“Take it back! T-Take it back!” shouted the red haired six year old, pummeling the older, larger child with her tiny fists. “You take- you take it back right now or I’ll beat you into the dirt!” Another boy, smaller, thin, pale and almost frail, tried to pull her off. He had a bleeding nose and a bruise on his cheek. A mother, horrified, ran toward them. Cael didn’t notice. “If you ever c-call him names or touch my brother again, I’ll kill you! Do you hear me?! I’ll-“
“-do better n-next time, Foreman. I’m sorry,” the girl murmured, looking down. Covered in dust and streaked with sweat, the teen still stood taller than most of the grown men there. She didn’t meet the scowling miner’s eyes. It wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t; this branch just didn’t have any veins in it, but he refused to see that, and took it out on her. Never anyone else. Just her. For the hundred thousandth time, she swallowed her tongue, kept her head low, and let him rant. Talking back would only get her in trouble, and she needed this job. They both did. Her brother’s inventions were good, but not consistent enough to earn the money they needed. The foreman glared at her, done now. “Double-“
“-the output. I don’t care if we have to work the slaves to death. There’s always more where they came from,” rasped the Forsaken. Around him, humans, chained together, clanged and hammered their way to the copper ore inside Emberstone Mine. Most were terribly skinny, filthy, battered. They did not dare look at the undead waltzing through the tunnels. Executor Cornell looked around and nodded to himself, a terrible smirk on his ghastly face. “Or we can give the slackers to Valnov. He’s always up to his little experiments and he needs subjects. That feral keeps killing the ones we give him. Though he might have a success this time-“
“-with that new fighter of his, did you hear?” His companion snorted disbelief. “No, seriously,” Grogak the orc said, fingering a tusk thoughtfully. “Word is Greeblix got one of those worgen things from the Eastern Kingdoms, and he’s been going around saying she fights like a- oh, look, there she is.” The two, orc and troll, stopped in front of the wagon-turned-portable-cage. It was one of many, though not all were wagons. Some cells were drilled into the red rock that made the city’s foundations. Some were just cages. The free fighters had their own accommodations, but this was the slave circuit, here. No holds barred and to the death- just the way some of the city loved it. The wagon was half-covered by a thin sheet, the floor strewn with dirty hay. There were no furnishings, though maybe there had been, at first. “Ey, mon, don’ get too close, yah?” his troll friend told him nervously, eyeing the cage. Grogak scowled at him. “I’m not scared, idiot. Look. There’s bars. It can’t get me.” Confident in his logic, he swaggered forward and looked inside. Nothing. “…Wonder where-” He never finished. From the shadows something moved impossibly fast, reached through the bars, and ripped his throat out. Blood spurted-
-bright red arterial spray and she gloried in it, the smell of copper on the wind, tingling in her skin, alive, alive, fight hunt eat chase kill alive bones crunching in her teeth and red, red, red everywhere, walls and floors and the very air painted red. She lifted her bloody muzzle to the red rock ceiling and howled-
-in pain as Greeblix brought the whip to bear again, but Cael grit her teeth against it and the coming shift, clinging stubbornly to her human form. It was useless. “You idiot! Change dammit! I don’t need the human for fighting, I need the monster, so get you rear in gear and make me my money! The fight starts in five fucking minutes so change damn you, or I’ll make you change!!” The blows fell again and again. She was losing, Cael could feel it, red tide rising to roar thunder in her ears that turned to a wild howl, a painful prickle radiating from her injuries to the tips of her toes and her fingers. Clenching her hands, she could feel her own claws cut her palms, and knew the fight was lost. Something snapped-
-in her side, multiple somethings, probably ribs; she fought on, bleeding and limping but terrifying in her wrath nonetheless, bringing claws and teeth to bear. But she was losing, she could feel it, in the way a hunter feels when the chase is useless. A defiant snarl, burbling at the edges with blood in her mouth. She clawed-
-her way to the daylight, hand bursting through the loose dry dirt they buried her under, wheezing. Day. Durotar. Alive? And- outside Orgrimmar. They thought she was dead, she realized, and with wondering awe, on the heels of that thought… She was free–
-“T’ stay fer the night, lassie, but I can’t let ya stay longer,” the Elwynn farmer said, nodding to the barn. Soaked by the raging thunderstorm and shivering, Cael, in her human form, nodded her shaggy red head, hair plastered to her skull by the deluge, looking down. “I’ll b-b-b-b-be g-g-gone by-“
-morning. It was always gone by morning, the dream of that place she didn’t have a name for, and the giant wall, and the boy who looked a little like her with the brightest smile she’d ever seen. She knew him, though she didn’t know who he was, specifically, to her. That memory like many others lay in pieces. She rose-
-from her kneeling position in front of the grave. Remy. His name was Remy. Her brother. And she knew her own name, now, too, her full name, though she didn’t know the person that went with it. It felt like a stranger to her, the word “Caelryn”, and she sighed, sniffled, swallowed. Remy was gone, but… he would have wanted me to not be sad. I have to–
-find some weakness in this bastard! Cael thought as she growled, low and terrifying, lunging in with her sword. The attacking thing (they called it a vrykul, though that didn’t elucidate anything for her) was humanoid, gigantic, far bigger than even any orc she’d ever seen, and pissed. It hid HARD; she dodged one attack, leaping and rolling to the side and popping up as the ground shook with it’s blows. The Templars fought on stubbornly. Blood in her nose made the beast in her flex it’s fangs, and she fought back the madness as she charged in again. This was a very different woman than the normal quiet, stuttering girl they knew before. Hesitation and anxiety were absent. Cael was focused intent and controlled savagery, a frightening combination of strength and speed and agility and endurance, for all her shield arm was slick with blood. An idea occurred to her. With Orcs, you can’t outmuscle them; you have to break them down, injuries, weak points, tendons and joints. She was a hunter, she knew instinctively that you pick the weakest one to break off the herd. So- she danced into his guard, landing a blow that finally drew his attention. He raged something in a language she didn’t know, brought his arm down in a powerful blow. She saw it coming, couldn’t dodge it, braced herself, kneeling for a moment, raising her battered shield high- a ringing CLANG and agony swamped her entire arm as well as her side as she blocked it with her shield, the force sending her back several steps. The dent in her sheild was the size of a fist.
