Aunne loved elves. Not that she’d ever admit it, especially to the great tall huggy one, but she did. There was something about how they moved that made her feel graceless; something about how they lived that made her half-remember how to live herself. There was a joy in them that, even when they were being awful and terrible and Kanta-like, she could love as it reminded her that she -could- love, and that was something fairly special regardless. She did not love orcs. Not today. She hated their shouting and their rage and their skill and their war.
She fought with a certain contemputous ease that disguised just how battered she’d become over the last few days; undeath made many things easier. No tiredness, no pain – her particular brand of undeath even allowed for her body to maintain itself in relatively good repair, as long as she fed well, but repair took time, and was not a certain thing. She was feeding better than she had in ages; orcs felt fear, and pain, and despair, and it was oh so good and .. but there was no time. They never stopped coming. She did not ache, but her movement was not what it should be, and it was concerning. She fought on. Someone must.
And then the Horde pushed into Lor’Daniel.
The elves had been losing the entire time – it was impossible to hold territory with a paltry skirmishing force against overwhelming odds; Aunne knew that. Everyone knew that. But the rivers were supposed to hold longer, and then a column of orcs came over the mountains and spilled out into the lowland next to the port… and that was it. Flanked, outnumbered, the defenders had no chance – and there was no Light’s Hope to save them. No supernatural interference or pesky Light to give an impossible advantage.
She couldn’t stop. She never stopped. She despaired when each group of sentinels returned fewer in number, she held the line as long as she could, grudging every inch of ground in a way she never had before. Somewhere, this fight had gone from being just another fight to something far more personal. Every foot of land lost galled her, and she gave into the hate. She kept killing, but it was never enough – and each kill grew harder, not because of her concience (she still wasn’t sure she actually had one), but because each one left her just a little more damaged, a little less functional, and that too was a source of hate. Every time she could only revenge, rather than save, another fallen elf – her hate grew.
Hate was not enough. They numbered too many, the orcs – and they were not the contemptuous sloppy warriors that demons were. Demons thought themselves immortal, and they did not care if they died – they had less skill, and were just… brutal without focus, strong without individual capability. Their lives did not depend on their ability, so their ability suffered. Orcs were different – these were veterans of the war agains the Legion, the ones who had experience and capability, and were used to fighting and learned from the wars they fought; they lived and died by their axe and skill, and it showed. They were bothersome. Trouble. Difficult opponents, and they never stopped coming.
Once they pushed her back to the water’s edge on the east side of the city, for the first time in her existence Aunne felt.. despair. She didn’t like it at all. It was a scratchy, sad emotion, and it warred with her hate, and dragged her down, made her even slower. It also made her chest hurt, and she hadn’t hurt in long enough that she found the sensation immediate and distracting. Not fun.
She held as long as she could, retreating only when she had no other choice – finding herself in a gathering of refugees that had found a hidden shoal on the far side of the abandoned murloc village. They watched the burning tree with the same kind of achey look she felt inside, and she didn’t like that at all either. Elves shouldn’t look achey, in her opinion, they shouldn’t ever feel that feeling. no one should, but elves especially. She listened to them argue, feeling the crunching of her own bones repairing themselves, too slowly, frowning behind her helm.
“What do we do?” One woman asked her – all of the survivors were in shock. The burning tree stole their purpose, bewildered them; an impossibility made manifest and all too real. The others took up the question – and the panic that came with it.
“Where can we go?”
“The Horde is everywhere!”
“My husband – “
“My wife – “
“My daughter – “
“How can we survive? We should just… surrender.”
“You saw what they did to the Tree – how much better will they treat us?”
They went on like that for a time. She thought that maybe they’d go on like that forever, unless someone did something, and after a bit of dithering, she did:
“You will to live, because you must.”, she said, and the thoughts flowed easily, her hollow voice somehow thick with purpose. “We will to go west and south. Across the mountains into the felwood, yes? Then to going through the forest to Ratchet. The goblins being there do not to care about Horde rulers or trees or fire – they will to care for money. You will to gather all you are having – and there will be a ship, to going east.”
The protests were immediate –
“The Felwood? We can’t make it through there!”
“That’s… too far! The Horde will be on us before…”
“The goblins will not help us!”
One elfmaid surprised her by barking, “Enough!” Moving forward to stand next to the Death Knight, she spoke words that Aunne could not understand in the musical language of the night elves, and the others started losing that aching look and took on grimmer, more purposeful expressions, and maybe it wasn’t joy, but it was something. Aunne liked that elf.
She didn’t really like being in charge – traditionally, that had never gone well for her. The Elfmaid took charge of the group of survivors – her name was Alanaura… or something. Aunne never said it well, and they kept giggling when she tried, so she eventually just decided to think of her as ‘nice elfmaid’ and leave it at that. It was better for her to be at the edges, to move along the mountain rocks – to make sure the orcs did not get to anyone she was helping. Sometimes, she helped the elves stand up when they got tired, or she carried one of the little ones, but not too often.
They moved at night, staying hidden; during the day they would camp wherever they could, staying out of sight. At first, their numbers grew as they found other survivors, but once they got into the Felwood itself, that stopped. The demons, leftovers from the Third War, made going slow and difficult; Aunne found herself having to carve a path through some wrathguard and infernals, but fighting them was a welcome return to foes that fought much poorly than the orcs that pursued them.
And they were being pursued. On the third day, goblins and forsaken attacked from above, on gliders, and Aunne felt that achy sensation again when they killed three of the elves before she could get to them and tear them apart. Tearing them apart felt good – but the achy, broken feeling inside afteword made her mending slower, and made her wish she could still cry. They buried the ones the goblins killed, and she decided that she might hate them a little too, and the elves told her that was okay.
As they went across Ashevnale, the food that they had ran out – she tried to forage, but she wasn’t a very good hunter, and she eventually settled on finding edible flowers and plants and bringing them back whenever she could. It wasn’t really enough, and the elves did what they could, but she watched them grow hungry and slower and tired, and she began to worry that the horde that had to be behind them would catch them. She ranged farther and farther away, trying to intercept any advance column; days passed without any sign, but the birds were quiet and they were still showered by ash from the tree burning miles away, and none of them could relax.
The Barrens were the worst part. THe open, empty plain meant that they could only travel in the dark, and camps became cold and hurried things. Aunne was never bothered by the heat or the cold, but keenly felt the elves growing weaker, slower, and the constant patrols from Orgrimmar necessitated a longer path south than she liked. In the end, though, it wasn’t Orcs that found them… it was Centaurs.
They swept into the meager elf camp on hooves that thundered and rolled and echoed – two of the survivors were carried off in moments; the rest gathered what weapons they had quickly – they’d gotten used to ‘quickly’ – and defended themselves. And Aunne? Aunne roared as she exploded into the middle of them, swords glowing as she became a line of her own, making space, letting her pent up hate turn into rage.
“Run!” she shouted at the survivors, and with the Knight holding the line, they did.
Eventually, the centaurs broke, and ran; arrows were broken off in her body, bones were crushed, and when she no longer had to stand, she found she could not anymore – but the achy feeling in her chest was done. She looked to the frost-ravaged centaur bodies that surrounded her and felt.. something akin to peace. Perhaps even pride, such as it was. She savored the feeling, waiting on bones to knit, pulling the long haft of a spear from her belly with a detachment that surprised her, a little.
She would mend, in time – and she felt, a little, that aching feeling turn into warmth. And she wondered.