“YOU CRAZY BASTAAAAAAARD!!”

 

 

The weight of the weaponry her (not cool, psychotic, asshole) employer strapped onto her yanked and janked her painfully as Doryn Greenly tumbled through the open sky to certain death. Wind roared, a high deafening thing that teared her eyes so hard she couldn’t see and she was going to die-

 

 

-goggles I have goggles use the goggles-

 

 

Doryn nearly screamed as the wind yanked the precious S.P.E.C.S from her fingers, shooting them skyward only for them to get caught on a part of her crossbow. The hunter grabbed them and shoved them onto her face, heartbeat loud in her ears. Now she could see, and her panicked mind had a strange precious second of stunned silence and pure wonder as she looked down, and beheld the earth from the vantage of the gods.

 

 

Below her sprawled Broken Isles, the ruins of a civilization older than humankind, embroiled in a war beyond her imagining: great tracts of fel green marred the world, a giant peak like an upraised finger to the sky, a magical city by the water, a swathe of periwinkle-pinky-blue that shimmered with magic in the goggles lenses, the biggest tree she’d ever seen outside of Darnassus, a very creepy castle like a child’s toy set down on a playmat, islands, a statue of something humanoid she couldn’t make out but it had to be huge to be seen from here, a forest decked in gold and the colors of fall.

 

 

I’m above the clouds oh wow Mum and Dad did some amazing things but they never did this

 

 

Of course I’m also going to die-

 

 

There was that, too.

 

 

The fear followed the wonder, and she shrieked as she continued to fall. Doryn flailed, succeeding in flipping herself over and then oddly sideways as she punched through a cold, not-soft-at-all cloud. Icy crystals chafed her face and melted almost instantly. Terror threatened to swamp her mind, the bitterly cold wind numbed her extremities, and with nothing to hold on to she couldn’t keep from falling tail over teakettle in a way that made her stomach clench in agony.

 

 

And she fell, and fell, and fell, and fell.

 

 

Something screamed. It wasn’t her.

 

 

It was a giant evil fel-bat-THING that swooped and tried to eviscerate her with its claws. Only luck and the odd lurching flip saved her. It came around agian, and now over the howling wind, she could hear echoing cries. More were coming.

 

 

Another cloud, this one a sickly shade of ash and fel, and it smelled wrong and tasted worse and that was a spaceship. What the fuck is a spaceship doing here? Does the Legion have spaceships?

 

 

A clawed foot grabbed hers, and Doryn screamed again and something in her neck HURT as whiplash jerked her around. The bat looked down and chattered, baring fangs as long as an arrow-

 

 

-arrows arrows I’m armed aren’t I armed where is-

 

 

Her poor frozen fingers could barely hold the crossbow but momentum did the rest as she used the beasts own flapping motion to swing, slamming that bladed edge into the side of the leg and shearing it off completely. The bat howled in agony and went into a spastic corkscrew as Doryn dropped once more, now much, MUCH closer to the Broken Shore. Tin man demons and worse were discernible.

 

 

And what in the name of the Light was that… that greeny-black structure, whose every architectural line seemed to etch death and torment into the dark stone, dominating the entire island? It was HUGE….

 

 

….And she was falling to the right of it, into an area composed of jagged rocks at the northeast of the island.

 

 

Oh no oh no oh no-

 

 

Something flapped against her hand- the odd dangly cord from the backpack and Doryn’s heart clenched in a sudden painful jolt of hope-

 

 

-please please please be a parachute please be a parachute I can’t do the fucking tests if you didn’t give me a parachute you asshole-

 

 

Deploying it felt a lot like tying her shoulders to a horse and giving the beast a good spank on the arse, but it beat death by impact hands down, even if the yank did send her weapons tumbling onto the rocks to shatter.  And so it was that she gently floated the last fifty feet down onto a lonely slab of solid rock.

 

 

I am alive. I can’t believe I am alive. Oh…. oh Light. I- is that-?

 

 

The green-black structure she had seen from above now looked before her in all its horrific glory, a monument to corruption and death, presiding over the doom of their mortal world.

 

 

It was not very far away at all.

 

 

The parachute settled over her and Doryn thrashed to escape it. When she finally did, she had a few moments of precious peace to realize: I am fucked. I am well and truly fucked.

