Prelude to Part VI:

Travels of the Four, Part I: Displacement

Travels of the Four, Part II: No Mercy

Travels of the Four, Part III: The Bulwark

Travels of the Four, Part IV: Disbelief

Travels of the Four, Part V: A Fall

——–

(Written by Sigmar)

Sigmar crouched behind a fallen stone pillar, peering over its mossy edge as he shifted uncomfortably in his fur-stuffed plate. He squinted into the fog, tried to make some sense of where he was. Zul�Drak wasn’t exactly known for ease of navigation. A thin canopy of half-dead branches reached down from sparse trees, shifting in and out of the misty gray as the fog flowed, settled, embraced. Off in the distance something huge loomed. Probably a trollish temple, built centuries ago. But even knowing it was just a stack of stone, its presence still gave Sigmar chills, to add to the bitter cold of Northrend.

He tried to stay low. He was well aware that his yellow armor was a dead giveaway against the brown and gray of Zul�Drak, but he needed to risk the approach. The group had sent Sielic ahead as a scout when the fog rolled in, and he was half an hour overdue. Didn�t want to rustle up any ornery trolls.

Sigmar strained his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything out of the ordinary.

So intent was he on the task that he did not expect the voice over his shoulder.

�Hello.�

Sigmar jumped, whirled, dagger drawn from his boot and in his hand. But already there were strong fingers around his wrist.

�It�s me.� Sielic spoke louder now. His grip relaxed.

Sigmar blinked and let out the breath he�d been holding. �Light, Sielic, I coulda stuck ya.�

The rogue half-smiled. �Unlikely.� And as he said it, Sigmar believed him. A combat veteran Sigmar might�ve been, but give an assassin the element of surprise�

�Find anything?� Sigmar asked as he sheathed his knife.

�Nothing aggressive, if that�s what you mean.� Sielic crouched next to him and pointed into the murk. �We are about three miles from the Argent camp. Jarrick�s compass didn�t lead us wrong.�

Sigmar nodded and silently thank the Light for Mason�s sense of direction. They could reach the camp in an hour, easily. And perhaps they�d have news�

�And horses,� Sielic said.

Sigmar looked at him again, mouth slightly open. The rogue gestured to Sigmar�s gauntlets. He looked down to find them gripped tight on the edge of the fallen pillar. �Your hands gave you away.� Sielic said. �We all want news from Theramore, Sigmar, but we have to think about ourselves first.�

�Of course. You�re right.� Sigmar shook his head and let go of the stone to scratch his ear. Or, what was left of it. The stinging had faded and the others said it wasn�t as red anymore, but now it itched like all hell.

The memory of that damned orc came back again, enchanted blade shearing through Sigmar�s mail coif and right by his head. At the time he didn�t even know it�d taken his ear. All Sigmar could remember was the look of absolute rage on the orc�s face, a visage so powerful, soprimal, full of something terrible, something unleashed�

Something he hadn�t seen since the Second War.

�New Horde my ass,� he mumbled.

Sielic was standing now. He looked down. �Hm?�

�Nothing.� Sigmar got up as well, shrugging as his obsidian blade swung across his back. Then they retreated into the fog to find their companions.

 

—–

 

They approached the camp as a group � but not shoulder-to-shoulder � keeping their hands out and open as they walked so the guards wouldn�t mistake them for hostile trolls or shambling undead. But that didn�t stop the shouted command as the glow of torches came into view.

�Oy! Who goes?�

The four came to a halt. Sigmar glanced at Jarrick, who returned the glance before bellowing, �We�re travelers!�

Sigmar reflected on the fact that both he and Jarrick were clad in full plate that sprouted uneven bits of hastily-crafted fur, like two hill barbarians. Then he looked sideways at Rynarth and Sielic, the former bandaged like a casualty of war, and both with long knives in their belts. Some travelers.

�Approach slowly.�

�We were,� Jarrick muttered. But they continued their slow advance, until two figures appeared from the fog, a draenei woman and a human man, Argent tabards and chainmail both, crossbows leveled at Jarrick�s chest.

�Are you armed?� The draenei asked. No trace of an accent, as far as Sigmar could tell. Educated, maybe.

Jarrick nodded. �Aye.�

The woman looked at her fellow guard and whispered something. Sigmar grinned. Probably wasn�t expecting such a brusque response. The man was shorter than the draenei by a good half foot, but she seemed to show deference in the way she spoke to him. He was probably the higher rank. He lowered his crossbow and peered at Jarrick, then the rest of them, and his eyes settled on Sigmar. He nodded. �That�s officer�s armor. You Alliance army?�

�Was,� Sigmar replied. �Knight-Captain, retired.�

�Was? What about now?�

Sigmar raised a palm. �We�re Templars of the Rose. Not sure if you get much news out here, but��

�Templars?� The man scratched at a trimmed black beard, crossbow now in one hand. �That�s the tabard, alright. What in the Nether are ya�ll doing way up here?�

Now Rynarth spoke. �It�s� a long story.�

The Argent man narrowed his eyes at Rynarth�s cradled, broken fingers, then conferred with the draenei for a moment, until she finally lowered her weapon as well. The man nodded. �Alright, come on. I�ll take the reputation of the Templars as collateral. Just don�t go wandering off.�

Sigmar breathed a sigh of relief, and they crossed the invisible boundary of the camp. The fog was still thick, so the breadth of the outpost was unclear, but there were still a few tents set up and a number of guardsmen wandering or eating or on duty. Not too many, though. They were the leftovers of the mighty presence that had come to defeat the Lich King in recent years. None of the other Argents gave the four a second glance.

