I really am sorry for taking so long to get this chapter up. For the longest time, I just couldn't think of anything, and life got in the way. I've been taking early childhood education courses at college, and the workload kinda smacked me in the face unexpectedly, not to mention until recently, my weekends were taken up by the Ct Renaissance Faire. Sorry, guys, but here's another chapter to try to make it up to you.
Siúil A Rún (Walk My Love)
Borean Tundra was a cold place. The frigid air caught in Nar'grin's throat, and caused his chest to tighten almost painfully. Two days into their trek to Wyrmrest, and the elderly orc was already starting to struggle.
Ahead at the front of the group, Torild was setting a steady pace. It was not fast, and under any other circumstances, even Nar'grin would have had an easy time keeping up, but the absolute iciness of this place sapped what little strength remained to him.
At least he was not the only one having difficulties. Indeed, the only one who was not tightly wrapped was Skya. Even Xephyra, who had been part of the Scourge, raised from death as a deathknight, had her cloak pulled snug around her shoulders. But the Forsaken woman wore her cloak loosely. She had her hood up, and a thick, long-sleeved woolen dress, but she took no extra measures against the weather. It was the first time Nar'grin had ever envied the undead.
Beside him, Aannu shivered, and adjusted the blanket she'd tied around Chomp's neck to keep him warm. Nar'grin watched her pat the raptor's head, and the beast gently nudged his mistress, leaning against her as they walked along.
A deep breath made him cough, and the cold made his old bones rattle. Nar'grin huddled a little deeper into his cloak. A blanket was suddenly wrapped around his shoulders, and he looked up to find Xephyra looking at him. He frowned.
"You are chilled," she said flatly. Nar'grin looked at her a moment, then turned his attention back to the road before him.
"I am fine," he muttered, not looking up. Xephyra picked up her pace until she had caught back up with Torild, ignoring Nar'grin's disapproving gaze on her back. No matter how hard he tried, the shaman simply could not get used to the deathknight. She brought back too many memories that he was not fond of, and even more painful, many that he was.
"We'll stop under those trees tonight," Torild decided, pointing to a copse of fur trees growing among rocky ground.
Xephyra looked at them intently for a long moment, and nodded.
"There is nothing of the Scourge there, at any rate," she sighed. Privately, Nar'grin wondered how she could know that if she was separated from the Lich King, but he said nothing. His doubts about her would be either proved, or disproved soon enough.
The trees kept out the higher winds, and the rocks stopped the low drafts that ran along the ground. It was not warm by any means, but once the fire was going brightly, it was bearable. The group ate in relative quiet, even talkative Aannu was silent. She tossed a chunk of raw meat to Chomp, who jumped into the air to catch it. The young troll hunter smiled at the raptor, and patted his head when he nudged her.
Nar'grin chewed quietly on a dragonfruit, thinking about Ahnka and the road ahead. He'd known it would be difficult – truth to tell, he'd thought he'd be making this journey alone, and had been expecting an even harder time –but it was well worth the risk. Ahnka needed him; he would not let her down.
As soon as the companions had finished eating, Torild pulled out a map again.
"We should be out of the Borean Tundra and into Dragonblight within the week. From there, it's another week to Wyrmrest. We'll have to fly the rest of the way to the Argent Vanguard. Queen Alexstraza the Life-Binder will surely give us aid, if not Ysera, or one of the bronze dragons there. We'll be safer on dragon-back from there to the Argent Vanguard than on foot."
"I thought you said flying was too dangerous," Skya frowned. "The frostwyrms…."
"Are not much to worry about when you ride a living dragon," Torild replied gently, smiling. "I would not trust our fate to any other creature with frostwyrms around, but the dragons of Wyrmrest have never let us down before."
"We still have to be careful," Xephyra sighed. "That black dragon, Nalice, is still at Wyrmrest, and the Obsidian Dragonshrine is practically right in the way. I know that Sarinar and Nalice both are on terms with Wyrmrest, but you said it yourself, Torild; they cannot be trusted."
