and people here on Azeroth said that the green-skinned ones claimed to no longer be under the influence of demons. Yet the war was still going on, all over this world. It could not be the Alliance's fault, well, there were surely hotheads on both sides, but…
As much as he knew that he and his people were regarded with some suspicion, alien as they were, it would certainly pass–
He reached the top of a hillside and saw the battle below. The snow turned everything to vague silhouettes, but he could still make out the events. His eyes, thinned at first as he spotted the undead one, widened in disbelief as he watched the scene unfold.
The orc and the Forsaken – Coran assumed – were back to back, with two yetis coming at them from different directions. The watching draenei spotted one unmoving, white shadow on the ground, but despite that victory it seemed like the battle was almost over for the defenders.
Crouching, the orc sluggishly raised his war hammer. What had to be a shield stuck out of the snow a little ways away, but the arm that would have held it dangled. Probably broken.
A flare of blue shot from the Forsaken's hand, blasting the ground before one yeti's feet. The large beast came to a rough halt as the ice caught its lower legs, roaring furiously as it struggled to free itself.
The undead looked around, seeing the other yeti's arm raised to swing its club sideways, aiming to crush the orc's ribs. He saw it too, and stumbled, but could not move quick enough.
In a flash the undead disappeared and reappeared on the other side of the orc, reaching backwards clumsily to brace its skeletal, robed body against his chest. With a sickening crunch the club slammed into the thin form, the impact continuing and sending both members of the Horde to the ground. The undead, however, had taken the brunt of the damage and pillowed the blow's full force, saving the orc.
For a moment Coran stood dumbfounded, hardly able to believe what he had seen.
Roaring, the orc got back up on his feet, the remains of the sacrificial Forsaken crumpling away from him. The yeti was unprepared for this last burst of rage, and the war hammer smashed its arm. The huge beast staggered back, suffering a blow to the chest. It tumbled backwards.
However, its friend had gotten one foot loose from the ice – it would only be seconds until it was completely free.
Snarling at Valhi to stay put, Coran dashed down the slope, grasping the hilt of his sword over his shoulder. He slid precariously on ice and rocks hidden below the snow, but his hooves were as hard as diamond and he suffered no injury. Gritting his teeth Coran called upon the Light. A golden whip immediately crackled across the wounded yeti's chest, and it roared in surprised pain – it was enough for the orc to smash its head in. The orc fell with the yeti, half-turning with a dazed look on his face. Then his eyes glazed over and he heavily thumped into the snow before the fallen monster.
Coran took it in but didn't have time to stop. His sword flashed, as cold as the rocks, and the trapped yeti turned towards him furiously. Shaking the air with its roar it aimed a sweep of its arm at him. He ducked, and used his momentum to run the beast through with his broadsword.
The yeti's roar turned into a gurgle as it tumbled, blood running over its pristine fur from the wound and from its mouth. It tumbled over, wrenching Coran's sword out of his grip with its weight. The ice broke as the yeti fell, and the beast writhed for a few moments before slumping.
Jaw set tight, Coran pulled the sword out and wiped the blood from it on the yeti's fur. He felt a short burst of guilt – they were monstrous things but also beautiful in a way, and it had been trapped as he attacked. But then again, hardly helpless. He pushed those thoughts away and looked around.
Walking over, he bent down and checked the orc's pulse. It was not so simple, as leather lined with thick furs protected the orc's neck just as well as the rest of him from both cold and enemies. As he didn't move, however, it was not too complicated, either.
The frightening jaw with its tusks, and cruel fangs – much bigger than Coran's own – hung open and the eyes were closed. But the orc was still alive, just out cold. His hot breath dug into the snow close to his maw. Just to make sure he would not die, Coran cast a healing spell. Not enough to wake up the orc, though.
As the glow faded, the draenei paused. He had acted instinctively, and he could not quite explain to himself why he had done as he did. Just a few days ago he and his friends had also fought yetis, and perhaps that had been enough for his protective nature. But this was an orc and a…
He straightened, clenching his jaw even harder. Standing up, he stepped towards the thin outline in the snow just a few steps away.
The undead was still moving – it was a woman, he saw now, even if most of her features were gone. Though her eyes were covered by two leather straps, her twisting grimace and weak growl let him know that she saw him when she should have been blind. Her stained, pale grey robe sagged into her chest – ribs not merely broken but actually caved in by the blow she had… taken for the orc. And still she moved, struggling to push herself up but every kittenish attempt ending with her falling back.
The sheer unnaturalness of her, the darkness filling her entire being nearly made Coran retch. A wheezing hiss left her disgusting mouth as he raised his sword.
Forcing himself not to look away Coran called upon the Light again, to empower his sword and drive the impure life out of that poor body forever.
"Hold! By the Light and Prophet, hold!"
Coran looked around in surprise at hearing words in his own language. The first and last word was Common, but the others were definitely, if badly pronounced, Draenei.
The orc had awoken, struggling to hold himself up on his good arm. His dark eyes were filled with agony, but not only that. Where there should have logically been rage and hatred, there was worry, fear even. Coran hesitated, glancing down at the hissing, scowling thing on the ground.
"You speak our language?" he slowly said in his own tongue, not knowing where else to begin.
"I don't understand," the orc replied in Common. He managed to sit up on his knees, cradling his broken arm. A pale cloud billowed around his mouth for each heavy breath. "Those were all the Draenei words I ever learned."
The voice was hoarse, exhausted and full of pain. Still the orc's gaze was steady.
"Is it your way, to slaughter women who can't defend themselves?" he asked.
Coran's grip of his sword tightened.
"I am a servant of the Light," he said with some cold, "she is a demonic creation."
"If she had lived she would have been one of your allies."
The draenei met the orc's gaze for a moment.
Again, Coran might not have been blind to the suspicion the natives of this world treated him and his people with, but at least the humans and their allies were – overall, save for some stray souls – lead by the Light. They shunned the terrifying creations of the Burning Legion, those very creations that the orcs had embraced as allies.
This woman was no longer human…
"She was murdered to become like that," the orc hoarsely said, as if he could read Coran's mind.
It gave the vindicator some pause.
True, he had known that sad fact, but pushed it from his mind almost instantly. Tragedy turned to bloody tragedy, that was the picture painted. Yes, they had been victims, but now they pillaged and murdered blindly. What could be more frightening than those who broke away from the controlling darkness and then made it their own? Nobody ever said anything pleasant about those called Forsaken.
But as he looked at the broken, twitching thing again, snow softening her twisted body and hiding some of her more frightening features… he could see that small woman she must have been, fading helplessly from artificial sickness. Or perhaps frightened, fleeing desperately until she could no longer run from the untiring mass of decaying, hungry hands.
She coughed, some dark liquid dripping from the corner of her mouth. Straining, she lifted her head on a shaking neck.
"If you… hurt him I'll…" another cough, she grit her teeth and rasped out a few more words, "haunt you 'til the day… you die."
Coran stared down at her as her head thumped back into the snow. No, this had to be some kind of elaborate trick, no undead or orc could possibly act like these two were. Still, his logical side was strong enough to tell him that that paranoia was pure nonsense. They could not possibly have known that he was there, nor that he would act as he had.
Was the Light trying to show him something? It had guided him here, drawn by this very undead's presence, and now he found himself hesitating whether to finish what he had come to do. But the Light did not work like a directly guiding force just like that – such was rather the way of a shaman's guiding spirits.
His duty was to end suffering and protect those in need. And… but…
He scowled, uncertain and uneasy, suddenly wishing Malo had come with him. He would have been able to sort through this philosophical mess.
Trying to make up his mind, Coran looked at the orc again. He had not moved, still crumpled on his knees and cradling his broken arm. It was as they had said, after all. No red eyes anymore.
"You didn't come rushing in to kill that yeti just to save my life or get to kill her on your own, did you?" the orc said through clenched teeth. It was more of a statement than a question.
Coran pursed his mouth, otherwise unmoving.
"I was perhaps acting on a spur of the moment," he said, slowly, "but it is true that my companions and I require information about the area."
He saw the orc's fingers move slightly against the wounded arm, and the wince that crossed the monstrous features at the unwise movement.
"Very well," the orc said, face settling in determination. "I can help you with that. Leave her be and I will go with you without a fight."
"With all due respect," Coran said, raising an eyebrow in disbelief, "you do not look like you could put up a fight even if you wanted to."
"Your kind knows mine better than to underestimate me," the orc said, but the weary note in his tone kept Coran from growling. They both knew that what the draenei had said was truer than the orc's words, right then.
"She will die anyway if we leave her like this," Coran pointed out, but even as he said so he was raising his sword to sheathe it.
The orc started to shake his head, but the rude growl from below caught the vindicator's attention much quicker and with more force. The Forsaken woman pulled a face at him. Even so, she looked too pathetic for him to get riled up.
"She will have a chance," the orc said.
Snorting, Coran hung his sword on his back and turned to whistle for Valhi. As he saw her scramble down the hillside he moved towards the orc and hunched down beside him, watching him closely the entire time.
"I have nothing to set your arm with," Coran said and raised a hand. "I will numb the pain so it won't hurt so much when I bind you."
He only got a grunt in reply, and the orc looked the other way.
Just as he had promised though, the green-skinned man did not move a muscle or make a sound as Coran spread healing light into the broken arm. The orc kept his word after that as well, letting his arms be tied and himself loaded onto Valhi's back. The elekk nervously swung her trunk, spooked by the odd burden.
Only when Coran started forwards, leading Valhi once again, did the orc speak.
"Sarah," he said, looking at the dark hole in the snow. "Get out of here."
A trembling arm rose from the white, and the hand formed a vulgar gesture towards his general direction before flopping down.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Coran continued on. Soon, the white swallowed him, the orc and Valhi, leaving only fading hoof prints behind.
Apart from the chilly howl of the wind, all was quiet.
After a while, the snow moved. Slow, silent, Sarah crept through the white, blindly searching for what she knew had to be somewhere nearby. It took long, agonizing minutes, and the cold fury powering her was just about to give in when her outstretched, fumbling hand finally made contact with something soft and warm.
The inclination to cry in relief had long since been purged from her. She growled instead, and dragged herself forwards the last little way, up on the dead yeti's arm.
Her jaw felt stiff, half frozen, but she forced it open and bit thick fur and hide. She didn't manage much in her state, not at once. It took several chews before she managed to gnaw through and could spit out a patch of the yeti's fuzzy, leathery skin.
The blood flowed heavily, the body's temperature was already plummeting and the heart no longer beat. Sarah slumped, face buried in the white fur, tongue lapping sluggishly.
She wasn't sure if it would be enough to recover. Her body was so badly damaged. Even so, the blood finally gave her the strength to take another bite, out of the cooling flesh this time, then another and another. She reached bone, growled in annoyance, tore at the fur with her hands. Her strength somewhat renewed, she ripped out strips of raw meat which she stuffed into her mouth and swallowed convulsively. Blood and freezing meat juice dripped over her lips, onto the yeti's fur and the snow.
All thoughts melted away, she dug her fingers and face into the dead body before her, chewing flesh right off the arm. She didn't even have to stop for breath.
Snow clung to her as she finally straightened up. She was already covered in the white, apart from where the fading body heat of the yeti had momentarily melted it. New flakes soon stuck on the ice forming on her face and arms, on the coagulating blood smeared over her.
She tried to breathe, only to find that her chest was still in a just as bad condition. She wasn't sure how bad that was for her physically – but it would be difficult to cast spells if she could not gather the breath to chant.
At least, she could move now.
After some digging she found her staff and stood for a moment, leaning on it and turning her head back and forth.
The falling snow had not yet erased the deep tracks.
Dor'ash's last words hung in her mind for a moment. She knew what he had meant. In one of her waist bags were a couple of runes of teleportation and of portals. She could make it out of here, to safety, if she took out one of them and focused her newly gathered strength into saving herself.
The thought was there.
Then, it was gone as if it had never existed.
Had she had mind enough at that point she might have noticed it, and fought against the amnesia. However, already by then something was happening in her dying body.
She started forwards through the twirling white, sinking up to her thighs for every other step. There had been times during the last couple of days of travel, when Dor'ash had simply picked her up and carried her, despite her grumbling. His longer, stronger legs were better suited to make it through the deep snow. Now he wasn't there, and every little bit forwards was a struggle.
At other times, there had been a half frozen layer of snow thick enough to bear her slight weight, while he sunk through. Then she had laughed at him, while he grumbled. However, that kind of thing only formed when the snow first started to melt in the sun, then froze again. No such luck around here, from the way her legs kept disappearing out of sight.
She thought, slowly, that it might be quicker if she just lay down and crawled through the snow instead. But then, she finally concluded after thinking about it for several steps, she would not see the tracks.
Looking down at herself, she could not really tell where her robe ended and the snow began. Dor'ash had said something about wearing clothes that didn't make her a bright red or brown beacon. At the time it made sense. Now, the snow was already eating her up. She could still see her chest, though, by the dark, slimy stain where the yeti had smashed it in and the blackening blood from her meal.
Some vague plan formed in her head that she ought to just play dead if anything found her. If she managed to spot it in time.
If she fell down, she would just get up again. She had to.
She could not feel exhaust, and yet she moved more awkwardly for each passing minute. Oh… right.
"Hold up, handsome, my limbs are freezing. I have to thaw them."
Yes, that's the problem, she realized. No body heat. It didn't help to keep moving, not for her.
She tried to focus enough to start chanting a fire spell, but almost fell over.
Straightening, she clutched the staff in both hands, hanging on it. Then she stepped forwards again, straining through the enclosing white, forgetting all about her stiffening joints.
Deep inside, part of her realized that her brain had begun to freeze, and that simply could not be good. Dark magic kept her up. That doesn't freeze. But what will dark magic do when the body breaks down, when gravity pulls the unresponsive limbs into the soft, inviting whiteness?
Just one more step. Just one.
She wasn't even sure, anymore, if she was going in the right direction. She could hardly make out the tracks with her failing sight.
The snow rose up to meet her, pillowing her thin body as she fell.
After a while, she managed to turn over, staring up at the white sky that spread its delicate little flakes over her. They whirled much quicker now, she noticed. The wind was picking up to a storm, but that meant very little to her.
She was going to be buried in the fluttering snow, unable to move. Unable to help him. The realization covered her like a muffling blanket. Somewhere, her hard fingers idly scratched at the snow around them. Useless.
The white nothingness pressed on, and it was cold, so cold she could actually feel it. She figured, listlessly, that this second death was not so bad as her first one. No fever, no aching pain, no mother crying…
And then something rose up from deep, deep inside her mind and reached its snaring tendrils towards the rest of her.
Wayward little sister.
It was a whisper, and it ripped through her, leaving her weakly gasping for breath she did not physically need. Familiar, always with her since years back, but it had been annoying, merely annoying and she could ignore it before.
Before, when she had been strong enough to fight it.
Look at you.
When she first woke up, years ago, one of her teachers had said that she would feel corruption like the caress of an old lover. She tried to hold on to that memory now. Hold on to anything.
Cold, cold yes, but that was colder, and darker, than anything else, anything anything…
Come back to me.
She wished that she had eyes, so that she could have pinched them shut. But she could not, and there was nowhere to turn away. The walls of snow faded from her vision, leaving only a shadow in the darkness of her own mind, a towering shadow holding a sword.
Oh no, no, no, I'm nothing, I'm dying, I'm not worth the trouble you don't need me you don't want me no no NO
A broken whimper left her stiff, freezing lips, proving that she still had a body somewhere.
He should have been there for her in this moment. He should have promised her it would be alright and then stopped it all with one clean blow. But he wasn't. There was only that cold hand, sifting through her mind at its steady leisure, wrapping around her little screams and snuffing them out one by one.
Fighting me is pain, little sister. Only pain.
Gods he'd left her – no he didn't – then why was she alone – she had to find him – find who?
Look at you, you've grown so strong. I'm so proud of you.
Your brothers and sisters will find you. Come back to me.
In a final act of defiance she forced her last strength into a blast of fire from her rigid fingers, flaring up through the snow. Praying something would find her and finish her off. Anything. She didn't even feel the violently melted snow dripping around her arm, slowly freezing again.
The flare left a searing blue imprint in her vision, but that too faded too soon. Unperturbed, the cold hand plunged deeper into her mind, forcing apart any shred of willpower she weakly tried to hold against it.
Serve me again.
The voice was in her soul, around it, everywhere and she trembled to the core. It caressed, invaded, drowned, but she didn't open up, struggled even when it had her in every sense but that last scrap of will.
I owned you once.
She couldn't scream anymore. Why had she ever tried to?
Give in. Now.
The final splinter of self shrieked, flickering desperately beneath the hand and the voice, trying to remember a precious name that was odd and laughed and growled and-
The voice was different, but she'd heard it before, when she was faithful, when she was loyal, moving slowly but steadily at his command with a thousand others. When had she gone astray? But she had found power while lost, power to serve him better and he was proud, he was forgiving…
Skeletal hands ripped through the snow and hauled her out, rough and uncaring.
"Huh, what a pretty little mess this is."
Hoarse voices spoke, but she couldn't see, couldn't move. Then a soft light rose before her eyes, melting warmth into her freezing being. Her head cleared just a little bit, enough to let her groan, to let her know how dangerously she dangled above a mental abyss.
A bony hand stroke her cheek, scratching off flakes of blood.
"Are you with us, little sister?"
The voice was silent, but she could feel it still. Waiting.
Desperate rage wavered inside of her. Didn't matter what she did, the grip was there and it would only grow stronger now, especially when his servants could bring her closer to him. But not yet, not yet, she still had a little bit of will left.
"V-vict'ry… for… Syl… nas…" she gasped out, tongue and lips hardly obeying.
