Prelude to Part VII:
(Written by Jarrick and Sielic)
Lost somewhere deep in the thick gray fog of Zul’Drak came a terrible, ear shattering screech, causing the four to stop in their tracks and turn towards the source.Their journey through Zul’Drak was coming to a close, and it was certainly an unspoken blessing. Though it had taken longer than expected, they had faced no real danger. From the sound of it though, that danger wasn’t far behind them.
“What the hell was that?” Jarrick asked to no one in particular, his gaze focused back towards the ruins. He had one arm propped under Rynarth’s, supporting his weight on their descent down the broken wall that led into the Grizzly Hills.
Rynarth cradled his broken fingers gingerly, wincing as he turned back towards the path before them. Sielic shook his head and muttered something under his breath and continued his descent next to Sigmar, guiding the group of horses safely behind them.
Careful, steady step after careful, steady step. Crumbling rock broke away from the wall with every other footstep, and one false move could cause one of them to tumble to the bottom.
The fog lifted as they reached the base of the dilapidated wall, the company’s morale lifting with it. Lush forests, cool fresh water rivers and rolling green hills spread before them as a stark contrast to the impenetrable gray that suffocated their lungs and clouded their vision amidst twisted trees and dull gray stone.
“West.” Jarrick said as he fished in his pouch for the compass. “West.” Echoed Sielic as if to confirm what he had just heard. They were well aware that there were Horde patrols throughout these woods, and moving through the hills to the west was going to be their best bet to avoid that trouble. Though travel weary, battle worn and hungry, the four of them would have far more success moving through these hills unseen than an entire battalion of troops.
This advantage wasn’t lost on any of them.
The splash of footsteps was accompanied by greedy sounds of cupped hands and slurping, fresh cold water running down their chins. The first fresh water they’d had in nearly a week. Sigmar cupped his own hands to help Rynarth get his fair share, unable to do so himself. Sielic filled a waterskin, or three, from the fresh water and then stood up, taking a long look around the watering hole. His eyes focused on Jarrick a moment. Jarrick cautiously approached the water and took a drink himself, but seemed ready to spring up in defense of their position at any moment.
The man was not human, but a Gnomish construct that actually functioned correctly, Sielic concluded mentally. He paused the least, and only to allow everyone else to catch up to him. He cut a path through some of the toughest terrain Sielic had seen in awhile.
Several hills away, a small mounted party had formed. Kartuk had barked at them, and felt particularly driven that day, mounting his lupine transport and racing along the hills with the small group. It had been quiet for some time now, but one did not get lax in patrolling one�s home and one did not forsake Oath or Clan in being lazy. Kartuk relished the escape into the hills. His regular duties had him regulating mounds of paperwork. Sometimes, Kartuk felt that he might drown beneath the weight of the work required of him, but he remembered that the Chieftain, Wraithverge, did so much more and he trudged on. He knew his duty, but still. He enjoyed this brief respite.
Sielic�s wolflike features crinkled as a scent ran across the watering hole. Jarrick noticed the change immediately and straightened, loosening sword from its scabbard and strapping his shield tightly to his forearm. Sielic shook his head.
�I smell wolves headed this way. We�re lucky I caught the scent. We need to move. Cross the water, it may buy us time.� He rushed the opposite direction a moment, as Rynarth, Sigmar, and Jarrick forded the small pond and stream. Jarrick paused on the opposite side, waiting. Sielic appeared momentarily, all four paws touching off against the ground.
�What did you do, Sielic?� Sielic answered with only a grin, running hard. The group had mounted properly by now and ran the horses hard down little to no path. They paused for a moment, and Sielic resumed his human shape to calm his mount and clambered atop the horse. The group resumed a fast pace. The hills rose and fell behind them, but a howl echoed after them and Sielic�s grin widened. One pursuer would be done, now.
