Amaranthine

My fifth Fan Fiction from the World of Warcraft forums:

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
“Translation: A little night music.

The Challenge:
This week I wanted to challenge everyone to write a short (500 word) vignette as inspired by the zone preview music for Warlords of Draenor. Please make sure you indicate which piece you use in your post.”

Amaranthine” inspired by: Last Light (A Hero’s Sacrifice) by Neal Acree, zone music for Talador.

 

He must have been dreaming as he lay there in the grass, his body broken beyond measure and bleeding his life into the very soil he’d vowed to protect, because despite everything all he could smell was her. Her floral scent floated on the smoke-laden wind. As the Iron Horde burned their way across the continent, branding it with their mark the way a farmer branded livestock, the land and its people were crushed beneath the weight of their single-minded purpose.

His armor was rent and crumpled against his chest. He took short gasps of breath and choked on the blood that ran from his nose. The world slipped out of focus, but through the embers that spiraled on the breeze and haze, the amaranth of the sky lay beyond. Clean, and untouched by the ravages around him, but rimmed by the glow of fires in a promise of events to come if they did not succeed.

“Rise, my love,” she said, voice soft as the lightest touch on a harp string. As the world darkened around him, and his vision faltered, he stood on the precipice between life and death—it was there he saw her.

The thin tendrils from behind her delicate ears brushed her shoulders, and her soft hair, the brown of leaves in late fall, was held back by a jeweled headband he’d gotten her as a gift. The gems matched the lavender of her skin and horns, which curved behind her head like the gentle bend of a river.

In the pale blue glow of her eyes there was love and sadness, but also hard determination. Her mouth twitched in the slightest of smiles, but she was a woman not easily deterred from her purpose—even after death.

“You must fight, dear one,” she continued, and a ghostly touch trailed down his cheek.

“The fighting…it never ends,” he replied, his voice hoarse from battle shouts, yelling commands, and the emotional torment that unfettered destruction wages on the soul.

“Because our reasons never end, either,” she countered, “not even in the life after. You must save us, husband, or the Iron Horde will have our souls—and the power that comes with them.” Her visage began to fade and he reached up, as though to caress her face the way she had with him moments before.

“There’s one alive over here!” he heard someone shout, and a breath later the chant of a priest’s healing prayer drowned out all else.

“Save…us…”

Magic surged through his limbs, healing everything in its path that was damaged; save for his heart.

“Commander, we thought you slain! We’ve driven them back, for now, but they will surely return.”

They sat him up and helped him from his now useless armor, but all throughout the process his gaze remained fixed on a barely discernable structure in the distance.

“What is it, sir?” the priest asked.

“The Auchindoun,” he said, but never turned, “we must go there before all falls to ruin.”

Trebor, The Fallen Hero of the Horde

My fourth Fan Fiction from the World of Warcraft forums:

The Prompt:

“The school year is drawing to a close soon and as is generally the case, so too comes the “dreaded” final project. But don’t worry, the students of Azeroth have been assigned a task that isn’t too abhorrent. This week, your challenge is to take on that task and write a biographical report about a Hero of Azeroth. Who are they? Where did they come from? What will they be remembered for most in the annals of Azerothian history?

The Scene: The school room
Your Role: Write a brief biography of one of the heroes of Azeroth.”

For the sake of realisim, I’ll even add a title page–hah!

Trebor, The Fallen Hero of the Horde
Aradria (Toni Adwell)
Seat of Knowledge: Fan Fiction
29 May 2014
Instructor Nethaera
While there are a multitude of tales in Azeroth of heroes succeeding despite adversity, insurmountable odds, and the like, the stories of failures can be harder to come by. Despite the sorrow and anger they can provoke, stories of defeat can be just as important as those of triumph. This brings us to the tale of loss and redemption of Trebor, the Fallen Hero of the Horde. His mission, its failure, and subsequent torture and loss of his men is only where the story begins. It is in his fall that he offered another the chance of not only rising to their own glory, but to restore a small measure of peace to his soul and that of his men.

Trebor’s story begins much the same as most heroes: with a mission. He was tasked to travel to the Blasted Lands with a select group of fellow Horde soldiers. Once there he learned of the many atrocities being committed by the Burning Legion, and sent a scout back with a report to the nearby town of Stonard. It was great misfortune that befell said scout, and the orders were stolen by a murloc known as the Swamp Talker.

As days turned into weeks, Trebor received no further orders for what he should do and was left to make a decision on his own. Should he venture forth into the vile Blasted Lands to learn more, and possibly destroy as many of the enemy as possible? Or should he send another scout and potentially wait yet more weeks for a reply? It was at this crossroads that Trebor made an ultimately fatal choice that led to the capture and torture of all his men.

Razelikh the Defiler was the demonlord who oversaw the fulfillment of the Burning Legion’s interests in the Blasted Lands. It was this Nathrezim that imprisoned Trebor and his men within the Serpent’s Coil as specimens in the experiments there.

After their torture, some of these men were forced to serve under other depraved individuals, such as; Archmage Allistarj, Lady Sevine, and Grol the Destroyer. The truly soul-crushing revelation is that his most trusted man and lieutenant, Kirith, was tortured and experimented beyond recognition into the form of an enormous felhunter.

As for Trebor himself he escaped and ultimately succumbed to his wounds. However, even in death Trebor could not rest until all the atrocities that were perpetrated on his men by Razelikh and his cronies. He remained as a ghost in the Swamp of Sorrows, right near the entrance to the Blasted Lands, and awaited the day a hero would free his men from their enslavement.

Though the tasks Trebor set forth were long, painful, and arduous, a hero was able to lay Trebor and his men to rest with the defeat of Razelikh. Though it is likely Trebor would not deem himself worthy of any title save the one he held at his death, as the Fallen Hero of the Horde, the one who saved him and his men may be of a different mind. In the end, Trebor and his men completed their mission even though it took them to death and beyond to do so. They freed the Blasted Lands of the demonlord Razelikh, and that makes them worthy of the title ‘hero’.