 

 

This is the Broken fucking Shore. This is where hope goes to die- this is where TIRION died! That is the actual, real, looming-up-before-me Tomb of fucking Sargeras. Those bats were probably trying to take me there to be killed- if I’m lucky, slowly and horribly. If I’m not they’d probably turn me into one of them. I am a small time poacher at best. I’m not a veteran or a paladin or anything else likely to survive here. I’m a tiny insignificant human.

 

 

I am so, so fucked.

 

 

And, she realized, exposed as fel out here. I need to move. Now.

 

 

Swiftly she cut the cord from the parachute, stuffed it into the backpack again, and looked for her weapons. The crossbow was stained with green and somehow, intact. The fiery canon gun thing definitely wasn’t, and her goggles had been cracked by something during the spat with the bat. She gathered up the guns pieces. The halberd’s handle was sheared in half at an angle, but maybe she could fix it? I will take it with me anyways. Might need it.

 

 

Looking around, she saw that the rocks she landed on were in fact a sort of jutting roof for a fel-and-lava-y chasm below, practically infested with demons. Doryn made a squeaking noise of panic and retreated hastily from the edge. …Are those cages hanging from the ceiling?

 

 

I don’t want to know, oh Light above I don’t want to know….

 

 

Some elven ruins also lay below, and briefly she thought about trying to seek shelter there, but they also lay close to the mouth of the chasm. Nope. Not gonna work. Over the other side she saw naga, their minions, and sea.

 

 

Then, miracle of miracles, she spotted a small shadowy crack in the wall below her.

 

 

A cave?

 

 

Please be safe, please be safe….

 

 

But how do I get to it? It’s awful close to the mouth of that… felfirey lava cave chasm place. Just up a few hundred yards on the side of a sheer cliff wall.

 

 

Could I use the parachute? Cut it into strips and tie them together…? Doryn tested the material, pulling it out of her bag. Maybe?

 

 

Her boots had a knife in them because of course they did. Still the worst boss ever. But it was nice and new and sharp and cut the cloth cleanly. Doryn tried not to tremble as she did it.

 

 

Mum, Dad, how did I even get here? How did this even happen? I just wanted to be… something better than what I was. Something greater. Someone who would make you proud. And now I’m going to die alone on the Broken Shore because of an actual fucking mad scientist and my own stupidity at thinking maybe, just maybe, I would be good at something for once.

 

 

No, those thoughts would only make her panic. Think of… squirrels, yeah, fluffy cuddly cute little squirrels.

 

 

Demon eating fluffy cuddly cute little squirrels.

 

 

Yeah.

 

 

Ten minutes and some intricate knotwork remembered from Gilnean Scouts had a long rope that she tied to the spire of rock she currently sat on. About three hundred feet below was the shadowy opening. She tried to swallow, but given how dry her throat was, it didn’t do much good.

 

 

Ok. Ok. I can do this. If for no other reason than to find my soon-to-be-ex-boss and punch him in the face, I can do this, Doryn thought to herself, and began her precarious descent. It actually went rather well- the knots she incorporated served to help control her climb down. The opening gaped in front of her, about eight feet high and three feet wide, made of obsidian. Doryn flung her weight forward and landed with a hard THUNK, scraping hands and knees.

 

 

“Who dares to disturb me?” growled a voice from the depths, and felfire illuminated everything. It looked like a draeni, if Draeni had green glowing eyes and cracks in thier skin. It’s eyes widened on seeing her.

 

 

Doryn did the first thing that her body told her to.

 

 

She screamed and raised that giant hulking crossbow with its three foot arrows and shot it in the eye.

 

 

Her cry was deafened by his, a roar of rage, and she fumbled to reload because he would give her position away otherwise- but he suffused his body in fire and charged instead. Doryn didn’t have time to shoot agian, just dove underneath him and then turned as he screeched to a halt at the edge and swung her crossbow with all her strength.

 

 

It bit deep into his side and splattered both with green blood as she nearly stumbled forward with the momentum of the heavy weapon and pushed them both off the edge. As it was, the rope still dangling saved her- but not him.

 

 

She almost felt the CRACK of bones hitting the rocks below.

 

 

Staring and shaking, she had to make herself move further inside, crossbow now drawn in case of any more unpleasant surprises.

