By Christopher Frank
“You should wear the red more often. You look good in the red.”
“That would be my formal armor,” came the reply. “Special occasions. You think every ol’ paladin of the light has a set of Judgement armor?”
“I can’t believe you’re being girly about armor.”
“I’m not being girly about armor!”
“You’re being girly. About armor.”
“Well at least I don’t have a pair of antlers stuck to my head.”
Cynta stopped in her tracks, her feet crunching into the new-fallen snow. Her mouth hung open in surprise as she regarded her closest friend with nearly heart-felt shock. The porcelain skin of her cheeks reddened slightly, as her shoulder-length dark green hair brushed over her face when caught by the wind. “I cannot believe you’d insult my antlers.”
Andrade smiled in a similar manner that a sibling would smile when addressing a younger sister in a gentle yet condescending manner. “Life is an ever-present struggle.” A gust of wintry wind caught them both and nearly swept the hood of Andrade’s cloak from her head. She caught it quickly and said: “Remind me why we’re out in the middle of Winterspring again?”
Cynta sighed softly. “Do you ever pay attention to me when I tell you things?”
Andrade had looked away momentarily after asking her question and then quickly looked back at Cynta, “Sorry. Did you say something?”
With catlike reflexes, Cynta bent down, gathered up a handful of snow and threw it at Andrade. The attack splattered against Andy’s cloak, scattering snowflakes all around. “Bah!”
The air split with the peels of Andrade’s giggles as she gathered her cloak around her and once again set off towards their destination. “It’s just too easy.”
Cynta shook her fist in the direction of Andrade’s back and then fell into step alongside her. “The Cenarion Circle camp that Amanta told me about should be around here somewhere,” the young druid said. “We’ll make contact with them, get what we need and then make our way to Everlook.”
“I can’t believe that the Scourge would actually be way out here,” Andrade commented.
“Think about the invasion last year when Kel’Thuzad parked Naxxramus over the plaguelands. There were those floating ziggurats all over the world. It’s not hard to think that somehow the Scourge managed to get agents and forces into every corner of Azeroth.”
“Good point,” said Andrade. “You’d have thought, though, that both Alliance and Horde forces would have stamped out the stragglers by now.” She sighed and then countered her own comment with: “But where there’s light, there will always be shadows.” She shook her head sadly and trudged on through the thickening snow.
Cynta was about to add a comment to the conversation when something caught her attention. “What the…”
Andrade picked up on the concern and started looking around carefully. “What’s wrong?”
As the wind shifted, the smell of something long since burned away met their nostrils. However, the scent was tainted. There was something more to it. Both women turned in the direction of where the scent came from. Both also unhooked their weapons to be prepared for anything that could occur. They had, they came to realize, found the camp they were looking for. However, it had become quite clear that something else had also found the camp first. The tents and temporary shelters had been destroyed, ruined beyond any possible use. Shipping crates smashed, campfires scattered across the breadth of the camp, wagons destroyed. Cynta gasped audibly and turned away when her eyes were cast upon the first bodies of those slain by whatever assaulted the camp.
“Elune’s tears,” she breathed as she steeled herself against the sight.
Andrade had a similar reaction, closing her eyes at first and taking a deep breath to brace her soul against the carnage. When she opened them again, she took a moment to count the bodies and assess what may have happened. “Such fear…” she whispered, a sound nearly caught and carried away by an unpleasant winter wind. “They were slaughtered as they ran for their lives.” ‘
Cynta nodded as she moved out into the camp. “I’ve seen wounds like this before… I just can’t remember where.” She paused and looked around, her hand gripped tightly around the haft of her silver-hued mace. “I’ve seen them before…” she repeated.
The creature would have been considered breathless with anticipation if it breathed like a normal creature to begin with. The thing about being undead is that there were benefits to stealth that other living creatures could not take advantage of. This was usually balanced out by the fact that with an undead creature you tended to have rattling bones and putrid flesh to give you away; but the creature stood ever so still and ever so downwind as to not give away its presence. The patience it had shown for these past few weeks was only now being rewarded and it was not about to ruin the moment with heavy-handed or rushed actions. It knew that it wouldn’t starve. It knew that the cold would not hurt it. It only wanted to destroy life. But life had to be in the right spot and it would wait. It will start with the green-haired one. The scent of rich elven blood hung in the air. Though the night elves were no longer immortal, the richness of their essence was maintained and it stirred and attracted the creature. For where there is life… death must surely follow it. However for now, it would wait. It would be patient. It would choose its moment. And then it would strike.
“I count fourteen,” Cynta declared after examining the camp.
“Same,” Andrade agreed. “What do you think? Five? Maybe six days?”
“Hard to say,” the druid replied. “Omnia’s better at figuring out things like that than I am.” Cynta looked around again and said: “Whoever did this is long gone by now.” She frowned visibly and shook her head. “I’ve got this thought in the back of my mind. I can’t bring it forward. I know I’ve seen this before.”
Andrade’s feet crunched against the snow as she cross the camp to where Cynta was standing. “Close your eyes, take a deep breath and let your mind wander.”
“What? Going to hypnotize me in the middle of Winterspring?”
Andrade smirked and replied: “Shutup and do it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cynta shut her eyes for a moment, opening one briefly to say with a wry tone: “You know. If you’re trying to relax me, you’re going about it all wrong.”
