There was moisture on the ceiling. As he watched, it condensed, and dripped down the wall in a rivulet. It didn't make it far, only a foot, but a second droplet collided with it, and pushed it down a little more. Over the course of ten minutes, by his reckoning and the rate of dripping water, there would be a puddle on the floor.
A wet spring, perhaps, he thought. This has happened more than once. Moving carefully, because any sudden movement caused the guards outside his cell to spring into action, he shifted the bucket. It was reasonably clean, this time, and even if it wasn't, the water was too valuable to waste. Something my father taught me: any resource that is rare and precious shouldn't be wasted, no matter how it's collected.
Soft, human-woven cloth pulled across broad shoulders tightly, revealing a hard ripple of muscle that had not been diminished by captivity, and greasy, black hair swung across them. With little thought to hurry, he stretched, though not to his full, impressive height. His kind was not meant to be held within feeble human walls, and yet--
"Settle down now," called out one of the guards. He turned his gaze towards the human. The guard was young, and nervous, gripping his sword a little too tightly. The human's armor was a little too well-polished to have seen any real combat. He smirked, feeling his lips pull across the tusks that protruded from them. "I said settle down!"
"That's enough, Sebastian," said a quiet voice, and his gaze shifted. Watery-blue eyes looked him over once; this human dressed foolishly, wearing garments made of material better used for blankets and standards than clothes. A real warrior wore metal and leather. From behind the speaker, brighter blue eyes peeked out, framed by light blonde hair. "Doomhammer."
He shifted to stand, and though his shoulders were stooped, he still was taller than the man before him. "Princess. Terenas."
"Right then, out you come," the human guard said, stacking bluster on top of fear. His hands shook as he unlocked the cell door. Doomhammer shuffled out of the cell, his feet bound together. Terenas turned, and the guards led Doomhammer through the corridors. Over her shoulder, Princess Calia -- the only one of his usual retinue he bothered to use a title for -- peered at him. He met her gaze, and unlike the guards, she didn't flinch back. She never did.
That one will be a warrior, or a fine mate to one, he thought. He watched as Terenas put his hand on her shoulder.
"You may stay as long as you are quiet," Terenas told her. "If he frightens you, don't hesitate to say something."
"I will, Father," Calia promised, and glanced behind her again. "I'm not afraid."
Terenas led the way to a small chamber, an interview room rather than the torture chamber he'd assumed was coming.
Interesting. Probably because he doesn't expect a girl to actually want to watch torture, Doomhammer thought. I suppose weeks of roundabout questions still isn't enough, and they want more. The guards forced him into a chair that creaked. Princess Calia was offered a seat in the corner, as she had been during their previous sessions, and Terenas sat across from him.
"Dismissed," the king of Lordaeron said, startling both Doomhammer and the guards. This was new. Once they left, he met Doomhammer's eyes squarely. "Now, it begins."
~ * ~
"Father! Father, did you see it?" Orgrim cried. "A dragon flew over the village!"
His father, Telkar Doomhammer, warrior of the Thunderlord clan, smiled and nodded towards him. "They're restless today."
"The Gronn are hungry," remarked Leoroxx of the Mok'Nathal. "When the Gronn hunger, the dragons fly."
"Is it true, Father?" he asked, looking between his father, who stood tall and proud, with his mace resting against one shoulder, and the half-ogre who was even taller than his father, and seemed nearly as tall as the sharp peaks of the mountains.
"The Gronn are the natural hunters of the dragons," Telkar agreed, though he frowned at Leoroxx. "We need to meet with Fenris. Something stirs."
"What--" Leoroxx began, and Telkar shook his head slightly. He frowned up at his father. "Rexxar."
"Father?" called a soft voice. Even though Rexxar was a full three cycles younger than him, as a half-ogre he was still far larger, and a worg pup snuffled at the large, muscular arms that held him.
"Take Orgrim to visit the Den Mother," Leoroxx said. "We'll join you later."
Rexxar hesitated. "Yes, Father." He gestured to Orgrim, and looking back once at his father's troubled expression, he followed.
"Don't you want to know what they're talking about?" Orgrim asked softly. Rexxar stroked the pup in his arms.
