THE PRAXEUM CHRONICLES
"The Blessed Light : Book One"

A World of Warcraft tale
by Stephen R. Sobotka / © 2008

DISCLAIMER : This story is an original prose based on situations, settings, places and themes from the MMORPG game "World of Warcraft", by Blizzard Entertainment Ltd. All characters that appear within - with the exception of all original characters created by the author - are the property of said licenses, and are used here without knowledge or permission of same.

This story is the rightful property of the author; all original characters and the plot depicted within are protected by copyright law. This story was produced to entertain fans of the original game, and is in no way, shape or form intended to be published for monetary gain. Please do not sue.

One

The guttural sounds of mouths ripping cooked flesh off of the bone, along with the crackle of dry wood in a campfire filled the dusk-laden evening. The noxious smell of brewing grog filled the air along with the fumes of the burning wood, making only a thin ribbon of smoke in the skies of the wilds near Duskwood and Westfall.

A pair of wild boars had the misfortune to have wandered too close, and now were roasting on a pair of spits, while being worked over by the party's shaman. Sitting near the fire, a cluster of Orc warriors were well into devouring half of one of the cooked beasts, while two leather-clad rogues stood on watch near a pair of wagons. Looking somewhat bored with the surrounding countryside, one of the gray-skinned footpads leaned against an iron and wood crate; just one of several piled in the wagons and in a loose circle on the ground around them.

To find a group of Orcs like this, so far removed from their usual stomping grounds in Orgrimmar, was a rare oddity by any standard.

An oddity that, if left unchecked, would prove to be dangerous. Even a small party of Horde forces like this represented a clear threat to the people in the nearby plains of Westfall. Even more so to the bordering lands in Elwynn and beyond.

A danger which - in truth - would prove to be moot.

The leader of this brood was a gruff, grizzled warrior named Log. He'd been a survivor of the Third War, and was a master of duels with nearly twenty-score victories. Some would call him an Orc in his prime.

Yet, when he rose from the fire to amble over to the stores of drink kept in one of the wagons, a glowing, hammer-shaped blast or holy power fell from a height above him, decimating his skull in with a blazing crunch of blood and bone.

His body hadn't even begun to topple to the dirt, when his fellows jerked in shocked reaction. However, before a single body could be goaded into action, hot iron-slugs - rocketing in on the heels of a rolling echo of gunfire - ripped into the shaman from behind the group. Pierced through, this Orc did have time to scream, before he tipped over into the ring of burning wood under the spits. His death throes scattered roasted meat and burning embers across the small campsite; making the other orcs spring back with singed skins as they groped for their weapons.

"Attack! Defend yourselves!" Two of the remaining warriors started to dash for cover, only to howl amid surprise and pain, as a couple of sleek hunting cats sprang out of the shadows to bear them down to the ground. A heartbeat later, the sound of more screams, slashing claws and ripping flesh filled the air.

More gunfire erupted, and another warrior dropped with gouts of dark blood spurting from his neck and chest. One of the two rogues tried to vault to the tops of one of the wagons, whipping out a bow to let fly with his own answering fire . . . only to pitch backwards when a slug caught him dead-center in his face.

Amid the chaos and dying Orcs, the remaining rogue made a desperate dash for one of the wagons. Our orders! Must, carry, them-OOF! He slammed into the unyielding wall of an armored body looming out of the darkness. Knocked back by a sweeping strike of a metal shield, the grey-skinned orc scuttled backwards on his rump, scrabbling for his long knife, only to have it kicked away, before the same, armored foot planted itself in the middle of his chest to pin him against the ground.

No! The mission! Wide eyes locked on the looming figure above him, the orc tried to speak; "S'mbatta-!" The crushing blow of a heavy mace against his head cut his words short, punctuated by his last wet, blood-soaked death-rattle breath.

Save for the last dying gasps and the low growls of the hunting cats dealing with their victims, the camp quickly settled back into stillness under the evening sky.

With a grunt, the armored paladin wrenched his weapon free from the ruin of the dead orc's head, rising to survey the rest of the slain. With pursed lips, Liam mac Roi blew a soft, trilling whistle towards the shadows beyond the light of the camp's fire ring.

