Thas Rea Serrar.
The forest and the blade. We elves always prided ourselves while navigating through the forests. Some of us were rangers, experts in tracking, hunting and even infiltrating. The Farstriders took great pride in their skills, and although our kingdom had a Thalassian name, we weren’t at the top of the food chain even back then…
Remember when I was excited to leave Fairbreeze? When I wanted to leave the village in search of knowledge and adventure? Well… I must say that for an aspiring adventurer… I was in a very bad shape to cross the forest at the pace of the Elven Rangers. My pride, however, did not allow me to ask them to slow down, much less stop to gather some air. We took an eastern path, parallel to the main road, off the sights of merchants and travelers. The Farstriders moved with great excellent through the beaten path. Vakrai led the group while cutting whatever tall grass was in the way. I assumed it was also to be some kind of initiation for him, as the others moved with less tension. The journey past the Elrendar river went by as calm as it could possibly be, with a just an unfortunate encounter with a couple of feral Dragonhawks, which had to be scared off as we ventured through the wilds. Once we crossed it through some rocks that allowed passage without ourselves getting wet, our group stopped to eat, and in my case, recover my breath, thus finally having Halduron briefing us on what we were about to do.
“Gather around Farstriders…” Halduron glanced at me as I had already found a seat on a medium rock, “and appointed Magic Apprentices…” The other two elves came around, Vakrai with a piece of bread on his hand, a bite of it already being chewed on his mouth. “These are Valaden and Braedin.” Halduron waved towards the two other Elves whose names were still a mystery just a moment before. With their hoods covering their heads, their features remained slightly hidden. The long nose and braided black hair that descended by one shoulder on one proved to be Braedin who introduced himself in a more gallant way. “Greetings, young mage. I’m Braedin of the Farstriders. Such a pleasure to have you with us during this mission.” I remember that I was quite aroused at the time. Braedin’s words were pure seduction for such a young damsel like myself. I was simply not used to such behavior. “Save your songs for another time Braedin… We’re here for a reason of homeland security.” Valaden, the other Farstrider in the group remarked, hiding his concern as he steered the group’s attention to the matter at hand. He was slightly taller than Braedin, and his long blonde hair descended down to both shoulders. It was probably knotted above. “Of course, Valaden. There’s no harm in introducing ourselves though.” Braedin stepped closer to me and looked me in the eyes. “Our lives may yet depend on the young one’s decisions.” Valaden let out a small laugh. “I might as well be dead already, if I’ve come to depend on the younglings.” As the tip of an arrow began to draw on the ground, Halduron said these exact words: “Then perhaps you should let your experience guide them, instead of shoving them away Valaden. Now, come close and pay attention.”
In the ground, Halduron had drawn the Elrendar river, the nearest Elven and Forest Troll villages. We circled around the drawing while Halduron remained in one knee, drawing the representation of the map crucial to the mission. “If you look Southwest, that’s Suncrown village, we’re to stay out of sight of any locals so that we don’t raise any suspicion.” The Elven Ranger followed the path down in the ground with the tip of one of his arrows. “We will follow near the lake, at the end of it we will pass straight through the Farstriders Enclave, no questions asked, no answers given.” He turned around and looked directly into Braedin’s eyes, whom in turn quickly deflected such stare. “Once we’re past the Enclave, we will be on our own and into enemy territory. Our mission is to infiltrate the villages around Zul’Aman and find out if the Forest Trolls are planning anything. We must gather intelligence about their activities and we’re in no way authorized to engage the enemy. This is reconnaissance only. We will be in and out of there before any of those long tusked beasts may even notice us.” Halduron rose up and guarded the arrow on his quiver. “Vakrai, you remain at the tip of the arrow, Braedin and I will follow, then the Apprentice and for last, Valaden will be at the rear.” He then addressed me, although his gaze was focused somewhere else. “While the Forest Trolls aren’t versed in the arts of the arcane Leafara, you should know that they possess a magic of their own. However primitive they are, it still might prove just as deadly as any magic cast by one of our finest Magi. You are here to ensure that we remain undetected for the entirety of our mission. And in the last resort, to counter any magical source thrown at us, should that be the case. If things worsen, leave the combat to us.”