"Good enough for me," somebody close to her said, in a tone of grim relief. "Say, aren't you late Master Nebula's sister?"
She could no more blink than pinch her eyes shut. The light returned, white fingers spreading it over her battered form with steady, sweeping motions. It lit up the darkness and the snow, revealing armored men and women in various states of decay standing around her.
Only then did she realize that they had spoken Gutterspeak.
"No!" Gasping, Sarah clumsily slapped the priest's hand away. He raised his eyebrows at her, then frowned.
"What is it?" he asked
"Don't heal… Lich King…"
His scowl faltered to a look of pity, out of place on a sunken face such as his. But that same expression rose on the other rotting, cruel features all around. The grip of her changed, and a sword scraped its sheath. She was about to weakly protest that that wasn't the way she wanted it, struggling to find the words before it was too late. Too slow, too slow, her brain was so heavy, her lips so stiff.
However, the priest raised his hand at someone standing to the side of Sarah.
"Wait," he said, "she's still not lost if she can say so."
Sarah shook her head. No, no… but there was something she just had to do.
"Help me find my orc," she croaked.
"Your orc?" the one holding her said.
It was difficult to remember what had happened, and she grappled for the brittle threads of memory.
"Draenei took him," she muttered.
This caused some murmurs, many of them sounding intrigued. Straightening her neck Sarah looked at the priest, who thoughtfully regarded her.
"Dor'ash. My orc. Not you," she said in a papery voice. "I want him to kill me."
This, Dor'ash reflected, had to be the most bizarre moment of his life.
He could hardly recall how they had gotten to the rather large cave, as exhaust and pain coursing through his battered body had weaved him in and out of unconsciousness. Shouting had finally woken him, and he'd blinked his cold, stiff eyelids upwards to see Coran arguing with another draenei vindicator standing by an opening in the cliff. A female hovered in the background as well, bundled up in thick robes against the cold. Her glowing eyes flitted back and forth nervously. Snow whirled around, all the white painful to Dor'ash's eyes and he had closed them again, sagging. He could have spoken up, but he didn't see what good that could possibly do.
Then finally the elekk moved again, and they all headed into the cave. There was a sharp, heavy scraping of stone against stone. The sharp light was somewhat subdued – Dor'ash groggily guessed that the draenei used a rock to try shutting some of the snow and cold out. It wasn't doing much, but better than nothing.
Three more elekks stood further inside the cave, huddling together with blankets hung over their backs against the cold. There was also yet another male draenei, in an impressive armor, gazing at the entering group curiously. A fire crackled behind him, casting his body in shadow as he slowly swung his tail back and forth.
More talking in Draenei, as Coran half helped, half dragged Dor'ash off of the elekk. The orc quickly found that he could barely stand. Despite the fact that Coran's grip was the only thing keeping Dor'ash from crashing on his knees, the other draenei still watched him warily.
"He spared my friend's life," Dor'ash tiredly said then in Common, nodding at Coran. "I am honor bound."
Coran spoke in Draenei again, and the discussion went on for a little while. There was disbelief in the others' voices, but they seemed to reach a verdict in the end.
Which brought Dor'ash back to his current situation. Laying flat on his back with one vindicator watching him with guarded concern and another with unveiled disgust, that third male draenei standing by with an unreadable expression on his face – and this, while the one female draenei (introduced as Valenia in a sheepish mutter from Coran) wrapped her hands around Dor'ash's broken arm in a firm hold. Her hands glowed, and he couldn't even feel his arm anymore, which was a pleasant change. Until she began the healing, the pain had been rising with a vengeance after Coran's quick spell.
"This is going to sting," she said, voice even.
They were all so riled up that what she said caught him off guard.
"Sting?" Dor'ash repeated, giving her a disbelieving look.
She bit her lip and then set her jaw tight. Without another word she pulled hard at his arm, aligning the broken bone. Dor'ash grunted, but it was of surprise. It did not hurt at all, apart from a slight, indeed, sting. He had broken both arms and legs before and even with skilled priests using their spells to dull the pain before setting the fractures, it was always more painful than this.
It said a lot about draenei and the Light.
The priestess swiftly bandaged his arm, tightly wrapping in a finger-thick, short wooden pole for support. Each movement was quick and stiff, but she kept herself admirably calm considering. Dor'ash didn't speak, and only moved when she told him to carefully sit up. As soon as she had hung his arm in a sling she backed off, relief to get away from him evident in her movements.
Dor'ash muttered a thanks, and she looked away. Though he was grateful for the help, he was no more at ease with the situation than they were. Coran had proved that he had a good sense of morals when choosing to spare Sarah, but Dor'ash still wondered how this would end.
At least, Sarah had to be all right now, as long as she did the logical thing and teleported to the Undercity or anywhere else where she could get the help she needed. It should not have been a problem if she just gathered her strength. If nothing else, there was a nearby source of food, and he knew she would not waste it. The thought of her chewing on raw yeti flesh made his stomach turn, but if it was needed for her to survive he could forgive it.
A bad feeling nagged him, though. He hoped that it was only because of the tense, odd overall situation.
The sound of hooves against stone brought him out of his thoughts and he looked up as Coran hunched down in front of him. A rolled up parchment was in the vindicator's hand, and a look of determination had taken over his face.
"You said you could help us with information about this mountain," Coran said.
"Are you lost?" Dor'ash asked, gathering his legs under himself so he could sit more comfortably.
"The snowfall got so heavy that we–" he glanced up at the other vindicator and snapped his mouth shut. Looking back at Dor'ash, he spread out the parchment between them, revealing it as a map of the mountains. When he spoke, it was with a stricter voice. "Can you tell where we are?"
Dor'ash reached out with his good hand and turned the map the other way to study it better.
"I lost my bearings when you brought me here," he said, then circled a spot on the map using his fingertip. "But we were about here when you found us, that I know. Have you any idea which direction this cave would be in from there?"
"The compass we had was destroyed when we fought yetis a few days ago, otherwise we would not have this much trouble."
For a moment Dor'ash hesitated. He could wing it, he could even try to fool them – faction loyalty said that he ought to. Really, he had no idea why they were even in the area. However, the draenei vindicator in front of him had spared Sarah's life despite obviously intending to finish her off. These people had never proven to be his personal enemies, and that was disregarding what his own people had done to theirs in the demon-induced rage.
There really was no question, when it got down to it.
"There's a compass in one of my bags," he said, pointing at the heap where his items had been dumped. "The small one, with a red patch."
Coran moved to get up, then hesitated and looked at his friends. The other vindicator just narrowed his softly glowing eyes, and Valenia looked at the third male draenei. After a moment, he was the one who walked over and picked up the bag. Carefully opening it, he looked inside before reaching in and picking out a round object. He set the bag down and crossed the empty space, handing over the compass without a word. Then he too sat down, watching as Dor'ash checked on the small arrow pointing northwards. The orc glanced at the cave opening, thinking back on the journey there, then turned the map again to match the compass' information.
"Near as I can tell we are here somewhere," he said, pointing at a carefully drawn ridge of cliffs. "If you want to travel to safety from here, you should best take this route," he moved his fingers westwards on the map, "avoiding these ruins. Those are of the old Alterac stronghold. Only ogres live there now, and they kill anybody getting close."
The second vindicator let hear an expressive snort, but didn't comment. Dor'ash didn't react.
"What of this settlement? Is it true that the humans there are violent towards everyone?" Coran asked, pointing at the simply drawn huts marked as Strahnbrad.
"That belongs to the Syndicate," Dor'ash said. "They are at war with everything."
"Sounds like a sad existence," the unnamed, sitting draenei commented.
Dor'ash glanced at him, half-suspecting that that was something intended as an insult to the orcish race. But the draenei looked back as calmly as he had spoken, thoughtfully pulling at his chin tendrils. The orc had to realize that he himself probably was too paranoid – but then again, considering the situation, he had every reason to be tense. He had no idea what this would lead to, and his thoughts kept flitting back to Sarah. Gritting his teeth, he tried to focus.
Though he had two of them sitting right in front of him, Dor'ash could not tell which draenei was older. He found that all of them had something of an ageless look to their faces.
Unsure how to respond to the comment, Dor'ash finally simply nodded and looked back to the map.
"You should try to make it down from the mountains here," he said, drawing a straight line across the mountainside to the southwest of the ruins. "Once you get to Dalaran, the mages living in the ruins there can help you further. If you take this road," he followed it southwards with his fingertip, "you'll have to make it past both the Syndicate outposts and Tarren Mill, which belongs to the Forsaken."
Coran nodded and started to say a polite thanks, when the other vindicator spoke in Draenei. A short exchange followed, the tight tones making the subject apparent. Valenia joined in, and Coran looked between the two of them, until the third male spoke up. After finishing speaking to them, he turned back to Dor'ash.
"You understand, I'm sure, that we can't quite trust you," he said, calmly.
Dor'ash shook his head. He had not expected it.
"Yes, but I do owe him for sparing my friend's life." He motioned at Coran, who winced.
The reason for the pained look became apparent when the other vindicator barked out a few more, much harsher words. Coran started to speak, only to be cut off by yet more of the same.
If the second vindicator was not older, then he had to be superior in rank judging from his tone and the hounded look on Coran's face. Finally the third male got in between again. The riled-up vindicator glared at Dor'ash and angrily shook his head, muttering a few more words.
Dor'ash's eyes narrowed at the tone. He may have promised not to put up a fight, but he would not take apparent, verbal abuse sitting down in silence.
"If you're going to insult me, at least do it in a language I can understand," he coldly said.
"I see no reason to speak with you," the vindicator snapped. His annoyance muddled his Common, smoothing it with the soft consonants of the Draenei tongue. That language did not sound well suited for anger, and that only underscored the rage.
"What have I done?" Dor'ash replied, forcing himself not to speak harshly. This was the kind of battle where the loser was he who first lost his temper. "I've never had any of your blood on my hands."
He bit back "but I believe you have had mine on yours."
The vindicator gave him a sharp look and then snorted. He did not need to speak a word of contemptuous disbelief. Dor'ash pushed back a growl.
"I know what you think about that," he said, "but I was eight years old when the Dark Portal opened." He didn't bother to add that he was of the Frostwolf clan. They might not even know, or believe, what that meant.
"Whether or not that's true, I've seen nothing on this world to prove that your kind has changed at all," the vindicator replied. One of his hands left its perch in the opposite's arm's elbow, to aim a blue, clawed finger at Dor'ash. "What does it say about you that you ally with the undead?"
"Only what you already knew, I'm sure," Dor'ash said, rolling his eyes, "just what a blood-drinking, baby killing demon worshipper I am."
It was a childish thing to say – but so was judging a whole race, even those who had no part, by actions long since regretted and painfully avenged by other hands.
The vindicator only snorted again.
"That proves more to me than any fool singing blind praise to your Warchief," he said.
Dor'ash's good hand clenched until it would have shook, had he not pressed it against the ground to control himself. If that vindicator said one single word about Thrall–
"Subonai, please," the third male said, but his tone was distracted.
Glancing at him, Dor'ash noted that the draenei had turned his face upwards, head tilted to the side as if listening. It was a familiar motion, very familiar.
Until now, Dor'ash had been too confused, too ragged and exhausted to speak with the spirits. Now they whispered in the wind, their voices in this land so much part of his childhood that his heart leapt every time he stopped to listen when he traveled in these mountains. That was the main reason that he and Sarah travelled here in the first place, several days ago. Not because they were ordered somewhere, for once, but just because he wanted to. And she came along, just as always.
For a moment he wondered about her again, and the spirits mumbled anxiously. He could not tell if they simply did not like her or if it was something else. Usually it was simply the former though. He tried to hang on to that.
His attention was brought back when the draenei in front of him straightened his neck.
"Pardon my manners," he said. "I am Malo."
"You are a shaman." Dor'ash stated it calmly.
"And so are you," Malo replied, just as at ease.
The others, however, visibly tensed. Judging from their reactions, they must have assumed that Dor'ash was just a warrior or grunt, as he had not used any magic. He had no intention to do so either, unless he was forced to – and even then he did not know if it would do any good. In his state he could be easily overpowered.
Yet he felt calmer now, when the spirits soothingly mumbled to him. They did not seem to believe he had anything to fear.
"The spirits of this land know you well," Malo said, and the guarded look on his face was softening even as he spoke. "You grew up here?"
"Alterac Valley," Dor'ash said, though carefully. Now what?
Malo waved his hand in a pacifying manner.
"Worry not, I don't intend to interrogate you. I am curious about your behavior, however. Beg your pardon, but we have learned that orcs fight to the death rather than allowing themselves to be taken prisoner."
Dor'ash shrugged with his unwounded shoulder and shook his head. An image of Grema and Karg flashed in his mind. Not his mate, not yet, and not his son. But those were such flitting details.
I want to come back alive.
Yet, even more than that…
"I saw no other way to protect my friend," he said.
He could tell that the others exchanged disbelieving and suspicious looks, but he kept watching Malo lest he wouldn't be able to hold back a snarl. Who were they to judge Sarah without knowing a single thing about who she actually was, beyond her sad state?
Although he threw a glance towards Coran, Malo's expression remained mildly curious.
"I don't expect you to understand," Dor'ash added. He shook his head again. "But she's done far more dangerous things to save my life. I'm not sure if he told you," he motioned at Coran, "back there, she cushioned a yeti's attack with her own body to protect me."
Slowly, Malo nodded.
"He did mention that," he said. "I admit I wouldn't have believed it if you alone claimed it. It doesn't sound like something an undead would do."
"No," Dor'ash admitted. "I wouldn't expect many of them to do anything of the sort. Most of them are absolutely vile, I won't deny that."
"Then why…?" Malo asked, and he actually both looked and sounded genuinely curious.
It wasn't the first time a similar question was asked. Even Grema had questioned him about his friendship with Sarah. Dor'ash himself, too, wondered sometimes. The state of her body allowed Sarah to get back up after blows that should have killed her. However, that did not answer the question of why she willingly set herself on fire, or let her chest be smashed in, or risked unlife and soul in defiance of two powerful warlocks – her own brother even, disregarding the fact that she hated him.
If he was honest with himself, Dor'ash could not really pinpoint what he had done for her to deserve such devotion. They had travelled and fought together for a long time, complementing each other in battle and juggling jokes in more peaceful moments. True that he had protected her at times, but nothing truly measured up to what she had done for him.
Her jokes about calling dibs on killing him herself came to mind, but it was obvious to him that she never meant that seriously.
Dor'ash shook his head again.
"Spirits know her reasons," he said, then pursed his lips. The lower lip brushed higher up against his tusks at the motion, and he drew back again from the chill of the protruding teeth. "I couldn't say what she thinks. But she's like a little sister to me, I could not let her be killed like that."
Coran shifted in the background. Dor'ash got the feeling that he felt either sheepish or guilty, but didn't look up to study the vindicator closer. He still watched the calm face of the draenei shaman.
"One must admire your devotion, I admit that," Malo said, pausing and tilting his head slightly to the side. "Pardon, I do not believe Coran told us your name."
"He didn't ask, and I couldn't have responded on the way here anyway." Dor'ash didn't really mean to seem gruff, but instead of answering at once he spent a moment listening to the gentle murmur only he and Malo could hear. Then he looked back to the glowing eyes watching him. "It's Dor'ash."
Malo nodded. He did not really smile, but there was no enmity to find in his expression – hadn't really been from the start. Despite the circumstances, Dor'ash found himself carefully beginning to relax even more. It was an odd situation, but he was not too worried for his own safety. Still…
"The spirits don't seem to think that I have anything to fear from you," he said, eyebrows lowering slightly. "But, the main question for me is what you will do with me now."
No matter what the spirits said, for all intents and purposes Dor'ash was still their prisoner – if nothing else because of his own condition.
"That, we will have to discuss," Malo said with a glance at his companions.
Valenia looked away, squaring her jaw. Coran looked uncertain. Only Subonai seemed to have formed an opinion, glaring coldly back at the shaman. Shaking his head firmly at the angry vindicator, Malo looked back to Dor'ash.
"It would not be safe for you to leave here, considering the storm and your arm," the draenei shaman said. "But I see no reason why we would harm you, so for now, perhaps we should simply wait out the storm."
Dor'ash did not really like that idea, but what Malo said about the orc's safety outside of the cave was true. He would have to wait. Even had he had his frost wolf mount Grey with him, it would have been too dangerous to brave the storm. It wasn't worth lamenting. Grey was safe in Alterac Valley, having a broken leg healed. He would not have been able to help even had he been there.
How ironic that both of them now nursed a broken limb.
In the background, Subonai snorted and muttered under his breath. Malo looked around, eyes narrowing.
"I remember the war on Draenor too," Malo said. "But, naïve as it may sound, we only play into the Legion's hands if we keep judging. He–" he motioned at Dor'ash, "has done nothing to earn our aversion, and you are far from so foolish as you are making yourself out to be, now."
When Subonai growled, Malo gave him a stern look and tapped one finger against one of his own ears.
"Trust them or no, the spirits tell me he has no ill intents," he said.
"Even if I had, what could I do right now anyway?" Dor'ash pointed out. He kept the dry tone out of his voice – if he had to stay here for ancestors knew how long, he certainly did not want to rile up any support for the already antagonistic vindicator.
"If you are a shaman, you are far from helpless," Valenia said, speaking Common for the first time since she had healed his arm.
"So is he," Dor'ash said and pointed to Malo. "And you know full well the condition of my arm. I'm no berserker. I don't want to fight, but even if I did I know I am no match for all of you."
She looked away again, shaking her head so that the tendrils growing from behind her ears swept over the thick furs wrapped about her shoulders.
"I trust him, especially if Malo says so," Coran said suddenly, folding his arms when Valenia looked at him sharply and Subonai narrowed his eyes. "So far I've seen no reason not to."