What of the one who made such a thing possible? Well, that is a different biography altogether. Trebor’s story is one of misfortune, downfall, and heartache; but it is from his life and death we must glean valuable lessons of honor, sacrifice, and a passion that persists beyond the grave.

Finding the Path

My third Fan Fiction short story from the World of Warcraft forums:

The prompt:

“The Challenge:
We’ve set some pretty tough challenges for you over the previous weeks and we intend to keep them up, but we thought we’d give you a bit more freedom to create and impress us and your fellow community members. This week, we’re calling for a free skate. Write anything you like so long as it takes place within World of Warcraft. The possibilities are endless.”

Enjoy!

Finding the Path

For what seemed like the thousandth time that day, Sala Wildmane flicked her tail to unsettle the bloodsucking bugs which had landed over her body. Though her fur did much to keep all but the most persistent creatures from achieving their goal, they still made her skin twitch in an unpleasant manner.

The mere thought of them crawling over her made her shiver, and she shook herself from head to hooves to banish the feeling. The grey fur of her main resettled down her neck and back, just as her long, heavy braids of the same color ceased to swing.

Sala took a deep breath, and her nostrils flared wide to take in the scents of the marshland around her. Traces of decay could be smelled in every breath she took, though it was stronger in certain portions of the area. They were lucky in their position, since the hot winds of Hellfire Peninsula would sometimes blow through the pass and clear out the dense air.

Though it could certainly be said that Zangarmarsh held a beauty of its own, with the clear pools, many islands, and interesting plant and animal life—it was still a marsh. The humidity in the air was heavy, and settled over Sala’s body like a burdensome, wet blanket. She rubbed a hand over her muzzle, wiping some of the sweat away, and recalling a time when she wasn’t sweating proved difficult.

Her brown eyes scanned the surrounding outpost as she looked for someone in particular. She found Ysiel, standing as she usually did on the balcony of the inn. Sala nodded as she passed the few who were stationed here, fellow Cenarion Expedition personnel as well as Druids.

As Ysiel saw Sala approach, she watched the Night Elf take a deep breath as though to gather her patience.

“Sala, how are you this day?” Ysiel asked, and her voice betrayed no hint of any frustration she may have toward the young Tauren.

“Good day, Ysiel, I am well; and you?” Sala replied. Though Sala was frustrated with her current status, her mother had taught her better than to be rude to others.

“The swamp continues to have problems that must be remedied, but that is my burden as the expedition leader,” Ysiel said, concerned. “The Naga have done much to damage the area, and it must be set to rights if balance is to be preserved.”

Sala knew that some adventurers had come through the area not long before she had been stationed here, and defeated the Naga infesting Serpent Lake. They’d been draining Zangarmarsh dry, and though the Coilfang Reserve had been shut down, there were still problems with the remnants of the Naga machinery.

Sala had been thoroughly disappointed to find most of the work already done before she’d arrived in Zangarmarsh, and couldn’t fathom why she’d been stationed there. All because I’m a new druid, she thought bitterly, new druids always get the worst assignments.

As though reading her thoughts, Ysiel chuckled. “I know you are eager for more action than can be offered, but you are still new to being a Druid. You must take the time to find what path is best for you,” Ysiel said, sagely.

Sala sighed in frustration, but nodded glumly. “As you say, Ysiel.”

Just as Sala was turning to leave, a speck in the sky appeared, and grew larger as the two looked on. It was a Druid in flight form, speeding right toward them.

Ysiel’s visage grew worried as she watched the Druid backwing, just in time to ensure he didn’t crash into them.

“Ysiel, we’re have a problem at the Reservoir,” the young Night Elf gushed, out of breath. Sala could not recall his name, but she’d never had a knack for such things.

“Slow down, Shonrus, what is the problem?” Ysiel said.

Shonrus took a deep breath. “We were preparing to breakdown some of the Reservoir when a Naga party attacked,” he said, voice desperate.

“How many?” Ysiel asked, and grim determination replaced her earlier worry.

“At least twenty,” he said, still slightly out of breath. Ysiel nodded. Sala recalled only five Druids, including Shonrus, were on this mission.

“Go and gather five of the Guardians to take back with you,” she said to Shonrus, and then turned to Sala. “You are to accompany his as well, but use caution—I would hate to lose you to death before such stubbornness and determination could be put to good use,” Ysiel said, and amusement flickered across her features.

Despite the situation, Sala could not help but grin. Without even a backward glance, or word of parting, Sala jumped from the balcony and took off to find Shonrus. The thud of her hooves muffled by the soft ground as the shock from the jump reverberated up her legs. She shook off the pain and ran.

Sala found him on the edge of Refuge, and the seven of them took to the sky toward the Reservoir. The movement of the wind across her feathers made for a welcome respite from the heat, and the air grew less humid as they rose above the tall, tree-like mushrooms of the marsh.

They flew as though the Burning Legion were behind them, though it still seemed an eternity before they came to the lake. As the six followed Shonrus in his descent, the sounds of battle echoed across the waters.

Sala’s heart stopped for a moment, and then picked up speed once again when she caught sight of the Druids and Naga below. The one Druid in bear form was at the forefront, dodging tridents of the male Nagas, trying to keep them occupied. Meanwhile the two cat Druids darted and dodged the spells of the female, spellcasting Nagas, and they used their claws to try and rip open the tough scales that covered their bodies.

The only disadvantage the Naga had with their numbers, was that it was impossible to have more than three of them surrounding a particular Druid at a time. Still, if one Naga became tired, he was simply replaced with another, fresher one, spoiling for a fight.

In all the commotion, one Druid remained at the back, and dodged as many of the Naga as possible as she healed her fellow Druids. The female Night Elf’s dusky purple skin was slick with sweat, and her long green eyebrows were furrowed in concentration. Her movements and dodges were fluid, like watching water avoid the obstacles around it. She mumbled the healing spells, as she became more and more out of breath, and her hands fairly flew in their needed motions to complete the spellcasting.