"We'll get into trouble," Rexxar said softly. "Father always knows when someone is listening. The animals warn him."
Orgrim gave him a disbelieving look. "You're just afraid of being in trouble."
"I'm not, I want to know too," Rexxar retorted. "Father's been saying the stars look bad for two or three risings of the Red Son, but that doesn't mean it isn't true."
"Coward," Orgrim taunted, and moved towards the direction of the meeting. I'm not going to be afraid.
It only took a few moments for Rexxar to join him, the pup left to find his mother. "Am not."
Orgrim grinned. It wasn't difficult to find the meeting of the elders. Fenris Wolfbrother sat at the camp fire, one large, green hand stroking over the head of a great worg. From the shadows in which they hid, Fenris' eyes gleamed, the reflection of red flickering within dark depths. Telkar sat by Fenris. Orgrim knew that his grandmother was the daughter of one of the previous chieftains, and by both right and blood, his father had the right to sit at the Chieftain's side. Leoroxx stood, and several of the other clan elders sat around him. Leoroxx was frowning.
"What have you seen, Telkar?" Fenris rumbled, forcing all other voices to be silent. "Leoroxx tells me that something has happened."
"I bring news from Shadowmoon Valley. The great mountain called Demon's Heart has erupted." Orgrim's eyes widened, and Rexxar shifted beside him. "Chieftain Gul'dan of the Stormreaver clan calls it a sign. He's named the volcano the Hand of Gul'dan."
"Outrageous," muttered one of the elders. "A sign of what?"
"No one knows, but he claims he's been having visions," Telkar continued and snorted. "Visions. If he has visions, why does he not tell us where the draenei are hiding, or how they poisoned the world?"
"Careful, brother," Fenris said warningly. "That's shaman talk. You know the teaching has been forbidden."
"Forbidding it doesn't change the truth," Telkar argued. "The world is dying, and the shamans always claimed they knew the truth of it."
"Not even the stars can tell us what caused Draenor to die, only that She is in agony and has been for a long time," Leoroxx said sternly. "If the shamans had answers, they would have told us instead of giving us false hope. I dislike Gul'dan, but if he claims to have visions... he is the first to have them in a long time."
"You spend too much time with Garad," Fenris said coolly to Telkar as Leoroxx withdrew from the fire. "You should be more careful."
"His father was a shaman, one of the last," he said. "It's in the Shadow Wolf clan. He thinks--"
"Enough," Fenris commanded. "We will discuss what the volcano means at Oshu'gun, and Telkar... be very careful. The Shadow Wolf clan's land is far from here, if you will take my meaning."
"Yes, Chieftain," Telkar said reluctantly. Orgrim hesitated, watching the expression on his father's face.
"We should go, before we are caught," Rexxar said quietly, tugging on Orgrim's arm.
"You were to be with the Den Mother," Leoroxx said from behind them, his voice low with anger.
~ * ~
"That was the first time I'd heard the name Gul'dan," Doomhammer finished, and coughed lightly. His throat was dry. "Leoroxx and my father punished us for spying on them, but there was little they could do. They could not erase the words from our minds."
"You had no idea that he intended on invading our world?" Terenas asked, his brows creasing into a frown. Doomhammer cleared his throat again.
"I was a child," Doomhammer said. "I was not ignorant, but it was impossible to know what someone's intentions were from so far away. Gul'dan didn't often come to Oshu'gun, not until..." He frowned.
"Until?" Terenas pressed. From behind the human king, he saw Calia move up, and offer him her drinking flask. Her father frowned. "You'll lose that."
"It's alright, and he'll need to drink to keep talking to us," Calia said softly, and nudged it forward. "Go on."
Doomhammer took the flask from her hands, and took a swig to drink. It tasted sweeter than any other water he'd tasted, and he realized it was clean. As he drank, he noticed that Calia wore gloves made of thin white fabric, and trimmed with something fancy. Lace, I think they call it. I wonder why. If it was fastidiousness, it didn't seem to show through the rest of her manner. Could it be something else?
Terenas made a noise in the back of his throat, calling Doomhammer's attention away from Calia's hands, and back to him. "Tell us of Oshu'gun."