But it also drew the thing into the hole in the lines she’d made when she backed up to block, and the Templars, as a unit, turned and surrounded the invader. Her resultant grin was predatory even as it was filled with pain. She leaped forward-
-and off the bed. Cael hit the barracks floor and swallowed a yelp, thrashing in her sheets for a moment. The cold of the north quickly brought the worgen to her senses.
“Oy, shaddup, willya? Some of us are tryin’ t’ sleep,” someone said in the predawn gloom, and she froze, red to the tips of her worgen ears. I changed, too, in my sleep. That’s… not good. Slowly, as quietly as she could, she got up, made her bed, and pulled on her clothes, all as best she could with one one arm.
The other lay in a sling across her chest. Cael tried not to look at it, as if maybe by ignoring it, the injury would go away and stop making her heart sink every time she looked at it.
Two weeks, maybe even three, of forced inactivity. I can’t even argue- the Justicar herself gave me the orders. I still can’t believe she took the time to heal me. I guess I assumed she was a paladin, but- I don’t know. I just didn’t think… But now I’m useless.
Something clenched in her throat as she exited the barracks into the grey morning. There was no point trying to be human today. Her injury hurt from the fall, and it was almost impossible for her to keep that form when she was injured or in a fight or riled up. Cael wore a patched linen tunic and trousers, with a rough leather jacket over them to break off the wind; it was a little too big for her. No boots. They were too expensive to replace, and she didn’t want to rip them. Her furred, clawed feet actually did just fine without, unless it got extremely cold or icy. Early still, the sun had yet to rise, resulting in a sky still indigo, fading rapidly to shades of gentle gold a hint of orange at the horizon. Salt from the sea and pines from the forest helped clear the last bits of the dream from her mind. Cael took deep breaths, letting that air fill her, as the background noise of waves crashing against the cliff side overlain with the sounds of a town just now stirring filled her ears. Some windows shone with light from withing, including the baker’s, the blacksmith, and the keep. Some were dark still. A cold breeze bit at her exposed ears.
Cael sighed again. Normally, she’d get dressed in her gear and start training while the world was still quiet and calm, or go on a run, breathing in the scent of the rugged northern coast. Today… She didn’t know WHAT she was going to do. If she couldn’t fight, what good was she?
The young worgen muttered under her breath and tried to ignore her anxiety. No. She had a place here. Stuffing that little voice into a box at the back of her mind, she went to go gather her gear. She’d cleaned it after the fight, of course, but her sword could use sharpening, and she could at least do THAT.
Twenty minutes later saw her seated on the green grass at the edge of the cliff, whetstone scraping along the edge of the metal carefully. A hankerchief worn thin, almost sheer, held buns stuffed with sausage and cheese and others with various jams; the cook had insisted, when she came to get a cup of the hot black beverage they served in the mornings, because she ‘needs food to heal, big as y’ are, an’ you keep outta trouble nah, y’hear?’. Faced with the formidable but kindly woman, Cael could only nod, and so here she sat, with breakfast, watching the sun slowly rise over the north.
I’ve got to find something to do while I heal, or I’ll go insane. When I fought before- in Orgrimmar- wounds were nothing. You fought or you died. Sometimes they held me down and gave me that stuff that tasted terrible and made me sort of sick, but I’m pretty sure it helped me heal, though I’m also pretty sure it was more so I could fight again than anything else. She tried not to think on it. Bitterness helped no one, and those days were gone. Better to focus on the future.But what? Everything I can think of involves lifting, or doing, or…
I could stand watch, but she told me not to, and if those things came again -vrykul- I’d be in trouble.
I just want to help. I don’t- I don’t think they’ll kick me out because I got hurt but- but I want to do my best so nobody ever has any complaints about me here. I want to stay. Badly. These are good people and I just…
For the second time, she pummeled her anxiety into submission. Cael frowned fiercely. No. NO. That was a silly thought. They’d tell her if she wasn’t doing well. They would. I can’t just laze around, though!!
Her arm itched under the bandage. Cael put down the whetstone and tried to scratch it around the edge- then paused, contemplative.
…There’s an idea. Maybe the healers need help…? Cloth isn’t heavy. I could, I don’t know- hold things? I’ll ask. That’s helpful, right? There were other injuries. Some worse than mine, not all soldiers. And there’s always some illness going around, with this weather. Cael nodded, slowly, to herself. That sounded like something she could do. She ate a bun in two bites; the sausage, spiced with sage, was delicious.
(And was there anything better than having a guaranteed, constant supply of food? She would never starve or go hungry here, and it was all she could do not to hoard the buns against the irrational ‘what ifs’ in her mind.)
She’d ask first thing, then, after she finished here and ate, Cael decided. It wouldn’t be the last time she got injured. Even if the actual asking filled her with nerves…
Learning something new might be a good thing.