Sala looked down on the scene, all the injuries and pain, and realized she had been foolish to wish for such a thing. The bluish-green light the plants of the marsh naturally gave off gave an eerie glow to the scene, and made the blood spilled across the ground look darker than it was. Sala could not take her eyes off the gore pooled on the ground, from both Druids and Nagas, and she felt a fierce determination well up from somewhere inside her.

A scream tore from her throat, and came out as the high-pitched screech of her bird form. It distracted some of the Naga on the ground, and made them look up toward her. She dive-bombed the Naga surrounding the healing Druid, and they scattered momentarily—long enough for the Night Elf to catch a short break.

Sala let her bird form flow from her body, like shedding a familiar coat. She knew only the most rudimentary of healing spells, but she would do her best to help ease the Night Elf’s burden.

“My thanks, Sister,” the Night Elf said, and continued her casting.

Sala began casting as well, and though she did not have the finesse of movement or casting of the more experienced Druid next to her, she was certainly more a help than a hindrance.

Shonrus and the Guardians joined in the battle, and the Nagas who remained soon realized that though they were not outnumbered, they were certainly outclassed. It wasn’t long before they beat a hasty retreat, and slithered down into the waters of the lake.

A cheer went up from the group of Druids, and Sala joined in; though it surely sounded exhausted. She helped the Night Elf healer, who was called Amailaeth, treat the wounds of their companions. Sala listened closely as the Amailaeth began to teach her a deeper understanding of the healing ways.

After a short rest, as Ysiel likely awaited their return, the group flew back to the Refuge. Ysiel was at her usual spot on the balcony, and Shonrus recounted what had happened for her.

“It gladdens me to see all of you return not too much worse for the wear,” Ysiel said wryly, and all the group gave a tired laugh. “Go now, and rest. We will come up with a better plan for the Reservoir on the morrow.”

The Druids nodded and filed out; headed toward their quarters for some much needed sleep.

As Sala also turned to leave, Ysiel stopped her. “I hear you may have found a path that suits you?” she inquired, a pleased smile on her face. Sala returned the happiness with her own grin, and nodded.

“I did indeed—I want to be a healer and help our allies live to bring balance back to this war-torn world,” Sala said, as her mind filled with satisfaction and her heart with determination.

Ysiel nodded, and after a moment’s hesitation gave the young Tauren a hug.

“I guess the marsh is not so dreadful, after all,” Sala said, and broke the embrace.

“Not truly, though just between you and me: I cannot stand the bugs,” Ysiel said, and sounded somewhat exasperated.

Sala could only laugh as she said goodbye and headed off toward bed, her newly found path blazing brightly ahead of her.

Silent Tears

My second Fan Fiction short story from the World of Warcraft forums.

“The Challenge:
Today’s challenge is something a bit different. We’re not looking for complete stories. We’re looking for just one brief snippet of time. One moment. One place. One experience.

vignette (vɪˈnjɛt)

—n
1. a small illustration placed at the beginning or end of a book or chapter
2. a short graceful literary essay or sketch
3. a photograph, drawing, etc, with edges that are shaded off
4. architect a carved ornamentation that has a design based upon tendrils, leaves, etc
5. any small endearing scene, view, picture, etc.”

Silent Tears

For what reason is war fought? For pride, glory, or some grand gesture of faith? she wondered forlornly as she polished her husband’s armor, though the tears made it difficult for her to see the shine of the metal. Her hands ached from the labor, and tomorrow her skin would be cracked and bleeding.

But by tomorrow it will not matter, because he will be gone.

Another war, another summons to battle—it was never ending. She had known in her heart what the sound of hooves on the road that led to their house meant, and it was dread that clutched at her soul with icy fingers of malice.

Be brave, my love. Those would be his final words to her, as they always were, but never goodbye. Goodbye was a word too full of sorrow and desperation. It was a word of endings and partings, but not always a return. So, no, never goodbye.

Then his lips would brush across hers gently, the lightest of caresses. All the embraces and kisses filled with the heartache and fear would be had the night before, and tended to be harder and needier than their usual counterparts.

After the kiss, a hug, and then she would take in the scent of him: horses, sweat, leather, metal polish, and underneath it all the trace of something that was uniquely him. It was here that time both sped up, and slowed, as though if they never broke the embrace they could stay there forever. Which was a foolish and selfish thought. His heart was hers, but his soul belonged to the Light, and she would not be able to live with herself if she tried to keep him from his calling.

Brave? No, not me. Bravery belonged to the ones riding onto the field of battle, and it was a poor woman that planted worry in the heart of her husband before he had to do such a thing.

Tomorrow, she thought, tomorrow I will show him a face with no tears as I always do. But today she would allow herself the grief and the worry that crying abated.

She wiped away the tears, but no one would have known she was crying, because the tears of a Paladin’s wife are silent in the face of his duty to the Light.

One More for the Road

This one is called, One More for the Road, based off this prompt in the World of Warcraft forums:

“The Challenge:
There are so many interesting denizens within the World of Warcraft Universe whose stories go untold. This week, we’re challenging you to choose one, and tell us the tale that no one has heard before.”

One More for the Road

Though the bar was more pristine than a Blood Elf’s armor, and held a shine despite the rough treatment it had seen in days gone by, Morag moved the clean cloth over the smooth wood out of habit. It gave his hands something to do, since they certainly weren’t preoccupied with serving anyone drinks. The green of his skin mottled with white on his knuckles as he clenched the rag, and continued to wipe with more force than necessary.