 

 

I- I killed him. A minion of the Legion. What was that? Someone corrupted? Oh Light, I killed him and I’ve got green blood all over me. I actually killed him. I’ve never killed another… person? Was he a person? Before.

 

 

No. No nervous breaks yet. First things first: make sure the cave was safe, and hide.

 

 

The cave extended about fifteen feet back before it narrowed into a stagnant little puddle and a slowly sloping wall. She crouched at the very back and waited, motionless, for an hour before she determined that her presence had gone (by some miracle) unnoticed.

 

 

Then she had her nervous break.

 

 

When the sobs finally settled and her breath returned halfway to normal and her tears all dried, Doryn sniffed, wiped her nose, and sat staring at the wall unfeelingly for an hour as her wits returned to her.

 

 

That was stupid. I’m thirsty now and I have no water, she thought absently. Dad taught me not to waste… waste. Wait. A little more life seeped into her bones.

 

 

She still had the backpack.

 

 

Taking a deep shuddering breath- in and out, in and out- she pulled it to her and started going through the contents.

 

 

The squirrels remained as inert and stuff as a child’s carved wooden toy. She set them aside for now. Some flat clever gallon sized bags, labeled EMERGENCY H20- ADD AIR. How did that work? But then this is the man who made android squirrels. Squirreldroids? No, that sounds ridiculous. There was a canteen already filled with water- she took two deep swallows and left the rest. She didn’t trust anything she could scavenge here. Several packets that looked like instant soup mix or something similar, what looked like trailbread mix, a large bag of dried fruit, another of jerky. A gnomish army knife- Doryn brightened. I have always kinda wanted one of these! A large bag of… acorns…? A little tool set, filled with screwdrivers and such all but also with some stranger items she didn’t know and had never seen before (was that a tiny blowtorch?); several thick little booklets, the manuals Zenruid mentioned before; a little firestarter kit; a little compass with a mirror on a cord; a spare cloak slash blanket; a length of rope; a first aid kit…

 

 

…Damnably enough, all this is really handy. He really did his homework. This is a good little survival kit, for a few days anyways. A week if I’m a bit more careful.

 

 

Doryn scowled.

 

 

He’s still a jerk though, and I’m still going to punch him when I see him.

 

 

There was no denying though: a lot could be said for the safety and security having clean water and decent food provided.

 

 

Should have looked here first, might have saved the parachute. Ah well. Next time- no! There won’t BE a next time! I’m going to punch him in the face and resign when I see him. Muttering to herself, she picked up the manuals.

 

 

“….That- that great, flaming arse! That bloody-!” Doryn snarled and threw the manuals against the wall. “Darnassian! I can’t believe these are in bloody Darnassian! Did it ever occur to him that not everybody can read motherfuckin’ bloody Darnassian?” Her Gilnean accent, mellows by time, emerged agian as she seethed, glaring at the pamphlets.

 

 

Then she retrieved them.

 

 

Maybe there would be some damn pictures or something.

 

 

There were. But they only confused her more, not less. Disgusted, she put them aside, and stared at the three  S.Q.U.I.R.R.E.L  B.O.T.S  sitting empty-eyed and silent across from her.

 

 

“I don’t even know how to turn you on,” she muttered.

 

 

A pause.

 

 

She blinked.

 

 

Doryn blinked again. “What… wait a minute… what did he call it? Neuro something… bioneural systems… connecting me, the goggles, and the squirrels…”

 

 

Was it that simple? Surely not.

 

 

Doryn picked up the goggles.

 

 

She put them on. They slid into place easily like they were made for her face. She adjusted dials and buttons, watching her vision zoom and refocus. Nothing else really happened. She frowned.

 

 

“Do I just… think them on?”

 

 

On?

 

 

ZWEEP!

 

 

As one, the three squirrels straightened, eyes suddenly aglow. Doryn gasped. A little loading icon, an acorn shape, rapidly filled, then they were looking at her and alive.

 

 

“….Light above,” she breathed. He might be full of shit but he was not shitting about this. They are alive. And- I can FEEL them.

 

 

Hi!

 

Good morning!

 

Hello!