I didn’t have anything to say. This was clearly a military operation to which I had no previous training beforehand. I felt… out of place. “Briefing is done. Everyone grab something to eat, freshen up and we will depart shortly. I want to spend the night in the Enclave, already with the results of our investigation so don’t wander too far off.” Once we were dismissed for the time being, each of the elves took a spot for their own. They seemed… tense. If it was about the mission itself, or the strange rumors in the Human Kingdoms, I did not know at the time. Vakrai stood by my side, awfully calm for his first mission. “Could it be… That you, Leafara Zeralae…. are actually nervous?” Ah! He mocked me! At the time I didn’t even pay attention to his attempt in lifting my spirit. I explained to him that magic could be different in nature, but it was still perceptible in the eyes of any magic wielder and therefore, I was wondering how to intercept that magical nature, used by the Forest Trolls. “Oh… I don’t understand much about magic, but…” He reached out to his backpack and retrieved a fresh pastry. “If there’s something I know, it is that we must keep our bellies filled before a mission.” He handed it to me, and I just couldn’t help myself but eat it right away. As I was eating, I asked if there was something of interest to Braedin at the Enclave. “What? Lea you should not talk with your mouth full…” I chewed for a moment longer then I repeated the question. “Ah, yes. Braedin seems to be quite famous among the ranks of the Farstriders. Much more so about his conquests of the flesh, rather than honoring our duty to Quel’thalas.” Oh, so that’s what Halduron was talking about earlier. The mission sounded to be clear enough not to take any detours, nor waste any time. “We must be focused. Forest Trolls are cunning too, just like us Elves, they know the trees and paths just as we know them. I’ll keep an eye on you Lea… Just don’t get too far from me.” As Vakrai said that to me, I felt… Warm. Alas, I wasn’t able to properly answer to his kindness, as Halduron and the other two Elves came by, their belongings already prepared for departure. “You two, it’s time to move. Vakrai, lead on.” I grabbed my bag and went along with them, following the formation indicated by Halduron earlier as I was still pushing down the pastry that Vakrai had handed to me.
We passed next to Suncrown village, and went alongside the lake down south. At the other side, there was Dawnstar Spire. Much of its story had yet to be revealed, although at the time I already wondered what kind of purpose that building had.
We then reached the Farstrider Enclave. The circular building offered only two entry points which led to the main hall, and ramps led up to higher platforms from there, where sentries stood by. We were spotted right away as we descended from the lake, going Southeast. There was movement within the Enclave, and they even signaled our group, using the reflection of the sunlight on a glass. Our group continued to move on nonetheless, but Halduron reached to his chest with a fist, then rose the same fist up high. The sentries ceased the signal right after. Braedin looked especially eager to find someone watching over from the Enclave. He pulled his hood back and instantly a sentinel of the Enclave, rose up to the nearest platform. Formidably agile, the Ranger reached one of the highest columns of the building, with a sense of longing. She then pulled her hood back as well, revealing long blonde hair that went way past her breasts, braided into one single strand of hair. Without any other gesture, Braedin pushed the hood forth, covering his head. And we continued down on our path without even mentioning what had just occurred.
The first wooden buildings of the Amani were now visible ahead. We used the tall grass to our advantage. Luckily for us, the shade of the trees provided even more coverage for our group. Our formation grew tighter with each passing step, as Vakrai led us onto the first hut. The huts were rounded, and as we later came to find, they barely contained more than one division at all. Although Trolls were intelligent individuals, their society was primitive compared to other sentient races. Vakrai went around the hut and we waited for some signal. A moment later, and two knocks on the wood of our side. Halduron and Braedin followed through, I entered after them, and lastly, Valaden as well. Though the hut was not empty, it lacked any kind of comfort. There were some rags on the surface, probably where the Trolls slept on. Bags and crates on another side of the building, with grain, fish, and meat correctly separated. And, of course, a shrine of some sort, with piles of skulls, probably from animals, and drums. Trolls believe in ancient, powerful spirits called the Loa, and they worship them with fervor.