Kartuk cursed loudly. The mount was done for, that was certain. Something had literally exploded into the wolf�s nose. Kartuk was only glad it was not his wolf. This wolf had been with him for a long, long time. The troll debated what to do with the disabled mount. They looked the wolf over, and the only issue was the animal seemed to be blind now. Clouded eyes, some kind of powder dug deep into the softness of the eyes. The troll seemed to think this was permanent and he spit on the ground.
�I be leavin� ta t�ing �ere, and runnin� back ta tha �old for more riders. Chase �im, brothas.� The troll set off on long legs, a natural runner even if mounts were faster. Kartuk snorted and riled his remaining patrol and set off down the trail. Water splashed and the hills began in earnest, but these wolves had ridden this before, many times. Kartuk knew the territory well, it was his home now.
Sielic looked forward as familiar hills came into view. He wondered if Lyna had returned to the log cabin at all. He shook his head. He had told her to remain in Stormwind for him, or other Templars. Before whatever had fallen from the sky. This was his home as much as anywhere else in Azeroth, he knew. He grinned. Any pursuit was going to have some trouble awaiting them.
�Horde patrol gaining!� Jarrick had looked back and shouted the warning, and Sielic frowned. Wolves. Six or seven to the three capable fighters in their group. Not great odds, but he�d seen worse. Too much risk, the Rogue thought. Jarrick seemed to agree, snapping at the reins and urging more speed from the mount.
Sielic guided the group across a few more hills as the Horde patrol gained slowly. Sielic passed by several trees. He guided his mount by knees alone as a sturdy blade sliced across branches and gathered several. As they rode, Sielic kept his posture, sharpening the sticks as best he could. Jarrick looked to him, and Sielic shrugged.
Kartuk shouted as they spotted the humans. The mongrels skirted Horde territory and he would not let them escape. With two trolls and three more orcs with him, he almost pitied the small group they were riding down. Almost. They would capture them alive, if they could. There might be a use for any information he could get from their kind. He grinned. Combat had not been expected this morning when they readied themselves, but they were always prepared.
Sielic risked a look back, and grimaced. Jarrick guided the group into a small valley, forcing them into single file and the Rogue pulled his reins up short, dismounting. Jarrick stopped as well, and the other two kept racing towards the end of the valley. Sielic set about setting the sharpened poles into the ground. Jarrick dismounted, giving his strength to driving them firmly into the dirt. Sielic grinned.
�I don�t expect any impalings, but hopefully a delay! Off!� Sielic sprang onto his mount with an agility known only to a few and Jarrick just shook his head at the strange comrade. Jarrick mounted once more and the horses were off, uniting with their party at the end of the small valley. They set off quickly, leaving the valley and more hills behind, but the mounts were weary and the horses were frothing with exhaustion. Jarrick pulled up the reins and stopped the group.
�I�ll lead the horses away, you guys keep going. I�ll meet back up with you after setting them off.� Jarrick took the reins from the members of the group and straightened his helm. Rynarth raised a protest, seeing through such a terrible ploy.
�He sacrificing himself! We need to stay together!� Rynarth spoke quietly. The journey had been trying, and the group had bonded in ways no man ever could despite being put through such a meat grinder together, Brothers in travel and brothers by blood now. �Just send the horses off, and stick with us.�
�The horses will never make it on their own. This is something I have to do.� Jarrick said, simply nodding. �I will see you soon.� His mount galloped away, leading the mounts back a distance and splitting off. Sigmar gave a salute.
�The Light guide him,� Sigmar muttered quietly, �And grant him the strength to make it back to us.� An aura of Light surrounded the party, even the fading form of Jarrick.
The three men traveled on foot. They pushed Rynarth hard, despite his injuries. Sielic felt the beginnings of guilt, then tucked them away. He could feel guilty when they lived through this, he thought grimly. Sigmar lead them across a hill, and they hunkered down behind it, traveling low and out of sight. Sielic crossed between the hills first, then Rynarth, followed by Sigmar last. All three kept their eyes strained against the fading light.