Moments later, two stocky figures, clad in mail-guirded leather and hoods came stomping into view; trailing behind one of the hunting cats that loped up to meet them. The one - a male dwarf with a red beard flowing out of his hood - gave the white, black-speckled cat a familiar scratch behind its ears before he nodded towards Liam. "Well . . . that's for all of this lot, then!"

Nodding, the taller human knight said, "You do good shooting, Rhandall."

"Mm, more like shoddy marksmanship this time," Rhandall Stormhand grunted. Kicking out with one booted foot, he shoved the smouldering corpse of the shaman over, before he leaned on the barrel of his long blunderbuss. "Hanna, my pet, ye could've gotten this one in his eye! That was a fifty-yard mark, at least."

Proping her own rifle against her shoulder, his companion just snorted. "Ach! An' likely ye'd have done as said-better wi' yer own targets, cousin?" The female dwarf jerked her head towards another orc body. "Ye left half o' that one's brains scattered all o'er th' bloodly place."

"Just because you prefer speed over precision," Rhandall said archly. "A Stormhand's creed is t' never let haste overrun their skills wi' a rifle."

"Oh, for Faith an' th' Light, Rhan-."

"Hush, you two." Liam said with a touch of humor in his tone. In all the years he'd come to know the Stormhand Cousins, they were most prideful of their gunman's skills, and their differing views of marksmanship. "You can argue with each other when we're back at the Lion's Pride, and not before. We're still in the wilds, remember?"

Slightly chastised, Rhandall muttered, "Sorry, lad."

Hanna elbowed him. "No yer not," she said, before she chuckled and moved away to examine one of the dead.

Stepping clear of the wagon to join them, Liam rubbed the back of one armored glove against the splatter of blood caught in his prominent mustache. "Well," he said, casting his dark eyes around at the slaughtered orcs, "this is one raiding party that won't endanger any more lives."

"'Tis a wonder we found 'em this close to Alliance territory," Rhandall said. "I thought th' garrison defenders were patrollin' against raiders?"

Liam shrugged. "Could be they knew when to avoid the patrols, perhaps."

"Mm, don' think so, laddie. This lot's nae got th' look of raiders, settlin' in fer a scoutin' sortie."

While her cousin was speaking, Hanna had dropped into a crouch and cocked her head at one of the corpses. Making a tck-tck! sound with her cheek, she called her own hunting cat over - a dark furred beast with grey-purple stripes. "Cousin," she said, reaching out to give her cat an affectionate pat, "this lot was nae any party o' raiders."

"Now," Rhandall asked, "why would'ye think that, cousin?"

Reaching out, Hanna shoved the dead orc over, before pointing one short finger at its chest. "Because . . . I believe this might explain it better."

Both Liam and Rhandall stared at the curious-looking collection of stones and threaded feathers the dead body had strung around its neck. Liam's eyes widened, before he turned and shoved another orc over, revealing the same item tied to its blood-soaked vest.

Liam sucked in a breath between his teeth. "It's the fetish mark of the Ulgo'm Sect!"

At that, the red-bearded dwarf snorted, then turned his head to spit on the ground. "Ach! They're all slavers! Dirty, no-good, rot-gut slavers!"

"Sort o' explains why they were so far from Horde territory," Hanna said, pulling her hood back, revealing her own red-gold hair, bound in a braid as she twisted her head around to take in the rest of the slain orcs. "Bet they were lookin' fer more meat t'capture, b'fore they headed back tae Kalimdor, t'sell it." She looked at the paladin, who was now stalking towards the wagons. "Liam?"

Liam didn't reply, until he made a quick check of the cages in the first wagon bed. "These cages are all empty," he said. "Either they'd just arrived, or they're the poorest excuse for flesh mongers in all of Azeroth." He motioned towards his companions. "Search them all."

"T'would be a waste, Lad," Rhandall said sharply. "We'd be better off just collectin' their heads an' headin' back t'collect th' bounty."

Liam wasn't listening, as he started to explore another cart full of cages.

"Best check th' others, Rhan." Hanna muttered. "You can bet a tin bar that yon laddie won't rest, 'till he's sure any poor souls t'be found in those cages can't be saved."

Rhandall grunted. "Aye, let's be on wi' it."

The trio made quick work, finding either only empty cages, or ones filled with offal and the odd remains of what was once a living being; either human, elf or something else . . . what, they couldn't be sure.