There was definitely a tone of rebelliousness in the last sentence. Dor'ash wondered if Coran was actually young for a draenei, despite their seeming agelessness. The shadow of a smile tugged at his lips though, as he had to admit that the vindicator's defensiveness was rather touching – considering that the draenei had chosen to spare Sarah despite his convictions, Dor'ash was honestly grateful to him already.
However, he did not comment, not sure that he could say anything that would not be written off as condescending or suspicious by at least Subonai.
The second vindicator shook his head in disgust.
"Very well, if you are both so certain that he is not dangerous," he said, coldly, "but name one time there has been any lasting, peaceful connection between us and orcs."
Coran looked at Malo, who opened his mouth, hesitated, and closed it again.
Dor'ash would just have sighed and said nothing on the matter, but a memory struck, and though he had no desire to further annoy Subonai, he still spoke.
"I heard a story a while ago," he slowly said, "about a youngster of my people, of the Thunderlord clan, if I remember correctly, marrying a woman of your kind."
"Ah yes, that's quite true," Malo said, scratching his neck, with a small, confused frown on his forehead. Behind him, the other three exchanged glances. The subject was certainly not a simple matter. "They live in Nagrand, I believe."
"Huh, and I thought the guy who told me had just had a few too many drinks." Dor'ash watched them for a moment, wondering if he should push the subject. "Is that disturbing to you?"
Again Malo thoughtfully pulled at his chin tendrils, and finally opened his mouth. It was Coran who spoke, however.
"It's hard to tell what to think," he said, glancing away. "If they are– but it's a bit difficult to, hm…" He sought for words, then shook his head and looked back to Dor'ash. "Wouldn't you find it odd if you heard about an orc woman married a draenei?"
Dor'ash very nearly laughed, and lifted his good hand to press it lightly to his lips so that he could remain calm.
"I would be worried about him, truth to be told," he said. "Our women are rather vicious with their affections."
In orcish terms, Grema was to be considered gentle. Most of the time, Dor'ash ended up with nothing worse than a couple of bruises and less than a dozen scratches. Well, less than a dozen deep enough to draw blood, anyway.
One should note, of course, that orcs don't bruise easily. Those kind of things he didn't mind at all – though he preferred to heal himself to spare Karg the sight of those lovingly given wounds. Still, the boy had been a little more open since the last time they met… there was also Sarah's smirk to deal with, of course, another reason for healing.
His thoughts slipped over to her again, and his smile died. She had to be fine by now, though. Clearing his throat, he lowered his hand. The draenei were giving him mildly to disapprovingly disbelieving looks, due to his earlier statement.
"In all seriousness," Dor'ash said, looking at Coran, "I'm probably as confused about this male orc as I would be about a female doing the same thing." He shrugged with his good arm, carefully. "The first reaction is of course to suspect something foul. But I don't know either of them."
In truth, as an orc he had just as much reason to suspect foul play in seduction – but the draenei would in this case suspect foul play of the carnal sort, while Dor'ash might suspect a spy. Still, if the story was true, the odd couple lived in a backwater village of Broken. That didn't sound like something a spying woman would agree to.
"I suppose one must agree with your last sentiment," Malo agreed.
Coran looked like he was about to say something more, but didn't. Judging by the uncertain look on his face, he didn't know what he wanted to express.
"It's still a very strange–" Dor'ash started, but fell silent abruptly. The spirits surged, the wind howling like frightened, living voices in a distance. It was something more than the storm, something worse.
He tilted his head with a frown, absentmindedly noting that Malo did the same.
And then he heard her scream.
It almost sent him to the floor by its force, blasting through his mind and he would have pressed his hands to his ears, would have roared trying to drown it out, but for that first moment he could not even move.
"What is that–?" Malo croaked, his eyes wide and staring towards the cave opening.
Dor'ash hardly even remembered that the draenei shaman or any of the others were there.
He had not thought her capable of such fear.
He was on his feet, blind and deaf to everything else, only vaguely hearing hooves slamming against the ground. The hands grabbing his good arm, however, he felt and fought against, but there was no time, he had to find her. Snarling he cast his gaze forwards, through the slight opening to the whirling white world and onwards. Spirits cried and howled warnings all around, but he ignored them and just leapt and leapt onwards. The white never seemed to end, like her scream that rose and fell in between incoherent babbling cut off in new, desperate shrieks.
Something bright flashed in the corner of his magical vision but he didn't look around, only cast himself on and on towards her. Had to find her, quicker, quicker.
Not quick enough.
In a distance a cloud of darkness flared against the snow, and he took one last leap without thinking. Foul energies slammed against him and sent him reeling backwards, but he still caught sight of the pale soul writhing and screaming in the middle of the consuming black. Smoky ropes enveloped her ethereal body, twisting her this and that way as she struggled and tore but only sunk deeper and deeper in by the second. Beneath her pathetically kicking feet laid her unmoving body, deep into the snow.
Dor'ash cried out, reaching towards her but the darkness reared up and pure dread forced him backwards. That thing could take his soul too, and gladly would if it reached him.
The bright flash appeared again and he glanced to the side, seeing a dazzling outline of Malo floating there. The draenei hung frozen as snowflakes fluttered right through him, eyes wide in horror as he watched Sarah's soul being consumed alive by the darkness.
Suddenly an deep red flame burnt through the white, blasting away the snow just around Sarah's bony hand. The soul cried out again, fading fury mixing with the despair. What little hope it lit in Dor'ash, it died as she just sunk deeper yet, the black swallowing her legs up to her waist and rapidly spinning further upwards.
The darkness swept outwards suddenly, tendrils lashing out at the two watching, horror-stricken spirits. Fear beyond that for physical harm and life ripped through Dor'ash and he heard Malo cry out, but he was already jolting backwards.
He shuddered violently, staggering on his feet as he suddenly returned to his body. Coran's grip of his good arm was the only thing keeping him up until he found his balance again. The draenei was shouting, asking what was going on, but Dor'ash shook his head and blindly tried to move forwards again. Coran held him back.
Hooves and armor clattered, and Malo groaned as he struggled to stand in the background. More questions. Dor'ash kept shaking his head, staring at the confused vindicator who just wouldn't let go of him.
"Your word, you have a word for something–" Dor'ash could not make his speech make sense, could hardly breathe. Just had to make them see that he had to leave, now!
"Man'ari," Malo hoarsely said, pressing a hand to his throat. "I believe… you mean man'ari."
It was probably right, judging by the couple of gasps from behind – although Coran and the others could not understand just what was going on. Dor'ash hardly cared enough to notice, however.
"But one isn't–" Malo shook his head hard, staring at the exit. "Man'ari is a choice, not…"
"Let go of me!"
Dor'ash wrenched his arm out of Coran's grip and took a step forwards, but Malo stumbled up to block his way. Though the draenei shaman's face was paler than before, he held up his hands and bared his fangs with determination.
"The storm is too strong, you won't be able to–" he sharply said, reaching for Dor'ash's shoulder.
Then he recoiled when the orc snarled, familiar fear blazing in Malo's eyes. Yet it was as with as much despair as rage that Dor'ash growled.
"No! Spirits, I can't let her–" he started, voice cracking.
Deep down he knew that it was already too late, he wouldn't make it. But that part of him was so far off, drowning in the need to find Sarah and save her. There had to be–
"I'm sorry," Coran said and struck the back of Dor'ash's head with the side of his hand.
It is not so easy to knock orcs unconscious, but there was a jolt of pure white energy in the blow to create the desired effect. The Light could also hurt.
Dor'ash's world went black.
The part where Dor'ash and the draenei discussing an orc and draenei couple who live in Nagrand, is a reference to a series of fanfics by Nara Bluestar. It was a cameo used with her permission and I heartilly recommend her stories, I was obsessed with them back when I was writing this. Like grown-woman-almost-missing-class-because-of-reading-obsessed.
Chapter 3: Warding
He came to slowly, consciousness simmering painfully. There was some resistance, a feeling that there was something waiting for him when he woke up, something he did not want to face. Still he plunged upwards, driven past the anxiety by worry – the stronger knowledge that it was important, that he had to wake up.
His eyes fluttered open and he blinked at the green glow hovering above him. It faded, revealing a blue, clawed hand which carefully moved away towards a large splotch of pale colors. Dor'ash moved his eyes only, blinking again until the bigger blur became Malo.
The draenei shaman watched him with concern, a hesitant scowl twisting the skin of his large forehead. Dor'ash's confusion shattered, and the memory did not stay away for a moment longer.
"How long was I gone?" Dor'ash croaked, clearing his throat and grimacing.
The scream he had heard, had silenced. Sarah was gone.
The anger failed to flare up again. No use.
"Just a few minutes," Malo said, his voice low.
Dor'ash pushed himself up, finding that they had placed him on the blanket again. Thoughtful.
The other draenei sat around the fire, but only Coran glanced at Dor'ash – then quickly turned to look into the dancing flames, shoulders hunched. Nobody spoke, but Malo silently offered Dor'ash the orc's own water sack. He just waved it away, and Malo didn't insist.
"What was that darkness?" the draenei shaman wondered after a moment.
"The Lich King, I believe," Dor'ash said in a dull voice.
He stared towards the exit of the cave, even though the crack of white stung his eyes. There was so much dark stone around the opening that the snow outside turned a sharp, painful shade. The fire cast a warm glow across a large part of the cave, yet he only saw the dancing shadows along the jagged walls. Taking in a deep breath, he shook his head.
"All Forsaken once broke free of his mind control," he muttered, "but as I understand it, they start losing control to him again when they age or die slowly."
Even though he kept watching the exit, part of him noticed how the silence grew heavy. Malo slowly shook his head, rubbing his cheek. The sound of Coran's hoofs scratching the hard ground was unnaturally loud in that atmosphere. The young vindicator looked to Valenia, who met his eyes briefly and then looked away. For a moment Coran's gaze wandered towards Subonai, but stopped.
"I'm–" Coran finally said, turning towards Dor'ash. "I'm sorry, I truly am."
Dor'ash met his gaze for a second, but didn't make a sound or movement to reply. The vindicator could be as sorry as he wanted, he was still the one who separated the two friends. Right then, Dor'ash couldn't find a splinter of forgiving in his soul.
He couldn't stand being there, but he could not leave either. However…
Narrowing his eyes at the exit, Dor'ash took in a deep breath and forced his mind to focus. In the next moment his sight leapt outside again, rushing through the landscape. Again the spirits called around him, in sadness rather than fear this time.
It would be torture to see what she was now, he knew that, but he could not just sit there. Right now, he still knew roughly where she was – if he lost her, there would be no hope at all.
There had to be something he could do for her, some way to save her. She had freed herself from that mind control before, he'd said so himself just a minute ago. But was that something that could be done again?
He tried to push that thought away, but even as he did so, part of him knew that she might be lost forever. Then what, if he found her?
She wouldn't want to be another mindless slave. Then–
His painful line of thoughts snapped when he spotted the patch of darkness. But it seemed so much smaller than before…
Unsure what to think, he swept in that direction, and then saw a group of thin shadows trudging through the white. Forsaken, some in robes and some in armor – and Sarah in their midst, half dragged, half carried along between two of them. She staggered, her movements slow and weak, but lacking the single-minded march of a Scourge zombie.
A wild hope flared up in him as he stared at the scene. No Forsaken would have let her live if she was a slave to the Lich King. Yet, the darkness was still thick around her. For a second he wondered if they could see it.
Then, his mind clicked from being numbed by surprise, and he realized that they might be searching for him and Coran. Mentally swearing he drew backwards, towards the pull of his body, and concluded that they were heading in the same direction. Not straight, no, but there was no guarantee they could not find the cave. He couldn't see any tracks in the snow, but couldn't be sure that there were none. The storm should have eradicated a lot of them, but perhaps not all.
He turned and sped back, catching sight of something large and brown in all the white, but the world was flashing past him and his spirit slammed back into his body. A half-strangled sound left his mouth and he tried to stand. Malo was there in an instant, trying to settle him down again.
"Some Forsaken found her, but they're coming this way," Dor'ash snarled at the confused shaman. Malo blinked, staring at him. "You have to flee, now!"
The others got to their hooves, speaking quickly in Draenei. Malo waved a hand in a sharp motion, glaring at the white crack in the cliff. A hesitant lull fell as his hand sunk and his face slackened. Seconds snailed by, but then he straightened up with a shudder.
"He's right, there are undead coming this way," Malo hissed, standing up with a loud clatter. "We must leave here!"
Setting her jaw, Valenia hurried towards the elekks.
"But can we make it in the storm?" Coran asked, eyes narrowing at the crack in the wall.
"Believe me, we will have a better chance–" Malo started.
Dor'ash opened his mouth, knowing he could give them some advice to give them a bit of a chance. However, he never got so far as to share that.
The rock, partly and badly blocking the exit, exploded. Heat seared through the air momentarily, and hot pieces of shattered stone clattered against everything. Dor'ash threw up his good hand to shield his eyes, snarling. The elekks let out shrieking trumpeting sounds. Luckily they didn't stampede in their panic, but stumbled against each other in their corner.
Valenia cried out in Draenei, a single word. Even though he didn't understand, Dor'ash could brave a guess. Hooves clopped hard against the ground as Coran and Subonai rushed towards the entrance to the cave, drawing their weapons. Malo took a few steps forwards, then cautiously stopped and reached for a pouch on his belt. He paused, casting a tense glance at Dor'ash.
"I'll try–" the orc started in a growl, but the familiar sound of a demon's roar cut him off. Cursing, he hurried towards the exit. Nobody tried to stop him, both Coran and Subonai far too busy squinting at what was just a few steps outside.
The snow whirled around the huge, armored form of a felguard. It seemed perfectly at ease with the onslaught of wind and cold as it raised its huge axe, grinning down and flashing rows of uneven, pointy teeth. The vindicators bristled, yet they were not looking at the demon's face but a little bit to the left.
A Forsaken woman in a dark robe, like a stain of oil against the white in the air, hung over the felguard's shoulder. Dor'ash winced when he saw her, not only at her presence but also because she wore a pair of crossed leather straps across her face, much like Sarah. These sagged, however, and glowing yellow eyes shone beneath. Her smirk was very much reminiscent of the demon's expression.
"Oh no, no, no, let's not get violent," the warlock cooed in her hoarse voice, speaking Common. "You might frighten my little baby." She tapped a finger against the demon's shoulder plate, causing a hard ticking sound for each rap.
"What do you want, wretch?" Subonai demanded.
For what it was worth, the felguard was far too big to easily make it through the cave opening, but that wouldn't stop the warlock's spells. Still, it was only one of her. Considering the circumstances, she and her pet were not a great danger on their own – but the demon would have leverage on anybody trying to burst out of the cave. Its axe was already raised and just waiting for one of the vindicators to try.
Tilting her elbows against the huge shoulder pad beneath her, the warlock daintily pressed her raw-bone fingertips against each other and smiled.
"Might you be the bad, bad draenei who abducted our little sister Sarah's orc friend?" she asked.
Both Coran and Subonai tensed, but didn't reply. After a moment, the warlock tilted her head.
"I'll take that as a yes." Her mouth pursed and stretched in a cold smile. "I do hope he's in one piece, boys. You wouldn't want to live with the knowledge that you denied a dying woman her final wish, would you?"
She grinned at the word "live." Not very subtle. However, Dor'ash hardly even noticed, as the words coming after that grin tore into his soul.
He stepped forwards, to get within sight from outside. Subonai threw a glare at him, but didn't try to stop him as he moved up beside the two vindicators.
"I'm here," Dor'ash said in Common, lightly touching the fingers of his good hand to his bandaged arm. "I'm Dor'ash."
Half of him, the half not preoccupied with fearing for Sarah's sake, silently prayed for some possibility to save the draenei. If the group of Forsaken reached the cave, Malo and the others would be lucky if they were simply killed. After all that had taken place here, Dor'ash couldn't allow that.
"Ah, that's a relief," the warlock said and ducked her head, muttering under her breath. In a flare of felfire, a floating eyeball appeared above her head and zoomed off into the snow storm, away from the cliffs. Dor'ash tensely watched it disappear amongst the whirling, white flakes. It had to be a sign for the others to come.
Already he wanted to protest, but knew very well that it would also put him in danger to try to defend a group of Alliance soldiers. He would have to look for some opportunity.
She waved her hand, and the felguard reached up. It gripped her around the middle and then shoved her at the ground, but she didn't seem rattled as she straightened her slouching back.
"How is Sarah?" Dor'ash asked, his jaw clenching.
The pleased look faded from the woman's lips and she shook her head.
"Almost gone," she said, looking up at him. "She wants to see you."
He had known that she was fading. That didn't make the words hurt any less, and he pinched his eyes shut. She had needed him, desperately, and he hadn't been there.
"Isn't there any way to stop it?" he asked, looking back at the warlock.
In a stark contrast to what he expected, the sneer did not return to her expression. It dawned on him, then, although he had always known it in theory. Yet, not until this moment did he see simple, undeniable proof of just how greatly the Forsaken hated the Lich King.
"We've all done it once," the woman said in a voice that seemed oddly soft for a Forsaken, doubly so for a warlock. "But, it might be her time."
He wanted to shake his head, but, who was he to say? As a shaman, and a warrior of the Horde, he was well aware of what death was. It never even touched his mind how ironic this all was – Sarah had already died years ago. Still, she was so full of life that it had been ages since he saw an undead when he looked at her. He saw only Sarah.
Armor sharply clanged as Coran shifted, and it rustled Dor'ash out of his daze. There were far more lives at stake here. Looking at the warlock and her hungrily smirking demon pet, though, he wondered if it was at all possible to talk them into backing off. The draenei could try to send the demon off balance with magic and make a run for it, but they wouldn't be able to run outside more than one at a time. The opening in the cliff wasn't wide enough.