Cynta closed her eyes and, took a deep breath and let the chill wind flitter past her. As she exhaled, she let her mind wander. Andrade watched her for a moment and then started looking around again. Something was nagging at her. There was a prickling at the back of her neck. She had learned over the years to trust her instincts and her instincts were telling her that something wasn’t right. Something was, indeed, the next best thing to wrong. Something caught her attention over her shoulder and she glanced that way to look. Was it movement? She couldn’t tell right away.
“I’ve got it!” Cynta shouted. Andrade hushed her gently and said, “What?”
“I remember now… it was Stratholme.”
Andrade’s attention whipped back towards Cynta, slightly alarmed. “You mean…”
Cynta nodded gleefully, “Yeah! We’re about to get ambushed by the Scourge!”
The snow erupted behind Andrade and the creature unfurled itself from its hiding spot. It was massive. Nearly eight feet tall and clad in a disheveled array of scrapped armor and tattered cloth. Its hands were long daggers of sharp bone and its mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. It made no sound other than the rattling of bones and the crunching of snow beneath its feet as it approached. No moan, no roar. Just silence. The aura of pure evil met the adventurers before the creature was upon them. The feeling of it was palpable to Andrade as the well-trained senses of a holy warrior kicked in and she readied her greatsword for action. Cynta stepped out from behind Andrade with her mace held tightly in her hand and a determined look in her eye. Acting in unison, Andrade stepped into the creature’s charge, swinging her sword in a ferocious arc. As it bit into the attacker’s side, Cynta was already swinging around behind the skeletal fiend and swinging her mace low from the opposite side. The momentum of Andrade’s attack threw the creature off its stride and Cynta successfully took its legs out from under it. There was a loud crushing of bone as the fiend crashed to the ground hard. However, while it was damaged, it was not undaunted and rolled away from the paladin and druid to quickly regain its feet.
Andrade stalked after the fiend as it rolled away, not giving it the luxury of room to move. As the creature worked to stand up, Andrade was already stepping into another swing, arcing her blade downward and biting into its collarbone. The force of the blow sent the creature back down into the snow. Its struggle to get up was once again interrupted as thick green vines broke forth from the snow and threaded themselves through every bone and around every limb, pulling it tightly against the earth. Andrade wasted no time in positioning herself by the creature’s head and severing it with one full swing of her sword. The struggle ended there and as Andrade looked up to thank Cynta for the entangling roots she caught sight of something that made her shout instead: “Behind you!”
A second attacker had arrived on scene, brought to the site of the action by the sounds of combat. Cynta spun on her heel and raised the haft of her mace with little time to spare to block the incoming attack. As the creature’s second claw swung inward, Cynta intercepted it with a short punching motion from her mace and was able to deflect that as well. Andrade was already stepping up behind her, sword drawn back and ready to swing; but the paladin’s attack was held for the druid was still between her and the creature. Andrade hitched her step once and then gritted her teeth as she began the sword’s mighty arc. Heartbeats before it would have surely cleaved Cynta in half, the young druid dropped to the ground, letting the blade pass over her and into their attacker. The power of the attack was such that it threw the creature back and it crashed backwards into the snow. Andrade let the momentum arc around and she turned her back to the conflict to watch for any further attackers who could still be in the area. However, the creature was not defeated and was already working on getting back to its feet… only to be met by the druid, now fully shape shifted into the form of a massive dire bear that pounced immediately and tore the boney beast limb from limb.
Slowly, Cynta shifted back into her natural elven form and exhaled sharply. “I think we’re clear.”
Andrade wasn’t so sure and hissed a “shh” from between her teeth. Her sword at the ready, she scanned around them with narrowed eyes.
The creature sighed in a mental fashion. Since it did not breathe, and had not for quite some time, the actual act of sighing was impossible for it; but it still knew what a sigh of frustration sounded like and it allowed itself to have a moment where it would enact one. The cannon fodder proved to be cannon fodder. That much was certain, so it would have to handle affairs on its own terms. Slowly it stalked from its hiding spot, using the power of its own shadow to mask its presence. The green one… Yes. That would be a good target.
Cautiously, the druid and the paladin began moving towards each other, both keeping their senses sharp and their eyes shifting to study the area. Andrade was silent as she studied the landscape. She knew they were not alone. She could feel they were being hunted and the scent of evil was strong. “We’re not in a good spot.” She said. “We’re in a very very bad spot.”
Cynta nodded. “We’re being hunted,” she said. “I can feel it, Andy. We’re being hunted.” Quickly, she hitched her mace to the loop on her belt where it normally hung from and held out her hands to Andrade. “We’re getting out of here.” Andrade glanced at her curiously, “What?”“We’re getting out of here. Give me your hands.” She added: “NOW!” for emphasis. Andrade obediently returned her sword to the baldric across her back and gripped Cynta’s hands tightly. The young druid began a low chant in her native elven tongue and the air crackled around them. Within moments they were enveloped in a column of light and vanished from the broken campsite. A roar of frustration followed them as a mass of swirling shadows coalesced where only moments before the two adventurers were standing. The green one is slippery, it thought to itself. Elusive. Cloaked in the magics of the accursed elves. It would make a point of remembering the green one and her sister. A feast that gets away is merely a feast delayed. We will meet again, green one, it thought to itself. We will meet again.