"This is stranger than hot winter in Coldridge," Rhandall said, after examining the last wagon. "Slavers usually are better trained than this, t'keep their wares in such a state!"

"Aye, we've searched every last cage," Hanna said. "Hardly a living soul in 'em."

"Not quite."

The two dwarves turned, in time to see Liam kneel next to a pile of casks and supply crates. The paladin shoved a couple of the wooden kegs aside, to reveal one smaller-made cage. At once, both of their hunting cats moved towards it, sniffing and rumbling a quizzical sound as they padded around it. "Hold your pets back, cousins," Liam said, as he removed a dagger from his belt. He reached up and grabbed onto a strong metal lock, before slipping the thick blade between the rings and twisting hard against the metal bindings. The lock parted with a snap of metal.

Both Rhandall and Hanna moved in closer, calling their pets to heel as Liam crouched lower to peer inside the cage . . . then, with a soft gasp, he tipped his upper body forward to reach inside. "Careful, Laddy," Rhandall cautioned. "Ye don' know what's been in there."

Liam said nothing, but there was a sound of pain and fear-filled whimpering issuing from inside the cage, followed by a soft, soothing sound from the paladin. Then, Liam slowly shuffled backwards, his arms cradling something wrapped in a dirty, mangy-looking hide.

"Ugh, another dead body, most likely!"

Crouching back on his heels, Liam slowly rose and moved back towards the fire. "Rhandall, I'll need some of that spring water, quickly."

The dwarf muttered as he pulled his backpack around, rummaging for a pouch of the clear, restorative liquid. Both he and Hanna moved to join Liam, who was kneeling next to the campfire now; holding whatever he was carrying with extreme gentleness. "Here, Lad."

Taking the offered water-skin, Liam uncorked it with one hand, before he shifted the now-moaning figure to cradle it more upright against his chest. "Come now," he murmured encouragingly, as he reached up to brush the trailing edge of the hide back from a face. "Drink . . . slowly, now." Tipping the skin, he fed a small trickle of water into the mouth of the being he held. There was a moan, then a cough and sputter, before the being swallowed a good mouthful of water.

In the light of the campfire, the person's face and hair were now visible . . . dirty, long, dark-red locks with ash-smudged and bruised cheeks marred her features, but now they all could clearly recognize what she was by the faint green glow in her barely-open eyes and the long, tapered ears.

"Great Magni's Hammer!" Rhandall drew a hissing breath over his teeth. "That's a Blood Elf," he growled.

Hanna was also scowling, but she was more pragmatic. "One of those misfit mana-suckers . . . but, what was she doin' in that cage? I thought Blood Elves an' Orcs were allies?"

Liam frowned, but he said nothing as he fed more swallows of water to the stricken elf.

"What does it matter?" Rhandall was stepping back, preparing his blunderbuss. "Best put her down, Liam."

Hanna shot her cousin an appalled look. "Rhandall! What in the Abyss are ye-?"

"Best t'do this now, b'fore she gets her strength back," he said sternly. "I'll make it quick. One shot, an' she won't feel a thing."

Liam scowl turned darker, before he said, "No."

"No?" Rhandall stared hard at the paladin.

"No, she needs healing and care, and I will not allow any more harm to come to her."

Both Rhandall and Hanna stared hard at Liam. "Laddie! What are ye sayin'?That's a Hordie! We cannot let her-."

"Rhan, for once in yet life, listen t' him an' good," Hanna said firmly, getting her own wits back. "Just look at her! She's barely conscious."

"But she's-! How do we know she didn't hide in there, to avoid bein' killed by us in th' first place?"

"Oh use yer head, Rhan!" Hanna huffed. "Even an ale-soaked priest can tell when someone's been injured . . . an' besides, she wasn't visible when we first sighted this camp. There wasn't time f'r her t'hide!"

"But, she is a-!"

"She is a victim, or else she wouldn't have been locked in that cage, like a slave." Liam set the water-skin down and slowly turned, so his armored body more or less shielded the Blood Elf from Rhandall. "You know as well as I do, the treatment that all slavers pay unto their wares. Especially the uncooperative ones." He paused to pull the covering back further from the Blood Elf's face, turning it to reveal a livid, purple bruise on her cheek . . . and several more that ran down the length of her neck.