His own experiences with Forsaken warlocks did not make him feel any more confident about being able to reason with this woman. Yet, he had to do something or Malo and the others would be slaughtered.
Deep down he reflected how strange it was for an orc to be so desperate to save a few draenei. Or, perhaps, it was a tiny act of penance for his people. Still, he knew well that chances were great that the warlock would brand him a traitor if he wasn't careful. Up here, the only witnesses would be the other Forsaken – and Sarah was not in a state where she could help him against her own people, now.
He tried not to think about the fact that even if the draenei managed to flee, they would leave tracks in the snow. The Forsaken had been able to find them, when the traces Coran and his elekk had left behind must have been almost gone thanks to the storm.
"Listen," he started, still speaking Common so that the draenei wouldn't have to suspect foul play, "Sarah and I were almost killed by yetis. This one here," he nodded sideways at Coran, "probably saved our lives."
The warlock's lips quirked in an amused smile.
"Ah yes, she did try to mumble something of the sort," she said. One of her hands swept to her hip, where a wicked-looking wand set with a darkly glowing crystal was fastened. A sickly red flare rose within the large gemstone at her touch. "I understand, you are honor bound to not kill them. Don't worry though." Her smile widened. "We're not."
Coran and Subonai both bristled, and from inside came the sound of Malo and Valenia exchanging sharp whispers.
A sense of déjà vu stole over Dor'ash, and he recalled another hoarse voice declaring the Forsaken had no debt of gratitude towards one of the Alliance. That time, it was a night elf druid who was in danger. He had to wonder if it was his fate to protect those who should be his enemies.
"I'm no lover of the Alliance," Dor'ash said, clenching his teeth, "but there's a question of decency. He could have killed Sarah as well."
For a moment she watched him, unmoving. Not knowing what else to do, Dor'ash grasped for straws by pointedly rolling his eyes to look towards the draenei, then back towards her. If she took it as him trying to unsuccessfully convey some kind of silent message, she didn't show it.
"Very sweet of him," she said with a disinterested shrug. "The fact of the matter is, though, that Sarah is almost Scourge. That is all we care about for the moment." Her face never turned away from Dor'ash, eyes glowing steadily under her sagging mask.
He looked back, scowling. There was probably nothing he could say to convince her, and– Sarah, spirits, Sarah. He could hardly concentrate.
The only chance for the draenei would be to try to get past her – if they tried distracting her and the demon with magic it might…
Thin grey shadows grew out of the wall of twirling white, with a few steps fully emerging behind the felguard's back. Subonai growled, and Coran nervously shifted. A cold hand grasped Dor'ash's heart. More and more Forsaken kept emerging from the snowstorm, worn, rusty armors strapped to their bodies and snow piled up in the crevasses between equipment and body – sometimes in crevasses in the bodies.
They stopped within sight, lined up and gazing towards the draenei and the orc that could be seen just a bit in the opening in the cliff. Yet none of them grinned, all silent and grim.
The warlock turned and scurried over to her brethren, starting a conversation utterly torn away in the wind. After a few moments she hurried back, absently clapping her hands. With an annoyed growl, the felguard disappeared in a blast of felfire. The snow where it had stood melted from the heat, creating a patch of sizzling grey.
"Shane says we don't have time for this nonsense," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "You draenei, you can get out of the way and hope we'll think about being nice, or we'll storm in. You might have a good defensive point but there are a lot more of us."
In the tense silence Dor'ash could feel Coran give him an uncertain look and Subonai glare at him. He looked over his shoulder, only to have the feeling confirmed.
"They won't listen to me," he muttered. "I can't tell you what to do."
Letting out a growl, Subonai turned around and spoke to Malo and Valenia. A quick discussion followed.
"I'm counting to ten!" the warlock called.
A few more words, harsh in the draenei mouths, flew through the air. Then Subonai looked around, lips drawn back from his sharp teeth.
"Very well, we– yield," he snarled and started to back off.
Looking rather dazed, Coran followed him, sheathing his sword with numb hands. Dor'ash stepped back as well, looking between the draenei as all four of them retreated to the back of the cave with stiff steps. Malo met his gaze, tension apparent on the other shaman's face. However, he made an upwards motion with a clawed hand, as if motioning towards the spirits that had told him that he could trust Dor'ash.
"I'll try," the orc murmured, adding hardly no voice to the movement of his dry lips. He truly had no idea if he could live up to that remain of brittle trust.
He looked around at the sound of clattering armor and bone, seeing the Forsaken make their way towards the entrance. With a heavy heart he moved towards the middle of the cave, watching as the undead entered. They continued inside, spreading out in an uneven half-circle.
Dor'ash's question faltered on his lips as the Forsaken moved aside to let Sarah pass. She staggered blindly, leaning on a decaying swordsman. Although her arm lay slung around his neck, she didn't seem to draw any support from it herself – his hand holding her wrist looked like the only thing keeping her up. His other arm curled around Sarah's waist to further steady her.
It looked gentle, the way he walked slowly to accommodate to her insecure steps. Snow clung to her, smeared on her ruined robe and sticking in her hair, making her look even more miserable.
They had removed her bags, leaving only the severely stained, pale robe around her small form. Dor'ash took note of those details only vaguely. What he stared at, and wasn't sure that the others saw, were the shadows flitting around Sarah's thin neck, slithering down her arms like living, ethereal chains. The spirits moaned, and the shades spun around, lashing out – then settled back when the elements growled, but the dark aura never went away. It seemed to flow out of the back of her head in a slow, but steady stream.
Had he been in a proper state of mind, Dor'ash might have cast a glance at Malo to silently question if he also saw the darkness. But he hardly even remembered that the four draenei were even there, now.
When the swordsman hunched down, Sarah just slumped onto her knees. Still oddly gentle, he ducked to get her arm away from his neck, and then laid her hand to rest in her lap. With a murmur of Gutterspeak he straightened and turned to Dor'ash.
Metal scraped sharply as the Forsaken man drew his sword. Dor'ash's breath stuck in his throat, but the undead didn't move to use the weapon.
"The Lich King has taken a hold of her," the swordsman grimly said, aiming his hand, not his sword, at Sarah. He spoke the Orcish words in a monotone voice. "You have travelled with her for a long time. You understand, don't you?"
Dor'ash grit his teeth, understanding perfectly well what the man meant. But…
"You haven't finished her off yet," he said.
Several of the Forsaken shook their heads. The swordsman spoke again.
"We don't kill our own happily, and she isn't completely gone. But she's very weak."
Sarah made a strange sight, sitting there with her hands folded in her lap with the other Forsaken standing in a crescent behind her, pale, stained robe stark against the dirty ground. The calm curve of her lips revealed nothing.
"She insisted on finding you," the swordsman said, stating a fact – not hope.
They were prepared to kill her. She was prepared. Oblivion was a far more pleasant master to serve. How odd, really. The Forsaken knew no compassion, except for this – mercy killing their kin rather than letting them fade back into slavery.
"Are you more powerful than the Lich King, Dor'ash?" Sarah asked, sounding mildly curious through her strained voice. Not much lung capacity to work with. Her head rolled, causing a creaking sound in her stiff, frozen neck. The twitchy motion gave him a chilling hint before the words sealed the truth. "I called for you in the snow but you didn't answer. There's something out there now, something that wants me." She paused, as if thoughtful. "Wants them."
She motioned at the Forsaken behind her, and they actually tensed. Under Dor'ash's scowl she chuckled hoarsely, more of a giggle. Her grip of sanity, and herself, was slipping fast.
"Wants you. Wants them, too." The draenei growled uneasily when her face briefly turned towards them. "Wants everyone and everything. We're pawns, less than pawns, far less, but he still wants all of us even though we're useless, just a mass of hands and claws and and and he's so loud…"
Her hands crept up her arms.
Behind her, the swordsman silently shifted. Not raising his sword, but preparing for when he would do so. Sarah shook her head.
"He says he's proud of all this power I've found but it means nothing, does it? Nothing, he doesn't care, he's mocking, I still know that, I know it–! No!" She looked around suddenly, finger whipping out towards the swordsman. "Don't you dare! He's the only one who can kill me!" The arm swept in the other direction, until she pointed straight at Dor'ash.
The hand holding the sword sunk back to the man's side as he nodded.
"As you wish, little sister," he said, in an impossibly soft voice.
"Hell no!" Dor'ash snarled, his foot slamming into the hard ground.
He stepped forwards and Sarah shrunk back, staring up at him as he glowered at her.
"Are you out of your mind?" he growled. "What question is that, if I'm stronger than the Lich King? Of course I'm not! You have to be!"
People broke out of mind control for loyalty, for love, for friendship. He could have called to her and spoken of her Dark Lady, of her undead lover Jonathan, or himself and of Grema and Karg. Yet, she was a Forsaken, and Forsaken only ever admitted to feeling rage and hatred.
But no, none of those things had saved her when she first woke up, with no memory to drag her out of the mental clutches of the Lich King. If she had no memory, she had no reason to love or hate. That wasn't what made her break free in the first place.
"Are you going to let him have all that power you've gained?" Dor'ash snapped. "Do you want to tumble down from this mountain and roam Andorhal until you fall apart?"
No reply. She remained impassive, as if she didn't even hear him.
"Maybe you do, if you want me to fight your battles for you." He spat on the ground, managing somehow although his mouth felt dry as a desert. He had to focus on the anger, had to share it with her, even if he only really wanted to fall down on his knees and pull her close. That wouldn't save her. He couldn't shield her from the Lich King no matter how strong his arms were. "You're pathetic."
At the last word, she moved. Her arms twitched, and she straightened up from her half recoil. Without a sound, grey green lips moved to form silent words.
"Well?" Dor'ash snapped, amazed that his voice held up.
And Sarah spoke.
"You– blasted– asshole!"
Not for hate, not for love, or friendship. For herself only, because it was all she had had back then.
Her hands shot away from her arms, clawing instead at the remains of her ears before pressing down hard.
"Shut up!" she snarled, clutching her head. "I'm not your– not your– not yours!" Her voice rose to a shriek at the last word, so sharp that it actually hurt Dor'ash's ears.
He thought he heard an echoing growl, and Sarah collapsed on the ground. The black chains around her rushed backwards, flowing into the back of her head. He would have been so much more relieved if they had shattered, but it was too much to hope for. And then, perhaps she would have died, anyway. That damning power was what kept her animated.
The end of the last chain disappeared, and her hands twitched.
Nobody else moved as she pushed herself to her knees, then further to her feet. The wind hollowly wailed from the entrance, and Sarah's bones scraped the ground as she worked her way up. Slowly she straightened, lifting her unmoving face towards Dor'ash. He hardly dared to breathe. The chains were gone, but…
Her hand rose up, perching against the leather covering his chest. All the while, she gazed up at him. A faint smile tugged at her green, cold lips.
"You know," she said, "I'd claw your eyes out for being such an ass, if it wasn't for the fact that I truly love you right now."
"Keep a distance, if you please," Dor'ash replied, turning only slightly and gazing at her sideways. He grinned wide despite the words, however, and saw no reason to cease doing so.
"My commends," the swordsman spoke up, and he actually did smile a bit. Glancing around, Dor'ash found with some surprise that the same expression were on the other Forsakens' faces too, with no trace of the usual shades of cold, cruelty and lack of empathy. He wondered if he could even begin to understand what it meant to them, since this touched them so deeply. And then again, he doubted that what they felt measured up to his own feelings right then.
One of the undead men, his lightly grey robe hinting at him being a priest, stepped forwards and raised his hands towards Sarah. She turned halfway towards him and he laid his fingertips against her chest, a warm light enveloping his gloves. A sigh escaped her as with a low, popping and gurgling sound, her wounded lungs and broken ribs mended. The whole time she kept one hand against Dor'ash's leather chest plate.
"That's all I can do right now," the priest finally said and stepped back. "You better take it easy for a while."
As if the words sprung a horrid thought to mind, the relief faded from the swordsman's face. All traces of it were gone as he spoke again.
"But, does he leave it at that?" he asked, and the air itself seemed to stiffen as the Forsaken all turned grim.
Sarah froze, her fingertips drawing four lines in Dor'ash's chest armor as her hand curled into a fist. He stilled as well, watching her with a frown taking over his features. That far, he had not thought – but yes, the Lich King supposedly held the minds of all his servants, didn't he?
With a twitchy motion Sarah turned away from Dor'ash, and nodded.
"Something's coming." She scratched her chest, gazing towards the gaping hole leading into the snow storm. "He touched me. He knows we're here. What a pain."
Though her tone sounded composed, Dor'ash had never seen her scratch herself before. Violently, too. She ceased when he brushed a finger against her shoulder, but what remained of her eyebrows hung low.
"Scourge?" he asked, grimly.
"I don't know what. I don't know how many." She shook her head, under the intense gaze of everyone in the cave, although the draenei didn't understand. "But he said something would come and find me."
"Fantastic," the swordsman said, chuckling throatily. "And I thought we'd only get to kill a few ogres and one or another Syndicate member up here."
Before he saw the other Forsaken crack up in grins, Dor'ash had thought that the leader was being sarcastic when he said the first word. But now the man turned towards the cave entrance, fingering his sword thoughtfully.
"I wonder, almost anything can crawl up from the Plaguelands but it would have to be something nearby," he said, mostly to himself. "Something that is quick but could fend off the inhabitants here. Something that could carry whatever else it kills along the way. He probably scrounged up even more when he felt us find her. Now it's not just one measly Forsaken he could catch."
"And what are you planning to do about it?" Dor'ash asked. Part of him wanted to put a protective hand on Sarah's shoulder. The rest of him knew that she would not appreciate that at all.
"This is a good place. We could hold it." The swordsman's grin was about as crazy as Sarah's rambling from before. "You don't expect us to run away, do you? From the Scourge?"
"We don't know what it is," Dor'ash pointed out – but he had no plans on trying to escape, either. He knew an unforgiving snow storm when he saw one, and they had no idea from where the enemies were approaching. This cave would at least be, as the Forsaken said, defendable.
"What does it matter?" the swordsman said. "If there is Scourge hunting here, we will deal with it."
Might Sarah be able to open a portal to flee through, if need be? Dor'ash studied her, and wondered if she herself knew whether she had the strength. However, she kept her gaze aimed at the entrance, face set in determination.
Another thought struck, of something – some people – that the shaman had to admit he had momentarily forgotten all about.
"And what about the draenei?" he said, straightening up.
"Hmm?" The swordsman turned around and looked at the hoofed men and woman, who bristled under his and the others' eyes.
The Forsaken exchanged glances. Finally, the leader shook his head.
"Too much of a bother to try killing them now," he said. "We can't waste our energy. Let's save them for later."
"That's not what I–!" Dor'ash started.
"Tell them to behave, will you? I don't think they'll listen to us."
With that, the Forsaken headed towards the exit to make their plans of defense. Only Sarah lingered where she was. Sighing, Dor'ash turned to the draenei and walked towards them. Without a word Sarah followed him, staying close for each step he took. When he stopped, she turned towards where her people had gone, but didn't move away.
"What's going on?" Coran demanded.
"She broke free of the Lich King's attempts to snare her, but something is coming," Dor'ash said, motioning at Sarah and the outside world respectively. "We don't know what. Whatever it is, it wants to kill us all and they want to kill it so much that they don't care about you right now."
Sarah turned around while he spoke, looking between him and them. Glancing down, he saw her raise an eyebrow at him, but it was brief and she didn't ask anything. The eyebrow sunk back, and she glanced towards the other Forsaken, at the exit. Then she looked away again, staring at the floor.
"Something like what?" Subonai demanded, eyes thin as needles as he glared between Dor'ash and the undead blocking the only escape route.
"Scourge," Dor'ash said, not even feeling like adding a sour "what else." Before, the vindicator's unyielding aggressive stance had annoyed him, but now it was definitely justified.
"They don't care about killing us now, but what of later?" Valenia asked. Her arms were folded tightly to her chest, dainty claws buried in the folds of her elbows.
They all spoke in low voices, realizing it might get even more problematic if the Forsaken heard them.
"I know you would not want to trust me," Dor'ash said, looking between them as he scowled with determination, "but I will not stand by and let them kill you, I swear that."
His gaze wandered back to Malo at the end. Slowly, the other shaman nodded. His friends looked to him, hesitance apparent in their eyes.
"I would trust you," Malo said, and then Coran nodded the slightest bit, if stiffly. Looking past Dor'ash, the draenei shaman frowned. "But you are worried about them, I can tell."
"I don't expect them to value honor, no." Dor'ash could not deny that, and he would not lie to give them false hope. He turned to the hunching woman at his side. "Sarah, can you do anything here?"
She stiffened, looking up at him with clenched teeth.
"I can't turn all of them to sheep," she said in Common, like him, and tried to force a smile. The failed joke only made her look even more uneasy.
"No, you used that trick on a warlock already," he agreed. It was a just as weak joke, to recall the last time she had fought other Forsaken – her own kin, even. Clearing his throat, he looked at her more seriously. "But could you reason with them?"
"I don't know, I– they–"
She fell silent, started to speak again and cut herself off once more, looking away. Finally she clenched her fists and looked up, facing his concerned scowl. When she spoke again, she switched languages.
"I've brought you nothing but trouble lately, haven't I?" she said, shaking her head.
Dor'ash watched her for a moment, eyebrows raised.
"How so?" He fell into Orcish, like her, forgetting that the draenei wouldn't understand what was said.
"I got captured in Azshara, then I went nuts in Ratchet, and now this too." She said so in a dull tone, where she should have been impatient.
