Doradrassil paced herself, controlling her breath as she crept through the lines. As her cloak brushed against an unsuspecting orc, he clapped his hand over the spot thinking to swat an imagined mosquito. The deadly Warden slipped by, working her way deeper into the ranks, seeing her way by the light of the fires and the Blue Child high above, her eyes focused on one spot: the Warlord's tent.
At least, that's what she imagined they called it. Slightly larger and with brighter paint than the others, she had seen it entered night after night by Warlord Zaela. Tonight, having ensured her target was inside, Doradrassil had her sights set on Zaela. She would shortly cut off a key head of this force, sending the Iron Horde's invasion into at least brief disarray.
No guards outside the tent. There were orcs everywhere, but not specifically standing guard over the tents. Maybe they thought no one could get this deep behind their lines. They thought wrong, Doradrassil told herself with a hint of a smile. Maybe Zaela was just too proud to post guards. She was a fierce fighter, after all.
Her mistake. You can't fight with a slit throat.
The Warlord's tent had its curtain drawn for the night, but the lithe night elf managed to wiggle her way through the flap without disturbing it any more than a breeze, twisting her way through. Inside, all lights out, she could just make out Zaela's silhouette, dead asleep, still wearing her distinctive armor and eyepatch.
Doradrassil wasted no time. Feared warlord Zaela might be, she could still die like anyone else. The dagger emerged from its leather sheath, chosen for its silence. Doradrassil crept over Zaela, straddling her, and slid the dagger across her throat. The orc awoke with a start, but Doradrassil pressed down, clamping Zaela's mouth shut and using her arms and legs on the orc's pressure points to keep her from thrashing about. A few disgusting gurgles later, the deed was done.
Doradrassil shuddered. The night elf traitor Warden had been her first kill. Since then, she had notched dozens here in the Blasted Lands, and she wasn't sure how happy she was for that. She was pleased about this one, though, and there would be time for self-reflection later.
As she crept back toward the entrance, she chanced one more look back, and noticed something was very wrong.
The eye patch had come off during the struggle, and this orc's eyes were still open.
Both of them.
Both very whole, healthy eyes.
In sockets surrounded by Mag'har brown skin, not Dragonmaw grey.
A chill of dread swept over Doradrassil. She had been wrong. As vicious as Zaela was, she was also devious…and if she was anything like Garrosh, whom she idolized so much, she had to be paranoid.
As Doradrassil stared in horror between the eye patch and the dead but whole eyes, she couldn't help feeling they were taunting her. You were wrong! I'm well away from your grasp, stupid Warden!
But the armor…? The eye patch…? No orc would knowingly serve as a decoy, would they? Not when they would rather die in a glorious battle. The skin color meant the orc wouldn't have fooled her allies, but from a distance…
Doradrassil had grown lazy. At first, she had sighted Zaela by facial features, armor, skin tone, every last identifying feature. She cursed at herself realizing she had soon fallen to watching the camp for the distinctive armor alone. The switch must have been made sometime in the last day… And the decoy orc likely wouldn't have known she was thought to be the target of an assassination, as most orcs would rather die in head-on battle. Which meant the decoy herself likely hadn't known she was being used as a decoy.
The poor wretch probably thought she'd gotten the promotion of a lifetime, Doradrassil thought.
But if this was a decoy, where was the real Zaela? Only one set of this armor had been sighted around the camp, which meant either Zaela had given her armor to this orc and was lurking in disguise…
…or she was gone.
As assassination was already on her mind, Doradrassil first thought of the royalty in Stormwind. If Zaela had snuck out, undetected even by Wardens, the Wrynns were likely targets. But assassination wasn't Zaela's modus operandi. She lacked the subtlety and discipline. Sneaking out of her own camp was one thing… Sneaking into Stormwind Keep would be quite another. Still, Doradrassil decided as she turned her back on the dead orc and slipped outside, it would be a mistake not to send a warning just in case. The name of Garona was still a painful mark on Stormwind's history… Doradrassil would not allow Zaela to become another.
As she stalked through the camp, Doradrassil found herself keeping a wary eye out for any orc resembling a Dragonmaw, cursing at herself the whole time.
What would I do if I was Zaela? she asked herself. Sneaking out of the camp, unseen by Wardens? If I was allied with infinite dragons, Garrosh Hellscream, Dragonmaw, and… Blackrock?
Of course, Blackrock Mountain would make a suitable base from which to launch more attacks and direct a full-on war effort. It stood right on the verge of Alliance territory, a remarkably short distance from Stormwind as the dragon flies. Plus, she had Blackrock allies already holed up in the mountain.
Returning to the Wardens' hidden encampment, Doradrassil was greeted with a silent nod by one of her compatriots.
"Success?" Cordana Felsong asked.
"Zaela's gone," were the first words out of Doradrassil's mouth. The other Wardens' heads all turned toward her. "We failed to sight her. There was a swap. A decoy. She could be making for Stormwind. I think Blackrock Mountain is more likely, but either is potentially disastrous." She searched the faces. "Shalis, get out of here as fast as you can and warn King Wrynn. We may have an assassination situation. Fly west, taking the direct route. Anaya, head east to the Alliance encampment and take a mage's portal there with the same message. If one of you is shot down, the other can still…" She shook her head; they got the point. "Go. Now."
Not a word was uttered. The two Wardens headed for their dark-colored hippogryphs, stationed nearby. In moments, Shalis was headed west and Anaya east on hippogryphs trained and groomed to fly silently.
Doradrassil turned to another. "Kiri, scout Blackrock Mountain. Get eyes on Zaela. Call for backup if you find her, and in the meantime do whatever you can to undermine anything they're doing. Kill her if there's a chance…and if you're sure it's her."
"Understood." Within seconds, Kiri was off too.
"Did you kill the decoy?" Cordana asked.
Doradrassil looked down, scolding herself again. "I…did. I didn't realize my mistake until after it was done."
"So by morning, they'll know that we've discovered that it was a decoy."
Doradrassil looked back toward the camp, an idea coming together. "Hmm… Unless we can keep them in the dark."
"The decoy's dead, no way around that. But if we can keep them thinking that we believe it was the real Zaela…"
"How do you propose we do that?"
"Easy. Make them think we didn't see the body."
Doradrassil didn't wait any longer. She was off, back towards the Iron Horde camp. And as she slipped more quickly now through the orc lines, the smirk returned to her face, though not as proud as before. She stole a barrel, careful not to be noticed, careful not to be forced into killing anyone, and slipped into the decoy's tent. She set the small barrel next to the dead orc, then frowned. Maybe she needed more.
* * *
Doradrassil checked her bow string, perched on a distant ledge overlooking the tent's front entrance. She wasn't sure how much she had placed, but the final barrel had been placed in the opening itself, giving her a clear shot. She smothered her arrowhead in pitch, carefully lit it on fire, aimed, and released.
The explosion rocked the Iron Horde camp, lighting up the crater. Startled orcs scrambled everywhere. There would be nothing left of the body, leaving the orcs to think the job had been done at a distance from the start, not realizing the decoy had already been dead for an hour. With a nod, satisfied that she had bought them more time before the Iron Horde realized they were onto the real Zaela, Doradrassil made her way back to the Wardens' encampment.
She wasn't too far from her destination when Aertemis' voice broke the silence.
"You know… I know a goblin who would like you."
"Oh, shut up," Doradrassil replied.