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The shambling corpse meandered through the forest, guided by the same dark magics that had reanimated it. Its long, pointed ears and intricately decorated armor indicated its elven heritage to any onlookers while, behind it, glided with supernatural ease its demonic creator. The Dreadlord grumbled impatiently behind the slow-moving thing.
If he wished to find clues as to his target's whereabouts, Tarraxis had to show some restraint, had to allow this freshly risen elf to show him exactly where the refugee camp had been.
"Such a shame I had to catch you alone in the forests, little Kaldorei... Once I'm done with you, you'll join all the others of your kind I've slain, fret not," the 12-foot-tall Demon said, its hulking, muscle-bound form belying the poise with which it spoke.
"Nguuuh..." the undead creature answered, bumping uselessly into a tree.
Tarraxis sighed, gently nudging the thing along. "You were not the smartest in life, either."
The grey-skinned demon frowned for a moment, looking around the surrounding forests. Every shadow, he knew, could hide one of these damned night elves. While none of them stood a chance against the Legion on the field of battle, the Kaldorei were skilled marksmen. Paired with their innate ability to blend in with their surroundings, this made them a far greater annoyance than Tarraxis liked.
No matter, he thought. Any elf foolish enough to take him on would pay dearly, for he was a Dreadlord, one of the Nathrezim, some of the most powerful demons of the Burning Legion. Within that confidence, however, lay an element of reason that prevented the sort of overconfidence that too often led to the downfall of other, more powerful, beings. An ambush, however, could cost him precious time... And Nar'tuzel, he knew, would not take kindly to such setbacks.
Before the demon's thoughts could wander too much, the reanimated elf wandered into a part of the forest that was far more open, allowing a greater amount of sunlight to filter through the dense canopy above.
Tarraxis's evil red eyes scanned the surrounding area for a moment. There had been living beings here not so long ago. Many of them, and their stench still lingered in the air. Lifting his nose to the air briefly, Tarraxis also picked up other, less familiar scents. While his ability to track his prey was not as developed as other demons, the grey-skinned fiend could very well distinguish between two races.
There had been elves here. Tauren as well. But he had never encountered that third scent...
"Good work. I no longer require your services," stated the massive demon, gripping the undead's face in its clawed hands and sucking the soul right back out of it. Inside his palm, a delicate little soul gem appeared, the purple thing glowing with the gentle light of the spirit trapped within. "I lied about sending you back to your friends," confessed Tarraxis, chuckling.
The elven corpse fell limply to the ground with the clattering of its armor.
Tarraxis's cloven hooves tread slowly as he looked around, noticing a few baubles, even a few tents that had not been disassembled entirely. When they left, they left in a hurry. He was probably far closer to them than he'd initially thought, he reasoned. Would they have left so quickly if he was going in the wrong direction? Or had there been another threat?
At the edge of the encampment, two things caught the demon's eye. First, large hoofprints, indicating that perhaps the hated Tauren had come to this place recently. Perhaps, even, had they been the ones who had precipitated the evacuation. Twice now had Tarraxis been outdone by these bovine warriors. He would not be humiliated a third time.
The second element noticed by the vampiric demon were the runes etched upon the thick trees around the edge of the camp. "Illusion magic... Without a doubt the creation of Highborne magi," the fiend grumbled, his distaste for the noble caste of the Kaldorei dripping like venom from every syllable. Now, he understood why he had been unable to find this camp.
How hard could it be to find a damned elf?! To find traces of the purple-haired harlot Nar'tuzel sought out?!
Before he could lose his temper any further, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his skull. Groaning, he looked down at his waist, where a small green gem was attached, the inch-thick stone throbbing in his mind as it pulsated with the green glow of his masters, calling to him.
His look of rage turned to annoyance. Tarraxis ripped the stone from his belt and tossed it a few feet onto the ground. Where there once was nothing, the translucent form of Nar'tuzel appeared, projected by the stone beneath, bathing their surroundings in a myriad of green hues. Though the demon preferred to be called Othros (mocking those Kaldorei who'd known the soldier in life), Tarraxis knew that there was no trace of the elf in that body, for he had completely taken over the Kaldorei's physical form, stuffing the man's spirit into a single soul gem.
