Sunday, October 19, 2008

More of the story

(I know it's late, but here is a little more of the story I started earlier. I also know it breaks off in a slightly sudden place. I have another fight sequence planned, but I'm not sure where else to go after that, so I will need to think on it a bit more before updating again)

Chapter 4

After we'd woken, I told Nariyya that we would first be going to Shattrath. I needed some more ammunition, and porting was also much faster than travelling back and forth directly, which ordinarily would take days. The trip ordinarily would have taken us days from my customary home in the Charred Vale, but I knew an old Mage who lived in nearby Stonetalon, who could speed things up for us.

When we arrived in Stonetalon, after a few minutes I was able to find the Mage and ask him for a portal. He haggled playfully for a few moments as he always did, but then after handing him the usual few gold, he cast the portal spell and waved.

I turned to see Nariyya eyeing the portal a little nervously.

"Come on," I told her. "It's safe."

I went through, and she followed after.

I mentally admitted, during the few seconds of travel time, however, that it wasn't something I ever really got used to, myself. The portal took us through the Twisting Nether as a shortcut to different places, and although somehow we were protected, there were times when I could see the demons that lived there, and the red, chaotic environment that they inhabited. They were never up close, always in the distance, but at times it was still unnerving.

When we landed in Shat, I turned and asked Nariyya if she'd seen them. Apparently she had, because she was sitting on the ground and shivering, her face white. I didn't know what to tell her; I wanted to empathise, but at the same time, I realised that this was something she was going to have to get used to. I decided to go with telling her a story.

"I still see them, when I use portals at times.

It reminds me of when the Dark Portal initially re-opened, and I was first finding my feet in Outland. I was part of one of the early small, five man assaults on the ramparts of the Fel Orcs' fortress, barely a league up a wide, demon-infested dirt road from the Portal itself, and the chaotic, ramshackle beachhead that we and the Humans had been scrambling to set up. That was another funny thing; although it was never officially mentioned, the day the Portal re-opened was really the day when the war between us and the Humans ended, out of necessity. Not all of us liked it that way, but with the Burning Legion, we all had much bigger problems.

I didn't know the other members of the squad I was with, and in hindsight that was a mistake. It was a group that had been put together quickly. We were young and stupid; we didn't realise that although we'd seen it all on Azeroth, what was left of Draenor was a different nightmare entirely. The Fels were happy to bring us up to speed.

They slaughtered three of us inside the first five minutes, and I still don't completely understand how the other two of us made it out alive. It was the usual sort of mad scramble in such situations, with the other three reduced to smashed, shredded dog meat on hot stone, and the two of us left, running hard through a red haze for the stairs back down to the ground, the stench of entrails and tainted Orc blood that strong in our nostrils that it was a wonder we were able to breathe.

I didn't go back to Outland for a while after that. I returned to Azeroth and trained hard for close to six months, spending a heap on gear as well. When I went back to the Peninsula, I was able to hold my own, though barely at first.

However, lesson learned. Never underestimate the enemy, and never overestimate yourself."

Nariyya stood, calmer now, and nodded. I put a hand on her shoulder.

"It gets a bit easier, with time. You'll still see things that mess with your head, but we find ways to cope. Other than when we're hunting animals, the different types of sentient prey start to blend together until it's all the same, in the end. Different strats, different internals, and different politics maybe; but those are details."

Nariyya looked around. We'd landed in the central chamber of the city. It was a big place, with the Naaru leader, A'dal, floating above us in the centre.

The Naaru were a race of acorporeals who'd arrived in Outland a while back, and had helped the Draenei evac from Argus, after most of the latter race got recruited by the Legion. The Naaru were alledgedly the light to the Legion's darkness, but privately, I didn't trust them; hadn't from the moment they first showed up. I'd seen too many people get killed from taking supposed beings of light at face value, to make that mistake.

Then when we got word not long ago that one of them, M'uru, had gone rogue, I'd mentally said, "I told you so," to nobody in particular. If anything about that incident had surprised me, it had actually been that they'd taken so long to reveal their less socially acceptable side.

Still, I had to grudgingly admit that they had done some genuine good. The reconstruction of Quel'Danas was ahead of schedule, and had been proceeding very smoothly, and Lower City had also become a haven for refugees from throughout both of the two worlds, under Ad'al's watch.

Besides, I'd lived fairly intimately with the idea that no one was perfect. If the Naaru were able to help us get rid of the Legion now, that was fine. If they in turn needed to be disposed of, later on down the road, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it.