 

 

Went three voices in her mind and Doryn jerked back in surprise as she heard and felt them awaken- parts of her she never knew she was missing until now, until three separate, distinct little personalities all seamlessly took up residence in the empty places of her mind, the parts of the brain humans didn’t use. A spike of blinding agony made her double over with another gasp, but joy and love followed so close on its heels Doryn felt tears spring to her eyes. It was too much, too much, suddenly after years of being so terribly alone, so without hope or future, to feel this so acutely it literally hurt. Only vaguely she realized her nose was bleeding, mingling with the tears streaking her face.

 

 

Why are you sad?

 

 

The three as one all tilted their heads, looking at her curiously. That “voice” sounded almost female. One scampered forward, up her arm to her shoulder and wrapped around her neck (how did little metal hairs manage to be so soft?).Don’t be scared! It’s ok! We’re all here!

 

 

We are together now, said another, more boyish, and the other squirrel ran up in front of her and stood on his little hind legs, talking to her as he did. You will never have to be sad again!

 

 

Or alone. We are family. You will never have to be alone, not ever, another promised, this one female but quieter.

 

 

We love you.

 

We love you.

 

We love you.

 

 

Please don’t be sad! Please stop crying! Oh no, she’s bleeding- that was the first voice again, worried, so worried.

 

 

The neural connection is a strain, said the second voice again. Remember the failures? They couldn’t handle it. Her systems seem operational however, despite the leakage. Can you hear us?

 

 

She can, she has the SPECS, she should be able to! What if she isn’t the one? Are we- defective? asked the third, suddenly worried.

 

 

Doryn didn’t know what was happening, didn’t know if she would survive this, didn’t know if she was going legitimately insane, but she could NOT let these unbelievable, precious, amazing life forms think they were defective.

 

 

Sorry I’m sorry I don’t I can’t it hurts you love me why do you love me I’m nothing nobody I’m going to die you’re not defective you’re amazing perfect how do you exist this is incredible I almost don’t want to kill him who are you-

 

 

Whoa, whoa, slow down! said the second. Think gentle. We can hear and feel you. Your name is Doryn. We love you, Doryn. You’re our missing piece. Our family.

 

 

You’re NOT nothing! Who said that? I’ll bite them so hard they’ll never go near your trees agian! First voice, indignant- and fierce, shockingly so. Violence was not, apparently, outlawed in their programming. Her eyes went all angry-slants-eyelid-style to express the emotion.

 

 

We don’t have programming. We learn. We’re alive, like you. That’s what makes us special. But of course we would fight for you! And you would fight for us. Squirrels are very territorial. The third voice, very serious.

 

 

Together:We love you, Doryn. We won’t let anything hurt you ever agian.

 

 

And if they try, we’ll just kill them. First again, very nonchalant. Dear Light, they ARE kind of violent. I- Nobody has ever… ever done that for me before…

 

 

Drive them off the tree and down to the ground and leave them there, bleeding, for the cats, said the third.

 

 

Or just finish them ourselves. The second was straightforward.

 

 

She gaped at them. They blinked at her. Then one ran to the backpack, dragging a scrap of cloth behind it -her?- and the other two rubbed her face and made comforting chirruppy noises as they sat on her shoulders.

 

 

For your nose, the first said. Otherwise you’ll attract attention. And don’t forget to wipe off the fel blood! It has a caustic chemical composition that will degrade almost anything, including your clothing. Amazingly, Doryn felt-saw how a predator would always go after a weaker animal first, and knew the feeling-vision came from the first squirrel. Her father had taught her that, out in the woods trailing deer; but it was another to feel it, the instinct, versus knowing it intellectually, and see it in practice by… by people who cared about her.

 

 

And that could be bad. The second was a practical and straightforward sort, huh? This is a good den you chose, though. You mobbed that demon out of here, huh? Good work! Pride-approval-love washed over her, unconditional and unrepentant.

 

 

We’re a long way from home though. We need to get back. This isn’t our territory, said the third, looking around nervously. More will come. She left to get Doryns canteen, dragging it over. You’re thirsty. You need to be healthy to travel! Here you go!

 

 

She drank, head spinning, the beginnings of a blooming migraine throbbing at her temple.

 

 

As for who we are… The first paused. I think you’re supposed to name us.