The two stared at each other for a long moment before Nar'tuzel spoke up.
"Tarraxis. I trust the search for Shalendris Oaksong is progressing, hm?" inquired the behemoth.
Though he was merely a projection, miles and miles away, Tarraxis felt the demon's power radiating through the calling stone. There was no use lying to this one, the Dreadlord knew.
"I've... I've found what remains of the encampment where the Oaksong wench stayed..." Tarraxis said, bowing his head low, feeling small and powerless next to such a demon.
Nar'tuzel sighed and rolled his eyes. "And she was not there when you arrived, I take it?"
"N-no, but..." Tarraxis hesitated.
"I have sent the appropriate support. One will contact you. The others know where you are. You may exterminate any and all who stand in your way, but leave the Oaksong child unharmed," Nar'tuzel's deep voice warned.
Tarraxis had no time to give a proper answer before his master's glowing green form disappeared, the calling stone's fel light dissipating and leaving Tarraxis alone, wondering if he had displeased his master one time too many.
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Faella Shadewhisper sat next to the sleeping body of the mage.
A soft, barely perceptible sigh slipped from the Captain's lips as she ran a hand atop Allendril's bald head. "I should have gone with the two girls," she said, hoping that the man could hear her through his enchanted sleep.
The spirit lodge was quiet at that moment, the large tent holding only a handful of the injured. Most had been placed in longhouses where the healers could more easily attend to their wounds.
Captain Shadewhisper sniffled briefly, the smell of burning incense filling her nostrils as she wiped a single tear from the corner of her tired eyes.
The tent's flap pushed aside allowed some measure of light into the area where the Captain sat, and the sound of footsteps caused the armored woman to turn around, fingers gripping the pommel of her longsword. Her gloved hand relaxed when she spotted Delleren entering, he who had so quickly become her right-hand man.
"73 missing, 26 wounded and 57 dead, Captain," he stated bluntly, trying to avert his gaze from the sleeve that hung limply at her side.
The tall, muscular woman grunted as she stood. "Then that leaves 74 who are fit to fight." Her words rang with determination, though her stoic gaze did little to hold back the slight wincing as she looked down at her missing arm. "Damned Trolls... Once this is done and we've sent this so-called Burning Legion back to Hell, we'll take care of the rotten Zandalari," she spat, eyeing Delleren for a moment.
The white-haired fighter had appeared to them only a day or so before the Tauren arrived to bring them to safety and had shown himself both a capable fighter and leader. In a little over a week, he had become indispensable to her. Used to commanding on her own and with as little help as possible, Captain Faella Shadewhisper wasn't sure yet if the fact pleased her or not.
"Most are fit to carry bow and blade, and a few are trained enough to draw upon the Well of Eternity's power," the young Kaldorei explained with a quick glance down to the sorcerer Allendril. "Though, from the tales I've heard, none so well as this one..." sighed the elf, white hair framing his handsome features.
Allowing herself to look over the younger male for a moment, Faella thought him a fine specimen. Though she'd lost her mate a few decades back, the sight of Delleren in his fine, fur-lined armor ignited a slight spark within her.
But that would come later. The duty-bound Captain took a step forward, signaling to Delleren that she would exit the tent. "Come."
And he followed her, as he always did.
"Look upon this village, Delleren," Faella said, glancing down at her protégé. "Would you ever have imagined night elves fighting side by side with Tauren in such a way? What are your thoughts on such alliances?"
Her hand waved to the open area near the center of Ekalu'ata where nearly four score from both peoples worked tirelessly, preparing and training for the battles to come. The few remaining mages among the elves had managed to cast minor spells which allowed each group to understand the other's language fully.
The white-haired man thought for a few moments, allowing index and thumb to run across his sharp chin as his gaze surveyed the scene. "They are... unrefined. Yet their power is astounding. Given the training and equipment, a single one of the brutes could easily..."
"You still do not see them as friends, do you, Del?" interjected the Captain.
Delleren shook his head. "I have not known them long enough to consider them as such, I am afraid," he replied. "They do have their uses, I will admit. Though merely from a tactical point of view. They are not as long-lived as we are, Captain. They lack experience... And forming bonds with them would only lead to disappointment when they eventually expire." His gaze lingered upon Talena and Shalendris, working together to heal a man who had experienced the bite of Zandalari poisons.