Kartuk and his wolf riders arrived at the point where Jarrick split off with the beleaguered mounts. He urged his riders along after the path Jarrick made. The wolves had been bred well and worked harder, barely tired from the long chase today. The idea of combat made the orc smile. He hoped they were worthy opponents and put up a good fight.
The trio hunkered down for a moment, resting and drinking some of the water they traveled with and had refilled. Sigmar, again, gave Rynarth a meager amount of healing to keep him steady and well. Sielic kept watch, and sighed.
�They chased after Jarrick�s trail.� He reported, grimly. They were safe, for now, but Jarrick was surely in trouble. The three men began a sullen forced march across the hills. Sielic thought he could see the decline far off on the horizon that would lead them into the Fjord. Nightfall approached and the three kept an eye out for a cave or something defendable to make camp in.
After several minutes, Rynarth saw a cave and they made their way towards the mouth of the cave, Sigmar entered the cave first. It was dark and ended shortly. Sielic and Rynarth heard a slight commotion, following Sigmar quickly. He sat deep inside the cave, scratches on his arm and head. He gestured with his sword to the large bear that sat motionless a few feet away. Sielic shrugged, and they set watch. Sigmar, having adrenaline pumping through his veins, volunteered for first watch and the other two attempted to sleep.
Jarrick gave the lead mount a swat and sent the horses onward to find water, and keep the trail going. He marched over the nearest hill, using his compass to guide himself back towards his original heading. Night was coming soon, but a fire would give him away. He hoped Sielic, Sigmar, and Rynarth had realized the same. He marched with blade drawn, ready for anything. Time passed, but slowly and he heard a commotion far behind him. Nightfall came, and Jarrick marched on. One foot landed in front of the other, powering across the hills with determination running high. Survival. He saw a cave in the distance and began to make way towards it. A rustle echoed behind him.
Kartuk was furious. The wolves had tracked the abandoned horses and made quick work of the horseflesh, but they had captured no humans. He hefted his warhammer and gestured for the party to proceed on foot. While well trained, the wolves had gorged themselves on the horseflesh and were useless now. He grimaced at the thought and his group fanned out, looking for the humans. He saw a silhouette in the dark as it crested a hill and sneered as he stepped forward. He was quickly in position, taking a step forward to prepare his swing as the bush beside him rustled in the wind.
Jarrick barely swung around in time, shield raised high and deflecting the warhammer�s decent. The power still threw him backwards, rolling to the base of the hill. He drew his sword, steadying himself and charged forth, a battle cry echoed out shortly after the loud exchange of metal on metal. He saw a troll loom out of the shadows behind his foe and smiled beneath his battered and beaten helmet.
�For the Rose!� The cry split across the hills, catching in a small cave. Sigmar woke Sielic and Rynarth at the sounds of combat.
�We have to -help-!� Rynarth urged, and Sielic and Sigmar looked him over.
�Run, Rynarth. Stay quiet, stay to the shadows. We�ll be back.�
Sigmar shouldered his great blade, as Sielic prowled forward. They approached the sounds of battle and found a man standing against a male Orc, female Orc, and a Troll. Sielic and Sigmar exchanged glances. They rushed forward. Jarrick raised his shield high, protecting against another vicious strike from the troll�s axe. The warhammer came low and thudded against his body. The armor absorbed only so much. Jarrick coughed violently then pressed forward. He shouted again and thought he heard his allies take up the call. He flashed back to the wall. Not just Theramore�s, but every wall he had ever manned. He smiled, remembering so many victories. He smiled remembering the defeats as well. He coughed again as a smoke flowed through the battle.
Jarrick heard the female grunt, and turned his shield to meet the attack that never came. In the darkness, he did not see the female slide to the ground in a struggle for air with her lupine attacker. In the darkness, he did not see, but heard, the descending warhammer as it raced to crush his head. In the darkness, a great blade swept up and stopped the hammer and then there was no darkness, only Light.