"Still, it is the best way," Torild sighed. "We still have another two days to go after Wyrmrest." Here, she turned to the shaman. "I am sorry, Nar'grin. But there is no other road that I would advise you to take."
Nar'grin nodded gravely. He understood the dangers. A more risky route might be quicker, but what good would it do Ahnka if death were to find him only a league or two from the Citadel? She would still be at the mercy of the Scourge.
It was late, but Nar'grin could not sleep. His thoughts went back across the years, to a time when things were better, brighter, and more peaceful. He thought of Draenor, and the way it was before the Blood-pact. Ahnka had never been to her home world, and likely never would go there, but Nar'grin remembered what it used to be. He had met his mate there, long ago, in Nagrand. Together, they had raised their son in a small farm outside of Garadar. Life had been good in those days; Nar'grin himself had been young and strong back then, with a whole life ahead of him, a mate to love, and a child to raise. The Burning Legion had taken all that away from him. His mate had fallen in battle against the draenei in Shattrath, and later, his son had been captured by the humans of Azeroth, and imprisoned. Both he, and Ahnka's mother, had died there.
How clearly he remembered the day he received word of their capture. Ahnka had only been at most ten months old. Still too young to have known either of her parents, and too much of a burden to carry along on hunts. So the young couple had left their little baby with her grandfather, everyone thinking they would return soon.
Nar'grin had spent three hours playing with the little infant in his care. She had been utterly mesmerized by his graying beard, and pulled on it repeatedly. In the fourth hour, he put his tiny granddaughter to sleep for the night with a soft song of the old days. He had been preparing to lie down beside her when Drek'thar had come with news of his son and his mate. The two had, during their hunt, come too close to a human settlement. They'd been tracking a large deer, but when the humans came upon them, they were beset and overpowered, taken ancestors only knew where. All that was returned to Nar'grin was a scrap of cloth that his son's mate, a proud young female called Garaha, had always kept with her. It was Ahnka's sling.
The news had hit hard, but there was still hope, then. For the next year, Nar'grin waited. He took care of Ahnka, and it was likely the little orc baby that helped him through that year – indeed, she was what got him through finding his son's fate. The following winter, Thrall had come, and with him, Nar'grin's hopes had soared. It was not until Durnholde, some three years later that he learned the sad truth; he would never again see his son in this life. It had been a hard blow, but Ahnka's weight suspended from his chest had lessened the wounding.
And then had come the move west to Kalimdor. Little Ahnka had been fascinated by the ships that the orc soldiers – including Nar'grin – had stolen for the journey. Of course, he never told her they'd been taken without permission. His story had been that when the orcs went to procure ships, the people guarding the harbor had been kind enough to give them to the orcs. It was a harmless lie that kept the impressionable child from equating thievery with right.
In Orgrimmar, little Ahnka had flourished. The warm air meant she could be outside every day of the year; snow in Durotar was rare indeed, so even in the winter, while the city was being built, the children could be seen running around laughing.
After Orgrimmar had been built, age started to take its toll on Nar'grin. The next winter proved to be a rare one; it was cold, and for the first time, snow fell. Not much, but enough that the children were able to play in it for a few days. Ahnka had been at most seven at the time, and when Nar'grin had come down with the death cough*, the little orc had been beside herself. He had recovered, in time, which was more than could be said for most who contracted that particular illness. While it was not unheard of, many more died than survived – hence the grim name. All Ahnka had cared about was that her grandfather was not one of the unfortunate casualties.
As his little Frostwolf grew, Nar'grin had begun to weaken. Rheumatism had set in, followed quickly by weight loss, and slowly failing health. Over the next thirteen years, illness had come more often than it ever had, and his blood had begun to turn. At the time of the Scourge invasion, Nar'grin's circulation had been such that he needed warm furs even on the best of days. Winter, even in Durotar, was hard on him, and out here in Borean Tundra, the old shaman was freezing.
But then, most folk found it freezing cold here, so perhaps that wasn't such an indicator of his ill health. Didn't mean his health was any better than he believed, but it was a small comfort still.
Over to his left, Torild began to stir. She sat up slowly, and turned to regard him with her iridescent eyes.