Nodding, Faella took a step forward, turning her head sideways once more to Del. "You will be joining us tonight, I suppose? I am quite curious about this ritual that the Oaksong girl will experience..."
"I have certain things to take care of, but I will be there as soon as possible, yes. And... If I may," Delleren said, placing a comforting hand upon the woman's shoulder. "What happened to the sorcerer was none of your doing. Feelings of remorse will only impede you."
A slight grunt of acknowledgment from Faella was all Del got in response as the two parted ways for the day.
- - - - -
The cloaked figure sat atop the grassy knoll overlooking the Tauren village holding a small green stone in his hand. His face remained obscured from the moon's light as he held the inch-thick calling stone in his open palm.
With a thought, he used the calling stone to reach out to his contact. Mere moments later, the winged form of a Dreadlord appeared. Oh, how repugnant these creatures seemed to him... But he had been assigned a mission, and he would see it completed.
"I have been told to contact you when the target had been found," he said to the creature who'd answered the stone's call.
While the floating, magical image of the demon appeared blurry, the hooded figure could very well see Tarraxis's annoyed frown. "Go on..." growled the horned creature.
"Before I show you where our target is staying, I would have your word that no harm will come to the innocents that live here," demanded the sitting man, gaze unwavering.
Tarraxis snorted. "You are in no position to be bartering for the lives of elves and cow-people," retorted the demon.
A soft, amused chuckle slipped from the man's lips. "Am I not? I was told by your master that the most exquisite torture awaits you in the Twisting Nether if you do not accomplish this most basic of tasks... I have been able to find the girl quite easily, I wonder what kind of excuses a great Dreadlord such as yourself could come up with to justify such lack of success," mocked the man, a cocky grin appearing upon his lips.
Both remained silent for a few long moments before Tarraxis finally yielded.
"I will make sure to avoid whatever collateral damage I can..." finally ceded the demon's glowing image in growling tones.
"Great, you may find the village of Ekalu'ata on the edge of the greatest lake of the southern plains. It is not on any map, so do try not to get lost..."
No reply came from the demon as once again, Tarraxis was hung up on.
Down below, in the village of Ekalu'ata, the cloaked figure's eyes followed his target as she made her way towards the village's central tent where resided Greatseer Au'lah.
Scratching his chin, he remembered that perhaps he would need to make another call, given some of the information uncovered. He sighed, knowing that their endeavor to bait the Burning Legion was entirely futile. All he hoped was that he could limit casualties.
- - - - -
Few were in attendance that evening when Shalendris entered the tent and there burned little more than embers at its center, where there usually roared a great bonfire.
"Shalendris, I am glad you have made it," the Greatseer said warmly, smiling at the night elf. "Come, sit, we will talk before the ritual begins."
All around them, preparations had begun. Incense filled their nostrils and the soft chanting of the village's shamans resonated all around them. While Shalendris had a chest of tremendous proportions for any woman of her frame, large enough to obscure most of her torso, Greatseer Au'lah was on another plane of existence entirely.
The Tauren's enormous, milk-filled teats were so large that Shalendris wondered if she ever managed to stand without the help of others. So titanic were those oversized udders that, comparatively, they made Shalendris feel small, inadequate. Each one leaked milk constantly into the dirt below, feeding their bounty back to the Earth Mother.
Shalendris slowly sat down next to the elder without a word, awaiting her instructions.
"You have traveled much in recent weeks, young one. But never have you taken a voyage quite like the one upon which you will soon embark," Au'lah said, her great brown eyes looking down into the elf's silver orbs. "I believe the gift you have been granted by the ancient spirits will make this far easier for you," she continued.
Their gazes never left one another, but Shalendris could tell a few forms had entered the tent. The silhouettes she spotted in the corner of her eye were familiar to her. Her friends, Talena, Awna and Ohnta had arrived, sitting silently at the far end of the tent.
"First, you must drink of my bounty, and it must be directly from the source. I am afraid extracting the milk before drinking will diminish its magical properties... Once this is done, you will lie down on the ground, close your eyes and think of the place where you wish to go. Think of the Earth Mother and look inwards."
