Everything was calm, gentle and slow. Vast, sweeping areas of streets and courtyards, all but dead to the world; the occasional elf going about his or her business at a relaxed pace. The warm hues of red and gold that coated every inch of the grounds, every tall tower that walled in the vast city, invited tranquillity. Like a cat drawn to a warm fire, everyone here was relaxed. Calm, gentle and slow.
Soraya’s ears twitched gently as the faint thud of an Arcane Guardian gave momentary lapse to the morning bird’s chorus. Its monotonous steps a constant reminder to the pace of SilvermoonCity. Slow, repetitive and and predictable. She waited the few seconds she knew it would take to be astride her, then followed its mechanical words with her own.
“Do not disturb the serenity of the city. Peace must be upheld.”
She sighed deeply, and carried on her patrol. That same route she took countless times a day, with little happening to break up her routine. Everything, as usual, was in order. She should be thankful, she mused, that Silvermoon was finally at peace. The events of recent times had been troubling to all. Now it was a stable, unchanging paradise.
Rounding the last corner of her patrol, she strode purposefully towards the Blood KnightTemple. The Guardians at the gates tensed at her approach, then, as expected, dropped onto a knee, heads bowed, glaive clenched to their chests in a salute. In perfect unison, they spoke.
“Our lives are yours Blood—.”
“They’re mine.” She continued her stride, wafting a hand dismissively as she passed them. “I know.”
Paradise, perhaps. But such a boring paradise.
“Very well…” Aythena stood straight, her hands clasped behind her back as she watched her colleague shoving various bits and bobs into small crates. She tilted her head, briefly trying to figure if there was any logic in the arrangement, but soon shook the thought clear. “Where will you go, Sora?”
“Soraya. And, to the front. I’m going to do what I’m supposed to be doing,” she stood back straight, beginning to pull her hair into an intricate bun as she spoke, meeting Aythena’s gaze fairly. “I haven’t trained all these years so I could sit on horseback and stride around this city like a robot. I was on the front before, I’m going again.”
“And that’s your decision to make? You were recalled from active service after Wrathgate, Soraya. It’s not your choice to just go back!”
Soraya smiled slightly as she placed the last pin into her hair, returning to busy herself with her dress-armour. She knelt and brushed a cloth briefly over each piece as it stood proudly in her rack. Stepping back, she folded her arms and admired her handiwork, more than aware of Aythena’s gaze piercing into her as she awaited a reply. A reply she wasn’t quite sure she could give.
“It’s been approved…” she spoke hesitantly, turning to face Aythena with a rather sheepish grin slipped across her lips. “It has been for near on a week now. I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
Her friend raised her brows and simply stared. Then began pacing the small space of floor that wasn’t cluttered with mess, clenching and unclenching her fingers before she stopped again and eyed Soraya head to foot, who was now leaning on her desk, awaiting the backlash.
“A fuss? A fuss?! By the sun, Soraya, you’re such a selfish… !”
“Can you toss me my sword, please?” Soraya found her scabbard hurtling towards her head, thankfully overshooting and crashing into the wall behind. “Thank you…”
“Did you even think about anyone else? The Division? Sariella? Your friends?!” Aythena was pacing again, going somewhat red in the cheeks as she spoke. If she was wearing herself out, or embarrassing herself, Soraya wasn’t quite sure, but felt a little smug contentedness betting on the latter. “What if you die?”
“People die, Aythena…” The muffled reply came from behind the desk; Soraya’s head soon emerging, along with her scabbard as she pushed herself back to her feet. “I thought that was something you would be used to by now.”
“You’re too hard skinned.”
“And you’re not hard enough! Besides, have a little faith in me. I’m not going to die.”
“Then why go at all? There’s no reason you can’t stay here, Sora. None at all. Why put yourself in danger?” Aythena’s ears drooped a little.
“I can’t stay here… I’m bored, Aythana. Fed up of this life, of this city, of these people. I do the same things, day after day after day and I’m sick of it. Sick to the bone.” Silence hung between the two, the awkwardness punctuated by each subtle movement as Soraya fastened her sword over her shoulder. “My transport leaves soon.”
“Then go! Go have your little suicide trip because you’re ‘bored’! It’s only you that matters, after all.”