“Strange… There’s no sign of the Amani, yet there’s fresh fish here.” Halduron pointed as he went through the crates and bags of food. “The torches are alit as well… What is this statue supposed to be?” Vakrai said as he inspected the shrine. “Some kind of deity that these savages worship. We should proceed and check the other huts, there’s something unusual going on here.” Valaden announced what we all thought. We should be quick. “Anything magical has caught your attention Leafara?” Halduron quickly followed. Not at the time, I answered. Everything was just extremely calm in my own sense of judgment. “Very well, lead the way to the next couple of huts Vakrai. We must get to the bottom of this. It’s not common for Forest Trolls to leave their houses unattended for, they’re extremely territorial…”
We ventured outside once more, Vakrai led the group while Halduron and Braedin protected me, who was in the middle of the formation, while Valaden covered the rear. However, as we came upon the next couple of huts, and onto a ridge that led below to the center of the village right in front of Zul’Aman, we first heard a gong, and then, as we hurried over the cliff, the clash of metal and cries of a battle ensued. The Amani led a desperate confrontation against a tide of undeath. Desfigured corpses ravaged across the battlefield, running with both legs or even with all limbs. Skeletons wielding both shields and swords, provided defense against the Amani Axe Throwers as the undead warriors marched forward. Huge spiderlike creatures provided a ranged offense by throwing their webs from medium distance, webbing up a few careless trolls, while others emerged from the ground, catching their enemy by surprise with their claws and mandibules. “By the Sunwell…” It was all Halduron could say for the moment that we gazed upon the unexpected battlefield. The gong echoed once more, and the Trolls began to retreat while holding their own. They were a fierce race with amazing regenerative capabilities, and cuts and wounds that would otherwise be fatal to Elves, proved to be way less deadly to them. Bear riders came from both flanks and tore down the skeleton formations, giving time for the Trolls for a safer retreat. The bears were armored with huge tusks, wooden shields and voodoo masks protected their bodies as well as their heads, while the trolls smashed the skeletons with their clubs. “We should leave this place!” Valaden said between clenched teeth. “This goes beyond our purpose… We should head back while the Undead have the attention on the Trolls.” At the other side of the battlefield, a man stood atop an armored skeletal horse was overseeing the progress of the battle. Its long grey hair and terrifying armor, gave away that he had some kind, if not the entire leadership of the Undead assault on the Amani. “There! There’s someone overlooking the battle from the other side… Wait… There’s something familiar about—” Braedin’s knees dropped to the floor and interrupted Halduron. “I feel… Tired… So tired…” Vakrai quickly came to check on his comrade. “Stand your ground Quel’dorei! There’s a group of undead coming our way!” Valaden shouted, alerting the rest of the group already with his bow at hands.
In between more than a dozen ghouls running on all fours, an arachnoid like those seen in the battlefield ran among them. Behind them was shadowy figure in tattered robes and with a staff at hand. A necromancer, responsible for the current fatigue hailing Braedin. An attempt to flank the Amani and prevent their escape, ended up in endangering us. Talk about being at the wrong place and at the wrong time. “Ready your bows Farstriders! Release at my signal!” Ordered Halduron firmly. “Tend to Braedin, apprentice! His ailment is magical in nature, see what you can do about it and do it quick!” At this moment, I just froze. It seemed like everything had stopped… Not stopped, but the flow of time had been decreased to a bare minimum, just a little above zero. The attack was imminent and I did not know what to do, what to think, as the Undead came for our lives. While my eyes moved frantically, watching as the enemy came to us, I saw a strange figure, atop the highground that led into the mountains that gave Zul’Aman its natural protection. It called to me. But I could not make sense of the words. After concentrating, the image grew clearer. A humanoid sit upon a black horse… And not just any kind of horse, its eyes had a red glow on them and the horse seemed to be made of metal through and through. The humanoid was wearing armor, but even what protected him or its physical attributes, lacked any resemblance to anything I’ve ever seen. With huge paws, somehow he was holding what seemed to be a very thin sword on his right hand, while holding a device that contained two platforms, which were then linked by a cord and a pillar in between them in the other pawlike hand. Its head was filled with fur in a color between yellow and brown, styled much like an Elf’s would be if its hair wasn’t combed. However, its face was a bestial one, with a snout and whiskers going sideways below it. Its yellow eyes did not instill fear, but they were surely able to do so.
It started with senseless whispers, but the sound became louder and louder. And when I finally was able to make sense of it, I understood it! The creature looked right at me, its eyes flared with an immense glow and it was if I was right in front of it! “Awake, Leafara Zeralae!” The mystical creature yelled with a roar and a crow, appearing from nowhere, cried out and went right into my eye!
I was transported back into the scene, the flow of time had resumed but my thoughts were incredibly faster. I closed my eyes for a second and focused on Braedin, with two quick finger signs, I removed the curse upon him after understanding the matrix of the spell. Within a second, Braedin rose to his feet and had his bow and arrows ready to shoot at Halduron’s orders. “I knew Rommath had sent you for a reason…” Now facing the imminent threat ahead, Halduron pulled the string of his bow backwards. “Aim to their heads Farstriders! Release!” And a volley of arrows went forth towards the group of Undead advancing. Three ghouls fell down right away, arrows went right in and out of their heads, leaving their corpses completely unanimated. Another two received the arrows that were meant for the necromancer but were clearly unaffected by them and continued to move on. “Guard your bows!” Halduron shouted. “Unsheath your blades!”