Used to be I was needed around here, he grumbled inwardly. The bar, Broken Tusk, had seen better days. Before that blasted Outland was discovered, they’d almost drink me dry every night. Morag wasn’t the only one feeling the pinch in his business’ purse. Many of the other drink and food vendors in the city rarely, if ever, saw business.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, so when Orgrimmar was rebuilt Morag had gone…nicer. His lips curled back from his teeth and tusks in disgust at the word. It couldn’t be helped, though, with all the new races joining the Horde. Like those namby-pamby Blood Elves. He’d had to adapt to cater to a wider variety of crowd, but nothing worked. The only time he saw any action was when some hot-blooded young fool would come in, order one of every drink, proceed to down them all in quick succession, and then vomit on his floor.

At least it gives me something to do, he reckoned. Cleaning up spew was almost a welcome relief to standing behind the bar, bored.

Then, to make matters worse, those Pandarens had come in with their specialty brews, and taken even more of his clientele. Morag spat in disgust, watched his spittle hit the floor, and debated whether he should bother to clean it up.

There was a time when being a barkeep had been his dream—what he had lived for. His father was the barkeep at the old inn before him. Morag had been the only one of his siblings interested in the crafting and selling of brews. The others had run off to join the Orgrimmar guards, and with three of five dead, it was only Komak and him.

If our father could see us now, both his sons failures, Morag thought bitterly. Komak had been promoted to Overseer by Garrosh, but didn’t last long before he was demoted back down to Grunt. Komak wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even Morag, about what had happened. Since his brother was his only consistent patron all day, though, he didn’t want to upset him. Gods forbid I lose the one person paying me money. Though most days Morag didn’t even charge Komak. He was the only brother Morag had left, and he was going through a rough time. Blood was thicker than coin, he reckoned.

“You going to clean that up?” Komak asked, with a slight slur to his voice. Considering his brother had come in to start drinking almost the same time the sun had risen, and it was now nearing evening, his fortitude was impressive.

“What’s the point?” Morag sighed, threw the rag onto the floor, and thunked his head down onto the bar, defeated. Komak didn’t take his gaze from his brew, and Morag thought that the end of it.

It was a supreme surprise when his brother’s favorite knife thudded down into the bar, mere inches from where Morag’s head rested. He looked up into his brother’s eyes, and determination that Morag had not seen in Komak since he was a Grunt the first time, burned there like the fires of Deathwing.

“Because you can’t give up your passion, Morag. Just because things aren’t so great right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be that way. When things are good, it’s easy to stoke that fire in your belly for your work. The true test of someone’s aspirations come when folks put you down for no other reason than they can, or even when they don’t notice you at all,” Komak said.

The alcohol on his breath burned Morag’s eyes, but his words rekindled a flame in his soul.

“So, what is it going to be, Brother? Will you lie down like a dog in the street and be trampled? Or will you clean up the floor and push on to better times?”

Morag paused for only a moment, then bent over to pick up the rag and proceeded to clean the spit.

“You talk too much, has anyone ever told you that?” Morag asked, and poured his brother another beer.

Komak took it, gratefully, and downed it in one swig.

“Yeah, Garrosh,” he replied, and went back to his place at the bar.

Morag poured him another beer, which Komak drank at a more leisurely pace than the last one, and the two of them fell into silence for the rest of the night.

The hustle and bustle of Orgrimmar droned on into the evening, but the thought of all those people not coming into his bar didn’t bother Morag as much now. As the time came when Komak usually headed home, he glanced at his brother from the end of the bar.

“You going to take that knife out?” he asked, and jerked his chin toward where it was embedded in the wood.

Morag glanced down at it, but looked up at his brother with a half-smile.

“Nah, figured I’d leave it there as a reminder from you to not be an idiot,” Morag said, and cleaned the bar around the knife.

Komak grunted, and a ghost of a smile danced across his lips.

“One more for the road?” Morag asked his brother.

“Sure,” Komak said, “and I’ll even pay you for this one.”

The two of them shared a chuckle, and Komak went on his way with a skin of Mulgore Firewater. Morag moved about the bar with a spring in his step, (if such a thing was possible for Orcs, that is), his purpose in life renewed by his brother’s words. He went out to the doorway of the bar, and looked up at the stars that blanketed the sky above Orgrimmar. People moved about with a sense of purpose, and he gave a welcoming smile to those who looked his way.

Better times are coming.

thebrokentuskint

Here you can see Barkeep Morag, who is the Orc behind the bar, Komak, his brother in front of the bar, and the knife now being left embedded in the bar.

War of the Wee Ones, Final Chapter

Final Chapter

            Dogwood and his fellow Guardians had carefully scouted the area, and now they waited for the others as close to the edge of the clearing as they dared get. The rogues and Beigads had set up in a small cave, and cleared the surrounding trees away so no one could sneak up on them. Even with the low light from the torches the enemy would still easily see their approach. There was a lot of commotion going on inside the cave, if the amount of noise and yelling coming from it was any indication. He wasn’t sure if this boded well, or bad, for them.

Anger still burned hot in Dogwood’s blood and mind, and the time they spent waiting on Sage did nothing to abate it. Logically he knew he should approach this tactfully, as they were holding hostages and an attack could trigger them to kill said hostages. Dogwood gripped the hilt of his sword hard enough that the worn leather bit into the skin on his fingers and palms. 

Calm down, my love, and think of our daughter, the sensible voice of his wife rang through his mind, and he was so shocked he almost fell from the branch he was perched on.

Rosemary’s laugh, like the sound of wind moving gently through tiny bells, sounded at his reaction. Dogwood felt the warm presence of his wife like a fire being lit from within.

 I am not surprised at your shock, but I am surprised at your anger. Will you truly risk the life of our daughter, and that of your budding new love, simply because you are angered by the Gods?

Her question brought his mind to a stuttering halt, and he came close to sputtering out loud. I…you know about Snowdrop? He asked, as guilt welled up inside of him. 

Hmph, leave it to a man to focus on that first. Yes, I know of Snowdrop. Who do you think has been guiding the two of you close together? I want nothing but yours and Laurel’s happiness. Snowdrop contributes to that, as I am not able.