~ * ~
"That girl keeps staring at you," Orgrim pointed out, nudging at his friend. Durotan looked up, and saw nothing but a crowd of bare, orcish shoulders.
"No one's there, Orgrim," Durotan replied with a weary sigh. "I swear, you have girls on the brain now. Ever since Ekria started smiling at you every time she brought you another ale."
"It's a nice smile," he said, a touch of defensiveness in his tone. "I'm surprised you've noticed, your head is always in the clouds, it's a wonder the Blue Lady hasn't chosen you as her next mate."
"I've been busy," Durotan grumbled. "Between you and Grom, you never let up about girls and mating." He gestured to the tall, skinny warrior, talking to one of the women carrying a basket. As they watched, Grom leaned closer to her, and she smiled at him, her teeth flashing in the sunlight.
"They're smiling," said a soft, childish voice, and it caused both Orgrim and Durotan to turn. There was a chill across his back, as if a cloud had passed over the sun. Before them stood Gul'dan. He was a chieftain of a clan known as Stormreaver, called so because his conclave of warlocks had tamed a storm, ripping it apart to offer bitter rain to nearby clans, and even though it stung as it struck flesh, it had been a welcome blessing. At the warlock's side stood a girl-child, and were it not for the precise words she spoke, Orgrim would have believed her just old enough to toddle. Instead, she looked around with sharp eyes that were pale, pale gray instead of dark brown.
"They're smiling because they're being foolish," Gul'dan said sharply. "Do not act so foolishly when you are grown."
The slap rang out across the Oshu'gun plain, and now everyone was staring. The girl held her cheek, and where Orgrim expected her to bawl, she had only tears prickling in her eyes, controlling herself well enough to prevent all but the tiniest noise.
"Come, Garona," Gul'dan barked, and he whirled, his dark robes fluttering behind him, and the orc girl followed obediently. Once he retreated to his tent, there was a low buzz that rose over the encampment.
"Who was that?"
"Why was he here?"
"What was she saying to him?"
"Well, that's killed the mood," Grom observed sourly. "It'll be another year until I see Grootha again."
"It would be easier if you picked someone from your own clan to moon over," Durotan muttered. "What was she showing you, anyway? It looked like weaving."
"It was," Grom said, almost smugly. "She's a fine weaver, and a warrior besides. You are going to get stuck with the weakling, even if she is pretty now. If I weren't committed... and she wasn't my cousin..."
"What are you talking about?" Durotan asked, and Grom laughed.
"You'll see," the taller warrior promised, and Orgrim's gaze went back to Gul'dan's dark tent.
There was something wrong with her, Orgrim thought. There was something very strange about that child. I simply cannot put my finger on it.
~ * ~
"That poor girl," Calia murmured. "Hitting her, just like that."
"Do not feel too sorry for Garona, Princess," Doomhammer warned. Ignoring her father's annoyance, he took a careful drink. "She is nothing but trouble, from the moment she came to Oshu'gun. Where she goes, darkness follows. She was, as I learned, Gul'dan's pupil."
"She was a warlock?" Calia frowned.
"No, what she was in many ways was... worse. She was his messenger, and the extension of his will." Doomhammer's expression darkened. "His spy, and his assassin. She wouldn't hesitate to kill you, or anyone else."
"Garona Halforcen is known to us," Terenas said angrily. "She tricked Llane Wrynn into trusting her, and then she murdered him. Do not speak of her again."
"But, Father," Calia protested softly. "It might be important--"
"No," Terenas said firmly. "We keep this strictly to information that we can use. That's enough for now. You have practice, don't you?"
"Yes," Calia sighed softly. "My harp won't wait." Terenas stood, and signaled Calia to follow. The king of Lordaeron rapped firmly on the door, and guards appeared immediately to let them out.
"Take the orc back to his cell," Terenas said. "Give him an extra half ration."
"Father," Calia protested softly, and while Terenas held up a hand to silence her, he acquiesce with a sigh.