The four elves braced for the incoming attack, but I wasn’t about to stay idle while they risked their lives. I’ve casted a Frostbolt and managed to hit an incoming ghoul, freezing its superior right limb and allowing Valaden to finish it off quickly. Halduron gracefully avoided the charge of one ghoul and sliced its head with quite the elegance, stepping back again, grabbing one of the arrows pierced in another ghoul’s chest and stabbed its head with it, leaving the undead creature to fall down towards the surface. Vakrai held his own against another pair of ghouls, stabbing them consequently with his dagger and with an agility that did not befit the person that I once knew back at Faibreeze village. He ultimately had cut the monsters tendons and muscles, rendering them incapable of movement, thus finishing them with a quick stab of his blade in their heads. Against three on his own, Braedin severed the limbs of a ghould and kicked it back, dodged the following attack of another, but got wounded in his right leg by the third one. Valaden helped him out and parried the attack of another, while Braedin sliced the neck of its aggressor and Vakrai finished off the remaining ghoul by behind it, having grabbed its head and removing it from its body with his blade. The arachnoid however, had shot its web and was now imminent for Halduron who was dealing with the remaining pair of ghouls. Without even knowing, another Elf got in the way. It was Rommath!
“In need of a little help, Halduron?” Though the Elf was caught in its web, his own form turned to ice, and so did the web following back at the unaware arachnoid who in its turn, froze entirely. As the necromancer was casting yet another curse, I still managed to interrupt his casting using a Counterspell. Valaden shot the dark wizard right in the eye, while Vakrai and Halduron finished the remaining ghouls. “It seems yet another wave is coming. We should get out of here now.” Yet another image of Rommath appeared right in the middle of the Quel’dorei group. I was speechless. I spoke his name, I was thankful for his presence among us, but I couldn’t make any sense at the time. “Calm down Leafara. Our story won’t be over here.” There was still another wave of Undead coming.
Back in the battlefield, the Forest Trolls were retreating into Zul’Aman where they would be able to barricade themselves and create numerous chokepoints where to hold the Undead at bay. Most of them had managed to run up, as the bear riders were now retreating as well, after breaking the ranks of undead into bone and sinew. Although they were reforming, the knight with grey hair had left the battlefield at that point. It seemed like the Amani were deploying totems, magical ones that created bursts of fire, igniting the grass and flesh into an inferno which began to run wild across the battlefield. I could never have imagined that we ended up in saving Troll lives, our enemies for thousands of years so far.
“Rommath! Your presence here is most welcomed my friend!” Halduron proclaimed boldly and with great satisfaction. “What news do you bring?” Rommath’s tone paled immediately. “Not good ones. Quel’thalas is in great danger and we must get to Silvermoon as fast as we can! The Ranger-General and her forces are already dealing with the Undead.” This time however, the wave of undead was larger in number. More than twenty ghouls for certain, half a dozen arachnoids (which I forgot to mention, are indeed called Nerubians), and three necromancers at the back of their formation, were then headed towards us, still clinging to catch the Trolls on their retreat. “We can’t waste any more time here, we need to reach Silvermoon and warn Anasterian!” Yet another image of Rommath appeared from the woods, it blinked rapidly, teleporting himself a few yards in between a second. As he moved right in the enemies’ formation, a series of explosions of arcane energy were unleashed as he blinked among them, causing mayhem across their midst. Ultimately the ghouls charged at him and the image simply dissipated into thin air. But it was all that my tutor needed. His real body being among us. From within his red robes, were about half a dozen mana gems, he waved his hands over them and somehow drained the immense mana contained within. The gems were absorbed into his own being, his fingertips glowed blue, and it almost seemed like his hands were about to fall apart, as cracks reached out to his forearms. Rommath reached to the sky and uttered the words: “Belore’melorn!” And from the sky, multiple blazing boulders descended upon the second wave of the Undead. Limbs were scattered, blood splattered on the ground and the surface shook furiously, leaving nothing but ashes, the smell of burned meat and charred bones in their stead.
Rommath looked exhausted and at the time, I think he even lost consciousness. Halduron quickly took a hold of him and ordered the retreat, now that it was available. Valaden helped Braedin as well, since he was injured and Vakrai led the group out of there and into the wilderness, away of the carnage of battle.
Soon everything would change. Soon the entire world would be thrown into chaos. Soon the blood of our people would spread across our land.