The sun rose slowly in Valley of Strength, the night's cloudy haze evaporating into a beautiful marigold sky. It was at times like this that the canyon's red walls seemed to thrum with a glowing red hue, washing the entire plaza below in a nurturing warm embrace.
The streets were vibrant with brave adventurers from all walks of life that took their place on the Horde. That included Orcs, Tauren, Trolls, Forsaken, Blood Elves, Goblins, Pandarens, as well as many newcomers that recently joined. These included the reclusive Nightborn Elves, proud Highmountain Tauren, fearless Mag'har Orcs, noble Zandalari Trolls, and practical Vulperas. Everyone had heard the news that a new gate had been opened, supposedly directly into the very Shadowlands itself.
These heroes had waited for their turn to take their luck with them to seek out new frontiers, new opportunities, new chances at fortunes, or for the thrill of the adventure itself. The Knights of the Ebon Blade had been restricting how many adventures enter the Shadowlands at any given time, as the dangers of being lost forever were still very real and many groups have not been heard from, even when the portals had been opened. Still, seasoned adventures were not put off by the foreboding likelihood of never to be seen again. Like calls to like, and the fear of death was just another irony in and of itself with adventuring into the afterlife.
Many of the inns had been packed as of late, most already far past capacity. Still, this did not deter anyone, as many adventurers chose to just pop up a tent nearby, loitering around the Valley's great halls, such as the Auction House, the Bank of Orgrimmar, or even right outside of Grommash Hold. The city officials didn't really care much about the sudden influx of tents popping up everywhere, just as long as those camping left the everyday citizens alone to do their business and not interrupt traffic.
A soft flash and whoosh came from the Silvermoon portal, inside the newly constructed Orgrimmar portal room, located underneath the massive and heavily fortified Gates of Orgrimmar. Brisa, Aeri, Runa, and Jassan all looked very tired from their previous night's activities, but they all agreed they would commit to this new quest they'd been given by their cousin, Dreadlord Tragique Nethari. Together, they headed outside of the portal room and into the buzzing Horde capital city.
Several children, from varying races, ran around, laughing and chasing a larger Tauren calf, who ran holding a kite string, a vibrant dragon-shaped kite at the end of the string high above the city walls. Throngs of merchants lined up by the city walls, bartered their good loudly, selling a variety of merchandise from their make-shift stalls; anything from spears and shields to tea kettles, to exotic fruits and meats. Suddenly, a small gust of wind blew around the large public area, kicking up a few poorly tied down tents, and sending dust into the eyes of several pedestrians. The children shrieked and giggled as they tried struggled to hold on to their kite.
"Ugh- gods, I hate this city", said Runa, pinching her nose, "There's still so much dust everywhere, it's going to ruin my new dress." Runa had decided on her favorite black and red frilled corset dress, along with matching high lace-up boots and a lacy black parasol as well. Her hair cascaded down her delicate neckline in sheen black curls.
"It's because orcs don't believe in paved roads," snorted Jassan, silently appraising the quality of goods from a few of the stalls for small nothings. He wore his usual black sleeveless leather jerkin and breeches, with dark high-boots and a matching hood.
"Oh, I wonder if the Broken Tusk still sells those Moonberry milk teas we had last year? Those were so good," chimed Aeri, stepping up on her tiptoes, trying to look over the crowds to spot the famed Orc tavern. Aeri opted for a yellow and pink flowered summer dress, with pink slippers and golden jewelry adorning her short, blond boar tails, golden hoops on her ears, and a golden necklace with little glistening wings on it.
Brisa was leading the troupe, not intentionally, but rather her siblings all naturally fell into her steps. It was easy to fall back into the rhythm of things. Brisa wore an unremarkable, over-sized hood and garments over her normal clothes, so as to not draw too much attention to herself. Many still knew her face around Orgrimmar, knew who she had decided to side with when things got messy during the fourth war.
"Let's... let's try to hurry, please. I don't want to take any detours today," said Brisa in a hushed tone to the rest of them, trying to hide her face with the sides of the hood.
Together, the Nethari siblings tried to make their way towards Grommash Hold, where they were told to meet with Tragique and Illana. However, the way was made painfully slow due to all the crowds everywhere, most places, people passed by each other shoulder to shoulder. Aeri, Runa, and Jassan all tried their best to be discreet, as they didn't want to draw too much attention to their eldest sister. As they passed by the Broken Tusk, however, Aeri happened to stop in her tracks to read a sign on the front of the tavern.