Soraya sighed deeply as she watched her friend leave, crimson drapes still fluttering in her wake, the heavy sound of footsteps echoing through the long corridor outside. Burying her insignia underneath her tabard, she took a deep breath and made ready to leave.
“Shorel’aran, my friend.”
She’d been travelling for around an hour by now, the heavy, throbbing sound of the Zeppelin’s engine ringing as clear in her ears as it had been ever since it started. The travel was hardly comfortable, with most of the ship empty save for the few Horde travelling with her, the cabin seemed vast, cold and rickety. She sat on a few rags, bunched beneath her as a makeshift cushion; head leant against the vibrating wooden hull. Her eyes were closed, as though amidst the entire racket and shaking, she could actually sleep. Her comrades seemed not to suffer such problems. A few of the older looking orcs were already deeply dreaming, their arms folded firmly across their leather bound chests. Others, along with some more boisterous trolls were sat in the middle of the deck, playing dice, yelling and roaring with laughter as the banking and swaying of the craft interrupted their rolls. One of the dice rolled across the floor, getting lost in her tangle of rags.
“’ey, elfie! Thro’ it back!”
She slowly peeled open her eyes, gazing around the floor for whatever ‘it’ was.
“Beteen ya legs, girleh! Ah’ll come an’ git it maself if ya don’ ‘urry it up!” The troll grinned, toothily, tongue lashing across his tusks.
She snarled at him, patting around beneath her until her plated glove clasped around the small object. She tossed it back, with some force, a gentle smirk on her lips as it thudded against his blue-skinned chest.
“Lose it again, and it goes overboard.” She winked.
“Ya do dat, and ya be goin’ wid it, sistah.” The troll growled, shaking the dice in his hands violently.
Soraya stifled a laugh, leaning herself back against the hull, closing her eyes once more. She wasn’t sure how long passed before she finally began to drift off, but her peaceful state was soon interrupted by someone yelling. Someone yelling her name. With a disgruntled groan she pushed herself to her feet, holding tightly to the leather straps on the roof to keep her steady as she surveyed the room for the source.
Stepping into the doorway, cloak wrapped tightly around her, was Aythena. She looked freezing, and certainly wasn’t equipped for the journey to come, still clad in her black and red ceremonial armour, no bag of supplies to be seen. She called out one more, much to the dismay of the sleeping orc not far from her.
“I’m here!” Soraya called out to her in hushed Thalassian, beckoning her over with a flick of the wrist. “What the fel are you doing?”
“You couldn’t go alone…”
“Obviously I could! I’m a selfish bitch, remember?”
“Well I came anyway! I’ve been looking all over for you since I snuck aboard.” The other Knight grinned shyly, the daft expression only punctuated by the rather red tip of her cold nose.
Soraya eyed her companion over, brushing a few droplets of rain from her cape and shoudlerguards before taking her by the arms and settling her onto the floor, tossing rug upon rug over her lap.
“You’re going to freeze dressed like that in the Fjord, let alone in Icecrown. What were you thinking?”
“That you could use a medic,” she sniffed, rubbing her cold nose with her wrist. “You could, couldn’t you?”
Soraya sighed deeply and sat herself down next to the quivering bundle that was Aythena. She felt awkward. Or upset. She wasn’t rightly sure. What she did know was that the arrival of someone she cared about meant she would have to tone down her plans. When Aythena had told her she was going on a suicide trip, Soraya wondered if she knew how close she had been to the truth. It wasn’t that she intended to step into the battlefield and let herself be torn apart, but rather that she craved the danger, the rush, the excitement of being in the throngs of battle. Now someone was here to watch over her shoulder, it wasn’t just her life that making silly decisions could end.
“I guess. Go to sleep, it’s a long trip, and you look like you could use the rest.”
No sooner had the words left her mouth, as though laced with magic, was Aythena lost to the waking world. Soraya smiled softly at her and propped her against the wall, getting her comfortable. Assured that she wasn’t waking any time soon, she got to her feet and headed to the lower decks. If that engine was going to keep her up with its heavy grind, she may as well go and admire the engineering whilst she could.
