Test”…W-What a mess,” Cael muttered with a sigh as she looked at the wreck of her armor. The rescue mission she’d volunteered for turned out to be a bit of a doozy, evidenced by her steel gear, now laid on a wooden table in front of her. The young woman herself, now in human form, ran a callused hand through her short ruddy hair and winced at the thought of how much this would be to repair.

The worst was the gash in her greaves. They’d have to be replaced entire, or reforged, which she didn’t have the skill to do herself. Healers got most of the metal bits out of her hip and healed the damage, but it ached as she stood there and traced the gash with a blunt fingertip.

Demons. I’ve never faced a real demon before. But they bleed just like people do- so I’ll be alright, probably, Cael thought, moments before the rescuers closed in on the demons blocking their way. Two minutes later, she’s fighting for her life. The axe coming for her side is fast, too fast to dodge, and bites deep- first into her armor, then through the steel into her flesh. It’s only because of that metal layer that she isn’t hacked in two like a tree for timber, and pain and burning and her beast howls against the control she’s placed it under. 

The cut on her muzzle translated to a badly busted lip, both upper and lower. It was scabbed over now but talking hurt, and would for a while. She still tasted copper on her own breath, despite swishing out her mouth.

This motherfucker, she growls to herself, as the… whatever he was- demon? Likely- yammers on. The taste of blood had her on a dangerous edge. Part of her strained, hound at the leash, to attack and kill, end the threat. Bloody muzzled and burning eyed, she looks a little unholy herself, all glinting ember eyes in the clinging gloom of the cave, a suppressed snarl felt in the thick tension of the room. Rationally, she knew she had to wait for the mages- it, or he, was definitely a sorcerer of some kind, and attacking him on her own might just piss him off if he was protected magically. But oh, the taste of blood, and she really, really wanted to shut his smug face up.

The mail and leather she wore was set next to the armor. Shaped like a long t-shirt, the metal was stick still with her blood and the sickly green that came from demons.That’s going to be hell to get off... Several links were crushed together, bent out of shape from an impact.

The world shakes; the demon’s howls of agony rend reality and the crack of breaking stone echoes in her ears as the roof starts to fall around them, the walls splitting and crumbling with every death throe. New fel blood splattered over old, a radioactive Pollock, and she had a moment of savage triumph at the severed arm on the floor before she realized that it was the entire ceiling cracking now. That included above her, planted as she was protectively in front of another smaller, fallen form. Cael looked up, and the world seemed to slow. Falling falling too fast I won’t get out but-! Sage was prone on the ground, unconscious and squarely in the middle of the rockfall unless someone did something about it. Like fling themselves bodily over her to shield the fallen priest in her soft robes, smaller rocks bouncing off steel and mail. The larger ones hit like hammerblows on her back but Cael grit her teeth and held, held, held all eight feet of herself still, supported by one arm with her shield over her own head, until the rocks stopped crashing down around her ringing ears. 

Her back still hurt from that. Bruises the size of a coin to the size of a fist dotted the rest of her, in a myriad sunrise of color. One had a knot the size of an egg swelling on the back of her calf. But it worked, and it was worth it; minus a few bumps and bangs, Sage came out uninjured. The same could not be said for their intended rescuee. Cael flipped over a gauntlet, trying to wipe off green blood from its fingers.

She looks at him, hanging there, a monument to suffering: nailed in the shape of a T to wood, bleeding green blood the likes of which she hoped never to see again in her life, and screaming at them to please, please kill him. Demon magic clogs the air, as does the stench of unwashed human, feces, piss, terror, blood, and the rotten sickly-sweet smell of infected wounds. His reaction to the Light is actually painful to watch, the ragged gasping holes in his flesh showing bone and oozing pus and that strange, green blood. The gladiatorial pits of Orgrimmar were bad, very bad. But not even she could remember seeing this level of… Of- of deconstruction of a person. Reduced, utterly, to a sobbing, begging wreck. It made her colder than any blizzard ever could. Briefly, Cael shivered, as the man’s words echoed in her mind. She didn’t know him- who he was, who he loved, his relationship with these allies of the Templars, why he bled green and why the Light burned him like it did other foul, corrupted things. She didn’t even know his name. All Cael knew was that she spoke before she thought, turns to the rest of the assembled group. 

“We h-h-have to, to h-help him,” the warrior said.

Because no one, no one deserved this. No matter who they were. 

Cael sighed at her armor and squared her tired, aching shoulders. If she didn’t clean it now, she knew that crap would cake on, and be nearly impossible to get out. But all she wanted was a nice warm soft bed after a long hard day of being thrown into walls, stabbed, pummeled by rocks, and shot at.

Piff! goes the dirt in front of the prone form, now stable, if precariously so, a little dustcloud of dirt thrown up by the impact of something fast and small. Cael’s eyes widen and she’s moving before she yells, “G-G-Get down!” to swing her shield in front of the green blooded man and plant it, and herself, firmly in the dirt in front of him… Right in the line of sight from where the bullet came. Cursing -Goldrinn’s teeth, she needed a bigger shield!- she somehow managed to tuck most of her kneeling eight foot worgen frame behind the solid steel bulwark. If they took anther shot, she was squarely in their aim, and hopefully blocking the best angles. And there she stayed until they moved the body through the portal to their home base, and another portal was summoned to take her and the rest of the Templars home. 

Oil, a bucket of water, rags, sand to scrub grit off, a hammer to take out the dings if she could. Her chest piece was the worst of all. A scorched dent in the center marked where an explosive magical orb tossed her like a ragdoll across the room. The healers fixed her ribcage (hairline fractures, they said, and there was a lot of scolding involved, for being there three times in the four weeks since she became a Templar) but every breath had a sore edge to it, and came a little shallow as a result. Nevertheless, Cael got to work, meticulously rinsing, cleaning, scrubbing, rinsing, drying, and oiling her armor, sword, and shield. Maybe mages had the luxury of being able to toss theirs in the laundry, but for a warrior, properly maintained armor was life or death. And, indeed, warrior was the path she had chosen.

“The folly of man…” echoed in her mind, words of that demon mocking her.

I wonder about that. Why didn’t he try to stop us in person? All those demons- he had to be a powerful guy. We’re good, but if he really, really didn’t want us to rescue him, why didn’t he come and make sure of it? Or was it all some strange… experiment? And if it was, what in the Light for? There wasn’t anything… anything hard, there, except killing the demons, but I don’t think it was that kind of test. If it was a test. “Suffering for straying off the path…” 

Did he mean that man? Did he stray? I wonder what that jerk thinks is the ‘right’ path. I don’t know the man we saved, but we couldn’t just leave him. It’d be- well, it would just be wrong, no matter who he is or what he has done or anything like that. Helping him was the right thing to do. 

She scrubbed hard at a bit of caked on gore. A rough day, perhaps, but a good one. She’d heal, though she’d be sore, and she needed better armor badly now where she didn’t before. But then, those were things she could fix. And the hurts, the bruises, they were as much a part of her path as the sword and shield. Cael had accepted that so long ago she didn’t even remember doing so. Like as not it would be a shorter one than most. A soldier’s life was hard, bloody, and not often long lived.

And yet.

But it was the tight thing to do. Whoever he is, I can’t regret it. I hope he heals up well.

A snippet of a song, maybe, or something from one of her brother’s old books, floated into her mind as she worked on her armor.

And I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Author Cael
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