Before he could reply, or apologize, she continued. 

That is not what is important, at the moment. Your actions now can either prevent or start a war. If you go in brandishing your weapon and trying to kill every rogue and Beigad in sight, you will do more than cost your daughter and Snowdrop their lives; you will trigger a reaction that could be the start of many a bad thing. As in, everyone in the Clan dying, and all manner of supernatural being kicked from the reserve.

Shock raced through him again, but this time he kept his place on the branch. Not much could shock him more than hearing the voice of his dead wife, but what she revealed certainly came close. He closed his eyes and he could almost picture her nod at his comprehension. 

The impact of what you do today will reverberate in either a positive or negative way to many more than just the rogues, Beigads, and those of our Clan. This is why the Gods permitted us this contact.

The words he spoke earlier toward the Gods rushed back, and chagrin washed through him. 

The Gods are forgiving beings, dear one, but don’t worry overlong on that now. My time here is almost done, as my message has been delivered. Make the correct choice, as I know you can. Also, live and love, husband. It is what I want for both you and Laurel. Goodbye, handsome, she said, and finished with her nickname for him. It almost made him weep to hear her say those words, and picture the smile that went with them.

The presence of Rosemary’s spirit left him, and the urge to murder every rouge and Beigad in the generally vicinity melted away. The young ones would be upset, but if what his wife had said was true there would be worse things to happen if he proceeded. Revenge would be bittersweet in more ways than one.

As though his timing was set by the Gods, and maybe it had been, Sage drifted down to where Dogwood knelt on a branch and joined him.

“I have the full force of the Guardians here, save for a skeleton number guarding everyone gathered in the town center. How are we going to proceed?” Sage asked, carefully, not quite knowing what mood his Captain was in.

“I got a little message from…someone, and was informed that there would be dire consequences if we go to war with the rogues and Beigads,” Dogwood said, and Sage raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I had not expected us to go in hot-headed and kill everything in sight. They’d kill the hostages that way,” Sage commented wryly. Dogwood was thankful that it was dark where they were perched, or Sage would have seen him blush, embarrassed.

“That’s too bad; I would have rather had a good fight. I hear you’re one of the best, Sage. Seems a shame to waste such talents,” said a brash voice from the entrance to the cave.

All the Pixies hiding amongst the trees froze, followed by an angry buzzing as they gave voice to their rage, and their wings beat fast.

“Hold your positions,” shouted Dogwood, and all but a low murmur of voices continued.

Dogwood dropped from his perch, and flew to the edge of the clearing, followed by Sage. As they broke from the tree line, only two rogues were halfway into the clearing, with the remainder of the rogues and the Beigads at the mouth of the cave. Dogwood held his arm at a ninety-degree angle, with his fist closed, and indicated he wanted the rest of the Pixies to continue to hold their positions.

He and Sage came up to where the two rogues were, though they stopped with enough distance that the rogues could not easily get the jump on them.

“Do you truly wish for a fight?” Dogwood asked, and kept all emotion from his voice. His wife’s words remained present in his mind, and if he showed anger here it could provoke everyone into doing something regrettable.

The one he assumed was the leader, as he stood a little in front of his companion, tilted his head. Green locks of hair, made darker by the firelight and shadows, shifted across his forehead.

“We have attacked your lands. I am surprised you do not appear to want a fight,” he cajoled, and his face broke out in a roguish grin that befit his title. Though his face spoke of laughter, his cranberry red eyes conveyed nothing but seriousness. It gave Dogwood hope.

“Yes, and though it has angered us, I had hoped to find a peaceful resolution to our problems. Then you took hostages, and that angered me beyond measure, but I do not want anything catastrophic to happen if we make war. I would avoid that if I could,” Dogwood said, and tried to gauge the reaction of the Pixie in front of him. “What is your name?” Dogwood asked.

“Mistiltan, and you are Dogwood—famed Captain of the Thorny Guardians,” Mistiltan replied, with neither mockery or admiration; as though he were simply stating a fact. Almost in the same way Sorren had earlier.

Dogwood gave a small bow, as one would to an equal, and Mistiltan, surprised, responded in kind.

“What are we to do, Mistiltan? We would like the return of our Clanspeople, and for you to cease all hostile actions toward our lands,” Dogwood said, and continued as Mistiltan’s raised an eyebrow, “so what would it take for such a thing to happen?”

“We wanted land, and your land was promised to us by one of your Clan—if we got rid of all the annoyances to that one,” Mistiltan said.

Anger washed through Dogwood once again, but he restrained it with as he ground his teeth.

“And just who might that ‘one’ be?” Dogwood asked.

“Ah, now you have asked for three things, but have offered me nothing. Why should I give into any of your requests?” Mistiltan asked in turn, and crossed his arms over his chest. The Pixie was built in much the same manner as Sage and Dogwood: a trained fighter.

Dogwood thought for a moment, unsure of how his offer would be taken by those behind him; but in light of what he’d learned he had to try.

“What kind of…Pixies are you? Why are you not with Clans?” Dogwood asked in turn, and made sure to avoid saying ‘rogues,’ since he didn’t know how Mistiltan would react.

“Most of us came from Clans that were dispersed into others, but we did not want to integrate with them. I do not tolerate any vile offenders within my group,” Mistiltan responded, and shrugged.

“How did you come to be allied with the Beigads?”

Mistiltan laughed. “Well, they are not precisely smart on their own. With our direction they have been able to prosper in ways that would have been impossible otherwise. They are hard workers with the right incentives,” he added.

Dogwood thought for a moment, then looked at Sage, who nodded. They were usually of similar thinking, and this time was no exception.

“Then if you would kindly bring the head council out here, I think we can come to an arrangement.”

*******

            The town center was alive with activity as everyone prepared to be addressed by the council. They had all been crammed in there for the majority of the day and night, and they were all cranky and ready to be home.