 

 

The young hunter blinked, frowning. “If you’re people… then- well, you’re not my pets. Not like a dog or a cat. You… I think you should pick your own names,” Doryn said, slowly. Did Zen even realize the magnitude of what he had accomplished here? Did she WANT him to? She shivered. One life-changing thing at a time. Distantly, she made a note that she desperately needed to brush up on her engineering skills, because if she was going to take care of them she would need it.

 

 

There was a little moment of silence from the three, as the little loading icon appeared agian in their eyes.

 

 

Searching database, they said at the same time.

 

 

“Oh, uh… sure. I’ll just. Sit here and, um, hold my nose.” So she did, mind reeling.

 

 

She was loved. She was loved.

 

 

How long had it been since she felt unconditionally, completely loved?

 

 

When Mum and Dad hugged me last. That’s when.

 

 

And right then and there she knew she was a goner. If this was Zen’s trap, she threw herself into it willingly. If this was a mistake, it was worth making. If it lead to her death, she was willing to accept that. If it made her weak or pathetic or crazy, she decided she didn’t care.

 

 

This was worth it.

 

 

They were worth it.

 

 

They were worth everything. Her family.

 

 

Doryn took the loading time to sit and master the urge to cry again- this time, from happiness.

 

 

I am Tippi-Tail, because the tip of my tail is red, said the first voice, confident.

 

 

I choose… Joey, said the second. It’s a good easy name to say.

 

 

….I like Cindy, said the quieter third. Even if my incendiary functions are offline at the moment.

 

 

 “Tippi. Joey. Cindy.” Doryn repeated the names.It’s so strange- I can feel each of them, distinct and perfect. Tippi feels more energetic and adventurous, Joey has an intelligence about him that feels almost like Zenruid, Cindy is quiet and reserved but she will fight as fierce as anything. And they love me.

 

 

Of course we do! Tippi said, hopping up her shoulder and onto her head, the preferred spot. Doryn got a mental packet of information at that point, about height equaling safety, dominance: a squirrel on the ground is a squirrel in trouble. The cave was a delightfully squirrelly substitute, given how far off the ground it was. Doryn herself felt a strange need to suddenly sleep in trees before the mental imagery faded away.

 

 

Doryn. You’re not alone. We’re here. We’re going to get through this. Have you eaten yet? asked Joey.

 

 

Food is good! We need energy as well. Are there nuts, perchance, anywhere…? Cindy began sniffing around the cave floor. Doryn snapped her fingers.

 

 

“Oh! There was some in the bag!”

 

 

The squirrels, as an efficient little team of three, dragged out the emergency H2O packet, a collapsible metal pot, the bag of nuts, fire starter, and a packet of soup mix. Doryn spread the nuts on the ground, dividing it into three and saving some out for tomorrow.

 

 

“So you… eat?”

 

 

We have all the necessary biological functions, just in a mechanical design. Our bioneural circuitry functions analogous to many biological systems. We need to consume physical fuel to convert into energy just as you do, Doryn. With that, Joey shoved an entire nut into his mouth and made a happy noise. She couldn’t help but grin. What that fuel consists of can vary; however, nuts work remarkably well due to the high fat content. Oh lovely, beech nuts. I do so enjoy beech nuts. He delicately nibbled on said beech nut, standing up on his little hind legs and holding it with his little paws as he did.

 

 

Doryn set about making a fire after she cleaned herself up a little. The emergency water bag worked like a charm, despite her efforts to remain unimpressed. Being an asshole trumps being a genius, she thought rebelliously, taking two sticks of firestarter and pausing.

 

 

“Guys?”

 

 

Hmm?

Yes?

What is it?

 

 

“Could one of you, real sneaky like, poke your nose outside for a bit and see if there’s anything to burn? I’m not sure the firestarter will be enough and I don’t think the parachute is a good idea, and I want to save my spare cloak if I can.” She bit her lip. I really don’t like sending them out there, but…

 

 

No! It’s ok! I’m good at sneaking. I’m the best of all three, Cindy assured her. Joey is smarter and Tippi is a better fighter but I am definitely the best sneaker. I will find you some sticks! I promise!  The hunter tried to suppress her tired smile at her enthusiasm.

 

 

“Just… please be safe? Please?” I can’t lose them too.

