(( Written with Gerald. ))

 

It was a long ride with more adventure than the two guards had wanted, and still more waited. The Wetlands were treacherous with the lurking swamp creatures staying just on the edge of the shadows along the road. The fog helped keep them obscured from sight and the lantern lights could only reach so far. Yet their hisses and snaps signaled their presence often enough to warrant the guards’ full attention.

“How long we got?” Devins asked and readjusted in his seat to fight the numbness in his legs.

“More than a few hours… If it goes without a hitch.” Westin answered, but he was optimistic. If the road was clear and in a fair condition, they could make it. If an animal jumped out, they had a side arm loaded to deal with it. Save for a few deep dips in the road that jostled the wagon and the four bound for prison, the trip had gone smoothly.

“When are we gonna eat?” One called out to their two guards. He had introduced himself as Bradley at the beginning of the trip before the lot had been threatened into silence.

“Keep quiet!” Westin bellowed and reached back to strike his plated fist against the bars. Devins’ lips curled back in disgust and he spat into the prison wagon. “You had bread ‘fore sun down, and you’ll get bread on the ship.”

Bradley squeezed his hands into fists and lamented the manacles that chained him to the floor panels. Although, he was not the least bit surprised by the treatment he received. He was a deserter along with Jameson who was chained next to him. On the opposite bench, Starseed was being taken in for the “accidental” murder of a dignitary due to dereliction of her duties. Stonehammer had been caught selling arms from her position as a quartermaster and rigging the documents to reflect otherwise.

All of them bound for a dark hole on an island for crimes not severe enough to warrant execution. Each one bearing their own resentment and regret at their punishments. Except Bradley. He was proud of his decision to walk off the field with the belief that the Horde should be punished to extinction.

A light broke through the mist that settled close to the road. Devins wagered it was a latern by the yellow-orange glow and gentle sway back and forth. He eased the wagon toward the right side and tugged back on the horses to slow as the right wheels moved onto softer grass and dirt.

“Hello!” A call came across the gap in common from the approaching individual. The light revealed a peasant woman with a singular horse pulling a cart with bales of hay and a few crates. Nothing extravagant nor threatening, but Westin’s hand touched the nearby pistol.

“Ma’am.” They answered back and tipped their heads. 

“Could you just- Please!” Her carriage jerked to a stop and she fumbled for a map in a burlap bag set on her bench. Reluctantly, Devins pulled on the horses to do the same. 

“Ma’am, we have a schedule to meet.” Westin began with a tense politeness to urge the woman to hurry.

“I won’t take long! Promise!” She shot them a nervous grinned across the few yards between them. “I think I may have missed my road. And -I’m sorry- this is my first time on the route. I know I left Menethil Harbor quite a while ago, and I think I might have missed the north-bound road. I’ve got a shipment to Stromgarde and- I’m so sorry! I must seem like such a mess.”

Westin’s grip became more confident on the pistol, but he did not draw it. The motivation came from the feeling that something did not match up completely. The peasant woman’s inflections were proper and what light the lantern’s offer did not show dirt on her face. Her clothes had no wear or tear and the horse…

Westin’s eyes fell on the horse, and a chill crept up his spine. It looked like a normal black, farm horse, but it stood still as if frozen in time. Perhaps it was a very well trained beast, he tried to reassure himself, but it gave off a feeling that was unnatural and profane.

“The road is just beyond us, ma’am. You’re in the right direction, and the turn off should be half an hour ahead of you.” Devins bobbed his head with a smile, always happy to assist fairer folk.

“Delightful.” The woman’s voice had turned cold and malicious with a hard stare on Devins. His smile faded, unsure of what he had done to cause the sudden change. Then he felt it at his core. It was little more than a twinge of discomfort at first then it accelerated as the woman spoke harsh, demonic words. A scent of fire and brimstone drifted between the carts, and in the lamp light a reflective glint shined between two of the crates behind her.

Westin leaned forward to listen to this madness the woman was spouting and his thumb drew back the hammer on his pistol. A deafening crack filled the air and a black shape rose from the back of the cart, finger on the trigger of a spent bayoneted musket.

The prisoners behind shrank away from the shot and Westin fell away from his perch, screaming and grabbing at his shoulder where a small, ragged hole was torn through his armor and into his flesh. Jamison screamed, panic rising from him as the reality of the situation was coming through his mind. Devins joined the chorus of shrieks and clawed at his armor as a fire raged from within his own body. Lines of glowing green fel magic etched their way up his neck, over his gorget while the soft paws drew away further from the road. 

“You missed.” Esreiella spoke as she rose from her bench and surveyed the guards. “They could hang us for this and you missed.”

Gerald dropped down from the cart to address Westin’s cries as they turned to shallow, rapid gasps. “You try getting a good shot in after lying flat for a bloody hour.” He sneered and brought his bayonet down to give Westin a merciful end. His red, worgen eyes fell onto those within the prison wagon and sized them up.

“Always something to complain about.” Esreiella clicked her tongue and hopped down from the cart, taking the lantern with her. Devins finally fell from the cart, crumpling into a writhing mass that had screamed his throat raw. The warlock thrust her hand towards him with a burst of green fire that ended his suffering before she stepped over him carefully. “These are the ones?” 

“Aye.” Gerald knelt down to fish the key ring off of the dead guard’s body, then stepped to the back side of the cart to try each key in turn.

“This is excellent news!” She exclaimed and met Gerald at the back of the wagon with the light shining inside. “We’ve been trying to reach you about exciting new employment opportunities.”

Between the fragrant display of fel magic and the hulking worgen before them in their prison, each member of the quartet of doomed souls looked from one figure to the other, then among themselves. The cheery tone only served to offset them more even while Gerald worked to unlock the chains shackling them to the wagon’s floor.

“The hell kind of opportunity?” Bradley, as boisterous as he was burly, was the first to speak up. 

“Call this interruption in your journey a gift. I don’t believe in forcing anyone to do anything against their will, so you can either run away and never look back, or come with me for payment, a place to stay, food, clothing, basic necessities. I do ask -if you choose the former option- that this little incident is never mentioned.” Esreiella offered the four a wide, forced smile. 

“That doesn’t answer what you want us to do.” Starseed narrowed pale eyes on Gerald as he unlocked her chains. Not that either of them could blame her for being suspicious.

“Since you mentioned it, my associate and I intend to fight the good fight. Bring closure to the ongoing war that has robbed us of our homes and the lives we’ve wanted.” Esreiella looked pointedly at Starseed, knowing she stood a chance to work empathy out of a Kal’dorei considering Teldrassil. “While the heroes are away for the in vogue conflict, we’ll be taking our fight to the Horde. No more peace talk and paper treaties. We’re taking the approach of good, old fashioned eradication with new and exciting weapons.”

Jameson did not wait to hear more information on Esreiella’s pitch and he had no questions that needed answering. Rather he took the first option and hurled himself out the open door of the barred wagon. Both Esreiella and Gerald may have murdered the guards, but they were good to their word to let him run free.

“We’re starting with the Forsaken.” Esreiella continued as if a man had not just ran off into the foggy night. 

“What ‘bout him?” Stonehammer jerked her head in the direction Jameson had fled while Gerald unlocked her manacles.

“What about him? He can’t show his face in Alliance towns without getting sent to prison or being killed. The same goes for Horde settlements.” Gerald answered and awkwardly worked his way out of the cage. 

“So what say you?” The warlock held her hands open with an invisible offer given to the trio.“What kinda weapons?” Bradley asked with a crooked grin.

Author Esreiella
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