Dogwood knew, and agreed, with how they felt, but he also knew there might be trouble. Not everyone was going to be happy with the ways things had turned out, but in the end it was the best decision they could come up with.

“Nervous?” Sage asked Dogwood, as he landed next to him.

“Of course—this could still turn out badly,” he replied, and took a shaky breath.

“Well, that is why we took precautions,” Sage clapped him on the shoulder, and looked out of the window in their alcove to the bottom of the tree.

Dogwood looked as well, and Sorren dipped his head in recognition to them both. Sorren essentially equated to the human version of an atomic bomb. If things went to the Abyss in a hand basket, Sorren was there to ensure that nothing remained to alert the rangers and jeopardize all those on the reserve.

Dogwood pulled his head back in through the window, and peeked through the curtain at the alcove. No one in the assembly had noticed the guardians, carefully weaving their way unarmored and hooded through the sleepy residents. This happened just before one of them made the announcement the assembly would be addressed.

Dogwood searched around until he spotted the Pixie he was looking for. His lip curled in disgust, and it took everything in him not to pummel him for endangering everything he loved: the Clan, his daughter, and now Snowdrop. It was the last two that kept him in check, as he did not want any harm to come to them.

The signal for the head council to arrive sounded through the town center, and everyone quieted down for a moment before exploding into sound. They knew he had been one of the taken, and to see him return was a joy—for all except two.

As the one of the Pixies tried to make his way through the crowd toward an exit, he found his way blocked by Guardians who had stood in the shadows up till that point. They grabbed the Pixie, and made their way to the assembly floor.

Some saw what was happening, and shock came over them. Everyone else who did not notice quieted down as the head council called for silence. Dogwood and Sage stepped from the alcoves far above the assembly floor, as did most of the rogues from various other alcoves.

“It seems we have a traitor or two in our midst. They attempted to destroy our Clan, and in turn rule with the might of the Beigads and the rogues to keep everyone in line,” the head council stated, and motioned for the Guardians to bring the struggling Pixie before him. “What do you have to say for yourself, Wood-Sorrel?” the head council asked quietly, though it was so silent in the room all could hear him.

No one had been quite as shocked as Dogwood when they found out it had primarily been Wood-Sorrel manipulating things behind the scenes, with Nettle following along like a good lackey.

“You give the honored position of Captain of the Thorny Guardians to an outsider, leaving me with the scraps of the Thistle Guardians, and you expect me to be content?” Wood-Sorrel spat at the feet of the head council, and one of his men jerked Wood-Sorrel’s arm and the two holding him forced him to kneel.

“You sought to destroy everything because you were passed up for a promotion?” someone yelled incredulously from the audience. Voices rose in outrage, but the head council motioned for silence once again.

“I will not argue or defend ourselves and our decision to you, Wood-Sorrel. And where is your accomplice—ah, there he is,” the head council said as two more guards brought Nettle forward, still wearing his atrocious yellow outfit.

It had been the signal to the rogues and Beigads that it was time to attack. Wood-Sorrel thought with Dogwood and Sage gone, and him gumming up the protocols, he’d be able to stage a coup.

When that didn’t work, he ordered some of the rogues to take hostages to ensure Dogwood’s and Sage’s cooperation. They were not able to get Snapdragon, Sage’s wife, because she had been out that day with the children; to keep their mind off their father visiting Sorren, as they had been frightened for him.

Wood-Sorrel did not count on the rogues being able to kill Dogwood and Sage, and thought to coerce them into cooperating, instead. In the end, his fear of Dogwood and Sage had been his undoing.

The guards brought Nettle to the assembly floor, and had him kneel next to Wood-Sorrel.

“Before I sentence these two, I have an announcement to make, and I want no hard feelings from anyone. As part of the arrangement for discontinuing hostilities, releasing all hostages, and providing the names of the traitors, the Beigads and the rogues will be settling on our land,” the head council announced, and for a second time that night the assembled Pixies were shocked into silence.

A few grumbles followed, and Dogwood held his breath. He knew from his earlier thoughts that hard feelings and bad blood could be difficult to overcome. But the hard look from the head council quelled most objections.

“They have agreed to a probationary period, whereupon they will decide if they wish to remain, or leave, but also to see if they are allowed to remain. They understand their status as rogues, and their attacks on our land, can cause distrust and difficulty in forgiving. However, I do ask we all try our best,” the head council concluded with a look to all the Clan members, old and recently acquired. There were still some grumbles, but most nodded.

Wood-Sorrel and Nettle looked stunned at the–mostly–acceptance by all those around them. Dogwood let out the breath he was holding, and went back into the alcove to lean out the window and give Sorren the ‘all-okay’ signal. Sorren nodded again, and trotted off for the edge of the Clansland to await the next announcement by the head council.

Dogwood made his way out of the alcove again. While he knew it was not good of him to relish the decision of their punishment, all he had to do was think back toward all the chaos these two could have caused. It made him okay with his ruthless thoughts.

“As punishment for your indiscretions, you are forthwith banished from the Clansland,” the head council stated. At this, people murmured angrily and Wood-Sorrel gave a satisfied sneer. “However, there is a certain someone waiting for you on the edge of the lands, and once you are released your lives are in his…paws,” the head council concluded. The mocking smile was wiped from Wood-Sorrel’s face and Nettle fainted. 

Ah, good times, Dogwood thought, as he watched the two of them being dragged from the assembly, one still dumbfounded with disbelief and the other out cold.

“Think Sorren will be able to catch them?” Sage inquired as he, too, watched the condemned Pixies being taken away. Pixies were fast, to be sure, but no one can run forever. There was no time limit on the decree.

“I think the better question would be; how long will he toy with them before finishing them off?”

The two men shared smiles of grim satisfaction, and as the head council dismissed all those assembled they made their way to their families.

**********

            Maybe it was because Dogwood had been through this before, but he felt unnaturally calm. Or maybe it was because the day was so bright and beautiful it commanded nothing but happiness for today. Or maybe he was just too old to be nervous.