"A double ration, then, until the next time we speak." Terenas gestured for his daughter to move forward, and Doomhammer allowed the humans to take him back into his cell. As he thought, water was collecting in the bucket he left, and it was bitter-tasting compared to the water within the flask, but he drank it anyway, and waited for the promised meal to come.
Sebastian grumbled about it, shoving it towards Doomhammer, and even though it lacked flavour as so much human food did, there was a small gift in this one: a pastry. This he set aside, promising that he would eat it later, with some of the sweet water. In the mean time, he consumed the rations, eating steadily. Human food was decidedly bland, and soft.
It is better than starving, he thought later as he contemplated the pastry. Orcs had neither the resources or the patience to make such treats, and most that came across them quickly became fond of the treats that contained all manner of sweet things, fruit of various sorts, or cooked red beans that didn't exist on Draenor. I--
"Princess, you can't be here," Sebastian said, startling Doomhammer out of his contemplation.
"My father trusts me," Calia said, her voice quiet but firm. "Please, just let me speak to him alone."
"We'll be just down the hall if he causes trouble," Sebastian said. "Be careful, Princess."
"I will be," Calia said, and Doomhammer moved to the door. "Orgrim?"
"That is my name, yes," Doomhammer replied cautiously. "Why are you here, Princess?"
"I have a blanket," Calia said, and she held up an edge to the tiny window of his cell. "But I wanted you to tell me something."
"What is it you want to know?" the former Warchief of the Horde asked warily.
"Why do you hate Garona Halforcen?"
"Oh," Doomhammer said, anger tinging his voice. "Let me count the ways."
~ * ~
"She's watching you, Durotan," Orgrim pointed out. The young chieftain of the Shadow Wolf tribe looked over. The shadows were empty, but that was less of a surprise than it should have been.
"The Spook watches everyone," Durotan replied wearily. "Particularly me. Draka thinks it's funny, but the last thing I want is to have Gul'dan's Fist paying attention to me."
It had been years since that fateful day in Oshu'gun, the same day that Draka had fought another woman for the right to be Durotan's mate -- Orgrim himself had never gotten much beyond smiling, and Grom had selected Grootha of the Shattered Hand as his own mate the next year -- and since then, Gul'dan had introduced Garona to the chieftains.
Gul'dan claimed she was clanless, and her face and eyes were odd, softer and rounder than could be attributed to her youth. As she grew, it was obvious that Garona was only partly an orc, and this other made her different. Gul'dan had her deliver messages for him, but what became as obvious as her heritage was that she was a spy. Those who spoke without discretion when she was suspected to be near found themselves harshly punished, sometimes even killed.
"Do you think she... knows?" Orgrim asked quietly. "Father has spoken more loudly lately of the old ways."
"I hope not," Durotan said honestly. "It's hard enough convincing those outside my clan of my grandfather's dream."
"Shh," Orgrim said. "The meeting is starting." It was rare for orcs to meet outside of Oshu'gun or in battle. Most orcs had little patience for words, but when Gul'dan spoke, more and more were listening. He has gifts. The ancestors speak to him. They speak to hardly anyone any more.
"Friends. Warriors." Gul'dan began smoothly. "Over the past years, the ancestors have granted me visions. They have not forgotten us, despite what some... others have said. It has been too long since the orcs have worked together. Instead... we have fought. We have declared war on each other, torn at each others' throats."
"We are warriors, we don't suffer fools," barked Chieftain Fan'gor, of the Great Sands clan. "If you expect us to act like milking cattle--"
"No," Gul'dan said, and set a hand on Garona's shoulder. She was crouched at his side, like a hunting dog, and while she was still, her strange, gray gaze remained focused on the rival chieftain. "I expect us all to act like warriors."
Fan'gor growled low in his throat.
"What is it you have to say, Gul'dan?" asked Kil'rogg Deadeye, and Orgrim turned. Deadeye had once been a shaman, and the already venerable orc leader had denounced shamanism when the elements had abandoned the orcs. Now he was a warlock like Gul'dan, though he remained practical and steady like the earth he'd once revered.