 

 

You won’t! I’ll be careful. I promise. Cindy nuzzled her, gently, on the neck. Doryn hugged her close, then released her, and she bounded out of the mouth of the cave, going up the rockwork like, well, a squirrel. She added the packet of soup, water, and a bit of precious jerky to the pot and waited.

 

 

In the meantime, Tippi and Joey and her talked. About everything, anything; them, their schematics, herself, her past. She washed her face; read the manuals as best she could; she tried to mend the holes in her shirt caused by fel blood. The feeling of other beings in her head felt like a strange itch, but good, reassuring, though different in a way she couldn’t describe. It made her smile cheerfully.

 

 

If you’re worried, we can tell you how to think-quiet, so you have more private thoughts. We know humans are accustomed to a certain sanctity of mind. We want you to be happy, Doryn, Joey said soberly.

 

 

“Thanks. I will probably take you up on that, though I can’t imagine what I would have to hide-“

 

 

BLINDING agony suddenly shot though her head, like a rail spike driven between her eyes, and suddenly panic-pain-terror-run-run-rUN-DORYN-RUN flooded her consciousness. She made a pained noise and doubled over as Tippi and Joey burst into angry chatters, taking up position in front of her, all fluffed up fur and angry lashing tails and furious eyes. Her nose began to bleed again, her eyeballs bursting with pain in throbbing time with her pulse, and then-

 

-Cindy rounded the cave entrance from below screamingfear and pain and rage, with three fel-bat riding demons hot on her tail. They barreled into the cave as Doryn scrambled to her feet and dove for the crossbow, her only intact weapon. “Shit shit oh FUCK-!”

 

 

Tippi and Joey, however, screamed defiance and FLUNG themselves fearlessly at the demons!

 

 

If one has never seen a squirrel fight, the unexpected ferocity of the species may come as a surprise. Being small, furry, relatively adorable and generally harmless acorn loving members of the rodent family, it’s hard to see them as a legitimate threat. Perhaps the wild grins of the pursuing demons could, then, be forgiven in thier unflattering first impression.

 

 

However, one who has seen a squirrel fight… knows better.

 

 

The common Azerothian Grey Squirrel weighs 1.5 pounds. They are a foot in length of body with an additional ten inches of tail. They have extremely sharp claws and deft hands, with ankles that can rotate 180 degrees for climbing and paws that come equipped with special pads to survive falls up to 100 feet. Extreme agility coupled with innate speed makes them very difficult to catch. They have four main teeth for gnawing in the front of thier mouth that never stop growing. With physics being what they are, that small surface area is a boon to them: they have an insane 7000 psi bite force. For perspective, the saltwater crocodile, one of the greatest biters in the animal kingdom, has a bite pressure half that, and many big cats average a mere 1000 psi; this is enough to chew through small steel cables and wires. Powerful back legs enable them to jump six or seven times thier length straight up, and longer horizontally.

 

 

Of course, all this was before Zenruid Fateshifter took a look and said to himself: “I can do better!”

 

 

He modeled his  S.Q.U.I.R.R.E.L  B.O.T.S  along the structural lines of the Azerothian Fox Squirrel, native to the more northern climes. These weigh half again as much as their smaller cousins, and possess more muscular forearms as well as hind limbs. Bioneural engineering is much more sophisticated than gears and pistons- titanium composite with carbon nanotubes makes up the near-indestructible dentition and claws, for example. Metallic fibers are corded and bunched just as muscle would be. The entire being is three pounds of fluidly alive machinery.

 

 

With all this taken into account, Doryn really shouldn’t have been surprised as Tippi and Joey went from thier formerly snuggly selves to bloodthirsty terrifying balls of teeth and claws.

 

 

The first bat and rider each got a screaming squirrelbot right in the face, throwing them into chaos. In the confines of the cave thier thrashing succeeded in blocking the other two from going any further and gave Doryn time to struggle with the heavy bladed crossbow. A piercing shriek came from the eredar, and Doryn nearly dropped her weapon in shock and no small (slightly impressed) horror as Tippi’s metal teeth wreaked havoc on his face and eyes. A normal squirrel bite wound is characterized by two deep punctures, one from the top set of teeth, one from the bottom. Biting is a self defense mechanism, and the wound can become easily infected if not treated properly- but they do not gash and rip like many carnivores. It is not their nature. Squirrel claws, by contrast, are small and meant for gripping and climbing, not fighting.

