There was nothing. No pain. No pleasure. No sadness. No joy. There rarely is for bodies of the dead, and this body was a naked form, full of scars and bruises and cuts and dislocations and other hateful wounds which marred a figure that used to be so proud, so eminently presentable. He had always had scars, but those hadn’t been so morbidly fresh, so dirty in their intent. They hadn’t hindered or laboured him. They hadn’t made his body reek of oppressive death.
Chains made from cobalt had been attached to his twisted wrists and ankles. He had been laid on a rug which featured the head of a similarly dead Centaur looking out into the darkness of this room as if a sentry, bearing the weight of a fallen orc. That was a comfort afforded to him, at least, though he could not feel it.
Time passed, as figures within the room decided on what to do. They talked with hushed voices, as if respectful of the body’s sleep. There was no callousness to their tone, but rather a determined mood which sought to find the best route through the next few minutes. Between meaningful looks in one another’s eyes, these figures glanced at the heap on the ground. The exile. The betrayer. The traitor.
The first was the most accurate, of course. Gremkarc of the Elements, formerly of Orgrimmar, hadn’t switched sides – he had merely abandoned them all. He had thrown away his duty to the Horde. Duty, he had realized in the last month, was divorced from service. The pile of green flesh and broken bones which lay upon the rug had decided that the King of Stormwind was to be slaughtered for his assault on the Warchief. That was his service. But his duty was not to retaliate, to focus on the real enemy, the Scourge, even though the Alliance attacked the one person to whom the Orcish race owed their continued existence to. What happened at the Undercity had damned Gremkarc to leave the force he would die for, without question.
At the gates of Stormwind, there was to be no backing from the two sides of life that Gremkarc dearly needed. His Warchief, he knew, would see it as unnecessary bloodshed, a foolish endeavour to claim revenge which would just see war escalate. Many had told him this: the mages, the grunts in his clan who thought they had the right to express opinions contrary to their Chieftain’s own, and many at the War Council. It had been his last visit to Orgrimmar, and it had repulsed him, to have such a meeting where animosity, and the Forsakens’ false sense of equality ran rampant. But the realization that it was the exact wrong course of action to take only came when, under an unsuspecting night sky alight with stars which twinkled peacefully, Fire had refused Gremkarc’s request to lead the charge through the gates of the Stormwind. That had been it. There was nothing for Gremkarc left in the Horde. So he had ran.
Ran into the embrace of one who offered him a salvation, albeit a temporary one. It was a fleeting relationship which had made up the last chapter of his life. It had been the chapter full of epiphanies, full of passion, full of long nights locked onto her body, never wishing to let go, never wishing to do anything which wasn’t related to her…
There was only one other figure left in the room now – the others had left. An elderly shaman with all the trimmings of his age approached Gremkarc’s body, careful with his walk. Wrinkles made random patterns on his wizened face, and his eyes were slits accompanied by hanging bags which drooped under them. A beard far longer than the younger shaman’s suggested wisdom more than it suggested the lack of a good shave every now and then. As he started to move his hands in complex ways, their motions were slow and steady, considered and confident. He closed his eyes, and whispered silent words to those who spoke back on their own accord, directly to his mind. Words unlike any other were exchanged, agreement was reached, and immediately yellow energy flaunted itself upon this old shaman’s hands. Ethereal tendrils whipped outwards, seemingly attempting to latch onto something unseen above the dead orc’s body. The gloom was penetrated by what seemed to be daylight emitting from this burst of elemental energy. Despite there being no windows within this secretive part of Orgrimmar, it was as though the sun was beating down upon proceedings, watching them with interest.
The tendrils appeared, rather confidently, to be dragging something down. They latched on to the outline of a figure impossible to see, but through this grip, the shaman performing the call was able to see what was there by looking at what wasn’t there. It was as though the tendrils were the perimeter of an object gradually being eased down into an awaiting body. There was a string of yellow light trailing up the arm, upon the shoulder, and around the head. There was an ancestral rope tying itself in a knot around an ankle.
It was the orc’s spirit, he knew, and by the way the call had worked, it was still strong. There was still a lot to strangle, to pull, to wrap around, and to ease downwards. The spirit hadn’t lingered from the body. It had stayed with it, loyally.
Alive but still injured eyes opened. And closed again. Gremkarc had been brought back, but he was on the verge of death even so. It was something which was not of much alarm to the other shaman, as his hands were quickly enveloped with another type of energy – this one was green as the grass which was the hair of the earth. Waves of precious healing washed down into Gremkarc’s body, as he felt the rare sensation of being nursed by another’s hand. He grunted as his body was soaked in tides and waves, and looked into the darkness. As if waking up from a particularly elaborate night spent drinking, he tried to remember the events of the hours which led to his death.