"Draenor is dying," Gul'dan said simply. "It is rejecting us, the way a wound rejects infection. We need to find a new place to live, to raise our children." He raised one eyebrow in Durotan's direction. The youngest of the chieftains present -- one who had yet to sire a child -- gave him a stony look in reply. "I, however, have seen our salvation. In my dreams, I went walking through the Twisting Nether, the aether that holds our world and cradles it here. In my wandering, I found another being that will help us. Together, we have opened a portal between Draenor and his world, which he calls Azeroth, and he invites us to see it. He claims there are vast fields of green, skies of blue... water that does not burn to touch or drink. There are trees, and... there are beings there. Soft, pink-skinned beings he calls humans. He says they are weak, fat and poor fighters."
"Where is the warrior challenge in that?" Telkar demanded, and Orgrim looked to his father with a start. "You claim that we must speak as warriors, and now you want us to fight what... things that are weaker even than the Draenei? You know nothing of being a warrior."
"Peace, Doomhammer," Fenris murmured, and his wolf growled softly. "Still, he makes a good point, Gul'dan. If they are weak, it makes for poor fighting."
"They are not all weak," Gul'dan said, his tone slightly brittle. "There are warriors enough to slake your thirst."
"What would a warlock know of weakness?" Telkar demanded. "How do we know that this being you've communicated with isn't simply lying, leading us into a trap? You claim the ancestors speak to you, but you're no shaman."
Gul'dan's eyes narrowed. "Shamans are--"
"The shamans once worked to protect the orcs and their lands," Telkar spat. "What can you claim to have done?"
"I am trying--"
"What does Ner'zhul think of this?" Telkar demanded. Orgrim couldn't draw his eyes away from his father, the gleam in his eyes. His father drew the Doomhammer and pointed at the warlock. "Your own mentor was a shaman, Gul'dan, and where is he now? Does he sit on his hands while you declare his kind to be anathema?"
"You overstep yourself, Telkar," Fenris said warningly. "Don't--"
"Ner'zhul has left this in my hands," Gul'dan replied coldly. "He remains in Shadowmoon with his clan, doing his duty, unlike you, Thunderlord."
A shiver went down Orgrim's spine. You only use someone's clan name when they haven't done anything to earn a name of their own yet. He--
"You're a treacherous dog, Gul'dan," Telkar snarled, pointing at the warlock. "If you claim to know so much about the ways of warriors, meet me in a challenge on the battlefield."
Gul'dan smirked. "A warrior uses whatever weapon is on hand. Challenge accepted." He lifted his hand off of the half-orc girl's shoulder. "Garona."
She moved. Small, thin limbs shifted from a crouch to a run, her path taking her to Telkar. He watched his father open his mouth, to laugh at such cowardice, and then she struck. A weapon, too long to be a dagger but too thin to be a sword flashed out, cutting a line along Telkar's arm. He bellowed, and shifted his grip, swinging the Doomhammer at her, and she spun along the line of his arm, moving with the blow so it never touched her, and with a lightning strike she struck at Telkar's spine. His armor absorbed much of the blow, but she was behind him, and any movement only caused her to circle.
"Garona, finish it," Gul'dan commanded. She made no sound, but her blade flashed twice, and Telkar screamed in agony, falling to his knees. Blood sprayed from his severed calf muscles, and his great, jagged mace fell from his hands, unblooded.
"No!" Orgrim cried, staggering to his feet. Durotan grabbed his arm, and on his other side, Fenris and his wolf gripped him. "Father!"
"Garona," Gul'dan said again. Their eyes met, and Garona's gaze was cold and flat. She spun her blade in her hand, and drove it into the back of Telkar's neck. Black blood spurted over her hand and wrist. The warlock smiled coldly. "Come." The half-orc moved to his side, her weapon wiped down and put away in an instant, though the red-tinted sunlight caught the steel of her blade. It was an odd gray-blue, but that mattered little. Orgrim tugged away from those restraining him, and ran to his father.
Father, I'm sorry, Orgrim thought. Just beyond his reach lay the Doomhammer. He looked towards it, and up at Gul'dan. His chest burned with hate. I will kill both of you, you--
"Take it," Garona said, startling Orgrim, though her voice was low. "Take it and challenge me, Thunderlord. I won't fail. I don't ever fail."