I led Nariyya over to a specialist arrow vendor, not far from the landing site for my hearthstone, and told her to get her stone set for there as well. My decision to ally with the Scryers had been purely practical; some of the stuff they offered was what I wanted. I assumed the Draenei wouldn't like me much anyway, being an Orc, so I wasn't losing much there either way.

After we'd finished buying arrows and a few other things, I went looking for another Mage. This time, we needed a portal to Stonard, the settlement near the ruins I was planning to take Nariyya to, for some more serious practice.

Chapter 5

Landing in Stonard, I always found the change in temperature jarring. This area was a green, dense swamp; hot and humid. It was Dire Troll country, with dragonkin, crocs, and Murlocs on the coasts, and other, worse things swimming deep in the warm, brown water.

Mounting up, I told Nariyya to do the same, and we rode to the coast of the large, central lake at the center of the zone.

On reaching it, Nariyya pointed to the upper part of a ruined stone ziggurat. The rest had sunk; it was the only part that was visible above the waterline.

"Is that where we're going?"

"Yes," I answered her. "Truthfully, I've been to more dangerous places, but it will be fine for our purposes today. I've been able to make money stripping the corpses of the Trolls that inhabit this place, as well. It turns out that tailors are able to salvage the cloth."

We swam over to the entrance, and as we were making our way down the stairs, my tone with her became more serious.

"When I told you that we are hated by those of other paths, it is primarily because they are unable to clearly identify what our purpose as a Hunter is. This is because, in truth, we borrow elements from all of the others, and combine them together. You will see me doing this before we've finished today, and perhaps, you will have begun to do it yourself."

We swam through the half-flooded first room, and stood in the second. I pointed to some of the green stone that the temple was built of.

"When you look around this place, how do you feel?" I asked Nariyya. "Don't try to analyse or rationalise your answer. Tell me the first thing that comes into your mind."

Nariyya paused for a moment, reflecting. "It is very old."

She shuddered. "It is also a little frightening."

I steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. "We're safe here. I want you to try something else, though. Close your eyes, and this time, try to imagine that rather than being solid, your body is made of smoke. Now, in your imagination, move your smoke body inside the wall in front of us. Slowly become part of that wall with your smoke body, and as you do, imagine that you can feel all along the walls of the temple, in the same way that you can normally feel your arms and legs."

Nariyya took a few deep breaths, then closed her eyes, and began to focus. After a few seconds, she grimaced, opened her eyes, and spoke in a loud, shocked whisper.

"By Elune! I could actually feel the creatures that live here!"

"Yes," I smiled at her. "Creatures leave tracks that we can see with our eyes, of course, and that can be valuable as well. On a stone floor, however, that can be difficult. Later on, you'll find that this ability becomes like another sense, and is available to you all the time. This is one of the abilities that we borrow from the Shaman. You can talk to them when we get back to Shattrath, as some of them come to the Hunters' Guild to teach us the small amount that we learn from their path."

Her eyes shone in awe, and we continued walking.

"What was the purpose of this place?" Nariyya asked me as we walked.

"It is a temple of Hakkar, a God who the Trolls worshipped, long ago," I answered her. "Hakkar originally had a body, here in our world, but the Trolls eventually realised his true nature, and most of them turned against him, forcing his spirit to flee. Those who remained loyal to him fled from the Troll homeland in Lordaeron, and eventually built this temple, where they planned to resurrect him.

When Ysera, one of the great Dragons, discovered the temple, she caused it to sink in order to try and stop them. She failed, however, and the Trolls still make occasional attempts to revive Hakkar. I was in an expedition that stopped them, once."

I paused, reflecting. "At the time, that was a very challenging fight for me. I was younger, then."

"Are we going to stop them again ourselves?" Nariyya asked me.

"No," I answered her. "We're going to stick to the upper levels only, today. The high priests are at the very bottom. If we do that, they will not know we are here."

After that point, we began encountering some of the temple's inhabitants. The first several fights were minor, with the Trolls in groups of two or three. The boar typically killed one of them, with Nariyya shooting the other, and me killing the third.

Eventually we came to another staircase where I stopped, closing my eyes and reaching out mentally in the way I'd taught Nariyya earlier. I could sense five figures about to come down the stairs; three Trolls, and two of the small imps they kept as slaves.

When I opened my eyes, Nariyya had moved to one side of the staircase, and crouched down.

"You sensed them too, then?" I whispered to her. She nodded.

"Time to show you another trick," I whispered to her. Kneeling down and reaching quietly into my pack, I took out a handful of small metal sheets and screws, quickly assembled a trap, and lightly poured a small amount of water on the trigger. I then closed my eyes again, but with a different purpose this time.