"Can you not sleep, elder Nar'grin?" she asked quietly, her voice thick.
Nar'grin shook his head.
"My mind takes me to too many places tonight," he replied. "My time as a guardian, more specifically."
A wistful smile flickered across the old orc's face.
"I had a mate, once," Nar'grin explained. "And a son. Roshak. His mother was my soul, and he was my world. Now, Ahnka is both."
The sadness that had crept into the shaman's voice was clear.
"What happened to her?" Torild asked. "Your mate."
For a long moment, Nar'grin did not answer. Then, slowly, he pulled in a deep breath.
"She died," he whispered. "Ara fell in battle when the Horde attacked Shattrath. I will never understand what it was that made Durotan see through the bloodlust and hatred. Were it not for his courage, many more orcs would still be imprisoned, even now, in the internment camps."
"It took great courage for the Frostwolf tribe to follow him," Torild said pointedly, a slight smile on her face.
Nargrin shook his head.
"It was no contest," he sighed. "I had a young son. For him to fall in glorious combat, bettering the future for his people is one thing; being slain by alien folk for the advancement of one power-hungry orc was quite another."
Torild nodded understandingly.
"When the Scourge attacked Quel'thalas, our people were shattered," she remembered. "Many chose to follow our prince, Kael'thas Sunstrider, to Outland, under the promise of permanent sources of arcane power to feed upon. Even then, if one was not blinded by desperation, you could see the madness growing in his eyes…"
"It must have been hard, to go against your own people," Nar'grin said with quiet sympathy. "What of your family?"
Here, Torild glanced at Xephyra, who slept soundly in her bedroll across the fire.
"My family fell that day. I do not know why Xephyra was raised and my parents not. Possibly, they were, and are now living in the Undercity among the Forsaken." The elven warrior snorted. "Wouldn't that be just the way of it," she sighed, shaking her head and smiling wryly.
Nar'grin wondered, looking at her now, if he could handle the possibility of such a thing happening to Ahnka.
It was dark, wherever the Spirit of Life had led him. He knew Ahnka was here; he could feel her all around him.
He was in some sort of cell. As his vision began to clear, he realized he must be seeing what Ahnka was seeing. He was on his hands and knees, on a cold – unbearably so – stone floor. Ice clung to the ceiling in some places, and had frozen in drips on the walls. His wrists – Ahnka's wrists – were a darker green, rubbed by some binding no longer in place.
Movement to his left caught Nar'grin's eye, and he turned to look. In a darkened corner, a larger figure huddled. The elderly shaman could not make out what the figure was, but it was certainly alive. Then it shifted again, and Nar'grin found himself staring into a pair of glowing, silvery eyes.
He thought the figure might have said something, but sound was indistinct, and he could not be sure.
Shaking his head, Nar'grin pulled back. He felt his own body return to him; he could feel the ground beneath him – almost warm in comparison to the floor of the cell – and even the quiet sounds of wild creatures in the early morning was loud in his ears.
But she was still alive, and that, at least, brought him some comfort. What worried him was the other figure in the cell. In that darkness, he could not tell what it had been. And yet, something suggested to him that whoever else was in that hell with his granddaughter was no threat. Indeed, the light in its eyes had been curious, almost concerned.
The others began to stir soon enough, and as the light of morning filtered in to their sheltered camp, Nar'grin put his concerns aside for the time being. Worrying about Ahnka's safety with whatever being had been in the cell with her would not help him get to her any faster.
Aannu was the first one up, and when she saw the old orc sitting there, she smiled sleepily at him around large tusks. Nar'gri returned the smile.
The young troll moved over to the fire, and began to rifle through the group's food supplies. She fished out a frying pan, and relit the fire.
"I make some nice bacon for our friends, ya t'ink?" she grinned, sifting through the foods for the boar meat. "Mebbe some raptor egg omelet, too…."
She began to hum an old troll song, smiling to herself as she threw the items mentioned into the pan.
Soon, their little stand of trees and rocks was filled with the pleasant scent of egg and roasted boar.