"I only have one name for the likes of you to call me, spook," Orgrim growled, and took up his father's weapon. "I am Doomhammer."
"Don't use that stupid nickname," Garona replied sharply. "I--"
"Enough," Gul'dan said, and the half-orc immediately fell perfectly silent. Gul'dan looked to Orgrim with something akin to pity, mixed with smug triumph. "Your father's death is unfortunate, but he did challenge me, and my weapons are well-honed." He squeezed Garona's shoulder. "Now, then. Shall we discuss my Great Portal without... interference?"
~ * ~
"I'm sorry," Calia whispered. The blanket moved between them, slowly and carefully. Doomhammer noted it was a thick blanket, well woven though plain. "It must have been very hard for you."
"I was a warrior, Princess," Doomhammer rumbled, and wrapped the blanket around himself. "So was my father. At least he died in battle. Many of Garona's opponents died in their sleep, or with their backs turned."
"Like King Llane..." Calia murmured. "Poor Varian."
"He was here, wasn't he?" the former Warchief asked, considering her. Her head was bowed with the weight of memory.
"Yes," she replied simply. "Lord Lothar brought Prince... King Varian here. He wasn't quite old enough when he came to be part of the fighting, so he was in the nursery with Arthas and I."
"Arthas?" Doomhammer asked. "Your brother?"
"Yes, he was very young. He's six now." She smiled warmly. "He's so bright, too. He's already pretending he has a sword and can go around slaying--" She reddened slightly. "Monsters."
"Orcs, you mean," Doomhammer corrected, a deep rumble in his throat. There was no denial from her. "Your father asks many questions, Princess. I answer them because there is no reason not to, and I do need to eat. Why does he ask these questions?"
"We want to know more about the orcs," Calia replied. "We need to know more."
"I would have thought the Spook would have told you all you needed to know," Doomhammer growled. "She certainly likes to talk when it's to save her own skin." Orcs bleed black. She bleeds gray.
"The Alliance doesn't trust what she told Sir Lothar," Calia said simply. "They want anything they haven't proven for themselves to be verified by another source."
"Another orc source," Doomhammer snorted. "To what end?"
Calia looked behind her for a moment, and Doomhammer couldn't see anyone through the opening. "I don't know if I should tell you."
"Who else will I tell?" the orc Warchief snorted.
"That's true, but... Father will tell you at the right time. You should be surprised when it happens."
Doomhammer opened his mouth to argue, but the insistence in Calia's tone brought him up short. "Very well, then I have a question for you, Princess."
"Oh." She blinked at him in surprise, as if astonished that he found something of interest. That much nearly made him laugh. "You may ask."
"Why do you wear gloves? The ones you wear would not keep you warm, and if you feared me, you wouldn't be here." He watched her expression shift, and he frowned a moment. "Calia?"
"It hides the scars," Calia whispered. "I... I've always been told not to be ashamed, but people ask questions, and it's easier to let most assume I wear them because I'm delicate. It's actually very hard to go about life wearing gloves!" There was a hint of hysteria in her voice. "It's as if my hands are always a size too big, no matter how thin the material is."
"Calia," Doomhammer said commandingly. "Let me see." She hesitated, and then the gloves came off. She held her hands up to the cell's window. There were long thin scars on both palms, and along her fingers. His eyes widened, and took her hand in his, examining them. "Knife scars, from long ago. Were you attacked by one of my warriors?"
He felt her flinch, but she didn't pull away. "No, I... I got them protecting Arthas. When we were both younger. He was..."
"If you were attacked, but it wasn't by orcs... who would have struck at you?" Doomhammer asked, frowning.
"I have to go," Calia said, taking her now-shaking hand out of his, and sliding the gloves back on. "Enjoy your blanket."
Doomhammer watched her go in silence, and moved to the corner of his cell. He took the blanket in his hands, and arranged it around him. Doubtless, the guards will be angry that I've upset her. He frowned, remembering her reaction. It must be something that frightens her more than anything, if she feels as if she can't speak of it. Hm.
No recrimination came from the guards, however, and as they moved back into place, grumbling softly, he settled down to sleep.