"What are you doing, love," Runa said in a hushed tone, the others slowing down to look. Aeri's wide blue eyes were staring at the sign in utter disbelief. Then suddenly, she screamed, "NO! I can't believe they're sold out!"
A few passerbyers eyeballed the commotion, slowing down to see what was happening.
"Hush love," cooed Runa, avoiding eye contact with the crowd, trying to figure out what she was talking about. "What's the matter?"
"They're all out of my Moonberry Milk tea...look!", pipped Aeri, pointing at a hastily drawn sign nailed outside the tavern. They all looked and sure enough, their new popular flavor of tea had been indeed sold out, most likely due to all the new influx of customers. Even a tavern as large and popular as the Broken Tusk was at capacity to accommodate such a crowd.
Brisa rolled her eyes and kept walking, ignoring her sister's fit. Aeri, crushed, squatted down amongst the crowds and started to tear up and pout. Runa patted her on the head with a gentle hand. The crowd had to walk around the small huddle of blood elves. A few Zandalari and Pandaren scowled at them as they walked by, irritated by the disruption of flow in traffic.
"I really wanted my tea, it's the only reason I come to this dumb city," Aeri croaked.
"I know love, I'm sorry they don't have your tea," Runa said, squatting down next to Aeri and stroking her blond boar tails. "We'll make it up to you, I promise. Jassan, would you mind?"
Jassan took the hint, rolled his eyes, and let out a big sigh. He then walked over and squatted down in front of Aeri, looking over his shoulder at her, and said "You getting on," he said.
"Uh-uh," Aeri mumbled, stifling a small sniffle from her petite nose. She then piggy-backed on Jassan's back as he hoisted her up, her head lay defeated on his shoulder and she looked vacantly out into the crowds.
"I swear, you're such a brat sometimes, Aer" said Jassan, as he and Runa tried their best to keep up with Brisa, who hadn't stopped to pity Aeri's tantrum. They trotted nimbly through the crowds, trying to avoid any further distractions.
"There she is, I see her," Runa said as she tailed Jassan.
"Yep, that's her. Almost..." said Jassan, when suddenly a huge, hulking green-skinned orc stepped directly in front of them, Jassan almost running into the orc's heavily muscled bare chest, save for a few thick straps of a dark leather weapons harness which crisscrossed his chest. They looked up to see the wide toothy grin of Bastillion - an overly friendly warrior the Nethari Siblings had befriended from their time on the Broken Isles during the Legion invasion. His short red hair spiked on his head and his ears glittered with golden piercings.
"Well well, if it isn't the Nethari kids," boomed Bastillion, two overly-sized, double-edged axes hanging from his back, his thick arms crossed as he smiled at them.
"Oh...Bastillion, hello," Jassan said, wrenching a greeting from somewhere within him. Runa gave the orc a huge, plastered smile, trying to keep an eye on Brisa, who was already disappearing into the crowd up ahead.
"And here I thought I was the only one of the old gang who decided to show up to this gig, can you believe it? Ha! We've got the gang all together again!" bellowed the orc, his belly laugh echoing throughout the canyon walls. Jassan and Runa took an unconscious step back as if they were about to be eaten alive.
"Bastillion, love, we'd love to stay and chat, but..." Runa tried to interrupt, but she was interrupted instead by the orc.
"Boy, you kids really know how to pick'em, don't you?" hummed Bastillion. "We just arrived two days ago and were on our way to get some gear for this dead stuff quest we got last week. Wow, ain't that something. Seeing you kids takes me back. Way back." Bastillion stared off into the sky, recalling some unknown fond memory by the looks of it.
"Um, hey, Bastillion, buddy, look, we've got to get going see..." Jassan started, hoisting up Aeri, her eyes still vacant.
"Hey, Ams, Nao, get a load of this. The Nethari finally decided to show up to this thing," called Bastillion out to someone in the crowd.
"Now's our chance," whispered Runa to Jassan with a subtle wink. They slowly backed away, from Bastillion, who was still trying to call his group over to him from somewhere in the crowd behind him. Jassan and Runa made their move. A slow-moving cart pulled by a large gray Kodo hauling some kind of large fuzzy yellow fruits passed by and they hid behind it, moving slowly with the cart towards Grommash Hold, away from the orc, who still hadn't taken the hint they weren't anywhere near him anymore.
They both let out a sigh of relief as they hurried to catch up to Brisa, who was probably already at the entrance of the hold by now. Meanwhile, an elegantly dressed Nightborn and a leather-clad Sand Troll walked out from amongst the crowds, both giving Bastillion a sour look.