‘Lok’tar,’ said the other shaman, as if to acknowledge his own presence in the room. Feeling raw energy course into his body, Gremkarc moved his head painfully slowly. His mind had not yet caught up with his body’s rebirth and regeneration.
‘Lok’tar,’ he replied. His throat felt very, very dry. His healer had thought of that, too, dropping a skin of water by the exile’s side, before releasing him from his compact prison of bindings. Desperate with the need to add moisture to a mouth which felt like it belonged to a dead man, Gremkarc began to chug down the entire skin in seconds. He offered no gestured apology to this, as he looked to the other orc. He tried to speak, to ask questions which he needful of the answers to, but realized he could not. He was having troubles swallowing the water.
‘Welcome back to Orgrimmar, Gremkarc,’ said the shaman. His drawl was deep but calm, a sign that he was a powerful shaman. Despite this, he wore simple attire – a kilt made of cloth, and a loosely held together tunic. He was not expecting a fight. He kicked the chains away, as if to signal he didn’t want one, either. ‘You’re very lucky that wolves are cowardly, you know.’
Gremkarc gurgled, the drink finally being forced down a throat which felt like the entrance to a set of catacombs. He gasped for life, and when he received it, he looked at the other shaman. He made no comment in response.
‘The elements and the Horde question often springs up,’ the older shaman continued, his stance suggesting that he was comfortable with Gremkarc’s attitude, ‘especially amongst the older shamans. Your Horde, this new Horde, does little in the way of depravity. You know little of the massacres and atrocities that the Old Horde committed. You may have been told about them… but you weren’t there, youngling. To many shamans, it’s obvious where the true effort should lie. Some want no part of this Horde. Or some would rather shelter with the Tauren.’
The shaman grunted, and peered for a response to Gremkarc. He was peering back dumbly, the effects of the revival still playing around on his mind. As if trying to beat some sense into his younger counterpart, the shaman leaned in, and slapped the exile in the side of the head. Gremkarc took the blow with a soldier’s solidity, whipping his head back into place after the blow had been dealt. It was something of a wakeup call to him.
‘You were entirely stupid. Entirely. Calling for an assault upon Stormwind. Did you see the ragtag force you had received? Honourless mercenaries, pirates, vengeful Blood Knights, and those in your clan who you were supposed to nurture. You know now what a foolish decision it was to make, don’t you? How off-course you went? Of course you do – you put yourself into exile for it!’
Another slap, another bout of soldier’s solidity. The scolder seemed to have a lot of his chest, but was resisting the urge to scream into Gremkarc’s face. His slaps were assured rather than rabid.
‘Your clan falls apart as they hunt you. They defy their new Chieftain’s orders. You know your old Den Mother has left? Razuli, too. These were meant to be a new breed, you damned idiot, and now their goals are different. They would rather protect Stonetalon. Admirable, but not what you intended for them! The wizards finally retreat into their councils, and as for the soldiers who are still loyal to the clan, they are not loyal to you! How many of them wished to kill you? How many of them were prepared to do it outside Grommash Hold itself! Your own Stone Guard! Blackscar’s son! Your former mate! They wanted to kill a former Chieftain! Is this what you intended, Overlord of the Warsong Defensive? Is this what is to become of a clan loyal to Thrall, and considered in their approach to Northrend? Are Hellscream’s ways to be reinforced further by blind fanaticism of which the object of the fanaticism wants none of ? And when you realize this, you turn tail, and you retreat into the wilds? Is this what Saurfang the Younger died for? Is it?’
Not a slap this time, but a punch. A brutal punch. Gremkarc fell to his side, submissive to the abuse hurled at him both through words and fists. Again, he stumbled back into his kneeling position. His own blood, a common sight for him recently, dropped from his mouth. ‘No,’ he responded, simply.
‘I’m glad you understand then, shaman,’ grunted the elderly orc. ‘You have seen twenty eight winters. You are not a pup anymore. You cannot afford to have a pup’s emotions, a pup’s problems, and a pup’s doubts. You have to have conviction. You showed it at the Warsong Defensive, and you gave your troops a speech before you dismissed them all. That was full of conviction. Where has that gone, Gremkarc? The Warchief has had enemies before – what does it matter if these idiots get a strike in on him, yes? Do you think Rend Blackhand would have stalled to do that? No. Do you think Illidan Stormrage would have? No. Do you think Oynxia the Broodmother would have? No. And yet, and yet you do not focus such a fight on them, do you? What is this thinking in blacks and whites? Why do you follow that road? That is not a shaman’s way!’