There was a screw digging into her hip, Soraya discovered as she roused from what had apparently been a rather long sleep. How it had gotten there or indeed how she managed to fall asleep next to the heaving and whirring mass of engine was far beyond her dozy comprehension. Evidently she had been more tired than she realised. Slowly, she clambered back to her feet, tossing the screw idly aside before snapping still with the daunting though that that single screw was somehow vital to the stability of the engine and she’d just doomed the craft to destruction. She shook her head clear again and grumbled at her own stupidity; she certainly wasn’t a morning elf.
Trudging back up to the upper deck, the familiar sounds of orcs and trolls began filling her ears. Evidently they were still partaking in some kind of game, as though they never tired. She stood in the doorway, watching quietly as they went about their business. They were still huddled around each other, but they’d moved themselves closer to the sleeping Aythena and from what Soraya could see, only the troll was rolling the dice now. His companions looked on his rolls with great interest, and after each roll they all roared with laughter, or groaned and shook their heads.
She slowly stepped closer, trying not to make herself heard or seen as she tried to figure out their game. She watched the dice as the rolled across the floor; one landing on a six, the other on two. Again, this elicited the usual laughs from the orcs and a disgruntled groan from the troll.
“So close, mon! Ah almost ‘ad it!”
“Had what?” Her curiosity got the better of her.
The troll glanced up at her, grinning that same toothy grin as before, shaking the dice in his hands again as he prepared to roll.
“Ya friend ‘ere like sleepin’ beauteh,” he shot his gaze across her body, and licked his lips. “If ah roll double sixes, she’s gonna get a rude awakenin’, if ya follo’?”
His companions laughed boisterously again at this, and he let the dice roll before giving a vulgar squeezing motion with his three-fingered hands. Soraya grit her teeth and clenched her fists tight, watching the dice slowly come to a halt. Six and six. For once, they were all silent and she watched calmly as he slowly edged his way over to her sleeping friend, still wrapped tight in her makeshift blankets.
“Seems you be da lucky charm, girleh! She won’ mind, she don’ seem goo’ for much else!” He winked and leant over further, arm outstretched.
Soraya growled loudly and without warning had launched herself over Aythena’s sleeping body, tackling the troll to the floor. Her surprise played to her advantage and in her rage she managed to land three painful strikes across his face before he so much as hit her back. The two scrambled on the floor for a few seconds, seemingly more than happy to exchange blows anywhere they could land before they were broken up, held back uneasily by the troll’s orcish friends.
She could taste blood around her lips, and her face ached and throbbed. But she was content in knowing that he no doubt looked far worse off than she. Plate gloves hurt.
Amidst the commotion, Aythena had stirred and was sitting upright, rubbing her eyes and trying to clock her surroundings. She caught some brief, angry, muffled exchanges but soon thought nothing of it as the loud engine began to whir to a halt and the shrill cry of a goblin pierced the air. Their destination had arrived.
“Prefect timing!” She called cheerily into the cabin, pushing herself to her feet as she scurried after Soraya who was already on her way out with what looked to be a limp.
Vengeance Landing was, rather ironically, a ghost town. Since the Wrathgate incident, the laboratories that made up the vast majority of the Forsaken settlement had been shut down and abandoned. Where the buildings once whirred, bubbled and smoked as they churned and developed their plague, they now stood still and silent. The remainder of the town was the same as ever, although its inhabitants looked somewhat more worn than usual, and seemed to shy away from the newcomers.
Serves them right, Soraya thought as she trudged past the tower guards, her lips curled in disgust as she passed them. Treacherous wretches…
Aythena followed closely behind, her arms wrapped tightly across her body, teeth chattering as they ventured past the rickety fences onto the Bleeding Vale. A few hundred metres ahead towered the foreboding cliffs, marking the beginning of what was going to be a long, strenuous journey. It was early morning, and the sun barely peeked over the cliff-head, a long, dark shadow cast out across the muddy vale; reaching towards the pair like grubby hands, threatening to ensnare them and drag them away.
Soraya pulled her heavy hood further across her face. Thus far, her companion hadn’t noticed the scratched and bruised cheek she’d only minutes earlier in her scrap with the troll, and she would prefer to keep it that way for as long as possible.
They stepped in silence towards the lift that endlessly shot up and down the cliff-face, Soraya watching it with a vague interest as it made its ascent to the top; the great feral head carved expertly into the stone. Slowly, it made its way back down, gate sliding open, ready for anyone who might come. The whole process seemed horribly mechanical and predictable. It reminded Soraya of herself.