"Ah, there you are," Bastillion grinned widely, his huge fangs glistening in the sunlight. "You'll never believe who I just ran into just now, it was..."
"We know, we know," said Naoko, a Sand Troll. "Da whole valley could hear you, and probably deaf too by now." Her white hair tousled down wildly down her face and back, with shocks of black streak running through the mess. A roughly carved staff with a wooden paw rested on her back.
"Was it that necessary to yell, you brute?" snarled Amythica, her hands on her hips, her eyes rolled, completely done with this orc. Her native Nightborn garments thrummed with arcane power, an excuisitly fine carved white arcane staff resting on her delicate shoulders. "Besides, who are you talking about here," both Amythica and Naoko, looking around.
"Those Nethari kids we met up with at the Broken Isles," started the orc, scratching his spiked head, his earrings jingling. "But they were just here..."
"Da Nethari?" questioned Naoko, sharp eyes peering at the orc. "Didn't da hunter have some kind of bounty on her head or something? Or am I tinking of someone else?"
"A bounty? On those kids? Now I know you're joking, Nao," chuckled Bastillion, still craning his head around for Jassan and Runa.
"No, you are correct," Amythica replied. "The hunter ended up as the Banshee Queen's loyalist and disappeared shortly after the former Warchief vanished. She's still got her wanted poster up on bounty boards in a few places."
Bastillion frowned. They were good kids, the Nethari were, he thought. He hadn't really seen them around since they had parted ways after they defeated the Legion together, but he didn't usually keep his ears to the ground as Amythica and Naoko did. Still, it's hard to imagine any of the Nethari as Banshee Loyalists.
"You know," Amythica said slyly, "we're still missing some gear for Naoko and myself if we want to head out into the Shadowlands soon. A hefty bounty reward wouldn't be such a bad idea for turning in that hunter."
"I've had my eyes on a trinket I've seen in Zandalar, our timing couldn't have been more perfect," said Naoko, rubbing her hands together.
"No," said Bastillion in a low growl. The other two looked up at him inquisitively.
"Oh?" said the Nightborn, a violet hand on her hip. Naoko crossed her arms.
"What do you mean, 'No,'" the Sand Troll replied.
"I mean, we're not going to turn them in, no matter whoever it is that has a bounty," Bastillion said, looking out into the crowd. He continued, more loudly with each word, "Brisa, Jassan, and the others, they had our backs when we weren't able to watch ours. They're still young and have many mistakes ahead of them. There were many of us who were torn by our allegiances to the Horde in the last war, most have paid the price for it." Then he turned to face them, his eyes squinted into a menacing scowl, "But I will never turn my back on a former comrade. I'll die before that happens, you hear?" A large crowd had slowed to gawk at the orc, Bastillion's voice still echoing throughout the Valley of Strength.
Overcome, Amythica raised her arms up in mock defeat. "Alright, alright, you win. But it's your loss," she said, letting out a small sigh. "Though I really do hate that warlock of theirs. If only she was the one with the bounty, I'd..." She was interrupted by a glare from Bastillion, his teeth baring sharply as he growled deeply at her.
"I take nothing back, you big oaf," said Amythica, turning her nose up at him, blatantly ignoring his warning, "but if it makes you happy, I'll see it that I don't accidentally turn the hunter in."
"Dere goes ma trinket," sighed Naoko, shaking her head dejectedly.
"Cheer up, gang," Bastillion said, his voice once again full of mirth. He continued, "I bet we can still make loads of gold from selling all the junk we've been piling up in the old guild bank. What do you say?" He clasped both of them on the back, Amythica and Naoko both almost choking out of breath from the hearty pat from his hulking arms, as he led them to the Bank of Orgrimmar through the heavy crowds.
A tall and lone figure, darkly garbed, face hidden, leaned against an old wooden wagon, staring as the large orc and his companions left the scene. The Huntmaster was here in Orgrimmar then? She had to be, the figure thought. The other siblings were there, talking to the orc, but the huntress was nowhere to be seen. The other Nethari had disappeared into the crowd shortly afterward. The figure pulled out a rolled-up piece of parchment and studied it closely. A large bounty had been set for the capture of Huntmaster Brisa Arrowsong, alive or no reward. The reward was set for 17 million gold, a sum that any commoner could live on in luxury for the rest of their lives if they managed to turn Arrowsong in.
The dark hooded figure neatly rolled up the bounty and tucked it away.
"Finally, time to get to work," the hooded figure said, in a soft melodic tone, then disappeared from sight, fading into the shadows of Orgrimmar.