 

Tippi, Joey, and Cindy were not normal squirrels. They were created with warfare in mind. Instead of biting and then letting go, with puncture wounds remaining, Tippi bit hard enough for her teeth to click together and then ripped free, leaving ruinous bloody gashes and chunk-shaped holes of missing flesh. She flayed small ribbons of red skin with her wickedly hooked razorbladed claws as she zipped around his head. Joey was doing much the same going for weak points in thier armor: the underarm, lightly armored and home to several important blood vessels, the back of the knee. H made quick of the saddle’s trappings- a final buck from the bat and they snapped, sending the eredar to the ground. Free and maddened by pain, the bat bolted for the exit, knocking over the other two as it leaped and barely managed to flap away, dribbling green.

 

 

Now, Doryn! Finish him! We’ll get the rest! Came Tippi’s savagely triumphant voice in her mind. Doryn’s body took over. She slapped an arrow into the crossbow, almost dropped it, hoisted it upwards and aimed at the first rider, taking him through the chest- the force embedded the arrow into the cave wall beyond and pulled him there.

 

 

One down, two to go.

 

 

Tippi and Joey each leaped at a bat and rider, clawing and biting and screeching bloody murder and death at the top of thier high pitched lungs. Doryn had to set the crossbow down to reload, it was so heavy, and then swore as a felfire green ball of burning magic flew at her. She rolled to dodge, and it missed. The crossbow lay several feet away now though- but the halberd and it’s haft lay in reach.

 

 

She didn’t think, only acted. Her dad taught her to throw hatchets, after all, half party trick, half actual useful skill. Now she picked up the end with the blade axelike head and HEAVED it at the fireball thrower as they charged her, roaring in a language that sent shivers up her spine. It fell short of him, but tripped his bat, and they went crashing down in a tangle of wings.

 

 

THEN Doryn went for her bow. The three foot arrows had enough stopping power to kill a elekk, and she was less than six feet from them. The bolt ripped through the bat in a spray of lime and shot out the opening into open air.

 

 

Mob them! Mob them! Get out! This is our territory! Get out! Joey said, as he did something gruesomely effective to final bat’s throat and green splurted wildly. It slumped, jerks turning to twitches, and that left two eredar versus Doryn, Tippi, and Joey.

 

 

“What sort of abomination IS this?” One hissed to the other, as they tried to close in a defensive formation. Green fire flickered to life in thier palms.

 

 

If they got that spell off-

 

 

GET OUT! THIS IS OUR WORLD! OUR TERRITORY! GET OUT! Screamed both squirrels and Doryn, too, without thinking, surprising herself as much as the demons. Thier feelings, hate and indignation and righteous anger and the undercurrent thought-feel of love, that they were invincible if they worked together- it gave her strength and courage to face the two and charge!

 

 

A squirrel in the face is an extremely effective interruption, as it happened.

 

 

Doryn rolled forward, remembering the lessons her mother gave her, how to fight if she had to close up. She swung the crossbow like she swung the axe in that fatal moment of distraction, right at the demon’s ugly stupid face.

 

 

It lodged itself a third through the skull, stuck fast, and Doryn didn’t think agian, just remembered. As the final demon howled rage and pain, flailing as it tried to dislodge the squirrel currently clamped horribly into his left shoulder, she yanked the knife from her boot.

 

 

Just like with a deer, Dory, her mother’s voice echoed.

 

 

And she pivoted, a smooth half-circular move, as she darted forward and lunged and cut his throat from behind.

 

 

He dropped like a bag of rocks.

 

 

“Oh. Oh Light. That- that was- was really violent,” Doryn said, as she finally registered the corpses on the floor and the blood steaming on the cave wall. “I-”

 

 

The pain she first felt returned with a vengeance, making her see stars. “Shit! What-?”

 

 

CINDY! Joey ran over to where the other squirrel lay, on her side and… and heartstoppingly still.

 

 

No. No! No no no no please no Cindy-!