I visualised the snowy mountains of Alterac, and one of the great ice elementals who lived there. Kneeling before him, I asked for his aid. He consented, and I heard Nariyya gasp as my breath turned to mist for a moment, and the water I had offered the elemental froze solid.

Opening my eyes, I saw the Trolls beginning to walk down the stairs. Pulling a small, dull dagger from a supply of them in my backpack, I threw it at one of them, and then jumped back as they ran towards me. A second one stepped on the trap, and an ice slick began to rapidly cover the stairs, slowing the second and third Trolls' approach.

I asked the boar to attack the two imps, and he gathered them together, biting first one of them, and then the other.

The Troll that had run at me was a female, and had a large sword. The other two were male and female magic users, and they crouched further back, while black and green mist began to form around their hands. Jumping over to stand next to the boar, I also managed to slash one of the warrior Troll's ankles with my axe, causing her to limp as she continued to try and reach me. Narrowing my eyes in concentration for a few seconds, I then fired three arrows in rapid succession, directly into the female Troll's forehead. She slumped to the ground at my feet.

That just left the two spell casters. One of them had built up a bolt of shadow energy, which he threw at me, and I was able to dodge. To prevent him from casting again, I fired back with a green-tipped arrow that had a feather tied to it, and Nariyya noticed that, when it hit the Troll, he rapidly began to lean over towards the ground, and appeared to have difficulty breathing. Nocking up another two arrows at once, I fired again, catching both of the Trolls in the throat. They fell to the ground, gurgling.

Once that group was dead, I turned to the boar. Concentrating again, the aura around my hands began to glow green, and I placed them on the boar's back. Nariyya watched as the green energy washed over him, and the small cuts and wounds he had taken from the imps rapidly began to close. After I had stripped the imps' corpses, I pointed the boar to them, and Nariyya turned away as he began enthusiastically devouring them, first one and then the other.

"Sorry," I grinned at her. "He likes his meat fresh. I also probably shouldn't tell you this, but when you and I first met, I initially had to restrain him a little. I've known him to go into a frenzy when we go to Ashenvale. He really loves Night Elves, probably more than anything else. That's why I thought you were brave to come looking for me, because although I restrain it of course, truthfully I have something of a weakness for their blood, myself."

Nariyya's eyes widened, and she started backing away.

"Don't worry," I reassured her. "If I was going to, I already would have."

She stopped backing away, but I could tell that she was still nervous.

"Nariyya, I'm serious," I said to her. "Although it's true that a fight between me and another of the Kel'dorei probably isn't something you're going to want to watch, the ability to identify other members of your own pack is vital, and the boar and I both have that. Besides, you must have already known that relations between my people and the Night Elves aren't all that great in general, yes?"

She nodded, slowly. "Yes, I did know that. Truthfully, I also didn't spend a lot of time around the rest of them anyway; we didn't like each other very much."

I grinned again. "I could have guessed that. As I've said to you before, others never appreciate us. That is why, even more than those of other paths, when it comes to our own, Hunters look beyond race. We have had to draw together, because often, others of our own path are the only company we have."

Pulling out my main knife, I then gestured Nariyya over to help me, as I began stripping the Trolls's corpses of their robes, for the cloth, and checking them for coins and other items.

"Although there will be times where it happens unavoidably, ideally you never want your targets to get within melee range of you," I told her. "That is especially true in the case of Trolls, as they are larger and stronger than you, and the Dire Trolls we will face here later are even moreso. We use traps and our pet to keep the prey away from us, as you saw here, and our bow to deliver the kill."

"What was on that feathered arrow I saw you use?" She asked me.

"It's a poison that the Darkspears taught us how to make," I answered her. "They, in turn, were taught by their cousins in Stranglethorn Vale, long ago. In the Armani tongue, it is called Coorari. It incapacitates a target by causing chronic relaxation of the muscles, which initially causes paralysis, but eventually suffocation. The Troll I shot with it probably would have eventually suffocated anyway, but I wanted to be sure."

"That, however, actually leads to another critical lesson," I looked at her very earnestly now. "In a place like this at least, never, ever, leave anything living behind you. I made that mistake a couple of times early on. Never again. Whenever you have shot something, always check it afterwards, and do not move onto a new area until you are certain that everything in your current vicinity is dead. This is because sometimes, you will be overwhelmed and will need to fall back, and you will want a secure area when you do. It can sometimes help to pay attention to doors, stairways, or other narrow passages that you can use as chokepoints if you are being chased by a crowd. If you can force your attackers to come through it single, or double file at most, trap it, and use your pet as well, you will be surprised at the numbers you can cut through and still survive."

She nodded.

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