Ahead of them the Argent man walked towards a central tent. It wasn�t a very big thing, maybe as large as an Elwynn stead, and nothing marked it as central beyond its size. The guardsman outside was sitting on a crate, chewing a stick of jerky, longsword sheathed across his knees, and he threw the bearded man a half-salute, which was casually returned. Seems discipline is lacking without an enemy to fight. They entered to find the tent dim-lit with a pair of braziers, boxes and supplies stacked about the dirt floor. Their guide sat on a crate, unloaded his crossbow, and set it to the side. �Name�s Kaglan. Captain.� He ran a hand through his thin hair and gestured to nothing in particular. �Have a seat.�

They didn�t need to be told twice. Rynarth was the first to go down, plopping on a pile of grain sacks, leaning back, eyes closed. Jarrick found a chair at a side table, while Sigmar copied the captain and made a crate his own. Sielic alone stood, arms folded, eyes shifting as he inspected the tent�s interior. Sigmar glanced at Jarrick, who looked back, and then opened his mouth. �Sir-�

�Lemme guess. You want to know about Theramore.�

The four exchanged glances again. Rynarth was the first to answer. �Yes. You�ve heard already?�

�That kind of news travels fast.� Kalgan dragged a nearby bag over, untied its knot and dug around inside before producing a raw wheat chaff, which he stuck in his mouth and chewed. �Even all the ways up here. It�s not every day the Horde destroys a major Alliance city. The question is, though, how do you know? Ya�ll don�t look like you�ve been privy to anything close to civilization, and judging from how you approached our camp, and your makeshift fur cloaks, you came from the north. Storm Peaks, I�d guess.�

Again, the exchange of unsure looks. �We were there,� Sielic grunted.

Kalgan raised an eyebrow. �It happened not a few days past. And now you�re in Northrend?�

Sielic wiggled his fingers. �Magic.�

The captain studied them for the longest time without saying a word. Then he threw up a hand. �If you say so. Just be glad none o� the greenskins saw you come in.�

Sigmar realized that he�d seen no orcs or tauren, or any Hordish peoples in the camp. �Where are they? Orcs. Isn�t the Argent Crusade supposed to be pan-Azeroth?�

Kalgan�s eyes flickered up to Sigmar�s. They were tired and ringed by lack of sleep. �Even considering our neutrality, it�s hard to keep soldiers from going at each other�s throats when racial tensions run high. Especially when some of my men are from Theramore.�

Sigmar felt his throat tighten. News did indeed travel fast, and with it all the collateral effects. Even here, it begins already. �How are you handling it?�

The captain peered at Sigmar. He probably didn�t appreciate the interrogation, but Sigmar had legacy rank over him, even if it wasn�t binding. �I moved all the orcs to the north side of the camp. Some of the tauren and trolls, too. We don�t have any elves or Forsaken here anymore.�

That sent something through Sigmar�s gut. He couldn�t help but think of the internment camps after the Second War.

�Sorry Captain, we don�t mean to question you,� Jarrick said. �You�ve been kind enough to let us through your camp. We�ve got a request, though, if you�ll hear us out.�

�And what would that be?�

�Horses, if you can spare them.�

Kalgan rubbed his chin. �Hm. Horses. I might be able to lend you four, but they won�t be the best in the world. If you don�t run them too hard they should make it. Where it is you�re going?�

�Valgarde,� Sielic said.

�A good choice.� Now the captain leaned forward and lowered his voice. �Listen. There�s a Horde encampment in western Grizzly Hills that you�ll want to avoid, and � this is off the record � given what amounts to a declaration of war on the Alliance, you won�t get past their patrols into Crystalsong. Straight south to Valgarde is definitely your best bet. I can�t give you anything fast, but I have a few pack horses that�ll take you that far, if you�re careful and keep �em fed. Just don�t take any risks. And don�t squander your supplies. I�ll give you what we can spare, but it�s not much.�

Jarrick nodded and stood, armor clanking. �Alright. Captain, it�s appreciated. We won�t bother you for any more of your time.� He walked over and offered a hand.

�Think nothing of it.� Kalgan stood as well and took Jarrick�s hand in both of his. �Listen, you four. I don�t know your names, but the fact that you�re Templars speaks volumes. I�m an Argent, and we have similar goals. We�re both supposed to be neutral.� His gaze shifted from Jarrick to Rynarth, to Sielic, until they settled on Sigmar. �But be careful. Be very careful. Neutrality doesn�t guarantee anything anymore.�

At that moment, all Sigmar could think was, Did it ever?

Author Jarrick
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