More forms entered the tent and this time, Shalendris turned her head to see who it was. The warrior Tau'kale, Captain Shadewhisper, and a white-haired Kaldorei. Shalendris did not know the third night elf, as he had not been present at the refugee camp when she'd been there.
Shalendris blinked as she looked back to Au'lah. "I mean no offense, Greatseer, but these explanations are quite vague..."
The soft chuckle the Tauren gave briefly broke the seriousness of the scene as she gently cupped the young elf's chin. "You will know, little elf. Once you are in the spirit realm, a small chain of silver will link us together. If you are in danger, give it a tug and I will call you back to your mortal form."
"All right." With a deep breath, Shalendris prepared herself.
All eyes were on her, at that moment.
"What if I can't...?" she asked Au'lah.
The Greatseer smiled at her. That same warm smile she always did. "Now is not the time for doubting, your people and mine depend on you."
With a gulp, Shalendris scooted over to the woman's front, looking down at those fat, ever-leaking nipples of hers. Unsure of how to proceed, she simply leaned forward until her lips kissed the edge of that overgrown nub, only a smidge smaller than her own fist.
Slowly, Shalendris started suckling upon the enormous breasts, allowing the creamy payload to flood her mouth. Doing her best to avoid any overly sexual movements or sounds, Shalendris simply gulped the warm beverage down as it came.
The elf was ripped from that moment by the sound of Au'lah clearing her throat. "You might want to lie down before it starts taking effect, child."
"Oh, uh, you're riiiiii...-"
She was falling sideways. Into a dark ocean. Into a world of weightlessness.
When her eyes opened, there were no Tauren, no night elves, nothing but the dark of the night sky. She was floating above the vastness of an immeasurable black lake, peppered with tiny white dots, shimmering like stars against the blackness of night.
As she looked down at that great lake, she understood. This was no lake, but the whole of Kalimdor, stretching out before her. Those small stars shining on the lake were other living beings. Elves like her, but also Tauren and furbolg, trolls and goblins and everything in between.
Beneath her, she could see a small cluster of such stars. Ekalu'ata. Looking to the horizon, she could see a few other clusters of similar size but near them, emerald flames burned. The Legion... Thousands of the sparkling dots seemed to be advancing towards the greatest blaze she could see -- Zin-Azshari. The Kaldorei were advancing upon the city! But so were the demons, many of their forces converging back towards the great elven capital.
She slowly started floating towards that location, guiding her spirit-self to the raging battlefield, seeing the clash between those white dots and the green fire of the Legion, though she was unable to tell who exactly was gaining the upper hand. The fact that her people were fighting back gave her hope, however.
Moving as quickly as she could through the vastness of this strange dream-realm, Shalendris suddenly stopped as two stars near the center of Zin-Azshari caught her eye. Somehow, they stood out to her due to some familiarity, some bond. The three with whom she shared the deepest bond, she knew, were her mother, father, and her mate.
But if there were only two... She shoved those distressing thoughts aside, moving like a silver arrow towards those two brilliant stars, driven by both curiosity and purpose.
As her spirit-self soared through that plane and she approached her destination, the flapping of wings on either side of her caused her to turn her head sideways. She had wings -- the bright, ethereal green wings of her companion, Brightbeak.
Had she taken a form akin to her avian friend's or had she simply taken over his body? Not only that, but behind her trailed a thin silver line that seemed to go all the way back to where her body rested in Ekalu'ata.
Her astral form, along with those thoughts came to a screeching halt as she got closer to the fighting -- the forms of the soldiers before her were taking shape, the battle raging all around her on the ground, ghostly in appearance as they battled the dark, chaotic shapes of the Burning Legion's demons.
Despite this ghostly appearance, Shalendris knew that she was simply viewing the material plane through a veil, obscuring many things yet granting greater insight into so many others.
The flapping of wings -- larger than her own -- from her left caught her attention, and Shalendris turned her head to see two enormous Doomguards flying right at her! She tried to dodge, but they appeared to not even take note of her as an even larger form appeared from behind a tower with its great blue wings, soaring majestically as it chased the two wicked creatures through the air. A dragon? The dragons had come to their aid, then? Surely, the battle would be over soon, the hopeful woman thought.