A left hook. Followed by a right hook. They were aimed at the cheeks of Gremkarc, rather than the precious temple. These were not blows aiming to clobber him senseless, or to cause permanent damage. It was pure discipline, though it occurred to Gremkarc, as he looked back up to the shaman who was relentless in his rage, that there was something personal about this discipline – something he hadn’t seen before. When he had been a grunt, the expressions upon the faces of the officers were not the expression that was currently on this shaman’s face. He looked like he cared about what his blows were doing, like he was carefully examining the blood loss, the bruises, and the agony on Gremkarc’s face. He went on, regardless.
‘And this… shaman you have been seen with. You’ve finally found someone like you, yes? The others were too cold-hearted. You couldn’t understand them. They burned with anger for humans, for other orcs, for other races of the Horde. Not the contempt that you might hold for warlocks, but the hatred you harboured for the Forsaken in your last days, yes? It must have been a struggle, not to bombard your last Den Mother with rhetoric about attacking Theramore, hmm? But this one, I realize, you feel some real companionship with. You took her away from the Marsh, yes? We heard reports about that. She hasn’t been seen since. It is a good job the Shattered Hand have good eyes, and it is a good job that they at least occasionally can follow orders, unlike Stone Guards and Sergeants of the Dagger and Totem, yes?! Ruthgad, bring her in!’
A light shone in the blackness of darkness, as two figures stepped into the room. From the movement of their silhouettes, and the muffled sounds of curses trying to escape from the confines of leather straps, it was discernable to Gremkarc that there was some kind of scuffle going on. His eyes widened as he recognized the furious gestures of Shazula.
‘She’s been fighting like this for the past twenty minutes, Gre─’
‘Yes?’ interrupted the older shaman, with a tang of urgency to his voice. ‘Well, I’ll relieve her of you, friend. Look, go get at the inn, will you? It’s late. I’ll take care of these two.’
The silhouette of Ruthgad nodded. He departed, and the light followed. There was the sound of someone rising to their feet, and some running steps. Before long, Shazula was beside Gremkarc, resting her arms as best she could on him, within the confines that he tied wrists presented to her. Gremkarc could only grin weakly, remembering that only a few hours ago, it was a very different story for the two of them.
‘My apologies for strapping your mouth, friend,’ said the older shaman, nodding at Shazula. ‘It upsets a few of our own to hear such primal talk. I do not wish to take that away from you.’
Gremkarc shifted, burying his head in Shazula’s stomach as he looked up at the eldest shaman. Three shamans, one room. And yet there was nothing elemental here, nothing which represented the spirits. This was all about duty and service.
‘And I do not wish to separate you, either,’ he said. He looked up at Shazula, and Gremkarc noticed that there was some…approval to his glance. There was a muffled grunt from Shazula, as if to suggest that this diplomatic tone wasn’t appreciated because she still had her damn mouth covered with tasteless leather. It looked like it came from the hide of a kodo.
The kilted orc responded with a grunt of his own, before turning back to Gremkarc. ‘This is the only good to come from this, you understand. She’s a good influence on you, and you on her. She teaches you about the essence of being a shaman, yes? And you teach her about Orgrimmar, and the Horde, and civilization as a whole. That is, of course, if you are willing to accept your punishment. If not, then I believe some grunts are waiting for their former Chieftain in Razor Hill. Please, pick the more honourable option. Pick the option which will cause your Warchief to smile, yes?’
It seemed evident that Gremkarc was interested in what would make Shazula smile, for it was she he looked at with expecting eyes, as if wanting her to make the decision for him. She looked back, with her typical feral expression, brown eyes which seemed to darkly burn. The elder shaman watched this exchange of looks with a kind of anxiousness that had not been on his face before. As she nodded, and Gremkarc turned back, his jaw slackened with relief.
‘I’ll take my punishment,’ the exile growled quietly.
He obviously wasn’t expecting the punishment to come so immediately. The elder whipped his head back with years of experience informing its pace and aggressiveness, and thundered it forward, to crack, rather satisfyingly, against the younger orc’s head. Gremkarc’s body fell back, but his knees stayed where they were. He flailed for a second, before pushing himself back up. Soldier’s solidity. Shazula on the other hand, got to her feet, and attempted to claw at the kilted shaman’s body. He merely held his shoulder out against hers, and looked at her meaningfully. ‘That was his punishment. Settle down, friend.’
‘Shazula,’ called Gremkarc, shaking his head in an attempt to regain his mental composure. He held out his arms, for her to climb into. Whatever was going to happen, they knew, they would go through it together. She complied, sticking on the same road as her mate. She didn’t want to deviate.
The elder shaman patted his own head, and grinned. It looked wolfish. ‘It has been a long time since I have been able to do that. It’s something to be envied, a multitude of chances to lay down headbutts, Gremkarc.’ He grunted, as the former Chieftain did not laugh, and went on. ‘The situation in the north is too delicate to allow for another clan to be lost to ill-discipline and bloodthirsty tactics. We cannot rely on the Frostwolves, for they quite rightly keep to their grounds in Alterac. The other clans are too small and scattered, and most of the forces up there who are clanless become absorbed into Hellscream’s ways. When there is little reminder of our ways in Orgrimmar, orcs can forget that, yes? Orcs can forget how to treat the elements too, as you are well aware.’
