Everything slowed for Bregan, but only in his personal space, as though he was moving through honey instead of air. Everyone else, however, sped up to an intense rate of speed. His father’s eyes widened in shock.
A persistent ringing, like the extended tone of a high-pitched bell, drowned out all sound save for the hammering of his heart. Talida released his father, and Shikoba dropped to his knees as he instinctively reached to stem the flow of blood from his slit throat.
Acrid smoke from the cookfires, and the odoriferousness of too many bodies close together pervaded Bregan’s nostrils. However, the metallic scent of blood was beginning to overpower all else, and stuck to his tongue and back of his throat as though he’d licked a bar of copper. Shikoba gave Bregan a lopsided, apologetic smile, as his eyes brimmed with tears of regret.
Bregan ran, as fast as he could, but it was still like he was stuck in slow motion. Talida threw back her head with laughter, and before she slipped away through the crowd, her malevolent, glittering eyes locked with his. Catch me if you can, they taunted. Then she disappeared.
As he made his way over to his father, he frantically searched for a healer, but there was only chaos and no help could be found. When Bregan finally made it to his father’s side, nearly all the light had faded from him.
“I’m so sorry, father.” Bregan sobbed. Shikoba reached for Bregan, removing the hand from his throat. The blood, barely flowing anymore, trickled down his neck to the already soaked ground. Bregan took his father’s hand, slick with blood, and cradled it between his hands.
“So. Proud,” his father rasped, barely choking out the words. Shikoba’s eyes closed, let out a sigh, and then he was still. Not in unconsciousness or sleep, but instead the stillness of death.
Bregan froze. He could not draw a breath, his eyes were wide, and he let out an uncontrollable keen with what little air he had. When he did finally breathe again, it was in short, shallow gasps, and the skin beneath his fur was clammy and cold.
Then, a sudden heat rushed through him, and as an immense pressure began to build within his chest, these words came unbidden to his mind; “An’She, eye of the Earthmother, grant me the power of your Light to illuminate this Tauren’s darkened path. Right this treacherous wrong to balance out the tragedy of this day.”
His body, and his father’s, began to glow the second the first word passed his lips, and at their conclusion a pillar of light burst forth from his father and raced toward the heavens above.
Shikoba gasped and sat bolt upright, the hand still in Bregan’s squeezing with sudden life, while his eyes were wide and darting. When they caught sight of Bregan, he stopped, and for a moment neither of them said anything. The battle around them had played itself out, with the traitors being captured or slipping away to escape with Talida, but in that moment nothing else mattered for the father and son.
Tears began to freely flow, and for the first time since he was a boy, Shikoba pulled Bregan toward him and embraced his son.
“Father.” The word was filled with love, and many things that didn’t need to, or couldn’t, be said.
“My son,” his father said in turn, and gave Bregan’s hand a gentler squeeze than before.
“Let us head home,” Bregan said, and stood, then helped his father to his feet.
“Yes, but we have to find your Orc first. I imagine he might be put off if we left him,” Shikoba admitted, stumbling only a little as he rose. A great feat given that he was dead only moments before, Bregan mused. “Do you see him?” he asked.
Bregan laughed wildly from a mixture of emotions. “No, but I imagine all we need to do is look for one of the larger piles of bodies. It should not take us too long.”
Months passed since Rae and Ja’Ghan parted ways with the overconfident, green brute, and the headstrong Tauren with a death wish. Rae sighed, and from her perch on the boulder just outside of their cave she threw a small rock. It struck the tree some fifty-odd feet away, hitting outside the target she generally used for knife throwing practice. She didn’t even curse herself for the awful aim, and simply sighed again.
“Ya haven’t stopped sighin’ since we left da two hapless heroes,” Ja’Ghan teased, deadpan. “One might even say ya miss ’em.”
Rae harrumphed, but didn’t turn to face the Troll, who leaned against the opposite wall of the cave mouth. “What’s to miss? They were nothing but a bundle of trouble,” she griped, but there was no fire to her words.
“No wonder ya liked ’em den; musta been like lookin’ in da mirror.”
“Well if I’m so awful leave me and be done with it,” she groused, and tucked her knees up to her chest.
“Just might,” he responded, and her head jerked around in shock to face him, while her mouth gaped in surprise. “Change is on da wind, fa both of us,” he added to soothe her shock.
“Did you have a vision about something?”she asked suspiciously, and when his eyes twinkled she scowled in return. “Don’t go all mysterious on me. What did you–” An animal snorting in the distance cut off her words. She narrowed her eyes at the Troll as she slid behind a rock, giving herself some cover. Ja’Ghan was unconcerned, and merely kept his position at the mouth of the cave. Completely exposed.
“Get down you fool!” she growled, but he ignored her.
As the thundering of, well, not hooves, grew closer to the cave, Ja’Ghan raised a hand in greeting.
“How ya doin’ mon?” he hailed, and lifted a hand in greeting.
There was an mistakable lowing from a kodo, and a familiar, deep, grumpy voice responded; “She’s not hiding in a tree, waiting to drop down on me, is she?”
“No, mon. She be hidin’ behind dat rock, in fear for our lives.” Ja’Ghan jerked a thumb in her direction.
Rae rose, spluttering at the accusation. “I don’t cower in fear from anything!”
A Tauren in full Sunwalker regalia let out a rumbling chuckle at her words. “Feisty as ever, Rae.”
“Bregan?” she asked, and her jaw dropped as he nodded. He was different, there was no doubt about that, and he wore the aura of power around him comfortably. Someone’s been training.
“Long time no see,” Bregan said, and gave her a single wave.
“What am I, chopped liver?” Thratar grumbled, though more for show than out of any true offense. He was also rather dashing in new and improved plate mail, dyed a matte black. Complements the green of his skin nicely, the random observation meandered through her mind. She shook her head to rid herself of such silly thoughts.
“Liver be delicious, mon,” Ja’Ghan countered, and smiled around his tusks.
Bregan grimaced. “So you say.”
“What are you doing back here?” Rae demanded, and though she hadn’t meant to be rude, the suddenness of her question came off as such. She almost felt bad when the cheerful atmosphere of the reunion turned somber, but she couldn’t help being herself.
“Well, we have a proposition for you and Ja’Ghan,” Bregan said. “We thought you might like to join us in an old pastime of yours.”
Rae perked up at this, and Ja’Ghan tilted his head. “Which one is dat?”
“Hunting Grimtotems,” Thratar replied. Little shocks of excitement raced through Rae like lightning, and she couldn’t keep a feral smile from spreading across her face.
“Oh?” she asked.
“Well, one Grimtotem in particular. Any of them caught between her and us are simply an added bonus,” Bregan said. The grim duty of what needed to be done weighed heavily on his shoulders, though with any luck his friends would help him bear the responsibility.
Rae and Ja’Ghan exchanged a quick look, and the Troll dipped his head in agreement. Rae let out a short, bark of a laugh; delighted she had something better to do than throw rocks inaccurately at trees.
She titled her chin up to meet Bregan’s fiery eyes with her own. “Deal us in.”