“It’s colder at the top. Wrap your cloak tighter.”
Aythena nodded and did as she was instructed, pulling her cloak tightly around herself as she stepped into the lift. Silently they rose, higher and higher, Vengeance landing looking only a small collecting of toy houses. With a loud clunk, they reached the top, buffeted immediately by the gust of a chill wind. Soraya frowned, her ears drooping slightly. It was a frustrating predicament, being an elf. Your ears either suffered the cold, or sufferend the pain of being crammed into a slit-less hood. She still had yet to decide which was worse. She shot Aythena a glance, watching her friend share much the same expression as she had. With a shrug, she set off on her way.
“I need something warmer than this, Soraya…” Aythena chattered, rubbing her hands up and down her arms as she walked.
“There’s a camp nearby,” Soraya nodded to the approaching wooden fences, crates and single ballista. “Take what you can from there. There should be some fur underlining, maybe some better armour.”
Surely enough, she was right. A few spare bits and bobs collected from enemies and fallen soldiers lay cast aside in a heap beside the supply crates. After a little bartering and batting of eyelids, Aythena had managed to procure herself some ill-fitting, but fur-lined armour for the remainder of the journey. Soraya grinned playfully as her friend emerged from behind the crates she had changed behind, a miss-match of spiked, oversized armour that waddled more than it walked.
“Are you going to be able to trek in that?” she chuckled.
“More so than I would if I froze…” Aythena nodded, optimistically.
“Good. We’ll keep walking till sunset, or until we find a suitable place to camp out for the evening. You set?”
With a nod, they were off again, following the paths slowly and carefully, making their way deeper into the Fjord.
Some hours had passed, and the sun was now low on the other side of the sky. Soraya wondered, with her usual huff, just how many hours of daylight Northrend saw, because it certainly didn’t seem many. The conversations had been sparse but heated; most noticeably a very angry Aythena commenting on the bloodied face of her fellow Knight, followed by a short but insightful lecture on how dangerous it is to fist-fight trolls, with their devious voodoo and poison-drenched fingers. But now time passed in silence again, both of them tiring in the cold.
“That tower,” Soraya stretched an arm, pointing into the far distance. A small fire was glowing atop what seemed to be a reasonably large wooden tower. A wide door at the bottom glowed a homely, inviting orange. “It’s not empty, but it’s not large enough to hold many. We’ll take it by force if needs be.”
“You think we can?”
Soraya grinned widely. “I know we can.”
The pair waited in the thicket nearby. They had been watching the tower for some time now, close enough to clock who entered and exited and count how many they were up against. It seemed to be only two, both Vrykul hunters, and neither in the tower at the same time. It was time for the hunters to change again, and the Knights squatted low, watching as the two towering beings exchanged brief words, and then went about their business. They left a few minutes to be sure the leaver was out of earshot before the scrambled closer to the tower, backs pressed to its side wall.
Both elves drew their swords, Soraya muttering quietly as she ran her plated fingers down the flat of her blade, casting a Seal across the weapon. It glowed briefly, before paling back to its normal, uninteresting state. The pair slowly crept towards the door, Soraya taking the briefest of glances inside before pressing back firmly to the wall. No words were needed between the Knights, a brief exchange of professionally executed hand-symbols conveying all that they needed to know to each other. Within seconds they were inside the tower, and within a few more seconds, their enemy lay dispatched on the floor.
“We’ll have trouble when his friend comes back.” Aythena noted as she helped lug the corpse to a nearby ditch.
“Same again, Aythena. Surprise is a helpful tool when you’re picking on people over twice your size.”
Soraya grinned widely again, Aythena shaking her head with a faint tut. She saw how Soraya revelled in this. In her own victory, her own cunning and planning. She saw how she loved the risk of battle, yet at the same time was somehow so very confident that her ways were right, flawless and infallible that she had no fear. She felt certain that if Soraya had a plan, she would charge head-first into Scourge bastion, truly convinced she could win. The thought worried her.
“Are you sure you know the risks of all this?”
Soraya cocked her head slightly, then shrugged and made her way back to the warmth of their newly stolen home, setting herself ready for when the other returned.
“I’m never sure of anything up here. But that’s what makes it so different from home, right?” She smiled weakly, quite certain it looked as false as it felt. “Up here, I might die.”