Something was odd. Dor'ash narrowed his eyes, watching her stiff posture. Still, when he spoke he tried to sound at ease.
"Nonsense. I'm the one leading you on."
"Well, yes. Fool."
She turned her head again, glancing at the exit briefly before looking the other way with a twitch of her neck.
"Besides," Dor'ash said, voice calm though his gaze never left her for a second, seeking any clue in her expression, "I'm the one who got captured this time, and you showed up with allies."
For a moment a weak sneer flashed over her lips, but it faded almost immediately.
"Mm," she mumbled, sounding distracted.
"Mh?" She looked up at him.
Watching her seriously, Dor'ash lowered his voice even more.
"I mean it, I don't want the draenei to get killed by them," he said, nodding towards the Forsaken.
"You're such a sap." She wet her lips, that human woman she had once been showing through again. Those little things popped up every now and again when she wasn't thinking, but not as often now as they had when she just got her first wave of memories back. "Look, I'd love to reason with them for the sake of your new pets, but if I start acting weird they'll think I'm being taken over again."
As she spoke, she turned away and looked at the rotting people they spoke about.
"How do you know I'm fine, anyway?" she said, sounding distracted again.
No… not distracted, not exactly. Tense, and something else. Dor'ash studied her, jaw set tight.
"I saw a dark aura around you before," he said, "it's gone now."
"It's never gone, not really." Her voice sunk. "He never shuts up. And now he's angry at me."
She stared towards the cave opening, where the other Forsaken stood like skeletal statues, waiting. One hand rose to her lips, and broken teeth bit down on bone.
"Are you feeling well, Sarah?" Dor'ash asked.
"Sarah," he said, his voice deepening with his scowl.
"I'm… fine." Yet she didn't sound it, and a step backwards brought her so close her back brushed against Dor'ash's armor. Without thinking he put a hand on her shoulder, narrowing his eyes at the gap of whirling snow before looking down at her small form.
He had never seen her like this.
"You're scared, aren't you?" he murmured.
Implausible as it was – she jumped as if stung, proving he was correct. Silently, he squeezed her shoulder tighter. Her face turned quickly between him and the Forsaken by the exit, then back again. Just checking to make sure that they were out of earshot and not looking. The draenei she ignored, safe in the knowledge that they probably didn't understand the language.
"I had no idea," she muttered in a tight whisper, shaking her head as she turned around to face him. "He came from inside of me and held me down and I couldn't–"
She cut herself off, twisting her head in another direction. Still she didn't move away, huddling close to him in a way she never, ever had before. Weeks ago in Drakamash Village, when she got her memory back and slumped against his chest after finally calming down, she'd still been herself. She had still been strong.
"Dor'ash," she hissed, "Dor'ash, you have to kill me when it happens again."
He shifted then, stepping between her and the exit before crouching down so that their eyes were at the same level.
"You have to focus," he sternly said. "We'll have our part to play too in this battle. Don't slip on me now."
"Dor'ash!" she snapped, hands slapping against his shoulders. He winced and she immediately released the pressure on the wounded arm, but didn't move otherwise. Lowering her voice, she shook her head again. "Promise you won't ever let him have me."
"Sarah–" he started.
"It's worse than anything, anything…" She stared at him, through the leather straps across her empty eye sockets. "What, do you have to hear it? You're right, I'm scared."
His expression didn't change, but his good arm reached around her thin shoulders.
"Don't be," he said.
From where they stood, the other Forsaken couldn't see what was going on because Dor'ash's massive bulk blocked the view. He was still startled when Sarah stepped closer again, burying her cold face in the curve of his neck like a frightened child. The fact that he still crouched was the only reason that she could reach.
"Allow me a moment," she muttered, breathing cool air against his skin as she spoke. "You'll never have to see the likes again."
It wasn't something he had been prepared for, but he just hummed and let her hide against him for a brief time. He didn't speak, only shifted his grip of her to suit her forwards movement, holding her close.
The snow in her hair and robe melted against the warmth coming from his body, dripping down over his skin and armor.
Finally she straightened and glanced up at his face. Before he could say anything, however, Sarah turned her head to the side in a sharp motion.
"What are you looking at?" she snapped in Common, at the draenei.
"Huh…" Coran said, scratching his black hair.
He was the only one who said anything, vague as it were. Valenia just looked away and Subonai shook his head without a word. Silently, Malo met Dor'ash's gaze and tilted his head to the side curiously.
"Dor'ash," Sarah said.
"What is it?" he asked, looking back to her. He frowned, but it was without any trace of anger.
She looked calmer again, for what it was worth.
"I'm serious, Dor'ash," she said, repeating his name again as if she believed that it alone would beseech him to listen to her. "Promise me I won't be his slave again."
For a moment, he just watched her, working his jaw.
"If there is absolutely no other way," he finally said, gritting out the words. He felt compelled to spit after he had spoken, but controlled himself. There had to be another way, no matter what. There always had to be one.
She looked far too relieved when he studied her.
"Accepting you might die and expecting it are two different things," he sternly said.
Sarah shook her head, glancing in the direction of the other Forsaken.
"It's different for us," she said. "If I was higher up in the Society they'd never even have gone to find you. I wouldn't have let them, we can't have the Lich King–"
She made a strange noise, fingers bending like claws and then freezing. Slowly, she looked up at Dor'ash's face. His lips moved even slower than her head.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I'm… still not thinking straight…"
For a moment he just looked at her. Then, he let out a heavy sigh and let go of her to rub his forehead.
"Did you chose now to slip that little piece of information because I'm too distraught to get angry at you?" he asked.
"No, I– hm." Sarah's shoulders sagged. Though she would fry anyone saying so, she was really good at looking miserable when she was in that kind of mood. Most Forsaken were, when it got down to it. And you'd better not tell a single one of them that. "After we survive," she said, glancing up again, "I'll tell you about it, alright? For now, let's just say I didn't get a choice. Patrick… he liked to arrange things."
That final sentence instantly ripped off a huge chunk of Dor'ash's tension. Sarah fidgeted as she looked up at him, but raised her eyebrows when he snorted and half smiled.
"That explanation is all I need," he said.
"Really?" she asked, suspicion lacing her voice.
He considered it for a second.
"For now, at least," he added.
"Figures…" She tried to smirk, but didn't do very well. "Look, I'm just an errand girl for the Apothecaries."
Dor'ash opened his mouth to once again assure her that he had heard enough about it for the time being, but the sound of footsteps made him straighten and turn around. Quickly, Sarah stepped back from him as if trying to hide evidence of that moment of comfort.
It was the undead swordsman who approached, though a few of the other Forsaken walked a few steps behind him. Watching them, Dor'ash raised his eyebrows in a question, but remained silent. Now what?
He was quite surprised.
"Might the draenei be made useful?" the swordsman asked, and jabbed a bony thumb at the cave opening. "The snowfall is so thick that we won't be able to see the damn things before they're practically upon us. But the vindicators should be able to sense them, correct?"
Dor'ash blinked at this sudden opening, and thought very fast.
"I like that idea," he said, thoughtfully. "And would you grant them free passage after the battle, if they helped us?"
"Pff! What?" the Forsaken said with a cruel chuckle, peering up at Dor'ash in disbelief.
The orc returned the look of cruel amusement with a sneer.
"No, I'm quite serious," he said. "Do you think they would feel helpful if they thought that you would kill them?"
"Ahh, I see." The swordsman's amusement remained, but it took on a calculating tone as he nodded.
"Not only that," Dor'ash said, hoping desperately that this wasn't pushing his luck. "What I tried to tell you earlier was that since they captured me, I've played docile and helpful. I've often found that information garnered from trust is often better than that forced out. You understand, I'm sure."
"Believe me, Shane," Sarah said, stepping up beside Dor'ash. She half turned her head towards the draenei momentarily, then looked at the swordsman again and sneered while patting the orc's arm. "The shorter vindicator had his sword at my throat but this darling dear here talked him out of it. If he says he's got them trusting him, I believe he could pull it off."
Though Shane had looked doubtful, he raised the remains of his eyebrows and looked between the two of them curiously. Several of the other Forsaken in the background looked similarly fascinated.
"How in Sylvanas' name did you get that goodie-doer to think twice?" Shane asked.
"I appealed to his bleeding, blue heart," Dor'ash said with half a shrug. He managed to grin.
For a moment Shane was silent, but then he gave a loud shrug.
"Tell them whatever," he said, and grinned. "We want the vindicators to help, and we'll decide afterwards if they seemed useful."
It was not a promise, but it was more than Dor'ash could have hoped for. He contained the relief he felt and simply nodded, letting his lips twitch.
"Very well, I'll try to talk them into fighting for their own sake," he said.
"Speaking of fighting…" Sarah said and stepped forwards, sounding a lot more like herself again as she turned towards the female warlock and waggled her fingers, palm up. "My staff, Roxanne. Chopchop."
"Ah, of course."
The warlock moved forwards, reaching back and pulling a familiar looking staff from her back. As she raised it, the crystals set at the tip of it flared up with a red glow – despite the fact that they were colored pale violet.
"Sorry about that," Roxanne said with a clattering shrug. "Happens every time. I don't know why."
She handed over the weapon to Sarah, and the crystals took on a glow more suitable for their coloring. With that, the Forsaken turned around and scuffled back towards the entrance of the cave. Only Sarah remained, following Dor'ash as he walked over to the draenei, who all stared at him tensely.
He wished that they could have communicated in a language that the Forsaken couldn't understand, but his grasp of Draenei was limited to five words. There was no choice but to simply speak low and quickly, hoping there was no spying rogue sneaking close, unseen. But, on the other hand he trusted the spirits to warn him if that happened.
"Alright, you have to listen and trust me if you want to get away from here alive, understand?" Dor'ash said. He explained about the trouble with the snow storm, watching their pale, uncertain looks, and then, finally, "I told them that I'm spying on you. I don't know if that'll be enough for them to let me lead you away afterwards, but it might be our only chance."
"What could we possibly know that would be that interesting?" Valenia whispered in a sharp hiss, on the verge of hysteria. Malo put a hand on her shoulder and she closed her glowing eyes, taking in a deep breath and sagging.
Dor'ash started to speak, but once again in a very short while, Sarah surprised him.
"Look at it from the bright side," she said in a tone that wasn't only sarcastic and teasing. "My friends there want to throw themselves at whatever is coming a lot more than the rest of us do."
For that, she earned several odd, uncertain looks obviously wondering if she was trying to be encouraging. Being encouraging by implying that they might be able to crush the remains of the Forsaken defense if they saved their own strength.
Was she truly prepared to betray her own people again, especially those that had saved her from the Lich King's grasp? Looking at her, Dor'ash couldn't feel sure, and he neither could he decide if he really wanted her to be that kind of person. Even for the sake of protecting him and the draenei.
Then she looked up at him and grinned.
"You know I'm only looking out for you, mama," she sweetly said, making Coran and the others blink in disbelief.
Despite all, that was enough to make Dor'ash swat at her head, and she ducked away with a soft chortle.
"That's the worst thing I've ever heard," he said.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, love."
He made a disgusted sound, but then shook his head and sobered. Turning to look at the draenei, he waited to let them digest their situation and their options. They recovered quite quickly from the disturbing nicknames, and exchanged glances. Finally Coran wet his lips and gazed towards the surrounded exit of the cave.
"I sense only them," he muttered and motioned at the Forsaken. "I suppose I would have to… stand closer, too." That prospect obviously didn't please him at all.
Subonai growled low in his throat, tail whipping back and forth in agitation, but he remained silent.
"Could you two not use your far sight to search for the approaching enemy?" Coran asked suddenly, looking between Dor'ash and Malo.
The two shamans exchanged glances and then nodded. Dor'ash turned towards the exit and narrowed his eyes. He would pay for all this use of this power later, he knew, with a pounding headache – he was not really good at it. Yet, it had been necessary before and it was very useful now.
His vision leaped into the white once again. Looking about he saw Malo's glowing spirit close behind, leaving their prison so ridiculously easily. The outline of the draenei shaman met Dor'ash's gaze and shook his head sadly, understanding the bitter irony. But neither of them could focus on that now, turning instead to the whirling world around them.
The wind was pure tendrils, filled with crisp little snowflakes. It toyed with them, casting them about playfully. But the winds that came from a certain direction did not play. They fled, tearing past the snowflakes and tossing them aside in their rush, howling.
Evil unclean disgusting unnatural
Steeling himself Dor'ash leaped against the winds, following them backwards to see what exactly they hated so much. Sooner than he would have wanted, he found the source of the spirits' disgust. Beside him Malo hung frozen, an expression of terrified revulsion on his vague features – trying to figure out what he saw tearing through the snow on long, sticklike legs, fat, bloated bodies sweeping over the pure white ground. Eerily humanlike voices chattered and rasped to each other as the undead creatures moved forwards with one simple goal in sight.
Dor'ash guessed that the draenei never had seen these things before, and he himself wished that he never had laid eyes on them.
He really, really hated Nerubians.
Chapter 4: Rebuilding
The Forsaken were not thrilled to hear the report when Dor'ash and Malo returned from their farsight scrying. Shane even grunted in annoyance before returning to his post by the exit, while the others muttered amongst each other, laying up quick plans – mostly of what to do if they would be caught by a web and ripped outside.
"What by the Light's graces did I just see?" Malo said in a faint voice as soon as Dor'ash turned to him and the rest of the draenei.
"What are Nerubians?" Coran added, his fingers nervously twitching as if wanting to move to the hilt of his sword.
Dor'ash made a face, he couldn't help himself. He had not seen one of those horrors ever since Hyjal, and had been very happy about that.
"You've seen centaurs, right?" he said.
Hesitantly, the draenei nodded – except for Malo, who rubbed his forehead while grimacing.
"Then you have an idea of their shape. Nerubians are much bigger," Dor'ash said. "And they don't really have a human or horse part, they're huge spiders with an upper body. And undead, needless to say."
A brief pause ensued, during which the draenei either exchanged glances or lost themselves in thought, building a mental picture of the creature that had just been described.
"This planet has too many things," Subonai finally growled.
"How do we fight them?" Malo asked, expression changing from dread to determination as he spoke.
For the first time in years, Dor'ash forced himself to think back on the battle on Hyjal. It had taken a lot of willpower to lock down the chaotic imprints on his brain, of rotten, flailing limbs on the ground and blood – blood in more than one color – splattered all over the moving mass of wailing undead. Every sense assaulted, sight with horrors, ears with unearthly cries, taste with bile, smell with the stench, and through it, the burning pain of every instantly infected scratch.
"The head is too far up to reach with weapons at close range," he managed after a second of composing himself again. "The legs are too hard, but you can try to crush the knees to bring them off balance. If they fall, they can still flail and reach far with all their working legs. And most importantly they can shoot webs to catch their foes. We have to free each other quickly if anybody's captured by those."
He looked to his side, meeting Sarah's no-gaze. From the look of her, she hadn't moved or turned her sight away from his face for a second.
"I don't care what the others do," he said, "I'll count on you to burn any webs off of us."
"Can do," she replied, lifting one hand to her forehead in a brief salute. Then the hand returned to its old position of clenching around her staff.
A thought struck suddenly and Dor'ash frowned.
"Have you ever fought Nerub–"
He looked at her tense face and posture for a moment longer, then turned back to the draenei without commenting.
"You are in no prime condition to fight, either," Valenia spoke up. She made a nervous motion towards Dor'ash's wounded arm.
"From your description, I believe we want to stay as far away from these creatures as possible, anyway," Malo pointed out. He frowned towards the icy outside world. "Fire… but the fire spirits are weak in this cold land."
"We still have some firewood from what we gathered before the storm," Coran pointed out, waving a hand towards the campfire. "If we feed the blaze, it will help you, no?"
"It would," Malo agreed. "Do it right away."
Nodding, Coran and Valenia hurried over to toss all the remaining branches and pieces of thawed, dried wood into the campfire. While they did this, Subonai remained silent, scowling towards the exit.
"You're the tactician," Malo told him suddenly.
The frown only grew deeper into the vindicator's forehead. Then he turned towards Malo.
"A trap," he said. "Not that we have much to work with, but anything that can help us somehow must be used." He was silent for a moment, then threw a grudging look at Dor'ash. "How smart are these things?"
"They are commanded by the Lich King's will," Dor'ash replied, shaking his head. "He is no fool. The question is how important he thinks this is. I have no idea if he would or need to put focus into something small like this, or if some of his servants move with a bit of autonomy."
"Even if I managed to piss him off by breaking free again," Sarah suddenly said in Common, "this operation can't be more than chasing after a few breadcrumbs. I can't imagine that anyone of us are powerful enough to really catch his interest."
It sounded as she was trying to calm herself with her own words, but at the same time it made sense. The hint of relief in her voice was probably valid. Dor'ash nodded at her with a grunted hum, wanting to give her some kind of comforting assurance but not managing more.
Together with Malo, he then quickly went about following the simple plan Subonai offered. It wasn't much, but it might do some little good.
Then, they could only wait. Coran and Subonai moved to stand closer to the exit, at the same time trying to stay as far away from the undead as possible.
Minutes slipped by at a snail's pace. Nobody spoke apart from a few quick, whispered words. The Forsaken said nothing, only stood there in wait, seemingly unconcerned.
Dor'ash wasn't sure how long had passed, not more than half an hour though, when Subonai straightened up with a sharp clatter of armor and Coran nervously muttered to him.
"Something is outside," Subonai said.
The Forsaken chattered amongst themselves, raising their weapons. Dor'ash's muscles tensed, and he glanced quickly at Sarah. She stared at the exit, edging closer to him.
Big, grey shadows gathered outside. They were so deep within the wall of whirling snow that the legs were invisible, and the plump bodies seemed to hover in the storm, unconcerned with the hard wind.