 

 

You think so loud. Her soft voice felt softer than usual, and sort of faint and fuzzy about the edges in Doryn’s mind. Had to- lay down… so tired. Bat got me. Had to run. Blocked you from the pain so you could fight. That’s what she was feeling, Doryn realized, eyes wide. The pain from Cindy’s wounds. Shaking, she knelt by the little squirrel.

 

 

Sure enough, bat teeth left deep, deep puncture wounds that tore the strangely soft metallic pseudoflesh and oozed a strange translucent electric blue fluid. Her breathing came in shallow gasps.

 

 

You did so well, Doryn…

 

 

“C-Cindy, just- oh Light, oh please no- just keep talking to me ok? What- what can I do-?” Her heart clenched painfully in her chest. The pain in her mind was nothing compared to the idea of losing Cindy, even after so brief an acquaintance.

 

 

It may be possible to affect field repairs- I think I saw a tool kit and there’s the manuals… Tippi, usually so excited, seemed as shaken as Doryn felt. She went to join Joey as he helped arrange Cindy’s prone form in a more comfortable position.

 

 

“Field repairs? I’m not- I just- I tinker a little, I am nowhere near what Zenruid can do!” Fear and panic twisted together with shock. This is insane, this- I can’t do it, I’m not smart enough- I barely survived that fight, and now Cindy is- is- I’ve gotten her killed just like my parents, Tippi and Joey won’t make it out alive- we’re all going to die because I can’t keep from fucking up for one fucking day!

 

 

I just found them- I just found my family and now I’m going to lose them too- this isn’t fair! I’m not prepared for this! Zenruid should have- he didn’t- this is his- Doryn’s throats closed up in a choking sob.

 

 

This isn’t fair. I just found them.

 

 

Should have read the fine print, said a voice that sounded a hell of a lot like her asshole boss.

 

 

What am I going to do….?

 

 

Cindy made a heartbreaking little whimper.

 

 

Joey and Tippi both looked at her, waiting for command, instruction- somehow, somehow, having faith that she would make it all better. Words snarled in her chest, dying there.

 

It- it’s not fair.

 

 

But- maybe that doesn’t matter. That won’t make Cindy better, that… that won’t make us any safer or stop demons. That won’t stop the Legion. THEY sure as fel won’t be fair! It’s NOT fair, not fair at all, but maybe that doesn’t matter.

 

 

Family matters. The Legion- I never understood until I saw… but stopping them, that matters. She wasn’t aware of how her hands had curled into fists. I can’t just say it’s not fair and that I can’t help make a difference anymore. The world doesn’t work that way. What matters is what you DO. I wanted an adventure- always restless, running off- I always wanted that, even as a kid. Mom and Dad were never scared of the unknown or the Blackwald, and that forest had a dark attitude, sure and it did! Most hunters didn’t dare go near it. But Mom and Dad did. They made life their adventure, they didn’t let anything stop them. I’ve almost died more times in the last few hours than in the last twenty two years but does that even matter if the Legion wins? If I don’t LIVE in a way that feels alive, like they did? If I… I let down the people who count on me, my family?

 

 

It’s not fair. Fine! FUCK fair! Squirrels don’t play fair! They’ll fight and steal each other’s nuts in winter and knock down nests and kill the babies if they have to, to defend their family and their territory!

 

 

And so will I! I’m a Greenly of the Blackwald, the Assistant of Scuiridae, and I will NOT just sit here and cry! I’m not going to be killed, not here, not today, not by demons and absolutely NOT by some crazy bastard’s live fire exercise!

 

 

She took a deep breath.

 

 

“Joey- get me that tool kit, the spare cloak, the gnomish army knife and the manuals. I’m… I may need your help with anatomy. She’d bleeding- not blood, but you know- if she were biological, the first step is stop the bleeding. Do- uh, does your… skin heal?”

 

 

Kind of- I’ll get these items you requested and we will go over the details. I would concur that stopping the bleeding is the priority. I will assist, as I am fluent in Darnassian. Joey nodded and ran to gather them up. Doryn stared at him before she shook herself. One step at a time, she thought. “Tippi, bring me that giant gun-cannon-fireball-thing- the pieces I mean, the one that broke in the fall. We might need the scraps. We’ll leave as soon as we get Cindy stable; we made a lotta ruckus and there’s bodies and everything. Soup’ll have to wait…”

Author Cael
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