Dogwood chuckled to himself and looked over his formal outfit one last time. Not because he was anxious, but because he knew he’d be scolded by Laurel if anything was out of place.

He looked out at those assembled before him: the old friends and even some new ones, and nodded to each in turn. Mistiltan winked, and Snapdragon beamed. It hadn’t been an easy transition for the former rogues and the Beigads. Everyone had expected a few bumps and incidents, but with the help from practical people like Snapdragon and Sage, things had gone better than expected.

In the months gone by, the Beigads had proven useful in helping with the crops instead of destroying them, and most of the former rogues had found areas of work that suited them. Some decided to leave, to continue being rogues or find places amongst other Clans with the Hemlock Clan’s recommendations, but most stayed.

Mistiltan had found a place among the Thistle Guardians, and it looked as though he might be on his way to Captain some day. A far more appreciative and better one than Wood-Sorrel. As expected, Wood-Sorrel and Nettle had not lasted long outside the Clansland. Merely long enough for Sorren to find some amusement, and the two to reflect on what had led them to their fate.

Dogwood shook his head and cleared it of such thoughts. Today was not the day for his mind to think on that.

“Not nervous, I see,” Sage said next to him, and reflected Dogwood’s thoughts from a moment ago.

“I think I’m too old to be nervous,” he replied.

Sage chuckled.

Before either of them could say anything else, music swelled from the small band off to the right, and everyone assembled stood.

Laurel came up the aisle first and spread rose petals along the path. When she came to the dais with Dogwood and Sage, the music changed.

When Snowdrop turned the corner, Dogwood’s breath hitched in awe. She was a glorious sight in a spider silk gown. The hair she had been growing for some months now was in beautiful white waves down her back. She left her delicate feet bare, and they peeked out from underneath the gown as she walked on the vibrant green grass. A veil covered her face, though the material was sheer enough that he could see the smile there. The one that made him take note of her in the first place.

When she stood beside him everyone sat down. Dogwood leaned forward to lift her veil. As he placed it behind her he whispered in her ear, “You look radiant.”

Snowdrop blushed, but her smile widened. The two of them joined hands and turned to the officiator. 

Live and love, the memory of the words echoed through his mind. As he looked at the two women he cared most for in this world, he smiled.

That was a request he would be more than happy to fulfill.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

War of the Wee Ones, Chapter Five

Chapter Five

A thousand scenes flashed through Dogwood’s mind. A collection of memories he’d gained over countless battles, skirmishes, and war. As they came and went, they overlaid what was in front of him: a splintered and broken door, the house a mess with overturned furniture, broken dishes, and destroyed memories from the years of his life.
Amidst the wreckage of his home was something that chilled him to his core: a small splattering of blood. It unmade him.

He dropped to his knees, but didn’t notice when the porcelain from their dishes tore through his cotton breeches and into his flesh. Not my Laurel, the thought trailed through his mind, and a sob escaped from somewhere in the region of his crippled soul.

Dogwood had lost his wife, and now his daughter was gone, too.

Sage walked through the front door, and his shoes crunched over the debris as he came to stand by his best friend. He stood there only a moment before checking the rest of Dogwood’s house. It was not only shock, but fear that had rooted the man to the downstairs. He was afraid of what he might find if he followed the carnage toward the upper level.

Sage found nothing, though, and returned to the downstairs. Dogwood hardly took notice of the noise, and it took a minute, or three, before he realized Sage was talking to him.

“What was that you said?” Dogwood asked, all emotion drained from his heart, mind, and voice.

Sage looked down at his Captain with sadness.

“I was giving you the damage report,” Sage said, as gently as he could.

“Oh.” It was all Dogwood could manage, but he turned his gaze up toward Sage. “I feel empty, Sage, so empty I don’t think I can cry. Shouldn’t I be crying?” he asked, dazed.

This time Sage sighed, brushed away the remains of the household, and took a knee next to his friend.

“You’re still in shock, old friend.”

“Oh,” Dogwood said, again.

The two remained in silence, until Dogwood felt something stir deep within his being. It wasn’t sadness, or grief, or hate—it was anger.

“You took my wife, you putrid, vicious Gods, and now you’ve taken my daughter from me, too?!” he yelled to the ceiling.

Dogwood’s throat was accustomed to barking out orders to a multitude of recruits and Guardians, but these words burned and tore his throat on the way out. His body crumpled, as though it had taken everything out of him to bellow the words.

Sage had frozen in place when Dogwood had asked his questions of the heavens, but now he was mad at Dogwood.

“Who in the Abyss said your daughter was dead, you addle-brained bonehead?” Sage asked, not quite yelling but loud enough to grab Dogwood’s attention.

Dogwood looked up at Sage as cynicism and hope raged through him.

“What exactly are you suggesting, Sage?” Dogwood asked. He tried to keep all emotion from his voice, though it still cracked as he said his friend’s name.

“That you should stop yelling and damning the Gods, and form a search party. Your daughter wasn’t the only one who disappeared, Dogwood. Several family members of the council members who opposed the war, as well as some council members themselves, have been taken,” Sage said, matter-of-factly.

“Taken?” Dogwood asked, with such a level of hope in that one word it almost rebuilt his world around him.

Pain from his knees rushed through his body, and he grimaced as he stood. Blood stained the knees of his pants, but he did his best to ignore it.

“Yes, taken, you dimwit. Did you not think it strange that with all this destruction there was no body found?”

Dogwood glanced around, sheepishly, and straightened his tunic. His friend’s reprimand snapped some steal back into his spine, and he turned away from the destruction of his home.

“Casualty report?” Dogwood the Captain, and not the grief-stricken father, asked.

“Few in number—given the amount of mayhem and ravaging they did to the people and land,” Sage reported.

“Anyone from the Guardians?”

“Three, all on border patrol; likely silenced to keep from sending out a warning to anyone.”

“Damage report?”