‘Well aware,’ said Gremkarc.
‘Yes. Now, luckily, few actually know of what has gone on in the last couple of weeks. This situation in Ulduar, and the Argent Tournament, has distracted attention away from the affairs of clans. And many simply do not care. They see the tabard of Dagger and Totem, and some are uplifted, but in your armour and with your tactics you are mostly a faceless force. To those that have heard what has gone on, Orgrimmar can lie. It has done so before.’
‘What are you proposing?’ asked Gremkarc. Being in the presence of Shazula seemed to be strengthening his resolve. The agony of death had dissipated, and the indignity of being somewhere he knew little about, and being abused with regular punches and headbutts was beginning to bring out the Chieftain in him.
‘Your clan, friend, is called Dagger and Totem, is it not?’
‘It’s not my clan.’
‘We’ll see about that. It is called Dagger and Totem it certainly is, but are either of those two things represented, friend? By the leaders? No. All my respects to Chieftain Gorik, but he is not a Chieftain. He is not a shaman. He has little experience in a leadership role at all. And he has brought the whip to the clan. Do you think even Junka would be so adamant on the ways of good discipline to introduce that?’
Gremkarc raised an eyebrow. He grunted, through her hands on his flesh was soothing him. It outweighed the irritation that was beginning to creep through his mind. He did not, however, respond with a sociable tone. ‘He talked to me about it, before he met his end. Said it wa─’
‘How do you feel about the whip?’ asked the elder, interrupting with no shame.
‘It is regrettable when it is used, bu─’
‘No buts. It is regrettable, indeed. Did that headbutt you just received not feel punishment enough?’
Gremkarc blinked, and dabbed at his eye. Blood was trickling down his head. He looked back up at the kilted shaman, and grunted. ‘It was good enough.’
‘Then that is what you’ll use.’
‘I propose to tell me how to run your clan? Yes I do. You think you could do a better job, friend? It is a mess currently. It needs shaken. The Warsongs will be laughing at it, in a number of weeks. You have no other choice but to lead it. What will you return to, otherwise? Did you not realize that there is nothing else for you? No Heroes’ Society, no Sha’tari Skyguard? The Horde, friend, it has always been a part of you, and you a part of it. The Horde needs its shamans. They are the guiding hand. And what happens when the shamans disappear, into the wilderness? What happens when they leave armies at the gates of Stormwind? Grunts start to wonder whether the elements are wearing off, especially when the Taunka can abuse the elements and get so much gain from it. What is the point of respecting them, and asking for their own will? You and I, and she,’ at this the elder pointed at Shazula, who was breathing upon Gremkarc’s back, furthering her maintenance of his soothed nerves, ‘we all know what the point is. No, friend. You have made a mistake, because you were embroiled in politics. Forget Stormwind. Forget Hellscream. Forget the Forsaken. Let Orgrimmar handle this, yes? Not you. You just carry out Orgrimmar’s requests, Orgrimmar’s will. And evidently… you do not do it alone.’ The shaman looked against Shazula, though this time the jab of the finger did not come. This time, he… for the first time, smiled. Shazula tilted her strapped her to one side, to peer back at the shaman, who only shook his head. ‘You cannot be wolves anymore. You are for the Horde, Gremkarc. A Chieftain cannot abandon his clan. Go with her, your equipment is waiting for you outside. Including your tabard. You need them.’
Gremkarc grunted, and rose to his feet. Shazula followed, and stepped around so that she was standing beside him. ‘I can undo her strap now?’ he asked, though it was more of a statement than a question, A statement that was met with a confirmation rather than an answer. As the leather strap fell to the ground, it did indeed signal the end of the wolves. Or, at least, the exiled wolves. Gremkarc grunted once again, as he looked at the other male shaman. He waited for the elder to speak.
‘Hmm?’ questioned the kilted shaman, before shaking his head. ‘Oh, yes. Earth be at your feet, friends, may the spirits guide you.’ A textbook salute. A punch to the chest.
‘Earth be at your feet,’ Gremkarc replied, with the same salute. Shazula only looked at the other orc curiously, as if there was something she could not put her finger on. She shrugged, as Gremkarc turned, and followed him. Followed him to the wall with the door, the door which, upon being opened, would see Gremkarc as Chieftain, once again.
As the door closed, on their way out, Gremkarg of Durotar grunted. It was not a grunt of annoyance, or of irritation. Rather, it was a grunt of relief. He was content, now, to wait a while, and remember their faces. His face, and his mate’s face. He was looking forward to seeing the pups.
That would make him feel very old…