Sigmar�s blade swept forward, pushing away the orc and troll, blinding by the Light. His weapon took only the glowing aspect of a mighty hammer as he smashed them aside. The two crumpled to the ground and Sigmar�s Light faded, as Sielic joined the two. Under cover of more smoke, the three vanished into the darkness as it returned. They left the three none the worse for wear, but Jarrick stumbled slightly, his fight having tried even his great endurance. They still caught up to Rynarth easily, who had lingered despite being told to run. No one protested at the quick reunion.
Kartuk�s eyes cleared after a few minutes and the lights in his head winked out as he recovered from the hammerblow the Paladin had given him. The troll and orc were still unconscious and he shouted a cry to gather the group together. They had ranged far, the others informed him. They heard the battle and had made their way towards it but were too far out. Kartuk cursed again. These humans were cowards, and cowards with wit. They roused the companions and pursued on foot once more. If nothing else, Kartuk promised to see them out of the Hills and into the Fjord.
The four of them proceeded to march into the dark. Jarrick had no sleep with Sigmar, with Sielic and Rynarth having only slept for an hour at most. Exhausted and depleted, they were a sorry sight to any onlookers. They found themselves at a sharp cliff and they climbed down. Sielic went first, with Sigmar following. Rynarth found himself strapped to Sielic�s back and the rogue climbed all the faster for it. He reached the bottom when he heard the descent of the rocks. Sigmar managed his climb easily and reached the bottom. Jarrick saw them and nodded, he put his sword into its sheath and strapped his shield to his side as best he could. They watched with anxious eyes as Jarrick descended quickly, but not quick enough.
The troll archer leaned over the cliff and loosed the arrow he had drawn. He nocked another and fired again. A blade flew up and slashed past him, destroying his bow. The twine shredded in his grasp, and the troll was knocked off balance in shock, nearly falling down the cliff face. He jumped backwards as a second blade shot up, passing through the air he had just vacated.
It was too late, though. Rynarth noticed it first. Jarrick had stopped. Two thick arrow shafts protruded from his chest and shoulder. His grip faltered, and the Warrior fell. No one could catch him, none even had the magic to slow his fall and so the warrior plummeted and slammed into the ground, grazing the left side of Sielic�s body with a loud crack. Sigmar and Rynarth waited quietly. Another figure approached the top of the cliff and Sielic drew a blade with his right arm even as his left hung limp, and threw it true. It would have sunk deeply into the form but for its armor. It retreated and a call rang out. They waited, but no one came.
Kartuk frowned. They had made it into the Fjord, and he was not going to have any of his men die trying to scale that cliff. The rogue had sharp eyes and sharp blades. The risk was too high, and the warrior had died. Honor had been served and they had kept their territory safe. They marched back.
Sigmar ran forward after a few quiet minutes. He hefted the warrior, and Light shimmered as he tried to mend his wounds. Jarrick�s heart beat ever so faintly, Sigmar informed the group. And he was breathing, however shallow. The group continued at a dreadfully slow pace. Jarrick did not wake for the hours they traveled, nor did he stir when they made camp for the night. They used Sielic�s artifact and lit branches for a fire, keeping away the wildlife. Sigmar had seen Westguard that day and they would make it in the following day. That night, Sielic constructed a small sling for his left arm. He grimaced as he positioned the arm to slide in.
They broke camp the next morning and set off for the walls of Westguard, taking several more hours to reach it. They were approached by several riders who offered rides to those who could take it. Rynarth spoke up, volunteering to ride to Westguard and arrange rooms and find a healer to tend to Jarrick. The riders gladly took Rynarth to Westguard as Sigmar and Sielic hefted Jarrick between them. They made it to town, and the healer took to Jarrick quickly.
An elderly man, a Priest past his prime. He tended to the group and mended the minor wounds of Sigmar. He ushered along the faster mending and healing of Rynarth and Sielic. For Jarrick, he prayed and the Light faded over the warrior�s body. He smiled, telling that he had faith in the man to recovered, but no longer had the power to restore him. The trio of conscious men gathered in the inn�s room and sat besides Jarrick, hoping for the best. Hoping for a flicker of an eyelid.