“Mostly structural. Unlike all their other raids, they went for the buildings and the people in them as opposed to the crops. My guess is they came in trying to take over, wanting to save the crops for themselves, but met more resistance than they expected,” Sage concluded.

Dogwood nodded. “You go and form a search party and I’ll—” Dogwood started, but Sage waved him off.

“It’s all already been taken care of. Those emergency protocols you put into place a few meetings ago really stuck with everyone, so everything is being taken care of as we speak. Well, except the search party. I was on my way here to get you to form one,” Sage said, impertinent.

“Hmph, then let’s go,” Dogwood said, eager to be off.

The two of them made their way toward Headquarters, and Dogwood saw the damage for the first time. It had all been a blur, except for his home. He mentally chided himself for that oversight. Yes, his daughter was one of the most important things to him, but he also had a responsibility to the Clan. The many over the one was the only way Pixies had survived countless Fay wars over hundreds of years, and in a moment of panic he’d forgotten.

“Berate yourself later,” Sage said. They’d been best friends for long enough that Dogwood didn’t need to voice his self-reprimands.

They landed in what used to be the training yard. Among all the damage done, anything belonging to the Thorny and Thistle Guardians had taken an exceptional amount of it. In fact, Dogwood’s office was nothing more than a pile of broken sticks.

“Attention!” Sage bellowed as they walked toward a formation.

One of the protocols in place was for one platoon to report to the grounds for whatever they were needed for during an emergency; be it corpse duty, helping the builders with debris, or conducting a search and rescue.

The Pixies snapped to position, crisp, precise, and full of fury.

“At ease,” Dogwood said, and not a few of the gazes held enmity for him, and his perceived ‘soft’ stance against the Beigads. “You can hate me all you want—later. Right now we need to move,” he glanced pointedly at those with particular animosity toward him.

They all gave terse nods, though he knew he would have to pay the piper sometime soon.

“First, I want squads one and two, under the command of Sage, to gather as many of the Guardians as they can find, form up, and head toward the Beigads,” he said. A cheer went up among those gathered. “Squads three and four,” he continued, and the noise died down, “I want you to come with me to scout ahead and get a better feel for the situation with the hostages and the rogue Pixies. Those who are gathering the others, you leave on Sage’s word, the rest of you have three minutes to get the rest of your gear. If you are not ready to leave when I am, you will be left behind to catch up or join Sage. Understood?’

“Sir, yes, sir!” the platoon shouted with passion.

“Dismissed,” Dogwood said, and eighteen Pixies darted off to get ready, while the rest stayed and waited for Sage.

Dogwood turned to his friend, and found a frown.

“Yes?” Dogwood asked.

“It should be me leading the advance guard, and you commanding the main force,” Sage said, and kept his voice low.

“I have to do this, Sage. You know why. I trust you to get there in time to keep anything unfortunate from happening to me,” Dogwood joked, and tried to make light of the situation.

Sage did not share his humor of the situation, and just gave Dogwood a long, considering look and then sighed.

“As a father, I understand. As a subordinate I say your plan is foolhardy,” Sage grumped.

“Disagree as you will, but I am going. You should head out, too,” Dogwood said, firm.

Sage went from friend to leader in the blink of an eye and turned to the first two squads.

“Let’s be off, you layabouts, or do you want your Captain to have all the danger and glory to himself?” A general yell of excitement went up from the Pixies assembled, and they took off after Sage when he surged to the sky.

As the last person cleared, the final Pixie from the remaining two squads landed, ready to go.

“Move out,” Dogwood said, and took to the sky.

The Pixies followed closely behind as the headed in the general direction of the exit destruction trail of the Beigads. Their trails were certainly not difficult to follow, as they tended to trample everything in their paths. The group found tracks that were heading out, and not in, and shifted course to follow them.

Dogwood’s heart pounded not only from the exertion of flying so fast and the adrenaline from the anticipation of the upcoming battle, but also from anxiety for Laurel’s welfare. Now that he’d had time to clear his head, something else struck his mind. He hadn’t checked to see if Snowdrop was alright. He cursed himself twice over a fool, and snapped at the person closest to him to move in to speak.

“Yes, sir?” asked the young, male Pixie with hair the color of pink roses.

“Batys,” Dogwood said, as he recalled the youth’s name on the fly, literally, “do you have, or recall, a list of those believed to be taken?” Dogwood asked, his heart strained once more.

“I do not, sire,” Batys replied, regretful.

“As you were,” Dogwood said, and the Pixie drifted back to his position.

Dogwood chewed his lip. She was a Pixie who held growing magic, and would not be one of those immediately sought out after the mayhem. His gut was telling him that Snowdrop would have waited for him at the house. Unless, that is, she’d been taken. The thought rang true with his intuition, and it added to the worry mounted on his shoulders.

It gave him cause for more speed, and some of the Pixies were struggling to keep up, while the rest were barely doing any better. They did not have the same motivation he did to find the raiding party.

They say the Abyss hath no fury like a woman scorned. Those who say that must never have met a father whose child was at risk, and likely being used as leverage against her father. The mere thought of Laurel being utilized as a hostage made him grind his teeth in outrage. Cowards, he mentally spat.

Not to mention it seemed as though Snowdrop had been captured as well, all because of him. He could kick himself for putting her in danger, but it was likely she’d kick him for thinking such a thing. That one had a fiery temper, and he was bound and determined to learn more about it, and her.

As the forest whipped by, the sun was making its decent toward the western horizon, and shadows were gaining substance beneath the boughs of the trees. Though the sun still had a few hours yet, Dogwood spotted a flicker of light ahead of them, and quickly on the heels of that sighting he smelled smoke.

They were merely scouting, unless they encountered enemies, but grim determination hardened his resolve. He had tried the peacemaking route, and taking the higher road by not retaliating after the previous attacks, but they had hit him where his heart was.

The only thought left to his mind was simply: Let them come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Final Chapter