"Don't go anywhere, Sarah," Dor'ash said, reaching out to put his good hand between her and the rest of the world.
"If you say so," she shot back. Despite her sarcastic words, she didn't even try to hide the tone of relief. Probably didn't have enough focus to spare for that.
A Forsaken warrior cried out sharply, leaping back. The man beside him was not so quick, and a thick, white rope hit him in the chest where it stuck. Almost no snow clung to the cord, so quickly had it crossed the air outside. One of the undead mages flung her hand towards the rope, but the blast of fire only singed the back of the warrior's armor as he was forcefully yanked outside. His angry shriek disappeared amongst the winds, and the hovering shadows dove towards a singular point.
"Now!" Subonai barked.
Instantly Malo threw up both his arms, Dor'ash his one good. The mages and warlocks cried out in near unison. Arcane projectiles swarmed outside, just as the shamans' fire totems, hidden in the snow, exploded. The Nerubians screeched and scattered, but one of them, having taken the brunt of the magical assault, collapsed.
However, the shadows skittered back, and sticky ropes whipped through the entrance at the fleeing Forsaken, as well as inky bolts of pure malevolent power that uselessly tore at the opening.
And now the dilemma was apparent.
They were relatively safe inside the cave, as the Nerubians could not make it inside for their great bulk. However, that also made a charge outside risky, as even though the Forsaken were thin, they would not be able to squeeze through en masse, an approach that would give the Scourge ample time to see them and pick them off before they got through.
But they had to fight back somehow.
A warlock dashed across the floor with a complaining imp at his heels. In mid-run he threw out his arm and sent a wave of fire through the exit. The Nerubians screeched, but only in anger, none in pain. Others followed the warlock's example, ducking web threads at the best of their ability.
There were quirks that came with being a shaman, but Dor'ash had never considered himself very powerful. However, there was no other explanation for how he could act without warning. On pure instinct he lashed out his arm in front of Sarah's face, just when a sticky rope shot through the opening and across the cave – proving that they had not stood far enough inside, after all. The rope slapped into his glove and immediately went taut, jerking so hard that he stumbled forwards, for a moment thinking his shoulder would be pulled out of joint. Then Sarah furiously shrieked, and a blast of fire tore the rope to ashes. Dor'ash stumbled backwards, and from outside an angry, hoarse screech could be heard as one of the Nerubians momentarily lost its balance.
Immediately waves of fire and arcane projectiles flared out from the hands of the Forsaken who were skilled in magic, and the screech rose higher before silencing suddenly.
Growling in pain Dor'ash shook his hand and arm, though relieved that he could still use it. He looked around, but Sarah was already beside him, clamping her hand forcefully onto his sleeve. He felt the pressure as her sharp fingertips dug into the leather beneath the fur.
"Good save," he muttered.
She made a croaky humming sound, tightening her grip of him. Suppressing the instinct to grab her shoulder and draw her closer to him, Dor'ash straightened and focused on what was in front of them.
The battle was a drawn out, twisted game of chances and risks. The magic users leaped back and forth in front of the cave opening, setting off blasts of magic, ducking the black flares and sticky threads aimed at them. Those with no ability to use such attacks attempted to confuse the Nerubians to waste a web by also leaping back and forth, dodging as best they could, giving the mages and warlocks a brief opening. It seemed as if it would merely be a question of undead persistence, and which group could keep this up for the longest.
And then Coran suddenly threw a confused look over his shoulder just as he rushed across the floor to help confuse the Nerubians. He skidded to a halt, hooves screeching against the hard rock ground, turning around and twisting his head back and forth, looking down.
"Subonai–?" he called, sounding very much like he wanted to doubt his senses.
Dor'ash turned to see the other vindicator spun around, staring at the ground in disbelief. It had to be pure rock. Had to be.
He met the milky yellow glow from Shane's suddenly wide eyes. Sarah hissed.
The cave floor cracked.
"Melee, at the ready!" Shane hollered.
Dor'ash caught Subonai's furious, accusatory gaze and returned it with a quick, disbelieving shake of his head. He hadn't said a word about Nerubians being able to tunnel through stone, because he had never known they could do that. At that point in time, neither the Horde nor Alliance had yet descended into the depths of Azjol-Nerub or Ahn'kahet and seen just how persistent the undead spider creatures could be.
Another crack, and then chunks of rock flew in all directions as the first monstrous body tore through, giving them all a full view of just what they were fighting. The shadows flared with hastily cast magic and the nervously flicking camp fire, only partly cloaking the flailing legs and swinging body. Snow clung to the patchy, moldy fur covering parts of the swollen hind part and the thinner other, rounded tagma as well as the vertically rising chest.
Its huge exposed fangs swung, clattering together as it hissed and launched itself towards the largest group, that being most of the Forsaken and Coran. A skeletal warrior immediately got in the way of a swinging leg and was sent flying, hitting the wall and crashing on the floor with a hard clatter. Dor'ash cursed and recoiled, shoving Sarah behind him without even thinking. She followed his motion and ducked out of sight, but in the next moment swept out on the other side of him, flinging a fireball towards the snarling Nerubian's back. It didn't react, too busy swinging away at the scattering Forsaken in front of it to care that its back briefly caught fire.
Another bipedal claw hand was already thrashing around the edge of the gap from below, warning that another Nerubian was on its way.
In the moment of confusion, a sticky rope whipped inside and snatched the warlock Roxanne by her ankle. She fell over, screeched while she clawed at the floor, and was ripped outside. With a furious snarl, her felhunter loped outside after her.
"Get away from the freakin' door!" one of the other Forsaken shouted, a little too late.
"Out of my way!" Subonai roared and charged.
The second Nerubian stuck its head out of the hole only to be met with a sideways swing from a mace. It recoiled, but with a loud crack the mace connected with one of the spider's horizontal tusk. The broken off piece hit the ground as the Nerubian shrieked in fury and hauled itself onto the floor to chase after Subonai, who was now charging towards the first spider. That one turned around at the unexpected cry of its ally and snarled at Subonai.
The draenei's shield arm flew up above his head and parried a downwards smash from wicked claw fist, and he spun around with the movement, sidestepping a second blow. The Nerubian momentarily lost its balance as it struck empty air, and Subonai's mace swung upwards to catch the spider in its chest. A crunching sound of exoskeleton shattering, and black slime oozed out of the wound. The Nerubian reeled back, and in that moment that it was disoriented, the Forsaken fell over it with magic and weapons. Pure white flashes burning the spider showed that Valenia was not merely skilled in healing.
Subonai didn't even stop to watch the Nerubian be hacked up and burned, busy as he was blocking and avoiding the furious attacks from the second one. He danced around it, dangerously quick even if his heavy plate armor hampered his movements somewhat – not enough to slow him down too much, though. Now he backed rapidly, leading his opponent further away from the cave opening. His second reason for that soon showed itself. Yet another Nerubian was clambering up from the hole, only to be met in the face with Subonai's hoof. It jerked back and then shot upwards with an enraged screech. Subonai found himself fighting two Nerubians at the same time, something he had barely avoided moments earlier.
He didn't even flinch, instead called out in Draenei and slammed his hoof into the ground with a resounding crack. It looked as if the stone floor shattered, a network of pure glowing threads flaring out around Subonai's hooves. The Nerubians shrieked in pain, skittering around on the suddenly holy ground, trying to avoid touching the cracks but too furious to cease attacking. It offered more openings for attacks, however, and Subonai continued to prove himself a worthy adversary, ever moving with the same swift brutality that kept him safe from almost every blow.
For a moment even Dor'ash, for all the battles he had seen, stood thunderstruck at the sheer display. No matter what he thought about Subonai personally, he had to admit that the vindicator was a formidable warrior.
But with that thought came another, much more chilling one – that the Forsaken that were now taking advantage of Subonai's battle skill were also watching him, and seeing a great Alliance soldier.
He was torn out of these thoughts at Valenia's warning shout. Scratches and waggling arms searching for purchase announced that another Nerubian was on its way inside, and fast. No matter how great a fighter Subonai was, he could not be able to keep up for long, and not against even more opponents.
"They're all coming inside!" Coran shouted, glancing briefly around while slashing at one of the great spiders' backside.
Dor'ash tossed out another fire totem in between channeling lighting and bursts of flames in his good hand to send at the undead monstrosities. There was not much to call upon to the totem, however. The fire spirits that had gathered by feeding the camp fire were in unfriendly territory to begin with, weakening their ability to reach into the world of the living to give any help at all. Only pitiful fireballs launched towards the spiders, at irregular intervals. He might as well not do it at all.
Another Forsaken fell under the flailing limbs of the Nerubians, blindly stomped and torn at by the furious spider focusing on Subonai. At this point, the sole reason that the vindicator was not starting to show signs of weariness had to be that Valenia had completely abandoned attacking, and the glow of her hands was directed only at Subonai.
Looking in the priestess' and Malo's direction, Dor'ash noticed the shaman had also ceased casting spells towards the Nerubians. Instead, Malo was on one knee, his head bowed and hands held over a slightly larger totem than the ones he had planted in the snow earlier. Red wisps swirled around the bulky totem, flickering nervously as Malo's lips rapidly moved. In the air a few feet in front of the draenei shaman, flames sparked, then started to steadily rise and take a more solid shape. A pair of golden bracers flared into existence around two bulky arms and the fire elemental raised its sharp head, eyes narrowing as it started forwards. But it was small, and looked a whole lot thinner than it ought to.
Inspiration struck, and Dor'ash ceased his current spell and threw out his hand. Sarah yelped as he almost shoved at her with the motion, but he was focusing too hard to offer her more than a grunt in apology. The weak ribbons of fire dancing around his own totem faltered and disappeared in a puff of smoke as he urged the spirits he had called to instead head to Malo's totem. The draenei gave a start and briefly turned his glowing eyes towards Dor'ash, meeting the orc's determined look. In that brief second, the fire elemental's form filled out with ethereal muscles. Still not as much as it ought to, but enough to give it more confidence. Roaring and crackling, it tore into one Nerubian's side, burning right through the exoskeleton. The spider shrieked and tried to turn around, but the elemental followed the motion, staying out of reach. Howling, the Nerubian toppled as two of its legs were seared out of socket by the flames. The Forsaken leaped at it, while the elemental turned and headed for the next coming out of the hole and Subonai and Coran kept the third one busy.
The next few minutes were a blur of shrieks, yells and flashing weapons and flailing limbs. Dor'ash cast spell after spell until he wobbled and Sarah held on to his side as if she could possibly support his bulk. The fire elemental fell at some point, but he could hardly even tell when it happened.
The world swam before Dor'ash's eyes, and it took several moments before he realized that the last shriek was not followed by another one. Blinking, he looked around.
Out of the original group of Forsaken, only six remained standing, excluding Sarah. One or two of those lying on the floor still moved, grunting in annoyance as they tried to get up.
Subonai staggered backwards away from the last fallen Nerubian, and his mace slid out of his numb, grimy grip to clatter hard against the floor. Another stagger, and his plate armor clanged as he heavily sunk to one knee. His ragged breathing shook him, loud in that hazy, dreamlike air where realization of victory had not quite sunken in.
The galloping sound of Valenia rushing to Subonai's side worked like a wake up call. At first Coran moved forwards hesitantly, like he was sleepwalking, but then he too hurried forwards to the kneeling vindicator, and Malo joined them a moment later.
Dor'ash shook his head to clear it. It took another second before he caught up on that Sarah was talking to him. He looked down at her, blinking, watching her dig her claw-like fingertips into his fur lined sleeve.
"I said, are you alright?" she asked in a raspy voice.
"Yes." Even so, he winced slightly when he rolled his good shoulder and a sharp sting coiled through the whole arm. Nothing too bad, but that violent pull was still sorely remembered by his muscles and joints. "Yes, I'm good." He looked her over. "What about you?"
"I'll be great when we're off this goddamn mountain," she grumbled, fingers twitching as she inched closer to him for a second, then moved back again as if catching herself.
Dor'ash let out a loud breath and nodded agreement. Personally, he'd be fine with returning to Alterac Valley, but he understood her feelings too.
He sat down, somewhat wobbly and not sure if he'd be able to stand up again anytime soon, as his still movable arm gave him clear signals that it did not want to be used for propping him up. Sarah's feeble attempts to support him would have been a joke on her part in any other situation – it was laughable, but also bizarre that she did try to help him keep his balance. He hummed a tired thanks at her, unsure what to say. In the next moment she was sitting beside him on the floor, lips pressed tightly together.
The other Forsaken were starting to clean up, looking over their losses and seeing what could be salvaged. Two of them carefully approached the door, waved their arms in the opening and, when nothing happened, stalked outside to check on the ones that had been ripped out of the cave. They returned moments later, shaking their heads.
Shane hobbled towards Dor'ash and Sarah, unceremoniously using his sword as a makeshift crutch. Most of his left leg laid on the floor beside one of the Nerubians.
"This is annoying," Shane stated in a low voice as he stopped in front of Dor'ash and Sarah.
"What?" Dor'ash asked, too tired to be wary.
"It's a bother." Shane made a slight sideways nod towards the draenei. Under the warm glow from Valenia's hands, Subonai was straightening up. "They're still fit enough to put up a fight. We couldn't get close to the shaman and the priestess, and now our rogues are in no condition to sneak up on them." The Forsaken motioned with his thumb towards a heap of bone and dark leather armor in a corner.
Dor'ash slowly blinked. It took a few seconds before it clicked, and when it did a dark stream of dread poured into his heart. Somehow he managed to bite it back and silently nodded. Once he got over the first shock he wasn't in the least bit surprised, and that was probably the only reason he could remain calm.
"We're too weakened to make it clean," Shane continued. He eyed the orc shaman before him. "What about the last two? We want to be sure they all die."
Dor'ash nodded again, glad that Sarah remained quiet. He thought fast – when she first appeared, he had told Roxanne that he didn't want the draenei killed, and she had understood it as merely a question of being honor bound. And Roxanne had been killed by the Nerubians. Judging by Shane's words now, she had not bothered to tell him about the silly orc's dilemma about the Alliance filth.
"I can take care of them," he said.
"Are you sure–"
"They seem to trust me, at least more than you. And they don't know this area." Dor'ash forced the shadow of a smirk. "As long as the vindicators are dealt with."
"You won't have to worry about them for long," he assured. Dor'ash wanted to grab his rotten head and twist it off his shoulders. He controlled himself though.
"I'll lead them off," Dor'ash said, calmly, brushing Sarah's arm with his knuckles. She mutely looked at him. "And she can make a portal. They can't."
Shane nodded, apparently satisfied with this simple plan. Giving a brief salute, he hobbled back towards his kin and ordered them to gather the remains of the fallen and for one of the mages to prepare a portal to the Undercity.
Grunting, Dor'ash worked himself to his feet and headed for the draenei. He had to struggle with himself to not rush, knowing that time was bleeding away for Coran and Subonai. Sarah still said nothing, following him like a thin shadow.
Malo and the others looked around when the orc and undead approached, then glanced towards the Forsaken who were dragging their allies towards a single point on the floor. With some help, Subonai got to his hooves.
"Is that it?" the veteran vindicator suspiciously asked, and the other draenei looked no less doubtful.
Dor'ash couldn't blame them, especially since they had good reason to be suspicious. He could have tried to say something calming, but the blunt truth was probably the best way to go. They couldn't waste a single second. He spoke the first word in a growling whisper.
"No." Then, louder, still in Common now, "we need to get out of here before they change their minds. Or something else comes this way."
"And go where?" Valenia asked, looking at the exit. The snow storm was not quite so violent as it had been before, but the wind still howled.
"There are other places we can take shelter," Dor'ash said. He shook his head. "Even if the Forsaken are leaving, the Scourge knows of this place now. There's no telling if there will be another assault."
Valenia paled, and both she and Coran quickly looked between Malo and Subonai. The draenei shaman didn't hesitate for a moment.
"I see no reason for distrust at this point," Malo firmly said. "And I wish to be away from here."
Subonai growled. Unlike Malo, he seemed to see reason to doubt. Yet, he nodded.
"You walk first," he snapped at Dor'ash.
"Very well." Dor'ash was not in a mood to be annoyed at Subonai's tone. Whatever got all of them away from the cave while there was still time, he was prepared to deal with.
Even if the draenei hurried to toss their abandoned cooking tools and blankets on the nervous elekks' backs, it seemed to Dor'ash that it took forever. He didn't speak, just watched and tried to stay calm. There were no signs showing on Coran or Subonai that they had been poisoned, but Dor'ash didn't doubt that Shane had spoken true. There had been many close brushes before and during the main fight, when one of the undead rogues could have struck without notice. Too much going on to take heed of a small sting, and even plate armor had openings. Especially the draenei's tails, while they too had some armor, were open for attack.
It didn't matter where they had been struck. Dor'ash glanced at Sarah, who looked back in silence. He felt uneasy, not daring to speak to her about it yet. If the Forsaken suspected that he had no actual plans to lead the draenei to their deaths, there would be trouble.
Malo looked at Dor'ash briefly, then grabbed the orc's bags from the ground and tied them to the saddle of one of the elekks.
"Let's leave this place," the draenei shaman said, grasping his mounts' reins.
Nodding, Dor'ash motioned at them to follow him. Sarah walked by his side as he headed for the exit. Even if the two of them walked in a fairly straight line, the draenei took a longer route to stay away from both the toiling Forsaken and the fallen Nerubians.
They were seemingly ignored by the undead, but Dor'ash didn't relax even when he stepped outside and the wind hit him in the face with an onslaught of icy pinpricks. He looked down when Sarah ducked around him. She merely moved to the other side of him, so that his bulk protected her against the worst wind.