At that, both dwarves blanched. "Great Blessed Light," Rhandall hissed.

Rising, Liam cradled the elf woman against his chest, glancing down when she moaned and shivered. "Come. We'll get her back to Goldshire, and see to getting a proper healing for her injuries." Turning, he began to walk out of the ruin of the orc camp.

"What?" Rhandall was beside himself. "Are you out of your iron-clad brain pan, Lad?" he asked. "Taking a . . . a Hordie into an Alliance village-."

"Would ye rather we find a boat and sail her all th' way back t'Kalimdor?" Hanna looked as if she'd reached the limit of her patience with her cousin. "Come, Bolt! Kryn!" Hanna stomped past her cousin, their two hunting cats following after.

Flabbergasted, Rhandall watched them move off for a moment longer, before he jumped at the trot to keep up. "Blast it, girl! Uncle Bronbor was always too lax with yer discipline!"

Eventually, the trio arrived at the spot where they'd secured their mounts - hidden from being detected by the orcs, at the bottom of a sunken bluff.

"Liam, ye got t'know that this is a bad idea!"

"Just help th' man, Rhandall, so we can get goin'," Hanna prompted. Already saddled on her dun-colored ram, she nodded to Liam, who was working to prepare his own chestnut mare to carry two, while the huddled form of the Blood Elf lay on the ground nearby. "She may well die, b'fore we e'en get back to Goldshire, unless ye put some jump in yer limbs."

"Rhandall, hand her up to me," Liam asked, as he finished adjusting his mount and stepped up to swing himself into place.

Rhandall slung his weapon onto his shoulder, before saying, "A fine memory this will make . . . me, a Sturmhahn, helping a blasted Blood Elf-!" Grumbling, Rhandall did as he was told; stooping to heft the curled-up body in its dirty cover, allowing Liam to take it and settle the elf before him on the horse.

"Come," Liam said, before taking his mount's reins and wrapping the trailing ends twice around his fist. "We'll make time going overland, through Westfall." Turning the mount away, he jabbed the mare in the ribs with his heels, making it leap forwards, out of the sunken bluff. With a spray of dirt and dry scrub grass, the horse quickly settled into a brisk gallop and was away.

"Ach! Wait fer us, you iron-plated do-gooder!" Rhandall shouted, scrambling to reach his own ram; the snow-white beast standing patiently next to Hanna's mount.

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oOoOo

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Movement . . .

She was being moved . . .

She barely acknowledged the gentle hands, the soothing tone of voice that spoke to her as she was lifted from the slaver's cage. Barely registering the thick voices of the dwarves, nor did she taste the water that lingered on her lips, even after she reflexively swallowed the reviving liquid. Even the argument to spare her life, and the short journey to the mount that was now galloping across the landscape to carry her to salvation were all phantoms to her drifting mind.

All she could remember was pain.

Pain. Shock . . . betrayal that came first, then horror after . . . the memory of seeing companions and Outrunners slaughtered before her very eyes.

Then, there was anger . . . fueled to battle-rage, as she tried to save the last of the caravan from the blades that were too eager, too thirsty for elf flesh and blood.

Fear came on the heels of loss . . . and defeat, against superior numbers. They bore her down and striped her of her armor. Her badge of honor . . . her Ranseur, taken from her clasping fingers by force.

Then, came the humiliation and the degradation . . . the shackles, the whip, rough hands that shoved her down into the muck, and the beatings. They beat her for being resistant, for being snide, for rebelling against their orders. Eventually, the fear of pain and death and worse slid into an all-encompassing numbness.

The spirit, broken . . .

The body, beaten until it could no longer fight back . . .

All that remained was a final, flickering spark of life in a weak shell of flesh.

For all that had happened, the elf who had been once known as Freaja . . . for all that she no longer cared, she knew that she would die in the cage, at the hands of the orc slavers. Die far from the beloved memory of the Sunwell, from the land she called home. For all that, the red-tressed elf woman was more than prepared to fall into Death and his cold embrace . . .

However, cradled in the armored arms of a mortal enemy - a human, a paladin soldier of the Alliance - the drifting consciousness of Freaja Anu'dorei did not even realize what was before her.

A second chance.

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-==- To Be Continued... -==-