"Another thing to add to the list of ways you are useful, Aannu," Torild muttered thickly, smiling and rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"I made enough for everybody," the hunter offered, grinning widely. "Hope ya like it. I used some old Darkspear spices – from before my people left de Stranglet'orn."
"You remember that?" Skya asked, her head tilted to the side. Aannu nodded.
"Ya, mon," she replied. "I was young, but not dat young. I t'ink poor Vol'jin got seasick a few times on de voyage," Aannu added in a conspiratorial whisper. When she spoke again, it was more musing to herself, than talking to the others. "But den again, most everybody got sick sometimes. De storms way out on de sea were not always easy ta sail t'rough."
"I would imagine not," she agreed. "I've never been on a ship; airships and zeppelins, certainly, but not sailing vessels."
"Ya lucky, mon," she laughed. "You very lucky."
Nar'grin smiled privately. He recalled another promising young leader who had been quite queasy during the crossing from the Eastern Kingdoms to Kalimdor some fifteen years ago.
The first thing Ahnka was aware of was the cold. A deep, unnatural cold that tightened her throat and instilled a deep terror in her heart. It was almost as though the cold was a living entity. It sapped the strength from her limbs, and stole her will.
The second thing she was aware of was that the room was not entirely dark. A faint, blue glow emanated from the walls, which were made of black stone and glowing ice. She was bound, and the shackles around her were icy. When she raised her head, Ahnka found herself staring into a pair of eyes that flamed blue.
Realization overwhelmed Ahnka, and she let out a roar of horror and despair. She'd failed. The assault on Angrathar had failed. She did not remember much of that battle, but she did recall Putress's betrayal. She remembered only too well how he had fooled her, and so many others, into aiding him in making the plague - he'd even had her test it on the Scourge.
What a moment that had been. Ahnka had been disgusted by the transforming of the Scourge into goo - it was a nasty process - but feral triumph had quickly replaced that. This new strain of plague, the Forsaken Blight, would destroy the Scourge, once and for all.
"And you, you are unharmed?"
At the time, she'd thought nothing of Middleton's words. Now, remembering the way he'd spoken - you are unharmed? - Ahnka could see all the signs of treachery she'd missed. She heard now, in her memory, the surprise in the Forsaken apothecary's voice that she hadn't before. In her excitement over the successful destruction of a host of Scourge, she had ignored all warning signs.
And Middleton hadn't been the only one. Every single Forsaken she'd come across in the process of helping Middleton had acted shifty and secretive.
"Keep what you've seen and done to yourself. This work is all classified - information is given out on a need to know basis."
Malefious's words rang like a death-knell in her head, and Ahnka realized her great folly. Dranosh Saurfang, Bolvar Fordragon, and so many others, had fallen because of the plague. Had she not been so caught up in her desire for vengeance, she would have noticed. If she'd only noticed - said something! - none of this would have happened. Disgust knotted her stomach; it was all her fault. She had not seen because she had been too caught up in her own ambitions.
All her hard work, the whole world's hard work, had been in vain. The Scourge would grow, and spill out over Northrend and the Eastern Kingdoms, and Kalimdor. Orgrimmar would fall, and with it, Nar'grin. Ahnka had sworn to keep the Scourge from hurting him ever again, and she'd failed utterly. Pride and selfishness had blinded her to what Middleton and Putress and Malefious were doing, and now that she did see, it was far, far too late.
A harsh, frozen slap stung Ahnka's cheek and ended her howl. The whole left side of her face slowly went numb from the icy metal of the deathknight's glove.
"You will not make a sound unless I allow it," the deathknight hissed, his raspy voice echoing hollowly around the room. He turned to walk toward a table to one side of the room. "Now," he continued. "I am sure you are wondering why you are here, orc."
The deathknight turned to look at her, a wicked smirk on his colorless face. Ahnka snarled, but said nothing. Just because she'd failed, that didn't mean she had to give up. If the deathknight wanted information, he would not get it.
As he came close, the deathknight glanced down at a long, razor-thin knife he held in one metal-clad hand. The blade was an icy blue material, as cold and dim as the walls around her.