Looking around, Dor'ash watched to make sure that all the draenei and their mounts made it out of the cave safe. The wind was too hard to carry on a conversation, and he did not want to say anything yet either way. He merely waved at them to keep following him, and set off deeper into the whirling snowflakes.
It was a slow walk. Painfully slow. At best the snow rose up to his knees, and the wind relentlessly tugged at him. Sarah grasped his arm and let his steps drag her forwards, in an attempt to not fall behind. He half turned and bent down then, bending his good arm towards his chest. She looked at him doubtfully.
"You're hurt!" she yelled to be heard over the wind.
"No time. Up!" he replied.
After another second of hesitation she grasped his shoulderpad and clambered onto his arm, seating herself with her knees against his chest. He straightened, not too bothered with her weight as she hardly had any to speak of. Still, he hoped even more than before that he would not slip on a snow covered patch ice and fall.
Carrying Sarah on his arm like a freakish child did at least make it possible for him to speak with her at a normal tone, one that he didn't have to worry about would be heard by others. Not in that hard wind.
"How much time do we have?" he asked her, speaking close to the remains of one of her ears to be sure.
Her hands clenched against his shoulderpad, and she pulled herself up to get her mouth closer to his ear in turn.
"I don't know what they used," she said.
Dor'ash sighed and nodded. Figured. He was about to ask her about his theory of a possible cure, but when he threw a glance at the draenei he saw Coran stagger and raise a hand to his high forehead, a confused, uneasy look on his face.
Growling, Dor'ash turned and faced the others, moving back enough to speak with them. He wasn't sure if they had gotten far enough away from the cave, but he could no longer see it through the whirling snow.
"Are any of the Forsaken following us?" Dor'ash asked. He had to repeat himself before Subonai and Coran heard it well enough to shake their heads in reply. "Good, but we have another problem."
"Now what?" Subonai yelled, absently leaning on his elekk.
"You have to keep trusting me," Dor'ash replied in a steady tone. He did lie a little next, though. "I think they poisoned the two of you during the fight."
For a moment all four of them just stared at him. Sarah huddled closer to his chest, grumbling.
"I didn't feel anything when I healed them!" Valenia protested. As if to prove her point she reached out and touched Subonai's plated arm, her fingertips glowing softly. Upon the light brush, however, she froze and her mouth fell open. The vindicator shifted his stance, looking at Coran, who uneasily massaged his forehead.
They all looked at Dor'ash and Sarah again. Even Malo's face took on a guarded expression.
"I know where to find shelter, but we have to hurry," Dor'ash grimly said. "We have to work on figuring out an antidote from there."
Growling, Subonai shook his head in disbelief.
"You're asking a lot, orc!" he snapped.
"Do you want to live, draenei?" Dor'ash met Subonai's glare for a moment. His patience hung by a thin hair, indeed. "Not that much to ask, is it?"
Malo stepped forwards and put a hand on Subonai's armored shoulder, shoving lightly. The movements, as well as the shaman's face, were tired and haggard, however. His mouth seemed to form a sigh, but the wind tore apart both the sound of it and the small cloud that would have formed in the cold air.
"Enough," Malo said. He sounded much older than he had before. "This is idiotic." He looked at Dor'ash. "Right now, you could lead us straight to Kil'jaeden for all I care."
"I'll do no such thing," Dor'ash replied. He might have smiled at Malo's bizarre words normally, but he was in no mood for that. Turning around, he waved at the draenei to follow him. He was relieved when they did so, climbing into the elekk's saddles.
For a while, he walked ahead with little help from his eyes. Had he not been a shaman, he would have had a much more difficult time. The spirits of the land answered his prayer murmured through clenched teeth, however, and he listened intently to their urging, trusting them to lead him straight ahead to where he wanted to bring himself and his allies.
Even with guidance it was a precarious walk as he could not use either arm for balance, and the landscape was far from smooth. At first, Sarah lifted her thin arms to shield his eyes from the wind and snow. The second time he swayed, however, nearly loosing his balance because of having to jump down a jagged slope, she made an annoyed "tch!" sound.
"Hold still," she grumbled and dragged herself up.
She used his arm as a stepping stone at first, reaching around his neck and clasping her hands. Then she clambered down under his good arm and somehow managed to wrap her legs around his waist. It gave him more freedom of movement without putting strain on his wounded arm, while still carrying her.
On the other hand, it had to look positively moronic.
Dor'ash lifted his good arm to see her face and give her a doubtful look.
"Move it, I don't want to do this for longer than I have to," she shouted.
After a moment he nodded agreement and continued onwards, not daring to check how the draenei were looking at the two of them. As he walked, he muttered another prayer to the winds, to hide the tracks behind them.
The minutes of walking dragged on, and he was almost starting to wonder if they were making any ground at all, when finally tall shadows emerged within the storm to grow darker and higher for every step forwards.
Dor'ash squinted at the cliffs rising around them. In the snowfall, it was difficult to recognize the familiar angles and dips in the rock formations, however he followed his memories and the whisper of the spirits. Malo and Valenia didn't even exchange glances when Dor'ash motioned at them to follow, reassuringly, and headed straight towards a solid, frozen wall of rock. As he glanced around Dor'ash didn't fail to notice that by now, Subonai couldn't even keep his head up and slumped in his saddle, while Coran at least managed to sit straight.
Even Sarah looked tired, bowing her head against his side. At this point, maybe she was only holding on because her joints had frozen solid.
Reaching the cliff, Dor'ash moved along it until he caught sight of what he had been looking for – a chunk of rock leaning against the natural wall, half buried in snow. Gently urging Sarah to slip down on the ground, he walked around the rock and plunged his good hand into the thick layer of chilly white, brushing it away. The glove could only keep the cold out so well, freezing as he already was, and his fingers quickly numbed. However he ignored it and quickly uncovered what was draped between the rock and the cliff. A thick hide, colored like the stones around it. He unlatched it and pushed it aside. Snow tumbled down all around by the rude motion, revealing the hidden opening behind the cover.
"There should be coals for a fire," he told Sarah as he waved her inside. A weak, but relieved grin answered him, and she disappeared into the darkness. Just a second later a flame flared up from her hand, illuminating her thin form against the insides of the cave.
Malo and Valenia helped the two vindicators off the elekks, the shaman supporting first Subonai, then Coran inside. Then the shaman and the priestess took turns bringing the elekks into the cave. The opening wasn't wide enough for more than one animal to enter at the time, but finally Dor'ash could move inside after the final mount. The storm was picking up again, not as badly as the last, but it sent the snow whirling in a whole other way. It should still be enough to hide all their tracks and cover the opening again quickly. He whispered a prayer of thanks to the wind spirits and fastened the hide on the hooks set in the rock.
To close the "door" should have cast the cave in complete darkness save for the fire in Sarah's hand, but by then she had already found the basket of coals and set a heap of them aflame in a blocky, simple fireplace placed in the middle of the cave. A most welcome warmth slowly spread from the center of the room.
Though looking at the insides of the cave in bewilderment, Valenia and Malo were helping their ailing friends to sit down on two simple beds – just cut slabs of rock close to the fireplace, covered with old furs. There were three more of the same. The elekks were settling down in the back of the cave, where a deeper hollow had been carved. Two of them brushed their trunks into an empty water trough by the wall, sniffing hopefully.
Apart from the well filled basket of coals, along the wall hung a couple of cooking pots and on a natural shelf beside them were a few items such as a grind stone, flint and a closed box of tinder.
"What is this place?" Valenia asked, looking around.
"Frostwolf shelter," Dor'ash replied as he reached up and took one of the smaller pots from the wall. Going back to the entrance, he unlatched the hide again just enough to reach out and scoop up some clean snow in the container. Closing the door again, he went back and set the pot in the fireplace, beside the burning coals, to let the snow melt.
He could have just asked the elements for help with water, but they had already done so much for him today. Also, it was not the orcish way, to ask the spirits for things which simply could be gained in other ways.
"We have a few of these in the mountains," he clarified as he walked, then smiled wryly. "No, I shouldn't really have shown it to you. I believe the Warchief would allow it if he heard the whole story, though. Either way, I don't think you could find it again."
"I highly doubt we could," Malo agreed, taking off his helmet and wiping his high forehead. He didn't put the helmet back on, but placed it on the floor. He then looked at Subonai, who clawed at the leather straps holding his own plate armor in place. The vindicator looked far from pleased, but the look of him spoke clearly that he needed to lie down, and the armor was in the way.
Without a word Malo went to help Subonai, while Coran fared a little better on his own. Valenia joined too after a moment after glancing between Malo's discarded helmet and his face. It took a little while, but finally the pieces of armor were gathered on the floor and the vindicators could be helped to lay back.
In the meantime Dor'ash helped himself to his backpack from Malo's saddle, and started digging through it.
Moving her glowing hands in nervous little circles around Subonai's pale face, Valenia turned her face towards Dor'ash. Her spells probably did very little save slow the poison.
"Why are you helping us so much?" she wondered, her glowing eyes narrowed.
Despite all, or perhaps precisely because of it all, he couldn't really blame her for her refusal to trust. Her friends were practically dying in front of her.
"If you still don't believe in my honor," Dor'ash said in a dry tone, looking up just briefly, "neither I nor Sarah are in a condition to safely make it down the mountain on our own."
Valenia started to say something along the lines of a weak "it's not like that," but hearing the last part of his explanation her mouth snapped shut and she turned away.
"I don't think she got the joke," Sarah sneered, speaking Common for the occasion.
Dor'ash just shrugged. His fingers finally met with what he sought, and with a triumphant grunt he took out a small, carefully wrapped package from his backpack.
"This antidote you once gave me," he said in Common, looking at Sarah, "will it help?"
"That, after Stranglethorn?" she asked, after a quick look at the package in his hand. But she didn't wait for him to answer, instead turning to thoughtfully study the two vindicators. "Probably. As long as they didn't use some of our newer concoctions. I wouldn't be surprised if they did."
Clenching his jaw, Dor'ash unwrapped the vial. Months had passed since she gave it to him, but the oddly teal colored mixture looked no different than he remembered. When he tilted the container, the liquid slipped around without even leaving a dried coating on the glass walls.
"They'll have to drink it, since the poison has worked on them for so long already," Sarah said, lips stretching in an amused smirk. "It's very foul. But it does it's job."
"What if it doesn't?" Dor'ash asked, giving her a sharp look.
"They'll have to walk for a while to find ground suited for burial, I suppose," she said, reverting back to Orcish.
"What did she say?" Valenia demanded in a high-pitched voice.
"She pretty much said that then, that's too bad," Dor'ash said, but his eyes were hard as he looked at Sarah.
She ignored him, wiggling her cold fingers close to the fire. Melting snow and ice slowly soaked into her robe. At least, it looked as if she had no plans to just drag the heavy cloth off of her body and let it dry on its own. Had they been alone, she would have done so already – she felt no shame to show what remained of her body to Dor'ash. The fact that she did not undress, Dor'ash hoped, said something about feeling some shred of respect for the draenei.
"Mix a drop or two in a cup of water," Sarah suddenly said in Common, looking into the fire still. "It's no good concentrated. Well, it'll be a little easier to bear."
Dor'ash nodded, remembering she had said something of the sort when she gave him the potion. That was one of the reasons why he had gone to fetch snow in the pot earlier.
For a moment, Malo and Valenia looked at each other. Then the priestess took in a deep breath and reached for one of the draenei's packs. Moving stiffly, she dug out a couple of wood mugs and then went to scoop up melted water in both of them from the pot.
Not without a sense of apprehension, Dor'ash uncorked the vial. However, much to his surprise there was no horrid stench that immediately tried to murder his nose. The liquid only smelled like something akin to sweet dust. When Valenia offered the mugs with slightly shaking hands, Dor'ash carefully tilted the vial above each of them in turn, letting a couple of drops fall into the water. The liquid was thicker than water, and easily formed drops when reaching the edge of the container.
Valenia suspiciously sniffed at the air, frowning. She hesitated for another moment, then handed one of the cups to Malo and headed over to Coran. The vindicator struggled to sit up, drooping as much as Subonai now. He tried to hold the mug when Valenia offered it, but she had to help him. Probably feeling too sick to care anymore, Coran didn't even hesitate before he started gulping down the medicine. His face didn't change at all through it, and he laid back down when Valenia took away the mug.
Dor'ash watched this, and when Malo managed to urge Subonai into drinking from the other mug he turned to Sarah.
"I thought you said that thing tastes so bad it makes undead throw up," Dor'ash said, quirking an eyebrow at her.
Dor'ash fixed her with one of his long, blank looks, but his head twisted around when Coran made a weak, disgusted sound and reached for his own mouth. Subonai followed suit seconds later, coughing and spitting.
"It's the aftertaste you should worry about," Sarah clarified in Common, smiling wide.
Grunting, Dor'ash grabbed the pot and held it out to Valenia as she quickly took out two clean mugs to let the vindicators rinse down the foul taste. Neither of the two men managed to sit up on their own by now, and they heavily fell down again after being helped to a second drink, glowing eyes closed.
"It's doing something…" Valenia murmured, pressing a hand to Coran's glistening brow. She was silent for a moment, then looked up with a desperate scowl. "No, it's just slowing the poison. I can feel it, it's still there."
"Are you sure it's not just slow to work?" Malo said in a tense voice.
Dor'ash didn't even bother waiting to see Valenia shake her head. He had already turned to Sarah.
"If that wasn't enough, you could make a working antidote, couldn't you?" he said. It wasn't really a question.
Sarah poked at the burning coals with her finger, sending sparks flying as the glowing lumps tumbled. Steam rose from the wet, raw bone of her hand and lower arm.
"Now we're starting to talk treason," she stated, in Orcish and a matter of fact voice.
The worst part, he figured later, was how quickly the disbelief passed through him. It was, however, replaced with steel hard determination.
"It's not treason," he said with some cold. Unlike her, he spoke Common. "Regard it as a diplomatic gesture."
She refused to play along and answered him in his native tongue.
"Diplomacy is the forte of your leader," she said and poked another coal. "Mine would have buried an arrow in each of their glowing eyes by now."
"Sarah, for the love of the spirits!" Dor'ash snarled.
"All this happened because he had to go and kidnap you!" she snapped, finally looking up and pointing at Coran while sneering. "Forgive me for not feeling very helpful."
"And what do you think that last yeti would have done to us if he hadn't killed it?"
With a clatter she sourly folded her arms and looked away.
"Don't be childish," he growled.
"I'm being a loyal subject of Lady Sylvanas and the Horde, thank you very much."
He narrowed his eyes. Well, if she was going to be like that…
"Loyal, are you? Fine, then," he said. "Technically I am still their prisoner, and for all you know they are holding me hostage."
Sarah stared up at him in disbelief. Malo and Valenia both mirrored that expression, looking between the kneeling little woman and the huge orc towering over her.
After a moment Sarah's arms fell to her sides and she shook her head.
"You goddamn green teddy bear," she muttered.
"I could hold a dagger to my own throat, if that makes you feel better," he replied. He didn't care that what he just said was moronic. The whole situation was bizarre, had been for the last few hours.
She just looked at him for another moment, then sighed heavily and turned to the draenei. This time, she spoke Common.
"Do either of you know anything about alchemy?" she gruffly asked.
The two still standing ones exchanged glances.
"I am fairly accomplished in that trade," Malo admitted after a moment.
"Oh goodie." Sarah stepped forwards and sat down on the ground a few steps away from him. "Since we're being traitors today, I'll just tell you how to make an antidote. Because I assume you don't want to feed them something I mix up myself."
She held out a hand, and added:
"But I'm going to need a blood sample. I'm not sure which poison they used."
Malo pursed his lips, but from one of his bags he produced an empty vial with flat rather than rounded edges around the opening. Then he nodded to Valenia. Though she looked uneasy she took out a dagger and made a cut in Coran's tail. The vindicator grunted a vague protest, but didn't stir beyond that. Blood dripped out and Malo held his vial just below the slash, collecting the blue liquid. Once it was half full, he removed the glass container and handed it to Sarah, while Valenia healed the cut.
While that was going on, Sarah rummaged around in one of her bags and pulled out a few empty vials of her own, as well as several small, differently colored bottles. She even took out a small metal scaffold to put vials in to keep them upright. Once Malo offered the blood, she took it and swiftly divided it between containers that she lined up in the scaffold.
Her work was brisk and methodical, unaffected by the fact that she had a tense audience.
"By the way, handsome," Sarah suddenly said, while dripping the contents of one of the bottles into a blood vial, "are you trying to complete a collection?"
"Hmm?" Dor'ash said, raising an eyebrow at her.
She corked the vial and looked up while holding it between two fingers and shaking it to blend the liquid inside. Whatever she had mixed the blood with, it took on a much darker shade of blue.
"I'm just saying," she said. "First that moron Thomas, then you wouldn't kill the nelf bear in Azshara, and now you're making friends with a bunch of space goats." She snorted. "Just so we're clear, the moment you as much as start talking with a gnome, I'm outta here."
"Why then, I thought you hated elves the most?" Dor'ash said, lips twitching.
"Elves are annoying and think too highly of themselves. But at least they aren't freakin' creepy."
Dor'ash stared at her for a moment, then he smirked and shook his head. Had the situation been a little less tense, he would have laughed, but the joke wasn't enough to make him ease up that much.
"Are you scared of gnomes?" Malo asked, watching Sarah with his eyebrows raised.
"Scared, no, but haven't you seen them walk?" Sarah said, using two fingers of her free hand to demonstrate the quick, pudgy way of striding. "Also, some of them have pink hair. Pink. They're hideous. And that's coming from…"
"And that's coming from a talking corpse," Dor'ash spoke along with her.
Malo and Valenia exchanged the glances of two people not knowing whether they or their company have gone insane.
