Dust rose around a covered wagon on the barren road, kicking up a haze across the early morning sun in Durotar. Wooden wheels rolled in a droning, almost annoying rhythm while the vehicle, covered in a centaur-skin tarp and pulled by an oddly spry kodo, rolled forward at a brisk pace in line with a pair of rocktusk boars ridden by watchmen to the side. Most of the troops inside - younger jungle trolls sleeping in a cramped space to escape the increasingly dry heat - were as speechless as the riding animals, very few of the various riders speaking a word as they continued riding north.
Beady eyes scanning the area signaled that the riders, including the one atop the kodo, weren't silent out of boredom but wariness. Though hot, the day was technically bright and sunny, and there were no signs of danger other than the eerie quiet. That eeriness only grew when the riders began to speak in low, hushed tones.
On the right side of the wagon, one of the boar riders, an armored Darkspear man with a shaven head, rode a little closer to the witch doctor driving the kodo forward. "There should be more traffic here," said Ral'rush, removing his helmet for a few moments to speak more clearly. "Last I remember, the road between Sen'jin and Razor Hill always been busy. This not be a good sign."
Her eyes trained forward, the resident witch doctor nodded in agreement without averting her paranoid eyes. "The spirits tell me of screams," said Chaitama, an eccentric and claimed clairvoyant, while briefly shaking a beaded voodoo fetish along with the kodo's reins. "Screams of victims. It not be quiet here just cause people scared. I hear the screams of travelers, people who didn't know how to fight…but they moved on."
"Moved on where? To the other side? To more people to fight?" Ral'rush asked. He knew little of the spirit world, and his hesitation masked a measure of skepticism about her claims, but he still felt a chill run up his spine in reaction to her words. "We gonna find hostiles out here?"
Hooves clopped as the other rider switched sides of the wagon, moving over to situate himself between Ral'rush and Chaitama. A leaner, sleeker, but more decorated Darkspear, the war party's leader glared at Ral'rush contemptuously. "Rush, shut your yapper! We be in hostile territory now, we need to keep the noise down!"
Ever the tribal counselor, Chaitama attempted to dissolve the one-way exchange of harsh words. "The screams come and go; there be time for talk in between."
The party leader actually ignored the person in charge of keeping them alive, focusing his attention on Ral'rush. An inordinate amount of resentment passed in between them, all of it without escalation. "We were told to keep alert of our surroundings, and here you are running your mouth again. All this talk be a distraction," the head jungle troll excessively talked.
"Sometimes silence can be a distraction," Chaitama quipped cryptically, a masked attempt to distract their ranking officer from his rant, but to no avail.
"And sometimes lugs who don't know when to pipe down can be the real distraction." The party leader smoothed back his stylish spiked hair in a fake, artificial attempt to demonstrate how exasperated he was. "I don't know how many times I gotta tell you, only speak when spoken to! You just the muscle, and if nobody be askin you to build, demolish, or kill something, then you focus on your job and keep your opinions to yourself. Do I make myself clear?"
The two men stared at each other for a moment, the officer's ire flaunted in an immature display, year Ral'Rush's withheld from view and formed into a silent grudge. There was a lot he could have said in reply, from pointing out the logical fallacies in the officer's words to asking the pretentious headhunter to simply come out and state that their problem was personal in nature. In the end, however, Ral'rush retained too much respect for military rank and structure to openly argue with his commanding officer, especially when a few of the younger recruits in the back of the covered wagon began to stir, and he even refrained from a defiant sigh or snort.
"Understood…Egokick," Ral'rush replied, biting his tongue to not laugh every time he said the party leader's ridiculous nickname.
Pompous like a preening rooster, Egokick turned his chin up and rode out in front, even giving his riding boar a command to walk with a little more swagger as if some sort of victory had been won. The group continued to ride in silence for a few minutes, though the way in which Chaitama's ears twitched signaled that the situation was amiss.
"The spirits be gone from this place," she said while the dirt road running north through Durotar led them towards an odd, seemingly out-of-place wagon much like their which had been overturned on the road ahead of them. The way it had been strewn across the dirt road looked a little too convenient, and Ral'rush tensed up in response to the witch doctor's warning. "They all be gone, I hear nothing," she said again, her tone of voice causing the young kodo to slow down and grunt.
"Then that means we be in the clear," Egokick said without any background in voodoo or soul magic at all, yet with a tone of voice signaled the utmost confidence that he knew what he was talking about.
Jumping the hierarchy herself, Chaitama looked down at Ral'rush and hummed at him urgently. "Rush, they be gone, the spirits from this whole area be gone!" she urged him, her eyes blinking rapidly as if she were seeing things which were invisible to everybody else.
Also ignorant of voodoo himself, Ral'rush at least knew to trust experts, and his mind grasped for a way to warn the others without committing a verifiable breach of command protocol. Leaping down from his rocktusk boar, he let his feet hit the ground with a thud while taking its reins. "Go on, boy! Go!" he said while slapping the boar's hindquarters, causing the porcine to oink in agitation. The younger recruits inside of the covered wagon started to chatter as they woke up from their nap, causing Egokick to spin around and see the source of the disturbance.
"Rush, what did I just tell you!" Egokick hissed, capitalizing on the action out of turn and ignoring all else.
This time, Chaitama ignored the party leader, knowing that the person who kept them all alive couldn't be so easily disciplined due to her significance to their survival. She whistled loudly, causing the kodo to jump and shake the wagon. The younger recruits, all of them Darkspear tribespeople under the age of twenty, began poking their heads out from the back wagon flap, and a few even stepped out to stretch while scanning the area. Egokick took one upset look at Chaitama and then glared back at Ral'rush, feeling threatened by the other mature male's perceived defiance.
The sudden change in Egokick's expression was priceless, as endangered as they were, when the first raspy screams of undead throats reached their ears.
Out from behind the overturned wagon further up the road from them, a contingent of almost double the size to theirs emerged. Stinking, rotting, yet walking corpses of orcs alongside a few trolls and Tauren lurched out, jogging with jerky and uneven movements toward the wagon full of living bodies. All at once, the barely-trained Darkspear recruits burst out of the wagon, tense and slightly intimidated as their kodo screeched and swerved around to flee back the way they'd come, though on the flat, open plans of central Durotar, there wasn't anywhere else to go. Despite the stupidity shining in the eyes of the zombified Horde citizens creeping toward them, the tactic seemed like an ambush of respectable tactical quality, catching all of the living souls there off guard with its brazenness and its location in the Horde heartland.
Displaying at least a small amount of leadership, Egokick leapt off his boar while riding it backwards, letting a hatchet fly into the head of one of the zombies in reaction to the sudden attack. The recruits behind them clutched their spears and formed a defensive stance entirely inappropriate for such an open battlefield, unprepared to face such a threat. "Formation you maggots! Hurl them spears!" the party leader bellowed, pulling out his own spear to demonstrate.
When the recruits didn't budge, Ral'rush tried next, pulling out two war cleavers and clinking the heavy metal weapons together. Pure hatred burned in Egokick's eyes at his inferior's display of enthusiasm, only growing more bitter when the younger trolls responded more positively to the encouragement. There was no time for another verbal reprimand, however, as a second wave of screams arose from the zombies as they finally smelled blood and began to charge.