Saronite. The tuskarrs had warned her of it; they called it the black blood of Yogg-Saron. Ahnka didn't know what it would do to her, but with a name and reputation like that, she didn't want anything to do with it.
Ahnka struggled as the deathknight came within arm's reach of her. She snarled and strained against her shackles, gnashing her teeth and baring her tusks.
"Now then," the deathknight hissed, his voice colder than the air around him. "You seem to be a very fortunate orc. Or, depending on how you look at it, very unfortunate." He laughed hollowly, and the sound echoed eerily around the room. Once the deathknight's laughter calmed, he began to circle Ahnka in a predatory manner, and the young orc snarled.
"You were right in the heart of the battle," the deathknight mused, moving around behind Ahnka, still fiddling with the saronite knife. "Ground zero for the plague dumped by those foolish traitors." He was in front of her now, and a little to the left. His white hair shimmered in the dim light as he paused, his eyes on the blade in his hand. "And yet, here you are, alive. Why is that?"
Brown eyes narrowed in hate, Ahkna spat directly into the deathknight's face. The colorless elven deathknight - blood elf or night elf, Ahnka did not know - froze for just a moment, and slowly wiped the saliva from his face.
Suddenly, the deathknight and the saronite blade were scarcely an inch from Ahnka's face.
"Do you know what the metal of this blade will do to you?" he growled. This close, Ahnka could feel his breath on her skin, and it was disturbingly icy; colder than the air around her. When she did not speak, the deathknight snarled, and spoke again. "Just touching this metal," he rasped, eyes narrowed, "will cause violent insanity and excruciating pain. Imagine what it would do if it cut into you..."
For over an hour, she was poked and prodded and interrogated. Through it all, Ahnka managed to keep her silence, proud and unbending. In time, the deathknight tired of her. She was unchained, and her body, exhausted, fell limply to the floor. Footsteps echoed on the frozen floor, and when a shadow fell over her, the young orc looked up.
The deathknight stared down at her with cold, empty eyes. Ahnka glowered back at him.
"It would seem our guest is being uncooperative," he sighed in his strange, unearthly voice. He signaled, and from the shadows emerged another deathknight - this one female - followed closely by two ghouls. "Take her to one the cells. A few days without food should make her more willing to speak with us."
The second deathknight motioned to the two ghouls, and the creatures came forward. They latched onto Ahnka with claw-like hands, and hauled her up. The ghouls stunk of death, and fear warred with defiance in her heart. But defiance won out, and she stood straight and tall as she was led away.
The ghouls brought her down several hallways, and past many dark doors. Some were clearly dungeon cells; Ahnka could hear the moaning and coughs of the poor souls held within.
Their journey ended in a dark hallway, deep within Icecrown - likely in the Forge of Souls, though Ahnka could not be sure. She'd only seen a few maps of the Citadel, and she could not recall which wings were where. A door, made of cold metal, stood before them. The deathknight produced some sort of key from a hidden place in her armor, and opened the door. The ghouls hurled her in. Ahnka hit the floor hard, and heard the door slam to and lock behind her.
As she lay there on the floor for a moment, Ahnka slowly came to understand that this was where she would die. Here, on the top of the world, far from home, friends, and family, she would die. It was a bleak realization. She was young - only nineteen summers; not yet of age among the orcish people - and until now had had a long life to look forward to. Now, she had no future whatsoever.
And yet, damning as the idea was, it gave her a sort of strength. She knew from what the deathknight had said to her that they did not know why she was immune to the Blight, but that it was important. It meant something to them; it had to. She, and whoever else had been immunized by their part in making the stuff, was a critical piece, with vital information. If she gave in, and told, it could mean disaster for all of Azeroth. That disaster might still come, whatever she did or said, but at least she would not be the reason. Ahnka had nothing left but her courage, and her pride. She would use both and keep silent, come what may.
Across the cell, something caught Ahnka's eye. In one dark corner, something moved, and the young rogue heard chains clinking. A pair of glowing silver eyes were suddenly hovering before her. She was not alone in this hole, then.
And that's the chapter. I probably won't update again until the others are all complete, so I can finally finish a story. Again, I apologize for the long timespan between updates.