Dor'ash still smirked lightly, an expression Sarah returned. The fact that she had been safely returned to him was still sinking in, and he would have wanted to keep up their joking for a long time.
In a second he turned serious, however, and tapped his finger at the air in the direction of the mixture she was still absentmindedly shaking. There were more important issues at hand.
Rolling her entire head, Sarah held up the vial, tilted, in one hand and pointed at it from below with the other. At her mumbled spell a small flame appeared above the tip of her pointing finger, licking at the bottom of the glass container. After a little while the liquid began to ooze.
Ceasing the spell, Sarah held up the vial in front of her eyes and frowned. Slowly, the smoke within it faltered and the mixture settled. It looked just the same as before she let it boil.
With an annoyed sound Sarah uncorked the vial, releasing a foul, metallic smell. She just poured the mixture into a crevasse in the ground and started over with another vial and some other ingredients. Meanwhile, Coran and Subonai's breathing only grew more strained and the tension in the air spiked at the same rate. Sarah didn't seem to notice it.
It took four tries until she let hear a triumphant sound. The latest blend thickened in the vial, moving slowly as syrup as she tilted the thin, long bottle back and forth. The color, also, went from dark blue to a disturbing, blackish indigo.
"It would have been brown if it was human blood…" Sarah absentmindedly muttered.
"Fascinating, now what about the antidote?" Dor'ash said.
"Ah yeah." She straightened up and looked at the very anxious-looking, conscious draenei. "It's pretty simple. If you have the ingredients." At that, she flashed a rotten smile at Malo, who pursed his mouth. "First you take equal amounts of the antidote and major healing potion. You'll just need to mix a few drops in water again, so don't overdo it."
From his bags Malo produced his own set of vials and a bottle half filled with a warmly red liquid. His teeth clenched tight, he followed Sarah's first instructions.
"And then?" he asked while stirring the antidote and the potion in a broad vial. The color the mix took on was quite unpleasant.
"And mix in a– oh damn, what's the word in Common? I only learned about herbs in Orcish." Sarah frowned, tapping a finger against her forehead. "Looks like a carrot?"
"Golden samsam?" Malo suggested.
"Sounds about right," she said, nodding. "You need to grind a few… three seeds and add those to the potion. And then, uh… blast it."
Reaching backwards, she grabbed a piece of coal from the edge of the fireplace, and waved it around until it cooled a little more.
"Got leaves like this," she said and drew a very crude, spiky leaf on the floor. "You need to use the sap, it coagulates but dissolves in water. It's called Grom's blood if you translate the Orcish name for it."
"Oh, that. How much?"
"A pebble," Sarah said, holding up her hand with just a slight space between her thumb and pointing finger to show how big.
Dor'ash caught Valenia's skeptical gaze, wondering like she probably did at the accuracy of such flimsy amounts. On the other hand, Malo didn't protest but simply took out, prepared, and added the ingredients as per Sarah's instructions. He didn't look too happy, though.
The finished product was a thick, syrupy liquid colored like rotting leaves.
"And that's all, now drip some in water and feed it to them," Sarah said, waving her hand dismissively.
Hurriedly, Valenia filled two mugs with water again and Malo added the antidote to them. Dor'ash watched tensely while the two draenei tried to rouse their friends enough to make them drink the potion, something that took several shakes and slaps to the vindicators' faces. Finally though, first Coran then Subonai sluggishly opened their eyes and could be helped to sit up and sip the water.
After clumsily helping Subonai back down Valenia pressed a glowing hand to his chest, chewing on her lower lip. Seconds snailed by, and then suddenly, she shuddered and her shoulders fell, a relieved smile spreading over her face.
"It's… it's working!" she breathed, then pressed her free hand to her mouth, closing her eyes.
Malo muttered something quick and soft in Draenei, and Dor'ash released the breath he had been holding. Only Sarah looked unconcerned, busying herself with gathering up and cleaning her alchemy materials.
"Wait a moment, who brewed this potion in the first place?" Malo suddenly said. Valenia froze in her checking on Coran, looking up and blinking.
"Royal Apothecaries, of course," Sarah said, her voice cheerful again all at once. She smiled at the looks of dawning realization on Malo and Valenia's faces. "I said you probably didn't want them to drink something I've brewed, but after all, they already drank the first antidote." She shrugged when they kept staring at her. "Look, I'm just trying to keep the teddy bear happy, and he seems to have this bizarre idea that I shouldn't scare you."
Dor'ash rubbed his forehead with a loud sigh. This made Sarah whirl towards him.
"What, will nothing please you today?" she asked, but in a more amused than exasperated tone.
"She gave it to me to use if I ever happened to be poisoned," Dor'ash said in an apologetic voice.
"And you trust me enough to share it, too. That's adorable."
Dor'ash opened his mouth to speak, but then Coran groaned. A faint light and shadows fluttered over his cheeks as his eyelids shuddered upwards, and he squinted at the room.
"Wha…?" he mumbled, lifting a hand to rub his face.
"Don't move too much, you're still not well," Valenia said and gently made him lay back again. Having done so she looked up, hesitated for a moment and then spoke directly to Sarah for the first time. "Thank you, though I can't believe I'm saying so."
"Eh, you're welcome I suppose." She tilted her head and gazed up at Dor'ash. "Although I hope that you're up for lying about this."
He looked down, would have felt disturbed at her words and what he understood her to mean, but he could only let his grin falter the slightest bit.
"The Warchief wouldn't mind," he said.
"But Lady Sylvanas would," Sarah said, drawing an invisible but expressive line across her own throat. "And since our Forsaken friends out there were making it back home, somebody in the Undercity will want to hear the results of our little adventure."
He had a feeling that she watched him with a strange intensity for a moment, but considering the state of her eyes it was only a hunch on his part. Her words sobered his mood however, and he nodded understanding. Sarah's shoulders lowered just a pinch.
"Alright, then," she said, sounding satisfied. She looked him over. "And you should sit down, you look like something the zombies dragged in."
He gave her a half-smirk. It was the only comment needed to the fact that her robe and hair was glued to her, the former not only with molten snow but also with the large, dark and slimy splotch on her chest where it had been smashed. Dor'ash left it unsaid, though, and seated himself on one of the fur covered stone slabs around the fire. Immediately, as he allowed himself to feel it, every muscle in his body felt heavy as a rock. Sarah watched him for a moment longer, then went back to cleaning up after her experiments.
Malo picked up the iron pot from the fire place and went to fetch more snow to melt in it. As he pushed the cover aside, the world outside was only dark, night having washed away the white of the landscape for at least a few hours. Returning, Malo put the pot back where he had taken it, then threw in a few brown cubes from one of his bags. As the snow melted and he used a clean cup to stir the liquid inside, a smell like vegetable broth and hay filled the air. Not a horribly appetizing smell, but Dor'ash heard the other's stomachs rumble as well as his own.
At the sound Sarah looked around and stood up. She stepped over to Dor'ash, brushing her hands on the cleaner parts of her robe before reaching out. Catching on, he held out his good hand. Sarah lifted hers to hover above his and muttered in a low voice. The air shimmered, and a warm loaf of dark bread landed in Dor'ash's palm without having touched Sarah's fingers.
He'd asked her once about from where the heck mages got their summoned bread and water. To little surprise, Sarah had instantly replied that enslaved bakers held in the ruins of the Dalaran sewers provided it. Another explanation was not to be expected.
"You want me to fetch your rations?" Sarah asked.
Dor'ash quirked an eyebrow at the unusually soft note in her voice, but he was about to simply tell her yes when Malo's hand moved within his vision, holding a wooden cup. Looking up, Dor'ash met the other shaman's gaze.
"Please, it's the least," Malo said with a faint smile. In the background, the other draenei sipped their own watery soup. "It doesn't taste like much but it is nutritious."
"Thank you," Dor'ash said, taking the cup with a returned smile. The water had taken on a light brown color, and flakes of spices floated around in it. Not worthy orc food, but though he was hungry he was also horribly tired. Not having to chew much was a plus.
Malo looked at Sarah, hesitantly.
"You can pour some into my own mug if you want to share," she said. "So I don't spread bacteria all over your Sunday porcelain."
"Uh… certainly," Malo said. He looked as if he wasn't sure whether to be insulted or not.
True to her word Sarah dug out a worn mug from her backpack and held it out so that Malo could fill it with the soup by pouring from his cup. She peered at the liquid.
"I dunno," she muttered to Dor'ash, settling on the floor with her legs crossed. "I don't think either of us are gonna grow up big and strong if we eat this."
"Be polite, Sarah," Dor'ash calmly said. She snorted, but he returned it with the same and waved his piece of bread.
"I don't think they'll want it," Sarah grumbled. However, she reached towards an ash free corner of the fireplace and wiggled her fingers, muttering again. A small heap of bread slices appeared on the rock. Then she sat back and sipped her drink.
A few moments passed, and then, surprisingly, Valenia reached forwards and picked up a piece of bread. She sniffed at it, turning it over for inspection, but in the end she ate it. Sarah smirked against the rim of her cup, but thankfully she didn't comment.
Dor'ash made no big show of it either. He simply dipped his own bread in the soup after setting the cup on the furs covering his seat, and ate it like that. The taste of the liquid was faint, but at least it was better than just water and it spread a pleasant warmth through his tired and aching body.
After drinking a few mouthfuls, Malo grabbed the pot once again and went to empty the larger part of the content into the elekk's trough. The hungry mounts made short work of it, enthusiastically slurping it up. Seeing that it couldn't be enough, Malo fetched new snow to make more feed for them.
One after another, the draenei finished up their soup and put their mugs aside before stretching out on their crude but welcome beds, after Valenia took the time to get everyone's blankets for them. Malo opted to keep guard though. Starting to feel too sleepy to keep sitting up, Dor'ash too drank the last of his soup and then laid down.
Now fully relaxed and no longer hungry, the entire day crashed down on Dor'ash. He felt certain that he'd fall dead asleep the moment he closed his eyes. Still, even as he stretched out on his back on the furs, his body screaming for rest, sleep eluded him. His broken arm throbbed, but the fire and everyone's body heat had by now taken the worst cold out of the air inside. With no chill to make it worse, a simple healing spell eased the pain in his arm.
Malo sat on one of the slabs of rock, staring into the glowing coals. On the other side of the fire pit Sarah sat, knees drawn up to her chest. She too seemed to attempt to divine some strange truth from the embers.
This place should be safe, and there were a pair of guards – even if Malo fell asleep on his post, Sarah never would.
Yet Dor'ash still laid awake, closing his eyes only to snap them open at the slightest sound – of which there were many, unfortunately. It was enough with a sleepy rustle from the elekks, or one of the draenei shifting trying to get comfortable.
He had managed to get just another wink of sleep when yet another sound jolted him and he turned his head, squinting blearily as Sarah stood up and shuffled a couple of steps to the side. Malo watched her too, but didn't say anything.
Without a word Sarah sunk down on the floor again, leaning her back against the slab of rock Dor'ash laid on. Pulling both legs back up, she placed her arms on her knees to rest her chin on. She didn't even look around at Dor'ash.
Then, with the faint stench of her in his nostrils, he finally fell asleep.
In the morning, they had a quick shared breakfast before gathering up their things and setting off again. Coran and Subonai moved a little stiffly, but otherwise they appeared to be completely recovered.
The storm had ceased completely, and the landscape laid white and bright beneath a grey sky as Dor'ash continued to lead the way down the mountain, carrying Sarah whenever it was necessary. Sometimes when it was not absolutely necessary, too.
Around midday they reached the edge of a slope and could gaze down and the partly rocky, partly smooth scenery which tilted downwards, towards distant dark, snow free pine trees on the lowlands.
"It's best we part here," Dor'ash said as he looked around. "Both you and we can make it to safety now."
"That should not be a problem, no," Subonai said, his tone gruff but without real venom. He haughtily gazed down the slope when Dor'ash looked at him, though.
Malo stepped forwards and grasped Dor'ash's good hand briefly. The orc's lips twitched to a smile. They couldn't be called friends, but he appreciated the gesture anyway.
"We will let the Prophet know about this," Malo said with a smile. "It will surely warm his heart."
"I doubt that your people and the Forsaken will ever communicate closely, but you understand what she meant last night," Dor'ash said, motioning at Sarah. "She fears repercussions should it be known that she helped save a pair of vindicators."
"Yes, and many of our kind would be furious to know we even accepted help of an orc and undead," he said with a soft sigh.
"It's still a far cry from what would happen to us," Sarah said, scoffing. Dor'ash swatted at her head, but aimed to miss by several inches.
"The Warchief will be glad to hear about it too, I'm sure," Dor'ash said.
Coran took a step forwards, smiling carefully.
"Thank you again," he said. He rubbed a chin tendril, the motion reminiscent of how people of many other races might rub their necks when feeling awkward. "I am sorry for causing you trouble."
Dor'ash shook his head.
"No, we would have been in more trouble if you hadn't intervened with the yetis," he said, then tapped the top of Sarah's head with one finger, jostling her head. "No matter what this one says."
She loudly snorted, but kept her peace.
After saying their goodbyes, the draenei continued southwestwards down the slope, while Dor'ash and Sarah headed further eastwards, towards one of the many paths into Alterac Valley.
"They won't get any surprises from the poison later on, will they?" Dor'ash asked Sarah after a while, giving her a stern look.
"Oh, Dor'ash…" A low cackle left her, and for a moment he felt a stitch of worry. Then she shook her head. "No, I promise. The antidote was real, not a momentary cure." She smirked. "You better watch it, you're starting to think like a Forsaken."
"I'd call it retaining a healthy sense of doubt. You really didn't want to help them."
She shook her head, pulling a green bag from her belt and absentmindedly opening it to peer inside while she walked.
"No, I didn't. I didn't like them, and my superiors would have had my head. But what can I do, when you're such a softie?"
He was about to reply, but she cut him off by speaking again.
"By the way, I'm going to hold you to that promise you made me in the first cave."
Her tone was so airy that at first, he didn't catch on. Then it became too apparent, and he looked at her sharply, ceasing his steps. She simply focused on tying her bag of herbs closed, ignoring him though she too stopped walking.
"You still want me to kill you?" Dor'ash asked, his voice rumbling deep inside his chest as he watched the small, thin woman before him.
She didn't answer at first, finishing securing the bag on her belt. That done with, she held up her hands. Mostly fleshless fingers bent, relaxed. Little dark cracks riddled the pale bone, where dirt and old blood stuck.
"You know how we 'age' and eventually lose hold of ourselves to the Lich King," she said. "It's inevitable. That's just the way it is." Out of battle she seldom sounded serious, and this disquiet tone probably sat as ill with herself as with him. She looked up, her few remaining features unreadable. "I broke free again because I'm still fresh in mind."
He slowly nodded.
"Haven't you known?" she asked in an uncharacteristically soft tone. "I'm counting on you."
Yes, he had somehow known. Just never wanted to admit it.
"How long do you have?" he murmured. This time, he did reach out and laid his hand on her shoulder.
Instead of digging her fingers into his arm, Sarah gave a small smile and shrugged despite the added weight.
"Who knows?" she said, tapping her head. "But as long as I keep alert up here, there's nothing to fear."
He managed to smile back, if weakly.
"You know I won't do it happily," he said.
"This is the only sappy thing you'll ever hear me say, orc." She raised one small hand and pointed a sharp fingertip at his face. "Ending a fading Forsaken's existence is not murder, it's an act of pure mercy. You're a shaman. Wouldn't you just free my spirit from this corpse?"
She shifted her hand, holding her palm towards him to stop him from speaking for a moment longer. Her hoarse voice sunk – she tried to keep it a murmur, but her throat refused anything but a hiss.
"You're my dearest friend, Dor'ash. I'll be just fine if it's you who do it."
He very nearly blurted "what?" but managed to hold it back despite his disbelief. Not at what she said, but that she said it.
She cleared her throat and looked the other way. When he started to speak, she immediately cut him off.
"I know this is more or less your homeland but could we go back to Kalimdor?"
He looked at her, wondering whether to accept the clumsy attempt to change the subject. In the end, he decided to bite. Though he would have wanted to hear what else she might have to say, even if there had been a pleasant surprise towards the end of the discussion it was still a depressing matter – one he didn't want to think about.
"Where to?" he asked.
"Anyplace. Tanaris? Feralas? Thousand Needles? Don't we have something to do there?"
Southwards. As far away from this place, and Northrend, as possible.
"I'm sure we can find some reason to be there," he said.
She turned around to face the landscape they had to cross, and they trudged on in silence. Dor'ash walked at a slower pace than usual, to further accommodate to Sarah's shorter legs and the snow swallowing both their feet halfway to their knees or more.
After a while, and without a word, he swept her up on his good arm and continued as if nothing had happened, carrying her.
"Hate snow," was her only grumbled comment.
She shifted to sit more comfortably. Somehow, that led to the side of her head brushing against his pauldron. He pretended he didn't notice.
"I'm starting to dislike it too," he admitted.
"Good, then we can hurry up to some greener pastures. Not that I can see it." She straightened and tilted her head at his face. "You are green, right?"
"Yes." He thought for a moment. "Dare I ask how you manage to gather the right herbs if you're color blind?"
"By smell, of course."
That, he laughed at, and she grinned.
It would probably be best for both of them if he could forget that brief moment of comfort she had needed in the first cave. She surely wanted him to forget. But he'd never be able to, nor that fear of losing her to such a terrifying power, the fear that had nearly torn him apart.
One shouldn't go to battle together with somebody one wanted to keep safe from harm. He would have to get over this first, burning new desire to protect her, before they had to fight again. It shouldn't be too hard though. Orcs had an old tradition of families fighting side by side when the need arose.